Speaking of the Children
Half of children perish in pre-industrial societies. Take your pick: a bucolic, green fantasy world – or one that’s safe for kids.
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There is a scene in the second Lord of the Rings movie in which a distraught king, mourning the death of his slain son, declares: “No parent should have to bury their child.”
This line resonates powerfully with audiences – especially those who happen to be parents. The death of a child is an agony for adults – mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles – as well as for that child’s siblings. It is a sorrow people carry with them to their own graves.
What we modern, pampered, technologically blessed, First World inhabitants have forgotten is that child deaths were once commonplace.
In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile appeared. It contained these lines:
One half of the children who are born die before their eighth year…This is nature’s law; why contradict it?
The industrial revolution began in Europe around the time that book was published. Before our societies became industrialized, therefore, life could be tragically short. The wrenching event the king says no one should have to endure was, in fact, normal. Most adults walked around with an aching void in their heart associated with a darling little girl or boy who’d perished.
The Lord of the Rings fantasy movies are set in a pre-industrial era. There aren’t any medical clinics, vaccines, running water, or central heating in those movies. People travel not by planes, trains, and automobiles but by horseback. And horses were one of the ways in which children died – via kicks, trampling, and falls.
If we think about it for more than 10 seconds, therefore, the king’s remarks ring hollow. Historically illiterate, they represent a total inversion of reality. A pre-industrial world is exactly the sort of world in which someone is always burying a child.
Which brings me to green activists. According to them, industrial processes are evil. Industry pollutes. It consumes too much water. It scars the landscape. Industry, so says their comic-book analysis, is greedy and short-sighted and only cares about itself.
But even if all of the above were true, there is something else that’s also true: Industry is good for children. It saves their lives.
Yesterday, I observed that climate crusaders say we should adopt global warming measures for the sake of our kids and grandkids. Many of these people favour an immediate, sharp reduction in carbon dioxide emissions – something that could only be accomplished if we shut down a significant portion of our industrialized economy.
These people say they care about the children. But they want to return us to the kind of world in which many kids don’t survive childhood.