by Minabere Ibelema
If you believe the ancient Mayans, then you should cease all preparations for Christmas. According to their calendar, the world will end in 12 days.
Of all the end-of-time predictions, none has been as enduring as that of the Central American civilisation that dates back to the fifth century. And like the rest of them, we have little to worry about this one either.
Of greater probability, even if improbable in our time, are concerns about the destruction of the world as we know, through nuclear war or the collision of our planet with a giant asteroid.
The fear of a nuclear holocaust receded in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War — that unnerving stand-off between the world’s only nuclear superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The threat of an earth-asteroid collision remains real, even if the likelihood in our lifetime is miniscule.
So, it is unlikely that the world will end the way it started — with a big bang. Still, the end may be foreseeable, even if it is not near. And it may come through biological and social processes that are already underway and may be leading humanity to a slow and uncertain end.
First, the biological trend, the degeneration of the male chromosome. As we learned in elementary biology, much of human activities are predicated on the functions of 23 pairs of chromosomes, which house millions of cells.We also know that females have the XX pairs of chromosomes and men the XY combination. And furthermore, the Y chromosome is the determinant of male characteristics.
Well, as it turns out, the Y chromosome is losing cells so fast that some geneticists are wondering whether men will cease to exist. There is the counter argument that the evolutionary process tends to work in favour of survival. It could be that what appears to be the degeneration of the male chromosome is merely the shedding of cells that are no longer useful.
But if we consider the reality of continuing extinction of other species, the human male species may have something to worry about. Even scientists who reject the doomsday scenario about the male chromosome don’t claim to know what would be the outcome of its continued deterioration.
Females, too, will have much to worry about. After all, a world without males cannot long endure, if for no other reason than the impediment to procreation.
The biological threat aside, there are several social trends that, if sustained, could also propel humans toward the endangered species list.
Take first the declining birth rate. In most countries, that is a good trend, as it puts a check on overpopulation and enhances the prospects of economic growth. However, as noted in this column some months ago, some countries now have negative growth rate. That is, the death rate is higher than the birth rate.
Much of Europe and North America is quite close to this pattern. China, with its one-child policy, is not far behind. And other regions of the world may join the trend when they attain a certain level of economic development.
Part of the reason for the falling birth rate in Europe and North America is the breakdown of the family. More and more adults are remaining unmarried, either by choice or lack of option. And among the married, especially the middle class, raising children is increasingly seen as distraction from careers and fun. As societies drift into the ethos of self-gratification, babies become increasingly unwanted.
There is also the economic factor. It is expensive to raise children in Europe and North America, especially the United States. The Department of Agriculture here recently released a report indicating that it costs middle-income couples about $600,000 to raise a child from birth until age 18. That averages $35,000 a year. Imagine how much fun that would buy.
Most European countries have generous policies for helping ease the financial burden of parenting. In the United States, such assistance is relatively marginal, except for the poor.
Add to these the rising incidence of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At least three American states recently passed referendums making homosexual marriage legal. And that adds to the number of states that already do.
Meanwhile, states that still don’t recognise same-sex marriage are under pressure to do so. A number of judges and appellate courts have ruled in favour of such marriages, with the argument that it would be discriminatory to do otherwise.
The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. So far, the court has kicked it down its docket, apparently seeing no urgency in deciding. But if the court eventually takes on the case, as it is expected to do, it is improbable that it would overturn the laws that already grant recognition to same-sex marriages.
The best that opponents of such marriages can expect is a declaration by the justices that it is up to individual states to decide for themselves. That would be a significant setback for advocates of same-sex marriages, given that a vast majority of states still don’t recognise such marriages. But it would still leave the door open for more states to join the trend.
The moral and legal issues aside, the consequences of same sex marriage are of existentialist proportions. To be sure, they do not hinder traditional heterosexual marriages. But imagine that same-sex marriages become the norm, what would happen to procreation?
Sure, there is artificial insemination, but it is a cumbersome, costly and an undependable process. Mankind will become extinct if it depends on it. Sexual attraction between the opposite sexes is nature’s trick to ensure that species reproduce. If that is gone, there goes humanity.
It is improbable, of course, that same-sex marriage will ever become the norm anywhere. However, when combined with the other social trends that may propel society to an uncertain end, it takes on more existentialist significance. And although these trends are primarily situated in Western countries, there is no knowing where it will go.
*This piece was first published in The Punch