Those Other Asylum Seekers

baby in boatThe asylum-seeker business continues to make the news nearly every week.   Much ink has been laid down on the subject and I do not propose to add to it.  Rather, I wish to focus my attention on another source of ungoverned entry which continues to be ignored by both major political parties and continues to be almost entirely overlooked by the media. Thankfully, the Greens have made untiring efforts to bring the issue to public attention, but their efforts so far have had little effect. In flagging this particular problem and suggesting some tentative lines of enquiry I hope, thereby, to initiate some ongoing and fruitful debate.

In 2013 there were some 308,000 births registered in Australia. This is a worrying statistic against which the paltry number of boat people apprehended on Ashmore Reef over the years pales into insignificance.  Here, right under our noses, so to speak, is an insidious influx of unskilled and wholly dependent people whose arrival not only puts our economy under enormous strain but also produces an enormous amount of emotional stress on the adult population.  Their continuing arrival in large numbers can only add to our current economic woes and send the country further and further into the red, if not recession or depression.

Consider for a moment, the status of these new arrivals.  They come with no documentation, no work skills, and no means of independent support.  They are devoid of assets having not even the wherewithal to clothe their bodies, let alone invest in the stock market. When Wordsworth spoke of such infants as ‘trailing clouds of glory’ his excess of romantic emotionalism betrayed an absolute ignorance of the hard, scientific facts of life. To add to the problem, nearly all of these infants require hospitalisation at the time of their arrival, thereby putting enormous strain on our already overburdened hospital system.  Even after their initial period of hospitalisation, they impose crippling demands on the healthcare industry.  They are incontinent, unable to dress or feed themselves, and in constant need of attention.  Note also that this influx of immigrants is entirely unregulated.  There is absolutely no control on numbers, sexual orientation, or upon their racial makeup.  There are serious implications here for our policy of multiculturalism because, as it happens, all of the new arrivals are Australians.  This cultural hegemony can only lead to a resurgence of that sort of disagreeable nationalism that is characterised by an excessive interest in Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson, and the wearing of thongs and slouch hats. There are already worrying signs, with increased attendance at Anzac Day marches being one of the most obvious. Moreover, fifty percent of these new arrivals are males and the prospect of a return to the oppressive patriarchal societies of yesteryear must always be borne in mind.

One might have hoped that, after these early and excessive demands on our resources, the new arrivals would quickly move to repay the community by entering into productive activity.  But nothing could be further from the truth because, in fact, they continue to make excessive demands on our resources for the best part of two decades.  I speak here, of course, of the burdens of education – pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, technical colleges, and universities.  One need think no further than the fate of ABC Learning[1] a few years back to highlight the problem.  And this problem can only deepen.  Consider, for instance the recommendations of the 2008 Bradley Report on higher education.  Here, it is proposed that some 40% of all Australian children should receive a tertiary education.  The upshot of this will be that the community at large will now be required to support these children right through to the age of 22 or so.  Given the likelihood that the next higher education report (to be commissioned very soon, I suspect) will undoubtedly call for a huge increase in postgraduate degrees (due to devaluation of the standard degree course), we have the prospect of needing to support these unproductive elements of our society for a greater part of their collective life.

What can be done?  Surely there must be some better way of organising our society such that this enormous economic and social burden is lifted from us?  Fortunately, there are some glimmers of hope.  Just as the Navy and the Coastguard provide a first line of defence against the incursion of boat people, the use of abortion is one useful means of barring entry into the country by these hordes of infants.  Ongoing scientific research is providing newer and better ways of delivering abortifacients and further liberalisation of restrictive abortion laws has also improved the situation.  We can, I think, reasonably look forward to the day when the pleasures of sexual intercourse both between and within the sexes (and, for that matter, between species) is unencumbered by any fear of untoward physical consequences such as pregnancy or disease transmission, not to mention undesirable emotional consequences, especially those arising from opposition by those anachronistic sections of the community (notably certain of the churches) who wish to revive hideous medieval attitudes towards human sexuality and reproduction.

But such an approach, like border patrols, is reactive and fails to deal with the root cause of the problem.    It would be far better to adopt an approach which does away with the need for terminations by preventing the initial embarkation.  Once again, science has been enormously useful here in providing us with the Pill, a technological advance of such magnitude that the word is always capitalised.  We could, I think, confidently say that the Pill has been the greatest advance in human society since the agrarian revolution.  Nonetheless, recent trends suggest that this huge advance in human civilisation has failed to reach significant sections of the community, especially in third world (i.e. underdeveloped) nations and, indeed, amongst the more ignorant in our own country (especially those with outmoded religious beliefs).

In short, we need a whole revolution in our thinking concerning this issue.  As an example, certain commentators have pointed out that, despite the drawbacks, babies are needed to sustain a future, viable population. And this is no theoretical argument only.  Recent figures from nearly all the industrialised world indicate that population growth is either declining rapidly or in the negative. Indeed, on current figures, the projections suggest that, barring immigration, some countries will actually cease to have a human presence within a few hundred years. While this certainly provides significant ecological advantages, it does have a down side. We need an approach which overcomes this rather obvious difficulty with the current model.  I appreciate that certain new developments might provide some small amelioration of this problem – designer babies, for instance – but such approaches are weakly palliative rather than remedial.  At best they can deliver a modicum of affirmative action by ensuring that the percentage of female babies is increased to redress past injustices.

Some critics will, of course, suggest that child-rearing is part of an instinctive behaviour pattern in humans which cannot be jettisoned without serious social and psychological consequences.  This argument is losing much of its force today when, very obviously, pet ownership is proving to be an effective substitute for children.  Consider the frequency of ‘gourmet’ pet food advertisements on television, animal rescue shows, and documentaries such as Bondi Vet.  Pets are proving to be capable of our highest affections.  They have the added advantages of being much cheaper to sustain and usually, more respectful and faithful to their owners than are children, especially teenage ones. In short, the traditional arguments put up in favour of having children now stand on very shaky ground indeed.

Here, I would like to suggest a radical new approach which achieves the objective of a sustainable human ecosystem by re-examining the whole notion of human population dynamics.  It has been customary for us, up until this time, to think of population dynamics in terms of four factors – births, deaths, immigration and emigration.  Populations increase via births and immigration and decrease via death and emigration.  But this traditional focus on births and immigrations as the factors of population maintenance or increase is now in urgent need of reappraisal.  We must now turn our attention to the other side of the equation and, especially to death.

Death has traditionally been taken for granted by all but a few rich Americans (currently held in liquid nitrogen and awaiting the day of scientific resurrection).  But surely we are now at that stage of scientific competency where we can, for the first time, address the real possibility of indefinitely delaying death.  This may sound preposterous, but before dismissing it out of hand, consider some statistics. Over the last century in Australia,  life expectancy (at birth) for males increased by 23.3 years, from 55.2 years in 1901-10 to 78.5 years in 2003-05. In this same period, female life expectancy at birth increased by 24.5 years, from 58.8 years to 83.3 years [ABS figures]. Rather obviously, this increase in life expectancy at birth is due to declining death rates at all ages.  I have, of course, left out abortions since their inclusion would unnecessarily complicate the issue and produce what climate modelling experts call ‘background noise’

If we extrapolate these figures in the manner of IPCC scientists or ecologists, then we can reasonably expect that, at some time in the future, death will be a matter of personal choice – just as it should be in a truly free, liberal, and democratic society. As the wise saying goes – ‘my body, my decision’. Under such a scenario, the requirement of births for population maintenance will dramatically decrease.  This will bring with it untold benefits.  Older people can remain in the workforce indefinitely, thereby dramatically lowering costs of education and training of young people, not to mention lowered costs in early natal and postnatal hospital and medical care.  Huge numbers of nurses, doctors, teachers, lecturers and health and education administrators will be released from the drudgery of their poorly paid occupations and will then be available to use their talents in actual productive work.

But the greatest benefit surely, will be a social one.  Traditionally, religious authorities have always relied on both birth and death (but especially the latter) to reinforce their authority and engender that sort of fear which leads to unquestioning compliance with all manner of harmful, superstitious beliefs.  With the fear of death gone, the great hope of August Comte and J.S. Mill will finally be realised – the demise of transcendent religion and its replacement by ‘the religion of humanity’. The way will then be open for a truly liberal society based on individual choice and organised on a fully rational basis.  This was the great Enlightenment dream. As Edward O. Wilson pointed out with a tremendous sense of regret (Consilience. Little Brown & Co. London 1988), that dream was waylaid in its infancy some two hundred years ago. We are now in a position to get it back on track and make a truly brave new world.

Finally, it may appear from what I have written above that I am wholly opposed to pregnancy and childbirth.  This is not the case at all.  In a secular, liberal society we must recognise that there will always be those whose particular historical narrative predisposes them towards reproductive profligacy in a particular cultural milieu  or ‘language game’ (a la Wittgenstein).  Moreover, the having of children ought to be seen as an option no different to, say the ownership of a yacht or a sports car.  A problem only occurs when the status of children is raised to some higher level in what ought to be an entirely level playing field.  Indeed, I would go further.  The right to have children, as part of the right to property, must be extended to all. Here, I am thinking especially of those in a same-sex relationship who are hugely disadvantaged at present.  For this reason alone, further research on cloning and other methods of asexual reproduction must be seen as an urgent priority. Likewise, in the legislative arena any proposed bill of rights must take this matter into account so as to ensure that property rights, both in respect of acquisition and disposal, are extended to cover children.

[1] Readers should note that I am here referring to a private company and not to the Australian Broadcasting Commission.  In the latter case, use of the term ‘ABC Learning’ would be oxymoronic.

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