Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
48

Is It Acceptable To Have Children?

Choire: Hello, I have some questions, at this time of "holidays" and "family" and "everyone in Brooklyn having a second and sometimes even third child, also often having two at the same time, because IVF" (I almost typed IDF, because of the news!) and I guess my main question is: how do people talk themselves into having children when the world, at least as we know it, is going to likely end during the lifetime of these children?

Ken: So you're considering having a child. Congratulations! Brooklyn is certainly a wonderful environment for children.

Choire: It is true that once every five years I think "HA, I SHOULD GET A BABY." It passes by the time dessert comes around.

Ken: That's how it often starts, I've heard. "Hmm that looks fun, having a baby." I've never experienced this myself, so I did actually have to talk myself into becoming a parent.

Choire: So you admit you knew it was a terrible idea.

Ken: I am not a huge fan of "people," of any size.

Choire: Oh that's an excellent point. And yet. You made some.

Ken: Still, right, people do tend to reproduce. What are we at now, 7 billion? That's way too many people. I fully support birth control, legal abortion, the one-child policy, the no-child policy and periodic biological events like the Black Death. Yet I wound up married to someone who wanted kids, and I thought it over and selfishly decided it was not a terrible idea, for us. I considered it a deliberate engagement with humanity, for good or ill. And, eight years ago, one of these babies appeared, followed by another a couple of years later. An interesting thing to consider is that once they arrive, they tend to stay. So that's worth consideration.

Choire: That's one secondary thing that's terrifying about children, their semi-permanence. So: "children: not a terrible idea" and also "engaging with humanity." Like playdates and Lamaze classes?

Ken: Eh, not so much. A lot of my longtime friends had kids around the same time—it's that whole despicable group-tribe thing that leads to "oh everybody's got a Prius now"—so this spared me from having to go to strangers' houses and hear them talk or whatever. Anyway, kids should play outside, by themselves. Or at a park, where the parent can sit on a bench and look at an iPad.

Choire: I do feel sometimes that we will drown under the weight of all your children. That all these children will take us responsible, childless people down with the whole planet. Also, I was going to say "we're not on a generation ship, speeding through the stars, perpetuating life until we arrive at our destination," but that would be totally untrue. That is EXACTLY what we are doing, I guess.

Ken: Yes, that's what we're doing, whether we consider it or not. We're on a generational ship, or train, or rag-tag caravan of interstellar freighters. In the past, people had kids because a) that's what happened, mysteriously, whenever men and women had sex, and b) you needed labor for your sharecropper farm on the Lord's Manor.

Choire: Right. Also "the birth control" that happened is a thing.

Ken: There are parts of the world where "free farm labor" is still a draw, like those sad onion farms in rural India where the parents kill themselves because they're in debt to Monsanto for a bag of seeds … god it's all so awful. But in the modern western world, it's a choice that adults make and a mistake that teenagers make.

Choire: I am not sure that they are not thinking this way a bit as well in Brooklyn and Los Feliz. But mostly that intended child labor has become "supporting us when we are old and even lazier."

Ken: So your neighbors in Brooklyn, why are they having kids? Are they making little homunculi, making a legacy, acquiring an accessory? Especially after election years like this one, I do feel a demographic tug. Just because all the kids like hip hop and sexting today does NOT mean they're going to be intelligent liberal-arts science proponents with a shot at saving the world and colonizing space and all that, right? Look at Kid Rock, he loves the hip hop and he's a terrible old wingnut. Or Marco Rubio! He could teach a Learning Annex class on hip hop, and he's a teabagger. So some social engineering is necessary.

Choire: Oh exactly! "Cultural markers" will be so different in a decade. Well… I think there's a multiplicity of reasons for people having children, EVEN in Brooklyn. I don't want to be cruel about all my child-having friends. Even though I think they KNOW they made a mistake and their children will be living in Waterworld.

Ken: But! We can deal intelligently with climate change, if this idiot political denial season has truly and finally come to an end. Even if the worst case sea-rise projections come true and we've got 10% less land mass in a hundred years, that's not Waterworld. California is zooming along toward 50% renewables, the superstorms are even making the non-crazy Republicans say we've got to rapidly change energy consumption, and to me it seems clear that a group of people in our age range are the ones pushing all this stuff into hyperdrive right now. It's entirely plausible that today's kid who learns composting in preschool will treat the environment with the same bred-into-the-brain respect that Americans used to have for … I don't know, killing communists. I also want to send our kids to space, so their parents can have sex again. No, I mean, so that we can travel the stars and have crazy space colonies and meet the Aliens.

Choire: I mean that's… a reasonable goal. But I have to suggest that, along the way, there is going to be a Great Culling of either the generation that you are raising or of their children. Studies [that I made up] suggest that as much as 99.2% of people being born now will die horribly. Eaten by whales, that kind of thing. Have you begun to prepare your children for Global Survivor?

Ken: They are learning how to garden and how to cook, and they are forced to go outside and fight snakes and climb Joshua trees and not walk into traffic, but that's the limit to the survivor training. I figure they can look up all this insane stuff on the Internet when they're 10, like I did when I was a kid.

Choire: So, Ken, you believe that people who have children are better, more noble, than those who do not, is that correct?

Ken: Yes, yes I do.

Choire: That is what I have always expected.

Ken: No, not really! The Modern Parent is usually a selfish, insufferable jerk. But there's something interesting in the way everybody—in our insulated world of media-tech new urbanism locavore lifestyle—is getting gay married and having kids and putting together farmers markets.

Choire: I do agree maybe, that those who are not raising children are sucking metals from the earth, and food from labor, and not bringing anything to the future beyond our great works of art and science, which no one in the future will be able to understand, when they are all speaking their pidgin like Tom Hanks in that movie.

Ken: Well, we don't lack for people, we don't lack for teeming masses.

Choire: That's who makes my shoes!!!

Ken: You can make a philosophical argument for trying to raise up some kids to do some good for the world, if they don't turn out to be psychopaths. And then there's the wholly personal reasons, the wanting to be part of a blood-relation community, the semi-belief that there is good in that, even when you're wondering about the legality of selling your kids on eBay.

Choire: It's not legal, is that correct?

Ken: Still researching! Maybe in Belize? I do like my kids. It's fun to have people around who are at basically my level of maturity, and when they're not being annoying they can be incredibly entertaining. There is the biological component, so you're probably going to love them because they are partly you, but it's a real benefit to also like them. And the best way to like them is make sure you don't spend ALL DAY EVERY DAY with them, jesus ….

Choire: Well also as I understand it from reading literature, like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, there is some "biological imperative" that most people seem to have, and that seems like a persuasive argument in that second camp there?

Ken: Ultimately, I want my friends and comrades to raise kids. I don't want to spend the last years of my life in some hellish rest home run by gruesome halfwits with tattoos on their heads.

Choire: That is perhaps the best and/or only reason of all: that we are in something of a breeding race. Against Mitt Romney. Who has gotten the jump on us.

Ken: I want to die with some hope that it's going to get better, that there's a point to civilization and the slow progress we make as a species, that it goes somewhere other than "giant slobs rummaging in the radioactive slush for cyborg rats to eat."

Choire: It's possible you will.

Ken: And, lacking any belief in God or even Aliens, having kids is a kind of gamble that there is a future. Either that, or my condom broke, I don't remember.

Choire: Which is the opposite of having cats, really. The only thing you get from cats is that "everyone dies alone." These are persuasive arguments you have put forward! Perhaps I will Google "impregnation" and sally forth this weekend.

Ken: It's still possible that you could buy a kid on eBay in time for Thanksgiving dinner!


Photo by TrentTSD.

48 Comments / Post A Comment

C_Webb (#855)

As we move forward and create people to manage our Sustainable Waterworld, I wish we could also move back to when being a parent did not mean thinking that the sea should part before you and your progenic (progenical? adjective form of progeny? anybody?) concerns; it just meant that you had kids and should feed them and educate them and keep them healthy and invest some time in teaching them not to be horrid. I realize that there are many different definitions of both healthy and horrid, but I'm pretty sure any ethos based on "because I WANT to" should fall firmly on the horrid side.

jfruh (#713)

Here is the thing though which is the idea that the "right" people need to breed to keep up with the "wrong" people is always wrong! This is true pretty much for whatever values of right and wrong you use, whether we're talking eugenics or class snobbery or just aesthetics. Because honestly, how many delightful people do you know who are all like "MY PARENTS, UGH"?

The fact is that rich/culturally priviledged people have always had fewer kids than poor people, both because they had more control over their less chaotic lives and because kids are an economic burden to the wealthy but, in most historical times and places, an economic benefit to the poor. (This is true in the subsitence agricultural scenarios touched on by Ken, but also in many places today where child labor is prevalent. Why is it OK to have your kids doing backbreaking manual labor on your family farm but not OK to send them to work in a glove factory?) Rich people have always freaked out that they are being outbred by the wrong sort. The Emperor Augustus offered good money to already rich families if they would only have more kids! And yet the Roman Empire lasted another 500 years and the cultural elite gets replenished by the 10-15 pecent of the non-elite's kids who can't stand their dumb little towns and move to New York or whatever, and the cycle of life continues anew.

jfruh (#713)

@jfruh (which is not to say that Choire shouldn't make/steal all the gaybies he wants, it's just that he doesn't have an obligation to do so, for freedom.)

deepomega (#1,720)

@jfruh This is known as the Idiocracy Fallacy in formal logic.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@jfruh I love it when you mansplain.

BadUncle (#153)

@jfruh The world would be a much better place if Choire were to spread his seed like a gigantic, nation-building man-salmon.

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

"there is some 'biological imperative' that most people seem to have": This is an excellent case in point of the general principle that Mother Nature Is Not Your Friend.

That was perversely beautiful, by the way.

BadUncle (#153)

I love children. At least, the team of six that carry my palanquin.

iantenna (#5,160)

one time choire told me that, come the apocalypse, i could use my daugther as a "tiny human shield." so, kids have got that going for them, too.

Mr. B (#10,093)

"This photo was taken on May 22, 2006 using a Canon PowerShot S230."

Mike Riggs (#3,658)

Meanwhile, I will be Googling "impregnation" and Sally Forth.

I have to say, as a woman, the idea of having children mostly (entirely, really) because my partner wants to is just…not even up for consideration. At all. Too much work, basically.

@antarctica starts here : As a guy, I'd have to say CHILDBIRTH IS FRIGHTENING and I don't even understand how you ladies can be all offhand and casual about it, like "oh, maybe I'll have kids."

Seriously, even thinking about the mechanics of the event makes me look at you with a whole new level of respect because if you can do that, God only knows what else you're capable of.

pissy elliott (#397)

I can't type "Betteridge's Law" any faster

SkinnyNerd (#224,784)

@pissy elliott How about "no"?

NinetyNine (#98)

99.2! WHAT A SCARY PRECISE NUMBER. The 0.2%: Now with More White People.

Do you have an extra pair of shoes you absolutely could live without? Do you think you could find someone within walking distance that needs a pair of shoes? Are you keeping them?

Have all the kids you want.

And without further comment, Warren Ellis : "A child is like a poison missile you aim at the Future. You encourage, fund and resource their dreams to the fullest extent of your capability, knowing that your reward will be the pain and misery of generations yet unborn."

skahammer (#587)

After we get past how hilarious it is to pretend to entertain the idea in public…actually trying to estimate the probability of massive population-culling events (ha! still chuckling) does seem like a worthwhile intellectual exercise.

I'm no expert, but I suspect that most of human history since the end of the Black Death has consisted of reductions in the likelihood of massive culls — as human life expectancy has increased and things like infant mortality have decreased. In what types of historical epochs does human life become much more precarious — rather than less precarious, which seems to be the overwhelming rule? Are the most likely causes really sui generis events like asteroid impacts or alien wars? Maybe.

Perhaps the more interesting topic to speculate about is: What are people really talking about when they engage in this extremely fanciful speculation? Might the conversation be shaped by the topic's usefulness as a status marker? Now that would be a damned interesting topic to explore. Is the discussion inspired by self-disgust? Fantasies of retribution for one's antagonists? Desire to seem serious and yet playful at the same time? This discussion would still be speculative, of course — but the necessary speculation wouldn't be nearly as far-fetched as the other kind.

deepomega (#1,720)

@skahammer I mean I'd think the Cold War probably increased the death likelihood over thirty years or so. That post-WW2 to pre-perestroika shit.

@deepomega : The story of human technological progress has basically been us getting better at avoiding being killed by things other than us while simultaneously becoming vastly more efficient at doing the job ourselves.

Gowanus is no place to raise a child.

jfruh (#713)

@La Cieca@facebook Dipping a child into the Gowanus will give it super-powers like Achilles and/or a C.H.U.D.

RonMwangaguhung (#3,697)

not for all the baby carriages in Williamsburg

deepomega (#1,720)

The good news for Choire is that a lot of people will definitely die from drug-resistant TB! The bad news is, it will almost certainly be The Poors, since The Not Poors will develop their anti-TB nanobiotics fast enough to save their hides.

If we ban kids, the stroller problem will take care itself.

C_Webb (#855)

@NotAndersonCooper Nuh-uh. Small dogs will take their places.

ejcsanfran (#489)

Dying alone? I think not. My cat and I are being entombed together – regardless of who shuffles of this mortal coil first.

You guys missed a more fundamental reason: I had a kid so that I could ensure that my family name got passed on for future generations. I mean, how many Rosarios do you lot know anyway?

rimy (#239,590)

Last night, chez rimy:

Me to boyfriend: "Why do you want kids?"
"Why? What, why do you think?"
"You tell me!"
"Because I want to… continue my bloodline?"
"Um, ok? How many do you want?"
"…six?"
"SIX??!! oh my god."
"Six sons."
"… …. All sons??!? SIX?"
"I want to have my own mafia."
"Are you fucking kidding me."

Leon (#6,596)

Why get have a kid when there are perfectly good, adoptable highways out there just waiting for you?

iantenna (#5,160)

cleaning up vomit and human feces is inherently more tolerable when it comes out of something that shares your genetic material (and doesn't drink mad dog 20/20, to the best of your knowledge).

hockeymom (#143)

Are children in Brooklyn more artisanal than others?

Multiphasic (#411)

@hockeymom Definitely bespoke.

KenWheaton (#401)

@hockeymom Locally sourced, sustainable, organic and 100% GMO-free! Though if one or both parents are Israeli, they're not allowed near the Co-Op.

SuperMargie (#1,263)

@hockeymom They aren't free-range in Brooklyn, though.

"I want to continue my bloodline" = awesome, if said with a straight face

libmas (#231)

Ken: And, lacking any belief in God or even Aliens, having kids is a kind of gamble that there is a future. Either that, or my condom broke, I don't remember.

Pope Benedict XVI: In an age like today, when the future looks dark, the question can arise of whether it is moral at all to bring someone into the world and thus perhaps to impose upon him a future in which it is no longer possible to be truly human. And indeed, if we no longer know if it makes sense to be human, then this gift of life can only be justified if I can give the new person more than mere biological life. If I can give him, along with it, a meaning that I know to be stronger than all the darkness of history. That is what baptism is, which takes him up into fellowship with Christ.

It's just kind of fun to see the shared concern.

PoignancySelz (#238,693)

The best book ever about parenting, and the only book about parenting I ever read is The Real Frank Zappa Book.

LondonLee (#922)

Wanting to continue your bloodline can have some meaning beyond pure ego if, like me, your parents die before your kids are born. Then is acquires a lot of emotional levels. When I look at my kids I think "we're still here"

Sutton (#1,490)

For all you people thinking about having kids, you should know that parenthood is extremely unpleasant. (blah blah love my kids to death blah blah still a great net reduction in minute-to-minute pleasantness, at least so far three years and counting.)

SuperMargie (#1,263)

Kids are great and I have no regrets, but I was very ambivalent about it for years. One you open up yourself to it and start talking about it, the answers come pretty quickly. (Then, years later, they go-all pre-teen on your ass, and they may as well be feral cats, and then that ambivalence kind of rears the ugly head again).

Edith Zimmerman (#5,210)

Choire let's have a baby!!!!!!

ejcsanfran (#489)

@Edith Zimmerman: You misspelled "kiki."

Thank goodness the week has started so this image can start to scroll away!

werewolfbarmitzvah (#16,402)

This photo is triggering my morning sickness something awful! PARENTS, DON'T LET YOUR BABIES BE DIRTY FOOD-COVERED BABIES.

paige1read (#239,634)

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matha564 (#239,687)

kids are blessings..so love them

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