Welp, I was going to make a comment on a post over at Tom Rees' blog, and I got so verbose it went over the 4k-per-comment limit. It's probably rude to post a comment that long anyway, so why don't I respond in the form of a blog post, hmmm?
Tom's post is in regards to the book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? by Eric Kaufmann. In it, Kaufmann provides disturbing statistics suggesting that religious fundamentalists may out-reproduce the non-religious and religious moderates alike, resulting in a future demographic breakdown that favors extreme patriarchy and oppression of women. I'll let you read Tom's original post for the details. What follows is my response:
First things first, I am extremely skeptical about Tom's contention that "ratcheting up the level of conflict serves to paradoxically increase the power of the religious patriarchs." It seems to me that these highly insular patriarchal groups do not require any external catalyst whatsoever to "ratchet things up". Note that the Ken Hamms of the world hate the Francis Collinses as much or more than they hate the PZes. I know that is Creationist fundamentalism rather than extreme patriarchal fundamentalism, but I suspect their respective responses to the outside world are similar. As was pointed out to me today, no amount of pandering will satisfy an extremist, and similarly I doubt that any amount of politeness is likely to prevent insular cult leaders from "ratcheting it up". They will feel equally under attack regardless of tone or content -- creating a persistent feeling of being under attack is what they do, otherwise they would not be able to achieve insularity.
Tom expresses hope that the problem may be solved by a rebound in liberal fertility, a possibility that is already showing early signs of plausibility. It could happen, but with AGW a looming and unresolved problem, that's going to be a tough sell for a lot of people. And even neglecting whether it could happen or not, combating the rise of fundamentalism by increasing global fertility rates -- while NOT solving the problem of out-of-control carbon emissions -- is a solution that could backfire quite badly for everyone. (Full disclosure: My wife and I are planning, for the moment, on eventually having three children altogether, despite some reservations I have that this may be grossly environmentally irresponsible)
On the other hand, I am highly skeptical that this scenario of unchecked growth of insular patriarchal fundamentalism is realistic after all. Insularity is difficult to maintain on a large scale. The Amish may have ballooned to a quarter million, but try keeping up those fertility and retention rates when it's five million or ten million. Almost by definition, insularity can only be maintained on a relatively small scale.
The Mormons, a group with which I unfortunately have intimate experience, are a relevant example here... They are spreading worldwide, but the pace of their expansion has slowed (don't let misleading statistics used in church propaganda convince you otherwise), and I can tell you from personal experience that the insularity is not well-maintained outside of Utah and parts of Idaho, Nevada, and Colorado -- and as we might predict, retention rates are quite poor outside of Mormon Country. And there's only so many Elder Youngs and Sister Smiths you can cram into 82,100 square miles. If most patriarchal cults go the way of Mormonism, it's quite possible that the trend identified by Kaufmann will turn out to be self-limiting.
Which is not to say the subject isn't worthy of concern, especially if the Mormon blueprint is/becomes atypical. It may turn out that in the Internet era, a bazillion insulated "cells" could form, connected by a common ideology spread via the 'tubes. I'm thinking Quiverfull here, which is not a singular insular cult, but rather is composed of thousands of scattered insular groups united only by their interest in explosive reproduction. The Duggars (of 19 Kids and Counting fame) could even represent the prototypical model for this kind of "cell"-like expansion: they aren't a member of any church per se, but rather they hold Sunday services in their own home, and occasional meet with like-minded families at conferences, camps, etc. The Duggars themselves probably won't have a particularly high retention rate, given that the omnipresent film crew severely disrupts their insularity, but the "cell"-like nature of how they practice their brand of patriarchy is disturbing to say the least, and contradicts my previous contention that the trend will be self-limiting.
It may be naive, but the biggest source of hope for me is that, given access to sufficient information, our side is quite clearly right while the other side is quite clearly wrong. I know it makes me sound absolutist, but I make no apologies when I say that there is no such thing as "cultural relativism" when it comes to the wrongness of oppressing women, for example. Those who are cognizant of the world at large and who still maintain these backward worldviews are anomalies; the vast majority are operating from a position of ignorance. As the pace of information flow increases, perhaps it will be harder and harder to maintain these pockets of willful ignorance... Or so I hope.
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