From: Michelle F. Cohen firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2001 5:08 PM
Subject: OWL: "Why Have Children?"
WHY HAVE CHILDREN? - AN OBJECTIVIST APPROACH
Today, with almost fool-proof birth control, legal abortions and the
future prospects of self-cloning, the question "Why Have Children?" may
sound similar to a question often heard among non Orthodox Jews: "Why be
And indeed, why undertake an eighteen-year obligation to raise and
support a completely dependent human being? Why assume the legal and
moral responsibility for the conduct of someone else? Why would any
rational, independent, self-respecting individual want to do that?
The common rationale for having children among Objectivists is that it
is their selfish wish: they enjoy the nurturing. But can this selfish
wish be justified philosophically? Nurturing is not an Objectivist
virtue. It cannot be reconciled with the serene self-sufficiency of
Rand's heroes. However, Objectivism strives to provide men and women
with a philosophy that can fit their nature, which does not require any
sacrifices. In this context, the best justification for having children
is that parenting is a part of human nature, just like a romantic
relationship. According to this view, the commitment to raise a child
is no different from the commitment to stay in a life-long monogamous
relationship, "for better or worse." If an Objectivist were to say that
having a romantic relationship takes away from his or her time pursuing
a career, it would be considered odd. Then why isn't it considered odd
when the same claim is made against parenting?
People who do not want children should not be pressed to have them -
just like those who do not want a romantic relationship should not be
pressed to have one. But they should make sure their choice is not
influenced by the traditional self-sacrificial view of parenthood.
According to this traditional view, nurturing is indeed not a part of
human nature. Men and women are selfish hedonists by nature and raising
children is a selfless duty.
This view is similar to the view of work as a task that must be
performed in order to make a living. The same mentality that regards
work as an endless sequence of five days of toil relieved by two days of
rest until the blissful retirement, also regards children as an eighteen
sentence relieved by sleep away trips until the blissful days of the
empty nest. As the saying goes: "Life does not begin at conception or
at birth. It begins when the last kid leaves home and the dog dies."
According to this view, the only thing a working person can enjoy is a
TGIF party and the only thing parents can enjoy is a weekend escape for
I would like to point out that both work and children were part of the
Biblical curse inflicted on Adam and Eve when they were driven out of
the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden man did not have to work and
woman did not have to bear children. Adam and Eve were a childless
couple doing nothing. Only when they ate from the tree of knowledge
they were cursed with work and children. One of the greatest
innovations of Objectivism is its positive view of work as a purposeful,
enjoyable task and the proper function of man. Unfortunately, when it
comes to the issue of children, Objectivists tend to join the
conventional view of children as drudgery. Refusing to have children
because it is a selfless duty plays into the hands of those who claim
that such is the nature of parenthood.
In her essay "The Shame of Not Wanting Children", Carolyn Ray writes:
"Judging by the way many parents behave toward children, and by the
things they complain about, it seems pretty clear that most people don't
like children very much at all. They are bothered by a high percentage
of the natural behavior of healthy children." I think that these
parents are not necessarily those who should not have had children in
the first place, but those who never learned to enjoy their children.
They bought into the theory that children are a chore and did not give
their children a chance to prove otherwise.
Parenting requires some concessions, but so do work and marriage.
Career minded individuals are willing to put up with the demands and
conduct of superiors and co-employees at work, for longer hours than
they would ever spend with their kids. Married or committed people are
willing to work out their differences in order to preserve their
relationship. Children are not necessarily the worst irrational whim
worshippers one must deal with. In many cases, they are the only
uncorrupted, reasonable human beings around. In this context, it would
be a selfless sacrifice to give up the benefit of having kids in order
to devote oneself to one's career.
A major aspect of having children that is rarely addressed by
Objectivists is that children are the future: they will be here when we
are gone. They will carry on our genetic makeup, as well as our values,
if we are good parents. An intriguing portrayal of a childless society
is provided in "The Children of Earth," a science fiction novel by
British author P.D. James. Due to a mysterious epidemic, all the women
on Earth become infertile. The impact on civilization is devastating.
Rather than celebrate their newly found freedom from children and devote
all their time and energy to production and creativity, people are
paralyzed. Knowing that they are the last of their species and that
Homo Sapiens will become extinct is one generation, most people decide
it is pointless to create anything. Why write a novel nobody will be
around to read in one generation? Why build a house nobody will be
around to live in after one's death? People become hedonists, with
short-range goals that keep getting shorter. Wouldn't it be sad indeed
if Rand's generation was the last generation of Homo Sapiens on earth
and we were not around to read her novels?
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