Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On civilization and children

After over five hundred pages chronicling the vicissitudes of The Renaissance in Italy, Will Durant recounts "The Moral Relapse":

The Church and Scriptures bade men increase and multiply, but comfort counseled infertility. Even in the countryside, where children were economic assets, families of six children were rare; in the city, where children were liabilities, families were small--the richer the smaller--and many homes had no children at all. (p.586)

It is important for a society to have children, not only because, without them it quite literally disappears, but because children represent society's hope for a better future. However impoverished, if a civilization is resplendent with children, it stands some chance at succeeding. Contrarily, as Renaissance Italy demonstrates, no matter how prosperous a nation, if it has lost faith in its future, it will begin to recede, until perhaps--but not always--that faith is rekindled.

A point could be made that the tendency of our leaders to pay for the excesses of today with the money of tomorrow is good evidence about how we feel about the future. On the one hand, it could be argued that optimism is the impetus of letting tomorrow's problems be ignored. The salient point, however, is that such intense focus on living well in the here and now at the expense of the future is irresponsible, and no mark of a balanced and healthy civilization.

But there is no need to reach for such a point when the more obvious one presents itself:

The recession is driving American demand for contraception and for abortions. The media have been riven this past week with stories about the rising number of couples and single mothers doing the math and deciding this is no time to bring a child into the world --- not when the economy is depressed, jobs are scarce and family incomes are dropping.

The media have also been rife with stories portraying this trend as something of a tragedy. Let me propose a counter view: it is not.

I don't know what media the author, Bonnie Erbe, has been reading, but if she's right about their stories, I can't help but consider this a good thing. My faith in the rationality of mankind is such that I cannot expect people to always recognize violations of the natural law; at the same time, abortion is so obviously a moral wrong that when it is finally recognized as such, our progeny will look back at our protestations to the contrary as a dark period of human history.

After recounting an individual case, Erbe continues:

Yes, it's sad that this unwed, pregnant mother of three had no money for bus fare. It's terrible that her boyfriend lost his job. It is heart-wrenching that she fell to tears in the doctor's office. But in the long run, can we agree that this unwed couple's decision not to bring a fourth child into the world when they are having trouble feeding themselves and three children is no tragedy? It's actually a fact-based, rational decision that in the end benefits the three children they already have and society as well.

The economic argument for an abortion is not only weak, it's precisely that to which the lazy Italians of yore would have resorted. Now, there are circumstances in which a family can no longer provide for another child; but this doesn't mean that it becomes morally acceptable to abort her. Abstinence is still possible, even in marriage, for extreme circumstances, and adoption is always a valid recourse.

The other problem with this argument is that it's not at all clear when a family can't afford another child. In many if not most cases, an additional child will be cost prohibitive. That it will also be the source of innumerable blessing shouldn't be forgotten. Throughout history, families have lovingly welcomed these blessings into their lives, under situations of such dire poverty which few if any Americans will ever experience, and which most of us can hardly even fathom.
Without declaring myself competent to judge individual circumstances, it seems fair to suggest that children should be valued, and that parents should only avoid having them under especially dire circumstances.

The true test of a society comes under crisis. The tendency is for politicians to manufacture them, but sometimes they appear in actuality. The endless series of hobgoblins could be ignored, but economic collapse must be confronted. We may continue to insist that luxury is the status quo, a right to which all Americans may lay claim. Or, we may put away childish things and clean the mess we see all about us. However long the recession lasts, no matter how far America relapses, civilization marches on. It always does--with children carrying its glorious banner.


troutsky said...

This seems a thin argument. How many children is a "resplendent amount"? When did zyglots become children, I must have missed it?'

It's easy from a position of privilege to spout pious absolutes, try some slum living and get back to us.

Here is a good argument for more children. They can become the producers and consumers of tomorrow, using the last of the resources so I can at least retire in comfort. Too bad for them. Circle the Popemobile, it's all but over.

High and Dry said...

NFP, Baby! Go Natural, or go home.

Troutsky, there are behaviors inherent in the nature of man that perpetuate the degenerate life of a slum. The virtuous life (often described by the Church) is the best means of overcoming those shortcomings. That human persons should be killed so that you can indulge in that lifestyle, furthermore, at cost to the State, is abhorrent and not an acceptable alternative. The solution being proposed is not "suck it up and find a way to deal with the extra mouth to feed", but rather that through a respect to the dignity of all persons, improvement will abound. Life would be better for the mother in the slum, her three children, and her boyfriend. The goal of the state is not to guarantee your 'right' to have as much sex as you want. If you'd like the government to stay out of your bedroom, stop demanding it enter when you make bad decisions.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

When did zyglots become children, I must have missed it?'

Science and technology have demonstrated the vitality of the human fetus for some time. Unless your argument in favor of abortion is utilitarian, it makes little sense to arbitrarily decide when the human fetus should be imbued with rights.

It's easy from a position of privilege to spout pious absolutes, try some slum living and get back to us.

Meanwhile, the slums continue to produce children in abundance, as they always do.

Out of curiosity, Troutsky, do you have children? I'd be interested to hear your reasons for having them if you do. If such a question is deemed too personal, forgive me for asking it.