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.