Five noteworthy books recently published seem, at first or second glance, to be totally unrelated to one another. Collectively, however, they address critical public issues in remarkably well-researched and illuminating ways.
Each addresses monumental, even foundational human issues intimately related to what it means to be human, how we order our lives together at the most basic level, and the nature of truth and how we can know it. Taken together, they provide a unique and much-needed perspective on what matters in an age of increasingly prevalent lies.
Consider putting them on your summer reading list, or diving in right now.
1. ‘Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline’
The first book is the most consequential because it speaks to the first command given to humanity. It also speaks to the primary driver of the evolutionary construct: go forth and multiply. “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline” is meticulously researched and explicated by two secular Canadian demographers, who systematically mount a damning case that, rather than overpopulation being the most serious problem facing humanity, the truth is the precise opposite.
Their unapologetic case is that the overpopulation scare “is completely, utterly wrong.” Based on an impressive array of diversely authoritative data sources, they explain, “We do not face the challenge of a population bomb, but of a bust — a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd.” Much of the book is devoted to why “once that decline begins, it will never end.” The diversity of approaches they take in demonstrating their case is refreshing.
For these researchers, from this demographic moment, the natural end of the world will realize itself toward the end of the century, resulting from too few people becoming moms and dads today. Since publication, their assertion received support in the form of newly published demographic research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The report’s findings show humanity’s population topping out and then shrinking by the end of this century in far more troubling numbers than anyone previously anticipated.
2. ‘Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement’
This curiously titled book by two busy activist wives and mothers from Seattle (and Federalist regulars) is a clarion call for us to think differently about how and why we form the families we do. The book presents a well-reasoned, pointedly argued case that adult desire, regardless of how pure and loving it claims to be, does not always lead to the healthiest family forms for children. No punches are pulled in making the case that “Love makes a family” is a wrong-headed sentiment that harms children and adults alike.
What’s noteworthy about this book is that it takes on both same-sex and heterosexual family forms, arguing afresh for the fundamental integrity of what family ought to be once we simply stop to consider the troubling choices we are making when adult desire is placed before what children genuinely need.
The startling truth is that every child has a right to the love and care of the mother and father who created him. If this not possible, the replacement family form should approximate this ideal as closely as possible. They demonstrate that every form of the celebrated “modern family” — gay or straight — is ultimately illegitimate if it denies the child this basic right.
Also asserted by the authors is that no adult has a right to a child that is not his or her biological offspring. As such, “every departure from the married-mother-father household is, at its core, a threat to the rights of children.”
It’s not only single-parenting by choice or same-sex families that create this problem. They properly take on the divorce culture as well as the exploding and unregulated sperm/egg donation-surrogacy industrial complex as equally problematic for society and children.
All of these emerging, complicated issues are addressed together in a thoughtful way and with clarity, conviction, and compassion, making it one of the most important and ideologically challenging books on family formation in decades. An absolute must-read for all students of the family.
3. ‘The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Science’
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many good people have grown tired of many things — face masks being one of them. Secular pulpit pounders like Neil deGrasse Tyson who make unscientific claims about the absolutist power of science with nearly religious zeal are another.
Michael Strevens, a leading philosopher of science at New York University, has written an incredibly important book that all fans of science and human knowledge should read. “The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science” is a refreshing offering from an unapologetically pro-science intellectual who carefully outlines both the remarkable powers and epistemic limits of science.
Strevens’s seemingly counter-intuitive subtitle could have easily been “The Humbling of Scientism.” He gives his reader a hint of science’s limits in the titles of his second and third chapters: “Human Frailty” and “The Essential Subjectivity of Science.”
Strevens’s confident humility about the glory and wonder of science allows him to put these two things together. When ideologues say science is the way we know anything, they demonstrate their misunderstanding and overstatement of what science is: one tool among many that can help guide us towards the truth. Ultimately, science has its limits, and it’s certainly not the truth itself.
“The Knowledge Machine” offers a refreshing explanation that while science is remarkably powerful and has produced stunning advances that have improved human existence in innumerable ways, it isn’t more than it is. Science is a knowledge machine used by fallible people who will inevitability bring their prejudices and presuppositions to the task in varying degrees.
In fact, as a man who has committed his life to the study of science, he tells us science is “far from the only thought system capable of generating novel and original ideas.” Indeed, Stevens isn’t shy in saying “Philosophy, for example, is its equal in this respect.” What makes science unique from, but not superior to philosophy, is its “unparalleled … ability to test those ideas thoroughly.” But it is not foolproof by any measure.
Strevens calls us to praise science, but not worship it. “So it goes with all scientific reasoning: The interpretation of evidence demands likelihoods, and scientists are not only permitted, but encouraged to use their subjective plausibility rankings in that role.” We could use more of this kind of intellectual humility today.
4. ‘Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters’
The transgender issue has taken the world by storm with head-spinning speed across the globe, sucking up nearly all the oxygen in the culture war room.
Few people are writing on this development with the kind of razor-sharp incisiveness as writer Abigail Shrier. In “Irreversible Damage,” Shrier details an extremely troubling and anti-human trend that has developed in the last few years with our girls — and it’s more than just about the trans issue.
Increasingly, girls suddenly don’t want to be girls anymore and important power centers are taking incredibly dangerous and ill-advised medical steps to help them actively destroy their physical and mental womanhood. It’s not even that they want to become boys, but that disturbing numbers of them want to be “nothing.”
Shrier explains these girls “want to be seen as ‘queer’… They flee womanhood like a house on fire, their minds fixed on escape, not on any particular destination.” So what’s happening here?
Shrier is highlighting the trans craze, not as merely a curious and trendy hop across the river from female to male or vice versa, but a wholly new kind of misogyny. The words of one leading therapist caring for gender dysphoric patients are emblematic of what Shrier has been witnessing. The young girls this therapist sees at her clinic are in great emotional pain.
“A common response that I get from female clients is something along these lines: ‘I don’t know exactly that I want to be a guy. I just know I don’t want to be a girl,’” she explains. Something very profound and troubling is happening to what it means to be one essential half of humanity. We would do well to get to the bottom of it and root it out.
“Irreversible Damage” is a chilling examination of this troubling development among our girls and a pointed challenge to the irresponsible ways far too many adults are uncritically responding to it.
5. ‘Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us’
It has long been a fundamental tenet of faith among leftists that fundamentalism is very bad. But what many on the left have failed to understand is that fundamentalism comes in varied shapes and sizes, and they have their own form of it.
Two professors from Northwestern University demonstrate just how true, and dangerous, this fact is in their new volume from Princeton University Press: “Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us.”
The book’s pluralization of “fundamentalisms” is important, as its authors lament “fundamentalism abounds” and is no longer the singular domain of “those people.” These authors give a lucid explanation of how the term is not just for caricatured backwoods, white Southern Protestant yokels anymore. People across the political spectrum are unthinkingly adhering to and mouthing political rhetoric that seems to have bypassed their critical thinking faculties, all with increasingly high-pitched (and confident) moral pronouncements.
“Minds Wide Shut” notes “Democracy cannot long survive under these conditions” of the new fundamentalists, explaining, “if right is all on one side – if one is absolutely certain that there is nothing to learn from those with whom we disagree – then there is no reason not to have a one-party state.” Thus, whatever can be done to neutralize the power of the people you disagree with becomes not only permissible but actually moral. “People with minds that work this way are dangerous,” they note.
The book closes quoting Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who held that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” The growth of the new fundamentalisms has us “entering an era when politics seems to be conducted as a war by other means.” And our politics is increasingly dominated by new “fundamentalist thinking [that] is utopian, if not apocalyptic.” It is dictated by “one [who] knows the truth and those who disagree are ignorant, evil, or insane. All goodness belongs to one’s own camp.”
Does that sound like anything you have been witnessing of late? Welcome to the new fundamentalism — in many ways more brutal and dangerous than older fundamentalisms of the past, as it’s more convinced of its moral superiority. It doesn’t merely wag its finger and look askance at your behavior; it crushes with its fist and obliterates you from public life.