Well, I haven’t written my post for April 5th even though it’s well past midnight and therefore, technically, April 6th. So, now I feel like I have to hammer something, anything, out, but my mind is occupied by an incredibly stupid article. It’s stupid enough that it feels too trivial to take the time to refute it. Unfortunately, it’s what’s on my mind at the moment so I guess I’ll have to tackle it. There are so many things wrong with it that I will probably take only one or two points.
It’s currently on the website of the Federalist and the title is “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends.'” As a woman who has had about the same number of close male friends in my life as female friends, I of course clicked on it.
I was actually surprised to see that this whine about “the friend zone” was prompted by declining fertility rates. It linked to an article in Real Clear Politics titled, “The Coming Demographic Crisis: What to Expect When No One Is Expecting.” I haven’t considered the subject presented in that article seriously enough to have an opinion, but at least it sounds like it was written by an adult.
Let’s, for a moment, put aside the difficult question of whether or not we are having a demographic crisis. In order to have an opinion worth sharing on that, I’d probably have to go read quite a few books and I wouldn’t expect to even be able to discuss this intelligently for at least a couple of months. So, since I’ll give the writer that the birth rate is declining and it would be desirable to see it rise again. (To be clear, I am far from convinced.)
I have a few rules of thumb when thinking about political things. One is the famous saying, attributed to Bismark, that “Politics is the art of the possible.”
A second rule of thumb is that people will generally act in their own interest and getting them to act against their interest is very difficult. It requires a lot of resources and often doesn’t work quite the way you intend anyway.
A third one is that finger wagging almost never works. I’ve yet to see a situation in which finger wagging alone was effective. How many decades of finger wagging about dietary choices, exercise, work ethic and whatever else have I heard which has amounted to so much nothing. If you want to jump up on your soap-box and excoriate the general public about their execrable television viewing habits, you are perfectly welcome to do so, but know that you will be preaching to the choir and are not likely to change the habits of more than one or two people if that.
So what did the writer in The Federalist, Hans Fiene, identify as the source of the problem, “The Friend Zone.”
Every year, countless young men find themselves trapped in the Friend Zone, a prison where women place any man they deem worthy of their time but not their hearts, men they’d love to have dinner with but, for whatever reason, don’t want to kiss goodnight.
Being caught in the Friend Zone is an inarguable drag on fertility rates, as a man who spends several years pledging his heart to a woman who will never have his children is also a man who most likely won’t procreate with anyone else during that time of incarceration. Free him to find a woman who actually wants to marry him, however, and he’ll have several more years to sire children who will laugh, create, sing, fill the world with love and, most importantly, pay into Social Security.
This is actually so bizarre, as I said at the beginning of the post I really wouldn’t be wasting my time arguing about this but its very stupidity draws attention to itself.
So, what is Fiene’s solution? Yes, to wag his finger at women and try to convince them to do what they clearly don’t want to do. Needless to say, I’ve heard men, or perhaps I should say boys, ragging on about the friend zone since I was in college. That was thirty-five years ago. That’s longer than I’ve heard people ragging on about other people not eating as they would like to see them eat. And why is the article directed at women anyway? Aren’t men participating in this? Fiene might at least have half a chance of convincing men that it’s not in their own interest to pretend to be friends with a woman if that’s not really what they want.
A few of the commenters underneath pointed out that it was hyperbole meant to be humorous, but there’s nothing to indicate that Fiene believes the opposite, that men and women’s conformity to their gender varies and some men and women can in fact be good friends. And if it was meant to be purely humor, with no point intended whatsoever, it failed miserably because it wasn’t funny. Despite some of the exaggerated examples he gives I’m left with the distinct impression that he believes his essential points.
The article he originally referenced, however, had some more serious suggestions:
Solving such a complex problem as declining fertility is not going to be easy. Last at least tells us what doesn’t work. As with many social problems, government intervention isn’t very successful. Bonus payments to expectant mothers, paid paternity leave, public holidays, “Motherhood Medals,” and tax incentives and subsidies have barely moved the needle in Russia, Japan, and Singapore. “People cannot be bribed into making babies,” Last concludes.
The best governments can do is “help people have the children they do want.” Since low fertility correlates with education, we could stop the government-subsidized promotion of a university education for all. A college degree doesn’t prepare people for specific jobs, but rather gives employers an idea of their intelligence and work habits, something that can be done more cheaply and efficiently. Making child-friendly housing more affordable, letting workers telecommute to lessen the career-costs of having children, welcoming more fecund immigrants, and ending the hostility to religion and the faithful, “if for no other reason than they’re the ones who create most of the future taxpayers,” are some of Last’s solutions. Unfortunately, they are as unlikely as they are sensible.
That first paragraph gets back to my original point: exhortations alone are not enough.
One off-topic point before I go: I’ve mentioned several times in the past year feeling like the left in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere as well, has gone off in a direction in which I can’t follow. At the same time, when I read articles like the one I just mentioned in conservative sources, I feel that there is not place for me on that side either.