For the first letter of this year, I wish to address a very sensitive social discussion that raised a lot of noise in many countries in 2013, this is the ability for the gay/lesbian community to get access to official marriage and parenthood.
Definitively, each of us has his/her personal opinion on what should be the place of that community in society and this letter does not intend at all to influence the readers in that matter. My main interest today is to look at the question on a social and statistical level and try to open the discussion to other aspects of social life, that are not enough – on my views – integrated in the sometime passionate confrontation on the subject.
The key value to be debate is actually the value of Family in general, the ability for a couple of people to create a socially recognized entity, complemented with a number of children. Such an entity exists since centuries, in some cases not limited to 2 adults, like in polygamist societies, and its fundamental role is to create a reasonably stable environment to allow for the growth or at least renewal of the population of the aggregated social body, be it a tribe, a clan, a country, and on a higher level, a civilization.
Every time a group of human organization got into a serious decrease of population, the end of the group was close. In best cases the group was assimilated by a more dynamic and fast developing neighboring group, in worst cases it simply degenerated down to extinction.
On an anthropological viewpoint, a major role of the Family as a social group is therefore to ensure the renewal and/or growth of the population. The rest is related to moral and religious principles that vary between regions of the world, and that indeed become irrelevant if the Family does not fulfill that role and the social group becomes extinct.
If we look now at the birth rate situation in developed countries, it is clear that two countries have a specific issue, with a very low and still decreasing rate: Japan and Germany. Both countries are still losing population at significant rate, only partially compensated by an extension of life expectancy, and such compensation is now becoming very marginal. The impact is not limited to anecdotic reports of TV ads in Japan showing more diapers for elderly than for babies, but also influences politics in both countries, being for example a key reason for Germany to strongly oppose any measures against the Euro crisis that would create a risk of inflation, thus inducing a risk for pensions.
The same situation, although less acute can be seen in many developed countries, with some exceptions like the US and France, driven by high birth rates in the non-white communities in the US, probably the same in France, but nobody knows as statistics there cannot by law include any indication of the community of origin.
People vehemently defending traditional Family values should pay more attention to the overall trends in birth rate. The Family model is being attacked by the social values developed by western societies over the past 30 years or so, much more than it could be by more rights given to the gay/lesbian community, a very small minority indeed.
One of the key evolution on my views comes from the fast development of a purely materialist culture, oriented towards consumerism and promoting ideals like luxury, easiness, beauty, trendiness, and so on, even if achieved through sub-standard quality products for the poorest part of the population. Individuals became more selfish and irresponsible towards the rest of society, abusing the “rights” they are given by democracy and liberalism, while ignoring the “responsibilities” they have vis a vis that very society.
Getting children is not a simple decision and getting a family brings a lot of responsibilities, and more people than before do not wish to jump into that. Of course we consider here the statistics for a community, and the curve shall always include thin tails of people without kids on one side, and families with 10 kids on the other side. What counts is the average! But more and more the majority does think along such lines:
- kids? I do not want to swap my sport car for a sedan! never! said the man
- kids? what about my career? and my shape? never! said the woman
Career, said the woman… but do not get me wrong here. Women at work and kids in the family are not excluding each other if the society around them is playing its supporting role, like affordable and available nursery schools, financial help for lower income families, etc. Such system worked quite well in Europe in from 50’s to 80’s. The decline is purchasing power over the past 20 years has changed the rules of the game, and the decision to get one more child became more problematic.
Coming back to Japan, the high cost of housing plays there a large role, and having a 2 or 3 kids family in Tokyo is impossible without a very large income level. In Germany, housing is cheaper than in France, but the lack of affordable nursery schools has a strong influence on the low birth rate, combined with a strong tradition of “the mother should take care of the children, not a foreigner”.
But outside of birth rates, marriage as an institution also has lost a lot of its prestige over the past 20 years. In France for example, more than 50% of children born now are from non-married parents, and the trend continues to develop.
The gay/lesbian community is in a sense swimming against the current and claims the right to access an institution that lost most of its value in the eyes of a majority of the non gay community, and the right to legal parenthood in societies where children are largely welcome because they are good consumers. Let’s drive the logic to its end: pro-family demonstrators should indeed take the street in concert with the gay/lesbian community! They are the only ones worrying and willing to fight for the value of marriage and for a life with more children, while the silent majority (governments included) does not give a damn!
And yes, it would be a good idea for them to demonstrate together against the degradation of the eductation and healthcare systems in many countries, against unfair use of public money to save badly managed businesses, and of course against parents of whatever sex, who betray the trust of their children, neglect them, beat them, rape them and sometime kill them - those are the real evil, never loose track of that!
...but keep smiling - parents are not the only ones counting for kids !