Schopenhauer: 'If the act of procreation were neither the outcome of a desire nor accompanied by feelings of pleasure, but a matter to be decided on the basis of purely rational considerations, is it likely that the human race would still exist? Would each of us not feel so much pity for the coming generation as to prefer to spare it the burden of existence, or at least not to take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood?
For this world is Hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.'
The Specials: 'Ain't he cute? No he ain't/ just another burden on the welfare state/ ... haven't you heard of the starving millions/ haven't you heard of contraception?'
The prospect of yet more exploitative taxes to support reproducer indulgence means that a questioning of the bio-political privileging of natality is long overdue.
Reproduction in the west is a lifestyle choice. It is certainly does not put reproducers into a special category of the morally superior for whose 'sacrifices' the rest of us should be grateful.
On the contrary, in fact. Ethically speaking, reproducing is immoral and irresponsible. Looked at coldly and rationally - i.e. the only way to look at it - the human population is something that needs to be dramatically reduced.
'In 1600 the human population was about half a billion,' John Gray points out in Straw Dogs. 'In the 1990s it increased by the same amount. People who are now over forty have lived through a doubling of the world's population.' What Gray, following Lovelock, calls 'human plague' exerts pressure on the world's scarce natural resources, amping up tension and conflict.
It's only through the utterly discredited logic of modernization that increasing population at this rate makes sense. Modernization - whether in its State- socialist or Kapitalist mode - assumed that all human needs could be met by increasing productive capacity. But as Green theorists have established, this is based on a fallacy. The productive capacity of human beings depends upon natural resources, and these are finite. No matter what market demand there is for oil, it cannot be spirited out of nothing.
While it's true that the oil-fixated super-short termist stupidity of current Amerikkkan economic thinking is due to hit the buffers imminently so that a change in global energy consumption will have to occur, simply changing energy sources will only deflect the problem of overpopulation, not alleviate it. Human plague will have to be reduced - and the planet has its means (disease, eco-catastrophe) even if homo rapiens desperately scavenging for resources don't themselves substantially reduce their own numbers through warfare.
The economic argument for encouraging people to have children is that there is an ageing population. If we do not shift the balance, then the economy will collapse under the weight of demand from those who need support but are no longer economically productive. But the obvious solution to this is not more children (who, at best, will be economically productive after sixteen years) but increased immigration.
In Britain, it is well known that there is a skill shortage now. Encouraging workers from abroad with suitable skills to immigrate into the UK would thus have a double benefit. Not only would the problem of the ageing population be addressed, the UK would also increase revenue from taxation (since such workers, unlike children, would contribute to the public purse instead of being a drain upon it). Again and again, statistics bear out the obvious truth that immigrants work harder than indigenous populations.
Of course, there is no prospect of anything like this happening under the current soft fascist Blairite regime. It's no accident that the sentimental indulging of people's alleged 'right' to have children goes alongside a hostility towards immigration. As the propaganda of two of its most obvious exemplars eminently demonstrate, fascist institutions are always rabid in their obsession with increased birthrate. The RCC's hostility to birth control and obscene vitalist lust for more children (no matter how poor or miserable their lives will be) is well-known. Similarly, Mussolini's 'battle for natality' is typical of the modernizing fascist impulse.
'Mussolini believed that his Italy had a smaller population than it should have. How could it possibly be a power to reckon with, without a substantial population and a substantial army? Women were encouraged to have children and the more children brought better tax privileges – an idea Hitler was to build on. Large families got better tax benefits but bachelors were hit by high taxation.
Families were given a target of 5 children. Mothers who produced more were warmly received by the Fascist government. In 1933, Mussolini met 93 mothers at the Palazzo Venezia who had produced over 1300 children - an average of 13 each!'
Reactionary political programmes always insist on the value of life as such. But this sacralization of life of course goes alongside a degradation of people's actual conditions of life. Don't complain, be grateful that you're alive, sing in gratitude to the heavens for allowing you to come into this Garden of Delights.
Seemingly paradoxically, those political systems which actually want to improve conditions for people tend to underrate the value of the sheer fact of life. This is partly because having children is a more or less explicit ratification of the essential goodness of the world. But to change things - or to want to change things - entails recognizing that there is something deeply evil about the world and the worldly. That is why many of the Gnostics thought that copulation itself was evil, since it recapitulated the original act of the deranged drunken demiurge who deluded himself into believing that he had created the world. (Besides, those with children are especially prone to reactionary thinking and behaviour: 'I would, but I've got to think of the kids.' But as Richard Pryor asks in Schrader's Blue Collar, 'What makes your family more important than everyone else's family?')
Indulging your atavistic selfish gene impulse to replicate is neither rational nor moral. The ethical choice is to adopt or foster children. There are many abandoned children already in this world who need that care. Meanwhile, if others want to reproduce, that is their choice (just as smoking should be), but the State should not be in the business of encouraging it.Posted by mark at December 7, 2004 10:30 AM | TrackBack