Monday, August 07, 2006

Mutual incomprehension

A post on Spanblather about how to respond to social pressure to breed (my preference: escalating levels of rudeness after an initial "mind your own business") has resulted in some unusual comments from one of the sewer dwellers, who simply cannot understand why people would feel annoyed at being badgered and pressured on such a personal issue. The incomprehension is mutual, in particular around this lovely bit;

If only a certain small percentage of women choose not to have children, we are still ok for the future. But at a current rate of 1.9 per woman in NZ, we are below replacement rate already. Which means immigration is necessary, but it may be of a type and nature that will change NZ society not necessarily for the better if we are not careful who we let in.

So, we all have to breed to preserve Western Civilisation from the Teeming Foreign Horde. Do it for the Fatherland!

I just can't understand this sort of thinking. What does it matter what the average racial and cultural makeup of future New Zealand is? Isn't that decision in the hands of those future New Zealanders anyway (in the same way that important questions about our present culture - such as for example whether we go to church or regard Britain as "home" or eat interesting food rather than traditional British stodge - were in our hands regardless of what our parents thought on the matter)? And are some people really so racist they would regard keeping up demographic appearances as important enough to justify having kids - or are they simply groping about for any old reason to "justify" their decision ("because I felt like it" apparently not being good enough)?

Quite apart from the implicit racism, it also seems fundamentally mistaken. "Western civilisation" isn't about race or soil or what have you, it's about ideas. And what matters for its survival is the power of those ideas to attract and retain adherents - not the skin colour of the people who believe them.

But turning back to mutual incomprehension and pressure, one of the key ideas in the package of western civilisation is that that people own their own lives, and no-one has any right to tell them what to do. This is a core part of the package of western civilisation - it is at the very heart of our political theory - and it is also the reason why people get annoyed at being constantly pressured to get hitched / have kids / get a haircut / whatever. These decisions are fundamentally personal, and not in any way anyone else's business (well, outside any consenting adults involved). Surely that's not so difficult to understand?


I find it all very odd too. But you know, now that I've had my duty, as a member of the White Master Races (TM) pointed out I'm going to start on the folic acid immediately! ;-)

(Of course that assumes a) that I'm white and b) that the father of my children will be white)

Posted by Span : 8/07/2006 03:02:00 PM

What I think has to be understood is that what we call "western civilization" is really just a thin veneer applied over the past 250 years or so, to be generous. Prior to that time, Western Europeans were among the most regimented, racist, religious, and agressive people in the world. Which accounts for us taking over much of it.

Yes, we have made strides in other directions in the past couple of centuries or so. But the basics still lurk just under the surface. Most of us are still convinced that we are better. It's sad, but it's true.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/07/2006 03:36:00 PM

I think it's strange that the idea of not being too pushy asking personal questions should be framed as a left wing-right wing issue. I think it's a matter of ordinary politeness and consideration. Unless you are very close to the people concerned you can't know what they are going through. A woman/couple who have been through the sadness of for eg. multiple miscarriages do not need or deserve to be needled about how they should be reproducing.

Incidentally the pressure to breed doesn't just come from conservative family values types either. I've seen people bemoan the fact that educated, atheist women tend to have fewer children than home-schooling fundamentalist types.

Posted by Amanda : 8/07/2006 04:16:00 PM

MTNW: I lament that, but I don't think it's pressuring anybody in the former category to do anything.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/07/2006 05:19:00 PM

MTNW: yes, its a matter of ordinary politness - just like not asking people what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

As for left/right, I think its more modernist/conservative, or pluralist/monist. There are a multitude of different ways of leading a happy and fulfilling life, and not all of them involve children (but then, conservatives might argue that its not about happiness and fulfilment, but duty to god / country / mindless tradition).

As for those who bemoan the lower birthrates of the educated and reality-based, I have a simple answer: if they feel so strongly about it, then they can do it themselves. Go out, get a PhD and a Darwin Fish T-shirt and start popping out the sprogs...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/07/2006 07:59:00 PM

250 years? WW2 only finished just over 60 years ago.

Incidentally, does Chicken Tikka Masala count as "British Stodge" - probably should do...

Posted by Rich : 8/07/2006 08:39:00 PM

There are two things being muddled up here.

1. The social level concern for fertility/replacement rates, possibly not to have to depend too much on immigration, all that sort of thing. All of those are intelligible goals for public policy to take into account. i/s disagrees with all this stuff, requiring a state that has no view about any of it. So much the worse for i/s.

2. The sort of pressure individual's feel mainly from family to have kids etc.. On the one hand people just need to get over themselves about non-family interest.. It's part of human life...people ask you what you do (meaning your job), whether you're married,whether you have any kids, etc etc.,... those are macro-variables of human lives. Get over it. On the other hand family pressures in particular have a specific shape. Parental pressure to provide them with grand-chiildren is significant and the question is whether that's legitimate. It is. If you have kids and your parents give you no help with your grand-children (that they are in a position to give) - perhaps they just don't even want to know about them- then they they've done something a little odd and disturbing. Grand-parenting is in a sense part of parenting. *You* have a strong presumption that they'll be there for you - that they won't turn around and say "Sorry darling, we only signed up for the parent bit - your children are strictly your business- haven't you heard? we own our lives, raising you was 20 years I'm never getting back. See ya." If they do do that then you can rightly bitch about them to all your friends etc. OK... well then, fair's fair - Grand-parenting is part of parenting - so where the hell are thhe grand-children?! The other half of the bargain is that they, at the very least, get to sit around and bitch with their friends about you not providing them with grand-children (especially not when they are young enough to enjoy them). There's complete inter-generational symmetry of responsibilities conditional and otherwise, and potentials to disappoint completely reasonable expectations are everywhere. That's life. Stop whining.... or rather keep whining but know that the people who made you whine are being completely reasonable. It's absolute whinearama, and you're all right to do so.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/07/2006 11:17:00 PM

I can sympathise with Spanblather and I/S's points of view- having children is a personal decision, and people who have children because of social pressure, or some sense of national duty rather than because they want them probably aren't the best people to be bringing up children. However, the fact that the birthrate in New Zealand (and practically every other developed nation) is below replacement is a legitimate concern and will have significant consequences. One consequence, as I/S mentions, is that an open immigration policy isn't really a matter of choice anymore. Despite what we tell the world and ourselves, we don't allow immigration to NZ because we love diversity or foreign cultures, we do it because we need them to, among other things, pay for the current generation's retirement.
Of course New Zealand isn't unique in this, virtually every Western country is in the same boat. Countries such as Japan, whose civilization really is founded on race and soil, are in an even more awkward predicament.

Raising children is a necessary, even vital job which is at least as critical to our future standard of living as sustainable technologies, energy, infrastructure etc. Unfortunately "too many" people want somebody else to do it.

The problem is, children have become public goods. In the past, the more children one had the more prosperous you were- more hands to work the farm, etc. Also, your children would ensure you didn't starve in your old age. In other words, they were an investment you expected to receive a return from. Today, children cost more than ever in money and opportunities foregone but they aren't an investment. They don't support you in your old age, and they generally don't contribute to your economic prosperity, which makes them an expensive luxury. The only reasons left to have children are sentimental ones, hence many people choose not to bother altogether and those who do rarely have more than 2 kids. Some feminists have claimed that being a mother isn't valued sufficiently, and that mothers should be paid a wage to address this. Perhaps they have a point?

Posted by Anonymous : 8/08/2006 12:10:00 PM

"However, the fact that the birthrate in New Zealand (and practically every other developed nation) is below replacement is a legitimate concern "

Not it's not.

What's wrong with a slowly declining population?

Don't tell me about inability to support the elderly: that would require a population crash and we're just talking the possibility of a slow decline.

Posted by Icehawk : 8/08/2006 01:22:00 PM

Not always a huge fan of western civilization but watching public hangings from a crane in Iran on TV last night (program made by the appallingly British BBC) made me think it ain’t so bad.

How many 16 year olds would be subject to this kind of execution for crimes against chastity if this law comes to NZ. Still no danger of that all these immigrants are such nice people and only want to love us.

Where are us horrible white people to go if we want to live in Western (or British) culture, no good going to the UK Londonistan is spreading and the foundation is laid for Britain to become an Islamic state.

You are so good at outrage so how about a little for those poor bastards being publicly hanged from a crane…

Wake up sonny you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.

Australia isn’t half as great as some people think but at least I can go out in public in shorts and a tee-shirt without any fear of being stoned to death – well in most parts of Australia I can – there are areas where such behaviour could be at great risk, might not get stoned (at the moment) but being spat on is not very nice.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/08/2006 01:53:00 PM

My take on it is more from a psycho-biological persepective. I personaly have a very strong physical urge to breed. Even though pregnancy is painful and difficult for me I still get deeply clucky. Hence we have four children and we may have more. My mind just goes into gooey wooey fluff at the thought of a tiny baby all sucky sucky num nums. I swear it's an endorphin rush.

See I just don't grok not feeling that. To me your feelings are alien. Heck, more than alien since even aliens need to have little aliens in order to survive.

Babies are so... desirable. All soft and warm and they smell so good (assuming clean botty). They just make my heart melt; babies are like distilled love essense wrapped up into the tactile equivalent of crack cocaine.


"They don't support you in your old age..."

Bollocks. I consider every little bundle of joy I go through hours of labour to give birth to better not forget his mother in her dotage or there will be a reckoning such as the cosmos has never seen!

Posted by Muerk : 8/08/2006 02:25:00 PM

What's wrong with a slowly declining population? Don't tell me about inability to support the elderly: that would require a population crash and we're just talking the possibility of a slow decline.

A declining population means, all things equal, a stagnating economy and declining standards of healthcare, social services etc. Combine that with an aging population, and that is something I'd rather not live through, especially once I'm not able to support myself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I understand it, in many countries in Western Europe the ratio of working people to retirees has pretty much reached its limit already. They're also facing much lower birth rates than NZ (but I suspect we'd be the same without our Maori and PI population).

I guess you could go off on a tangent and argue that capitalism isn't sustainable in the long run, since higher living standards and more choices lead to low birthrates and shrinking populations. Eventually there won't be any more undeveloped countries with surplus populations we can outsource people-making to.

Bollocks. I consider every little bundle of joy I go through hours of labour to give birth to better not forget his mother in her dotage or there will be a reckoning such as the cosmos has never seen!

I'm sure they won't forget you in your old age, but unless the pension is scrapped you probably won't be dependant on them for your survival.
P.S. I agree with your other comments about babies, until the birth of my son I never knew what I was missing out on.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/08/2006 03:47:00 PM

Icehawk: You're asking for a justification for the essence of all life (not just human life).... robust health, expansion, growth... that's hard to provide I think and it's a definite what-Nietzsche-gestured-at last men/socialism = refined other-worldy christianity (minus the inessential doctrine)=nihilism moment when enough people such as yourself ask for a justification of that sort.

I've lived in places which are on the slowly depopulating track - Pittsburgh's population has halved over a generation or two and there are whole neighborhoods boarded up, ever-increasing percentages of old people (Pennsylvania's lottery is *solely* used to fund programs for the aged - in other US states it funds schools), and although it's a very nice place in some repects the difference between living there and living in a place that was growing such as Seattle was immediate and palpable. One can try to put the difference down to strictly material things, but there's something metaphysical at work: there's life and then there's anti-life, decline, decay, death.... humans know exactly when they are around one rather than another and they move towards the former and flee the latter (accelerating it). Even zero growth (which is very hard to manage) in practice tempts fate I think.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/08/2006 04:17:00 PM


"I'm sure they won't forget you in your old age, but unless the pension is scrapped you probably won't be dependant on them for your survival."

In a more serious note, I've found that after my mother's stroke, even with excellent free health care and ACC (it was caused by a car accident) my husband and I and other members of the extended family still play a huge part in her daily welfare.

She lives at home and without our constant effort her quality of life would be bleak.

I think that people who choose not to have children will find it more difficult on average in their declining years. Especially as ill health and frailty affect them. It's all very well to choose independance in your 20's and 30's but it belies the reality of aging, especially in terms of loneliness.

My mum went from strong, healthy, totally independant working woman to someone who is literally half paralysed, who had to relearn how to sit, stand and walk, over night. I know she will end up living with us before she dies, as her condition will only worsen from now on due to her aging.

Benefits do sustain the elderly, but without intervention from their children that's all they do. Sustain.

And even if Idiot has excellent retirement savings that won't buy love and friendship.

Posted by Muerk : 8/08/2006 04:25:00 PM

I find it really strange that because I've posted that I'm unhappy about the pressure being put on me to procreate now an inference has been drawn by many that I don't want to have kids, not never, not ever. Or that I can't understand that attractions of having children, the warmth and love of a baby etc.

All I said (in a long-winded way) was that I am getting pretty bloody fed-up with being pressured to have a baby right now. That doesn't mean I'm never going to breed. It doesn't mean I don't like the idea of having a baby.

What it does mean is that I want to make major decisions about my life, that will change it irrevocably, on my timeline, not anyone else's.

And for that I get labelled anti-baby and a whole lot of assumptions are made by people who have never met me and don't actually know anything about my circumstances in real life.

Forgive me for getting a little sniffy under these conditions.

Posted by Span : 8/08/2006 09:52:00 PM

Hi ya Span: not sure who you are referring to.... but I for one didn't understand your original post to be "anti-Baby" at all... you were very clear: you're not anti-"Piano" either, it just *is* very irritating and even off-putting to feel pressured to go to a damned film (who wants going to a movie to be a *duty* etc.?). Ditto for babies.... My main thought was just that there's irritation all round.... family pressures make sense from their perspective (feel for the g/parent-wannabes!), and all sorts of broader social interests are also completely reasonable. In some respects the issues involved are quite parallel to issues about the development of great talents: some people think it's purely your talent to squander or abuse as you see fit (extremists such as i/s presumably hold that view).... but many people think it appropriate for various others to take at least some interest in whether that talent will be realized and that great potential fulfilled. The nascent super-genius is right to feel irritated at the suggestion that there's any sense in which they "should" fulfil their potential ("If I wanna self-destruct, hey it's my life, I laugh at your 'should's!") but it's equally hard to fault anyone who might try to gently cajole them both for their own and humanity's sake to get off their ass and become that Nobel-prize-winner they really could become (and that almost no one else ever can).

Interestingly, these two strands once intersected for me. My best ever student in the US was a nobel-prize-level talent and unlike many young genius types she really had her shit together on all sorts of levels (no mental illness instability issues for example....) but, her great flaw was/is that she's a conservative farm-gal type who wanted to have lots of babies. She saw clearly that she could have 10 babies and still be a top academic or MD and perhaps be maximally happpy, but to really kick ass and fulfiilll her potential to be the one who cracks quantum gravity (say) some real sacrifices both in children and quite possibly in general happiness were going to have to be made. I definitely felt like saying, "Jeez Susan (not her name) *anyone* can have babies (perhaps just have 1), you have a duty to fulfil your potentially once-in-a-generation-level talent." We ended up dealing with the question as a series of hypotheticals (I thought campus feminists who taught courses on women in science would be a good resource but they were truly hopeless!).... it was all so very fraught! And how could it not be? Basic human potentials are our own in the first instance but there are also broader perspectives tugging at us and legitimately so. It's some of what makes human life interesting and it's some of the same stuff that also makes it very aggravating. (To have a great talent is to have a potential for failure for which you the talent-holder did not ask, and so on...)

Posted by Anonymous : 8/09/2006 01:59:00 AM

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist".

Posted by Anonymous : 8/09/2006 12:07:00 PM

Anon: Yes, why should life do anything at all? Entropy is always (really) increasing overall, it's always (really, finally speaking)downhill from wherever you are, everything's always (really) running out. Anyone who thinks that you can have stability in a world governed by thermodynamics is either a greenie economist or a madperson.

And don't kid yourself that the life-boat/zero-sum ethics that results from conditioning every decision on hard resource bounds forces will be particularly attractive or include anything like a value of personal freedom: for you to live someone else has to die, for you to have a child someone else can't, and if your child should hapen to fall mysteriously overboard that's someone's else's breeding opportunity.... Moral: don't be in any hurry to get into a lifeboat or to impose hard resource reasource bounds in your reasoning. It can come to that... but that's not a good end in any case.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/09/2006 03:09:00 PM

"Or that I can't understand that attractions of having children, the warmth and love of a baby etc."

If you are thinking of my post, I wasn't talking about you. It was a post about my own feelings and understandings.

If it's any consolation Span, once you have four children there comes vast pressure to stop having them. So hey, it works at both ends of the spectrum. I've had snide comments about our contraception, about how we are overpopulating the planet and ruining the environment. I've had people ask us why my husband and I don't just watch tv at night instead.

When I got pregnant with my fourth son James, the family's reactions were "oh no not again" and "oh well you might always miscarry" - in a hopeful voice. I've been told that if I get preganant again I should abort him/her. That I should get my tubes tied or make my husband to get a vasectomy.

You're stuffed either way!

Posted by Muerk : 8/09/2006 03:35:00 PM

Muerk: Wow those are remarkable comments you've received! I hadn't thought about how the sort of people who'd moan about someone else having an SUV would - of course! - moan about someone else having a large (SUV-worthy?) family (by recent standards)....

Posted by Anonymous : 8/09/2006 06:39:00 PM

That would be an 8 seater Toyota Estima van :)

Posted by Muerk : 8/10/2006 01:15:00 PM