I tend to like it when David Brooks meanders away from the politics of present takes a little cerebral detour through a philosophical tangent. From his most recent:
“What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun? If you take an individualistic view of the world, not much would happen immediately….But, of course, we don’t lead individualistic lives. Material conditions do not drive history. People live in a compact between the dead, the living and the unborn, and the value of the thought experiment is that it reminds us of the power posterity holds over our lives…Without posterity, there are no grand designs. There are no high ambitions. Politics becomes insignificant. Even words like justice lose meaning because everything gets reduced to the narrow qualities of the here and now… The scenario is unrelievedly grim. An individual who does not have children still contributes fully to the future of society. But when a society doesn’t reproduce there is nothing left to contribute to… But, of course, …[t]here are no sterilizing sunspots. Instead, we are blessed with the disciplining power of our posterity. We rely on this strong, invisible and unacknowledged force — these millions of unborn people we will never meet but who give us the gift of our way of life.”
Brooks attributes his thoughts on this to a blog he follows, Marginal Revolution. Never heard of, but I’ve subscribed to see if they are as erudite as Brooks says. (Impress, guys, or I’ll dump you like week old kung po chicken in my fridge. Too much to read already).
This is, of course, not a totally novel thought experiment. See, for example, the novels Children of Men and the The Handmaiden’s Tale. (I recommend, of course, the books over the movies, but whatever you like; Children of Men is not a bad movie, but deviates significantly from the novel). These works contemplate either universal unexplained sterilizationor at least wide-spread infertility, in the case of The Handmaiden’s Tale. They work equally well as fictional counterparts to Brook’s essay. They are profoundly sad worlds.
I think, however, a scenario that would affect only a specific widespread geography (e.g., half the earth) would be the more interesting exploration for a work of speculative fiction. Anyway, foder for someone’s next science fiction story or composition on the nature, and need, of human posterity.