Thursday, October 6, 2011

Children, legacy, and meaning

Given the way we think about legacy and the influences we leave on the world, many wish to leave the world a better place than they found it. That's how those that fought the "Great" Wars thought about the future, and that's how many of our parents think when they sacrifice ("negatively," some might say) for the betterment of their children's lives. 

But there is a disconnect then between the way we are acting now, and of the future we wish for our children. Our actions are in many ways not leaving behind a better world for our children. Rather, the future is one of increased conflict over increasingly scarcer essentials of life, one of climate change (unintentional, or fossil-fuel based, and intentional, or geo-engineering based), one of mass migrations, and (instilling fear in the West) one of a more dominant Eastern hemisphere. In more ways than one, we have conducted ourselves in a libertarian sense. We want every social service that large government and society can offer, like roads, airports and the fire department, but we live insularly, on big plots of land, with our big cars, with our fences, with our increased xenophobia and utter impunity for those that aren't like us. This has definitely created a more complicated world within which to bring children into, ecologically, and consequently politically.

In a post from a couple of days ago, The "entitlement" of having children?, I quoted Lisa Hymas, who decided not to have a child as an American, especially because the burden of American children on the world is much more massive than, say, Indian or Ugandan children. In response to that post, the most regular guest blogger, Jason Lai, said:
"I feel like this attitude is antithetical to what the majority of people would derive meaning from in life... beyond material wealth and (especially) family, what really drives a person? How do you convince a man to save the planet for the children he's not supposed to have? Which is to say, yes, we would not have environmental issues if there were no people, but then what would be the point?"
Jason is wonderfully insightful, and I agree with him. Given biological urges, I can see why many people do decide to have children. But on the other hand, there are other biological urges that we curb in the name of ethics and morality. Some people might choose not to kill even in self-defense. While people can hoard and gorge ourselves with all the so-called "essentials" of living, many live simply, in respect of the world, cherishing its finiteness. How does a biological urge and the quest to derive meaning through children unfold in response to actual problems of culture and society?

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