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Children of Earth: What Children are For, and How We May Use Them

with 9 comments

(Apparently it is polite to note that this article contains “spoilers,” or revelations about the plot of the works discussed, in this case Children of Earth, the third season of a BBC Doctor Who spin-off called Torchwood.)


An alien race known as the 456 comes to earth and demands 10% of earth’s children – or they will destroy the human race.

What do they want with the children? A child previously abducted by the 456 is shown partially dismembered and physically attached to an alien’s body, puppet-like. The child feels no pain and will never die; his eyes gaze out with a vacant, vaguely pleading expression. Why do the aliens do this? The human children produce chemicals that the aliens find pleasurable.

The situation is one of raw horror. A person of normal empathetic capabilities will find it absolutely horrifying for a child to be used in this way – cut up and attached to an alien to live forever as his drug factory. In the television show, a government worker who is informed his children will be among the 10% sacrificed to the alien overlords kills his children (and himself) rather than hand them over to this fate. Many of us might share this reaction.

What if, however, instead of kidnapping existing children, the alien could breed its own human children (in vats, say) for this purpose? Would that be wrong? The answer to this question gives us insight into the morality of creating children under normal circumstances.

One objection to the 456 creating children to use as drug factories is that although the children will not “feel pain,” they will suffer a horrible, endless existence. But horrible by whose standards? If the 456 does not create the children, they won’t exist at all. Isn’t a painless, eternal existence as the appendage of an alien better than none at all? Can we even compare the two? What standard could we use to decide whether a proposed existence is “too horrible”?

A second objection is that it contemplates using children for very selfish reasons. “Child-as-drug-factory” is about as selfish as you can get in terms of motivation for creating a child. But are ordinary human motivations any less selfish? We do not ordinarily inquire into motives for creating children. Should we?

The proponent of procreation must explain, I think, why it is wrong for the 456 to create children to use as chemical factories, but not wrong for ordinary humans to have babies for such motives as personal enjoyment and a feeling of immortality.

See also The Austrian Basement and Beyond for a similar thought experiment.

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Written by Sister Y

June 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Oh yes! I agree wholeheartedly!

    jessa

    June 28, 2010 at 7:45 pm

  2. Phew, this one really hit me in the gut. Human centipedes, and now this! Ancillary question: Do you suppose there are some folks who would actually volunteer to have this procedure performed on them to attain eternal life? As bizarre as it seems, I suspect there are a few.

    metamorphhh

    June 29, 2010 at 3:01 am

  3. This also seems pertinent to the question of Christian parents taking the chance that their children might wind up in Hell, which seems a far more horrible proposition.

    metamorphhh

    June 29, 2010 at 3:05 am

  4. Do you suppose there are some folks who would actually volunteer to have this procedure performed on them to attain eternal life? As bizarre as it seems, I suspect there are a few.

    I know one dude.

    Sister Y

    June 29, 2010 at 3:38 am

  5. An Atheist Forums discussion on this post is here.

    Sister Y

    June 29, 2010 at 5:20 pm

  6. It strikes me that these children's existence is actually much better than anything that is currently available. People who exist now do feel pain, after all. And yet people would agree that “raw horror” is a pretty good way of describing what these aliens do. Probably because they wouldn't like a bunch of meanie aliens taking away their dolls.

    Or maybe it's because “there's no hope” for the children as alien drug factories. Whatever hope may be. In cases of ordinary procreation, breeders can console themselves with thinking that their offspring will find similar hope and meaning by breeding, too. I think when Jim wrote “hope is my enemy”, he was definitely on to something.

    CM

    June 29, 2010 at 7:14 pm

  7. Well, but then it can perhaps safely be assumed that what was meant here is physical pain. And even though it is not free of physical pain, my existence now is certainly better than that of these children; imagine the endless, unescapable ennui!

    Constant

    June 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm

  8. Interesting post. I would liek to add one thing:

    “If the 456 does not create the children, they won't exist at all. Isn't a painless, eternal existence as the appendage of an alien better than none at all?”

    I would argue no, as an entity which never exists knows not what it's missing out on.

    magx01

    July 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

  9. I agree – that's a large part of why having children under even the best of circumstances is wrong.

    Sister Y

    July 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm


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