Monday, December 28, 2009

4 reasons to have children
and 1 reason for philosophy

2/12/2010 — 9:45 pm

This week’s Science is a special issue on “Food Security,” i.e.: how to feed 9 billion people (the estimated upper limit of Earth’s carrying capacity).

Deciding to not have children, or to adopt instead, is like voting: One vote has to be part of a mass preference, for one’s vote to seem important. But one vote is all one has.

Anyway, population growth is out of control, particularly among the poor and illiterate. Last December, I took an eccentric perspective here on having children.

paleoanthropological: They happen. You adjust. This, I suppose, more or less covers most of the humanity that is causing global warming. The original “miracle of the child” was that one had no idea why they came when they did. Sanctification of this mystery reflects the evolution of an intelligent species, which is very good for children, which is very good for the tribe (maximizing life, thus reproductivity, thus hands for labor and homemaking, and war, etc.), which was probably the original motivation of religion: public health for survivalist flourishing (not an especially human aspiration, but aggregate intelligence gains advantages over otherwise dominating species, such as bacteria). If the child is a gift from God, one doesn’t have to take responsibility for planned parenthood. This is very good for unfocused lives. It also tends to suppose that children grow adequately on their own, if fed and protected. This is also “good” for unfocused lives, through the eyes of political estates, which have tended to not look favorably on broad literacy. For much of humanity, today is not much different from what Europeans call medieval. The poor and illiterate reproduce and cope because that’s what happens in life, generation after generation. One’s parents did it. It’s what there is to do.

economic: The family aims for laboring hands and old age care. Rather than maximizing population by way of letting better public health welcome whatever results, children are deliberately sought for the sake of neighborhood prosperity. This is why the Catholic Church sanctifies a maximized intent to make children. This is the engine of the premodern economy, and the modern market thrives on the reproductive economy. The economics of reproduction mesh with the paleoanthropological legacy that has progressed to our complexly reproductive economy.

In the economic venture, owning one’s prosperity is considered virtuous. Godforbid one should desire to adopt a living child that is not “truly” one’s own, as the need of existing children for good homes is less important than owning one’s own and increasing the population. But most important is that the child be one’s property by nature (or God).

pets: One needs someone to love “me” the way I want to be loved, to assuage loneliness, yet someone that also talks well (eventually), which dogs and cats don’t do (or at least, don’t do well enough). Commonly, people with the leisure to find a purpose in life (living beyond survivalism) will decide to have children because they need something to do with their free time. In this case, it’s important that the child grow up to satisfy the parent, especially the parent’s own unfulfilled dreams (or lack of purpose), which they intend to live out through their children. The child should be grateful for what the parent provides and love the parent for what they have been given. Quid pro quo is unstated, but manifold ways of withdrawing “love” keep the implicit message rather clear. This reason for kids is very, very common in modern society. Obesity helps one keep in mind how much one is loved.

gardening: Here, my favorite (truly), one wants to see the being flourish in its ownmost way. The parent wants to enable high individuation, however it turns out. The parent loves to see the child flower in order to surprise and leave, well launched. And then the parent is happy to go into gardening something else. I will call this concerted parenthood, not because I’m especially attached to sociologist Annette Lareau (though I am), but because she exemplifies a good bridge between (a) macro concerns for human development or the health of nations and (b) the individual point in the pointillism of a good society that is educed, evinced, cultivated, and appreciated for its own sake. I would emphasize a beauty of the well-growing child because, firstly, it’s important for my sense of humanity, but also because a well-growing life includes a sense of reproduction that belongs to it, though I’m going to be brief. As brevity breeds obscurity, I’ll probably seem eccentrically conceptualist, but that would be a philosopher’s bias, for the sake of conceptual adventuring.

I came into philosophy very much a “Sixties” idealist, which I sought to live as an urgent “praxis” that took many years to clarify, but which grew through devotion to educational excellence and reform, advancing an idealistic notion of fighting poverty through community-based human development. But chances for educational research didn’t satisfy my first love, which tends to become (or return into being) wholly philosophical. Yet, I can’t shake a sense of responsibility toward our perpetual project of gardening the good of humanity, broadly understood. What I want to do philosophically feels intimately engaged with such importance, which I want to understand as well as I can (maybe exemplifying something useful along the way), but feeling ultimately drawn by an appeal of purely philosophical work (which carries a providence of solitudinous happiness). It’s elating, in its sense of love, desire, and high sense of potential entwining. Fulfilling happiness can be conceptual for me as literary art is for others. But it’s growing relative to a specific community of influences who unwittingly lead me into evolving a horizon that is wholly ours. The neatest thing would be that they are brought to see how much (and how glad I am) that it’s all done relative to those who keep me grounded and laughing about my own pretenses.