« Happy Veterans' Day | Main | Why Defend Reagan on Race? »

November 11, 2007

Comments

Brett: Nope, made no such claim. Try again.

Try again?

Okay, straightforward question: if you understand that most people want to have children, then why in the world would you be worried that universal access to effective birth control would result in only the people who want to have children, having children?

Because if you do understand that most people want to have children, then there's absolutely nothing to worry about, is there? (I mean, in terms of species survival with effective birth control: obviously there is still a hell of a lot to worry about outside those narrow parameters...)

Me: Most people, gay or straight, fertile or infertile, decide they want to have children after they have coupled.

Amos: I don't believe this. It certainly doesn't apply to me (a straight male), and not to other people I know.

We might not necessarily be talking about the same thing. People may "decide" they want to have children in the general sense (i.e. someday). But they may take no active steps to actually have those children until they've found a mate.

The conversation I was having mainly with Jes was one involving the disappearance of sexual attraction from the human race, which is not quite the same as the tangent that seems to have recently become more developed among a bunch of people (and Brett - not that Brett isn't a person - he just seems to be the only one on his side).

So my question to you, Amos, is what do you think you would do about having children in a world in which you were sexually attracted to no one and no one was sexually attracted to you? (I assume that is not now the case. "Amos Newcombe" is a pretty studly sounding name.)

Ok, Jes, let's do the math:

Suppose that 70% of the population "want to have children"; That's "most", right?

Suppose, for the sake of simple math, they pair up in nuclear families, and on average each of those families has 2 children.

For every 100 people, that scenario would generate 70 children. In one generation, 100 people become 70. With the next generation, 70 become 49. With the generation after that, 49 become 34. You noticing a trend here?

"Most" people wanting to have children is perfectly consistent with the population declining exponentially, and eventually becoming too small to sustain industrial civilization.

As I say, it's not enough that some people want to have children. To keep the species going, enough people have to want to have enough children.

You've actually got the basis of a strong counter argument in that evolutionary issue you raised: Assuming any genetic basis at all behind "wanting to have children", eventually we'd evolve to want enough children. Assuming there IS that genetic basis, and assuming we lasted long enough to finish that evolution.

Both contingent assumptions.

Brett - the simple math having any validity is contingent on the assumption that decreasing numbers won't change the conditions that lead people to have too few children to maintain the population.

I think the "wanting to have children" thing is being presented in too binary a fashion. I think many people not only (really and seriously) decide they want to have children only after finding a mate (by way of sexual attraction, BTW), but that many others decide they want to have children after having children. So maybe Billy Joe and Bobby Sue didn't really want to have kids, but nature took it's course (Birds and Bees, or maybe beers), they considered medical intervention, decided against it and figured they'd see how things would go. Lo and behold, the baby's born, they absolutely fall in love their new baby, and can't imagine life without their baby. They love caring for their baby so much, they decide to have another 2 years later. All this because at one point they simply wanted each other's bods.

"So my question to you, Amos, is what do you think you would do about having children in a world in which you were sexually attracted to no one and no one was sexually attracted to you?"

Order one from the replimat?

Seriously, we're about ready to clone people now, and mixing and matching to order is obviously just down the road, including, within a few decades, the technical ability to genetically engineer just about any characteristic/design that's physically viable.

Meanwhile, people don't have sex to obtain cats and dogs and other popular pets, but there's neither a lack of available puppies and kittens, nor people to support the professional dog and cat and pet industries, which, incidentally, includes the facts that 63% of U.S. households (71.1 millions homes) own a pet, and that the American pet industry will bring in $40.8 billion in 20078.

If sexual desire, and even current reproductive ability, was eliminated tomorrow by an alien virus, or planetary radiation attack, or whatever imaginary device you prefer, but we have no problem creating test-tube babies, it seems reasonable to speculate that the resulting industry would be at least a fraction of the size of the current pet industry.

Brett: For every 100 people, that scenario would generate 70 children. In one generation, 100 people become 70. With the next generation, 70 become 49.

Actually, we're talking bigger numbers.

There are about 6 000 000 000 people in the world. About 1.7 billion of them are under 14. Suppose that every person in the world under 14 automagically became able to control their fertility, and in future would only have the children they wanted to have.

So we start out with 1 789 461 717 people. If you're right, and the number of those people who don't want to have children is as high as 30% (you haven't cited anything to back that up, but what the hell, I'll give you that for this generation AA) that means generation BB will consist of "only" 1 252 623 202 people.

And if you're further right that this 30% not-wanting-to-have-children is as innate and inevitable as sexual orientation, then the CC generation will consist of "only" 876 836 241 people. And the DD generation will consist of "only" 613 785 369 people. By this time human beings who could not control their fertility have all died out, so we're saying that in DD generation, the human species consists of "only" 4 532 706 528 people - only 4.5 billion people on a world where once 6 billion people roamed - and only six hundred and thirteen million of them under the age of 14!

Now it's true, if you keep right on down the line assuming that no matter what, there are always going to be 3 out of 10 people who just don't want to have children, not under any circumstances, and won't, you do - in only half a dozen generations! get to the point where the number of people under the age of 14 will be only about a hundred million. And in half a dozen more generations, you get to the point where there may be only as many children under 14 born and living as there were individuals who migrated out of Africa, way back when our species was a one-continent turn only.

And yes, if you extend this assumption of yours forever - that the human species has become able to consciously regulate our own fertility, no one ever has unintended unwanted children any more, and 3 out of 10 people will never have children - we might, in about 20-plus generations, be looking at extinction. Maybe.

But the idea that wanting to have children is as fixed and unalterable as sexual orientation is a pretty big assumption. As is the assumption that this would never change no matter how low the population got, and how consistently the population reproduced only from people who did want to have children.

Got anything more to say?

hairshirtdonist: So maybe Billy Joe and Bobby Sue didn't really want to have kids, but nature took it's course (Birds and Bees, or maybe beers), they considered medical intervention, decided against it and figured they'd see how things would go. Lo and behold, the baby's born, they absolutely fall in love their new baby, and can't imagine life without their baby.

Sure, I agree. But I know plenty of Billy Joes and Bobby Sues who do want children, whether or not they've met their perfect BJ or BS... ;-)

...it seems reasonable to speculate that the resulting industry would be at least a fraction of the size of the current pet industry.

Excerpts from me:

"How one could honestly believe that a complex biological system would continue with one of its most integral and basic components removed is beyond me. Of course, it might happen, but I wouldn’t be so blithely convinced of it.

"Sexual desire is interwoven into the dynamics of human reproduction on a great many levels and in ways too complex for us to fully understand.

"The long and short of it is that sexual attraction is an integral part of a very complex system of modern (in the anthropological sense) human reproduction. The assumption that this system would fail without it is the common sense position simply because the system has worked with it for some time. The assumption that this system would continue to work, were sexual attraction removed, is absurd. It might make for a theory, but one that would require monumental backup to be compelling."

That's my high-level take on it. The paper-clip industry is probably pretty large and has little or nothing to do with sexual attraction. What that says about having kids, I don't know.

hairshirthedonist: The assumption that this system would fail without it is the common sense position simply because the system has worked with it for some time.

We note that the system works without it because we note the existence of single women who identify as heterosexual who go to fertility clinics to get AID in order to have a child. Because they want the child, without actually wanting a partner.

The assumption that this system would continue to work, were sexual attraction removed, is absurd.

It's not an assumption: it's straightforward reasoning from the evidence.

It might make for a theory, but one that would require monumental backup to be compelling.

Actually, I think it's your theory - that sans sexual desire, not enough would want children enough to go to the trouble of arranging to have children to carry on the species - that requires monumental backup.

Even Brett isn't arguing that that fewer than 70% of any group just don't want children. You haven't shown any evidence to back your hypothesis that the desire to have children goes away if the desire to have sex goes away. Several people have spoken up to say that your assumption that people only know whether or not they want to have children after they "couple up" is false in their experience.

Several people have spoken up to say that your assumption that people only know whether or not they want to have children after they "couple up" is false in their experience.

And I addressed that. I'm not sure they mean what I mean. And, again, most people don't decide to have children until after they've coupled (in some fashion).

We note that the system works without it because we note the existence of single women who identify as heterosexual who go to fertility clinics to get AID in order to have a child.

That isn't "the system." It may constitute a very small sub-system within "the system."

I guess I'll just repeat this: At this point, I would suggest that there's no way we're really going to convince each other of our opposing views and we should go consult the foremost authorities on human sexuality and evolutionary biology. Maybe we'll listen to them.

I do sincerely mean the "we" part of that with regard to "listen[ing] to them." It goes for me as well as anyone else with an opinion on the subject.

Seriously, we're about ready to clone people now

Maybe we're all THAT close:

Due to the inefficiency of animal cloning (only about 1 or 2 viable offspring for every 100 experiments) and the lack of understanding about reproductive cloning, many scientists and physicians strongly believe that it would be unethical to attempt to clone humans. Not only do most attempts to clone mammals fail, about 30% of clones born alive are affected with "large offspring syndrome" and other debilitating conditions. Several cloned animals have died prematurely from infections and other complications. The same problems would be expected in human cloning. In addition, scientists do not know how cloning could impact mental development. While factors such as intellect and mood may not be as important for a cow or a mouse, they are crucial for the development of healthy humans. With so many unknowns concerning reproductive cloning, the attempt to clone humans at this time is considered potentially dangerous and ethically irresponsible.

Not can't; just that it doesn't work very well, yet. And getting it to work well might take some work.

we're not all that close, is what I meant to say.

In addition to the single straight-identifying women Jesurgliac referred to, who take active measures to have children without also seeking out partners, there are a lot of gay and bi (and, I guess, straight) men who try to do the same. It's hard to adopt or be a foster parent in a lot of jurisdictions if you don't have the government-standard orientation, but a lot of men still try, because they want very much to be fathers, for lots of different reasons.

There are communities of hard-core child-loathers, in all orientations. I used to know men like that when I was still foolish enough to think Mensa membership was worth something, but eventually I decided that I just didn't want to be around people so tied up with hating others for participating in one of biology's most basic things. There are more people who just don't feel any urge they want to acknowledge toward parenting now or in the foreseeable future. But they're still very much the minority when it comes to humanity overall--the wish for children is very widespread, and thoroughly independent of sexual orientation.

The more I think about this, especially after Gary's proposition of an alien virus, the more I think it would make a great premise for a sci-fi treatment of some sort. (I know there was a film out recently, the name of which I can't recall, although I really wanted to see it, dealing with a cessation of human births. I don't believe it had anything to do with the demise of sexual desire among humans.)

But, were sexual desire to disappear tomorrow, it would cause incredible upheaval and great unrest in every corner of the world. Witch doctors, therapists, scientists, theologians, philosophers, psychologtists would all be scrambling for answers and remedies. Suicide rates would spike. Conspiracy theorists would rule the airwaves. Just about every commercially viable script or book, old or new, would become obsolete along with a lot of poetry. Pimps, prostitutes and pornographers would be out of work. Adolescents wouldn't know what to be hung up on, obsessed with or confused about. Plastic surgeons would have to find worthwhile uses for their skills. All the facilities for alternative fertilization methods would have to find ways to rapidly increase their capacities under government mandate. Atonal music would soar in popularity. Totally nuts.

"Not can't; just that it doesn't work very well, yet."

Yes, I didn't mean anyone would be cloned next week, Slart. I meant that it would likely be what some people will consider reasonably safe "within the next decade or so."

By "some," I mean enough to work a lab here or there, and a handful of people here or there willing to go somewhere, to some state with imperfect control and surveillance of all, and able to throw a couple of ten million dollars -- or euros, or the equivalent in yen or rubles or whatever -- or more at their whims, or perhaps personal tragedies.

The entire question of whether there should be human cloning I didn't address at all, as for one thing I expect that whatever the mass of humanity decides, some labs somewhere will do it, if only on the black market and rarely.

Alternatively, perhaps our near future, of the next fifty years, or even more, will be that of a global surveillance state, in which no one can get away with anything that requires lab equipment and a clinic/hospital-like environment for what would most likely be approximately nine months.

I can't say what will happen, of course. I do figure that the odds are that there will be at least a little human cloning within current human lifetimes. I could, of course, be wrong.

But besides that, the point here is simply an abstract one about what could theoretically be possible in however distant a future, or simply as a possibility (depending on how you feel about the likelihood of an actual metaverse).

I meant that it would likely be what some people will consider reasonably safe "within the next decade or so."
I have no idea why that wound up in quotes: it should have been italics. Oops.

"I know there was a film out recently, the name of which I can't recall, although I really wanted to see it, dealing with a cessation of human births. I don't believe it had anything to do with the demise of sexual desire among humans."

Children of Men. I haven't seen it yet, though it's coming up on my Netflix queue eventually. It was nominated for the Hugo, for whatever that's worth, along with The Prestige, A Scanner Darkly, and V For Vendetta, losing to Pan's Labyrinth (which I also still haven't seen).

It was generally quite well reviewed. (92% on the Tomatometer, which is pretty damn high.)

Also for whatever it's worth, one of the more popular sf series, Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series has the more technologically advanced Beta Colony society largely reproduces by gestating embryos in artificial wombs. It's not at all the same as eliminating sexual desire, but I thought I'd mention it.

I'd say "Ethan of Athos" would be even more on topic.

At any rate, you should definitely see Pan's Labyrinth, it's an excellent film.

So my question to you, Amos, is what do you think you would do about having children in a world in which you were sexually attracted to no one and no one was sexually attracted to you? (I assume that is not now the case. "Amos Newcombe" is a pretty studly sounding name.)

I was going to dismiss this as a meaningless counterfactual, but then I remembered that this situation is actually the ideal in one or more religious traditions: sex is for procreation only; sex for fun is a sin.

Finding a mate is the first step toward having children, of course, and in the absence of sexual attraction I guess I would go to craigslist to look for a like-minded woman. Or I could be traditional and hire a marriage broker, or simply accept whatever deal my father made.

As far as actual conception, well -- stop me if this is too much information -- I can get an erection when doing math or programming. I don't think it's the math, I think it's the habit my left hand has of going downstairs while my consciousness is directed someplace else. But I expect physical stimulation would get the job done even in the absence of arousal. Not that I've ever gone all the way in such absence. But think of the many centuries when sex for procreation was a duty, and sex for fun was a sin. And think of the many arranged marriages during those times. Somebody must have reproduced without sexual attraction.

In my own life I had daydreams as a teenager of fatherhood, where I would imagine myself with my kids, and their mother was a shadowy presence. And as I look back, it worked out pretty much that way. I have two of the finest children a man could ever hope for, and both of my wives are ex, despite the name. And I count myself luckier than a friend of mine who has a solid and rewarding marriage, with a rebellious and risk-loving kid.

I'm tempted to stay we should stick a fork in this one, but after Amos' comment, I'm not sure... :)

hairshirt: The more I think about this, the more I think it would make a great premise for a sci-fi treatment of some sort.

Definitely. Both the idea of "if sexual desire disappeared, what happens?" and "if people only ever conceived when they both wanted to, what happens?"

Brett: I'd say "Ethan of Athos" would be even more on topic.

Yes, because sexual desire hasn't vanished from Athos: it's merely been completely separated from having children.

I'm tempted to stay we should stick a fork in this one....

I've said something along those lines twice, but each time I weakened and, as they did to Michael Croleone, they pulled me back in.

I should just stop this nonsense of mine, but I was thinking about people like Amos (who sounds like a wonderful father, BTW). Even those (relatively few) people who are inclined to have children outside of a coupling are so inclined in a world in which most (the vast majority) children are conceived as the result of sexual attraction. The (well, my) question is whether the example set by the vast majority of people who have kids by way of sex plays a major role in the desire to have children among those for whom the desire to have children is separate from the desire to couple or have sex. Are those who do not adhere to the norms of "the system" influenced significantly by the system and to the point that their behavior would be different were the system to change? Maybe a more straightforward way of putting it would be, do people who want to have kids without a partner of some sort want to have them because of all the people they see having kids with partners?

I'm now promising myself and anyone else reading this that I will no longer comment on this thread. Thanks for participating.

hairshirtdonist: The (well, my) question is whether the example set by the vast majority of people who have kids by way of sex plays a major role in the desire to have children among those for whom the desire to have children is separate from the desire to couple or have sex.

Er:

1. Most people's first example of "people who have kids by way of sex" is their own parents.

2. Most people - certainly most kids at the age at which you hear kids discussing how many children they want to have - do not want to even think about their parents having sex.

(Teachers of sex ed who try to discuss this with their students have quoted - actual examples! - of children aged 12 or more saying "Well, my youngest brother is 10, so my parents haven't done anything like that in years, obviously" - or "Well, there's three of us so I suppose they did that a few times, but they wouldn't do it now.)

Also: Doubtless few people these days grow up as ignorant of "how babies are made" as Victorian brides were traditionally supposed to be. But it was and has been a tradition, in many parts of the world, that a woman might marry, wanting to have children, with no notion of how children are engendered...

My mother was one of those, I think. After six births in a span of six years and a couple of months, she finally decided that having a lot more kids was just crazy, and might actually drive her insane before it killed her. Probably that was the beginning of her shedding Catholicism, although she continued to attend Catholic church for another decade and a half.

Amazing woman, my mother. Grew up Irish Catholic, had a half-dozen kids in near-record time, worked alternately as a suicide/drug/rape counselor for many years without it driving her over the edge, shed her religion, and miscellaneous other things far to specific to recount here.

If I were a better son, I'd do a better job acknowledging what a remarkable person she is.

I find this whole discussion fascinating, especially as it raises some hypothetical issues that are anything but hypothetical to me.
1 in 60 people are Intersexed, but only technically. Unless they have a thorough medical exam, they usually aren't aware of it.
1 in 1000 or so have symptoms of Intersex so blatant that they're obvious, and cause problems.
1 in 3000 are "transsexual", that is, brain one sex (as proven by autopsies, MRI scans etc), body the other. It's an intensely uncomfortable condition, but those who try to get it fixed (by modifying the body so it matches the brain) face social sanction.
1 in 10,000 people are born with ambiguous genitalia, where it's not clear which sex the baby is.
1 in 100,000 actually change apparent sex sometime after birth without medical intervention, usually at puberty, but rarely much later. Only 1 in 30 go M to F rather than the reverse though, that's even rarer than having both sex's functional reproductive systems. The legal and social problems such people face are immense.

My point is that there's a lot more in Heaven and Earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Zoe, you might want to check out a recent thread: Oh, and one more thing.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad