We Need the State, and the State Needs Us
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, June 21, 2004 - Revised June 21, 2004

It goes without saying that a nation that is not reproducing itself is a nation in decline but what’s to be said about a nation apparently willing this condition upon itself?

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians are reproducing at the rate of 1.49 children per woman, the lowest level since their 1959 peak of 3.94 births. Women today are delaying pregnancy while pregnant teens are the largest consumers of Canada’s abortion services. Additionally, 1 couple in 5 has trouble conceiving, a number that increases to 1 in 2 after the age of 40.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The halcyon days of the liberationist ‘60s assured women, particularly, they could have it all – children, husbands and careers. Intellectual and pop icon trailblazers from Simone de Beauvoir to Helen Gurley Brown made the feminist case and provided the handbook for its realization.

Rights flowed to women and to gays riding the wave, but instead of liberation women found themselves choosing between glass ceilings, children and husbands totally stunned by it all. With divorce rampant, the major casualty was traditional marriage as the premier institution for conceiving and nurturing children. Soon, the homosexual lobby and the courts will put it out of its misery.

If sixties’ ideologies undermined marriage and a woman’s biological destiny, the sexual revolution of the same era produced a more disturbing legacy. An epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases which not only incapacitate and kill but also cause infertility now plagues Canada. Infection rates for syphilis are soaring while AIDS infection rates are again increasing. Most worrying is the ‘stealth-bomber’ disease, chlamydia. This produces no symptoms but causes infertility in men and women and is most common among 15 to 24 year olds.

Throw in the promotion of oral sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy, the possibility that internet and television pornography is negatively affecting the ability of young men to perform sexually (never mind child pornography and its recent heinous connection) and you have a state of affairs so unsettling it’s a wonder everyone isn’t a social conservative.

Branded as religious fundamentalists with their strongest Canadian roots dug deep in rural Alberta, social conservatives have been consigned to the margins of debate on social issues even though, at important practical levels, religion offers many prescriptions for achieving the greater good. With many variations on the theme, in the social sexual sphere most advocate celibacy or monogamy – not only to preserve lineage and a socially secure upbringing for children, but also as the best prescription for sexual health.

In a secular world more concerned with individual rights and freedoms than the greater good, such prescriptions can also be useful.

A case in point is Uganda. While most of AIDS afflicted Africa emphasized drug therapy and condoms, Uganda stated clearly that AIDS was deadly and insisted on restricting partners. Since 1988, its infection rate dropped from 30% to 8%.

Ted Byfield, the arch social conservative and one time publisher of Alberta Report, recently suggested that the era of liberal indulgences may be coming to an end. The ‘feminarchy’, he wrote in his Calgary Sun column, “that grand coalition of the feminist and gay lobby that for years has dictated (Canada’s) social policies is complaining that younger women are not taking up their cause”. Could it be, he asks, that since the feminarchy made it a point not to produce children, now they are needed, they aren’t there?

Even if true, Byfield’s observation ignores the corporate memory and lessons learned that could help young couples make informed decisions about pacing their lives to accommodate children, careers and marriages. And, to be fair, the agrarian economy that required parents to create a labour pool and a personal pension plan has long since given way to the urban-industrial complex and the welfare state that requires neither.

Today, few Canadians wish to reduce or eliminate the rights and freedoms that Canada has enshrined. But seeing these as either/or, win/lose situations with little reference to the dialogue and negotiation that ensures an orderly society has, arguably, diminished both players and society. Canadian political philosopher John Watson, writing at the turn of the 20th century, understood the symbiotic relationship between the individual and the state and how the good of one reinforces the good of the other.

It is a delicate balance but, as a nation in decline, Canada has little choice but to try to achieve it.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears weekly.

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