Monday, November 1, 2010

Don't have kids?

I've read a couple on-line arguments about whether to have children or not; how the decision affects one's quality of life and whether or not there are moral implications to the decision.

Some felt children cause an undesirable revolution in one's entire lifestyle; others felt a life without children was shallow and unfulfilling. The most interesting part of the discussion, I felt, was the observation that people (couples) who had decided not to have children often felt they were somehow judged to be "selfish" for their decision, and countered that what was really selfish was insisting on bringing a bunch of new "mini-me"s into an already overcrowded world. What was interesting was I somehow agreed that there was some part of being electively childless that felt selfish, but couldn't immediately put my finger on why.

My choice is obvious. I have a daughter, and couldn't imagine a life without my family. However, I think if you really feel you don't want children, you shouldn't have some just to satisfy some reactionary outside pressure to conform; that's not doing anyone long-term good. So why then do I feel there's something "off" about couples choosing to be childless?

"Selfish" means making or taking advantage for one's own benefit. If anything, those who insist on making mini copies of themselves to have run about the world could be considered "selfish". Childless couples on the other hand are "self-centred": principally considering one's own point of view. They seek to avoid the sacrifice to their lifestyle involved in having kids.

Society is primarily defined as a network of responsibilities owed to one another that knits us together and makes us stronger as a group than as individuals. And responsibility is primarily a matter of sacrificing our individual desires to ensure our responsibility is met.

We begin this process from birth, where our most immediate need is immediately translated into a responsibility for someone else to satisfy -- our consciousness is only capable of comprehending and expressing our own self-need. As we grow older, we learn about sharing (suppressing our need for acquisition and ownership for the benefit of others), chores (suppressing our free playtime for necessary duties), discipline (suppressing immediate gratification for delayed gratification), work (exchange time in unrewarding tasks for money) etc. We learn about family (before our selves), make friends (before our family), have girlfriends (before our friends), get married (one mate before all others), raise kids (before our mate) and so on. Our entire lives are spent learning how to strip a piece of our soul and use it as mortar for the future of our shared society. And when children grow up, they will take the foundation we left them, and start the cycle over again.

In the end, this is what people instinctively react to: electively childless couples have decided contribute to and enjoy the benefits of present society, but have abstained from helping build our common future. They are not dedicating the next 20 years of their life energy making sure the next generation is healthy and well adjusted; they're dissipating it for their own benefit.

I can guarantee you, no one looks at a childless couple who invents the cure for cancer as "selfish". No one thinks the childless couple who volunteers to teach children in Africa are "selfish". But maybe, just maybe, if you're a hipster spending your dual income on lattes, studio apartments, and purse-sized "dogs", someone might look down their nose at you when they stayed awake all night wiping the snot from a sick child's nose. And I don't think the genetic origination of said child matters; only that the child represents the next generation of our society.

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