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Archive for the ‘procreation’ Category

Amy Alkon on Negative Externalities of Breeding

with 5 comments

Pamela Root got [a] free flight and [a $300 travel] voucher, plus an apology from Southwest, after her 2-year-old kept screaming [“Go, plane, go!” and “I want Daddy! I want Daddy!”] at the top of his little lungs as their San Jose-bound flight was about to take off. In fact, little Adam reportedly screamed so loudly that the safety announcements couldn’t be heard and the pilot turned the plane back to the gate in Amarillo, Texas, where the two were booted off.

. . . Unbelievably, Root demanded the apology she eventually got from the airline (shame, shame, Southwest) and hit it up for the cost of diapers and the portable crib she says she had to buy for the overnight stay. Even more unbelievably, there’s still no word of any apology from Root to the other passengers.

There is a notion, reflected in numerous blog comments about the incident, that other passengers should “just deal” and “give a kid a break.” This notion is wrong. Parents like Root and others who selfishly force the rest of us to pay the cost of their choices in life aren’t just bothering us; they’re stealing from us. Most people don’t see it this way, because what they’re stealing isn’t a thing we can grab on to, like a wallet. They’re stealing our attention, our time and our peace of mind.

From “Screaming kids and airplanes: Mayday! Mayday!” in the Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2009.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Written by Sister Y

November 25, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Procreation and Responsibility

with 6 comments

The sticking point in most discussions of antinatalism that I’ve witnessed has been whether it is always a harm to bring a child into existence. Most people admit that it is sometimes a harm to bring a child into existence, at least once they are educated past the identity problem. Not so for so-called “religious conservatives,” who generally refuse to engage in public reason at all, and use their supernatural beliefs as a shield against moral responsibility for their actions.

Americans are currently preparing for a presidential election. Revelations about the reproductive life of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin have provoked discussion about procreation and hypocrisy (unfortunately, often at the expense of serious discussion of the real campaign issues).

One of the most morally blameworthy aspects of Palin’s situation (though, of course, it is impolite to mention it) is her choice to have unprotected sex at the age of 45, resulting in a pregnancy which, at its outset, carried a 1/30 risk of Down Syndrome (trisomy 21). Palin has consistently been lauded for her “courage” in carrying a child she knew had Down Syndrome to term, rather than aborting; there is little, if any, discussion of her blind selfishness and refusal of responsibility in conceiving that child in the first place, knowing that she would not abort, much less about whether she committed a wrong against her son by not aborting. People of Palin’s alleged religious beliefs generally frame children as “gifts from God” – in other words, they assert that people need take no responsibility toward conception or procreation.

I think this is appalling, and I am not alone – the California Court of Appeals agreed with me that a parent should be responsible in tort to a child born with a foreseeable defect (though the California legislature later changed the law to prevent such lawsuits):

One of the fears expressed in the decisional law is that, once it is determined that such infants have rights cognizable at law, nothing would prevent such a plaintiff from bringing suit against its own parents for allowing plaintiff to be born. . . . If a case arose where, despite due care by the medical profession in transmitting the necessary warnings, parents made a conscious choice to proceed with a pregnancy, with full knowledge that a seriously impaired infant would be born, that conscious choice would provide an intervening act of proximate cause to preclude liability insofar as defendants other than the parents were concerned. Under such circumstances, we see no sound public policy which should protect those parents from being answerable for the pain, suffering and misery which they have wrought upon their offspring. Curlender v. Bio-Science Labs, 106 Cal. App. 3d 811, 829 (1980). [Emphasis mine. Citations omitted.]

It is nauseating when religion is used as an excuse to avoid responsibility for processes that are well understood to be under human control.

Written by Sister Y

September 4, 2008 at 1:25 am

Why We Should Keep Knitting Booties

with 9 comments

See also, Incentives Will Fail: Why Procreation Is Like Prostitution And Drugs.

Many of us believe that everyone has a moral right not to be born, a strange sort of right that one only holds in its breach, as David Benatar puts it. But what consequences should this moral view have on our actions?

Obviously, someone who believes an action is wrong should avoid taking that action himself. But what is one to do about others who take actions that one believes to be wrong?

David Benatar addresses the political side of this question in Better Never to Have Been. Benatar concludes, and I agree, that although procreation is always a harm, a political prohibition on birth would be a greater moral horror. A political prohibition on birth would mean, with our current technology, forced abortion and forced sterilization. No matter how great the harm of birth – even though it entails death – forced abortion is worse, especially considering the widespread fear and suffering that the policy would cause to currently-living people.

So the political answer is, I think, do nothing, except perhaps to increase funding for voluntary birth control, abortion, and education. But what of the personal realm? Should we still knit booties when our friends have babies? Or should we flip off people with “Baby On Board” stickers in their windows?

Cory Doctorow is one of my heroes. His work, more than anyone’s except perhaps Michael Gondry’s, often leaves me with at least a temporary sense that there are worthwhile, interesting projects for sentient beings other than pursuing nonexistence.

As I have previously mentioned, I find Doctorow’s story I, Rowboat, the story of Robbie the sentient rowboat, extremely affecting. Doctorow displays a deep grasp of the ethical problems involved in creating new sentient beings. (In a subplot, a coral reef is brought to sentience by a chaotic-evil being, described as a “capricious upload god,” wakes up very angry, and apparently spends the rest of eternity chasing the “upload god” in an attempt to destroy it. The main plot centers on Robbie the rowboat’s poignant, lonely experience of sentience.)

Given Doctorow’s apparently nuanced understanding of the problems of coming into existence, some experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance when Cory had a baby. Some reacted with uncharitable crankiness, such as BoingBoing commenter Kyle Armbruster (re-emvowelled by me):

It’s like, just when you thought Cory Doctorow couldn’t possibly be more of a self-aggrandizing, pedantic know-it-all prick, he has a kid.

If there’s any justice in the universe, his daughter will legally change her name to get rid of the 40 extra ones her parents tacked on and become the CFO of Sony BMG.

(Kyle got “put on time out” from BoingBoing for three days for that, and that kind of vitriol probably indicates the usually-well-behaved user needs a bit of a break.)

I believe it is a serious moral harm to have children, but I think it is a great harm to be a total self-righteous cunt toward people who decide to have children. The morally correct action, in my view, is to openly espouse antinatalism, but at the same time to welcome babies into the world and knit them booties. Benatar himself leads the way with this, by dedicating his book to his parents and his brothers. We have all been harmed by being brought into existence, but once we exist, let us enjoy each other’s company.

Just as there should be no forced abortion or forced sterilization in the political realm, even though more babies will thereby be created, there should be no additional suffering heaped onto parents and children because of this wrong. We should continue to develop and spread our ideas with the hope that people will make ethical choices, but, as I have said, we should keep knitting booties.

Even a generation ago, children who had the misfortune to be born “out of wedlock” were treated horribly by the adults in their communities. My own grandmother suffered greatly from this, born into a highly religious community when my great-grandmother was not married. The horrible treatment was related, at least in part, to the moral belief that procreation is only appropriate between married people. But however strongly held, however correct even, this belief may be, it is not a license to treat babies and children badly. The mistreatment of babies and children is a moral horror. Likewise, it’s pointless, mean, and immoral to flip off the people with the “Baby On Board” stickers.

Taking a page from abortion centrists, let our movement’s slogan be this: Make procreation safe, legal, and rare. And keep knitting booties.


On a related note, I want to trace the implications of a thought I briefly entertained in dealing with my own cognitive dissonance upon the birth of Cory Doctorow’s child: when a man fathers a child through natural means, how can we be sure that procreation was the man’s decision? (Again, I do not at all mean to imply that Cory’s daughter was unplanned or unwanted! By all reports, she was most wanted, and is a charming baby destined to be brilliant, creative, and highly capable.)

In most first-world countries, contraception is widely available. Effective contraception may be utilized by either partner, even without the cooperation of the other. However, in practice, men often rely on women for contraception. Also, contraception failures are frequent.

Again, in most first-world countries, abortion is the prerogative of women. A woman who becomes pregnant may choose to give birth, or to abort. But a man’s freedom not to procreate ends with ejaculation. A woman can procreate with or without a man’s consent to the procreation. A man can only procreate with a woman’s continuing consent.

Given the alternatives – forced abortion, forced birth – this is the best system. A forced abortion is worse than a man being obliged to procreate against his will. A forced birth is worse than a man being prevented from procreating against his will.

While abortion as a female prerogative is better than the alternatives, it is not without problems. The general requirement, again in first-world countries, that parents monetarily support their children until they reach majority creates a major (and undeserved) hardship for men who conceived accidentally and do not desire to have a child. And this is not to mention the emotional consequences. Is an act of sexual intercourse enough to morally justify saddling someone with an unwanted child? If not for women, then why for men?

I think people ignore the injustice inherent in our system of allocating procreative responsibility, because its obvious flaws are not amenable to a political solution. It is another limit on human happiness.

One of the implications of the de facto female monopoly on reproductive decisions, in first-world countries, is to render antinatalism primarily a female issue.

However, an example of undeniable, active male participation in reproduction (other than through artificial means) is related by Mary Beth Bonacci, professional chastity lecturer and realtor. Her 2001 article in the Arlington Catholic Herald told the story of a married Catholic couple who considered, but ultimately rejected, divorce:

But there’s more. Back in the fast-track days, Greg had a vasectomy. After their conversion, they felt called to reverse that procedure — a very expensive proposition. But, through yet another miracle, they found a doctor inspired by their story, who was willing to do the reversal — essentially for free. He did so, and on Feb. 9, 2001, Katharine Marie Alexander was welcomed into the world.

God is truly good.

Most men are not as lucky as Greg was in controlling their procreation. It is a moral issue that deserves consideration.

Written by Sister Y

August 8, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Procreation and Suicide

with 5 comments

An important reason that it is unfair to force a being to stay alive is that the being took no voluntary action in order to come into being.

Voluntariness is a key element of fairness is much of our legal system. Our law of contract requires that the parties voluntarily enter the contract in order for it to be enforceable. Likewise, marriage must be entered voluntarily, or it is not legally effective. Crimes require a voluntary act before punishment may attach. (See note.)

Given this framework, voluntary procreation (choosing to have children) has two important consequences. One, given that the act of procreation forces existence on others, it may be a moral harm in and of itself. Second, and more relevant to our purposes, procreation is a voluntary act, like signing a contract, that creates a moral obligation for the parent toward the child. A non-parent (or an involuntary parent, such as a rape victim) has given no assent to life, and retains the right to remove himself from the world; the voluntary parent has given his assent to life, and created obligations toward his child.

An interesting question is whether there are acts other than voluntary procreation that cement the agent to the world, potentially destroying his moral right to suicide. One candidate would be intentionally forming or continuing a close relationship; although of course this does not involve creating an entire new being dependent upon the agent, it does, perhaps, encourage others to become dependent upon the agent. Perhaps potential suicides have a moral obligation not to form or continue close relationships, just as they have a moral obligation to avoid procreation.

(Note that voluntariness cannot account for the basis of authority of the state over people who have not consented to be governed by that state. In a state with a broad suicide proscription, in which there is even less of a possibility to “opt-out” of state control, the authority of the state over non-consenting individuals is weaker than in a state where life is not compulsory.)

Written by Sister Y

April 29, 2008 at 12:20 am