Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Pronatalism": Explaining Sex Rules and Getting Down to Nationalism's Biological Basics

"We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."
Steven King, (R-Iowa)

Then a new king […] came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said
to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us.
Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become
even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join
our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, […]  
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied
and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites

            "Pronatalism" is a word we don't hear much any more, not for a generation or so, but it's an important word — increasingly important in a time of heightened nationalism — and needs to be recycled (recycled here from a couple of my essays from 2008 f.).

            "Pronatalism" refers to social policies encouraging the production and successful raising of children. Often these policies have included conscious policies on population; more often, pronatalism has been incorporated into religious beliefs and from there into law and custom.

            It doesn't matter much where pronatalist practices come from. "Cultural evolution" is more than a figure of speech: customs that function to help cultures survive will tend to be retained the way useful genetic traits are retained--and pronatalism, by its nature, has been useful for survival.

            Until recently. Until humankind's population went into the billions, and the unchecked reproduction of humans became a threat to human species-survival. Until some cultures became somewhat democratic and individualistic, and the press of population put stresses on democratic principles and individuality. It has always been difficult to argue that any individual human is special; the argument becomes almost impossible when there are over seven billion other human individuals. "Freedom" has been defined informally as the right to swing your arms until you endanger someone else's nose; some place along the line, population density gets to where there's little room for figurative arm swinging.

            Alternatively, an individual human has the same right as any other animal to urinate in the local stream; the people of a small village probably have the right to put their excrement in the river; towns and cities, however, have no right to dump in the river untreated sewage, poisoning decreasing supplies of water.

            More of that later. For now keep in mind that surviving societies often have built in a strong degree of pronatalism.

            You need to know this if you're to understand the underpinning of the sex laws and "morēs" of the United States, including our rules on marriage and attitudes toward the wide range of sexual activities.

            Start with obvious questions: Why would people care about occasional or even frequent masturbation in private? Why were there ever laws against oral or anal sex, or just about anything done between or among two or more consenting adults in private? The short and most basic answer, one that underlies both religious and secular, official and popular-culture prohibitions, is "pronatalism."

            Humans are highly sexual animals, and across a significant population people will practice all sorts of sexuality. Cultures, though, can evolve ideologies and customs that tend to direct sexuality into practices that are reproductive and nurturing. Consciously or unconsciously, societies can try to limit sex to vaginal sexual intercourse between fertile couples who are likely to conceive, bear, and then raise babies.

            Cultures can try to limit sex to "making babies" by people who'll stick around to raise babies: for a very important example, limiting approved sex to married heterosexual couples who have conception as a goal--and, hence, don't try to prevent conception and who avoid sex when the woman is menstruating.

            Sound familiar? It should if you know the traditional rules for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews.

            Under a doctrine of pronatalism, such rules make sense, and pronatalism itself makes a lot of sense in military, nationalistic, and economic terms.

            Pronatalism becomes a bad idea when it's a game many societies play and the human population rises rapidly, when the standard of living rises enough among many of those societies that they strain the environment.

            Think of a billion or two Chinese and Indians starting to live like rich Americans.

            Pronatalism in our time makes sense for individual countries that want to maintain their eminence; pronatalism makes sense for older generations who want to retire and be supported by lots of young workers.

            For the human species, and for humans who like freedom, pronatalism is a problem.

            "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it" (Genesis 1.28) was good doctrine when humans were pretty powerless to master much, and it may be the one commandment we humans have fulfilled; but it is fulfilled now, and it's time to cut back.

            We--we humans generally--need to move rapidly toward zero growth in our population, which means rethinking the laws, policies, customs, and attitudes based in pronatalism.

            People are going to have sex, but it doesn't have to be reproductive sex; and contraception can be very low-tech, inexpensive, and almost as effective as abstinence in preventing sexually-transmitted diseases. To start, we need a campaign to "Wrap that Willy," making condoms readily available and condom-use a manly thing to do, and a womanly thing to demand.

            For other things to do, look at the pronatalists aspects of human cultures, and try to figure out practical ways to encourage contraception and reproductive restraint.

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