If you're not worried, why not?
April 14, 2007 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Anxiety about the long term prognosis for the United States, the middle class, homo sapiens sapiens. Am I the only one who finds the fear about these things overwhelming? If I am the only one, what comfort should I take?

I'm struggling at the moment with the idea of having kids with my girlfriend, because I wonder what world we would bring them into, or how we would support them. This has brought a general low-level anxiety up into level orange.

I talk about this with my friends but I wanted to open it up to MeFi. I have this nagging sense that those around me get on fine, moving forward with some degree of comfort that things are somehow going to work out. Do most folks believe that? And if they don't, how do they pretend otherwise, exactly?

Not asking rhetorically.

Before anyone offers a diagnosis, I'll clarify that yes, I suffer from depression and that yes, I take the appropriate steps to mitigate it. But this doesn't feel like depression to me. It just feels like fear... abstract fear maybe, but I can't shake the sense that it's a fear that's reasonable, rational, and impossible to metabolize.
posted by cloudscratcher to Religion & Philosophy (60 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, it feels dark right now.
It's been even darker sometimes.
But after you have a child (mine is 7 months old), so much of that goes away.
And I feel more confident than ever about the world and the future because my little boy is part of it and my love for him is stronger and stranger than anything else I've ever experienced.
I'm glad you're asking these questions.
We're gonna be ok.
posted by Dizzy at 7:41 PM on April 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


I went through the same sort of thing on the eve of the decision to have kids. I have to imagine that most thinking people do. To get past it I went back in time and proposed to myself if I would of elected to have children if I was 28 years old in 1972, the state of the nation must of seemed downright awful to birthing age adults at that point in history- for the United States anyway.

History plodded on and things did work out. The kids grew up and became the next set of folks to worry about it. Then I generlized it- not having kids would be the bigger problem; there wouldn't be anyone to fix the things we screwed up in our life time.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:44 PM on April 14, 2007


Whenever I start to think myself into a vortex, the following two things help me the most. They might be a little platitude-y, but I find that comforting in a way I haven't found anything since I was four and my mom was the source of all wisdom.

The first is the Serenity Prayer (which I love even as an agnostic):

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


The second is this poem from Walt Whitman:

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

posted by granted at 7:52 PM on April 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Read through this list, and ask yourself if you think people should have stopped procreating at any of those points.
posted by martinrebas at 7:55 PM on April 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Whenever I feel like I can't do something, or that I should just sit back because of what might happen, I re-read the stanza of this poem:

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

- T.S. Eliot, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock

This is more of a reminder of what happens when you lose your life to inaction rather than action. I'm not so much saying you should make bad decisions, or that you're not normal for feeling this way; often, the amount of fear I feel about the future and the meaning of life is paralyzing, staring at the ceiling at night. However, this helps me center myself...that and a good nights sleep.

Hope it helps you as well.
posted by plaidrabbit at 7:58 PM on April 14, 2007


I'm struggling at the moment with the idea of having kids with my girlfriend, because I wonder what world we would bring them into, or how we would support them.

Sometimes I think that too then I recall that I make over 10 times what my parents made when they had me. They were so broke at various points...that, well, I could tell you stories. And yet I had a fantastic, wonderful almost idyllic childhood. Whether someone had a great childhood had more to do with the family love and support they got than with how much money the family made.

Do most folks believe that? And if they don't, how do they pretend otherwise, exactly?

Knowing that the future is uncertain and yet taking care of the present is what humans are good at. If we let the potential future paralyze us, its horror would then become self-fulfilling.

As an extreme example, take Death. We all know our own death is coming but to let that paralyze you today is to take away what Life you do have. Thus anyone who obsesses too much about their mortality is (rightly) considered to be unduly depressed.

To summarize: :"Moving forward with some degree of comfort that things are somehow going to work out" is how humans deal with Life because its the only option. Sitting around wringing your hands in fear is no way to live life.

Things may seem bad right now and I dont want to minimize that but keep in mind that for large chunks of human history, the End of the World has always seemed imminent:

*In the 1950's it seemed obvious that we were all going to blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons.
*In WWII, it looked like the "future" consisted of endless world wars and totalitarian governments.
*The 1918 Flu decimated the worlds population.
*Before that we've had plagues and endless wars that would drive anyone to despair.

Despite all that, people have continued to have kids. Kids aren't just the embodiment of hope, they also represent our sometimes foolish but noble will to survive and keep going. That despite these sorrows, the gift of being alive is still worth fighting for.
posted by vacapinta at 7:59 PM on April 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


I imagine thing seemed incredibly dark during the Plague, the Inquisition, the Depression. In any generation, things can seem remarkably black, but we tend to survive and move on.

Yes - I worry now. We're on the verge of the blackest time in my life, and we have no leadership whatsoever in this country. Still, I have a 16-year-old daughter, so I can't give up or encourage her to give up. Do the best you can. Every day, leave behind something good, something positive. Make a difference, however small. Seems like a platitude, but when you can't change the big things, change the small ones.
posted by clarkstonian at 8:01 PM on April 14, 2007


I'm 58. My son is 34. If I he were to ask me, I would say, no, don't have kids.

The sadness of this is sometimes overwhelming. I'm doing all I can to change the headlong rush into bad things, but it always feels like it isn't enough.

Time to open another bottle of wine....
posted by HuronBob at 8:06 PM on April 14, 2007


The state of the union is bad. The forces of Radical Christianity and uber-nationalism are trying to usurp -- and are succeeding -- power in this country (U.S.), attempting to displace reason and science with dogma and voodoo. Our economy is in the hands of the Chinese, who so far are still financing us through continued purchasing of US bonds. When they decide the the Euro is more stable, they'll cash in the bonds and we'll sink into a depression. Peak oil will wreak havoc on every aspect of our lives. Air and water are in an increasingly fragile state, and a giant asteroid is headed our way. I can't imagine why you would feel uneasy about bring a child into this world.

Seriously, I don't think you should be as concerned as you are. If you want kids, have some. The only thing that will really happen is that the U.S. will cease to be the world's superpower. That may lead us to be more global in perspective and cooperative in the international system. That would benefit us all. As far as terrorism goes, Britons were the victims of regular terrorist attacks by the IRA, but they learned to live with it. Just pray that you kids don't turn out to be gay, because that is one attribute in the U.S. that is unacceptable to Christian fundamentalists...oh yeah, and hope that they don't develop a neurodegenerative disease because the C.F.s won't allow embryonic stem cell research and your kids will be relegated to a life of suffering.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:13 PM on April 14, 2007


With political discourse so easy to find on the web, and with the vast majority of it expressed in that grey area between "reasonable" and "chock full o' hyperbole," it's easy to start absorbing that noise and connecting your own dots.

Depending on what you're reading and interpolating, you might believe our very society is crumbling in the secular culture wars against morality, or that maybe the infiltration of televangelist-endorsed sycophants into our justice system is sowing the seeds of an American theocracy. You might live in fear of the proliferation of terror, or you might believe we're currently emboldening an entire generation of terrorists with our foreign policy failures.

It's easy to panic. I read this stuff and could pull my hair out trying to figure out what the end game is, and I think I tend to use it as a distraction from reality to some extent. I mean, I know it is reality, but there's a difference. No matter how much I want to scream and yell about John Yoo's unitary executive theory, there's not a whole helluva lot I can do about it. What I can influence is the world around me. Same with you.

If you want to bring your child into a world that has meaning, beauty, safety and peace, it starts with what you can directly control. Make your home a warm and welcoming place, then channel your obvious energy and passion into local politics. Go to city council and school board meetings. Meet like-minded people. Discuss what you believe. Listen, learn, offer to help. This is how you bring your values into the mainstream. Act locally. And good luck to you and your family.
posted by peacecorn at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Stephen Hawking had the same question you did. (He didn't go to AskMe, he went to Yahoo.)
posted by ALongDecember at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2007


This seems normal to me, in the HHGTTG sense of perfectly normal paranoia. You're comparing the world you see around you as an adult to the world you vaguely remember as a kid. Of course the world looks like it's going to shit under those circumstances.

In a few years, you'll realize that this is what's going on and calm down. It will really sink home when you have to tell other people ("young whippersnappers") that the times from their youth that they're idealizing felt like complete going-to-shit turmoil to grownups (and adolescents) then.

Me, I'll say this: Along almost any axis, the early-mid 1980s were just as bad as now, except they also had the omnipresent danger of accidental global thermonuclear war. If I were in your shoes in 1987, someone a few years older might have pointed out that whatever was going on then was small potatoes compared to the gut-wrenching horror of 1968.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:16 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


If I am the only one, what comfort should I take?

Clearly, you are not the only person to think about these things.

The best answer I can give is simply that people -- as a species -- have always muddled through so far, despite some pretty miserable points. Will the American middle-class, leave-it-to-beaver lifestyle always be available? Probably not. But are we likely to go extinct, or even to end up wandering around in a post-apocalyptic landscape being chased by feral dogs and gigantic cockroaches? Also probably not. Somewhere in there, though, is room for pleasure, laughter, and other things that make life ok.

Whether or not you have kids is your decision. But I don't think that you need to base it on whether the planet is likely to implode. (And really, if you do seriously think that the dark years are coming, you'd better start having kids, because you will need them as labor to farm fields, to take care of you in your old age, and to defend your post-apocalyptic farmstead against the roving bands of flesh-eating crazies, right? I'm joking, but not really -- if social security goes belly-up, your kids will be your sole source of support in your old age. Bad times a-comin' means "procreate!", without delay.)
posted by Forktine at 8:19 PM on April 14, 2007


Sure, things will be fine. Chances are nothing too bad will happen here to you. I think people are more afraid here (in the US) than in countries where really bad things have actually occurred.

If you've a job, family or friends, and/or money, then don't worry. I'm not being snarky. I'm serious. People die everyday and the world goes on. All being an adult really means is realizing that someday you'll die as will those around you.

I say have kids--at least 2 or 3. That increases the likelihood that when you get old, at least one will be able to provide some support. Social security probably will not be around.

During their childhood, you'll support them just fine. Public schools exist for this reason. Keep your credit good and put aside a little for college. Loans will always be around.

Are you worrying about abstract things like Global Warming? Don't. You can't do anything about it. I used to cut the rings from the plastic ties that held soda. I don't anymore.

Pray if you feel that will do any good. Use whatever brings you comfort and doesn't hurt other people.

(Of course, I always wonder why the people in third world coutries don't just pray harder so they could stop being poor. Maybe they just don't believe enough.)
posted by who squared at 8:20 PM on April 14, 2007


As a counterpoint to plaidrabbit, there is this poem by Philip Larkin: This Be the Verse. It won't make you feel better.
posted by squink at 8:21 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


The only way to guarantee that things won't somehow work out is to sit down and give up. Barring that, well, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
posted by Partial Law at 8:22 PM on April 14, 2007


Since people are quoting AA, Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot, I feel empowered to quote my personal poet laureate, Neil Peart:

The hopeful depend on a world without end
whatever the hopeless may say.


In other words, dark times are always with us; they come and go, oscillating their waves of relative darkness like a sine wave. But the only reason we are able to perceive them as darkness is because of all of the incomprehensible goodness that they encroach upon.

The fact that you perceive things as "bad" means that there is a "good" to compare it to. Just as there is no such thing as "cold" - there is only heat or the absence of heat - there really isn't any such thing as "bad" or "evil" or whatever. It's just a momentary dip in the great cosmic sine wave of joy. And it will get better. So yeah, have children, because children are the greatest things in the world, and they bring up the average.
posted by jbickers at 8:27 PM on April 14, 2007


The gist of these arguments in favor of having kids seems to be either:

a) I can't give up;

b) Kids make you feel better;

c) It's always worked out before (1972, plague times, the depression, etc. all passed, and here you are);

(a) Doesn't really comfort me; (b) probably wouldn't work for me; and (c) doesn't seem very sound logically.

Since I don't really think I can rely on Charlton Heston (sorry, Mr. Heston), what I could do is ask: what would be a reasonable criterion for whether to have children or not?

I don't really know; but one idea is to ask whether they might experience more pleasure/happiness than pain/sadness in whatever span they'd have to live. I think the likely answer is yes, as long as they didn't have some kind of terrible health problem and so live a long time in pain. People find happiness in the oddest places.

Selfishly speaking, I could ask whether they'd give more happiness to my own life than they'd take away (through restricting my freedom, worry about them, etc.) - again, the answer may well be yes, as long as my own expectations for them were reasonable.

Then I might ask whether I'd make a good parent - I'm pretty sure _I_ wouldn't (partly because I do tend to be gloomy, fatalistic, perfectionistic, and have a non-ideal dental history), but you probably would do better than me.
posted by amtho at 8:28 PM on April 14, 2007


Long term, the thought of our species becoming extinct is a deliriously happy thought. Shorter term, I think not having kids is a very positive choice to make the world more liveable. There are too many of us, it seems obvious to me, and many of us who do not have enough. Whether you produce another poor person who has not enough or another rich person who takes ipso facto too much, neither is a benefit to the world. But then I prefer rocks and birds to people, so I do have a bias. All you can do, really, is take some time regularly to ponder what you can contribute and how you can improve things, and don't be a purely selfish shit like most people. What you consider a contribution or something of value is an important decision you have to make, or keep making.
posted by Listener at 8:31 PM on April 14, 2007


The future bleak?

Yes, America isn't in its best form right now, but given any era in history and location in the world, April 14 2007 USA is in the top 2% of times and places to be in the history of time. Is there another time or location that suits you better? How about 20 years ago when we were all scared shitless that all earth's population would die in a nuclear holocaust. Or 30 years ago when we were dying in Vietnam, or 40 years ago and we were dying in Korea and there was segregation and race riots. Or 50 years ago when we imprisoned Japanese Americans out of war paranoia. And so on...

Or before modern medicine, refrigeration, Penicillin, widespread literacy, the abolition of slavery...

If you think now is a dark time you need a history lesson. If you're not willing to get some perspective, the world doesn't need any more ignorant children with ignorant parents.
posted by Ookseer at 8:42 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised so many people have such a negative view of the future. Even though I wouldn't consider myself an optimist, I still feel that everything will turn out fine.

Bad things will happen, but the world's not going to fall apart. There will be social security, your kids will be able to go to college, and your house will not be destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

Have kids, they'll work through their own problems and will be happy to be alive.
posted by piper4 at 8:43 PM on April 14, 2007


Yeah, the world is messed up and likely to get worse. Internalizing that and Worrying About Everything only makes you feel bad (Worry != Action). There is still beauty and wonder in the world. Seek some out and you'll feel better.

As to procreation, I justify the idea of having children (max. two only--replacing myself and my spouse... any more and we'll adopt 'em), figuring that my kids will likely be better adjusted, more well-rounded, kind, and thoughtful people than the vast number of terrible, selfish morons that the rest of this global macroculture is churning out and the world will be better off in the long run with them in it than without.
posted by maniactown at 8:43 PM on April 14, 2007


Do not have children. Your misgivings are totally warranted. Bringing more kids into this world is like selling berths on a sinking ship. If your parents were born pre-1950, their generation has seen world population more than double. Taking a look at a graph of world population over the long term, we see that the industrial revolution as made possible by oil has allowed human population to rocket prodgiously. Many of our most pressing problems are the result of population swell, and you can either act to stem the tide or reverse it. If you're an environmentalist, look at it this way: even the most ecologically friendly human has many times more impact than no human at all. I'd rather see humanity go out gradually instead of in some sort of cataclysm. The prospects aren't good, but we can try.

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement has put together a wonderful FAQ, and I'll refrain from duplicating their effort.

Make a difference, however small. Seems like a platitude, but when you can't change the big things, change the small ones.

Yes! Exactly! The difference you can make is not adding to humanity or the earth's burden with one more person. This is a much bigger (and easier) effect you can have than anything else - short of working out the kinks of fusion power or brokering world peace.

In the 1950's it seemed obvious that we were all going to blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons.

Yes, and? That was only less than 60 years ago, have patience. The whole planet is still very much wired up to explode

The "every generation thought things were bad, and here we are" argument is comically fallicious. So, by induction, we'll always be fine? Every other time we were at the brink, we pulled out, so no matter how bad things get, we'll be fine? Blind faith is one response to a seemingly insurmountable threat. I think you can fight the good fight just as well without deluding yourself.

Humanity will survive until the earth becomes uninhabitable (which is somewhat hard to put a timeline on). We'd be very hard to wipe out entirely. But my generation will begin to catch the brunt earned by the incompetence of our forebears, and I'd hate to be responsible for bringing someone into the world when things are really getting hard. Plus, you'll make this rough period easier for everyone.

If you really want to do some good and think you'd be good at taking care of children, pick up the slack for those less responsible and be an adoptive or foster parent.
posted by phrontist at 8:43 PM on April 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Well, I think that you might want to think a little bit about the human condition:

A million years ago, eaten by lions. No medicine. Death by starvation a real possibility.

Two thousand years ago, the roman empire was burning cities to the ground, looting, raping and pillaging- sowing fields with salt so nothing would ever grow.

A thousand years ago, four hundred years without progress outside of monasteries- people huddled together in the dark, while the plague killed one in a hunder.

A hundred and fifty years ago, a civil war ripped the US apart- hundreds of thousands dead.

A hundred years ago- the eve of the great war, with industrialized slaughter- poison gas and machine guns.

Seventy years ago- worldwide economic failure, dust bowls in the midwest.

Sixty years ago- madmen and fascists murdering millions. China and Russia run by mass-murderers. On the other hand, Penicillin and modern medicine really get started.

Forty years ago- all-out nuclear war barely averted in Cuba.

Twenty years ago- Everyone convinced that Reagan is going to end the world, bombing the soviets and the us back to the stone age.

So yeah, there's a guy running the country you don't like, theocratic morons shaking their swords from caves in waziristan, and a chance that sea levels might rise in 50 years to where we lose the outer banks in North Carolina.

By any historical standard, if you think that times now are so bleak that you shouldn't reproduce- then you should punch your grandmother in the mouth for daring to have your parents- because, face it, things were way worse then.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:45 PM on April 14, 2007 [5 favorites]


manictown said: As to procreation, I justify the idea of having children (max. two only--replacing myself and my spouse... any more and we'll adopt 'em), figuring that my kids will likely be better adjusted, more well-rounded, kind, and thoughtful people than the vast number of terrible, selfish morons that the rest of this global macroculture is churning out and the world will be better off in the long run with them in it than without.

These exact arguments are covered in the VHEMT FAQ. See "Aren't the wrong people having babies?" and "If we only have two children, won't we replace ourselves?".
posted by phrontist at 8:48 PM on April 14, 2007


remember that children are not just sponges. they will not simply passively absorb what is around them; they will grow up and one day become agents in their own right, actors and participants in the world.

it doesn't seem to me that you are anxious about the state of things so much as you are anxious that you will be unable to mitigate their influence on your child. you might want to do some confidence-building with your therapist.

as for the financial part, do some research and draw up a budget. decide if you think parenthood is going to be more or less rewarding than the things you'll have to give up. chances are, if you really love your girlfriend and want to be a father, it will be. on the other hand, you are still young. if it will make you feel better, talk to your girlfriend about a mutually acceptable timeline (assuming she's your age, she has about 7 years before biology starts working against you) and set up a baby fund so you can go into that first year with some financial security.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:48 PM on April 14, 2007


...I wonder what world we would bring them into, or how we would support them.

Another way to turn this around is to wonder who will support you. Unless you expect the world to end -- literally or metaphorically -- in the next few decades, you will probably live to old age. Your well being will depend on having new generations following you, including younger persons to grow the food, bring it the stores, be the doctors and nurses, and so on and on. If life will go on, then maybe it would be even better that it include the children of thoughtful and well-meaning persons like you.

In a very personal sense, I think about these issues because I am a gay man without children. I have the primary responsibility for monitoring the condition and care of my sick elderly parents. My brothers and sisters have their own families and children and grandchildren to focus on. I talk on the phone with my parents' care providers frequently, and I drive across Texas to see them, and I wonder sometimes, "who will be there for me?" I have no answer for that, since my partner is also quite ill and I expect him to predecease me by many years.

Your children, though, will be there for you. And in a more collective sense, they will be there for everyone.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:50 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks to this very medium (the Internet), we are exposed to everything that happens, when it happens, with alarming "BREAKING NEWS" banners slapped across the TV and computer monitors. Then, we all get on the various forums and talk about what this means for the future of humankind. It isn't that things are worse, it's that the speed with which news travels makes it seem worse. Honest. Have your children.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:53 PM on April 14, 2007


The "every generation thought things were bad, and here we are" argument is comically fallicious. So, by induction, we'll always be fine? Every other time we were at the brink, we pulled out, so no matter how bad things get, we'll be fine?

It would be comically fallacious if that were the argument. The point was that there have been many times in history, perhaps most, when folks felt things were as bad as they are today.

You're also misusing induction. Induction tells us the sun will likely rise tomorrow. It doesnt guarantee us that it will always rise. The distinction is slight but important.
posted by vacapinta at 8:54 PM on April 14, 2007


By any historical standard, if you think that times now are so bleak that you shouldn't reproduce- then you should punch your grandmother in the mouth for daring to have your parents- because, face it, things were way worse then.

Things appeared to be getting worse, but were in fact getting better. There is good reason to believe that things are in fact getting worse now. Those who share this view could be wrong, but I don't think I'd ever kick myself for adopting instead of procreating if things miraculously turn out great.

I should add that while I don't think you should have children, as a way of heding your moral bets, life right now is fantastic. Even if things are going down the tube, I'm enjoying every minute of it. This is one of the most exciting times to be alive. For example, I'm writing stuff (I'm literate!) that people all over the world will read tonight. It's easier than ever to be educated. Many more people than at any time in history live without physical want. Joepie!
posted by phrontist at 8:56 PM on April 14, 2007


Thanks, martinrebas, the list is fantastic.

cloudscratcher, you may be interested in reading A History of Violence by Steven Pinker (my bold):
In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.
The fact that we have better and better perceptions makes us learn everyday about new horror stories but it seems that, over all, there are less and less horror stories.
posted by bru at 8:57 PM on April 14, 2007


Induction tells us the sun will likely rise tomorrow. It doesnt guarantee us that it will always rise. The distinction is slight but important.

I never implied your argument provided a garuntee. Only that it ascribed undue liklihood to a rosy future.

Surrounded by orphans, would you have had a child at the height of the plauge?
posted by phrontist at 9:07 PM on April 14, 2007


bru: The fact that we have better and better perceptions makes us learn everyday about new horror stories but it seems that, over all, there are less and less horror stories.

Yes, absolutely. Old threats to human wellbeing are certainly on the decline, its the things we haven't gone through - loss of our primary energy source in the form of fossil fuels and nuclear/biological weapons are what give me give me pause - simply because we've never dealt with them before and so history provides no comfort.
posted by phrontist at 9:13 PM on April 14, 2007


Yeah, sure, life is worth living and all that. The things that make it so will always be there. Love, and do what thou wilt.

Having children though, well I guess we'd all be better off if more people didn't. This planet is getting a bit crowded. It'd probably work out fine for the happy parents, but pause to think of the tragedy of the commons.
posted by sfenders at 9:23 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe your kid will be the one to solve the world's problems, and if you don't have him we'll be totally screwed.
posted by amro at 9:43 PM on April 14, 2007


I have read none of the other responses

All I can offer by way of help is:

Sympathy for your pain and the advice not to worry so much. Humans must have always existed, and even evolved, in stressfull conditions. Look around for positive and cool things and you will find them. In the mean time, well, could be worse for you and me.
posted by longsleeves at 10:06 PM on April 14, 2007


Maybe your kid will be the one to solve the world's problems, and if you don't have him we'll be totally screwed.

According to the book Fair Play, anchorman Ted Baxter planned to have six children in hopes that one of them would grow up to solve the world's population problem.
posted by martinrebas at 10:10 PM on April 14, 2007


Such a down thread. I don't care because it doesn't matter, assuming things are so bad, but they're not.

If you're not feeling cool about the future then definitely do not have children. Any children you may have will have to deal with a lot more future than you and even if things aren't so bad you would probably worry about the terrible world your children are facing.

Try some futurism, thinking about things could go good can help feel alright about the prospect of tomorrow: Info-Psychology

By the way, things will work out. There is no alternative. Things are just going to work out in ways you can't even begin to imagine, don't worry about the how. The why is simple: that's what things do.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:24 PM on April 14, 2007


Yeah, the world is messed up and likely to get worse better.

(Fixed that for you.)

It pretty much always has. What are the chances that of all the people in all the history of the world that we're the ones that are right about seeing the end in our lifetimes? I mean, sure, someone will have to be right about that someday; I just think the chances of it being us are infinitessimally small. I think a lot of people use the idea that times are bad as an excuse to live their lives without trying to make things better. The only things you can influence are the things around you, and you can choose to be a positive force, or to give up.
posted by MsMolly at 10:24 PM on April 14, 2007


Good people need to reproduce. That's the future's only hope. That you're concerned about these things, IMO, qualifies you as "good people."
posted by treepour at 11:14 PM on April 14, 2007


Well, I'm with phrontist, but then I'm one of those doom-and-gloom radical environmentalists they're always decrying on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. There's quite a well written blog post here arguing the environmentalist case for not having kids- I don't want to get into all of that too much myself lest I sound like a sanctimonious hippy, but that post and the VHEMT site pretty well sum up my feelings on the issue.

I don't know how much the environment is a particular area of concern for you, but whatever your main worries are, it might be worth considering what most appeals to you about having kids. Obviously you have the desire to do so, or this question wouldn't have come up- I know for some people the thought of having children who are their biological offspring is a very important part of it, while for others, it's more the general idea of raising children that appeals. If you feel you're more the latter, I would strongly recommend looking into adoption- whatever your concerns about the state of the world, an adoptive child has already been brought into it, and you would likely give that child a much better life than he or she would have had otherwise, whatever the future may hold.

On the subject of general fear for the future, well, again, I won't go into it too much, but, yeah, I know what that's all about, and it's not an easy thing to deal with. Pessimistic as I am though, I don't regard it as an excuse for inaction. Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare þe ure maegen lytlað, and all that...
posted by a louis wain cat at 11:23 PM on April 14, 2007


Look, is western culture going to stop, full stop, in the next twenty years? Sixty? I doubt it, I have a pretty good job, and I think if I wanted to start a family (from my 25 year old, cocky perspective) I sure as hell could. Come heck or high water, I'd provide somehow. Of course I worry a little bit, but why? If things fail, then I have to find a way to cope the best I can. Which is really what I should do anyway, the best I can, right?

Threats to humanity, population control, blah blah blah. If you want a kid, have one. That's who has children and propagates the species, in the end. It'll work. Name a person you know who has absolutely failed -- are they dead? Are their children? Is it harsh? That's the worst you'll probably get, if you fail or are unlucky.

Define "things are going to work out". If that means that everyone lives in a cute little suburban village with infinite fossil fuels, SUVs for everyone, and perfect little schoolchildren, maybe not. If it means you try your hardest and give what you can, then you've got it.
posted by mikeh at 11:59 PM on April 14, 2007


"We are all in this alone" Lily Tomlin
posted by hortense at 12:53 AM on April 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


What are the chances that of all the people in all the history of the world that we're the ones that are right about seeing the end in our lifetimes?

Who knows? It's a meaningless question.

I mean, sure, someone will have to be right about that someday; I just think the chances of it being us are infinitessimally small.

From whence do you derive this comforting information?

I think a lot of people use the idea that times are bad as an excuse to live their lives without trying to make things better.

Really? I think there are many more people running around absolving themself of reckless behavior (like having 9 kids) because "things will work out". I can't think of many who are being reckless because they feel we're doomed anyway. Except certain rapture-ready christians, but thats a somewhat unusual case.

The only things you can influence are the things around you, and you can choose to be a positive force, or to give up.

I don't think anyone disagrees here, except on the matter of including childlessness on one's list of positive action.

Good people need to reproduce. That's the future's only hope. That you're concerned about these things, IMO, qualifies you as "good people."

Should narcissists reproduce? Or are they not "good people"?

Some say that their religious or political belief system needs more members to make the world a better place, but there's no guarantee that offspring will follow the traditions of their parents. In fact, just the opposite seems to be the norm in modern societies. Besides, if the only people who will accept a belief system are those born into it, there must be some serious flaws in that system. - VHEMT
posted by phrontist at 1:18 AM on April 15, 2007


As a counter-point to those of you recounting short human histories, I think the questioner is trying to express that you're forgetting one more important variable.

Yes, as time has progressed, humans have generally become better off. From hunter-gathering to agrarian societies to political ones, and on up. However, the important variable you're missing is the ability for humans to control their environment.

In the not-so-distant past, the most control we had was the ability to combine naturally-occurring minerals to make semi-permanent concrete roads from one place to another. Earth-works remain the lasting testament of cultures not that far removed from our own.

However, as our technology has progressed, we have become more capable of altering our own environment. This of course has led to great decreases in human suffering, but it also makes the chance of screwing things up permanently much less than zero.

Whereas before modern America, there was absolutely no way for humanity to fuck the planet up, even if it tried really, really hard, now we're struggling to avoid doing just that.
posted by odinsdream at 3:25 AM on April 15, 2007


Woah. Half you guys are badly messed up.
You don't want to bring a kid into this world? This world with modern medicine, democracy, the rule of law and exponential scientific progress?
The situation we are all in, affluent citizens of western nations at the start of the 21st century, is the most promising situation *that there has ever been*.
If you wouldn't have had kids now, when would you have had them?
posted by greytape at 4:03 AM on April 15, 2007


Cloudscratcher, I struggle with many of the same concerns, with a dollop of 'is it fair to pass on depressive genes to a child'. (My father's side of the family all have depression, and it's something I've experienced on an off as well.)

I've thought of situations in which I would not have a child-- Germany after the racial laws but before the Final Solution--Iraq today--situations where the prognosis is really really dim.

The lives we lead, and the likelihood that a child born into middle-class America, will experience something like a holocaust or total war coming to our cities is small. Will any theoretical children we have experience other things, like continued environmental degradation, and global economic depression? Probably. But to me, these things don't neccessitate refraining from procreation the same way having a child in the midst of the destruction of our people (Jewish or Iraqi in my above examples) would.

I still struggle with the gene thing. But there's no guarantee that any child will be 100% healthy, and at least in my family, the depression seems to go along with some really excellent creative traits, so who knows.

I think the money thing is less key. No matter what we see on TV, kids really don't need to always go to the absolute best school in wherever to be successful, or need endless baby genius toys (you probably know this already, but I think it's worth pointing out). When I was born my mom was a teacher and my dad a grad student, and they were very poor. My mom went back to work 2 weeks after I was born because they needed the money. When they bought their first house mortgage interest rates were around 19%. When my husband was a kid they sometimes had to eat old frozen bluefish for a week because they were so tight on money. (That his dad had fished for, obviously.)

You can always make do. Although maybe Brooklyn is a little harder than some places.

Anyway, this is something I think about a lot, and have come down on the side of pro-child. It's sort of nice to know other people worry about all this stuff too. (In a somewhat sad way.)
posted by miss tea at 4:53 AM on April 15, 2007


The actual decision to have or not to have children is a very new thing.

For most of history you just had children - end of story. And the fact that mankind is here today suggests that they managed to raise them somehow - irrespective of wars, plague, incredibly harsh and adverse living conditions in general.

The only certainty in life is death but probability is on your side - most people do just fine and live to a ripe old age. Just solve your actual problems as they present themselves and don't 'make' problems out of things that may or may not happen 5 years down the line.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:10 AM on April 15, 2007


This thread is full of people that either focus way too much on what 'might' happen or seem utterly naive that western civilization is still a new thing and is not very stable.

There will always be ups and downs in life, until the moment our race is gone. If nothing horrendous happens, will you lie on your death bed filled with regret that you didn't share your life with a child?

Personally I would advise that you adopt a child whose life has no hope, so that even if the worst happens you gave that child a chance to be loved.
posted by trishthedish at 7:00 AM on April 15, 2007


I feel pretty much the same way you do. I cope by doing what I can to make the world a better place while I'm here. My husband and I have decided not to have kids, but for more reasons than the doomed humanity thing (completely lacking any sort of parental instinct is a big one). If we did ever get the urge to have kids, I think we'd probably adopt or become foster parents. Is that something that you'd consider?
posted by AV at 7:57 AM on April 15, 2007


Phrontist and sfenders have it exactly. Do check out VHEMT http://vhemt.org/.

Sure, as individuals you and your girlfriend will make things work out for your own family. Being a good parent as a depressed person is difficult, but if your SO can cover for you when you aren't "on," keep in mind that parenting will make you a better person. Really.

But on the grand scale, the world will not be made a better place by adding more people to it. Really not. We have enough people. Personally I have always thought that the idea of deliberately creating a human being in order to have a relationship with it was spooky. Kind of Twilight-Zoneish, or Frankensteinian. People do it all the time, but I choose to believe they haven't fully thought it through.

All is not lost, however! You can build a family ethically!

It's called adoption. The kids already exist. By definition, whatever family you build with them will be better than their current situation. They are destined to head into the future anyway, and you can only make that future better for them.

If both of you are white, it may be hard for you to adopt a healthy infant within the US. (Assuming you're American.) Adoption agencies prefer / are mandated to place children with families who *could* have produced them biologically, and the ratio of adoptable white babies to adoptive white families is relatively low. On the other hand, if one or both of you is Asian, you should be able to adopt a healthy infant almost immediately.

You might prefer to adopt overseas. China has great kids, and a lot of them. Don't feel guilty about preferring a healthy child. Parenting is really difficult and you should have a child who has needs you can meet.

Disclosure: I have no children of my own, adopted or biological, because my personal situation never met my standards of a good family. I come from a large and porous family - heavy-breeding Catholics on one side - who value family connections of all kinds. Adopted children, stepchildren, gay spouses, and sundry hangers-on have all been absorbed as full participating members of the extended family to the enrichment of all. In particular, two of my siblings came into the family through adoption rather than through the direct vaginal route. I have some basis for recommending it.

Oh - further on the depression angle - depressives can have more accurate perceptions of reality than non-depressives. It turns out that unreasonable hope and confidence are more adaptive than a glum acceptance of the status quo, but depression doesn't mean your perceptions are wrong. I fully endorse them.
posted by kika at 8:45 AM on April 15, 2007


Poetry will certainly help. I like the last two sections of W. H. Auden's September 1, 1939

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


I also like the Jewish notion of the messiah: not a supernatural solution to all affliction, but the notion that every birth is opens up a possibility for something novel, something different than the past. Hannah Arendt calls this natality, and she means by it the fact that human beings can and must recreate the world anew for themselves.

I'm not sure that everyone bears the burden of having children; there are many, many other people out there having children, and the species will survive. Just make sure that your efforts contribute to that survival, that you preserve the sense of hope in the future. Don't give up on us. Love the world, and work to keep it alive and well however you can. It nurtured you, and you owe it that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:48 AM on April 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


If nothing horrendous happens, will you lie on your death bed filled with regret that you didn't share your life with a child?

No.

I'll be relieved that I wasn't so selfish as to bring a child into a world on the brink of having no more fish in the seas or bees to pollinate floweres or water to drink or clean air to breathe.
posted by RoseovSharon at 1:01 PM on April 15, 2007


Phrontist's rabid support of voluntary human extinction has just convinced me of the need to have four rather than two or three.

As to whether or not you should have children now, I will quote my own favorite writer:

As for the child raising, well, life is shit, as I've said many many
times. The trick is getting used to the shit, and enjoying yourself. I
suppose a good test for parenthood would be not to teach your child
that life is enjoyable, because only a fucking simpleton thinks that,
but that amidst all the immense bullshit that occurs on a minutely
basis, there are a few golden events that are worth living through a
thousand years of grey mundanity for.

posted by po at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2007


Hmmm. I feel optimistic about the future, but I've chosen not to have kids because I don't want to be a mother, and my husband thinks he would be a bad dad. If you think you would be a bad parent, or if you just don't want to be a parent, those are good reasons not to have kids. If you don't think you and your girlfriend would parent well together, that's another reason not to have kids for the moment. It's OK not to have kids. It's actually pretty freeing and fun, in fact.

If you DO want to be a parent, and if you think you could do a good job of it despite the chaos in the world around us, fix your mental issues first and then get on with it. You say you're dealing with your depression, but have you gotten any help for your anxiety? That seems to be a huge issue right here.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:37 PM on April 15, 2007


I'm another supporter of VHEMT, although not to the point of actual extinction. The issue I see is not that the world is getting worse. I fully believe that, were I to create a child, it would come to age in a positive future. I am a fervent optimist in this matter.

However, the act of having a child makes our present situation worse. The world is overpopulated, becoming more so, and middle class american children, moreso. The important issue is not just numbers, it's resources, and we consume more than any other culture around. A single american child is, on average, the equal of dozens of indian children in this regard. This is my concern.

The problem of overpopulation needs to start at home.

As for the argument that your child might be the one to solve all the world's problems, these are astronomical odds you're dealing with. It's not statistically significant, and at any rate, not an argument against adoption. A child adopted is one who will grow up with better resources at his command, who will likely go further and achieve more in live than she would have otherwise. So really, maybe that child you didn't adopt would have solved all the world's problems, but didn't, because she slipped through the cracks of the system, and didn't go as far as he would have otherwise.

I believe that the future is very bright indeed. But mindlessly overpopulating the world isn't the way to get there.
posted by Arturus at 9:18 PM on April 15, 2007


You might want to wait a little while and see what happens when all the bees are gone.

Seriously though, like greytape pointed out, no time like the present to have kids. Hell, if people just a couple hundred years ago stopped to make the same considerations many people here are encouraging you to make, many of us wouldn't be here to speculate. MeFi itself might never have come about.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:33 AM on April 16, 2007


Whether the world sucks or not is academic. There are too many people here already and we need to give the earth a break.
posted by zorro astor at 8:30 AM on April 16, 2007


As to procreation, I justify the idea of having children (max. two only--replacing myself and my spouse...

Having two kids doesn't really just replace you and your spouse - it depends on how many kids YOUR kids have, and then how many kids THEIR kids have...if you have one child but that child has 12 kids...well, you've definitely gone beyond replacing yourself.
posted by agregoli at 9:23 AM on April 16, 2007


Well, you know what I think: people who don't understand how badly we're fucked this time around, including all the platitude-slingers who've posted above, either aren't paying attention, don't understand the evidence arrayed before them, or have their heads wedged thoroughly in the good loamy dirt.

This isn't 1972, or 1945. There are closing in on seven billion people on this ball, in a closed ecosystem, and you know what the graffiti says: no such thing as utopia on a planet of seven billion.

The chemistry our entire culture is based on, beyond the fuel tank - everything from pesticides to lubricants to shrinkwrap? Yeah, that's going away too. The resource wars over what's left will assuredly be ugly, and they've already begun.

Our industrial processes leach mutagenic toxins into the environment that are wreaking havoc with the bottom of every food chain you can think of - if, that is, the global climate change hasn't gotten there fustest with the mostest.

The fresh water's running out.

Soil fertility. It's not endlessly renewable, did you know that? Read up on soil fertility alone, and how industrial agriculture's jimmied with it but good, and anyone with two neurons to knock together would probably find theyself pretty worried.

In this context, the fact that we don't truly have infectious disease nailed almost looks like a good thing. Because, hey, give me a virus with just the right mixture of surface proteins, just the right airborne transmissibility and virulence, and all the other problems I've touched on look decidedly long-term. It could all be over for most of us in a matter of weeks, now that we've built our microbes this nice efficient global dissemination system. (I wonder how many of them are on Dopplr?)

We've overshot, pretty badly. We don't have the foggiest clue what to do about any of it. And way down deep, we know it. (Well, OK, it's closer to the surface in some of us.)

It is going to be a bad few thousand years for us monkeys, starting in just a little while. Maybe, like the oil wars, we're already into the overture. You know what? I'm inclined to not wish any part of those millennia on anybody...but I especially don't want anyone I love and cherish to have to suffer any of it.

My gut tells me that - more or less unbelievably, and with absolutely no justification - we stand a decent chance of lucking out the way our parents did. Knock on wood, we'll live long happy healthy lives of creativity and engagement, and expire before the really bad fireworks begin. I don't think any children born right about now, anywhere on this gorgeous planet, no matter how lucky or how privileged the circumstances of their birth, will be able to say the same.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:47 PM on April 19, 2007 [4 favorites]


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