Here is Theodore Faron, Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, writing in the year 2021: "Like a lecherous stud suddenly stricken with impotence, we are humiliated at the very heart of our faith in ourselves. For all our knowledge, our intelligence, our power, we can no longer do what the animals do without thought."
That's from the first chapter of P. D. James' novel The Children Of Men. On the shelves at Borders, Baroness James is the Agatha Christie de nos jours, but she has other strings to her bow and her dystopian vision of a world in which the human race is unable to breed is a marvelous read, if not quite true to life: In The Children Of Men, man is physically impotent; out here in the real world, it would be accurate to say we're psychosomatically barren - at least in the non-red-state parts of the developed world.
I've been a big demography bore for a while now and it affords some melancholy satisfaction to see the other fellows catching up, at least apropos Europe. The literal facts of life are what underpins, for example, the Danish cartoon war - the belated realization among Continentals that they're elderly and fading and that their Muslim populations are young and surging, and in all these clashes the latter are putting down markers for the way things will be the day after tomorrow, like the new owners who have the kitchen remodeled before moving in.
Pre-9/11, I never paid much attention to demography. A decade ago, I accepted the experts' standard line that the Japanese economy had tanked because the joint was riddled with protectionism and cronyism. But so what? You could have said the same 30 years ago, when the place was booming, or 15 years ago, when we were bombarded with all those TV commercials warning that the yellow peril was annexing America. The only real structural difference between Japan then and Japan now is that the yellow peril got a lot wrinklier: 14% of its population is under 15, as opposed to 21% in the United States, just under 30% in Iran and 40% in Pakistan. What happened in the 1990s was what Yamada Masahiro of Gakugei University calls the first "low birth-rate recession."
THE MOST geriatric jurisdiction on the planet, Nippon's rising sun has now passed into the next phase of its long sunset: net population loss. 2005 was the first year since records began with more deaths than births. The world's other elderly societies have complicating factors: In Europe, the successor population is already in place - Islam - and the only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will be. But 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.
So what will happen? There are two possible scenarios: Whatever their feelings on immigration, a country with great infrastructure won't stay empty 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? Well, a year ago, the country's toymakers, with fewer and fewer children to serve, began marketing a new doll called Yumel - a baby boy with a range of 1,200 phrases designed to serve as companions for elderly Japanese. He says not just the usual things - "I wuv you" - but also ask 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.
P. D. James foresaw a similar development: toys for women whose maternal instinct has gone unfulfilled. In The Children Of Men, pretend mothers take their dolls for walks on the street or to the swings in the park.
It's not hard to see where this is going. Will an ever smaller number of young people 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 create a new subordinate worker class? As a popular beat combo predicted back in the Eighties: "Domo arigato, Mr Roboto... For doing the jobs that nobody wants to" Remember who sang that? A band called Styx. And the need to avoid the old one-way ticket up the River Styx is what will prompt Japan to take a flier on Mr. Roboto and, eventually, the post-human future.
There is a third option. Unlike the Europeans, many of whom will flee their continent as Eutopia evolves into Eurabia, the Japanese are not facing ethnic strife and civil war. They could simply start breeding again. But will they? 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 license to become the Cloney Corporation? Reporting the latest grim demographics, The Japan Times observed, almost en passant, "Japan joins Germany and Italy in the ranks of countries where a decline in population has already set in."
Japan, Germany and Italy, eh? If the Versailles Treaty was too hard on our enemies, the World War Two settlement was kinder but lethal.
The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.