Apr
13
2012

8 Responses to “The Case Against Kids”

"Compared with only 50 years ago, the average human earns about 3x as much money (corrected for inflation), eats 1/3 more calories, buries 2/3 fewer children, and can expect to live 1/3 longer. In fact, it's hard to find any region of the world that's worse off now than 50 years ago even though the global population has more than doubled over that period." - Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist

We have 16 children. We’re the authors of Love Another Child whose subtitle reads “Children. They’re blessings. Always.” Our book attempts to explain why welcoming a child into your family is a good idea. We speak often of the blessings of children, and frankly, we don’t think it’s too difficult to make the case.

There are those who attempt to explain away the blessings, and sometimes they’re given significant platforms. One ran in The New Yorker this week: “The Case Against Kids” by Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert is a regular for The New Yorker for issues like global warming and has published a book (hardly a bleep of a bestseller) fraternizing Hillary Clinton. A quick study of her writing reveals that Kolbert’s ideas are on the extreme left.

“The Case Against Kids” is an attempt to dig back to the birth of the idea of birth control, the roots most birth control advocates would rather forget. According to Kolbert, the idea came from a grave robber and convicted pornographer, Charles Knowlton. Kolbert chooses to crown him with dignified titles as “freethinker” and “adventurous” and the bearer of “a good idea that can’t be kept down.” Kolbert has the right to her opinion, but in her attempt to credential Knowlton, she refers to a few other nut jobs – er, adventurous freethinkers – in history.

We just couldn’t ignore Kolbert’s attempt to elevate this dark recollection of history. Please read “The Case Against Kids” for yourselves. We have several responses.

1. The fuzzy math of overpopulation predictions.

One such “adventurous freethinker” was mathematician Thomas Malthus. Kolbert proudly references Malthus as Knowlton’s mentor on the fears of overpopulation. Like many overpopulation prophets, Kolbert thinks highly of Malthus. It matters little what Malthus predicted or what the solutions for his predictions entailed. See, Malthus figured the world would be out of food by 1890 and that the only political solution to the problem would be mass murder. Someone to think highly of, eh? Kolbert apparently thinks so.

This is probably the largest flaw of overpopulation doom-and-gloomers. They selectively overlook the false predictions and flawed math of some whacked out mathematicians or demographers, and then cling to faulty conclusions or scare tactics to promote their “sky is falling” claims. As you read her article, keep in mind that there are dark sides to these guys – we think quite horrific – yet Kolbert thinks highly of them. Just check out the next point.

2. Children are evil?

Knowlton refers to children as “evils,” and Kolbert makes the case that there were (before the liberation Knowlton promoted) two options to children: doom or abstinence. Notice Kolbert’s admiration for Knowlton’s “ingenuity”:

Knowlton believed that a more agreeable solution was at hand. What he called the “reproductive instinct” need not actually lead to reproduction. All that was required was some ingenuity. “Heaven has not only given us the capacity of greater enjoyment, but the talent of devising means to prevent the evils that are liable to arise therefrom; and it becomes us, ‘with thanksgiving, to make the most of them,’ ” he wrote.

This is a false dilemma. Parents aren’t choosers of “doom or abstinence.” There is and always been a third option: Children as blessings. Kolbert and the “freethinkers” can’t come to that realization. In fact, nowhere in her article is the idea of children as blessings considered. Does Kolbert have any children? Her bio doesn’t mention any. If she does have children, I wonder how they feel being referred to as doom and evil?

3. The same old fear-laced claims.

Knowlton says that Kolbert’s writings changed the course of history because birth rates plummeted. This is hardly logical:

[Knowlton’s writing] “Fruits of Philosophy” has been credited, as much as any pamphlet can be, with changing the course of history. Right around the time it first appeared, fertility rates in the U.S. began to plummet, and, in the decades after Besant and Bradlaugh’s trial, British birth rates followed a similar trajectory. Though it can be difficult to tease out the causes of broad demographic trends, Knowlton’s work was instrumental in spreading what one historian has called “the good news that sex and procreation could be separated.” In other words, rather than being a consequence children became a choice.

Two observations here. First, there is absolutely no link between Knowlton’s pamphlet and the plummeting birth rates (which she somewhat admits “it can be difficult to tease out the causes of broad demographic trends”). Second, Knowlton refers to plummeting birth rates as a good thing because, well, history has been changed. It supposedly avoids the false dilemma between doom and abstinence. Do you see the circular reasoning? Most (perhaps all, come to think of it) overpopulation prophets do this: they make strong claims of doom and gloom with virtually no evidence, then claim salvation from those false claims as proof that their solutions worked. Fear-laced claims, but no evidence.

4. What does Rush Limbaugh have to do with this?

Knowlton shows her political bent by citing Rush Limbaugh (who has no children of his own) and Senate Republicans as…as…who knows what the heck she’s trying to say:

“What in Knowlton’s day was a decidedly imperfect choice is now an almost absolute one. Barring infertility or other complications—and despite the best efforts of Rush Limbaugh and Senate Republicans—couples today, at least in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, can determine how many children they will have—five, four, three, two, one, or zero. Several recent books look at this decision from different vantage points, and come to surprising—some might say even alarming—conclusions.”

Maybe it can be argued that Republicans are more child-friendly than Democrats, but Rush Limbaugh as an advocate for having children? Really?

Oh, wait, we get it. Rush and Republicans recently came out against the idea that religious schools shouldn’t subsidize students’ birth control. Or tax dollars paying for birth control (including abortions). Kolbert obviously opposes the likes of Rush and the Republicans (and Catholics and most evangelical Christians), and is attempting to polarize their legitimate concern for subsidizing recreational sex among college students. Kolbert’s attempt is a stretch.

5. Overall’s stone-head argumentation.

Kolbert then shifts to Christine Overall, a Canadian philosophy professor who has resurrected the false prophets Knowlton and Malthus. We tried to take Overall seriously (at least Kolbert’s analysis of Overall) and cannot get out of our heads the idea of someone smoking a whole lotta wee-wee-weed to find these ideas logical. Seriously, Overall claims that a child is not a blessing to the world because you really don’t know how a child can bless the world if the child doesn’t exist.

Overall rejects this argument [that children are worthy to exist] on two grounds. First of all, nonexistent people have no moral standing. (There are an infinite number of nonexistent people out there, and you don’t notice them complaining, do you?) Second, once you accept that you should have a baby in order to increase the world’s total happiness, how do you know when to stop? Let’s say one kid eating ice cream represents x amount of added pleasure. In that case, two kids eating ice cream represents 2x, four kids 4x, and so on. The family with eight kids could perhaps afford to buy ice cream only half as often as the one with four. Still, provided the parents were able to throw in a bag of M&M’s, they (or, at least, the world) would fare better, total-happiness-wise, with the larger brood. And, from a strictly utilitarian perspective, things would be even better if the parents kept pumping kids out. Generalize this process, and the world would teem with more and more people leading less and less satisfying lives, until eventually the happiness of each individual would start to approach nil.

Kolbert then takes a swing at the Duggars and concludes that parents who have children just to be happy is unethical. Dude, that makes perfect sense, now quit talking and pass the dooby over.

6. Hit me with your best shot!

Then Kolbert shifts to a guy who smokes the hard stuff, David Benatar (not to be confused with Pat Benatar who left the height of rock ‘n roll to have and raise children). Just take a look at the title of his book (also just a bleep of a bestseller): Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. Benatar claims that people who think children are blessings are only kidding themselves. Kolbert thinks Benatar is chummy reading that brings happy thoughts to her head:

The volume is dedicated to his parents, “even though they brought me into existence,” and to his brothers, “each of whose existence, although a harm to him, is a great benefit to the rest of us.” (It’s fun to imagine what family reunions with the Benatars are like.)

Ha ha, funny. In the end she finds Benatar’s logic something to be taken seriously, a “conclusive conclusion” that human beings – if totally nonexistent – is “an outcome devoutly to be wished.”

Seriously. That’s what Benatar and Kolbert want you to take seriously.

7. The chip on her shoulder.

Finally Kolbert turns to the real person she’s all huffy about: Bryan Caplan. Caplan is an economist and author of Selfish Reasons for Having More Children, which was a bestseller (that must just get Kolbert’s goat). While Kolbert refers to Benatar’s conclusions as “advice” and “sound logic,” Caplan’s economics are “schemes” and “outrageous.”

Benatar’s child-rearing advice, if followed, would result in human extinction. Caplan’s leads in the opposite direction: toward a never-ending population boom. He declares this to be one of his scheme’s advantages: “More people mean more ideas, the fuel of progress.” In a work that’s full of upbeat pronouncements, this is probably his most optimistic, or, if you prefer, outrageous claim.

Clever word choices, but hardly persuasive. The path to human extinction is horrific, yet Kolbert merely breezes over the idea as if it would be a stroll in the park. But the “never-ending population boom” is something to give us pause? This fear-laden claim just doesn’t compare. It only exposes Kolbert’s disdain for Caplan’s witty and successful book that advocates having children.

8. The “intelligence” of the overpopulation claim is lame.

Kolbert ends on a flat note, a typical amoral tone that attempts to make her sound like the smart one in the room. We were quite disappointed; we actually thought maybe Kolbert would go-for-big and express her desire for mass sterilizations, forced abortions, and euthanasia. This is what most fans of the Knowlton/Malthus/Oversell/Benatar crowd eventually advocate (like other overpopulation extremists).

The decision to have a child, or one more child, or yet another child may seem to be a personal one—a choice about how many diapers you want to change in the short term versus how many Mother’s Day cards you hope to receive later on. But to see it in these terms alone is to be, as Caplan points out on the cover of his book, selfish. Whatever you may think of Overall’s and Benatar’s conclusions, it’s hard to argue with their insistence that the decision to have a child is an ethical one. When we set the size of our families, we are, each in our own small way, determining how the world of the future will look. And we’re doing this not just for ourselves and our own children; we’re doing it for everyone else’s children, too.

Really? That’s the conclusion? Kolbert spent the entire article building up false prophets, grave robbers, convicted pornographers,  and wishful mathematicians. In the end, she makes fun of an economist (Caplan) and cites Knowlton’s “grade-school math” (she even recognizes it as such!) as something all parents should pause and reflect how “it’s hard to argue” with these guys.

No, this is not hard to argue with. It is, in fact, quite easy. Kolbert – along with her idles from history – are headstrong bubbleheads. It makes much better sense to believe what parents inevitably come to realize: Children. They’re blessings. Always.

About Chris & Wendy Jeub

The Jeub Family live in Monument, Colorado. They encourage couples to love God and love one another, building an atmosphere of love in their homes.

  • Katie

    Wow you did a great job analyzing it but I have to say I don’t think it was worth the time.  Truly not worth responding to.  I always say isn’t it convenient for people who have no kids and are so self righteous about it that their ideologies support the selfish bourgeois materialistic lifestyles they have already chosen and are already living.  So convenient.  I only have 5 kids and I still can’t spread the ice cream thin enough to make my kids appreciate having it.  They just don’t really care about those things, but they love having siblings and they play together almost nonstop from waking to sleeping every day.  I wish other people could see that life is not measured in dollars and cents.  I used to be single and childless, all of us were at some point and it’s not that we’ve forgotten how it is.  That life is fairly happy but fairly static.  There are some real rough patches when you have children but the happy times are infinitely happier when you share them with someone you love.

  • guest

    As far as I’m concerned, my life didn’t even begin until I had children.  It’s a love like no other.  My children have changed me so drastically for the better.  They honestly gave me strength and determination to accomplish things I never knew I could.  

    At one point, there was nothing in this world that could make this tough girl become all emotional and cry (not the beatings by my mother, people who touched me inappropriately as a small child, or the kids who made fun of my shabby clothes and dirty habitus)…  And then I had my first son – just watching him sleep brought tears (of happiness) to my eyes.  I would literally feel my heart swell up inside my chest with so much love and excitement as I watched him meet each milestone.  He is now 20 years old and entering pharmacy school – and still makes my heart swell with joy!  
    I thank God every single day for all of my children, including the current (5th) child I am carrying and am eager to meet in October.    Therefore, to say children are not a blessing is a pretty ignorant statement in my eyes…they are God’s greatest gift and I will cherish each and every one!  

    • hailey

       I don’t think I have ever read a better summary on why to have children. That was great for me to hear. I don’t have children yet, but would like to when I marry.

  • Charity

    I have 3 young children and was approached in the grocery store yesterday by a woman and her mother (they looked to be in their 50’s & 70’s) who, after exclaiming about “how beautiful!” my children are, insisted I not have any more children! They didn’t seem a very happy pair, and I inquired into the reason for insisting “no more!” The old lady stated she was one of 12 and had a miserable childhood because she “had to work hard.” Pretty interesting, as I’ve never heard another child from a very big family (and I know many) complain of it. Regardless, I’ll let Heavenly Father rule my reproductive life, thankyouverymuch! Also, what qualifies an UNHAPPY individual to try to advise a VERY HAPPY one? I would like to know!

    • Beka

      I would be wary of anyone who told me the reason for their unhappiness was that they “Had to work hard.” Really? Good. Good for your parents. You should have to work hard. That’s life!

  • Zach

    These authors completely miss the point of the article, but worse than that: they fail to address any of the article’s interesting philosophical arguments, resorting to mere emotional appeals and informal fallacies of reasoning.

    Simply stating, for instance, “Dude, that makes perfect sense, now quit talking and pass the dooby over,” does nothing to address an argument. In fact, this response relies on a combination of a genetic fallacy and an ad hominem attack: it both non-cogently infers from the cognitive state of the author to the falsehood of her conclusion and attacks the integrity of the author. This is a non-sequitur and does nothing to refute Overall’s argument.

    As if these authors weren’t infantile in addressing the article’s points, they do nothing to build a case of their own. Simply stating that children are a “blessing” over and over does nothing to substantiate that children are a “blessing” — and “blessing” isn’t even defined here.

    To keep the debate situated in secularism, I’ll assume “blessing” must mean in this context something like “psychological benefit.” But that’s precisely the problem this article raises. It is selfish to bring a new entity into existence just to better oneself, and when we consider the problems childbirth can cause for the rest of us, the moral implications become murkier. Not to mention that by procreating, we fail to alleviate suffering (!) — because adoption is always a viable option.

    • Zach

       I should note that given the truth of Christianity, there is even more reason not to have children.

      For any given infant, the probability of that infant growing into an adult who will reach Heaven is either below .5 or inscrutable. This can be gleamed by (a) the growing cultural shift toward non-Christianity and (b) the tendency of children to become “lukewarm” in their teenage and adult years. This means there is considerable risk that each new child will go to Hell. If the probability of the child going to Heaven is inscrutable, childbirth is akin to wearing a blindfold and opening fire on a Wallmart parking lot (not knowing how many people are there). If the probability is low, then childbirth is akin to knowing that a sufficiently large amount of people is in the parking lot before opening fire. In other words, procreation creates an enormous risk for children.

      Further, even if the probability was really high (let’s say, .9), there may still be reason against procreation. Usually, we make hard decisions on the basis of probability. There is less than a 1% chance that I will suffer from permanent nerve damage by having my wisdom teeth extracted, for example. However, in most of these cases, the relative risk is worth it. But Hell is the worst possible evil that could ever be brought upon someone — so horrible, in fact, that it’s never worth risking. As a result, even if it is very likely that a child will grow up to go to Heaven, there is still a chance that this child will suffer eternally. Is that a risk worth taking? I say taking such a risk is irrational.