Apr 2, 2022Liked by Richard Hanania

Get a bunch of women sitting around and talking and more often than not they express their regret for not having had kids or not having had more kids. We were the generation who waited too long before we had kids and who suffered through infertility and often ended up with max two children. It was all about career etc. I was once in a book club of about eight women and only two had their own kids including me, the rest having had to adopt (most of these adoptions turned out to be ‘difficult’ for one reason or another). This was a very wealthy crowd who had the max flexibility to do what they wanted. That said, I have two daughters, 30 and 31 whom I have admonished to start having kids earlier than I did. One has been married for five years and is in finance with no kid in sight and the other is not married at all. It’s worrisome to say the least. Have kids! And then more kids!

Expand full comment

The Western crisis of meaning started long before the birthrate fell. It's correlated much more with the decline of organized religion historically (and the rise of romantic love).

Expand full comment

I think your basic point is right here — public meeting places don’t replace the family relationship — but I don’t think that means the parks-and-libraries crowd is entirely wrong, either. I live in a smallish city where there are a lot of public spaces available. I think those spaces give the city a sort of cohesion and a sense of togetherness that would otherwise be harder to keep in mind. That’s the outermost ring of connections; the least strong bond after families and churches and schools. But it’s still nice to have multiple layers of connection, of varying degrees of strength. So I can see the argument that such spaces are a meaningful public good.

But I agree that they generally can’t create a meaningful life on their own.

Expand full comment

Have LOTS of kids. Pick up the slack for the woke cat ladies and soys who aren't having kids lmao

But in all seriousness love, family and God are fundamental to our happiness and the well-being of society so having kids should definitely be encouraged. There is also a serious fertility issue effecting every Western country, so don't worry about "overpopulation".

Expand full comment

If the American Left (or Right, for that matter) had any brain at all, it would minimize immigration, encourage large families, develop an industrial policy at a national level that restored the ability to live off of one income, crack down on large publicly held corporations that break communities apart and destroy small businesses, reduce the tax burden to nothing for those who have 3 or more kids, and cut the defense budget by a half or more and then reinvest that money in the nation's infrastructure. Doing so would give them the power they so desperately crave, for generations, and they would gain it legitimately for once.

Expand full comment

Do you have kids, Richard?

Expand full comment

"Hertz argues that since people are having smaller families, we need to ask ourselves how to replace the meaning they used to find in children, siblings, and cousins by encouraging them to find ways “'to care for people who are not necessarily linked to them by blood.'”

Organized religion used to play that role in people's lives, I suspect (I don't know personally, because my parents weren't religious and neither am I), and its ongoing collapse seems to me to have created, at least partly, this lack of meaning and personal connection for a lot of people. A library is a poor substitute, clearly.

I think you're correct about ideological commitments preventing people like her from ever advocating the most basic solutions to this problem. I would just add that a big one of these is environmentalism. When I used to be on the left in my younger days, population growth was a huge concern. Having more than two kids were considered selfish and feckless, and having none at all was considered an admirable sacrifice for the good of the planet. You don't hear as much of this sentiment today, as birth rates have declined and there's more triumphalism about turning the US into a majority minority country because diversity is so great and all, but I think it's still there, hiding beneath the surface.

Expand full comment
Apr 2, 2022·edited Apr 2, 2022

Good post.

Absolutely right about family and children.

There is not and cannot be any substitute for them.

I remember getting a pissy lecture from an attractive young woman on some feminist type issue. She used a phrase like “social construction” of something or other. And I’m looking at her and I’m thinking: The fundamental shape of your body, which I’m looking at, your waist, your hips, your breasts, evolved over millions of years to make and feed babies. That is older than politics, older than Society, million of years, thousands of times older. The biological organisms speaking to me was built by forces so ancient that she can’t even imagine them, and she is saying things that deny those forces even exist, though they compose what she actually is, down to the most basic feelings and urges in the oldest parts of her brain. And she has somehow missed all this. Women suffer the most from the loss of marriage, family and children. They are built for it, literally. And when they lose the chance to have it, nothing can ever make up for that loss.

Expand full comment

Really well written. This is exactly right, and I think where all the real cultural energy is now. It’s still nascent, obviously, but I think this form of community building and the philosophy behind it will be the next big “movement”.

Expand full comment

One should offer advice of how to have kids rather than just the statement.

1) You need friends who want kids. You become who you spend time with. For me that meant joining a church with people my age at it. Even if you don't marry a very religious person, the less religious friends of church people tend to be more family oriented.

It will be very difficult to start a family dating the way urban yuppies date and living the way they live.

2) You can't fake religion because you think it will get you a family. It just won't work. It's OK to have a ton of doubt and occasionally just be floored with how dumb your church can be sometimes (I've got Pope Francis). Ultimately, you have to believe in it more than you don't.

If that ain't your thing at least find something that is.

3) When you do find a serious woman that wants kids and marry her, you are going to run into problems. One thing that is really tempting is "I already have X kids, can I really risk the negative impact to them if I have another." It's tempting because it's inevitably true, nobody has 20 kids so they did agree with that logic at some point. I recommend you have at least one more kid when you feel your back is against the wall, whatever that happens to bring the total number to.

4) Siblings entertain themselves, don't stop at one. It's way harder than two. You want them to be close in age so don't wait.

5) What really worries people is "what might happen." Like, I could easily lose my job (and not be able to get an equivalent one) and I could easily have a huge health problem (I've had many). That would make it difficult, and so even when its not difficult (as it is for me now) that "what if" scares people.

6) I don't think policy is the main driver of TFR, but the biggest negative impact to us lately is the schools. We were planning to go public school before it went nuts. Private schools scales linearly with kids and did take a big chunk out of us. If you want conservatives to have more kids the one policy area that would help is to fix the schools or get us NO STRINGS vouchers/cash payments.

Expand full comment

Great article. I was thinking about my small town, which has a huge library and countless parks. I never see childless adults there.

Exception: the dog park. It's the only public community space childless adults meet up with others and sometimes make lasting friendships. I wonder why...

Expand full comment

Have you considered the possibility that an economic system in which individuals are treated as replaceable cogs might have something to do with why people do not want to have children?

Expand full comment

Speaking of political activism: “ If anything, we should be taxing it.”

I’ve long thought that each level of government should tax the total incoming cash flow of subordinate levels of government. (Taxes, fees, fines and debt issuance.) This would help offset the tendency to treat public spending as free. It would be especially effective at deterring big debt-backed boondoggles. If we had a VAT, I’d make the rate equal to the VAT.

And I’d also add an income tax on the income of government workers at a rate that is higher by a percent equal to the the income tax rates applied to private workers by the subordinate governments. (This would offset the fact that the government can pay market wages, but then tax some of it back, which gives them an advantage in recruiting personnel.)

Expand full comment

When we talk about people being dissatisfied due to lack of meaning, I think we are misdiagnosing the problem. I concede that having children is one way to assign meaning to one's life, but this is not the only possible meaning to life and never has been: people have fought and died for their country; people have taught youth philosophy, law, medicine, or some other topic of knowledge which would be used by their students to benefit themselves or others; people have written great works of literature still read centuries later; people have led their states successfully through times of crisis, or introduced reforms that changed their states for the better; people have made great scientific discoveries that changed the way we live or see the world; people have built structures that continued to stand beyond their own lifetimes; people have founded businesses that continued to be successful after they died: you might say that most of these are difficult for most people to achieve, but more modest meanings can also be assigned to one's life, such as building a garden in one's backyard that would continue to be enjoyed by birds, insects, or other animals beyond one's lifetime; or collecting a small library of books and storing them in a safe place so that, if civilization should collapse, there would be one more place for future historians to uncover and rediscover the literature of one's own age: the possibilities are really limitless, as long as they involve some aspect of your life "pointing beyond" your own existence.

And of course there's the big meaning that most people throughout history have hoped for or feared: that after they died, they should have a second life lived in accordance with how they lived in the first one. There's no greater, more totalizing meaning to one's life than the knowledge that when one dies one will go to the underworld to be punished for one's misdeeds, yet I doubt most people would be happy if they were told that this was the meaning that their life in fact had. And, on the other hand, people in heaven probably are no less happy for the knowledge that their eternal happiness in paradise is meaningless, that it doesn't in turn point to another post-afterlife. So I find the handwringing over meaning vain: meaning is readily available to all and the possibilities for meaning are numerous enough to suit all preferences and capabilities; and the extreme examples of heaven and hell show that meaning is neither a necessary nor a sufficient criterion for happiness. What people are really searching for is "it": the one meaningless but all-encompassing experience that everything they've done was building up to. This is why people hope to go to heaven, because they think heaven is "it"; the same impulse leads people to experiment with drugs, strive to attain prophetic ecstasy, and probably also to have children: in the moment, it seems that nothing else matters than to have these experiences, but unfortunately the experience doesn't last. Even parents suffer from empty-nest syndrome, if their children do survive to adulthood.

So the search for meaning is a red herring; the real question is whether the ultimate meaningless experience exists, and then how it can be attained. In recent centuries people have come to doubt the existence of heaven or a posthumous paradise for good people to enjoy forever; I think there are good reasons to doubt its existence, and this doubt has certainly caused a psychological crisis, but calling this crisis a crisis of meaning is the opposite of the truth, and certainly having children is neither here nor there.

Expand full comment

The solution to "Bowling Alone" is not public spaces. As the public sphere expands, it takes the energy out of the private spaces that historically made the US unique. Those private spaces existed to provide benefits to their members, whether the League of Women Voters or the Knights of Columbus, or yes, the neighborhood book club. That change was exacerbated by electronic communications, which allowed transactional relationships to replace the less-flexible but deeper relationships that preceded them.

School and participation in sports survives and draws people, together. Politics, too, although much less so.

Note also the perhaps unsurprising phenomenon that "hostages" taken by Native Americans often refused to return to their prior lives when given the chance, while many Native Americans who grew up away from their bands often returned to them, rejecting their adopted way of life, opting for a greater sense of community, despite the other sacrifices involved.

Expand full comment

Thank you for the clarity.

Expand full comment