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Kids these days

A writer at BoingBoing decided to lob a grenade into the blogosphere by asking, “Is parenthood a lifestyle choice?” You have to live in a peculiar kind of bubble to even consider asking that question. It appears to assume that non-parenthood is more prevalent than parenthood, giving the latter that status of a steampunk obsession, vegetarianism, or a commitment to Linux.

It’s an especially weird question coming from a Web site that is predominantly secular humanist. Evolution-believing, science-loving, socialist-leaning secular humanists, of all people, should know that in this confusing, godless, short existence, pretty much the only thing a species shoots for is reproduction. That’s what “survival of the fittest” is all about: adapting and surviving so you can pass on your DNA, not so you can have Sunday morning brunch with your friends for the rest of your life.

That said, I would never say anyone has an obligation to have kids. I’m not the Catholic Church. I would simply reverse the question posed. “Is childlessness a lifestyle choice?” Yes. And it’s a fine lifestyle choice. But consider this if you’re an artist or filmmaker or a writer or someone who wants to help humanity while remaining barren: You are missing out on an essential, crucial part of what it means to be human.

This has huge implications for how you experience art, civic participation, and social interaction. There is a whole range of emotions and responsibilities that you will never experience, I don’t care how many dogs you have. So get out there and procreate. It’ll be fun.

10 Comments

  1. Dan wrote:

    Brilliance all wrapped up in 4 paragraphs.

    Take care.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 10:02 | Permalink
  2. Jon Hoyt wrote:

    Must say, I’m glad you are writing here again…

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 10:30 | Permalink
  3. pjk wrote:

    Dan: Thanks.

    Jon: Thanks, me too. 🙂

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 10:42 | Permalink
  4. Jan wrote:

    Loving it. 5 stars!
    Saludos!

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 10:44 | Permalink
  5. John wrote:

    “You are missing out on an essential, crucial part of what it means to be human.”

    I’m wondering where, exactly, you get that idea. Sounds awfully catholic. Are you really saying that people who, for one reason or another (by choice or not), have somehow “missed out on an essential, crucial part of what it means to be human”? Really? I would not have expected you to make such an argument. And, while we’re at it, what DOES it “mean to be human”? I’m not saying I necessarily disagree with you (I don’t think I can answer the question), I’m just curious…

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 10:32 | Permalink
  6. pjk wrote:

    I guess I’m talking about the “human experience.” This isn’t really important if what you want to do in life is go about your business and not have kids. Fine. But a lot of people who don’t have kids – social activists, artists, writers, college students – seem to think they have some greater knowledge of The Way Things Should Be, or The Way Things Are for other people. They might indeed have some amazing insight, but if they don’t have children there’s a whole range of emotions and concerns and responsibilities that they will have a very difficult time comprehending. I guess I’m saying that if you want to spend your childless life as a lawyer or a cashier at Costco, no problem. But if you want to do something specifically to impact the thoughts, emotions, and opinions of the surrounding society, your perspective is probably going to be incomplete if you don’t have kids. It’s like if you write about foreign policy, but don’t speak another language and don’t have a passport. I mean, you can DO it, but your thoughts are never going to be as nuanced as they could be.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 10:45 | Permalink
  7. John wrote:

    I’m not saying that people who don’t have kids have some special insight into “The Way Things Should Be” that parents don’t have–not at all. In fact, I agree that people who don’t have kids can’t fully sympathize with the emotions, concerns, responsibilities of those who do. But I think you take the point too far. Isn’t it fair to say that some of the most influential thinkers, writers, artists and theologians throughout history have been people who were childless? People like Thomas Aquinas, for example. Or C.S. Lewis. And couldn’t you also argue that some of the people who have had a huge influence over the thoughts, emotions and opinions of society have been horrible, neglectful parents? Basically failed parents? But more importantly, it just seems like a muddled, vague statement to say that if you want to have nuanced thoughts about the human condition and influence the society around you, a prerequisite is parenthood. By that reasoning, wouldn’t you also need to have fought in a war, done some farming, lived at sea, etc.? What other prerequisites are there for full knowledge and understanding of the “human experience”?

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:05 | Permalink
  8. pjk wrote:

    “In fact, I agree that people who don’t have kids can’t fully sympathize with the emotions, concerns, responsibilities of those who do.”

    This is pretty much my whole point. I’m not taking this as far as you suggest. But since you bring up the luminaries of the Catholic church, maybe those single men would have had a greater appreciation for the “emotions, concerns, responsibilities” of trying to raise twelve kids had they had to do so themselves. “Second thought, maybe condoms AREN’T such a bad idea.”

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:59 | Permalink
  9. John wrote:

    “But if you want to do something specifically to impact the thoughts, emotions, and opinions of the surrounding society, your perspective is probably going to be incomplete if you don’t have kids.”

    That sentence, on its face, does indeed take your point as far as I suggest. I would argue that one who doesn’t experience the same things in life as another (whether marriage, kids, war, or whatever) can’t fully sympathize with those who have experienced those things. The extra step you’re taking is to say that in order to be qualified as someone fit to influence the thoughts and opinions of their society, they have to go experience such and such things, and I don’t think that’s true.

    As for those luminaries I cited, I wasn’t making a point about Catholicism (as you well know)–C.S. Lewis wasn’t a Catholic anyway. Maybe they (and many others, secular and Catholic alike) would have had a greater appreciation for people with kids if they had some as well, but that doesn’t make them less qualified to weigh in on the human condition and experience. I guess I’m taking issue with your implication that there is a single, complete “human experience” that includes certain criteria without which one is necessarily “incomplete.” That’s all I’m saying.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:37 | Permalink
  10. pjk wrote:

    There are plenty of single people and childless people and homosexual people who have done great things for humanity. Tons. Becoming a parent is not a prerequisite for anything. I just think that in some ways, it helps.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 13:39 | Permalink

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