March 7, 2020

It's easy to see why we as a group want children. We need new generations. But why does any individual, when given a choice, want a child of one's own?

In "Nothing Natural" (London Review of books, reviewing "Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism against Family" by Sophie Lewis), Jenny Turner writes:
Why does anyone want children, if they don’t need them and aren’t forced to have them? What are all these babies and children for?

Individuals, Lewis suggests, may be seeking to keep a husband, extend a lineage, win status and standing as a prize breeder of ‘personal mascots, psychic crutches, heirs, scapegoats and fetishes’...
"Personal mascots" — that really struck me.

And yet, it's not that hard to use the tricks of language to characterize anything anybody wants to do as actually quite selfish... and rather disgusting. Those who are especially good at this often become writers.

82 comments:

tim maguire said...

Does she ever mention Darwinism? Maybe we want children because, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.

There’s also the (valid, in my opinion) idea that the highest duty of every citizen is to help create and raise the next generation of citizens. Not having children is not just lazy and selfish, it is unpatriotic and anti-humanist.

Mal said...

I remember the exact moment I first noticed this entire line of writing, 10 years ago. A New York Magazine article titled Why Parents Hate Parenting cited a study by the Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman that said people preferred so many things to parenting, including watching TV and housework:

From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly unmysterious why people have children. From the perspective of the individual, however, it’s more of a mystery than one might think. Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines. Perhaps the most oft-cited datum comes from a 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.)

https://nymag.com/news/features/67024/

Back then, the famous Haaarvard professor (and TED Talk favorite) Daniel Gilbert was busy making the lecture circuit explaining the secret to happiness. And he too preached that parenting only "offer[ed] moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being".

So this LRB piece is just the latest in a long line of articles against procreating. Fortunately it seems, the right sort of people have been paying attention ;)

Breeding will tell.

Dan in Philly said...

People without children talking about what they add to your life is like listening to a blind person talk about what vision adds.

Ann Althouse said...

"People without children talking about what they add to your life is like listening to a blind person talk about what vision adds."

Or like listening to a man talk about pregnancy.

Mary E. Glynn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
stevew said...

"breeder"

Some things worth doing personally aren't always so for others. There's nothing inherently wrong with behaving selfishly.

Modern day Shakers?

tim maguire said...

Seems like a blind person is in a position to understand what vision can add to your life in a way no sighted person could be.

Shouting Thomas said...

I've turned away a few potential old lady girlfriends over the past 7 years because they were desolate with loneliness.

No children means no grandchildren.

I turned them away because they really wanted to adopt my whole life... the grandkids playing in the yard, running, laughing and screaming. Grandkids sitting in your lap for hours. These women weren't that interested in me. They wanted a life.

I've also dated a few old ladies who are devastated because their one or two kids refused to reproduce, leaving them grandchildless.

Temujin said...

There's the word 'Love' that is never used by feminists who work very hard at being the most hideous, overblown type of people we have ever created. I suggest each feminist stay in their rooms and DO NOT PROCREATE.

Thank you.

John Borell said...

Raising children is, of course, a tremendous amount of work.

But even is having children only adds moments of transcendence, those moments are, well transcendent.

To some extent, humans are designed to have kids. Not having kids means missing out on what is an essential part of the human experience.

I love my kids.

Kai Akker said...

Entirely agree with your last paragraph, about writers whose chief skill is twisting a phenomenon rhetorically to make it sound different -- either way, horrible or wonderful; or unique, when it's dull as my old Boy Scout knife.

Two explanations: first, the enormous glut of publishing in the last 20 years, including but by no means limited to the internet's appetites, have meant a lot of people with very little to say can finally get published. Second, our American culture has attained through its very success such a degree of detachment from the normal stresses that have always before been present, in history, that many people are very, very mixed up. Some of them are writers; some of them are editors.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Fun /= happiness

Happiness is sacrificial love and doing something worth doing, well.

Mary E. Glynn said...
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Guildofcannonballs said...

Why separate those given a choice and those not given a choice to have children? Are not the many benefits the same either way?

Mindless tribalism masquerading as thought.

John Borell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

On some level I get it: I don’t particularly enjoy being at my six childrens’ beck and call 18 hours a day. There are a lot of things I’d rather be doing than the 1,001 little things I need to do every day to keep them safe, loved and educated. Is way more fun to read novels and get pedicures than to pack lunches and listen to them talk about rambly shit I don’t care about. But I’m not looking for fun; I’m looking for worthwhile. And I can take breaks and fit in fun.

There is such a forest for the trees obtuseness here. No one likes every single work email or meeting or seemingly meaningless task or putting up with an a-hole boss for a few years. But overall a career is worth having, is it not?

Fernandistein said...

So this LRB piece is just the latest in a long line of articles against procreating. Fortunately it seems, the right sort of people have been paying attention ;)

If mutual masturbation can be used for birth control, can mental masturbation be used for thought control?

IOW, do you really think anyone is influenced by these fluff 'n' nonsense articles?

Lucien said...

Turns out some men know a fair amount about pregnancy; some childless people know a fair amount about what raising children adds to one’s life; and many who have gone blind are exquisitely aware of what they have lost. More broadly, subjective experience is not all — it tends to degrade perspective. Sometimes the objectivity that gives one perspective on certain experiences is rather valuable.
Academic argument that perfect objectivity is unattainable has led to its denigration and the elevation of the subjective. Sorry, but the richness of your “lived experience of [whatever]” may blind you to a lot of significant facts.

EdwdLny said...

Why, maybe because it's a natural and normal desire. Maybe because we want to continue. Parenting is work, but it's the most rewarding thing you can ever do. After 23 years being a dad is still the most amazing and coolest experience I've ever had and still have. Their always your kids, forever.

EdwdLny said...

Almost forgot the most important reason, hope. Hope for the future despite all of the angst and derision.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"After 23 years being a dad is still the most amazing and coolest experience I've ever had and still have."

It is simultaneously the most rewarding and frustrating experience. Our three are 30, 32, and 33 (I was a sailor on liberty!), and have blessed us with seven grandchildren. That is almost as incredible an experience.

Quaestor said...

Whatever genetic combination made Sophie Lewis what she is today is best stopped right there.

Paul Snively said...

Dr. Althouse: it's not that hard to use the tricks of language to characterize anything anybody wants to do as actually quite selfish... and rather disgusting. Those who are especially good at this often become writers.

Exactly. Whether you believe it's literally the first commandment God gave humanity ("Be fruitful and multiply") or:

tim maguire: Does she ever mention Darwinism? Maybe we want children because, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.

Or just the fact that having sex is, for physically and emotionally healthy people, the most pleasurable thing we can do, and the idea that's meaningfully distinct from having children is ~55 years old and not obviously an unalloyed social good.

As Eric Blair wrote, there are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.

J Oliver said...

Having four adult children, I found that parenting allowed me to live my whole life over again from four new perspectives. Now with two grandchildren, I find that it’s happening again. I get to live my life again through two new sets of eyes.

tim in vermont said...

Althouse said everything that needed to be said in the final paragraph.

tim in vermont said...

"Whatever genetic combination made Sophie Lewis what she is today is best stopped right there.”

Not to worry, Darwin has the situation well in hand.

John Lynch said...

Children aren't accessories. They aren't for anything. They're people. If you only see them as far as they affect your own life, you're missing the point.

JAORE said...

Do I like having children? Most times. They certainly are an interesting by-product of something I really like.

[Be generous with your servers, I'll be here all week.]

I'd be curious to hear what women can come up with if forced to state, "Here is something a man can experience that we can not....".

Phil 314 said...

Watch the movie “Children of Men”. A compelling movie about a world without children.

Howard said...

It's simply the opposite of helicopter parenting. Every day is celebrating diversity.

iowan2 said...

Do you want to attack this manufactured conundrum, from a spiritual or scientific perspective( the only two I can think of)

Start at the beginning. Why are we here?

1. Spiritual
I've only found one answer. To be of service to others. To serve the larger community. procreating is serving all others. "go forth and multiply" is a selfless act, and serves others.

2. Scientific
Rubbing our naught bits together feels indescribably good, and stuff results.

#2 is Gods way if getting us to #1


Howard said...

Ferdinand Stein is correct these are targeted influencers who have a very narrow influencee audience already primed to swallow the bull crap

Big Mike said...

I suppose that somewhere along the line here have been species where individuals did not feel a biological imperative to procreate. We don’t know about them because they all went extinct.

Roger Sweeny said...

It is striking that at the same time "natural" is a big selling point in both commerce and politics, very unnatural also has high social cachet. As several people have commented, no children is rather undarwinian.

Arnold Kling points out that there are a number of books out now about the "need to belong" and how the decline of religion and other "mediating institutions" has left many people feeling adrift and unconnected--with possible consequences running from "deaths of despair" to Bernie Bros. On the other hand, he and his friends who have children and grandchildren feel they "have won at life."

iowan2 said...

Having four adult children, I found that parenting allowed me to live my whole life over again from four new perspectives. Now with two grandchildren, I find that it’s happening again. I get to live my life again through two new sets of eyes.

We were in Disney 3 weeks ago. The 6 grandchildren invited us to tag along with them. Having never been to Disney, it is obvious Disney was built so grandparents can live through the joy of their grandkids,

Fernandistein said...

Watch the movie “Children of Men”

The book was a LOT better than the movie; author P.D. James also wrote a bunch of good detective mysteries.

iowan2 said...

I suppose that somewhere along the line here have been species where individuals did not feel a biological imperative to procreate. We don’t know about them because they all went extinct.

The called themselves Shakers.

Roger Sweeny said...

I do not doubt "that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities." It is also generally more pleasurable to eat a lot, eat what is sweet, fatty and salty, watch tv, drive instead of walk, etc. But the end result is the less pleasurable world of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, etc.

SGT Ted said...

The core of political feminism is lots of hatred directed at ordinary life that involved women being part of the sustainable society, such as having children and a family with a man.

Feminism is a hate movement that poses as a civil rights movement.

alanc709 said...

Althouse, you haven't been paying attention to your Democrats- men CAN get pregnant now.

narciso said...

the family is the bulwark against the omnipotent state, was the London review always this prog, of course just because Europeans are committing suicide, that doesn't mean other migrants will as well,

Big Mike said...

Pregnancy must have some redeeming benefits for the woman. Else why would pregnant women appear to glow?

Rusty said...

Raising children is a lesson in patience and sacrifice. For me it was also a lot of fun. Little open books and blank pages waiting to be filled up. Willing allies for whatever nonsence you decide to get up to. A new world to grasp and understand.
I'd do it all over again in a minute.

Bruce Hayden said...

I have been known to call my kid the family mascot. I think that I remember getting in trouble for it. On my side of the family, there was, with my parents, four surviving boys and one grandchild, who was spoiled rotten. They have been with someone from a big family (these days) of four kids for most of the decade. The two of them are talking a socially conscious two kids. We keep pushing them to keep an open mind.

Char Char Binks said...

She’s promoting genocide, and she’s not alone. As Paul Joseph Watson pointed out, the UK is replete with multicultural, multiracial advertising, with a notable exception in one billboard PSA encouraging people to get themselves sterilized — wypipo, that is, since theyre the only ones depicted in the illustration.

dbp said...

"And yet, it's not that hard to use the tricks of language to characterize anything anybody wants to do as actually quite selfish... and rather disgusting. Those who are especially good at this often become writers."

I think Sophie Lewis may be doing something close to the opposite of this. She tries to make carrying and raising children seem like utterly thankless work, with emphasis on work. The logical conclusion is to reverse course on discouraging single motherhood, instead to encourage it with not just support but also a salary.

Sure, her Utopia is for no woman to choose to have a child with a man who is the father, but baby steps. If you'll excuse the pun.

mockturtle said...

This woman is obviously unfamiliar with the maternal instinct, something most of us of the female gender have naturally. But I've often noted that those females who lack this important component shouldn't have babies. They would make terrible mothers.

JML said...

Or like listening to a man talk about pregnancy.

I can talk about pregnancy from a husband's perspective. For example, I learned that when my wife was pregnant and announced she was hungry, I had about five minutes to find her food, or pay the price.

Angle-Dyne, Servant of Ugliness said...

Lucien: Academic argument that perfect objectivity is unattainable has led to its denigration and the elevation of the subjective.

I think you're really straining here to tie this into an argument about relativism and subjectivity. It doesn't work. What "objective facts" are being disputed here?

Sorry, but the richness of your “lived experience of [whatever]” may blind you to a lot of significant facts.

Sorry, but it's precisely the richness of the lived experience that we're talking about here, not what objective facts non-participants can know about an experience.

What's your point? Of course, for example, a man can know objective facts about pregnancy (who's saying otherwise?). So can the woman who's also had the subjective experience. If people are "blinded" to objective facts about raising children (what facts would those be?), then they can learn those facts from the people who are ostensibly not blinded by the richness of lived experience, no? Though I'm not seeing where the lack of experience in itself would give one access to any special objective knowledge that is unavailable to those acquiring the lived experience.

rcocean said...

IRC, Michelle Goldberg used to talk like this, then she got married, had a kid, and suddenly having kids was wonderful. So, this author is probably just projecting her current feelings onto the world.

rcocean said...

Men compete openly for women. The the ladies have to be more indirect about it. So, they bad mouth the competition. Also, discourage other women. "Hey, don't have kids. Men are good for nothing". I wonder if feminism is just a con job.

rcocean said...

This reminds me of the ZPG con job. IT was big in the 70s. The USA had too many people, American women had to stop having kids - so they said. Then in the 80s, the same people suddenly became advocates for massive immigration because "we needed more people". ZPG was out. Open borders was in. Population Growth? Who cares.

rcocean said...

During the 80s liberal really, really, cared about the Deficit. Tax cuts and defense spending was OUT OF CONTROL. Hence Mondale, saying he'd raise taxes. Then in the 90s when it was President Bill Clinton, the deficit was just something green eye shade accountants cared about. The Democrats just didn't care. And they haven't cared since.

TJM said...

The author is a nutcase

Michael K said...

Paul Gigot used to call this "The Roe Effect."

The left is not reproducing.

Mark said...

Where have you been, AA?

Men can get pregnant too.

Wince said...

And yet, it's not that hard to use the tricks of language to characterize anything anybody wants to do as actually quite selfish... and rather disgusting. Those who are especially good at this often become writers.

And leftist Democrat presidential contenders.

Marc said...

the family is the bulwark against the omnipotent state, was the London review always this prog

Yes, it's always been this prog i.e. anti-religion, anti-family, anti-civilisation ante 1979. One of Bloomsbury's finest flowers.

Jupiter said...

Actual men cannot get pregnant, but that does not mean we cannot experience pregnancy.

Charlie said...

Thinking back over my life, I believe it has been richer than it was pre-children, and I have become a better human being (more compassionate and less self-centered) by having the opportunity to love and raise my children. Creating a life around serving others who have needs rather than just yourself is hard and requires sacrifices, but I believe it makes us better people.

Merny11 said...

Sgt Teds remark about feminists is right on, as were many other comments. Me, I think that author has had a few abortions and is trying to convince herself that her life is better for it. What empty souls people like her are....

OSU '92 said...

My wife and I have talked about this extensively, but I think the biggest reason for me is the ability to give the gift of life. And to that the fact that we live in America and are relatively affluent compared to 90% of the world population is the equivalent of handing someone a life “lottery ticket”. Why wouldn’t you want to extend that gift? I don’t consider that selfish at all, in fact it is the exact opposite.

Phidippus said...

Sick.

Tomcc said...

If you're asking the question, then you're probably not qualified.
Children require a lot of time, attention and energy; have then while you're young.

Bilwick said...

Uh-oh. This is the kind of post that always brings out a horde or Procreation Nazis, who apparently never heard of "Live and let live," browbeating and shaming people who don't have kids to go have them . . . because what the world needs now is more unwanted kids.

RigelDog said...

Because for most people, family provides the biggest source of satisfaction, support, and meaning in their lives. Having kids is how you get to keep a family once the older generation dies off.

phantommut said...

Bet the reviewer is under 35. I've known so many women who never thought of kids when they were young suddenly becoming obsessed with having them. The saddest case I've personally known was an MD who entered menopause at 30 years old; she said to me "I thought I had time."

Steven said...

I remember when my wife and I discussed having children and I was ambivalent about it at the time. We had a good life, why would I want to mess that up with burden of children? At the time, I happened to read an article saying that people don't really know what would make them happy, and the best way become happier is to observe what makes other people happy and do those things. After that, I noticed that virtually everyone I knew who had children was happy about it. In fact, parents often seem like they can talk about almost nothing else. So, we had also had children. It was the correct decision. These people who write foolish articles like this don't know what they're missing.

Ken B said...

“ Or like listening to a man talk about pregnancy.”

Are you begging to be canceled??

Ken B said...

“ Uh-oh. This is the kind of post that always brings out a horde or Procreation Nazis, who apparently never heard of "Live and let live," browbeating and shaming people who don't have kids to go have them . . . because what the world needs now is more unwanted kids.”

I can think of one we could do without.

hstad said...

'Sophie A. Lewis, feminist uterine geography theorist and cyborg ecologist.' Sophie’s career is either for real or a truly elaborate hoax.

Sophie writes "...prize breeder of ‘personal mascots.." and AA hits it out of the park with, "...Those who are especially good at this often become writers..." The very phrase "prize breeder" shows the verbal virtuosity of the "Feminist Intellect" and what Sophie's fatal talent is in obscuring rather than clarifying rational analysis.

My view is that most people have real jobs and there are not many openings for the intellectual idiot[Sophie Lewis] so common today. David Epstein wrote an interesting article in 'The Atlantic' titled "Credentialed authorities are comically bad at predicting the future.." which describes Ms. Lewis.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/06/how-to-predict-the-future/588040/

Bilwick said...

"I can think of one we could do without."

The telltale cliché response of a Procreation Nazi. Have I called it right, chief?

Paul Ciotti said...

I have been hearing some women talk like this all my life. What I wonder is why don't these attitudes eventually disappear since they women who hold them don't reproduce. A hundred years ago women who weren't particularly maternal were pretty much compelled by circumstances to get married and raise families. Today they don't. Yet, these same views show up again and again. A mystery. Don't know what it could be unless there's something in the water.

Josephbleau said...

I have sympathy for the idea that the difference in achievement between Jew and Gentile is partially that Priests did not reproduce but Rabbis did, in a time when religious leaders were the high IQ specimens. The failure of elite reproduction clips the right tail of such a society. A new age of darkness will be interesting to a population that has ended the March of history.

Josephbleau said...

Spell check capitalized march, should have said December of history.

Ken B said...

Bilwick
Do you really think I wish your parents had more kids?

Ken B said...

One of the ads Binks talks about, an example I guess of “live and let live”, the opposite of shaming people! https://nationalvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Get-Sterilized-2019-10-26-100416.png

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It is odd to secede from the experience of a thousand generations of women and call it "feminism." I can see why a woman might prefer not to have children, and to decide that other activities are more important in her life. But the choice of name is dishonest at a profound level. It is actually Postfeminism. Feminism ultimately has to mean entering into the general experience of women, both those today, and those in the past.

This alternative definition of feminism, which came into being in my adolescence, is more properly understood as a desire to perpetually hang out with one's girlfriends, the actualcool ones (not those cheerleaders and toothy blondes), the well-educated white women who are above all that mere breeding. It is a desire to declare victory over those other high school and college girls by living on that battlefield forever, extending childhood indefinitely.

Rockport Conservative said...

I am most happy I have children. I know many my age who do not, I live in a town known as a good place to retire.
I had my children when I was young, before the pill birth control didn't always work. (It doesn't now either.) I was thrilled to have each child, especially after I learned at age 30 I had to have a hysterectomy. I cannot imagine loving a man and not wanting to have a little piece of him running around. I have a son in his 50's who has no children, I am concerned about his old age without the comfort of children. I enjoy my children still. I don't care if others do not want children, I just cannot imagine life without mine.

jeremyabrams said...

I had children so that I could take my place within the great chain of being.

Caligula said...

"It's easy to see why we as a group want children. We need new generations. But why does any individual, when given a choice, want a child of one's own?"

If you assume we are as Darwinian evolution made us, then this sentence doesn't work. It doesn't work because Darwinian selection can't act upon "we as a group," (assuming "we as a group" is a group of mostly unrelated individuals) but only on individuals (and somewhat on individuals' close relatives, as they will share many of our genes). Through the mechanism of differential reproducive rates, of course.

Because "We as a group" does not reproduce; couples do. And to state the obvious: therefore we are not descended from people who thought as she does.

Of course, she's free to reproduce or not. And, yes, children demand a great deal and if you don't want to be bothered by all that then maybe it's best for everyone if you just don't.

But, her framing of her not wanting children as a conflict between "we as a group" and her individual self doesn't work, as Darwinian pressures have nothing to do with groups and everything to do with creating individuals who will want children (and who therefore are more likely to create and successfully nurture them).

MB said...

Writing is disgusting.