I’ve decided that today will be put mainly to fiction, but I’ve hatched an idea that I find so fascinating that I thought I might expose it here for general reflection and commentary.
The nation has gone “recycling crazy,” with mandatory programs for the recycling of bottles, cans, and newspaper in nearly every town in America (despite the provable fact that such programs are totally unnecessary). The underlying ideas are that dump space is precious and must be conserved, and that if we fail to recycle certain things, we’ll run out of the materials they’re made from. The first of those propositions is hard to argue with, but the second one is easily refuted. However, the recycling concept isn’t inherently bad, when the economics of the matter are suitable (Cf. Thomas T. Thomas, First Citizen).
Very few writers ever apply basic economic principles to political power.
Political power is a variety of interpersonal relationship; it’s power wielded by some men over others. Note the implied requirement: to have power, there must be “others” over whom one can wield it. That makes those “others” – the rulers’ subjects – a scarce resource over which competing groups of rulers will contend.
This has more import than one might suppose at first blush. For example, among the topics of contention during the peace talks after World War I was the question of how to redraw the map of Europe so that the losing nations would lose rather than gain population. The totalitarian states of our time all practice strict border control to deter their subjects from even thinking of escape. During the Nineteenth Century, the western land frontier was a considerable impediment to the statist designs of eastern American politicians. To be a ruler, one must have people to rule.
Traditional concepts of war involve, in a simplistic sense, the clash of the armed forces of two warring nations. In such a view, the civil societies of those nations are important principally as economic engines to power their armies. Which army prevails will determine which government can impose its will on the other. But this is a short-term view of warfare, which according to Clausewitz is merely the continuation of politics by violent means.
In truth, nations don’t fight wars; governments do. The reason for every war ever fought, and for every war that ever will be, is that one or both of the combatant governments wants more power, or wants to retain what power it has.
Add that observation to this one: a government’s actual power is directly proportional to the number of its subjects.
What are they really fighting over?
Among the truly important books of recent years, I place Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It high on the list. Steyn’s focus on demography, with particular emphasis on the decline in birth rates in First World nations, was a revelation to many persons who had no idea that any such trend was in progress. Yet that trend stands behind a huge percentage of recent political decisions, including the most pernicious of them: the ones that have largely surrendered Europe to invading hordes of savages from Islamic hellholes.
Steyn is not the first writer to notice that the First World is “underproducing people.” Ben Wattenberg noticed our decelerating willingness to breed in the late Eighties. When he tried to draw public attention to it, he was shrugged aside. At that time, the demographic fluxes that produced the current European calamity were just getting into gear; few foresaw the crisis they would eventually produce.
The correlation between prosperity and fertility is strong and negative. As people become wealthy, they sharply reduce their childbearing. Today the only First World nation with a “replacement level” birth rate is the United States; the native populations of all the other First World nations are steadily dwindling, with some below the “point of no return” level that guarantees their eventual extinction. To the typical Westerner, this is a non-problem. No progeny to give the nation a new generation? So what? We’re doing fine right here in the present; now shut up so we can enjoy Real Housewives of Dubuque. As I’ve written before, it’s tough to get people to concern themselves about descendants they simply don’t intend to have.
But to one whose drive is getting, increasing, and keeping power – i.e., a ruler or an aspiring ruler – it’s the biggest problem he can imagine.
Here’s a possible future for you: a future in which every nation is at war with every other nation over the one thing that matters to any and every government.
The “use it or lose it” principle has finally reared its head in the most significant way: the human race is slowly losing the ability to reproduce. Birth rates are declining and censuses are dwindling all over the world. Former economic powerhouses have gone into steep, personnel-bound declines. Even Third World nations with traditionally high birth rates are no longer able to replace their populations through reproduction. Yet the international competition continues, whether overtly or covertly. Rulers simply must rule.
Artificial intelligence has proved to be a phantasm. Robots are useless for everything but fully repetitive, programmable tasks. Anything requiring reasoning ability must be “manned,” rather than “roboted.” In consequence, when someone outside the law is captured, his personality is electrochemically destroyed and replaced with a stored personality from a dead citizen of great value.
Alloplastic medicine has evolved to the heights, such that any part of the body other than nerve tissue can be replaced by an artificial organ. Thus, lifespans have skyrocketed...but the extension of bodily life has its limits, for the brain cannot be kept from wearing down, entering a period of terminal weariness, and shutting itself off permanently.
Farming is in crisis. It’s a task at which robots have proved ineffective. Food stocks can only be maintained by men and man-guided machines (e.g., harvesters, plows, etc.). Automation is applicable only to purely rote tasks and only in good weather.
Under such conditions, each government’s aims would necessarily be:
- To retain and conserve its own population;
- To encourage reproduction as far as medically possible;
- To seduce or kidnap the citizens of other nations and add them to its own populace.
Citizens who prove to be unusually fertile are also highly valued. However, they are restricted in nearly every way, as the nation cannot afford to risk them or allow them to risk themselves.
National borders are tightly controlled. Even the oceans are demarcated, and no citizen of country X ever ventures onto the waters without being electronically constrained to stay within X’s “national” waters.
Weapons of mass destruction would be regarded as Doomsday Devices. Even nations committed to total war against one another would quail at the thought of their use. A form of the “Tuareg truce” (cf. Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War) protects those in the all-important agricultural field...except that efforts to kidnap and forcibly expatriate such persons are licit and ongoing.
Even in times of “peace,” every government is quietly at war with every other over the one thing that’s ever mattered to a ruler: subjects to rule. Barring a wholly unexpected resurgence of human fertility, it’s a war that will go on until Kingdom Come.
Scared yet? The above vision might strike you as unlikely –for many years we’ve been hectored about “too many people for the poor overburdened Earth to sustain” – but given demographic trends, it strikes me as more likely than a true overpopulation crisis. Indeed, it might be the likeliest of all futures, especially given the nature of power-lust and the moral-ethical vacuum in the mind of the typical ruler.
But I did say it was just an idea for a story, didn’t I? It’s just that the more I think about it, the more it seems as if it might come true...indeed, that it might be coming true right now, as you read this, before our very eyes.
Think it’s time to go jump the wife?
By the way: Happy Pi Day!