Thriving with high birth rates

Let’s read Giles Fraser’s Comment is Free piece that inspired Jesus and Mo. It is, predictably, retrograde in the extreme.

This week a doctor from north London was telling me about one of his patients, a lad of 20 who has lived in the borough of Hackney all his life. He was born here and grew up here. And he’s a bright boy – yet he speaks only a few very rudimentary words of English. The language he speaks at home and at school is Yiddish. Some may be appalled by the insularity of the community in which this young man was raised. But I admire it. In particular, I admire the resilience of a community that seeks to maintain its distinctiveness and recognises, quite rightly, that assimilation into the broader culture would mean the gradual dilution, and the eventual extinction, of its own way of life. It is no surprise to me that the ultra orthodox are thriving, with high birth rates and predictions that they will be constitute a majority of the Jewish population within 20 years. They have refused assimilation.

Notice the way he simply assumes, without argument, that “its own way of life” is good – that he doesn’t pause even to consider the possibility that it’s a way of life that is better for some of its members than others, or that it’s one that just plain frankly oppresses most of its members. There are such ways of life, but Giles Fraser ignores that obvious fact.

Then notice his ludicrous equation of “thriving” with a high birth rate and nothing else. What he means is that the ultra orthodox are increasing in number. It’s possible to have a high birth rate without thriving – and indeed for most people the higher the birth rate the less thriving there is.

Then notice his complete refusal to consider that the “lad” of 20 who lives in London but doesn’t speak English might be missing out on something.

It adds immeasurably to the richness and diversity of how life is apprehended that not everyone sees the world in the same way. It is mind-expanding to be challenged by those who commit to another way of life. What a miserably grey one-dimensional place it would be if the dominant model of middle-of-the-road liberal secular capitalism became the only acceptable way of living.

Blah blah blah blah. Easy for him – he’s not the kind of person who would be a lesser being in some of those other ways of life. I’m a woman, and I’m happy to have done without the colorful multi-dimensional life I would have had in a fanatical insular religious community, which is obviously the only kind Fraser is talking about. Hooray for miserably grey one-dimensional liberal secularism! And I suppose even miserably grey one-dimensional liberal secular capitalism, if the capitalism could be a lot more tempered with social concerns.

How does an insular religious community get high birth rates? By preventing women from doing anything other than bear and raise children. What about women who would like to do something else, in addition or instead? Nothing; they don’t have that choice; they don’t get a vote; they are subject to the rule of men. Hey it’s colorful, it’s traditional, it’s not assimilationist!

And Giles Fraser is a putz.

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