A reader wrote asking what might be done in his local church to counter the adoption mania being pushed on so many families. My edited reply is below:
1. Racial differences and ethnicity are subtle statistical phenomena. Most people (and especially theology-oriented people) are unable to think beyond binary “right or wrong” issues. For example, because blind racial supremacy is obviously wrong (e.g. “All blacks are inferior to all whites”), they think that means that the opposite must be true, i.e. blind racial egalitarianism. Very few people are going to understand the principles of a normal distribution that differs as to mean and standard deviation. When I was in engineering school, it was this very concept (computing the areas under a normal distribution curve) in an introductory engineering course that washed out about a quarter of the freshmen. I can virtually guarantee no minister is going to take the time to understand this, and many of them simply cannot. Yet because of the cultural bias they feel qualified to speak to things they really don’t understand.
2. On top of the subtle mathematical reality of racial differences, we have to grapple with another hard-to-understand statistical-ethical concept, the “tragedy of the commons.” Adopting one more child from Africa means the world for that child, and has almost no marginal effect on the rest of society. However, multiply that one hundred million times over and you have a problem. Our productive, Western society is like a giant commons (a field where anyone can graze their cattle). Everyone thinks the resource is inexhaustible and bears no personal cost for depleting the resource. Or to reference another analogy, the old starfish story: a man is throwing washed up starfish into the ocean, is challenged by someone saying he is wasting his time, because there are so many starfish. He replies “well it makes a difference for this one.” You see the same reasoning going on with those who adopt. The problem with this analogy is that everything has an opportunity cost, yet a third subtle statistical-economic hard-to-understand concept. If I spend 12 hours a day throwing starfish back into the ocean, I am not spending time with my family or earning any money to support them. Similarly, most people see that they would be foolish to adopt 20 African orphans (though I’m sure there’s a family out there who will do this), because there would be costs to their family. Well, the same costs exist with one adopted child as with twenty. Unless you’re the Duggars or have fertility issues, most families have a practical limit as to how many children they can handle. Adopting a child ultimately means one less natural child.
3. I don’t think most people will ever understand rationally why this is bad, anymore than people understood, until fairly recently, exactly why eating rotten meat was bad for you. The stench was enough to stop the behavior, not some abstract germ theory. Many white people have a genetic defect, which is an unusually low level of ethnocentrism, akin to a predilection for eating rotten meat (actually, Swedes DO eat rotten fish, and like it). I think this trait was bred out of us due to our isolation in Northern Europe, where suspicion of others became a liability when everyone was your third cousin and you needed exceptional community-level cooperation to survive the harsh winter. Some white people have the instinct, some don’t. Those who are wild-eyed fanatics about adopting you can never convince. Our focus must remain on those who do have the instinct, but feel pressure to conform. Much of my writing is an effort to produce an apologetic that will provide cover for those with healthy instincts. A lot of this is limited to Northern Europeans. I have some Cajun and Native American blood, and most of my European heritage is Celtic, not Nordic, so I believe this accounts for the relatively strong ethnocentric instinct I have. You rarely see Italian, French or Greek whites doing this sort of thing.
4. There is also an enormous amount of pride and moral posturing in regards to adoption. White people carry around a lot of white guilt from decades of propaganda, and what better way to alleviate that than to adopt a black. See, we’re not racist, really! Even better if a nasty racist actually objects to your adoption! You’re so non-racist you’re being persecuted for it! This moral posturing, supported by the entire establishment, church and state, makes it impossible to attack the problem directly through reason. The more the “racist” reasons with someone, the more holier than thou they feel. All false belief systems give a great amount of pleasure to their adherents because it makes them feel like a member of an exclusive group. In fact, it is precisely the irrationality that so effectively separates the chosen from the “gentiles” so to speak.
Another issue: we both like to be part of theologically robust churches, which typically means smarter churches full of middle class professionals. These people tend to be the very ones who have the wrong instincts. Very few country churches with a “normal” sampling of white people are jumping on this bandwagon.
5. The best we can do at this point is to attack the problem sideways. Some sideways objections I’ve covered:
a. Adoption is expensive, bad stewardship. If you don’t own your house, you have no business adopting for $20k. You are choosing to keep debt rather than pay it off, and God does not bless debt. Dave Ramsey makes this very argument when people ask him if they should do something optional or pay off their house. He puts it to them this way, “if you owned your house, would you borrow money against it to do this? Because it’s the same question.”
b. Adoption is baby stealing. Point out examples of corruption in Third World countries, where babies are being sold to Westerners who think they’re adopting:
c. Adoption doesn’t solve anything. Roy Beck’s “Gumballs” video is an excellent formulation of this argument:
Roy does a great job of showing us how to present our message in the right way, as a caring, respectable white person. Roy is a good Methodist, so he understands messaging to upper middle class white people well.
Adoption is a not a practical solution. The solution to the world’s problems must be implemented in those countries.
What you’re trying to do is provide a fig leaf “excuse” for those with the proper instincts to opt out of the massive pressure the churches are putting on people to adopt.
6. This may sound depressing, that all we can do is mitigate the mania. History teaches us all manias have a way of self-destructing. During the Tulip bubble, when a tulip bulb cost more than a home in Amsterdam, the best course was to not buy tulips. There was no hope in the midst of the mania to stop it. Humans are too irrational. I believe we are at the tail end of a multi-decade economic mania, and it is natural in flush times for people to believe that common sense wisdom no longer applies. Adopting African babies is every bit as logical as investing in a dot-com with a sock puppet commercial during the Super Bowl. There is ample evidence that much is below the surface. During the early 90′s recession, David Duke and Pat Buchanan almost broke out into the mainstream. During this recession, the Tea Party spontaneously erupted. Ethnocentrism tends to come back with a vengeance when people lose their faith in the free lunch and permanent boom.
7. The adoptions themselves will eventually provide a deterrent. Inter-racially adopted blacks are just going to have all kinds of problems that nice upper middle class white people aren’t prepared for. I think when these cute little babies grow up into sexually mature Africans in about 15 years you’re going to see people become more cautious. To make another analogy, a lot of homeschooling families we know, in addition to being adoption enthusiasts, are home birth, anti-vaccine and raw milk enthusiasts (and if you believe in these things, I apologize, but these are my opinions). You can do something foolish for a long time with no consequence. But eventually, somebody’s kid is going to have cerebral palsy because a midwife couldn’t perform a c-section. Eventually, the nice farmer you’re buying raw milk from is going to have an anthrax outbreak in his cattle. Eventually, some of these kids are going to die from previously eradicated diseases because the parents weren’t wise enough to vaccinate in a country filled with Third World immigrants who handle food. Then the enthusiasm for these things will wane. Louis Pasteur was not a tool of big pharma: he was a Christian who developed vaccines and pasteurization processes to keep people from dying from preventable causes. Similarly, our ancestors were not evil racists who just wanted to keep black people down; there were reasons behind their attitudes that conformed to reality. But it can go on for a long while. Man is depraved in every faculty, and the best we can often do is two steps forward, one step back.
One of the big problems driving all of this irrationality is the emotion-driven pseudo-spirituality. These folks may claim they have real theology, but to a man (or woman) they really believe in private revelation. God “revealed” to them that they shouldn’t vaccinate, or they “feel comfort as a mother” in feeding their kids raw milk. They turn the birthing process into almost a sacrament of spirituality, instead of the serious medical procedure it actually is. The popular theologians, even the ones who claim to be robust, promote this kind of reasoning, and the same kind of vacuous spirituality drives the adoption mania. We have yet to fully purge out the navel-gazing pietism even in these supposedly conservative churches. BTW, a great popular book discussing this is “Just Do Something”: