Recently I had the opportunity to talk about why I don’t want children on SBS Insight, a popular TV program in Australia (episode 8 season 2022 here for Australians, or here for overseas). I’m not sure how many people watched the actual episode, but over 1 million people watched this clip. It was a great opportunity to share my thoughts about the ethics of procreation.
The way this opportunity came about is interesting. I browse and post on Reddit, and sometimes frequent various childfree and antinatalist subreddits. Someone from SBS must have seen me posting on one of these, and messaged me on Reddit. This lead to a phone call, which lead to an invite to come on the program.
The above clip posted on SBS Insight’s Facebook page naturally generated some contention. I had a great time responding to people’s particularly weird comments in the below video (from people wishing my parents didn’t have me to the usual bingo list of ‘you’ll change your mind’.
This topic seems to have just the right amount of controversy to be by far the most popular topic I talk about, even if you don’t include this program. My YouTube video on why I don’t want kids remains my most popular video to this day by far (it alone is half my views/watch hours on YouTube). It’s not really my main focus by any means, which I find interesting.
Vasectomies and lock-in
On another note, I am still considering a vasectomy. I’m like 99% of the way there, and the fear of chronic pain is what is holding me back. I know what I need to do to potentially alleviate these fears, I just haven’t had the time to do it yet. I will soon.
But – I have been considering the possibility of other ways to lock myself in to not having kids (as I’ve said before, I’d have a vasectomy even if I knew for sure I would change my mind and want kids in the future). One of the downsides, in my view, of a vasectomy is that it’s potentially reversible. Part of me wonders – why risk the chronic pain when I might just change my mind and get it reversed in the future? It’s not 100% reversible, and it depends on how recently you had the procedure done, but it’s a factor nonetheless.
By talking about this so much, I’ve basically done what I did with my giving pledge – I’ve at least set myself up for public embarrassment if I change my mind. I wondered at first if I could make a contract with myself to donate $100,000 to the Donald Trump reelection campaign or something I similarly disagree with if I have a child to encourage me to never change my mind. Unfortunately I don’t think you can make a contract with yourself. I’ve also considered finding someone I trust to make such a contract with them, but they might change their mind too in the future and not hold me to the contract.
I’ve also considered public bets in the style of www.longbets.org (unfortunately I don’t think my situation qualifies for “The subject of the Prediction or Bet must be societally or scientifically important”). People sometimes tell me I’ll change my mind. I’d like to challenge them to put their money where their mouth is. I would ask them for something like $100 now, with the promise of returning that plus $200 in the event I have a child in the future, adjusting that $300 for inflation and maybe 10% per year for the time value of money (I’d have to do it this way unless we set a specific date by which I have to have had children, but I’d rather it be in perpetuity).
This would not only be a free source of money as far as I’m concerned, but it would also help to lock me in. The more bets I take, the more I’m incentivised to never have children. Plus it would be rather satisfying to either prove these people wrong with this bet, or to see their face when I challenge them to put their money where their mouth is.
5 thoughts on “Some new thoughts on not having kids (Look ma, I was on TV!)”
So you don’t believe that the purpose of evolution is to perpetuate the species (or the genes for that matter)?
What? Another crazy anti-evolutionist in our midst.
Or are you suicidal and just do not have the gonads to do it?
Me: I just think I can help others more by not having a kid.
John: Are you suicidal?
Michael, the maths are against you.
You have, say, 2 kids, raise them to be moral, and they can then help others more than you can by yourself. Your wife chips in and doubles the work accomplished.
Have three, four…kids and more people are helped.
Your progeny go on and have their own kids and…I think you can now do the maths.
Of course, I am not saying you should stop helping people while raising your children.
Summed together, all of this increases the greater good far more than li”le ol’ you can do by yourself.
As an aside, do you not think that, in some really, really weird way, your stance is the ultimate in narcissism or even solipsism.
Solipsism? No, this isn’t even related. Narcissism? No, the opposite. How do you get narcissism from “I will dedicate my life to helping others instead of having a child”?
I’m doing the maths, but coming to a different conclusion. Thinking that ones’ children will do a lot of good is, frankly, wishful thinking. Compare the number of well meaning parents and the number of people who do a significant amount of good in their lives. My children are, even if I thought I’d be a good parent, most likely to be not that philanthropic. I’d expect regression to the mean. My child might even be a murderer. Why are people so confident their children will be the next great benefactor?
Besides, if my children take the same logic, there wouldn’t be much actual ‘good doing’ going on. At some point, you need to cash out on the exponential logic. It might as well be me, especially if you think we are at an important time in history.
Even if my goal was specifically to go for the exponential growth of influencing the next generation, having 2 or 4 children seems like one of the least efficient ways to do this. Why wouldn’t my partner and I spend the $500,000 per child on influencing the next generation in other ways, e.g. through education etc. How little imagination one must have to not be able to think of a away to influence the next generation more effectively with $500,000 than just having one child. Surely thinking “my child will be different despite the statistics being stacked against it” is more narcissism.
1. “Solipsism…Narcissism? No, the opposite. How do you get narcissism from “I will dedicate my life to helping others instead of having a child”?”
Lots of reasons.
a. So a child is not another person?
b. When you “dedicate” (Oh, Michael, how noble of you!) your life to others, you can always take a lengthy holiday from the project and dedicate your life to yourself. However, with a child, even when the child is not present (e.g., at school), there is no real rest, no possibility of a sabbatical. Child-rearing, really, truly, is about the other.
c. Because you have made a conscious decision to eliminate the possibility of other humans coming into existence because YOU want to “dedicate” yourself, your very noble self, to the very, very altruistic goal of being a saviour to the world. And how do I know this? Because you made sure you told me and all your readers that that is your noble, self-effacing raison d’etre.
d. When you “dedicate” yourself to helping others, like animals (ever bumped into a really appreciative furry friend who is capable of expressing a ‘thank you very much’ and placing a picture of Michael next to its bedside table?), the fact that this “dedication” is merely your chosen journey to authenticating yourself to yourself (i.e., giving your life meaning). It’s how your squeeze purpose for your ultimately meaningless life. After all, in the BIG PICTURE, face it Michael, your journey, 2 billion years ago, from pond scum to now, is, well, truly without meaning. In another 20 years, let alone another 2 billion, no one’s going to remember, let alone care about, you. Face up to the reality: you’re nothing but “glorified” star dust/pond scum.
e. Surely Michael you aren’t expecting anyone to actually believe that your life has any truly substantive, temporally extended meaning? Need I remind you that the universe, from go to whoa, isn’t capable of giving a periodic table two-hoots about your fillip’s existence? In the long run, your three-score-and-ten, if you’re lucky, ephemeral presence can only be about you. No one, no child or grandchild would be there to remember you or think of you: it’s only you thinking about you, now.
f. The people you’ve so “selflessly” “dedicated” your life to won’t be around. The only transitory constant is your thoughts about yourself selflessly dedicating yourself to others. But so what?
2. “I’m doing the maths, but coming to a different conclusion. Thinking that ones’ children will do a lot of good is, frankly, wishful thinking. Compare the number of well meaning parents and the number of people who do a significant amount of good in their lives.”
“That which is asserted without evidence can be summarily dismissed without evidence.”
While gazing at asteroids and other interstellar objects, you’ve found time to do some fairly detailed statistical research in this area, have you?
BTW, define ‘good’. (You may want to note G.E. Moore’s insight to this problematic definition.)
3. “My children are, even if I thought I’d be a good parent, most likely to be not that philanthropic. I’d expect regression to the mean.”
May I suggest this comment says a lot more about you rather than any hypothetical children you may have.
And yet you define yourself as being up to the task of “dedicat[ing your] life to helping others”? Huh???
4. “My child might even be a murderer.”
See point 3.
5. “Why are people so confident their children will be the next great benefactor?”
No, that’s the CHALLENGE of being a parent: You want your kid to be better than you. It’s a battle for all sorts of reasons. It’s a struggle, that despite all the errors you make as a parent, in the end, it’s worth it.
6. “Besides, if my children take the same logic, there wouldn’t be much actual ‘good doing’ going on. At some point, you need to cash out on the exponential logic.”
I like it, as in, “it’s really convincing”, that you throw in some data-free thought bubbles with some data-free maths language.
7. “It might as well be me, especially if you think we are at an important time in history.”
Me! Me! Me! Nope, no surreptitious narcissism or solipsism looming there. None indeed!
Define ‘important’ vis-à-vis any other “important” time in history.
8. “Even if my goal was specifically to go for the exponential growth of influencing the next generation, having 2 or 4 children seems like one of the least efficient ways to do this. Why wouldn’t my partner and I spend the $500,000 per child on influencing the next generation in other ways, e.g. through education etc. How little imagination one must have to not be able to think of a away to influence the next generation more effectively with $500,000 than just having one child.”
Repeat: “That which is asserted without evidence can be summarily dismissed without evidence.”
In any case, how do you, Michael, track the “important” changes you’ll supposedly usher in once you’re dead and the universe doesn’t mark your permanent disappearance with even a single clap?
9. My final thoughts on the subject: Behind that Stoic façade of yours, ostensibly at peace with the ultimate implosion of the universe and, long before, your own non-existence, lies the inescapable personal struggle with life’s ultimate purposelessness. I think Thomas Nagel eloquently sums up your angst:
“Life can be wonderful, but even if it isn’t, death is usually much worse. If it cuts off the possibility of more future goods than future evils for the victim, it is a loss no matter how long he has lived when it happens. And in truth, as Richard Wollheim says, death is a misfortune even when life is no longer worth living. [This is] what’s hard to get hold of: the internal fact that one day this consciousness will black out for good and subjective time will simply stop. My death as an event in the world is easy to think about; the end of my world is not. There will be a last day, a last hour, a last minute of consciousness, and that will be it. Off the edge.” (View from Nowhere, Oxford University Press, NY, 1986, pp. 224-5.)
I don’t believe any of this, Michael – but, to be perfectly consistent with your worldview, you should.