One of the important axioms of organisational development is that if you want an organisation to be successful and sustainable, you should make sure it's profitable.
For organizations like businesses, whose whole raison d'être is profit, this doesn't need much explanation. But what about for causes where the organisers don't care much about profit - a renaissance fair, a church, a literary magazine?
There was a great Social Matter article talking about this a month or so ago in the context of the Gulenist movement in Turkey - why would a religious cult also operate a test prep centre?
The reason is that a profitable organization is self-sustaining. Every organisation needs resources, and profit ensures you won't run out of them. Even if the resources you really need aren't money, profit ensures that a) you don't fail for lack of money, and b) you've got a good shot of acquiring the non-monetary resources you need anyway. Suppose you want supporters - well, would better marketing help? Would free food? Would a great place to hold meetings?
When you forget this lesson, you end up like jwz (whose writing I enjoy, even if I don't agree with all of it) with DNA Lounge (a nightclub I've been to, and very much like) - he made a ton of money in tech, wanted to run a cool nightclub, and didn't care about the money. Then $5 million later, he ran out of money. It sounds both mean and trite at this stage, but if he really cared about the mission of having creative musical venues available, he should have worked damn hard to make it profitable as soon as humanly possible.
But even people who think about this when it comes to profit and organisations often don't think about the equivalent for ideas and cultural practices.
To wit: if you want a culture or idea to survive, the people who practice it must have high birth rates.
Because while organisations propagate themselves by resources, ideas and cultures are carried by people. It doesn't matter how much you love your particular idea - feminism, classical music, the constitution, whatever. If the people who support that idea have below replacement birth rates, and the people who are opposed to that idea have above replacement birth rates, then the prevalence of that idea is being whittled away, slowly but surely. Ideas don't breed directly, but they can still be bred out.
Because ideas, like most things in this world, are heritable. Both genetics and culture mean that parents in general pass their values on to their children. Take away the children, and you take away the people likely to hold the idea tomorrow.
Of course, people are apt to forget this, because it's a slow-moving effect. The faster way ideas spread is through communication across a given population.
Which is all well and good. The more you spread the idea, the more people who hold it right now, and, ceteris paribus, the more people will hold it next generation.
Where things get complicated, however, is if the idea itself reduces birthrates directly. This is especially true for ideas like feminism or progressivism in general. In this sense, they are parasitic and pathological. I mean this as a metaphor, but only in the barest biological sense. They reduce the reproductive fitness of their host, simply by reducing the number of offspring it has that survive to adulthood to themselves reproduce. As a consequence, these ideas are like a deadly virus that can only survive by spreading and infecting other hosts. Is reducing the reproductive fitness of your host not the very essence of parasitism?
Ideas that increase procreation are symbiotic in that sense - the idea spreads by increasing the fitness of its host. But as in nature, parasites and diseases can spread and survive, although there is a tradeoff between the mortality rate and the transmission rate. The faster you kill off the host, the faster the disease must also spread, or it kills off itself with the host. In this sense, the fact that progressivism has spread throughout the west with increasing speed, and the fact that it is catastrophic for birth rates, are not a coincidence. The former is a requirement for the latter.
It is an unassailable fact that the ideas, beliefs and circumstances of the modern west are extraordinarily pathological in terms of birth rates. The exact cause of this is hard to pin down, but in some sense it doesn't specifically matter - not only the directly pathological ideas, but those that tend to co-locate with it, are similarly being selected out. So a taste for classical music rose with the growth of Europe and was able to last for a long time, but now is associated only with low birth rate groups. If you disagree with my assessment that progressivism is considerably to blame for low birth rates, that's fine, because they're all going down together. If you think the answer is just 'wealth' as the cause of low birth rates, then we are ineluctably being selected for poverty.
(The problem with wealth as an explanation, incidentally, is that while it could explain the time series and the current cross-section, it fails entirely with the historical cross-section. Which is to say, for most of history, the rich had more children. For them at least, wealth didn't seem to produce the same pathologically low birth rates that it does for us).
But no matter where exactly it is coming from, the west simply cannot survive long term in its present form. And this is a purely mathematical prediction, not a sociological one. Any set of values that creates below replacement birth rates is pathological, and is actively being bred out.
Of course, the other complicating factor is that the west keeps taking in new immigrants. When they arrive, they have high birth rates, before they too end up declining. In the mean time, they acquire at best only a fraction (if any) of the traits that made the west what it was.
Which, if you like the west as it is, or as it was, is a big problem.
But if you're the blind idiot god of social evolution, this is the pathology solving itself. The modern west is pathological, and the dismantling of the circumstances that created it is evolution's revenge.
The ultimate irony of social Darwinism is that while it was pilloried for its racism in predicting the decline of third world populations, on current birthrates it was ultimately the west itself, the very progenitor of the idea, that was the unfit one. Evolution does not work the way most people seem to think, just making stuff awesome according to your particular preference for what that involves.
The biggest question isn't whether the current situation can go on forever. It's only what will replace it. The replacement will be made up of individuals holding ideas that are resistant to whatever set of pressures create low birth rates. In this sense, we are like a population in the midst of a great plague, knowing that eventually society will only be made up of people with an immune system able to defend against it.
If you want to know who that might be, just look at who is currently having children. The sincerely religious, such as Mormons and Muslims, for one. And those with a very high time preference and few outside options.
There are many forms of non-pathological social structures and ideas that could replace the current one.
One is Victorian England.
Another is Africa 40,000 years ago.
You may care which of these we end up in, but evolution doesn't.
Most likely, it will be neither, but some new combination of traits and ideas. When the dinosaurs get wiped out, the new species don't evolve back into the same old dinosaurs.
The good news, however, is that ideas are not DNA - people can change their ideas much faster than their genes. And whatever pathology is producing our current predicament must be relatively recent in origin, suggesting that fixing it does not necessarily involve going back to the dark ages. I have suggested the birth control basilisk as one possible cause, but the problem is a hard one to pin down.
The bad news is that we seem to be making almost no progress in actually fixing the problem, or even identifying it.
But the big picture lesson stands - there are, and can be, no healthy low-birthrate societies. It is a contradiction in terms.