7/17/2014

Procreating As an Act of Selfishness

Once upon a time, it was probably necessary for people to be encouraged to reproduce. Once total human population exceeded 100,000 that was pretty much an obsolete consideration. The more we humans have learned about the way the world works, the more one-sided the whole parenthood thing has become. We’re not having kids because we want to bring children into this wonderful world. We have kids because misery loves company, especially small, cute and cuddly, innocent company. In other words, parenting is an act of pure selfishness.

Some parents are clearly more selfish than others. In traditional farming families that selfishness is apparent and relatively unabashed. Farmers had kids to save on the cost of hired hands. 1800’s American farmers were so ruthless about making their kids into farm slaves that a fair number of them ran away to work at jobs that most of us would think were a hell of a lot nastier than farm labor. Some became famous for a variety of activities: Bat and Ed Masterson, William Hickok, the Earp's, the James and Younger boys, Sam Bass, the Daltons, and a good number of the rum-runners of the Prohibition Era. Farm kids were supposed to be the local equivalent of Social Security, but most kids with good sense took the first opportunity to escape that fate.  A lot of agricultural communities took this approach so to their hearts that they created “county farms”; prisons masquerading as farms for the profit and entertainment of the local 1%. If you can’t guilt ‘em into staying on the farm, chain them to it.

Today, the excuse for bearing children is even more primitive: the biological clock bullshit. We know the chances are excellent that our children will live much less happy lives than we did. Every generation since the turn of the last century has been more unhappy, less secure, less confident, and more likely to die a miserable death than the previous generation. “Greatest Generation” bullshit aside, my parents’ generation had considerably better lives than mine has been, with job security, satisfaction, and community that my generation never experienced. My kids’ have had fewer of those things than me and their kids are moving into a society that has collapsed into corporate oligarchy, a world with vanishing natural resources and increasing ecological threat, and considerably less likelihood of survival for dozens of unavoidable causes than any time in human history. Since the Great Depression, we’ve had dozens of “mini-depressions” in my lifetime. Every “recovery” has been weaker. Every crash has been deeper and more fundamentally damaging to the social structure. The two most stated reasons for having children in this precarious world are “it will make me feel fulfilled” and “who’s going to pay for my Social Security?” Both are viciously selfish reasons.

Some of the ways the world might die are less our fault and, ideally, will cause less suffering. I don’t even care about the possible Large Hadron Collider experiment catastrophe. While it’s probably stupid to experiment with creating the end of the world just because we can, at least that would be a nearly instantaneous worldwide death. Suffering would be minimal, since we’ll all get sucked into a black hole in a matter of seconds. The idea that out of sheer laziness we’re unconcerned with the planet’s destruction by an asteroid strike doesn’t bother me, either. It might take a week or even a few months for the impact and fallout to wipe out most or all of human life, but most of us will be gone in seconds. Yeah, we could have prepared for this, instead of spending trillions on ways to kill each other for fun and profit, but it wasn’t our fault. The fact is, the universe hates order and life is the ultimate ordered energy. Entropy is the closest thing to a “god” the universe provides and entropy is all about death. So the gods want us dead, who are we to disagree?

We know humans are about to cause the Sixth Extinction. It’s hard to imagine a worse fate than to be witness to the total destruction of life on earth due to human inactivity, greed, and stupidity. I’m ok with being a victim of my generation’s greed and stupidity. I’m less ok with my kids and grandkids having to be part of that. (To be honest, I don’t care all that much about your kids’ suffering, though. That will be your responsibility.) Living through the effects of climate change are likely to be long, painful, and miserable. The future we’ve created for our kids is going to be pure torture. Stuff your happy thoughts up your ass because this is not going to be a fun ride for them.

There is a kind of insufferable optimism in the act of parenting from which I have never experienced. In 1973, the movie Soylent Green accurately depicted the fate I have fully expected to live to see since I was about ten years old. When I first saw the movie, it felt like a realization of my own dreams rather than a creation from someone else’s mind. Today, Hollywood would tack a silly happy ending on Soylent Green; like the bullshit ending of Elysium. That ain’t gonna happen. No lone hero is going to pull us out of this mess. The 1% are not going to let go of the steering wheel until we’re all well over the cliff and screaming toward our painful deaths. It’s our fault, too. Life is class warfare and anyone who isn’t fighting against the ruling elite is fighting for them. If we cared about our children, even a little, we’d be committed to this battle right now. But we don’t. We’re not that kind of animal.

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