NOT CELINE’S CHILDREN...
Celine was very clear on the nature of our human instinct to reproduce (“... we pass on our life to a biped of the next century, with frenzy, at any cost, as if it were the greatest of pleasures to perpetuate ourselves…as if, when all’s said and done, it would make us immortal..”). Despite this savage disparagement, Celine was, however, sanguinely sentimental, although sentimental in a starkly cynical, darkly dismissive vein.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there was only one Celine (this depends upon your outlook, for there seem to be plentiful numbers of his progenic clones scattered throughout the world today). Things are certainly different now from the way they were in his time and as the world is drawn ever closer together thanks to the electronic miracle (curse?) of modern communication, those essential differences continue to exert an effect that is monstrously disproportionate to the impact they have on the ethical philosophies that underlie human reproductive tendencies.
Mindful of this, as the world fills up with more and more people, and as inalterable density aspects of contemporary demography continue to exert changes on the quality of our lives, it seems to me that any half intelligent person would have to start questioning the wisdom of bringing still more children into this Skinnerian Box that is the world.
Let me apologise at the onset if this particular set of thoughts comes across as coldly callous or clinically sterile in its tone, but humanity no longer has much choice in the matter of whether serious discussion along these lines is warranted. In many parts of the world, the population density statistics have already reached a ‘critical mass’ of sorts. Even a cursory glance at certain parts of China and India (two of the most densely inhabited regions of the world) reveals that human beings are starting to effectively reproduce themselves to death, in an all too real sense.
And it isn’t just a matter of the ability of the world’s food supply to provide sustenance for all those new human mouths, either, for even in ‘developed’ nations like the United States, the associated economic costs brought to bear on a family with children to raise, care for, feed, clothe, educate, and support are becoming little short of staggering. This is especially true if one subscribes to the implicitly stupid conventional wisdom that “all children need a college education.” With higher education on a collegiate level now running into an annual cost of many thousands of dollars (at least for colleges with a superior reputation for supporting higher standards of learning), this fallaciously assumptive belief translates directly into a burden that the erstwhile ‘average’ family cannot comfortably meet, no matter how much they might wish to provide their children with serious academic credentials (regrettably few do, of course, most being more concerned about preparing their kids for some sort of occupational skill than for how to make intelligent decisions about life).
There comes a point at which these ideals, simply due to the sheer and relentless economic pressures which rising educational costs impose, are no longer subject to realistic entertainment. When that point is truly and completely reached, the effect will have the most profound impact upon even wealthy and ‘developed’ nations that fool themselves into believing in ‘equality’ as an all-encompassing, universally egalitarian right (possessed without restriction, or at the very least functionally accessible by all its citizens).
The problem is a fascinating one, not least because of the sobering economic forces in reference, for it has tie-ins to many aspects of human life on the planet. As simply a slightly higher-evolved animal that has the added ability to reflect on the quality of its life (a capability that we suspect none but homo sapiens possess), human beings reproduce for a number of reasons. First and most fundamental among these, naturally, is the universal instinctual urge to sexually couple, a categorical imperative that affects all animals and in fact almost all living matter equally, to a vaguely similar degree.
In the case of beings genetically equipped with the equipment to reflect ‘intelligently’ on the life process (us human critters) there are, of course, added complications of potentially profound consequence. Instead of blindly rutting like animals whenever the instinctual urge compels, we higher-evolved, opposed-thumb mammalian creatures supposedly have the capability of reflecting upon the consequences of sexual interaction, and altering or modifying the behavior accordingly. I am not saying that all human beings, given their varying capacities for intelligent reflection, may be able to use that discriminatory asset to their advantage (or that of their society), but at least the potential is theoretically there.
Human societies, hewing to tribal and the social instincts shared among by higher primates, have in the remote past not had to consider the more sophisticated problematic aspects of population density pressure, although all primate groups have been affected by the most basic factors (i.e. whether there is adequate sustenance in a given natural environment to support a given population. With the development of science and the rise of technology in recent centuries, thanks to humanity’s endless ingenuity, the overall human population of the earth’s habitable areas has now coasted well past the point where the ability to expand into more suitable areas of forage will solve most problems, given the extant reasonably temperate world-wide climates that permit fruitful hunting and gathering activities.
At the very end of the 18th Century, Thomas Robert Malthus first seriously explored the early global ramifications of anticipated future demographic challenges and predicted that population growth would eventually outstrip humanity’s ability to provide a proportionately adequate food supply. Postulating that population progresses at a geometric rate, whereas food production increases at an arithmetic rate, Malthus forecast that a major global crisis point would occur in the mid 19th Century. His theories and hypotheses were notably employed in George Orwell’s famous book ‘Brave New World’ as the underlying scientific backdrop against which Orwell’s plot of an overburdened world developed.
Of course, Malthus failed (understandably) to allow for the possibility that food production could be substantially augmented by means of science and technology, although it has been pointed out that he did state that “The main peculiarity which distinguishes man from other animals is the means of his support. (That is,) the power which he possesses of very greatly increasing these means.”
Malthus’ influence on humanity was substantial, and not just due to the fact that he was one of the world’s first ‘social economists’. It has been noted that in one particular book listing the 100 most influential individuals in history (1978), ranked Malthus as 80th on that list of luminaries. It is a known fact that his precursor theories about humanity’s ‘battle’ for survival exerted tremendous influence on both Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Russell Wallace’s later theories of evolution and natural selection.
Of specific relevance to my musings here is the fact that Malthus, who was an ardent evolutionist and demographic economist of naturalistic sciences, favored the method of using morale restraint to stem the exponential human population growth he predicted would eventually ruin our entire world. That is to say he felt such conditional nuances as ‘late marriage’ and sexual abstinence could be employed effectively as a check against pending rampant over-population (but as has been referenced elsewhere, he considered these approaches suited almost exclusively only for the working and poor classes).
It has always been interesting to me to note that this belief suggests that Malthus appears to have strongly believed in the fact that informing and educating the masses, whom he also believed were capable of being educated and informed, would achieve these very same desired objectives of his (that self-imposed moral restraints would produce changes he felt were needed to significantly impact the population versus food supply situation). In reality, disallowing the subjective effects of ‘natural causes’ (i.e. pestilence, disease, accidents, senescence, war and especially famine), I think it is safe to conclude that (somewhat congruent with Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s ultra-cynical views on the boundless abysmal stupidity of the masses) the human urge to mate and reproduce will not be either stemmed or substantially modified by an unenforced moral sentiment (viz. one solely based on knowledge of a desired outcome).
Perhaps the most interesting situation directly relating to this last idea is that of modern Communist China, which has had very stringently (up until very recently) enforced controls in place to limit population growth. China’s ‘one child per family’ philosophy was enforced with very little tolerance for exceptions to the state norm, a policy that subsequently had tragic consequences with regard to rising rates of misogynistic infanticide in that nation. In the specific instance of China, “moral constraint” was not a matter of personal decision, based upon reflective, intelligent thought. More often it consisted of officially stated policy that was unquestioningly and most often brutally enforced by the Chinese government.
Contrast this to a nation like the United States where such social questions as birth control, active population constraint, and curtailment of human reproduction are not affected as much by direct government intervention as by religious codes of morality and secular philosophies (if you can call them that) of so-called ‘political correctness’. It helps to remember here that American style ‘democracy’, after all, does not insure absolute and universal standards of equality and unqualified ‘fairness’ as much as it insures rule by a majority—even though that majority may maintain lopsided moral beliefs that if anything lie at the polar extreme of attitudes based upon scientific fact, logical argument, and secular rationality! Since those who maintain religious beliefs invariably employ the argument that ‘God demands’ (rather than ‘human survival mandates’), any significant impetus to voluntarily eschew the reproductive aspects of sexual union is clearly not backed a whit by coldly compelling logic, or awareness of the somewhat long term objective effects, but my ordinary (emotional) sentiment.
The list of conventional religious standards of morality on our planet ranges widely from the more extreme attitudes of certain radical sects of Islam (in which not only is contraception antithetical, a central belief is that reproduction is a divinely decreed mandate of the faithful) to those maintained by more liberal Western religious standards (for example, Unitarianism, in which there is no uniform policy towards human procreation other than the dictates of individual determinism and personal choice).
Given this wildly eclectic mix of moral codifications, it isn’t hard to understand the utter futility of hoping that a preponderance of enlightened sentiment based upon rational thought and intelligent analysis would ever bring about resolution of Malthus’ classic demographic paradox, since such a strictly defined consensus of thought and resulting action could never materialize anyway!
Other apparent facts are obvious, as well. One of these is that (at least from a statistical viewpoint, and conveniently disregarding knowledge of how inherently precarious any sort of statistics-based assessment can be) the more highly educated one is, the lower the birthrate (certainly the reverse seems true, in that the more ignorant one is, the more one tends to create larger families without regard to any economic consequences). The sad result of this is that those who most need to restrain their ‘breeding’ urges are the least likely to do so, since they lack the acute reflective ability to consider the matter carefully and respond appropriately. This dynamic is responsible for the greater numbers of ‘simple dipshits’ out there (casting all PC caution to the winds, of course) as opposed to more intellectually inclined types (ignorant people tend to have ignorant children and frequently raise them ignorantly, thus assuring that the children will perpetuate the cycle of ignorance, in a relative manner, of course. This seems to be the case in the United States, although the whole assumption remains arguable).
Futurists, of course, along with those who are scientifically oriented and/or possessed of thoughtful, perhaps even visionary intelligence, will respond to the perplexities of Paul Erlich’s overpopulation problem in a number of ways. Those who favor genetic science would likely not hesitate to invoke scientific technology (genetic engineering) to correct deficiencies of thought and behavior, and anyone having traveled that far along that particularly perilous philosophical path would certainly not hesitate to adopt certain highly controversial approaches originally explored by eugenicists and radical social experimenters (Orwell, Hitler, et al). Orwell in particular investigated this last area of thought, as did Francis Galton, Julian Huxley, Paul Erlich, and others noted for related and often radical philosophical explorations.
While ultra-autocratic nations, dictatorships, and other absolutist states may have more latitude to explore these highly contentious areas of inquiry relating to demographics’ extreme challenges (Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu comes to mind as an example), nations such as the United States, beleaguered on many sides by an arresting consortium of daunting influences (chief among them religious conservatism, secular political correctness, and simple ignorance) that effectively arrest uninhibited discussion and open consideration of all options, will likely never advance very far towards a collective recognition of the fact that as the world continues to fill up, we had better be ready to deal with the consequences by applying every possible corrective measure (regardless of whether ‘conventional morality’ persists in resisting the spread of enlightened demographic awareness).
I hope by now it is clear that all of my frusty, foregoing circumlocutive embroidering upon the problem under discussion (the problem of population growth) is merely a contextual backdrop for my personal ruminations on the subject of having children. If I somehow cleverly managed to obscure that fact, please be assured that that is in fact the case here, for throughout my 60 years of life, I have given this singular subject a lot of thought.
Having lost my father at a very early age, this event filled me with resolve early in life that I would try very hard to be a great father myself and I resolutely looked forward to shouldering those responsibilities. In the conventional American manner of the 50s, I was raised as a Christian up through about age 13 (at which time I successfully threw off those particular intellectual bonds and became a believer in humanity, rather than in a ‘god’). In my ensuing progress through years of higher education, I studied philosophy and the liberal arts, for the aim of such advanced study in those days was NOT to prepare individuals to take their place as nameless cogs in the machinery of commercial enterprise, but to become personally actualized, broadly aware, internally reflective, externally inquisitive, and open-minded members of society. This pattern of study coincided with strong interests in East Asian studies (Buddhism and Taoism, principally) and the human and natural sciences (sociology, anthropology, psychology, geology, archeology, biology, and oceanography) to eventually bring me to view life in a way that I must conclude most today do not. Simply stated, I began to understand that since human beings are no more nor less than ‘high grade’ animals, subject to the same instinctual urges of all animals (and NOT ‘special’ beings created by a deity to lord it over all other critters on the planet), any solution to human problems must needs arise from human beings and not by the mechanism of faith and religious mumbo-jumbo. In so many words, I accepted the fact that humanity is simply a species of highly evolved (if infernally clever) animals. Period. End of thesis.
Seen in this light and fitting nicely into this context of a ‘Godless’ scheme of things (that is, humanity being the result of a completely natural biological process of evolution spanning millions of years, and owing its existence to a series of coincidental biochemical events with no higher absolute meaning whatsoever), the whole idea of procreating and having children understandably takes on a decidedly different character. I understood that there really was no divine purpose behind f***ing and mating (with consequent reproduction of new life). It was simply something that all animals did due to instinctual motivations that are still not fully understood (and probably never will be), but with the added grave perplexity of being a pleasurable activity that brought with it serious consequences.
For these reasons, I decided quite early in life that I didn’t need to be a father or raise a family, regarding it merely as a lifestyle option that carried some rather specific burdens, responsibilities, and/or obligations. That isn’t to say that the idea of having children wasn’t attractive, for early in my life there was something compellingly beguiling about the notion of a woman as the mother of one’s children. Reconsidering those days now, I suppose that feeling had a lot to do with ego and vanity, for the I felt that the most supreme compliment a woman could pay me (as a romantic partner) was to utter those beautiful, deeply elemental, and earthy words: “I want to have your children.” That to me was one of the most profound expressions of human love I could possibly think of.
So much did I regard the whole matter of parenthood that I well recall, in the course of assuming my active anti-war stand while in uniform (during the Vietnam War), reflecting on the necessity of someday having to justify my pacifist actions as a war-resister to my children (I felt that when they finally understand the fact that America’s involvement in Vietnam was morally wrong, the question ‘What did you do about it, Daddy?’ would naturally rise). Of course, not only did I end up not having any children, the irony isn’t lost on me that today no one even cares about such things, anyway (except perhaps embittered old right-wing veterans who think waving a flag now and then and voting Republican is the real essence of patriotism, or perhaps the intellect-challenged, conservative dimbulbs who can’t use what little intelligence nature endowed them with, anyway)!
At any rate, the closest I ever came to being a father occurred in the early 80s when my significant other at the time (an Asian-American resident at the hospital I worked at) became pregnant. Since half way through a demanding residency in cardiology is definitely not the time to have a child, she terminated the pregnancy, but to this day I often reflect on what it might have been like to have created (and kept) a new human life that I knew drew partly from my own genetic matrix. Talk about an entire Weltanschauung collapsing!...and all thanks to a few minutes of penile pleasure derived from filling my lovely partner’s empty recesses with the my ego’s molten lust.
I have no doubt that had she kept the child, it would have radically changed my own life and would have profoundly altered my future, but that avenue for speculation remains just that….a venue for ruminative wonder. The result of having made a voluntary choice to not have children therefore is not wholly of my own doing, since had I gotten married, settled down, and become “domestic” with Lin (and she was admittedly rather spectacularly beautiful, smart, and talented), rather than remaining a freely eclectic person, who knows how putting my theories to that harsh acid test of ineluctable reality might have turned out?
Today, returning briefly to Celine’s caustic outlook on families, children, and the conventions of what he would doubtless have thoroughly relished regarding as the despised ‘Hoi Poloi’ proles, in earlier times, child-raising would have assuredly exacted a stiff economic price from those in the lower-middle to lower classes (even with those classes presupposing no notions of a basic education being even remotely necessary). Today, with even the lowest social classes in America being told that their children absolutely must have a college education in order to compete (economically) the extreme costs associated with higher educations have all but put that (deluded) goal entirely beyond reach. With educational costs rising spectacularly each year, even middle-class working families with two incomes are facing serious problems financing a future college education for their children, all but the wealthiest top 10% of the nation can realistically entertain such thoughts.
With the secondary and tertiary cost-demands of raising children being dictated largely today by commercial corporate enterprises (who have no interest at all in the ‘human’ aspects of the process, focused exclusively as they are only on the bottom-line of increased profits for share holders), the power to control child-raising expenses has effectively been taken from parents and placed in the hands of those same corporate powers. Thus, parents with school-age children are today increasingly co-dependent victims of the commercial profit-making processes that are slowly choking the holy living economic shit out of all of us (Americans).
A wise American educator not long ago stated that only the mediocre among us today really need the benefits of what today passes for a ‘college level’ education, since the truly bright, genuinely intelligent, and exceptionally capable among us should be able to achieve substantial greatness and significant personal reward without academic credentials that act as a sort of ‘bona fides key’ to the private club of the upper class in our society. It is as true now as it always has and ever shall be, in my opinion. Another contemporary spectator, comparing the cultures of France and the United States also made a sobering observation about education and intelligence in the two countries. “In France, people are interested in discussing ideas; they are not in the least interested in what you did over the weekend!” American education prepares working proles who grab a few moments of personal time to relax in weekends, of course, whereas a Continental education prepares one to think critically (and find employment that doesn’t compromise that more ascendant requirement of life).
Be all this as it may, I look at my own life at the age of 60 and have few regrets that I didn’t fulfill whatever procreative biological urge prompts us all to introduce more human lives into an increasingly overcrowded world. Call it selfish, if you must, call it short sighted and narrow in outlook, call it coldly clinical and scientifically sterile, but no matter what filter is used to perceive any possible meaning from my personal status as a childless individual by choice, in the end none of it matters at all anyway. Once my life has come to an end, that’s where any possible meaning comes screeching to a sudden halt, both literally and figuratively, and any further laborious intellectual discussions about the moral justifications or liabilities of creating children becomes moot.
Having said all of the foregoing, don’t think for a minute that I don’t feel the gut-wrenchingly powerful emotion that wells up within me when I see a loving mother taking care of her children with compassionate strength, resolve, and absolute commitment. Even as old as I am, I still regard the basic nurturing of motherhood (no matter whether human or animal) as one of the purest and most beautiful natural forces at work in this terribly sad world we all share. The feelings of love that such a thing engenders for me are hard to describe, so highly do I regard the concept of deeply spiritual love. And this from a person who views the whole biological process of procreating as a largely elective and optional process that one puts on or takes off, like a lab coat!
Further, despite my admittedly radical views on the subject of reproducing, if I had the chance to live a remote life somewhere, with only the companionship of a woman I loved deeply, I’d probably enjoy nothing more than creating little reproductions of her and sharing the rest of our lives raising and taking care of those little products of love and reproductive lust. From my view of looking at things, there’s something wonderfully animalistic and naturally ‘right’ about that idea (and I say that with the most profound respect for animals and all non-human life on this planet).
Yes, I certainly can see myself alone with that female object of my deepest expressions of love, raising a family somewhere within the deepest solitude of remoteness and far from any vestige of our modern, ‘civilised’ society. But as for having a family and taking care of it within the fetid bowels of our present, modern, and unfulfilling society, no thank you. I’d rather become a lonely old man and get off the world when it finally stops spinning for me…
In that sense Celine was absolutely spot-on, I reckon. In a world of idiots, we are all idiots, and therefore there is no chance of avoiding contamination with idiocy. In the purer aesthetic surrounds of natural scenic splendor, only then can some sense of deepest meaning truly be accessed. Or so it seems to me.
Of course, being a weak mortal like all the rest of you imperfect human beings, all bets are off if a ravishingly beautiful, dark-haired beauty suddenly and most unexpectedly sweeps me off my feet and squeezes all that stuffy intellectual nonsense right out of my head with the powerful muscles of her lovely lower pelvis! Yow, mama! Squeeze dat puppy!
The chances of having that happen to me now, despite being exceptionally well preserved for a man of 60, is most remote of course, but as we all know only too well, dreams and hopes are the eternally sweet Lorelei songs that drag even the most sturdily seaworthy vessels onto the rocky shoals of oblivion (and this particular ship is about as shoal-worthy as any other; that is to say, liable to sink in the next strong flood of romantic attraction at any time).
And now, excuse me….I thought I heard a faint bit of song wafting over the waves to me, just now. Isn’t it comforting to know that no matter how strong our intellectual determination to remain firm to our high-minded principals and theories, all it takes to totally destroy all our lofty philosophical premises is a single chocolate-melting smile from the loveliest woman in the world (e.g. whichever one is passing by at the time, LoL!).
[PS: When that happens, don’t forget to put all the frusty intellectualism back on that dusty shelf before you jump on her gorgeous f***ing ass, and make like a manic rabbit on steroids!]
Malama pono, Kalikiano