Casey Chalk is pursuing a graduate degree in theology from Christendom College and is senior writer for Crisis Magazine. He covers religion and other issues for The American Conservative.
America: A Nation of Cheaters
“CBS This Morning” in August featured a story titled “The staggering cost of fertility treatments,” which reported that in vitro fertilizations (IVF) “cost more than $10,000 per cycle and freezing your eggs on average is between $30,000 and $40,000.” CBS interviewed Julie Alvin of Refinery 29, which on 19 August featured an article titled “I’m 40, Have Little Savings, & Just Spent $26K On IVF. This Is My Fertility Diary.” Julie Alvin and the “CBS This Morning” anchors all bemoaned the lack of insurance coverage for these expensive treatments (though, to be fair, the household income of this anonymous person and her partner is $200,000).
There’s a deeper problem here amid all this hand-wringing: putting off trying to get pregnant until one’s 40s is trying to cheat nature. It’s no surprise that most Americans don’t think of it this way. We’re a nation of cheaters.
Examples of American attempts to cheat nature—and each other—are legion. Abortion, though it may seem superficially at odds with fighting infertility, stems from the same desire to cheat our bodies, in this case by destroying the natural process of conception and gestation in the womb. Pornography is also part of this trend, short-circuiting the essential relational nature of sexual interactions in favor of self-focus and self-gratification. Another form of cheating nature in relation to our sexuality is surrogacy, where a couple unable to conceive (or that doesn’t want to go through the trouble of pregnancy) pays someone else to carry their child for them. Thirty years ago, before it was a $6 billion a year industry, this was being called a new form of slavery that exploited vulnerable, lower-income women.
Meanwhile, an entire industry has formed around providing cheating services for students at all levels, so they can avoid writing papers or doing their math homework. Somewhere between 75 to 98 percent of college students have admitted to cheating in high school. Indeed, cheating among students has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. As we recently learned, wealthy parents even cheat to ensure their kids get accepted to the right colleges.
Our pushing up against the limits of reasonable government expenditures, in turn, cheats future generations of Americans. Our national deficit—the gap between what the government takes in through taxes and other sources of revenue and what it spends—is slated to reach $960 billion for fiscal year 2019. And projections indicate that gap will widen to $1 trillion for fiscal year 2020. Social Security, in turn, which accounts for about 25 percent of the federal budget, allows Americans to start collecting at 62 years old, though the average retiree will live until 85. The original Social Security Act of 1935 set the minimum age for receiving full retirement benefits at 65, under the belief that, due to lower life expectancies, few people would be collecting for more than a few years. Today, it will be younger generations like mine that will be forced to pay for the exorbitant consequences of this reckless spending habit.
We are remarkably oblivious to this reality of our systemic cheating, preferring instead not only to keep battling nature but to bask in an irrational elitist pride. We perceive the secular gods of progressivism, science, and freedom as the answers to every problem, the means of overcoming every natural obstacle. Social justice warriors, particularly those on our nation’s campuses, thumb their elitist noses at every tradition and appeal to the natural law. Yet in time they find that same nature to be another impediment to their supposed self-actualization as another gender, another race, or a 40-year-old first-time mother. Never fear: science and progress will ensure our freedom, we say.
It is difficult to overstate the damage inflicted by our cheating against the natural order and each other. As Walt Heyer has frequently noted, attempting to cheat nature in reference to sexual identity—exemplified in the deplorable manipulation of impressionable children—can cause serious, sometimes irreversible psychological and physical harm. We in turn damage the welfare and security of our nation when we make shortcuts and avoid sacrifices necessary for academic or civic excellence. A nation that cheats is corroding from within, and thus more vulnerable to external threats.
As easy as it is to be blasé about clichéd comparisons between America and the Roman Empire, the similarities between the two are difficult to ignore. Over the course of its empire, Rome cheated itself—of its senatorial traditions, of its economic prosperity, and of its martial excellence. Indeed, the “barbarian” army that sacked Rome in 410 A.D. was actually a Roman army—a volatile mercenary force full of Germanic peoples, but a Roman one nevertheless.
America finds itself in much the same position as the late Roman empire: ignorant and apathetic of its civic traditions, fiscally irresponsible to the point of a not-too-distant national bankruptcy, and militarily overstretched and fatigued from reckless international interventionism. If America is to survive, we must embrace the long, difficult road of perseverance, patience, and moderation. We must accept the reality that demanding insurance companies cover non-essential medical services like IVF for women in their 40s, or transgender surgeries for those suffering from “gender dysphoria,” is a deleterious burden on everyone who pays into that insurance policy (and every taxpayer, if insurance is federalized). If we do not grasp this hard truth, we will learn, as have so many before us, that in the long run, cheaters always lose.