All in the Mind

Why Procreate?

While some of us may seem very self-absorbed thanks to generations of social atomisation and disconnection from our palaeolithic roots, most of us are wired to adore new life. All but the most callous of us have a soft spot for babies or at least are wise and socially responsible enough to give them special dispensation as future citizens for the survival of our community and ultimately of our species, but the world hardly lacks young people and hundreds of millions roam the streets destitute or laze at home with few employment prospects, largely because we have become entirely reliant on big business and big government. Now some want to depend on big biotech (an offshoot of big pharma) to let them procreate when they discover they can't have babies naturally. Based on a narrow interpretation of human rights, this sounds fine. Why should we all not be entitled to have children of our own and why should we restrict such rights to fertile young heterosexual couples?

Historically only the fittest survived. We gave each new member of our community a chance, but when disease or other calamities struck, we just accepted our fate and wished others would survive in their memory. As a result for millennia the global population grew only very gradually with plenty of regional fluctuations, periods of relative prosperity and growth followed by periods of disease, famine and warfare. Pre-agrarian communities needed large areas of bountiful terrain, usually in coastal areas or near rivers, and had to keep their numbers in check. While many hunter-gatherer communities survived into the modern area, with some remote tribes surviving into the 20th century, they were in a matter of generations either outnumbered or assimilated into agrarian societies, who developed the technology to cultivate crops, rear livestock, irrigate and, more important, store surpluses for later re-use. This enabled the specialisation of labour and the growth of non-productive administrative class, making us increasingly interdependent. While in feudal times many still had direct contact with the means of food production, most had to hand over a large proportion of their yield in return for a plot of land. With the advent of the industrial revolution, we could no longer simply draw on nature's bounty, but had to compete for control over storable and stealable resources produced by others by selling our labour. In the post-modern era we sell not so much our labour, as ourselves, for money that we can exchange for the material goods we either need or simply desire. Now, children have become not just another great marketing opportunity for our growth-obsessed business leaders, but also a commodity in and of themselves.

Recent reports in the mainstream media have lamented the refusal of some NHS trusts to provide IVF. Let us set the record straight. In-vitro fertilisation is a relatively new technology, unavailable to previous generations, and not only is it extremely expensive, it is statistically more likely to lead to premature births, birth defects and multiple births at a time when we are struggling to feed the world's 6.9 billion human beings. I know, for some socially responsible women, it must be distressing to see other socially irresponsible women produce offspring with great ease with little thought as to how they will provide for them. However, a little intellectual honesty would be welcome. Infertility has become an issue because many women postpone motherhood to pursue their career or because they wish to start a new family with their new partner. Some men also want to spread their genes with their new partner. With so many children born to parents unable to care for them, why can't infertile couples adopt?

Let's briefly consider the huge changes in family life and social welfare over the last century. Once considered a safety net enabling the downtrodden to find their feet again and ensuring all children had a fair start in life, the UK's benefits system has encouraged the breakup of families through generous handouts to single parents and teenage mothers, attracted widespread abuse of incapacity allowances and created a general culture of entitlement among the descendants of the country's once proud working class. Official unemployment figures mask the reality that over 5 million more people of working age are not in employment, education or training and neither are they full time housewives, so effectively true unemployment stands at 7.5 million. Technological advances have not only reduced infant mortality, but also automated many tedious domestic chores and manual jobs that occupy vast swatches of working classes. Housewives were not unemployed, but a crucial part of a family team, replaced now by myriad teachers, social workers, child psychologists and carers. Neither were chimney sweeps or cobblers useless, they performed essential duties, now often assigned to recent immigrants. The drive to get women into work has led millions to swap the tyranny of housework for the tyranny of low-paid office, retail and care work. Only a privileged minority of women pursue genuinely rewarding and intellectually stimulating careers, most make do with dead-end jobs in supermarkets or care homes, often juggling paid employment with their parental duties. As a result instead women have traded economic dependence on their husbands for subjugation to state handouts or large corporations. Back in the 70s and 80s many hoped to see a new era of leisure with the average working week reduced to 30 or maybe just 20 hours and extended maternal and paternal leave. However, 30 years of neoliberal policies, heightened competition in the labour market and rampant consumerism, mean without benefits and on typical salaries, both parents have to work 40 hours a week, often with long commutes of 2-3 hours a day, or rely on state handouts. The largest portion of a typical family's expenses go on mortgages or rent and since 1997 house prices in the South East of England have tripled, way in excess of the official retail inflation rate. To qualify for the latter a parent has to claim to have no other source of income (e.g. a spouse's salary). The biggest scam of all is housing benefit, effectively subsidising ripoff landlords and enabling the workshy to afford accommodation in areas of London. Hence the birth rate in the UK is highest in three groups:

  1. Ethnic minorities with a religious and/or cultural commitment to large families, willing to work harder, proactively seek all welfare benefits and sacrifice luxuries for the proliferation of their community.
  2. Workless underclasses who see children as a means of obtaining benefits.
  3. Upper middle classes who can easily survive on one salary and/or employ a childminder.

In the middle are the masses of honest hardworking adults on modest salaries, who simply cannot afford to have more than 1 or 2 children, unless they split up and have children with their new partners, hence the growing demand for IVF. Many educated adults delay having children until they have established a stable relationship and pursued a career, by which time one may have become infertile, but rather than adopt one of the millions of unwanted children born to mothers unable to provide the love and attention all children need, they succumb to biological emotions to further their own kind. Thus IVF is often marketed as means of boosting a woman's self-esteem. The availability of IVF creates an emotional need that could otherwise be met by adopting, fostering or simply looking after nieces, nephews or neighbours' children, but in an increasingly atomised and fearful society we dare not trust anyone else with our children. Indeed the authorities don't trust us to raise children unless we collaborate with a whole bunch of busy-body supervisors (community nurses, social workers, teachers) etc.. Being able to bring up your children as you see fit has now become a luxury reserved for the wealthy and residents of isolated rural communities, for only these groups can afford options such as private education, homeschooling or have access to small rural schools. Everyone else's children are sent to mainstream schools, exposed to thousands of hours of media promoting high-consumption fun culture and, should their behaviour or attitude raise suspicion, referred to child psychiatrists (often mistakenly renamed psychologists) and labelled with ADHD, OCD, depression or autism spectrum disorders or simply given anti-social behaviour orders. In short even if you do have biological children, they are not really yours as the corporate establishment through its media and education systems guides their development. Recently primary school teachers have become concerned that children start school without being toilet-trained first ( see Head Threatens to Ban Pupils Who Are Not Potty-Trained). Some parents responded by claiming toilet training was the responsibility of social care workers. Why have children at all if all you can do is let the state and big business bring them up? If you want loving offspring who respect you and may care for you when you grow old, you need to spread your love and values, not your genes.