Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Childbearing Dilemma

[Why do we want children anyway? Why does everyone have children?]

As I was sitting in the backseat of the car driving along a highway in Arizona, a thought popped into my head about the strangeness of family structure. The thought came now because I was pondering the parenting and family structure of relatives of mine, and in an instant realized how constrained and limited it is for children to "belong" to two specific parents, in a specific way in a specific home. (And even more so when those parents are - like in many cases - overly strict and controlling, or worse - like in many other cases - abusive. But even wonderful, attentive and thoughtful parents are still only two specific parents.) Your children, as Khalil Gibran wrote so beautifully, are "not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you, And they are with you, yet they belong not to you." I feel that way. I feel that if I (and my partner) are to create a human being, I will be no more than the body through which she comes into the world. The child will be her own human being, belonging solely to herself and to the Earth.

In this aspect, I feel that it would be more appropriate to raise a child in a communal or tribal fashion. The traditional structure of two parents (or, more contemporarily speaking, and this is legitimate, too - one parent, or three or more parents) forming the core family should/could remain (I reckon it is good for children to have a sturdy ground to rely on and from which to receive unequivocal love and support), but all children of all biological parents can be together, all parents can look after all children. In other words- the parents are the parents of everyone, the children are the children of everyone. At least in a secondary and emotional or educational way, second to the biological parents. This way, you can attempt to minimally "own" and maximally give children what is theirs: Everything and everyone, and not you alone. Again, I am not meaning that children should have no structure or home-base. Maybe they should. But even using the word "should" here is claiming something that is not rightfully yours to claim. You can direct them, you can love them, you can support them, and you can teach them. And you can even hurt or enslave them (like many parents unfortunately do, intentionally or not). But they are still not yours. And I think we should always be trying to balance that line between attempting to help them emerge into the world as independent individuals, and not claiming them to ourselves.

But either way, the bigger and more fundamental question at this point is- Why have children at all? Or- is it even ethically right to have children?

Childbearing is something I inherently want. It may be a genetic maternal instinct, or it may be my desire to have someone towards whom I can channel my strong emotions of compassion and gentleness (and those two explanations may in fact be the same thing). I want to take advantage of my bodily ability of childbearing, because I feel it will give me much joy. There is no other reason, really. Not because of religious or social obligations, not because I feel that my child will be the savior of the world. I want it just because it will bring me joy. A joy that is so immense it can be called "fulfillment". And that is what makes it different from other joys. This is a desire that spans a whole lifetime and brings into action positive tendencies which may not be fulfilled any other way.

But I have spoken to people who (environmentally) object to childbearing, and I understand the motives. I am an environmentalist, too, and I sympathize with the objections, and even tend to agree. And hereby is born this dilemma of childbearing. If I didn't care about the world, I would have no dilemma, really. I'd pop 'em out one after the other (well, maybe not, but you get the idea). The world is overpopulated, and will soon be so overpopulated that food may become scarce. But I know that a big problem (and maybe even bigger than overpopulation) is the DISTRIBUTION of food. Food is not distributed equally around the globe. And there is a problem as to WHAT we grow for food. The fact is that most agricultural lands today are used for growing crops to feed livestock instead of humans (for each pound of meat you need numerous pounds of corn, for instance, and other resources, like water, which is very wasteful in the animal industries). If the world manages to go in a direction of sustainable agriculture, we may find that food is not the issue, and that overpopulation will not mean not enough food. But aside from overpopulation, humans also use natural resources in order to live. An additional human on the earth means (directly) more electricity being used, more water being used, etc., (and non-directly) more animals being killed (or directly, if they are not vegan), more forests being destroyed, and an overall larger ecological footprint (there are more people being born than dying, and so to lower reproduction levels we cannot have two children to replace the two of us, but none at all, to balance the many children other people are having). Trying to save the world may mean not supporting the overgrowing of human population. And after all, we are the most dangerous and destructive animal species in the history of the earth. Maybe we should stop trying to create more of us.

I know. I know all this, and it bothers me that I may be doing something harmful to society in the long run.

But on the other hand, (aside from the argument that evolutionarily speaking we are meant to reproduce, which is a sufficient argument, but not mine today,) giving up on self fulfillment for the sake of an abstract future, in which there MAY BE too many people or too many problems, is where I think I am leaning more towards favoring childbearing in this argument. (This is different from being vegan, for instance, because being vegan directly helps the animals and the world today, while eating meat is a momentary joy that can be forsaken.) Not having a baby is abstractly helping the future while giving up on self fulfillment. What is this life and this world worth if we will give up our own self fulfillment for the sake of the well-being of future humans? There is no point in living miserably for the sake of saving humanity. Because what will be the point of humanity's existence if all humans will be miserable? Then there is nothing worth saving...

And I am not willing to be miserable my entire life in order to save an abstract future humanity. And it is so abstract, because there is no guarantee that these extra children will even be of any additional burdain on the world. My one or two (or three or four or even ten) children will not be the cause of humanity's suffering. If anything, I believe they can be part of the solution.

And we go on further, to an issue that may be an environmental answer, and an option for any parent... Adoption. For me it is definitely something I strive to do someday. Not instead of having biological child(/ren), but in addition. I believe that adopting a child is a very righteous and moral thing to do. I hope that one day we will have the money and the ability to adopt a child.

I do believe it is important to do our maximum to protect nature, animals and humans (most people do utterly nothing at this point. I say this with much sadness and disappointment in my fellow human beings). 
Dealing with immediate dangers comes first (and can sometimes come on the expense of my happiness). 
Abstract future dangers come later, and not on the expense of my self-fulfillment.

Something I wrote about this at another ooportunity:
I have pondered this issue a lot, but there is one problem with it, in my eyes:
If I am to give up the fulfillment of my own life (hereby declaring that human fulfillment - or humanism in general - is secondary to saving the planet), then what humans am I saving the planet for?
I should give up my own life, in order to allow the life of future people?
If we believe in the humans of the future, and care for them so much that we want to save the planet for them, we should start by wanting and caring for ourselves, too. No?
(Having children, in my eyes, is a very deep, legitimate, natural and gratifying form of fulfillment; by giving that up, I would be causing myself a life of misery in order to save an abstract future.)

Later thoughts: I'm not sure. Overpopulation is a HUGE environmental problem today. We need to be encouraging people to have less kids.