politics, economy, etc.

Demographics as Destiny … or is it?

I’ve been following Mark Steyn’s demographics is destiny observations and arguments the past several years (as well as his critique of modern, western culture).  Mr. Steyn argues persuasively that the demographic patterns for most western liberal democracies show a cultural death spiral for native-born citizens.  In contrast, in most these same countries and indeed worldwide, he presents data showing strong birth rates among Islamic populations, who in Europe make up a very large percentage of the immigrant populations.  Mr. Steyn argues that for most of these countries, the “native” western culture appears demographically doomed, claiming that no civilization in history has returned from similar low rates of reproduction.  He also posits that these nations will be primarily Islamic within a few generations, i.e. westerners should start familiarizing themselves with Sharia law.

I’ve read some critics of his works, but most that I’ve found take issue with his premise that we should be concerned about this trend.  The premise of these critics being that it’s either alarmist to assume Islamic citizens will not assimilate or that it’s arrogant to judge western culture as superior.  A few have argued that overall, the total population of muslims in these countries is relatively small.  I haven’t found these counter-arguments persuasive.  In these countries, significant muslim populations are not assimilating and the diversity culture encourages such subgroups to maintain their original identities.  Further, the fundamentalist Islamic worldview is simply not compatible with western liberal notions of human and political rights, as demonstrated by the messages of the Denmark and Paris rioters, those advocating for Sharia in the UK, and others.  Most of the Islamic nations hue fairly closely to Islamic law in how they organize themselves and recognize rights.

I’m not sure, however, that past is prologue.  Computer memory continues to spiral downward in size and cost while processing speed and power continues to increase exponentially.  Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns, see here, indicate that our rate of progress and innovation is only going to quicken.  Some of the consequences are potentially quite profound, even changing what it means to be human or changing the nature of thought and communication.  Regardless, this dizzying rate of technological innovation is heavily centered on non-Islamic countries and particularly on liberal democracies.  Indeed, outside of China, which is rapidly liberalizing at least its economy, most innovation comes from the world’s “free” people. 

Technological innovation, to include artificial intelligence, robotics, nanobots, etc., is a wildcard in the mix regarding the relationship between demographics and cultural, economic, and political strength.    According to some, see e.g. Ray Kurzweil, “computers” will surpass humans in their ability to parallel process information sometime within the next decade or so and people will use technology to augment and improve their own organic “processing power.”  This should all have profound implications for production, military strength, and cultural innovation.  

Regarding warfare, right now we’re sending remote-controlled drones into tribal areas.  In fifteen years, we could be sending devices that are much more up-close and personal and autonomous.  What will happen when our machines are our designers for free around the clock?  In short, I’m not convinced that the past is in any way prologue regarding demographics and how society will function. Absent Christ’s imminent return, the 21st Century will be unlike anything humanity has ever seen.  Given the promises of ongoing medical innovation, many of us may be around to witness most of the 21st Century.