In Forbes of all places, Lawrence Osborne waxes languorously over “Sex And The City Of The Future”:
Hampton Francher, the author of the screenplay for Blade Runner, told me he was asked by the film’s director, Ridley Scott, if he could expand his narrative beyond the closed interior space that made up much of the original setting for the story’s vision of the future, which was based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
“What’s outside the windows?” Scott asked him, and Hampton said he didn’t much care. The director went on to show us a city that looks uncannily like an Asian megalopolis today, though, it occurs to me now that Hampton’s original vision was more prophetic than Scott’s. The city of the future may be highly interior, lived in sequestered rooms and gardens and hotel lobbies, and it may already be forming in places like Tokyo or Bangkok, where the pleasures of intimacy and the flesh are arranged with an anonymity and efficiency that seem futuristic to the occidental.
Tokyo for me has always been the harbinger of this possible future, even though it is no longer fashionable to see it as such. But Tokyo, let us remember, is still by far the largest, the richest and the most complex city the human race has ever devised. And it’s by far the most perverse, the most erotically intricate. Is this a coincidence? I think not.
What follows in Osborne’s article reads vaguely like Forbes has merged with Penthouse Forum. Or perhaps something out of the city in Logan’s Run. But the end result is very much the opposite of that futuristic youth-oriented dystopia. As Mark Steyn wrote in America Alone, “In Japan, the demographic crisis exists virtually in laboratory conditions”:
Let’s start in the most geriatric jurisdiction on the planet. In Japan, the rising sun has already passed into the next phase of its long sunset: net population loss. 2005 was the first year since records began in which the country had more deaths than births. Japan offers the chance to observe the demographic death spiral in its purest form. It’s a country with no immigration, no significant minorities and no desire for any: just the Japanese, aging and dwindling.
At first it doesn’t sound too bad: compared with the United States, most advanced societies are very crowded. If you’re in a cramped apartment in a noisy congested city, losing a couple hundred thousand seems a fine trade-off. The difficulty, in a modern social democratic state, is managing which people to lose: already, according to the Japan Times, depopulation is “presenting the government with pressing challenges on the social and economic front, including ensuring provision of social security services and securing the labour force.” For one thing, the shortage of children has led to a shortage of obstetricians. Why would any talented ambitious med school student want to go into a field in such precipitous decline? As a result, if you live in certain parts of Japan, childbirth is all in the timing. On Oki Island, try to time the contractions for Monday morning. That’s when the maternity ward is open — first day of the week, 10 a.m., when an obstetrician flies in to attend to any pregnant mothers who happen to be around. And at 5.30 p.m. she flies out. So, if you’ve been careless enough to time your childbirth for Tuesday through Sunday, you’ll have to climb into a helicopter and zip off to give birth alone in a strange hospital unsurrounded by tiresome loved ones. Do Lamaze classes on Oki now teach you to time your breathing to the whirring of the chopper blades?
The last local obstetrician left the island in 2006 and the health service isn’t expecting any more. Doubtless most of us can recall reading similar stories over the years from remote rural districts in America, Canada, Australia. After all, why would a village of a few hundred people have a great medical system? But Oki has a population of 17,000, and there are still no obstetricians: birthing is a dying business.
So what will happen? There are a couple of scenarios: whatever Japanese feelings on immigration, a country with great infrastructure won’t empty out for long, any more than a state-of-the-art factory that goes belly up stays empty for long. At some point, someone else will move in to Japan’s plant.
And the alternative? In The Children Of Men, P. D. James’ dystopian fantasy about a barren world, there are special dolls for women whose maternal instinct has gone unfulfilled: pretend mothers take their artificial children for walks on the street or to the swings in the park. In Japan, that’s no longer the stuff of dystopian fantasy. At the beginning of the century, the country’s toy makers noticed they had a problem: toys are for children and Japan doesn’t have many. What to do? In 2005, Tomy began marketing a new doll called Yumel — a baby boy with a range of 1,200 phrases designed to serve as companions for the elderly. He says not just the usual things — “I wuv you” — but also asks the questions your grandchildren would ask if you had any: “Why do elephants have long noses?” Yumel joins his friend, the Snuggling Ifbot, a toy designed to have the conversation of a five-year old child which its makers, with the usual Japanese efficiency, have determined is just enough chit-chat to prevent the old folks going senile. It seems an appropriate final comment on the social democratic state: in a childish infantilized self-absorbed society where adults have been stripped of all responsibility, you need never stop playing with toys. We are the children we never had.
And why leave it at that? Is it likely an ever smaller number of young people will want to spend their active years looking after an ever greater number of old people? Or will it be simpler to put all that cutting-edge Japanese technology to good use and take a flier on Mister Roboto and the post-human future? After all, what’s easier for the governing class? Weaning a pampered population off the good life and re-teaching them the lost biological impulse or giving the Sony Corporation a licence to become the Cloney Corporation? If you need to justify it to yourself, you’d grab the graphs and say, well, demographic decline is universal. It’s like industrialization a couple of centuries back; everyone will get to it eventually, but the first to do so will have huge advantages: the relevant comparison is not with England’s early 19th century population surge but with England’s Industrial Revolution. In the industrial age, manpower was critical. In the new technological age, manpower will be optional — and indeed, if most of the available manpower’s Muslim, it’s actually a disadvantage. As the most advanced society with the most advanced demographic crisis, Japan seems likely to be the first jurisdiction to embrace robots and cloning and embark on the slippery slope to transhumanism.
When the Tyrell Corporation establishes its branch in Japan, I’m sure some of its more expensive replicants will look like Sean Young and Daryl Hannah circa 1982. But as Steyn wrote elsewhere about Europe’s demographic woes, “what’s the point of creating a secular utopia if it’s only for one generation?”