While Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) diced sweet potatoes for a veggie chili on an Instagram live recently, she riffed about climate change, the Green New Deal, and what failing to take control of human progress will mean to future generations. This impromptu Insta speech has been written about at some length, with some gleeful diatribes about how Ocasio-Cortez is telling people not to have kids.
While that’s not exactly what’s going on here, her remarks are part of a larger, negative perspective on the value of human life. Here are some of her remarks.
There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead, I think young people, to have a legitimate question: is it okay to still have children? And I mean, not just financially, because people are graduating with $20, $30, $100,000 dollars of student loan debt, so they can’t even afford to have children in the house. But also just a basic moral question, what do we do. And even if you don’t have kids, there are still children here in the world, and we have a moral obligation to them. To leave a better world for them.
No one quibbles with the idea that we owe future generations our best attempts to leave a habitable, prosperous world. However, there’s a nihilism inherent in the notion that procreation should or would be limited by the factor of a messed up world.
The world is never not messed up. The nature of the world is to be messed up. The question of whether to bring children into this messed up world is as old as the messed up world itself.
Some have convinced themselves that there are ideal conditions under which life ought to enter the world, and that if those ideal conditions aren’t met, procreation is an irresponsible act. But there are no guaranteed ideal conditions, and the concept of ideal conditions is an illusion anyway.
Why Have We Become Anti-Human?
When Ocasio-Cortez cited climate change and debt as factors in why young people aren’t especially into having kids, she was drawing on a few years’ worth of studies and surveys that asked millennials precisely why they aren’t having children. When taken with the latest hot takes on why it’s so great being childless, studies that show happiness declines with the onset of parenthood, and the coining of the term “anti-natalist,” we start to get a picture of how anti-human we have become.
That so many people take it as a given that pregnancies wherein the child is determined to have a disability should be terminated and that euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in so many western nations show the disregard we have for divergent life experiences. What does it mean to hold the furtherance of human life to the standard of whether we can imagine those lives being worthwhile? What standards are being brought to bear in the assessment of what is worthwhile?
The question of whether to have children can be a difficult one, and if it’s pursued with a hefty pro and con list, taking into account personal and global infrastructure questions, there’s a good chance the answer will be “no.” While that “no” may seem rational, reasoned, and backed up by studies and student loan statements, what’s missing from the discussion is an argument in favor of life itself.
Life is what we get, and it’s all we get. There are no guarantees about its length or relative worth, there’s no way for a parent to make sure that a child doesn’t suffer, whether from rising sea levels or air pollution or splinters or disease. Even if parents could offer that assurance, it would diminish a child’s agency if they did offer it.
But that’s not a reason to say “no” to life. In fact, the studies that emerged over the past few years, talking about how parenthood is anathema to happiness, are not as conclusive as they seem.
Children Aren’t Here to Please Us
A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study penned by David G. Blanchflower and Andrew E. Clark, “Children, Unhappiness and Family Finances: Evidence from One Million Europeans,” offers that “in the case of the younger age group, the happiest are now those who are married with children.”
Even so, children aren’t here to please us. Children aren’t born for our satisfaction. Children are born because life has its own imperative. Instead of parsing whether it ought to and why, the wealthy West needs to ask itself why it is so intent on refusing life.
In asking these questions, non-existence, an idea that is the alternative to life, is given value. How can value be placed on something that exists without any value? Non-existence is entirely outside the framework of valuation at all. One could say that life is good and death is bad, perhaps, but non-existence is the absence of both life and death and does not factor into our binary metric.
That the argument for non-existence is gaining traction speaks to how little we think of ourselves as human beings. It’s never better to not exist, because there can be no value judgment in nothing, there is only the absence of value. The very concept of better and worse do not exist if human beings do not exist. There is no value system outside of the ones which humans have constructed, or perhaps discovered.
The approach to the climate crisis cannot be to stop life, or to stop progress. It must be a multi-faceted approach, including adaptation, that takes into account the needs of developing populations, the imperative of progress, and a love for the furtherance of human life, not a denial of it.