Thursday 9th August readers of the Italian papers were awakening to 'wonderful' news: the 'crisis' of the empty cradles is coming to an end, at least in the industrial area of Lombardia, north/west of Italy.
Men also breed
In spite of the economic crisis, women have started to breed again. By the way, I don’t understand why we refer only to women, as men are extraneous to births. Maybe we should rather refer to : couples ?
The news, which I want to share with you all, is that storks have been very active between July and August this year: there’s’ been an unexpected influx of babies. The official statistics counted 4000 new babies, fortunately boys more than girls (have we contracted the Chinese syndrome?). It’s a record! The feared demographic decline is yesterday’s history: now we can look forward to a more crowded future.
Another hole in demographic transition dogma
Contrary to the prevalent dogma, the new trend is concurrent with a depression in the economy, which should- in theory- give rise to a mode of pessimism not conducive to breeding, which is an optimistic sort of activity. Statistical analysis concur in concluding that young people cannot find jobs or housing, prerequisites for create families and prefer to take the last advantage of the willing Mama’s care.
Muslim immigrants barred from education
Well, immigration helps to explain the upward trend. The disparate ethnic groups that animate our urban landscapes, have one unifying trait: a tradition of large patriarchal families, which preserve the role of womanhood as breeder. Indeed, the Muslim wives, who are the most numerous ethnic group, have no life outside the home and have no use for learning Italian as any form of education is barred from them.
Besides, immigrants found better opportunities in the new land and see in the birth of children the fulfillment of sacrifices and hopes.
Indeed, in 2007 in the northern city of Milano, there were 9156 Italian children and 2709 from immigrant parents. The more numerous of them are Egyptians, Philippinos, Chinese. And the wealth of such variegated multi-ethnic society is represented by 65 nationalities.
Italian birth rate affected by immigrant competition?
Maybe spurred by competition or the forces of example and imitation, Italian households are also participating in this newfound fecundity. Economic recession, social difficulties, the costs of raising a child, were presented as factors that lately have limited the Italian fertility rate, ignoring previous theories ( the demographic transition) which explained that couples, dazed by the lure of wealth and sexual liberation, choose to produce fewer children.
It may be time to deviate from concentrating on a purely economic vision for human behaviour. The new demographic growth may reflect different needs: deliverance from material constraint and the the search for affective relationships .
Economists optimism misplaced
I do not share the demographers, politicians and various commentators’ optimism for the current demographic growth.
It has more than one negative result: beside the inexorable environmental damage imposed on an already hyper-dense landscape, whose ecological degradation dates back to the first human settlements. It will mean social/cultural and economic consequences. It will create on the one hand a fractured society, and on the other, a growing demand for more government – assisted measures: bonuses, more nurseries, flexibility of working hours for women.
Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against immigrants. There are numerous criminals among them, but the majority are hard working people, more so than the locals. I am not impressed either with different skin colour.
And I have nothing against children: I love them, I am a sucker for the smile of little babies.
These are brave and generous sentiments.
Invasion by any other name, such as Babel
But a massive, though peaceful, invasion of people, who have diverse hygienic habits, customs, ethics, degrees of instruction, etc., differ not only from us, but also from each other, and cannot be easily absorbed into the fabric of the receiving society. God, so the story of the Babel tower goes, destroyed an ancient civilisation by confounding the languages, (Confusion of Tongues) to the point that nobody understood what the others was saying, and therefore couldn’t live together.
This is a powerful metaphor, used by the language critic George Steiner, for incommunicability of culture, which reflects the cultural and social disintegration of Italian society– and perhaps in a not-far-off- future, the whole of Europe . It is not the fault of the immigrants. After all, if you think that your life would be better off somewhere else, why the hell should you worry if your arrival is disrupting someone else’s life, so long as yours is comparatively improved?
It is up to the Italian government to regulate this disorderly influx reminiscent of a new Babel Tower, where not only languages are at odds with each others, but the thought processes which these languages define are out of line with our millenary culture. It is a sort of cupio dissolvi, a death wish, that inspires confused Italian legislation. The Government is not sure if and when and how it should accommodate such a growing number of immigrants.
Ancestor amnesia and Levi Strauss
Sadly, it seems that we do not believe anymore in our cultural heritage. The revolution of political correctness has swept away layers and layers of awareness and pride . The anthropologist Levi Strauss’s influence has successfully brainwashed us by tales that our Western civilisation is no better than the customs of a primitive tribe. The education of our children has become a shameful, perfunctory exercise, where programs change continually, teachers are badly paid and below standard, discipline inexistent and teaching is no more the way of connecting the past with the present. The interpretation of globalisation, as a sort of badly digested accumulation of generalised knowledge cribbed from the Net, where even the language has undergone a standardisation of vocabulary and syntax, is culminating in a void: we do not know who we are. On top of this dissolution of national identity, we receive industrial doses of institutionalised jargon and clichés. The unregulated arrival of people, who know nothing about our past traditions, is disastrous in a country like Italy, which, after many colonisations, already has such a weak sense of identity.
To be more specific: What will be the fate of our monuments and works of art, in the hand of semiliterate incomers of such alien backgrounds ?
Decline of teaching standards and rewards
Of course, everybody has a potential educability; but there are classes, as in the Milano hinterland, composed by a majority of children of foreign origin, and the Italian teachers themselves have no confidence in the value of own culture, confused between the notion of preserving the children’s ethnic diversity, and the need to prepare them to be Italian citizens: what will happen next ?
Secondly, the other dangerous development of the baby boom is the ever-expanding request for state-help in the “free” choice of motherhood.
Here I step into another minefield, even hotter than the subject of immigration - feminism.
We have been told – another tale- that women who work do not make babies. Female education was presented as having triple benefits: 1) it liberated them from inferior status and offer them the same intellectual freedom , 2) it was good for the economy ( Okay, old-style economy) ,3) and it was the best contraceptive. According to these views: ” … a high return to a female market world generates high participation, a lower demand for children and higher attainment for these children” (Population Matters, Oxford University Press).
Unfortunately, the reality is different, because the state has decided to interfere in the working of the “invisible hand”.
Statistical evidence contradicts such beliefs. In France, for example, the high participation of women in the workforce – 60,6% of women are working- has resulted in a bigger contribution to the demographic growth. The equation is: more births = more women at work. Sociologists and demographers are banging their heads over this phenomenon, which contradicts all received ideas. Finally they found out why: France’s government spends for the family 2,8% against only 1% by that mean Italian government. Entire pages of Italian newspapers are dedicated to this discovery, which represents a humiliating set back for Italy in the rivalry with its neighbour, which has achieved the record among European countries of 800.000 newborns a year. It doesn’t matter if half of the children are born out of wedlock- this is a problem for later, when the cute babies, reach adolescent status and start rioting, taking drugs and wielding knives.
The 'international' Anglophone press, posing as if they were actually relaying official EU policy, have for some time pretended that a democratic competition is underway among European countries, concentrating on who gives the best deal for working women, as such policies will result in puffing up their GNP and a parallel increment of the future workforce.
They imply that the European Union has one stated objective: two mandatory children per woman. In Italy we have finally reached 1,34 (thanks to immigration!). This corporatised media complains that we are still at a primitive stage, as regard support of working mothers. We want the same French treatment: long paternity and maternity leave, nurseries a gogo’, fiscal deductions according to the number of children, more deductions for education , A godsend. A child becomes a family business, a financial investment. But a burden for the State and its citizens. I do not know why I should pay for other people’s expenditure, which as result, will only damage the environment where I live.
If having babies is a free choice, it is the responsibility of those who made them, not mine.
A child is not a toy or a status symbol. It is a job imbued with absolute dedication to the emotional formation and happiness of a human being The first years of a child’s life cannot be delegated, especially not to a state-paid practitioner, because the child’s sense of belonging and affective development will suffer. Children’s experiences last a lifetime and parents have the duty of caring for them, during the most vulnerable period which takes place before six. Those are most critical years for neurological development.
Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Babies: Should Under 3s Go To Nursery? advocates that parents should stay home with their kids for as long as possible, because the brain grows in response to love and affection.
If a woman will find that to stay at home looking after a small child is not her calling, if she feels frustrated, bored, and it is not able to see the beauty and interest inherent in her function, she should not have children. If the government offers her all sort of facilities, in order that she can have her cake and eat it, well, the result is that we will have more and more children. Children relegated in nurseries across the country, looked after by other women, maybe from immigrant minorities that offer themselves at low wages, in an endless circular motion of mothers-children-mothers of other children who are looked after by other mothers … the whole economy expanding and swell at the cost of a child’s psychological deprivation.
Il Fattore D
In his new book Il Fattore D”, Maurizio Ferrera, professor of Political theory of Milano University, lays down the economic program for female workforce expansion: the GNP. Every woman entering the labour market will create another 15 places in the sector of family help and correlated functions. Other women, of course. The employment of 100,000 women will create therefore another 15,000 more employees, and at the same time it will inflate the GNP by 1/3. Has anybody thought about all the series of consequences derived by certain profound social changes ? The law of the unexpected consequences is always at work.
Now, I know that many will object: poor women won’t be able to have babies. I suggest some stay-at-home voucher for poor families who would devote themselves to bringing up a child for the first years of its life, in exchange for further part time education of the mother, after the child is at school.
But the urge to reproduce is instinctive and doesn’t need too many incentives.
Lately, Robert Engelman of the Worldwatch Institute wrote a book, with the hopeful title: “What women want”: hopeful because it assumed that they wanted fewer children. But what if they want more of them ? A man never knows. In old Europe, already full to the brim and soon to be overflowing, it looks like we will see the awakening of that dormant impulse, which will dumfound all the sages’ predictions.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.