March 03, 2007

Theoretically Speaking

by Guest Contributor Laura Thérèse
Harvard Law Student & Spokesperson for No Kidding! International
Blogs: Childfree Issues, Childfree News

History is full of theories that have not been fully thought through. Let's add to that list the idea that intelligent people have a responsibility to procreate.
I have heard many times that those with low intelligence are out-breeding us. There is some substance to this: the more education a woman has, the fewer children she has, and the more likely she is to have none at all. Now I am not contending that education is synonymous with intelligence, (I know some brilliant people who founded successful companies with a high school diploma) but there is at least some correlation there.

From this problem, people immediately jump to the conclusion that intelligent people should go out and have more kids to compensate. Side-stepping for a moment the disputed idea that intelligence can be so readily passed on genetically, and ignoring the offensive eugenics overtones, this conclusion has other serious flaws.

What is the point of having smarter kids? Theoretically, it is so that society as a whole will improve. We hope future generations will break cold fusion, cure cancer, debunk string theory, and craft a better government. The supporters of this idea think their next generation will move us forward, or at least keep us on track better than a less-intelligent populace can.

This theory needs debunking if it is to ever go away. If we are not encouraging young women to get joint MD-PhDs and devote their lives to medical research, they will face the same cultural pressure to have children and raise them for the same flawed reasons. Where does it end? It is like arguing that a branch should create more branches, instead of leaves, so that there will be more branches to make leaves. Somewhere along the line, there has to be a leaf-maker. Why not Purple WomenTM?

Now this first theory relies upon a related theory that one cannot 'have it all', (I do hate that phrase) that women cannot crack cold fusion while nursing two infants. I would say that while working mothers can indeed make contributions to society, some of the really big advances will need to be made by someone who is married to their work. Perhaps it can be done by someone whose spouse watches the children, but unless our culture changes dramatically, this will be the women. Flash forward to a future depicted by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in her novel, The Handmaid's Tale, where intelligent women exist as incubators for their own superior DNA while brilliant hubby saves the world. A disturbing prospect.

An even larger flaw of this 'solution' is that it rests on a conclusion regarding nature v. nurture that is far from settled science. Is passing on superior genes enough? Do people really think that a brilliant couple who has no interest in having children, but do so out of a sense of obligation, will make good parents?

The “therapy culture” we live in is not going to fade anytime soon. I have serious doubts that my own theoretical offspring will make any great contributions when they're appearing live on Dr. Phil working through the psychological scars of being unwanted. Children know when they are unwanted. A child will notice the fact that she was raised by a nanny, or a mother constantly grumbling under her breath about all she had to sacrifice. I reject the assumption that her child is any more prepared to change the world than one who was raised by parents who really loved and wanted their child, regardless of I.Q.

The next time someone espouses this theory of passing on your superior genes, ask them if they have thought it through to its logical conclusion.
In the meantime, I will firmly reject the notion that I am duty bound to pass along my biological material, rather than making my own contribution to society.
After all, my own parents sacrificed what might have been far-reaching careers to educate the young minds of America, including mine. I am not making the best of their contributions by being just another branch on an endless family tree.

[Photo originally uploaded on February 27, 2007 to Flickr by Photos of Nature's Calm.]

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LauraS said...

Great post! A close friend is writing a book on the eugenics movement. When she was pouring over the many records of people who were institutionalized and sterilized she discovered that young women were forcibly sterilized because they were young, poor, and sexually active, not because they were deemed to be "feebleminded."
It seems the founders of the American movement wanted to breed sexual proclivity out of the race, too. Luckily, eugenics fell out of favor after Hitler and they were not successful, or else we would have a whole segment of people who are childfree by disinterest (in the sexual act, I mean).

emeraldwednesday said...

A wonderful post on a great topic that's been on my mind lately. Both my husband and I have advanced degrees (but no desire for children), so this argument has been used on us once or twice. Now I have MUCH better ammo for the rebuttal- for which I thank you. :-)

Elise said...

I love the branch/leaf analogy. Just another way of saying that if having children is the only thing that makes worthwhile, then...well, call me un-worthwhile --- s'alright by me.

"Don't breed --- evolve".