Sunday, May 05, 2013

When a right becomes a duty

I've a had few conversations recently that have come around to the question of whether we want to or are going to have children.  When I answer that we aren't going to, I get a number of responses—and so does the other half—but responses that seem to circle around either the idea that it is selfish for us not to have children or that our lives don't have much meaning if we don't prepare another generation.

At the ends of these conversations, I always end up feeling bad, but not because I think I am selfish as much as bad because that's the way I am pictured. And, because it is now coming to be an assumption that a couple that has been together for a long time has to have children.

The recent dustup about Niall Ferguson's comments on Keynes' supposed lack of concern about the future because of his homosexuality—for a good discussion, see this—has got me thinking more about this.

It is strange to me that so many gay men have begun to drink deeply the arguments offered by social conservatives that a relationship is only of value if it is a relationship that has children. Or, maybe it isn't strange; maybe it just saddens me. 

To be clear, I think it is great if people—gay or straight—want to have children and I like children. I cannot wait to see our new nephew this summer. But it doesn't follow from that that I must want them for myself. To see value in something is not the same thing as believing that I must, therefore, have it. That would be a kind of selfishness, it seems.

There are many reasons why we aren't going to be having children. Whatever the evolutionary-psychologist types may like to say, my genes just don't want to reproduce. Or, if they do, they aren't doing a very good job of recruiting my conscious mind. I don't particularly care whether my line continues—it has some spotty parts—and my brother-in-law is taking care of the other family's line. Both of us are involved very heavily in the formation of the next generations; we do care about the future and the people of that future. We just don't particularly care that our genes continue or that we raise one or more members for that future. 

There is the very large issue that, especially if what is desired is a biological child, the cost of the necessary arrangements and procedures puts it beyond members of our economic class. When you get paid to think, you don't get paid very much. That's why the characters on shows like The New Normal aren't lecturing about non-realist conceptions of the self or strategies of resistance to military governments. 

But, perhaps what makes me saddest is the notion—a bad one and one actually seen by Keynes—that a life cannot have value in itself. That is, there seems to be some idea that a life only has value in its production of another generation. But of course—and here I am paraphrasing Keynes, channelling a little bit of Nietzsche, and expressing the sort of old-style conservativism that values the here and now—the value of that generation would only be in its production of another. And, the value of that generation only in its production of another. There is no value, because it is always just over the next generational hillock. But, that's just nihilism.

I don't think I live my life only for myself and I don't think it makes me selfish not to want my own children—I also don't see how it could be selfishness, since that implies looking only at my interests and ignoring the interests of another, but who is this other with interests?—but I also don't see how what should be a right (the having and raising of children by those who want and will love them) has somehow turned into a duty. 

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