Freedom, but from what?

Nicholas Eberstadt reports from The American Enterprise Institute on the continuing trend away from traditional marriage and two-parent families, and even family itself. We all know about the rise of single-parent households, but now we learn:

In Belgium … the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%.

Emphasis added.

I am reminded of this post by David about an old lady who hadn’t heard from her children in 46 years. She was alone in her dotage. That is truly sad, but at least David was around. Someone’s child was there. But what if no one has any children? Will anyone be there to even turn the lights off? Europe seems to be dying, and rather than try to fix the issue they’re just making the death a bit easier. It surely can be no coincidence that the lands with the highest rates of childlessness are also embracing assisted suicide. If there’s nothing to live for, and no future you’re fighting for, why bother with all the pain and trouble?

Back to Nicholas, he recognizes a problem with the Europe’s lack of families, but misses the larger point:

Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.

On the contrary, I would say that Europe has considered it and found a solution more to their liking. They want freedom, but of a particular kind. They want freedom from the messy obligations to other individuals. They’re fine with taxes and tightly regulated economies, because freedom from government isn’t a European desire. The government, however imperfect, it appropriately distant and dispassionate in its actions. It leaves the ordinary European alone on a day-to-day basis to read their books, go for bike rides in the park, and sip a beer (either alone or with a friend for the day, as the mood strikes). There is no obligation deeper than to pay taxes, and the dole is available when that is too burdensome, and then assisted suicide is available when even breathing has become inconvenient. Truly, Western Europe is the most free society that has ever been created – no obligations of any sort, not even to live.

Back in the 19th century the masses of Europe who left their homes for America were greeted by a welcoming bronze gaze overlooking Manhattan’s harbor. Well Europeans to this day are still abandoning Europe in droves, but to a land far harder to come back from than America. Do they imagine who is there to greet them? The ancient Greeks believed that Hades had to abduct Persephone in order to have a queen in the underworld, but today’s seem to believe in a more welcoming embrace.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Freedom, she promises. Freedom from life’s burdens. Just put that burden down.

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That One Time I Met a Bull

If you’re anything like me, you remember when the ashes of civilization were still warm. I’ve spoken with a few survivors about that dark time, and I’m not alone when I recall vivid dreams of times and places that could not have existed in the World that Was and its dark reflection.

Here is one dream. I’m pretty sure it was a dream, anyway. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

The sun shone green, as it did in those days. The verdigris caking the guard rail along Maine Highway 11 a few miles south of Millinocket spoke of an underfunded DoT before the bombs fell and the county workers scattered to their forest retreats to scrounge what forage and game they might find. A low-settling fog started off as dry ice runoff at a kid’s birthday party and ended up as the sort of gloom only people old enough to have played the first Silent Hill title on the original Playstation will remember. Inhuman footfalls approached. Not a deer. Too heavy for a deer. Certainly not a horse, as I didn’t catch the creak of saddle leather. A moose perhaps? My heart seized at the prospect. The tang of autumn was in the air, and a bull moose in the grip of rut is one of North America’s most dangerous beasts.

So it was with a mixture of relief and confusion when the creature ambled into view. A simply massive Angus bull, frost brand slightly overgrown on his thurl, nock in his ear properly scarred over paused as he caught sight of me, drew in a breath large enough that had I not witnessed it, I would not have believed such a draught possible, and let out a long, slow whistle that would have been nearly comical coming from any other beast of the field or fen.

Him: Hello long-hair man. I am on a venture.

Me: Me too.

Him: I broke the fence. I am looking for Roy. Have you seen Roy?

Me: No, what does Roy look like?

Him: The dark voice told me that the farm is not my friend so I ran.

Me: Some fences need to be broken.

Him: That is what the dark voice said. You are a man, but you are not the man. Did you break a fence and run?

Me: Well, I didn’t break any fences that I know of, but I am running. Well, I’m sort of running anyway.

Him: Another man broke your fence. I understand.

Me: That’s not really…

I wasn’t sure how to finish this sentence. Dream logic is occasionally superior to what we can access in our waking hours.

The bull inhaled again, except this time it seemed he was devouring the air, searching for forgotten bovine lore floating on the wind.

Him: I am looking for Roy and I am looking for the fire man. Do you know the fire man?

Me: The what?

Him: The white hair man could not help me. The dark voice told me to find the fire man.

Me: Try down south. There aren’t a lot of people left in these woods.

Him: I will try south. Thank you, long hair man. And long hair man?

Me: Yes?

Him: Some fences need to be broken.

And with a swish of his tail, he turned around and marched off. I couldn’t help but think quietly to myself that there went a bull of bulls. And that as long as that creature walked the earth, at least one thing was right with the world.

Previous posts in this series
The Truth Shall Set You Free
Gentle Death
Aspirational Politics
It’s Better to Regret Something You Have Done Than to Regret Something You Haven’t Done

Other reading
Via Angus (Popehat)