On Procreation


Children are everywhere.  It’s grotesque.  Ok, that sounds bad.  Look, when they’re not screaming and whingeing they are a wonderful product of love between two people.  I have a niece and nephew to my older brother and an only weeks old niece to my sister.  They’re beautiful and I love them – though I haven’t even seen the latter in person, yet.  On the other hand, there are more than 7 billion people on this planet.  In areas such as India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, apparently most of the population is under 30 years old.  Lots of children, who will grow up to become adults who may or may not contribute positively to the trajectory the global ecosystem is taking.  And they will spawn new children in greater numbers.  And it goes on and on and on like this, for no apparent reason than to continuously create – unless you’re spiritual.  We don’t have another (mortal) world, and this one is increasingly shrinking in regards to both space and food and energy resources.

So I can’t help but pose the question to myself: why, literally on earth should I contribute to the growing problem of overpopulation?  The very fact that we’re already calling it overpopulation, as opposed to simply population, decries a serious problem.  In the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith – a computer program designed to police an electronic world created to enslave humanity post the apocalyptic adoption of artificial intelligence – describes the human race as a plague (and his kind as the cure (when really they’re just another plague, or extension of the human one which created them)).  It’s a simplistic analogy you’d expect from a computer that thinks only in black and white, pragmatic mathematics.  Without any hint of peculiarly human emotion.  (Ironic that we might create something which from an emotional perspective is actually devolved from us, but sees us as evolutionarily inferior and attempts to destroy then enslave us.)  So it’s not an apt analogy.  But the fact remains: human beings are spreading across the face of this earth in exponentially growing numbers and, as of yet, and from what I’ve read for the foreseeable and even hypothetical future, we have nowhere else to spread to.  Except, again, heaven or hell, according to arguably misguided members of our species.

It’s not like the human race’s impact on earth is discernable from space.  From that vantage point the earth appears a pleasant and placid green, blue and white, of course.  And only the most massive of mankind’s creations can be seen only with a telescope from such a distance.  But put yourself in a city such as Los Angeles.  There are homeless people everywhere.  (And you can talk about society’s impact on their transience versus their own fault until the sun implodes and ceases life on the entire planet.) Then put yourself in a city such as Jakarta, Indonesia.  I stayed at a hotel there once.  It was modern, clean, opulent; “Western”.  But surrounding it on all sides was squalor: highway-side stalls, beggars, shanties, and general destitution.  I likened the hotel, in hopefully not a contemptuous tone, to a “rose surrounded by a bunch of thorns”.  First it made me feel relieved, then guilty, then angry at the fact that so many people from my own and other First World nations had things so much better.  Then I realised: maybe there simply is not enough to go around.

Me, left, aged four or five with my brother, aged about two or three.

Me, left, aged four or five with my brother, aged about two or three.

That’s not correct, of course.  A few people in this world have a lot; many more have extremely little.  It’s out of balance, and it shouldn’t be.  But only the most naive person would think the balance could ever be re-established.  Human beings have been endeavouring to set themselves apart from and above others ever since civilisation was founded when we settled down to farm and hoard goods some 10,000 years ago.  Apparently something like 3% of the world’s richest population commands the same resources as the 60% poorest.  Imagine that.  That means, in order to simplify things, if 210 million people share, say, 1 trillion dollars, 4.2 billion people share the same amount.  That means the first group has just under 5000 dollars each.  And the second, unfortunate to say the least, group has about 250 bucks each.  And keep in mind this is an understated example.  The top 3% actually has a lot more than that and, conversely, the bottom 60% a lot less.  And to make it worse – and I might be taking some liberties with economics here but I don’t think so – the fact that a small amount of people have a lot of wealth means that what little the many have is actually worth less than it would be otherwise.

It’s not something you have to worry about in Australia.  Sure, we have our homeless.  Sure, we have people living in poverty.  I believe in the Gold Coast alone, a city with about 600,000 people, 8000 of them are homeless.  So it’s fair to say those who at least have a house but are nonetheless living in poverty are of much greater numbers.  And even the homeless and poverty stricken among us are apparently still a lot better off than most of the world simply by virtue of the country in which they live.  It’s incredible.  Of course in such a wealthy country as this, and I guess any country, it all comes down to comparison.  You might feel quite wealthy indeed with your second-hand Asian car and one-bedroom apartment in the outer-suburbs of, say, Brisbane; until you take said car for a drive through areas such as the Gold Coast’s Hedges Avenue – where beach front mini-mansions owned by people possibly with many properties adorn the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  Be grateful for what you have, sure, but feel free to wonder exactly why these people deserve so much more, no matter how hard they’ve worked.  And be sure not to forget to also wonder why that guy pushing a supermarket trolley full of all his worldly possessions along the same road deserves so much less, regardless of the effort he may or may not have put into life.

I may have digressed, but the point I’ve been trying to make with the above is this: there are clearly already too many people on this earth.  And since civilisation’s inception they’ve all been drifting apart in wealth.  The poor might, quite rightly, blame the wealthy for their predicament.  And the rich, ignorantly, might blame the poor for the fact that they are not wealthier (while really they’ll be grateful for the masses of desperate people who can serve their every whim for a pittance).  I accept that even in my current situation, in which I’m unemployed, girlfriendless and living with my parents, I’m still wealthier than the vast bulk of humankind.  I don’t know whether to be grateful or shameful, or both, at such a realisation.  All I know for sure is that even though I’m pretty sure I should feel grateful, I’m really not.  Perhaps I’ve borne witness to too much more wealth than I have poverty.  Maybe I’m spoiled.  Both are reasonable, yet arguable arguments to level at me.  But the feeling remains.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my almost 30 years, it’s to not second guess my feelings – even if they are scorned or completely disregarded by others.  And this feeling creates a quite natural flow on conclusion: that I do not want to subject my own potential children to the reality through which I’ve had to suffer.

I read an article about vasectomies the other day, and one man’s many justifications for having had one.  Google that shit.  I’m sure there are many others out there.  It definitely spoke to me.  At the very least I reckon it would improve my sex life, in that I could have unprotected sex with a woman with complete mutual confidence that pregnancy could not result (though of course neither of us would forget the potential for STIs).  And, at most, of course it would avoid the very specific problem of inflicting more human life on this earth; and the earth and its multitudes on said human life.  The only personal problem, besides my parents coming to terms with me not producing grandchildren for them, is the likelihood of finding a woman who’s willing to commit to a man who’s deliberately barren. But I reckon these days it’s a surmountable challenge, and in fact if I decided to never have children I’d expect nothing less than such a disposition from a potential or actual partner. I don’t have much control over my life from the point-of-view of how or when it ends, and I have more but not as much as I’d like over how and when specific events such as employment and romanticism occur within it.  But if I could control one thing – that being whether or not I bring someone else screaming and covered in bodily fluids into this often harrowing existence – that would be great. 

I have a healthy contempt for my own kind.  We are quite literally at the level of evolution just above the animals, for all our “advanced” technology and culture.  We fight and we steal and we covet and we harbour and we hoard, with little significance in terms of the grand universal narrative we’re only just beginning to understand. The most successful social and economic system we’ve come up with so far is capitalism – which by its very definition involves giving something to someone, as long as they give us more back.  It’s merely a sophisticated system of theft, in which those who gain an advantage continue to accumulate advantages until they or their progeny or their progeny are brought down by the hungry masses by force.  Enough.  One day humankind will, if it hasn’t committed collective suicide or been wiped out by universal external forces, evolve beyond its current base incarnation.  But in the meantime, I wish not for my replicated DNA in the form of children to experience the tremendous growth pains I’ve been forced to be all too aware of. It would be as much of a disservice to them as it would be to my own cognition. Not to mention an unnecessary yet minute imposition on a world already straining at the seams with life. Considering all of the above, assuming I’m not way off, it seems like never before and increasingly whether to bring more children into this world or not is not merely a question of someone or a couple’s capacity for parenthood. It’s an ethical dilemma both deeply personal and globally broad in its implications.

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