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From the July/August, 2005 issue of Touchstone


Dolly Baby Boom by Ian Hunter


Dolly Baby Boom

Ian Hunter on the Vanishing Children of Men

It was the headline that caught my eye: “Dolls Replacing Children in Ever Aging, Childless Japan.” Sometimes one imagines one has become inured to pathos; surely what Wordsworth called “the still sad music of humanity” has lost at least some of its power to tug at the heartstrings. But, no. This particular headline subdued me utterly.

The news story explained:

As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely and elderly—companions who can sleep next to them. . . . The Yumel doll, which looks like a baby boy and has a vocabulary of 1,200 phrases, sells at a price of 8,500 yen ($80). ‘I feel so good, goodnight’, the doll says, before falling asleep if the owner pats it gently on the chest.

Think of it: 1,200 phrases; a vocabulary in excess not only of Hollywood actresses, but of many of today’s university graduates! And just one gentle pat on the chest and one’s bedmate goes off to Neverland.

Our Happiness

The first recorded commandment God gave humanity in the Garden of Eden was: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:22). But we are hell-bent on the pursuit of happiness, which does not include multiplication. We do not consider ourselves subject to ancient commandments.

Hence, our less-than-replacement birthrate; hence, our immigration policies that undermine security; hence, our overcrowded nursing homes and doctor shortages. We decided collectively—and quite some time ago—that ancient wisdom had little to teach us.

The Japanese doll reminded me of a powerful novel: The Children of Men by P. D. James. Baroness James sets her novel in the not-too-distant future, twenty-six years after the last known human birth on earth (every male on earth had suddenly become sterile). It is an unusual James novel: no who-done-it, no midnight chases, no Inspector Dalgleish. Instead, women push carriages containing dolls down city streets. As an elderly population has caused health-care costs to soar, euthanasia becomes compulsory, and the government arranges for a periodic “Quietus,” a mass departure of the elderly, who are put aboard barges and drifted out to sea, away from the general view.

Anxiety and despair mark the faces of those aware that in a world without children, they are the last, dying generation. James gives us a portrait, one that we can examine and reflect upon, of just what Pope John Paul II meant when he spoke, as he did so frequently, of the “culture of death.”

In James’s world, the reason for the absence of children is never fully explained. But we know the reason in our so-called developed world: namely, a birthrate that has fallen below replacement level. In Japan, home of the Yumel doll, the birthrate is 1.3 children per woman. A replacement birthrate is about 2.1 children. In some places in Europe, birthrates are lower than in Japan; these countries look to immigration—increasingly from the Muslim world—to bolster a shrinking workforce. And we are quick to shout down as “racist” those who dare to suggest that this might prove to be sowing the seeds of our own destruction.

Moderns are more concerned about careers and possessions than they are about replenishing the earth or continuing the species. This is our contemporary death wish.

James is so much more perceptive than our politicians—admittedly, faint praise; just try to imagine any politician (except, perhaps, President Bush) uttering this one luminous sentence from The Children of Men: “Without the hope of posterity, for our race if not for ourselves, without the assurance that we being dead yet live, all pleasures of the mind and senses sometimes seem no more than pathetic and crumbling defences shored up against our ruins.”

Miriam, James’s pregnant protagonist, is on the run from principalities and powers who seek to destroy her child. No place can be found for the birth, but only an abandoned, ramshackle shed, recalling another desperate couple who found a stable. “See, you have a son,” Miriam says to Julian, the baby’s father, and “the decrepit shed rang with her joyful and triumphant voice.”

Deaf to Joy

But in our materially sated, spiritually exhausted, dumbed-down time, such joyful voices fall on deaf ears. James’s warning goes unheeded, written off as the sort of morbid misanthropy to which we need not attend.

And yet it seems to me that James’s single sentence not only explains why there are Yumel dolls in Japan, but also explains why it is impossible to arouse us to righteous indignation on almost any issue, social, political, or moral. Abortion, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage”—even Christians take most of this in stride. We are inured to life as it is because, perhaps subconsciously, we have given up on the future.

Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of biographies of Robert Burns, Hesketh Pearson, and Malcolm Muggeridge.

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