The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Capturing Other People’s Children

The New Bio-Politics of Fertility


Bryce J. Christensen


It has been more than a century and a half since Charles Darwin first taught the world that all species—including human beings—are locked in an unrelenting, competitive struggle for reproductive success. Often translated into the grim phrase “the survival of the fittest,” the outcome of this evolutionary contest depends finally on the transmission of genes that carry each species’ biochemical blueprints. In this Darwinian paradigm, genes that succeed in getting themselves reproduced triumph over those that do not. For doctrinaire Darwinian theorists, therefore, all human activities—from the discovery of new principles of astrophysics to the composing of orchestral symphonies—are ultimately no more than alternate strategies for securing some advantage in the propagation of genes. Biologist Richard Dawkins states the orthodox scientific view with provocative bluntness: “[Genes] are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale of our existence. . . . [W]e are their survival machines.”[1] And neo-Darwinian philosopher John Gray asserts the centrality of the fight for genetic success with similar brusqueness: “The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.”[2]

It is hardly surprising that the Victorian intellectuals who first confronted the unsettling doctrines of Darwinism recoiled from the spectacle of “Nature, red with tooth and law” and lamented that “Nature lends such evil dreams.”[3] However, for most 21st-century Americans the whole notion of life as a ruthless struggle for reproductive success seems irrelevant, perhaps even absurd. Even some neo-Darwinians admit that a phrase such as “the survival of the fittest” simply does not reflect modern social realities. “Entire human societies,” remarks molecular biologist Lee M. Silver, “have already stopped playing by Darwinian rules as a result of a confluence of cultural changes caused by modern technological civilization. . . . [I]n liberal democracies, an ethic of a universal right to life and liberty prevents people with one kind of gene from curbing the reproductive output of those with an alternative kind of gene.”[4]

However, even if very few Americans still view life as simply a fight for reproductive success or see themselves as simply survival machines designed to protect and propagate genes, a great many are beginning to recognize that changes in American fertility patterns are very much implicated in a fight that is cultural and political, not merely biological. The reality of such cultural and political clashes has indeed been acknowledged by Dawkins, who recognizes that above and beyond the biological competition that determines the fate of competing genes, the workings of human society inevitably involve contests between the competing cultural units that he calls memes. Defining a meme as “a unit of cultural transmission,” such as an idea, a fashion, or a particular way of performing a task, Dawkins sees a clear parallel between the biological competition between genes and the cultural competition between memes: “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain in a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”[5] Following in Dawkins’s tracks, Silver stresses that “part of the ‘life’ cycle of a meme is its moment-to-moment competition with other ideas . . . within a host brain.”[6]

 

The Conflict of “Memes”

Neo-Darwinian theorists insist that the competition between memes differs from the competition between genes and occurs on a different plane. As one theorist explains, “[Memes] have their own fitness as replicators, independent of any contribution they may or may not make to the genetic fitness of their hosts, the human vectors.”[7] Gray laments that “memes are not genes [and therefore] [t]here is no mechanism of natural selection in the history of ideas.” Gray judges it naive to suppose that in memetic evolution “competition among ideas could result in the triumph of truth.” “Certainly ideas compete with one another,” Gray cynically remarks, “but the winners are normally those with power and human folly on their side.”[8] But despite the clear distinction between the competition between genes and the competition between memes, neo-Darwinian Daniel C. Dennett detects “strong interactions between genetic and memetic evolution” and believes it imperative “to look at the cui bono? question” in such interactions.[9] Who does benefit from transmission of a particular meme? To what degree does a meme-related benefit confer or deny a biological benefit in propagating genes?

Such questions have become more and more pressing in recent decades in a country swept by liberal ideological memes that have disrupted family life and depressed fertility. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in May 2019 that America had witnessed new all-time lows in 2018 in both general fertility (59.0 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44) and completed fertility (1.72 lifetime births per American woman).[10] The liberal memes that have depressed fertility include those promulgated by New Leftists, Sexual Liberationists, Malthusians, Feminists, Environmentalists, Marxists, Homosexual Activists, and Secularists. Those who care most about these ideological memes are beginning to realize that they can hardly rely on their own genetic offspring to promulgate these memes in the decades ahead. There are simply too few of them. After all, the demographic event that some commentators have called “the Birth Dearth” has been—unsurprisingly—most pronounced among those Americans committed to spreading liberal memes subversive of traditional family life.

Commentator Philip Longman has thus described a “liberal baby bust” in social data indicating that “secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce.”[11] The reason for this reproductive failure is easy to see: “Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists.”[12] Translating cultural dynamics into the language of biology, Longman remarks, “The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, will leave no genetic legacy.”[13]

It is therefore entirely understandable that Dutch demographer Dirk van de Kaa would trace the sharp drop in western European fertility rates during the late 20th century to the rise of “progressive ideologies” among young adults who “embrace the new . . . [and] largely disregard the past.”[14] Also understandable is the work of researchers Ron Lesthaege and Johan Surkyn, who have updated and extended Van de Kaa’s analysis with polling data showing that fertility rates are particularly low among those who infrequently or never attend church and who accept soft drugs, homosexuality, and euthanasia.[15] In centers of secular urban liberalism, observers already marvel that “you find more dogs than children.”[16]

 Because of the increasing potency of fertility-depressing memes within the Democratic Party, the editors of the Economist even feared in 2004 that one of America’s two great political parties is “ceasing to be the mom-and-pop party.” Looking at the 2004 Presidential election, the editors pointed out that the fertility rate in Kerry states ran 12% lower than the fertility rate in Bush states. The editors underscored the repudiation of childbearing among the Democratic standard-bearers by contrasting the low fertility rate of Vermont (“perhaps the most left-wing [state] in the country,” the home of Howard Dean, and the first state to legalize homosexual unions), with the much higher fertility rate of Utah (a conservative state in which 71% of voters cast their ballots for Bush). While sterile Vermont was at that time reporting only 49 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing ages, fertile Utah was reporting 91 births per 1,000 women of comparable ages.[17]

Nor has the pattern limned in 2004 by the Economist changed since then. Writing in 2014, columnist Lauren Sandler remarked, “Almost invisibly, over the past decade, family size in America has emerged as our deepest political dividing line.” Sandler explained, “The postponement of marriage and parenting—the factors that shrink the birth rate—is the very best predictor of a person’s politics in the United States, over even income and education levels.” Understanding this relationship, Sandler declared, “Tell me a state’s fertility rate, and I’ll tell you how it voted,” as she pointed to the fact that all of the states with under 60 births per 1,000 women aged 15-45 voted for Obama while all of the states with over 70 births voted for Romney.[18]

A parallel pattern may be discerned in the 2016 election: The five states with the lowest fertility (Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) voted for Clinton; the five states with the highest fertility (North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Alaska, and Nebraska) voted for Trump.[19]

No wonder commentator Mark Steyn has asked hard questions about the biological reproduction of enlightened Americans whose “big thing is feminism or abortion or gay marriage” and whose family model is the “yuppie model of one designer baby” born to a careerist mom who belatedly fits childbearing into her life schedule “at the age of thirty-nine.” Such enlightened Americans need to think much harder, Steyn argues, about what kind of social and cultural legacy they will leave behind. And to guide them in their thinking, he parodies the political slogan once used so effectively by progressive Democrat Bill Clinton (father of one very visible designer child). Steyn insists, “It’s the demography, stupid!”[20]

 Because of the pro-family and pro-natalist memes they cherish, conservatives have long recognized the national danger in recent demographic trends. But New York Times columnist Ross Douthat remarked in a 2019 commentary, “The continued plunge in the American birthrate, amid prosperity and low unemployment, has finally made fertility a topic that it is O.K to worry about even if you aren’t a deep-dyed reactionary.”[21] The relationship between liberal memes and depressed fertility has particularly unsettled some of the champions of those memes. Even liberal cartoonist Garry Trudeau saw fit to devote a 2006 Sunday Doonesbury comic strip to the way “fertility correlates with political views,” depicting an anguished liberal worried that “it won’t be long before people like us are completely marginalized” because of “inaction” in having children.[22] Progressive readers may not have laughed too heartily or too long over this strip, but its very existence says that 21st-century liberals are increasingly aware of the demographic challenge they face in promulgating their memes.

Recent demographic trends do not look entirely ominous to Americans who still believe in the memes defined by religious and family commitments. To be sure, birth rates have fallen in recent decades even among conservatives and traditionalists. But the fertility of America’s more conservative groups has still remained above replacement levels—and far above the levels seen among the nation’s liberal and radical communities. Noting that historically it has been groups devoted to “traditional, patriarchal values” that have “maximized their population,” Longman sees the same pattern emerging in the 21st­-century world. In the years ahead, Longman anticipates “the emergence of a new society whose members will disproportionately be descended from parents who [have rejected] the social tendencies that [have] made childlessness and small families the norm [among liberals].”[23] Even a commitment to feminist theory does not prevent economist Nancy Folbre from acknowledging the fertility-enhancing effects of traditional, patriarchal values. “Patriarchal control over women,” Folbre writes, “tends to increase their specialization in reproductive labor, with important consequences for both the quantity and quality of their investments in the next generation.”[24]

 

Battle Over the Children

America’s more conservative communities—it would appear—can still hope to rely on their genetic offspring as the primary preservers and promulgators of their cultural memes. However, only the most hopelessly naive conservatives should suppose that liberals, who have largely given up on reproducing their genes, are anywhere near giving up in their efforts to reproduce their memes. Despite their own low fertility rates, liberals hope very much to triumph over conservatives culturally through the promulgation of their sterile and sterilizing ideological memes. Indeed, Douthat sees progressives actually becoming more aggressive in advocating their memes.  “The emerging progressivism, “ Douthat writes, “seems hostile not only to anything tainted by conservative religion or gender essentialism but to the very idea of sexual or reproductive normativity, period.”[25]

How do feminists and homosexuals, environmentalists, secularists, and New Leftists hope to win out in the cultural arena after being routed so decisively in the maternity ward? Do they plan to recommit themselves to childbearing? Hardly, for that would require jettisoning the very memes that define them ideologically. It would mean accepting culturally conservative memes—the only memes that offer real promise of above-replacement fertility. No, rather than recommitting themselves to child­bearing, a growing number of sterile liberals hope to recoup everything they have lost in the gene war by zealotry in the meme war. More specifically, even as they have turned ever more decisively away from memes that lead to the bearing of children, American progressives have been turning toward ways of spreading their anti-family cultural memes through strategies for capturing the children born to others.

Lacking biological offspring upon whom they can rely to preserve and advance their anti-family cultural memes in the future, American liberals must use entertainment and public policy, educational indoctrination and activist jurisprudence to capture the offspring of others to perform that labor for them. They may have ceded primacy in the reproduction of genes to conservatives (who are, in the view of Trudeau’s angst-ridden liberal, “breeding like rabbits”[26]), but they will fight like dragons to win the war of memes, ceaselessly trying to capture a good number of the children of conservatives. Capturing other people’s children is indeed their only possible strategy for securing the long-term survival of their cultural memes.

One of the ways that liberals are now trying to capture the children of others is through state policies—often mandated by aggressively liberal jurists—that authorize homosexual couples and unmarried individuals to adopt. It is true that children up for adoption have not typically been born to parents endorsing distinctively conservative memes. However, biology still dictates that those parents be heterosexual, and the very fact that they have not availed themselves of legal abortion suggests that they have resisted at least one of the memes of modern liberalism. But allowing unmarried and homosexual individuals to adopt other people’s children gives to the advocates of liberal memes a huge cultural victory, and puts those children on a life course much more likely to make them cultural defenders and advocates of those liberal and anti-family memes.

Thus, journalists were right in 1997 to count it as “a big win” for those promulgating the meme of homosexual rights when New Jersey courts struck down restrictions on homosexual adoption, so “symbolically recogniz[ing] the gay and lesbian family”—and incidentally making it “easier for unmarried heterosexuals to adopt” as well.[27] Similarly, when New York courts ruled that officials placing children for adoption could not consider “the sexual orientation or marital status of the individuals seeking to adopt them,” they validated liberal anti-family memes by “legitimizing” what the unmarried homosexual plaintiffs “feel about [their] union and [their] family.”[28]

 In the war over cultural memes, the victory that homosexuals have won through public policies allowing them to capture other people’s children through adoption has been amplified through laws that have driven adoption agencies entirely out of operation if they adhere to more traditional cultural memes. Thus, the likelihood that Massachusetts children needing adoption will be placed in a conservative, traditional family declined markedly when the Catholic agency that handles adoption there announced in March 2006 that it would “abandon adoption services entirely rather than comply with a state law requiring no discrimination against homosexual couples.” “Sadly,” a Catholic official explained to the media, “we have come to a moment when Catholic Charities must withdraw from the work of adoptions to exercise the religious freedom that was the prompting [motive] for having begun adoptions many years ago.”[29] And, unfortunately, the triumph of gay-rights memes has in like manner since shuttered faith-based social-service agencies in Washington, D.C. and Illinois.[30]

The gay-rights evangelists spreading their anti-family memes gained a powerful ally in 2015 when five heedless Supreme Court justices abandoned all sense of judicial restraint and created, out of whole cloth, a new “right” to same-sex marriage, in Obergefell v. Hodges. As commentator Kelsey Dallas observed, “When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage . . . justices acknowledged that the ruling would put pressure on religious conservatives.”[31] In large part because of the new legal environment created by this stunning judicial activism, religious social-service agencies in many places—including Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Texas, and South Carolina—now face intense pressure to replace their religious family-affirming memes with anti-family progressive ones. That pressure could grow even more intense through passage of the Equality Act endorsed by the House of Representatives in May 2019  (but not likely to win approval in the Senate). That Act would compel religious institutions to join in the spread of gay-rights memes or to face unprecedented persecution.[32]

Though homosexual activists have embraced a way of life that precludes reproduction of genes, they and their allies have clearly mastered strategies for capturing other people’s children and so reproducing their cultural memes. They have even devised strategies for handicapping conservatives in the fight over which cultural memes are to prevail in the lives of other people’s children when those children are placed for adoption.

 

Hollywood Tricks

The strategies liberals deploy to reproduce their memes can involve the coercive power of the state—as the officials of faith-based social-service agencies have learned to their dismay in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. But very often the strategies infertile anti-family activists use to advance their cultural memes involve the non-coercive seductions of entertainment. Liberals in Hollywood are probably no more successful in reproducing their genes than liberals elsewhere. But infertile Hollywood liberals are remarkably skillful in ensnaring other people’s children and then securing their help in preserving and spreading their memes. Only Hollywood’s adeptness at capturing other people’s children can explain why the pro-homosexual 2005 film Brokeback Mountain did very well in heartland cities such as Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lubbock, Texas; and Billings, Montana.[33] And, of course, since Brokeback appeared, Hollywood has advanced gay-rights memes in many other Hollywood productions—including, recently, Booksmart, From Zero to I Love You, Port Authority, and Last Ferry. Conservative critic Ann Coulter exaggerates only a little when she complains that “Hollywood can never do enough for gays.”[34]

Infertile Hollywood liberals likewise capture other people’s children as carriers for their memes by scrambling the memes of traditional morality in films that depict all kinds of offenses against that morality—divorce, adultery, incest, prostitution—without any indication whatever “that [such] actions have consequences [or] that there is a line to be drawn between good and evil.”[35] And to capture even more of other people’s children as carriers for liberal memes, Hollywood scriptwriters and producers make sure that any character who appears on the screen voicing a belief in “family values” is immediately reduced to a “conservative Devil incarnate,” a repulsive figure who “combines the Pillsbury Dough Boy looks of Newt Gingrich with the dour countenance of Bob Dole and the snarling nastiness of Phil Gramm.” In the assessment of one movie critic, “No ugly personality trait in this caricature is left unturned.”[36]

 But infertile liberals command channels other than cinema for propagating their memes by capturing unrelated children. The news media serve infertile liberals quite well in their fight to transmit their memes without relying on their own children. With good reason, commentator Robert J. Bresler recognizes “clear liberal domination of what we call the elite media.”[37] Writing three decades ago, conservative publisher William A. Rusher viewed media bias as “a fundamental problem of the distribution of forces within the American society,” as journalists increasingly abandoned their “historic role” of “objective observers of the political conflict” and became “highly partisan participants” in that conflict.[38] Solid evidence of 21st-century media partisanship emerged in a study conducted in 2004 by scholars from UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. Analyzing the nation’s major newspapers and television networks, the researchers found that “the media are skewed substantially to the left of the typical member of the House [of Representatives],” evincing a perspective that is consistently “far to the left of most of their customers.”[39]

Nor has the media bias against conservative, family-supporting memes diminished since 2004. Writing in 2019 in the New York Times, journalist David Leonhardt frankly acknowledged, “Most mainstream journalists do lean left.”[40] The editors of Investor’s Business declared in a 2018 editorial that they had uncovered ample evidence of leftist bias even in the supposedly conservative journalists covering economic matters. These editors concluded that the “profound leftward ideological bias of the Big Media” is now so ubiquitous that “pretty much all of journalism now leans left.”[41] Of course, for infertile liberals trying to propagate their memes, the media bias constitutes not a problem, but rather an essential solution to a problem.

And when it comes to media coverage of social issues, media bias is particularly blatant. Even left-leaning journalist Mark Hertsgaard—who unpersuasively denied media bias in general in a 2002 analysis—admitted that the liberal slant on “social issues” such as abortion, homosexuality, and religion creates “the one plausible aspect” of conservatives’ complaint of media bias.[42] In the same way, in his 2019 assessment of left-liberal bias in the media, Leonhardt implausibly asserted that journalists generally keep their ideological bias out of their coverage of events, but that “[O]n issue-based coverage liberal bias exists.”[43] That bias is nowhere so apparent as in media coverage of family-related issues.  

The media bias on abortion is so pronounced that conservative columnist Don Feder has compared national coverage of the issue to the mendaciously slanted stories that used to appear in the state-run press of the Soviet Union. “Soviet subjects,” Feder writes, “used to joke that there was no truth in Izvestia (Russian for ‘the news’) and no news in Pravda (‘the truth’).” Feder believes the same kind of mirthless jest is appropriate for American media coverage on abortion.[44] But infertile liberals are laughing quite heartily. After all, though such coverage may not serve the truth, it does serve the cause of preserving and spreading their memes.

Like the prestige media, most American universities now aid liberals trying to spread their memes by capturing other people’s children. As conservative columnist George Will pointed out in a 2004 column, many American campuses are now so dominated by the liberal-left that they have become “the intellectual versions of one-party nations.” Will highlighted in particular the ongoing campus labors of professors working to discredit the notion that “the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being.”[45] The on-campus bias favoring liberal memes is indeed particularly pronounced in the social sciences: Surveys in the 1990s already indicated that almost nine in ten academic sociologists considered themselves “liberal” or “radical,” while only one in twenty considered himself or herself a “conservative.”[46]

Academic bias against family-friendly memes has only grown more pronounced in recent decades. In a 2017 article in Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschik cited 2016 data revealing that a survey of 40 leading American universities found 11.5 Democrats for every Republican in the history and social-science departments.[47] Reporting another on-campus imbalance in a 2018 New York Times article, Samuel J. Abrams—professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College—reported a 12 to 1 liberal-conservative imbalance among 900 “student-facing” university administrators.[48]

 

Liberal Memes at School

In their search for a reliable conduit of their anti-family memes, however, infertile liberals finally rely even more on the public schools than upon Hollywood movies or metropolitan newspapers. After all, those who embrace traditional social memes can choose not to watch anti-family movies, can simply ignore the left-­leaning media, and can still find a few conservative colleges, but compulsory-education laws put most of their children in public schools. And once in those schools, the children of traditionalist parents often find themselves under a steady barrage of liberal and anti-family memes.

To be sure, many public-school teachers are themselves quite conservative in their social thinking. Many school-board members are likewise conservatives who believe in the memes that reinforce traditional marriage and family life. However, the curricula for secondary and primary schools inevitably reflect higher education’s commitment to anti-family progressive memes.  After all, those writing these curricula were bombarded by such memes during their university years while acquiring their professional credentials.  What is more, the National Education Association (NEA)—the powerful teachers’ union with decisive collective bargaining leverage in almost all public schools—openly espouses a long list of anti-family memes, often in open defiance of elected school boards. As Gary Beckner of the Association of American Educators complained in 2006, the NEA has “dominated the debate and direction of [public] education” ever since it “veered dramatically to the left” in the 1960s.[49] The NEA’s lurch to the left has translated into any number of anti-family memes, including Lesbian and Gay History Month, open attacks on “misguided and divisive” ballot initiatives affirming traditional marriage, official sponsorship of pro-abortion marches, free in-school distribution of contraceptives, and adoption of textbooks that evasively define family as “a group of people” or “the people you live with.”[50] In a 2019 initiative indicating its unflagging commitment to anti-family memes, the organization unsurprisingly proclaimed that “the NEA vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose and stands on the fundamental right to abortion.”[51]

 Concerned parents can shield their children from this steady fusillade of anti-family memes by enrolling them in a conservative private school or by educating them at home. Predictably, the NEA strongly opposes homeschooling unless the parents who do it are state-licensed and use the approved state curriculum (a curriculum increasingly laced with anti­family memes).[52] Just as predictably, the NEA vehemently opposes vouchers or tax credits that would make it easier for conservative parents to enroll their children in a philosophically congenial private school or even a state-funded charter school.[53]

 The ferocity with which the NEA and its ideological allies oppose any measure allowing parents greater educational choice may seem astonishing. But such ferocity is exactly what neo­-Darwinians would predict in a life-or-­death struggle. And for infertile liberals who have largely given up on genetic reproduction, the public schools are perhaps the most important battlefields in their fight to keep alive their memes. If conservatives prevail not only in passing along their genes but also in promulgating their memes, then conservative triumph truly will be complete and liberal defeat will be absolute. Because they recognize what is at stake, liberals are ready to wage a last-ditch battle for control of the public schools as a venue in which they can convert other people’s children into carriers of their liberal memes.

It is similarly a ferocious attachment to liberal memes that accounts for the otherwise irrational behavior of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in attacking all public policies that promote or strengthen marriage. Twenty years ago NOW repeatedly attacked the Bush Administration’s efforts to launch federal social programs promoting healthy marriage and likewise denounced state-level initiatives to create divorce-resistant “covenant marriages.” At that time NOW Vice­President Loretta Kane claimed that “a vein of sexism” runs through all such federal and state policies.[54] The persistence of such thinking among NOW leaders helps account for their decision in 2016 to name a new scholarship for lesbians in technical education for Edith “Edie” Windsor, a math and computer expert who won NOW’s undying gratitude for bringing the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.[55]

Why do feminist leaders persist in attacking rather than defending heterosexual wedlock, despite convincing empirical research that such marriage improves the lives of women and their daughters, adding years to their lives, enhancing the health of their bodies, enlarging their financial resources, and elevating the well-being of their psyche?[56] The answer lies in other research: namely, research showing that women are more likely to endorse feminist ideas if they have been divorced or have borne a child out of wedlock than if they are married and have born children within wedlock.[57] When looking at marriage and child-bearing within wedlock, feminists have even been heard to bewail “the depoliticizing consequences for women.”[58] Apparently, feminists care far, far more about the well-being of their feminist memes than they do about mere flesh-and-blood women and girls. Feminists indeed appear recklessly willing to sacrifice the well-being of these women and girls so long as doing so advances their memes.

Despite their clear disadvantage in the maternity ward, feminists and other infertile liberals have been remarkably shrewd and successful in developing strategies for capturing other people’s children and converting them into carriers for their own liberal memes. But infertile liberals ought to pause before they indulge overmuch in self-congratulation. For their very success threatens their future liberal ambitions. It must be remembered, after all, that the ambitions inscribed in liberal memes require large government programs for their realization and that such programs require a large tax base. Liberals’ success in spreading their memes through other people’s children threatens that tax base. For liberal memes are sterilizing memes: Regardless of who their own genetic parents may have been, children who have embraced liberal memes will rarely script an adult life that includes more than two designer children. Many who embrace liberal memes will choose to have a single child—or no child at all. As liberal memes turn more and more away from child­bearing, the number of citizens left to shoulder the tax burden dwindles.

To be sure, those who embrace the sterilizing memes of modern liberalism have for some time enjoyed a free-rider status in their retirement by drawing Social Security and medical benefits paid for by other people’s children.[59] In a somewhat similar way, women who have made feminist memes their guide for building “mother-state-child” families have been free-riding on public policies forcing traditional bread-winning husbands to support their own households through their earnings and the households of unmarried mothers through their taxes.[60]

 But what happens when liberals are so successful in spreading their sterilizing and anti-family memes that the number of free-riders equals or surpasses the number of taxpayers? Already the advocates of anti-family memes are enjoying so much success that they are endangering many of the government programs that they cherish most. Peter G. Peterson, an acute political analyst and the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, has pointed out that one of the greatest threats to the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs is the “precipitous fertility-rate decline” that the nation experienced in the second half of the 20th century.[61] Though they are loud in their defense of Social Security, Medicare, and other large government programs, infertile liberals continue to spread the very sterilizing and anti-family memes that are helping to kill these programs. Editorialists for the New York Post confronted the issue squarely in a 2018 commentary on why “America’s falling fertility is seriously bad news”: “To put it bluntly, who is going to pay for Social Security and Medicare when there are fewer working-age adults paying taxes for every oldster receiving benefits?”[62] It would appear that today’s infertile liberals need a basic lesson in biology: When parasites kill their host, they die, too.

Meanwhile, it would also appear that American conservatives likewise need a fundamental lesson: one in cultural Darwinism. Conservative memes produce stable marriages and new human lives. But those beneficent and life-producing memes may disappear if conservative parents cede cultural victory to “those [liberals] with power and human folly on their side.” Conservative pro-family memes can die if those who carry them look on insouciantly as liberals capture their children and convert them into carriers of anti-family memes.

Endorsing conservative memes makes men and women distinctively successful in transmitting their genes through stable marriage and child­rich families. Everyone—including liberals—understands that. Now those who endorse conservative memes need to devise strategies that will enable them to transmit those memes to their relatively numerous children. They need to start frustrating infertile liberals intent on capturing other people’s children and converting them into carriers of their memes. Such strategies will surely require conservatives to manifest greater commitment to electing pro-family political leaders, to exercise much greater care in determining the movies and other entertainment their children see, to maintain greater vigilance in selecting media outlets allowed into the home, to act with more aggressiveness in finding educational options that reinforce rather than subvert pro-family cultural memes, and to demonstrate greater wisdom in identifying and neutralizing those antifamily memes that inevitably do impinge on their children’s lives.

Already ascendant in the reproduction of their genes, conservatives can prevail also in the reproduction of their memes. Infertile liberals will fight for their memes like wild beasts locked in evolutionary genetic struggle. But only one set of memes promises the perpetual renewal of life. And that renewal can and should, in the end, mean victory.

  

Bryce J. Christensen is a professor of English at Southern Utah University, currently on sabbatical as a Visiting Fulbright Professor at National Taiwan University. He is also Senior Editor of The Natural Family. He and his wife have three children and seven grandchildren.


[1]     Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 21.

[2]     John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (London: Granta, 2003), 26. 

[3]     Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H. [1850], LVI, 15; LV, 6; in Victorian Poetry, 2nd ed., E.K. Brown and J.O. Bailey, eds. (New York: Ronald, 1962), 54. 

[4]     Lee M. Silver, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life (New York: ecco, 2006), 320.

[5]     Dawkins, 206.

[6]     Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), 120-21.

[7]     Dennett, 350.

[8]     Gray, 26. 

[9]     Silver, 355, 82. 

[10]   “Births: Provisional Data for 2018,” NVSS: Vital Statistics Report Release, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System (May 2019), 1, available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/vsrr-007-508.pdf.  

[11]   Philip Longman, “The Liberal Baby Bust,” USA Today (March 14, 2006); and Philip Longman, “The Return of Patriarchy,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006): 60.

[12]   Longman, “The Liberal Baby Bust.” 

[13]   Longman, “The Return of Patriarchy,” 60.

[14]   Dirk J. van de Kaa, “Europe’s Second Demographic Transition,” Population Bulletin 42 (1987): 11. 

[15]   Lesthaege and Surkyn, data cited in Longman, “The Return of Patriarchy,” 64. 

[16]   “The Fear Myth,” The Economist (November 20, 2004): 38.

[17]   Ibid. 

[18]   Lauren Sandler, “Tell Me a State’s Fertility Rate, and I’ll Tell You How It Voted,” The Cut (November 19, 2012), available at https://www.thecut.com/2012/11/states-conservative-as-their-women-are-fertile.html. 

[19]   Cf. “Presidential Election Results: Donald J. Trump Wins,” New York Times, August 9, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/results/president; “State and Territorial Data: Births, Birth Rates, Deaths, and Death Rates by State and Territory,” National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 31, 2017, available at https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/state-and-territorial-data.htm.

[20]   Mark Steyn, “It’s the Demography, Stupid!” The New Criterion (January 2006): 16-18. 

[21]   Ross Douthat, “Are Liberals Against Marriage?” New York Times (December 3, 2019), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/opinion/liberals-marriage.html 

[22]   Garry Trudeau, “Doonesbury,” The Spectrum (April 23, 2006): Comic Supplement.

[23]   Longman, “The Return of Patriarchy,” 58-60.

[24]   Folbre qtd. in Longman, “The Return of Patriarchy,” 63. 

[25]   Ibid.

[26]   Trudeau.

[27]   “Homosexuals Secure a Big Win in New Jersey,” U.S. News and World Report (December 29, 1997): 42.

[28]   James Dao, “New York’s highest court rules unmarried couple can adopt,” New York Times (November 3, 1995), 1.

[29]   Chuck Colbert, “Catholic agency to halt adoption work,” National Catholic Register (March 24, 2006): 6.

[30]   Kelsey Dallas, “Explainer: What’s Going on with Faith-Based Adoption Agencies? And What Will Happen Next?” Deseret News, June 2, 2019, available at https://www.deseret.com/2019/6/3/20674661/explainer-what-s-going-on-with-faith-based-adoption-agencies-and-what-will-happen-next

[31]   Ibid

[32]   Thomas F. Farr, “The Equality Act Will Harm Religious Freedom,” Real Clear Religion (May 16, 2019), available at https://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2019/05/16/the_equality_act_will_hurt_religious_freedom_110219.html.

[33]   Andrew Sullivan, “Gay cowboys embraced by redneck country,” Sunday Times (Feb 26, 2006).

[34]   Ann Coulter, “Speaking truth to dead horses,” Tribune Review (March 5, 2006). 

[35]   Stephen Whitty, “In Today’s Hollywood, Traditional Morality is Missing in Action,” Newhouse News Service (December 29, 1998), 1.

[36]   Frank Rich, “It’s Not a Wonderful Life on Film,” San Antonio Express News (November 30, 1995), 1. 

[37]   Robert J. Bresler, “Media Bias and the Cultural Wars,” USA Today (July 2004), 13. 

[38]   William A. Rusher, The Coming Battle for the Media: Curbing the Power of the Media Elite (New York: William Morrow, 1988), 186. 

[39]   Cf. Robert J. Barro, “The Liberal Media: It’s No Myth,” Business Week (June 14, 2004), 28.

[40]   David Leonhardt, “The Six Forms of News Bias,” The New York Times (January 3, 2019), Web. 

[41]   “Media Bias: Pretty Much All of Journalism Now Leans Left, Study Shows,” Investor’s Business Daily (November 16, 2018), available at https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/media-bias-left-study/.  

[42]   Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World (New York: Picador, 2002), 93-4. 

[43]   Leonhardt.

[44]   Don Feder, “Media bias lingers in abortion debate,” Boston Herald (April 23, 1997): 23.

[45]   George Will, “Academia Stuck to the Left,” Washington Post (November 28, 2004): B7. 

[46]   Survey cited in Norval Glenn, “A Plea for Objective Assessment of the Notion of Family Decline,” Journal of Marriage and Family 55 (1993): 543. 

[47]   Scott Jaschik, “Professors and Politics: What the Research Says,” Inside Higher Education (February 27, 2017), available at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/02/27/research-confirms-professors-lean-left-questions-assumptions-about-what-means. 

[48]   Samuel J. Abrams, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators,” New York Times (October 16, 2018), Web.

[49]   Gary Becker, “NEA Just Not Listening,” Cincinnati Post (January 16, 2006), A11. 

[50]   Cf. Ken Ward, “Gay agenda for our schools,” Las Vegas Review-Journal 15 (October 2000): 15B; George Archibald, “Pro-life teachers angered by march; Nea sponsors pro-choice rally,” Washington Times (April 19, 2004): A1; Colbert I. King, “Dispensing with Common Sense?” Washington Post (December 6, 2003): A19; Paul C. Vitz, “A Study of Religion and Traditional Values in Public Schools Textbooks,” in Democracy and the Renewal of Public Education, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 127-8. 

[51]   Jessica Anderson and Lindsey Burke, “Teachers Union Has Become an Arm of the Abortion-Rights Left. Conservative Teachers Should Quit,” USA Today, July 17, 2019, available at https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/07/17/conservative-teachers-should-quit-nea-union-over-abortion-column/1733671001/ 

[52]   Cf. Kate Tsubata, “NEA teaches a lesson in exclusion,” Washington Times (September 12, 2005): B4.

[53]   Martin DeAgostino, “NEA President Decries ‘Undermining’ of Public Education,” South Bend Tribune (December 14, 2002), 1.

[54]   Kane qtd. in Kathleen Parker, “Federal policy to promote marriage, fatherhood?” The Grand Rapids Press (April 24, 2001): A12; cf. also Cathy Young, “Covenant marriage foes fail to make their point,” Detroit News (August 19, 1997): A7.

[55]   Jessica Guiynn, “Groups Team for LGBTQ Coding Scholarship,” USA Today (May 5, 2016), available at https://www.pressreader.com/usa/usa-today-us-edition/20160505/281934542153105.

[56]   Eunice M. Areba, Marla E. Eisenberg, and Barbara J. McMorris, “Relationships between Family Structure, Adolescent Health Status, and Substance Use: Does Ethnicity Matter?” Journal of Community Psychology 46.1 (2018): 44-52; Madhu S. Mohanty and Aman Ullah, “Why Does Growing Up in an Intact Family during Childhood Lead to Higher Earnings during Adulthood in the United States?” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 71 (2012): 662-95; John P. Hoffman, “Family Structure and Adolescent Substance Use: An International Perspective,” Substance Use & Abuse 52.13 (2017): 1,667-83; Yuaureng Hu and Noreen Goldman, “Mortality Differentials by Marital Status: An International Comparison,” Demography 27 (1990): 233-50; Eugene Litwak et al., “Organizational Theory, Social Support, and Mortality Rates: A Theoretical Convergence,” American Sociological Review 54 (1989): 49-66; I.M.A. Joung et al., “Health Behaviors Explain Part of the Differences in Self-Reported Health Associated with Partner/Marital Status in the Netherlands,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 49 (1995): 482-88; Myriam Khlat, Catherine Sermet, and Annick Le Pape, “Women’s health in relation with their family and work roles: France in the early 1990s,” Social Science & Medicine 50 (2000): 1,807-25; Ingrid Waldron, Christopher C. Weiss, and Mary Elizabeth Hughes, “Marital Status Effects on Health: Are There Differences Between Never-Married Women and Divorced and Separated Women,” Social Science & Medicine 45 (1997): 1,387-97; P.A. Davison, “Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well­-Being: Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Toronto, 1990; American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on the Family, “Family Pediatrics,” Pediatrics 111 Supplement (2003): 1,541-53; Karen Seccombe, “Families in Poverty in the 1990s: Trends, Causes, Consequences, and Lessons Learned,” Journal of Marriage and Family 62 (2000): 1,094-1,113; Thomas A. Hirschl, Joyce Al­tobelli, and Mark R. Rank, “Does Marriage Increase the Odds of Affluence? Exploring the Life Course Probabilities,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 927-38; Allan V. Horwitz, Helene Raskin White, and Sandra Howell-White, “Becoming Married and Mental Health: A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults,” Journal of Marriage and Family 58 (1997): 895-907; Bruce J. Ellis et al., “Quality of Early Family Relationships and Individual Differences in the Timing of Pubertal Maturation in Girls: A Longitudinal Test of an Evolutionary Model,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (1999): 387-401.

[57]   Cf. Martin Plissner, “The Marriage Gap,” Public Opinion (February/March 1987): 53; Paul W. Kingston and Steven E. Finkel, “Is There a Marriage Gap in Politics?” Journal of Marriage and Family 49 (1987): 57-64; James E. Gruber and Lars Bjorn, “Routes to a Feminist Orientation Among Women Autoworkers,” Gender and Society 2 (1988): 496-509; S. Philip Morgan and Linda J. Waite, “Parenthood and the Attitudes of Young Adults,” American Sociological Review 52 (1987): 541-47. 

[58]   Beatrice Halsaa Albrektsen, “Women’s Political Activity,” International Journal of Sociology 8 (1978): 118-19.

[59]   Cf. Charles F. Hohm et al., “A Reappraisal of the Social Security-Fertility Hypothesis: A Bidirectional Approach,” The Social Science Journal 23 (1986 ): 149-68; Van de Kaa, 46-53.

[60]   Cf. Randal D. Day and Wade C. Mackey, “Children as Resources: A Cultural Analysis,” Family Perspective 20 (1985): 258-62. 

[61]   Peter G. Petersen, Running on Empty (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004), 63.

[62]   Michael Barone, “America’s Falling Fertility Is Seriously Bad News,” New York Post (December 21, 2018), available at https://nypost.com/2018/12/21/americas-falling-fertility-is-seriously-bad-news/.