We use terms like “rape culture” and “pedophile culture” to point at the fact that our Western societies, while making rape and sex with children illegal, also cultivate negative attitudes about women and children which enable rape and pedophilia, and makes it harder to identify and fight against rape and pedophilia. As I’ve defined in my previous entry, “culture” in this context means a set of attitudes and rules which are mutually reinforcing and are accepted or thrive within a society and which normalize some undesirable feature of society.
In this entry, I want to talk about another instance: natalist culture. This concept hasn’t been examined very much so far, and the specific term hasn’t really been used. So why not start using it?
As in other cases like this, we must start by pointing to specific attitudes or rules in our societies that are part of this culture.
* Children, especially girls, are socialized to want a family and children. We grow up believing that having a family and children is what people normally do as part of their life progression.
* Parents are basically seen as having the right to do anything they want with their children, including exploiting them for money or fame.
* Childfree people, especially women, are harassed for not having children and being able to do so.
* Most governments give tax breaks, vacations, and other privileges for families with children.
* It is generally believed that marriage (i.e. committing yourself to another person) exists to bring children into this world. People who marry deserve married people privileges because they will have children someday.
* People who have children sometimes report that they feel that the worst parts of having children were never told to them. For instance, some women simply do not have a maternal instinct despite being told that they would. Health risks are also vastly unreported.
The end result is that, despite the incredibly heavy investment needed from parents and the dubious rewards, 80% of people will have children during their lifetime, and most who do not are sterile or alone. Lifetime childfree people are a small minority (not sure what percentage, but far less than 20%, anyway).
We also know that childfreedom heavily depends on education: more educated women have fewer, or no, children. This is not because educated women are “feminazis” or have been brainwashed to hate children (as it has been said), but because their time is worth more. We also know that domestic violence contributes to unwanted births: abusers want women to have children in order to bind those women to them financially. Whether abortion is legal and widely available or not must have a great deal of influence as well.
The term natalist culture does not introduce new data into the equation, but the use of a specific label makes certain causal connections clearer (as most new labels do). Natalist culture explains why people breed unquestioningly and why breeding is considered to be part of the default “life blueprint,” and why people who do not breed are considered to be abnormal at best. Natalist culture is a good way to understand childism and the special status of parents in our cultures. Natalist culture is a partial explanation of restrictions on the rights of women, as women are the reproductive class and therefore are of special concern to natalist institutions.
People often question the use of “culture” in this sense, and say that they do not actually name a singular social entity, but rather a biased interpretation of a number of social phenomena. Can someone give an alternative explanation to every social phenomena I listed above? Sure. But the cumulative evidence of all these phenomena put together strongly indicates the existence of a set of mutually reinforcing attitudes and rules, a “culture.” Even if every point I listed has some non-natalist explanation, the fact remains that they all exist and form a set of attitudes and rules which have the effects I’ve mentioned.
The point in identifying a “culture” is not to say “this is a sinister conspiracy of factors which consciously lead to a planned result.” What we are saying is that these factors do exist and they do lead to a converging result, and no conspiracy or planning is required for this to be true. There is no shadowy cabal that aims to enforce gender roles through rape, or to create pedophiles, and there is no shadowy cabal that aims to promote breeding at all costs. What there is, is a convergence of social factors that leads to these results.
There are very few people who publicly support breeding at all costs or the overpopulation caused by natalism. Does that mean there is no such thing as natalist culture? But that would, again, assume the existence of some conspiracy of people who aim to promote overpopulation, which is not the case at all. If that was the case, we’d talk about “the natalist conspiracy” and not “natalist culture” (and even if such a conspiracy exists, it would be separate from natalist culture). I think the correct stance here is that, while natalism is not widely accepted as a belief system, underlying natalist attitudes are still widely accepted.
Natalist culture influences how people think and act. A lot of people have children because breeding has been glorified and because the negative aspects of breeding are not discussed. It is not that people consciously breed (for the most part, they don’t), but that people naturally see breeding as part of the background assumptions we all make about life. It also leads to other conclusions: if breeding is so good that it’s basically unquestionable, then there must be something special about human life. And you do find that natalists hold to some form of human exceptionalism, whether religious (human life is ordained by God, human life is precious) or secular (human life is inherently superior, humans have the right or duty to exploit the planet).
The expression “natalist culture,” therefore, designates the nexus of intertwining attitudes and rules which emerges from the support of natalism present in a wide variety of institutions (governments, religions, genderism, capitalism, and so on) and implements the desired end results into the general population (children and adults alike). Each institution brings something different to that nexus: very generally speaking, governments influence by rules, religions by dogma, genderism by drives, capitalism by incentives. So for instance genderism makes men and women want to prove themselves by having children, men to prove their manhood and that they are not gay, women to prove their maturity and compassion.
There are some people who object that natalist culture is beyond examination because all societies must be natalist, and any society that is not natalist would go extinct. First of all, natalism is an ethical position (the position that breeding is good), and someone can have children without necessarily being a natalist (just as one can be childfree without being an antinatalist). Natalism is not a requirement for a society to reproduce its labor force. It certainly helps a great deal, but it’s not a requirement.
That being said, even if all societies have had natalist culture, it’s still a topic we must examine in order to understand procreation at a social level. Certainly, as an antinatalist, I am against anything that has to do with natalism. As such, I am against natalist culture and see myself as being apart from it, criticizing it, but I am still a part of a Western society and my positions are a result of my reaction to the socialization I’ve gone through. I am not holding on to any pretense that I, or any other antinatalist, am sitting in a sociological void coming up with criticism of culture ex nihilo. We have to remain conscious that, while we are criticizing aspects of the culture as radicals and antinatalists, we are doing so firmly from the point of view of that culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is what it is.