The Selfishness of Anti-Child Propaganda

Shannon Love’s recent effort on the cultural struggle between the pro-life ethic and those who belittle “breeders” seems to have gone far afield in comments.

I haven’t seen anybody actively angry with those who are biologically incapable of having children, yet several comments seem to accuse Shannon of doing exactly that when he says that childless couples are selfish. But it’s absurd to think that there’s only one type of childlessness. A little charity in reading would reduce the temperature of the conversation quite a bit. Instead of looking toward the personal, it might be much better to examine the problem through the lens of infrastructure.

Societies undertake tremendous expenditures in water, sewer, electricity, lighting, and transport in the expectation that a certain number of people are going to be around to use these systems for the long haul. If you wrong-size sewer lines and a town’s population shrinks below the effective minimum, you have to redo the entire sewer system’s piping or effectively lose public sanitation as there’s just not enough flow to keep things moving. The massive water tunnels of New York City were not built to last over a century without maintenance in order to satisfy the needs of the generation that built and paid for them.

Put simply, all that existing infrastructure represents the accumulated sacrifices of the generations that have come before us. It’s a sort of group project, a shared social contract that should not be thrown away, willy nilly based on a temporary fashion. In short, it’s the physical, enduring manifestation of our society.

Now there are other, softer, multi-generational institutions that are a bit more controversial. Social Security and other old-age pension schemes are largely inter-generational capital transfers that depend on having a certain birthrate to maintain sustainability. Were we all living in libertarian paradise, these sorts of political programs would not exist. Wake me up when we get to libertopia. In the real world, inter-generational transfer schemes are likely to be with us for a long time. They’re too reliable a way to assemble durable electoral coalitions for them to not be used again and again by ambitious politicians.

Now there have always been people who could not or would not participate in the creation of the next generation. The sterile, the ill, those who were incapable of the work of parenting, those called to specialty functions incompatible with child rearing generally contributed what they could to the raising and protecting of other people’s children and aided to the limits of their abilities society in its fight to progress and not regress across the generations.

Historically rarer was the happy to be childless who purposefully avoided being the helpful uncle, the adoptive mother, the spinster schoolteacher who educated the whole village or some other like role that may have been personally childless. Such people had historically been looked down on as wastrels, hedonists only looking toward their own pleasures. It’s a pretty recent phenomenon that such purposeful wallflowers in the multi-generational struggle to maintain and improve society hit a critical mass sufficient to create their own society with its own mores and prejudices, mores and prejudices that are actively hostile to the great project of keeping society alive into the next generation.

I have to say that I’m not at all fond of this new ideal, this dismissal of “breeders” as social inferiors who don’t appreciate the finer things in life and who supposedly whine for “subsidies” for children. The truth is that some economic goods have not been successfully monetized and payment for them remains collective and nonmonetary. The foresight to create physical infrastructure that you don’t personally have to pay to recreate each generation comes out of a multi-generational ethic that is incompatible with what I call wallflowers and Shannon called free riders. The benefits of that ethic are taking advantage of the artifacts of our forefathers. The cost is to repeat the process in our own generation. This is enforced via social pressure for the most part though the tax man and the law code do have their roles.

The wallflowers take the benefits of the multi-generational ethic without complaint and whine about the cost of continuing the project into the next generation, propagandizing and agitating for the project to end with their generation being the great winner, all gain with no pain. It’s selfish and ultimately destructive for our society to adopt that course but the wallflowers don’t care.

[ed note: Shannon’s a guy. I think I used to know that. I’m very sorry, gender corrected where appropriate]

20 thoughts on “The Selfishness of Anti-Child Propaganda”

  1. If Ms. Love’s detractors exaggerated in a direction, I’m afraid you’re exaggerating in the other.

    The last thing we need is a breeder vs. d.i.n.k. class warfare mentality.

    It would have been best if we could have kept the discussion strictly on economics and law terms. I’m afraid I have myself failed that ideal.

    The interesting points here are: who benefits from what in connection with children, and given the system of law, existing contracts and so on, who is justified in demanding compensation from whom?

    I disagree with the school of thought that think that all externalities or free riding should lead to payments. I think that’s silly and legally-monstrous… but I agree that it makes good conversation material.

    My initial reaction was so negative because I thought that Ms. Love is one of those conservatives that wants to tax everything that moves until it doesn’t until the imaginary market-of-everything-and-everything reaches an equilibrium with externalities. I find that position simplistic and very dangerous.

    I hope the will return to this subject, but maybe in less judgemental terms. (But maybe now *I*’m judgemental.)

  2. I assume that you are using the “breeders” tag to define those who have had children at a reasonable age, and are willing to say to the 50 somethings complaining that they can’t procreate or some such? The only other time I’ve heard “breeders” is within the gay community.

    I don’t have a problem with gays being offended by those who have children and are willing to judge gays because they can’t naturaly procreate within their personal life choice. Some of us Hetero’s are overly arrogant in our judgement of gays when it comes to procreation. Yet, I DO! have a problem with people who have set parenthood aside until it is too late to get angry at people who have children of their own because, heaven forbid!, people know at a procreative age that they might want to have children, and DO! rather than trying to find a decent time to fit it into their dayplanner.

    If this was about S.S. then I have a completely different opinion. The US has ALWAYS had S.S., even before Roosevelt, it was called FAMILY! Our Families used to love us, and care for us in dark times, S.S. has acted to oppose that. In my opinion, S.S. should feed the Baby Boomers, and then bankrupt itself, and then end. THEN we will have a return to family values.

    3 statements all in line with the original post. Hope I didn’t screw it up too bad for y’all.

  3. “The massive water tunnels of New York City were not built to last over a century without maintenance in order to satisfy the needs of the generation that built and paid for them.”

    This argument supposes that mechanical devices are like the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay that lasts for a predetermined time and then falls apart all at once. Obviously, in reality, engineering something to last a century benefits people immediately, because the chance of failure at any given time is greatly decreased from Day One.

    “Social Security and other old-age pension schemes are largely inter-generational capital transfers that depend on having a certain birthrate to maintain sustainability.”

    Ponzi Scams are not sustainable no matter how you tweak the initial assumptions. Thus, arguing about what birthrate (or whatever) one needs to sustain the Social Security system is like arguing about what gague wiring you need for your perpetual-motion machine or what magic words you need for your anti-gravity incantation.

    “I have to say that I’m not at all fond of this new ideal, this dismissal of ‘breeders’ as social inferiors who don’t appreciate the finer things in life and who supposedly whine for ‘subsidies’ for children.”

    Straw man much?

    Frankly, when you get a fat subsidy (whether or not you “whine” for it or it just drops in your lap), the gracious thing to do is not carp at the people who are paying part of your bills. Certainly, to call *them* “free riders” is simply beyond the pale.

  4. Applying economic analysis to childrearing is only useful at the margins. We are hard-wired to respond to babies and to love and protect our children. Look at a stuffed animal sometime, and you will see an outsize head and short limbs, just like a baby. We don’t have children because we can do so at a profit, nor should society encourage it for such a reason.

    What seems to me to be much more powerful is the need to continue not only our genes but our culture. That is why Europe is in such a demographic jam: there is only one source of new Europeans, and it is not delivering the goods. Americans create new Americans the old-fashioned way but also by assimilation. Having children is an expression of confidence in one’s culture and a wish for its continuation. Parents are optimists.

  5. Bilwick – Selfish can be a good or bad thing. I hope that I made clear that the selfishness consists in breaking a long-term intergenerational compact, partaking of the good and refusing to put in the effort to continue it past their own generation. This kind of selfishness is not, I submit, something that even Ayn Rand would like.

    Gabriel Mihalache – Buna ziua Dl. Mihalache.

    I think that you may benefit from rereading the original post. I tried to be as clear as I possibly could that one could be DINK without being a wallflower. One of the best models for marriage that I’ve ever seen was childless. They absolutely were participating in the great intergenerational task of carrying forward civilization.

    If there is to be a class war to come out of my posting (and how influential you must think me), the two sides would not be breeders v DINKs.

    I took it out of money terms to a certain extent because it’s not entirely a monetary problem. There is a heavy status component here that has nothing to do with compensation. Go through Manhattan as a mother, father, and 6 children. You get stares and looks, I’m told, and often enough caustic comments that turn to goggle eyed disbelief if mom says that she might have more.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t money aplenty that rides on this topic, there is. It’s just not the only thing.

    steveb – While you cannot predict the failure of a particular mechanical part, it is quite easy to lower costs by not adding capacity for future growth 50 years down the line. NY City had approximately 5 million people in 1917 when the first water tonnel came on line. The kind of mammoth project that the upstate reservoir system represents only makes sense in a multi-generational ethic. We haven’t had to make major expansions in the NYC system over the past several decades because our fathers and grandfathers in the NYC metroplex sacrificed the present to create a better future. Setting aside land, ensuring that development there did not hem in city growth decades later, all this does not depend on the WOHS concept.

    I agree that ponzi schemes are ultimately unsustainable. The gentler the slope of the pyramid and the slower the payout cycle is, the slower the natural crash comes. Without lowered fertility, we might have been able to make the transition out of the ponzi scheme to something truly sustainable. Lowered fertility makes that job much harder.

    If you’ve never come up against those who are hostile to “breeders”, lucky you. If you care to go through the trash dump of the child free movement, you can come across this and other sites like it with a bit of google work:

    Not all of us have been so lucky.

  6. Not that I’m pro-SS, but it’s not really a Ponzi scheme. Ponzi schemes necessitate an ever-increasing # of participants, as multiple new participants are needed to pay off one existing participant. SS is more like a loan in perpetuity, where the population gradually and consistently moves from payer to payee.

  7. I am voluntarily childfree myself, but the more I matured, the more I was put off by the almost self-parody kneejerk leftism of the actively childfree people, one example of which I explain here.

    I think the last straw for me was an ad on one childfree web page that had a picture of a cat looking all-cutesy and big-eyed at the reader, and the caption said “Make cruelty against kitties a federal crime”. That is basically your whole childfree movement in a nutshell.

  8. It’s late, I’m pooped out from putting in time at my day-job, and frankly, as Mike Meyers on SPROCKETS would say, “This argument has grown tiresome.” So I won’t argue your concept of “good” selfishness vs. “bad” selfishness. I would say, based on experience, that if most people even bothered to make a distinction between one and the other, it would probably be: “good”=”the kind of selfishness I like” vs. “bad”=”the kind I don’t like.” The term itself “selfish” has almost become what Tom Wolfe once called a “vacuum word;” i.e., a word that has become almost so meaningless you can give it virtually many meaning you choose. In other, one man’s “selfish” becomes another man’s “rational self-interest.” The main thing I want to say is that, in ordinary discourse, I don’t use the word “breeder” because it has a pejorative ring, and I have no anomisity against people who have children. When I have used the term it is usually in reaction to what I call the “breeding bigots” who seem to believe everyone in the world should have children, and if you don’t want to have children, you’re somehow deeply flawed. Conversely, if they’ve had children, they act as if they’re somehow superior, as if the fact that they’ve demonstrated working reproductive organs confers on them some kind of special status. (These are the kind of people one would expect to find with “Baby on Board” stickers on their vehicles. “Hey, look at me! My genitals work!”) In that case, I’ve used the term “breeder” to de-mystify the Procreation Cult. I’ve seen references here to, as I recall, the “venom” of the childless posters and how they are “attacking” parents. Maybe I’m blinded by own own POV, but I haven’t seen it (except maybe among whatever childless Leftists who have posted here and piouslessy depicted their childlessness as some sign of virtue.) Instead what I’ve seen in abundance is an incredible anger against those of us without kids who have no desire to have any. It’s the kind of thing I’ve never run into personally before; but then, I’m an arty type (one of the few of the libertarian persuasion) who doesn’t swim in the mainstream. Friends of mine who are more mainstream have told me that they often have encountered such prejudice; but usually in a polite form: the slightly veiled innuendo, etc. Here it’s been so virulent and outspoken I can only assume that much of it is motivated by resentment, if not what I understand the French call “ressentiment,” which, as it was explained to me, is resentment on ‘roid rage. I’ve never once felt the need to proselytize childlessness (although for those of you interested, there was a book in the Seventies called THE BABY TRAP that many of my friends found persuasive), so it is pretty disturbing to me to encounter so many people who feel the need to browbeat, guilt or even terrorize (“Repent!Have kids now, or be a poor sick wretch in a government poor house later on!”) the childless into having kids. Weird-o-rama. In any event, “breeder” is a polite substitute for what I’d really like to call such bigots.

  9. Actually, Social Security IS a Ponzi scam, but it CAN last forever, because unlike the normal Ponzi scam, ones run by governments can make it illegal to not participate, so they don’t have to offer attractive (Or even positive…) rates of return.

  10. Bilwick

    Have you ever read George Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” ?


    If you haven’t you should.

  11. Mark, thanks for the suggestion; but since I never read anything just based on the fact that someone tells me I should (anymoore than I would have children because someone tells me I should), could you give me a little teaser? Some aspect of the novel that wpould apply to the current topic, and how it would shed some light on it? (You seem to be supplying some link but it isn’t working for me.)

  12. OK, Mark, I’m a pushover. You teased me enough just with your post that I looked up the Orwell book on Amazon. From what I gleaned, it doesn’t have much to do with the “procreate or non-procreate?” question, as I would have expected. I could relate to the idea of an artist or aspiring artist living in poverty; although I gather the protagonist of the novel has attitudes, typical of many “starving artist” types I have encountered, chiefly a hatred of money (gee, isn’t it amazing, then, they never have any?) and a contempt for the bourgeoisie. I love money, and aspire to being bourgeois (although being a snob I identify more with the “haute” than the “petit”). In fact, I would love to be a libertarian “BoBo.” Any anti-bouregois feelings I have come from living too long in Atlanta, where (unlike my native NYC, where people seem to be able to have both money and taste) the bourgeoisie does really seem to be as philistine as the Boho crowd has always accused them of being. Sorry if this is off-topic, folks. Maybe if the Orwell does in some way relate to topic of child-bearing, Mark can elucidate.

  13. I suppose that I should be grateful for small favors, nobody’s called me a nazi yet. That puts me one up on Shannon who I thought was shamefully abused over on the first thread because he took a bit of a leap of faith that his words would be read with an open mind.

    ck – Eventually, you hit the absolute maximum in terms of carrying capacity. I happen to think that this is a number that will not be reached before the heat death of this sun but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a limit. If you grow fast enough and make the payouts limited enough, you can make a ponzi scheme (like SS) last an unimaginably long time but it eventually will end and end badly.

    We’ve been swindled and the trick is to pull out of this situation slowly enough that we minimize the number of dead and impoverished along the way.

    Bilwick – Nice sleight of hand there. Selfishness is *almost* an empty word so it’s ok if you treat it as an empty word and chide me for using an empty word even though I’ve carefully defined it from the beginning as somebody who steps into a multi-generational unwritten contract, takes the goods delivered by the previous generations and refuses to continue the chain. You might as well say that you just don’t believe that such unwritten contracts should be executed, that civilizations should rebuild themselves anew in each generation but that proposition is too daft for its advocates to say in a straightforward manner.

    Selfishness has been misused, very often by socialists. But that only means that one should be careful of how you use it, not cede to some newspeak style limiting of vocabulary. But yes, I agree that the argument is tiresome (if you mean by that the linguistic argument).

    Getting back to the main argument, you seem to be doing quite a bit of straw man yourself. I’ve made it clear that there’s a difference between the wallflowers and the nonbreeding. The wallflowers are a subset of the nonbreeding who are actively working to lower reproduction rates through social and legal pressure. If you do not do such things the subject is not addressed to you.

    There *is* a problem of target discrimination on the pro-natalist side. Sometimes words are chosen that tar too broad a swathe of people. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem or that there shouldn’t be any targets. The problem of raising children properly so that they don’t become a barbarian horde but a socialized generation that carries on the work of civilization is something that is not just the work of parents. We can use all the help that we can get and we’re finding it lacking, especially in certain geographic precincts that have gained the label “child unfriendly”.

  14. “Eventually, you hit the absolute maximum in terms of carrying capacity. I happen to think that this is a number that will not be reached before the heat death of this sun but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a limit.”

    Sustained exponential increase breaches any realistic barrier in a surprisingly short time. Fortunately, real phenomena tend to shift from exponential increase to oscillation around a sustainable equilibrium over the long term (in fact, fertility declines in industrialized nations appear to be a classic, and relatively painless, example of this phenomenon).

    “The wallflowers are a subset of the nonbreeding who are actively working to lower reproduction rates through social and legal pressure.”

    I would insist that self-defense (i.e. working to get the government’s wealth-transferring mitts out of your wallet) be clearly distinguished from “legal pressure” (and would appreciate clarification on what in included in the latter).

  15. Here we go again. I don’t put any social or legal pressures on people not to have children. (And of course don’t want any social or legal pressures put on me to have children. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so, for some of the Procreation Proselytizers posting here.) So, TM, according to your criteria of “wallflowers” and “breeders,” this argument is not addressed to me. Great. (Wish you’d tell some of the PPs that.) But elsewhere you write negatively about those who step into a “multi-generational unwritten contract” (by being born?), “take the goods delivered by previous generations” (by staying alive?) and “refuses to continue the chain.” Isn’t anyone who could have children but doesn’t refusing to continue the chain–and therefore a wallflower? If so, then the “wallflower” label does include me, would it not?. I don’t particuarly object to it; it puts me in some pretty august company. (See Anthony Storrs’ great book SOLITUDE. Many of the people Storrs discusses, who have never married and never had children, have contributed far more to civilization, from what I see looking around me, than probably ninety per cent of the people making babies.) But I’m curious. Are you in fact saying it is wrong not to have children? Because one is refusing to “continue the chain”? Just trying to get things clear and out in the open here. The PP’s who have been posting here have frequently implied that it is actually wrong–perhaps even morally wrong–to be able to reproduce but choose not to; and when I cut through their obfuscations their argument seems to come down to, “Your parents had kids, so you’re obligated to have kids.” But no one wants to come right out and open express such dingbattery. Not you, of course; I simply want to know what my obligations are so that I can live up to them. (I mean my real ones: not the made up junk people pull out of their hats to get you do stuff they want you to do–or that tribal priests and potentates pulled out of their hats thousands of years ago, and people have just been repeating since.) In other words, am I obligated to have kids, or not? If not, please tell the PPs to stop proselytizing and get back to raising their kids.
    Also, there was no “sleight of hand” in my comments on the use or misuse of the word “selfish;” nor looking at my comments on the term, do I see any attempt to “chide” you for its use. I was merely making a general observation that its use in an argument is usually insubstantial. So I’m selfish–BFD. As Nathaniel Branden once wrote, “Every time you draw a breath it’s a selfish act.”
    And no, the argument that I found tiresome was not the linguistic one regarding “selfish” but the whole argument of having kids or not having kids. People should have kids if they want to and can support them; not have them if they don’t want them and/or can’t support them. I entered into the original discussion simply because I read some comments that seemed to be saying, “Everyone should have children,” a bizarre statement, and wanted clarification. Suddenly I found myself swarmed over by some virulent PPs, ranging from the bigoted to the cracked, who, if I can make any sense of their “arguments” at all, seemed to be saying, “You should have kids because your parents had kids” (twaddle), or “Everyone should have kids except you, because anyone who doesn’t want kids is so obviously a selfish low-life who shouldn’t be reproducing to begin with” (snide twaddle), or variations on “You should have kids because God wants you to” (supersititious twaddle). You accuse me of creating “straw men;” where? If the above arguments are straw men, it’s unintentional, and the PPs need to start expressing themselves more clearly. But as a writing coach of mine once said, “It takes clear thinking to get clear writing,” and bigots are not known for clear thinking.

  16. Bilwick, I’m not seeing the “bigoted” comments you seem to think exist all over these comments. I have seen a lot of knee-jerk insults thrown Shannon’s way due to careless reading, though.

    “And of course don’t want any social or legal pressures put on me to have children. Is that too much to ask?”

    I haven’t seen anyone advocate putting pressure on people to have children. The only policy suggestion I’ve seen anyone make is to *remove* some of the pressure on people to *not* have children. That pressure comes partly through the problems of socialism (leading to the “free rider” problem Shannon mentions) and partly through the ass-hattery of those who insulted people like my parents (I’m one of 8) for being “breeders” and are otherwise actively hostile to those who have children.

    Nobody wants to force you to have children. What they want to do is make it so that you and others won’t have an *extra* economic incentive to *not* have children (social security payments from other people’s kids) above and beyond the amount of money you save by not having kids. For some people (we say they’re “at the margins”), that is the deciding factor, and removing the extra incentive to remain childless might very well improve the demographic situation.

    Again, it’s perfectly OK that various people choose not to have children for various reasons. What’s not OK is that *extra* incentive is provided for not having children, such that some people will make the decision not to have children so they can benefit from others’ children without incurring the costs of raising one.

  17. Actually, LotharBot, I was referring not to this discussion right here (“The Selfishness of Anti-Child Propaganda”) but the original discussion, which eventually I bowed out of because of the nuttiness and nastiness of some of the Proceation Proselytizers on that message board. (Go back to that board and read the messages of the kooky “Helian” and the belligerent “cdog,” for examples.) If childless people were nasty to Shannon L., I didn’t notice it, although I imagine people do tend to get prickly when they think they’re being categorized as parasites. My main objection to SL’s original article was that his thesis, whatever its validity, was that it struck me ultimately useless in terms of people’s decision making process. And it wasn’t so much an objection as a question, “OK, but what if anything do I, as a childless person, do with this information?” It seemed absurd to expect people to marry and procreate for the good of society. Some of the responses I got, however, seemed to be saying, yes, I should do just that! SL later explained that he was using the term “free rider” non-pejoratively. I’m a little skeptical: reading between the lines, I think I detect a little of resentment that childess people often encounter; but I could be wrong about that, so I’m willing accept his disclaimer. If your thesis and SL’s is that the State is using its coercive powers to load the dice in favor of the childless, I would of course say that if true, it should be stopped; conversely, to the extent that the State is using its coercive powers to make things hard for the childless, that should be stopped, too. The State shouldn’t be in the dice-loading business, and should be using its coercive powers to make things hard for terrorists and other criminals, not on people deciding whether or not to procreate.

  18. Chilling times in the marketplace of ideas! Letís see, so far Iím a kook, nut, bigot, and totalitarian for daring to express an opinion here on Chicagoboyz, and some guy just e-mailed me a lecture about my shortcomings as a human being. Maybe Iíll take up drawing Mohammed caricatures. Less controversial.

  19. Whoops! I figured you were still occupied posting in the original discussion, Helian. Otherwise using the expressions “kook” or “kooky” would have been an ad hominem argument, which I try to avoid. (Would that some of the Procreation Proselytizers had the same revolve.) Not that I don’t think you’re a kook; I just wouldn’t have used the expression in an on-going discussion. But I suspect you’re misinterpreting the response you got. I would guess people don’t think you’re a kook, nut, bigot and a totalitarian simply for daring to express an opinion here. They probably think those things because you express kooky, nutty, bigoted and totalitarian ideas (or at least ideas that give off that odor.) Nothing personal; it’s just your ideas that stink. Maybe instead of giving us convoluted rhetoric (which can be open to misintrepretation simply because it is hard to understand), you could give us a precis of your own political philosophy. I suspect it’s a hodgepodge of all kinds of superstition, but I could be wrong. I’d like to see it just out of intellectual curiosity. I’m not planning on debating with you; recently I reminded g myself of Nietzsche’s statement, “God didn’t make me a fly-swatter,” which is why I withdrew from the battlefield in the original discussion. I just started re-posting here, in this discussion, because it seemed to be conducted at a higher intellectual level, without personal attacks. Once the “I’m better than you because I have kids” storm-troopers establish a beach-head here, too, I’m outta here again.

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