Tuesday 16 July 2013

Is East Asia exempt from the malaise of the West?


I keep reading blog posts and comments which hold up East Asian societies as a model of adaptation - usually in relation to their nationalism and embrace of immigration restrictions - and on this basis  recommend East Asian ideology as an antidote (a non-Christian antidote) to Western malaise. 

I refute it thus:



If a Martian anthropologist saw this degree of chosen fertility suppression, amidst abundance; and most extreme among the wealthiest, most intelligent and skilled - he would diagnose extreme stress.

Since there is no obvious and powerful adverse physical stress, he would diagnose extreme existential alienation, demoralization, and demotivation.

Very extreme.


Note: I refute it thus - is a quotation from Samuel Johnson, as reported by his biographer James Boswell.




JP said...

East Asian countries do not have an ideology. What they have are variations of European ideologies such as nationalism, communism, and national socialism. These European ideologies didn't work in Europe, so there is little reason to expect them to work in Asia.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - More to the point they do NOT have any of the religions which (if practices devoutly) promote fertility.

Of course China now has more active Christians than Europe


as yet it is a drop in the ocean - but maybe...

baduin said...

eJapan and China are bad examples, since in both limiting the population is the state policy.

In Singapore, however, the government tried to encourage fertility in some populations, eg. Chinese, without any effect.

But low fertility is a typical feature of the urban society, which, according to Spengler, is typical for the late stage of civilisation, and Singapore is an extremely urban society.

Not only it is an immense city-state, but, more importantly, its mental organization shows extremely urban type of mind, in Spengler's typology.

In McGilchrist's terms this Spenglerian urban mentality is equivalent to Left Hemisphere domination.

Good example from literature is eg Tolkien's Gondor,or "Lud-in-the-Mist" of Hope Mirrless.

For that reason East Asia is fairly typical example of late civilisation in Spengler's terms. Similar low fertility was prevalent in some periods of late antiquity.

East Asia survived, without any serious problems, several civilisational cycles, so its present situation does not seem atypically destructive.

It should be noted that Singapore used only Western methods of birth promotion, and those methods are certain to be ineffective.

East Asian governments, should they wish to truly encourage births, can always restore elements of traditional patriarchal Confucian system of social organization.

This is, of course, impossible as long as they are under so deep Western domination. However, as the West weakens, East Asia will regain more freedom to act.

However, I do not see either Japanese or Chinese governments trying to restore population growths. Low number of young people increases social stability, and in modern economy (despite official propaganda) there is no need for large numbers of workers.

Singapore, in which the Chinese are always threatened with being overwhelmed by neighbouring populations, is very different, but exactly it has least freedom to deviate from Western directives.

Bruce Charlton said...

@baduin - Although there are cycles in history - I regard history as essentially linear and the present situation of near universal voluntary infertility has no equivalent - it is pathological, not least because it is not even perceived to be a problem, is indeed a taboo, as is demography in general.

We are going through one of the most profound and rapid demographic changes in the history of humanity and we are not allowed to notice it (and indeed are deliberately not measuring it). And we think of ourselves as a rational and scientific civilization!

Assuming the world is not destroyed, population decline will of course eventually self correct (deliberately growing from from the religious and accidentally growing from the feckless) but never to such high levels of population as now: there will be unavoidably be vast numbers of deaths, billions, since the expanding population will not be able to sustain economic growth (which is almost certainly down-going already)

Samson J. said...

as yet it is a drop in the ocean

I wouldn't call 70 million in a nation of a billion a "drop in the ocean". That's almost ten percent! I'm hopeful for China.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - I'd rather not be accused of hype...

My church (conservative evangelical protestant) has many Chinese, mostly students studying in the city, numbers growing every year.

packed on a subway said...

I give Asians a break because there are too many of them on not enough land. As long as they prevent immigration fertility will eventually rebound as more room becomes available and those that don't have kids exit the gene pool.

baduin said...


Plutarch, Moralia
De Defectu Oraculorum
The Obsolescence of Oracles

"When Ammonius had ceased speaking, I said, "Won't you rather tell us all about the oracle, Cleombrotus? For great was the ancient repute of the divine influence there, but at the present time it seems to be somewhat evanescent."

As Cleombrotus made no reply and did not look up, Demetrius said, "There is no need to make any inquiries nor to raise any questions about the state of affairs there, when we see the evanescence of the oracles here, or rather the total disappearance of all but one or two; but we should deliberate the reason why they have become so utterly weak. What need to speak of others, when in Boeotia, fwhich in former times spoke with many tongues because of its oracles, the oracles have now failed completely, even as if they were streams of flowing water, and a great drought in prophecy has overspread the land? For nowhere now except in the neighbourhood of Lebadeia has Boeotia aught to offer to those who would draw from the well-spring of prophecy. As for the rest, 412silence has come upon some and utter desolation upon others."


"Now moderation, adequacy, excess in nothing, and complete self-sufficiency are above all else the essential characteristics of everything done by the gods; and if anyone should take this fact as a starting-point, and assert that 414Greece has far more than its share in the general depopulation which the earlier discords and wars have wrought throughout practically the whole inhabited earth, and that to‑day the whole of Greece would hardly muster three thousand men-at‑arms, which is the number that the one city of the Megarians sent forth to Plataeae28 (for the god's abandoning of many oracles is nothing other than his way of substantiating the desolation of Greece), in this way such a man would give some accurate evidence of his keenness in reasoning. For who would profit if there were an oracle in Tegyrae, as there used to be, or at PtoĆ¼m, where during some part of the day one might possibly meet a human being pasturing his flocks? And regarding the oracle here at Delphi, the most ancient in time and the most famous in repute, bmen record that for a long time it was made desolate and unapproachable by a fierce creature, a serpent; they do not, however, put the correct interpretation upon its lying idle, but quite the reverse; for it was the desolation that attracted the creature rather than that the creature caused the desolation. But when Greece, since God so willed, had grown strong in cities and the place was thronged with people, they p375used to employ two prophetic priestesses who were sent down in turn; and a third was appointed to be held in reserve. But to‑day there is one priestess and we do not complain, for she meets every need. There is no reason, therefore, to blame the god; the exercise of the prophetic art which continues at the present day is sufficient for all, cand sends away all with their desires fulfilled. Agamemnon,29 for example, used nine heralds and, even so, had difficulty in keeping the assembly in order because of the vast numbers; but here in Delphi, a few days hence, in the theatre you will see that one voice reaches all. In the same way, in those days, prophecy employed more voices to speak to more people, but to‑day, quite the reverse, we should needs be surprised at the god if he allowed his prophecies to run to waste, like water, or to echo like the rocks with the voices of shepherds and flocks in waste places."

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

The collapse of modern civilization is everywhere; it just manifests itself in different symptoms in different places. There is a temptation to look at another country and, seeing that their society do not display the same symptoms that yours does, assume that they're not ill. I've lived in Japan, traveled there many times since, have friends there, and keep up with the goings-on in that country. Trust me, it's as ill as everybody else - the symptoms are just quieter, less visible, and less obvious to outsiders. Google "hikikomori" for just one example (there are many others).

Baduin was right to bring up Spengler (I am myself a Spenglerian in historical outlook). One of the symptoms Spengler cited for a civilization in irreversible decline was an "appalling depopulation", the beginning of which coincides with the peak of urbanization and the extent of megacities. These megacities act as a meatgrinder for populations - people move into them and stop having children. It is highly likely that in a few centuries, Chicago, Tokyo, and Berlin will look about as Rome did in the year 800 - a crumbling ruin, where farmers occasionally bring carts to scavenge building materials from abandoned structures to use in constructing chicken coops.

When Napoleon decided to live out his Caesar fetish by conquering Alexandria, he was enraged to find the city desolate and long-abandoned. In a fit of anger and hubris, he ordered architects to be brought from Paris to rebuild the city from scratch so that he could have something to conquer. Perhaps some distant Generallisimo will have Washington DC rebuilt from dusty ruins so that he can say he conquered it. Time will tell.

Arakawa said...

Regarding the decline of Japan, I found this blogger to be an interesting chronicler of what's going on around the edges of the country, as conveyed via abandoned infrastructure:


"It may come as a shock to almost all of you living outside of Japan, and to some of you living in the center of its big cities, that as we approach the summer of 2009, swathes of the country are in ruins." (emphasis mine)

To be honest, a similar chronicle could probably be assembled for most modern-day nations.

John said...

I would describe endless population growth as pathological nihilism, just as any sign of not being able to moderate oneself or any push towards excess and extreme is a kind of nihilism. First, because endless population growth, like all excess, ends in self-destruction. So much is obvious. Secondly, because an inability to achieve moderation and balance imply an extreme unhappiness with who/what one is - i.e nihilism.

The urge to procreate and create descendents, like all our appetites and urges, must surely be appropriate to the context in order to avoid being pathological.

To not eat at all is pathological - but too eat endlessly and too much is not evidence of some kind of deep love of life, but it's opposite. Just as in some circumstances deciding to eat less - restricting life-sustaining nourishment! Surely that's nihilistic! - is actually life-affirming and health-affirming, so to with the urge to procreate.

Right, now, the world in general and Asia in particular is overcrowded. We have just come off an explosion in populuation the likes of which we have never seen before.

In such a context, clearly what is called for, what is the truly life-affirming impulse that sustains life long term - is to curtail population growth.

Any civilization that is life-affirming at its deepest level and takes the long term survival view, will instinctively reduce population.

Interestingly, the oldest, deepest, and most life-affirming European countries are also responding to this instinct - it won't save them, because they are so sick in other ways.

But it might save Asians, because they are basically sound in mind.