Sunday, December 11, 2022

Happiness, Genes, and Reproduction

Song (just came on random): Bill Deasy "Private Moon." Betcha never heard that one before. 

As a follow-up to this post on human extinction:

If you've read Losing My Religions (you have, right?*) or read this blog for a long time, you know that sentient individuals are the only morally-relevant entities. Specifically, those that exist and are sure to exist; "potential" individuals are simply ideas, not entities.

It is not only factually wrong to speak of species as morally-relevant, but doing so can often lead to immoral outcomes -- causing individuals to suffer for the "species."

Thus, unlike those who talk about human extinction (and those who call them "weirdos" and "misanthropes") I only think in terms of individuals. Specifically: should a couple reproduce?

The answer to that question comes down to the happiness of all those involved (Including those who are impacted by an affirmative decision to reproduce). Happiness = full stop.

If I had to sum up Losing My Religions in one sentence, it might be:

"It is hard to be happy."

In this case, our genes (the results of billions of years of evolution) don't want [sic] us to be happy. If we, as an individual, are happy, we're not outcompeting those unhappy, driven individuals carrying other genes.

And while our genes want us to acquire stuff and status, their main project is to get us to actually reproduce.

If we want to have a better chance of being happy, we need to recognize that our genes are driving us to reproduce at all costs. And not just via a desire for a partner and a drive to copulate, but also via family pressure and societal norms. 

This doesn't mean reproducing is bad or wrong, just that it isn't intended to make us happy. There are two main arguments against:

1. Child-free: Choose not to have kids in order to be personally happier. From Losing:

And many parents are far less happy than you would think (or then they will let on). As is probably obvious, parents feel internal and external pressure to sing the praises of their children. But simply Google “Are single people happier?” or “Are childfree couples happier?” and you will find seemingly endless studies showing that having kids is definitely not the key to happiness. Doing this search while I write this, the top results say, “the data suggest single people are happier and more satisfied with their lives than commonly believed,” and “Couples without children have happier marriages, according to one of the biggest studies ever of relationships in Britain. Childless men and women are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner.” And this happiness is in spite of our genetic and familial and social pressures to breed.

2. Anti-natalist. This is often caricatured** as "hating kids." But that is wrong. The underlying ideas are:

A. No one is harmed by not being brought into existence (otherwise, every month a fertile woman isn't pregnant or nursing, she is acting immorally).

B. By bringing a child into the world, we are responsible for all the suffering they will experience.

C. No child can consent to being born.

This is a vast simplification; please see "The Case for Not Being Born" for more (and his book is a fuller explanation of the anti-natalist view).

Again, this is not to say that no one should have kids. Everyone's happiness calculations are different. I know some people who love having kids and being a parent, and their kids are, overall, happy and well-adjusted.

But I think we would all be happier if we had a more balanced view of what the variables and possibilities are. For example, Anne is currently substituting part-time in the local school district as an aide to students with special needs. Some of the stories are heart-rending. Anne's experience with these kids should be required of everyone, to know what is possible.

Regardless of Philosophy: A Fair Start

While I don't have a position on if people should reproduce, I do think that the potential child should be the primary focus, both for the potential parents and society as a whole. Every kid should have a good chance at a good life. This is the goal of The Fair Start Movement.

**It is extraordinarily difficult to have a good-faith discussion of this topic. People who have kids often take any hint of debate as a personal insult to their very being, and worse, their children. This leads to name-calling ("misanthrope") and mockery ("weirdo"). People who are child-free and/or anti-natalist are often defensive, having been continually questioned and insulted and even loathed by family and society. (Women, in particular, have it hard, given that women are judged primarily on their looks and if they've had kids.)

This topic is discussed more in the Losing chapters "Sex Is Gross," "Fight the Power: To Breed or Not to Breed," and somewhat in "Fight the Power: Family Feud." My (new) view of population ethics is in "Biting the Philosophical Bullet."

I hope all readers know that I simply want everyone to be happier.

*Joking not joking.

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