Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Reproduction

Why no kids?

It’s a question I have been asked so many times, a few of them with touching sincerity and genuine curiosity, and it’s one that I have never answered as earnestly as I should. In fact it is likely that I’ve never answered that question for myself in a comprehensive way; which, of itself provides a significant clue on the subject. To put it most honestly and simply, becoming a parent is something I just have never given that much thought to. And given the permanent, life changing implications and tremendous responsibility associated with child-rearing (what a weird phrase), I am of the mind that this is something one should feel passionately about if you’re going to go there. If it’s going to be a choice, which – let’s be honest – for many it isn’t/wasn’t, then it needs to be a well thought out and definitive choice. It needs to be something you want as much or more than anything else that earthly existence has to offer; something that stirs your soul. Something that you feel you cannot live without.

For me, it never was. If and when I thought about it at all it just seemed to be something I vaguely knew that I didn’t want to do. Like becoming a professional taxidermist or entering a hot dog eating contest, it’s never been one of those things that required a great deal of internal debate to know that it was not my cup of tea. Contrast that with the many, perhaps the majority, who feel the intense, in some cases almost desperate desire to produce offspring. It is my opinion that the child bearing is best left to the people who fall into that category. It reasonable to assume that they feel that way for a good reason, and I feel the way I do for a good reason, although the reason seems much less important for those of us who chose to abstain (from conception, that is).

Now. To go deeper into the issue it’s probably worth approaching the prospect of parenthood from the perspective of my view of life in general. For as long as I can remember I have felt an inner imperative to move through life as lightly and simply as possible. There have been decisions made that were not always congruent with this principle – who among us can truly say that they’ve lived up to their own values 100% of the time? – but for the most part, keeping the literal and metaphorical baggage to a minimum has been a consistent theme throughout my adult life. This is not something I feel compelled to justify to anyone anymore than I feel the need to explain my rationale for green being my favorite color. It is what it is. I had a seventh grade art teacher who gave the sage advice of K.I.S.S…Keep It Simple Stupid. Seeing as the act of living itself can be viewed as a form of art – perhaps the highest form – it made sense to me to apply this concept in the broadest context possible.

Raising kids in this current environment that we find ourselves in is, in my opinion, wholly incompatible with the K.I.S.S. philosophy, which brings up another significant factor in my decision to be a non-breeder – environment. Human beings are screwing up the planet. And the more of us there are, the more rapidly we wreck the natural world. I realize that at one point in our evolutionary history it made sense for us to reproduce at the highest possible levels. Indeed, it was key to our survival as a species. But at this phase of our evolutionary development I am of the opinion that the reverse is now true. That is, indiscriminate and mass reproduction now actually threatens survival of the species. Humankind, in all its arrogance and folly, now threatens its host planet. Resource wars, despite the bullshit explanations proffered up by the powers that be, are already commonplace. Humans kill each other over access to oil now and we will likely do so over water in the not so distant future. And knowledgeable sources and agencies are already predicting food shortages within the coming decades.

Not to be so heavy on the doom and gloom but ignoring problems will not make them go away and from my perspective these are reasonable things to take into account when considering making your own addition(s) to the Earth’s population.

Then there are environmental considerations of a different sort. What kind of a society/environment would I want to introduce my own children into? Frankly, not this one. There are many great things about America but it is not a place I would want to raise kids. With so much emphasis on competition, materialism, money, greed, consumption, image, and so on, it seems like our values are exactly backwards from the ones I would want to instill into any child that I brought into this world. And I’m afraid that despite my best efforts, it would be impossible for me to shelter my child from a culture that appears to have gone so horribly wrong somehow. The forces of hyperconsumption and reckless, self-serving ambition permeate almost every aspect of American culture and the onslaught of conditioning starts well before preschool.

There are also the metaphysical aspects of child-bearing. It is a hard truth, but life is suffering. Even for those of us who were blessed enough to be born into almost ideal circumstances, with an abundance of love and security, life is a difficult affair. It is also a beautiful, enriching, and rewarding one, and I do not mean to downplay the inherent good in human life, but nor will I deny the bad. And bringing a new life into that certain guaranteed amount of pain and suffering that is also inherent is something that generates significant resistance from my conscience. And as one of Aldous Huxley’s fictional characters in his book “Island” points out, any good Buddhist knows that childbirth is simply delayed assassination. Though I cannot rightfully claim to be a Buddhist, I am quite sympathetic to this sentiment.

Furthermore, simply providing for kids and a family in today’s world is no small or simple feat. From a purely financial standpoint the act of parenting appears daunting to me. Were I a parent, providing materially for my children would be the single most important part of my life. It would, of necessity, override any and all other considerations. By no means would this be an insurmountable situation but I cannot see how the majority of one’s time, energy, and efforts would not be primarily directed towards this end at the exclusion of all others. And when I take an honest assessment of myself, I cannot deny that I am someone who requires a certain amount of freedom and latitude. I need time to think, time to be, time to explore, room to make mistakes, a fair amount of solitude and quiet, and time to pursue things other than providing materially for myself or others. Notice I included ‘myself’ there. I already feel that too much of my time and energy goes into the pursuit of money. It is a fact of life, and one that I accept and have adapted to, but not one that I will willingly excaserbate.

All of this being said, I do not hold it against any of my peers - that being the majority - who feel differently. I do not feel contemptuous or superior to them. On the contrary, I am grateful for them. People have kids for a variety of reasons, some of which I do feel are ridiculous, but for those parents and kids who I am fortunate enough to have in my life, I am thankful. My young nieces and nephew give me feelings of delight and happiness that are uniquely wonderful, and – I might add – somewhat unexpected. (Who knew I loved little kids so much?) And I know whatever feelings of joy these little ones provide me is felt to an exponentially higher degree by their actual parents. I have no doubt that there is a level of satisfaction and fulfillment that can only be experienced and understood by parents, and I applaud them. And for the sacrifices and devotion and love that is given in such abundance by parents, I truly admire them. It is an enormous responsibility, and I am continually surprised and impressed by the skill and competency that I’ve observed in those close to me who find themselves tackling the various challenges associated with parenthood.

Also, I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. If I were to find myself a parent I would know that it was meant to be and the resources and wherewithal necessary would appear in me, just as they have in those around me who have been thrust into parenthood. I’ve learned to never rule out any possibility. And woe unto him who ignores the admonition to ‘never say never’.


Anonymous said...

Nice Ben (also to see you writing again); I have been tempted over the time we have been 'in contact' to talk to you on this exact same subject. The answer that would satisfy my questions re not to have children are not in this essay.

I agree with all that you write.

I would hope we could have a good back and forth on this subject although I do not wish to alter your decisions the subject is a very much important item in any age.

My contention for having children or not is:

Would you rather be than not?

My son says not!

He says he didn't have a choice in his being here (born) or not (not having to exist).
(There is more to this of course but I'll leave it at this for the moment).

I do not understand this.

So you can see my interest when you seem so adamant.

Yours in anticipation

Anonymous said...

ps the God spirit in us can do strange things with our lives interactions, can it not?


Ben There said...

Hi Tony,

Glad to see you still showing up after my forever long break blogging. I've been spending alot less time on the computer in general, so blogging and other thing have been neglected.

Before I respond to your comments I want to make sure that I understand correctly. Are you saying that your son would rather NOT exist than exist?

Anonymous said...


He says he didn't ask to be brought into this world. It's tainted his whole life - he's 38 y/o and thought like this from his early teens.
He has never tried to suicide (although we have talked about it - once) and after fluffing his high school years (14-18) at about 30 graduated from uni as a specialist teacher - maths/science after fluffing a couple of years of that too.

When I say fluffing he refused to complete assignments etc. that were asked of him and did his own thing which of course the system wouldn't allow.

He finally got the message when he took his sisters (who is a special ed. teacher) and my advice to knuckle down and when he had completed his ed. he could do as he pleased.
He did that and now works in aboriginal communities as a teacher.


ps. I have wanted to send you a photo of my grand daughter (she's 8 this year) too Ben but I lost your gmail address in a computer crash.

Ben There said...

Teaching in aborinal communities. Now that sounds like meaningful work. I find myself admiring anyone who chooses their occupation without salary being the primary motivating factor.

I think the line about not wanting to be in this world is at least somewhat common. I've heard it said before and I'd imagine many of us have thought it during times of extreme unpleasantness. For me, existing is hands down the preffered option even when times are bad. From a spiritual standpoint I do think we 'chose' to be here, experiencing the human experience in whatever form we happen to temporarily find ourselves in. Temporary being the key word. I think we are spiritual beings having human experiences, most likely for the purpose of learning and exploring.

I can however kind of understand the sentiment of 'I didn't ask to be here'. It can feel that way. And at least within our immediate knowledge and accessible memory, for all we know we didn't choose to be here. I think of a small child born into a poverty stricken, war torn country, destined for a life of misery and it is hard to imagine anyone willingly choosing that for themselves. And I don't have an answer for that other than recognizing that certain things may make sense at a spiritual level and make absolutely no sense on the material level.

benmama said...

It was great to read another of your blogs and as usual, it was entertaining but meaningful as well! So glad God(or the Universe) or whatever you want to call it sent you to me!! As you know, it was one of those serendipities, as Gege would say. Can't wait to see yall soon.

Ben There said...
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