Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Altruism of Parenthood... or not

It's really quite amazing what centuries of social conditioning can achieve - forms of repression so insidious that you don't even spot the fallacy in the argument. I've been dealing with one such argument rather intensely for the last two years and then some more. I've decided today that I am going to write about it. Those who know me personally, know exactly what I am talking about. Those who don't, well, come along if you like speculating on human nature and social conditioning.

This black hole is called parenthood. We are taught, early in life, too early in fact, to revere parenthood. It is portrayed as the ultimate form of altruism. Whereas, genetically, it is the precise opposite. How often do you hear some form of "your parents sacrificed so much for you, you are inhuman if you aren't grateful and remain forever indebted to them"? And no. It is seldom so blatant. Such honest perversion of the truth cannot survive for very long without being spotted by enough people to get rid of it from society.

So, let me state my case. Parenthood is a SELFISH (bold, underline, italics, and whatever else it takes to emphasise that point). Profoundly so. It is driven by the desire of two individuals to propagate their genetic identity (it strikes me as I write this, that perhaps, that is why people with intense creative passions or famous people don't feel as strongly about parenthood. Their identity survives mortality in different ways). The benefit of child rearing is to ensure that the genes last long enough to get to the next generation and so on and so forth. I am assuming I don't have to explain why that survival is important?

So, no, you didn't do me a favour by bringing me into this world. I didn't ask you to. In case you don't realise, I didn't exist and I didn't have a choice in the matter. What about everything I did for you post that, you ask? Well, how much of a choice in any of that did you give me? How much of it was because you wanted me to study somewhere or take up some hobby to satisfy something within you - pride, a desire you didn't get to satisfy, an achievement that you value?

Hence, I don't buy it when you say you sacrificed your youth for me. You lived vicariously through me. You will live on through every subsequent generation. I don't blame you for it. But I am not grateful for it. Both of us benefit. Quid Pro Quo. So again I ask, where's the sacrifice?

And, lastly, you always had the choice to NOT have children - perfectly legitimate, no matter what anyone tells you. EVER. No one is duty-bound to reproduce. In this modern age, many of us don't feel that evolutionary pull to reproduce and guess what, that's okay. There are enough people on this planet for the human race to be getting along. And, besides, like I said before, who said having children was the only way to reach immortality? And again, everything you gave that child after birth was also your choice. That child never asked to be sent to x or y school. Likely that choice was made before the poor child even understood what school means.

Have children. But accept that YOU want them. Parenthood is a wonderful experience (though not a parent myself, I see enough close friends enjoying it to believe that it is wonderful). Don't make it a debt your child has to live under, never being free of guilt.

I'll tell you the things I am thankful to you for - all the times you left me to take my decisions and make my mistakes and bear the consequences thereof, all the times that you told me that my life was mine, not yours to pawn, all the times you told me to NOT think of you. Those are the things that have given value to my life and not the mere fact that you gave birth to me. Notice how none of these things involve YOU.

So yes, I am thankful. Not because you gave birth to me but because you recognise that my life is MINE despite the fact that you gave birth to me.

What is the value of this conditioning? Why would society bother with it, tacitly? For this is no conspiracy theory. I am willing to bet a good amount of money that this phenomenon did not exist in the primitive times when people popped off at the ripe young age of 40, often violently or suddenly. This conditioning answers a sociological need that appears only when people begin to live far beyond the age of physical fitness or productivity. It is further exacerbated by the disappearance of community living (nomadic societies were communal), where old age can be lonely and intimidating. A prolonged period of possible dependence towards the end of one's life is a daunting thought and for many children are an insurance policy against this.

The insecure are the ones that use this method of entitlement to ensure that their children don't abandon them. The secure, on the other hand, rely either solely on each other as a couple or trust the love that they and their children bear for each other that they will be taken care of without laying claim or entitlement or showing up at the door to collect a paycheck.

But understanding the problem is only one part of the solution. Yes, being aware of why we adopt some behaviour patterns will hopefully make us more aware individuals, better equipped to resist the temptation to take the easy way out. But the larger dialogue that we must have as a society is the provision that we must make for the aged both through the provision of facilities such as assisted living and social security as well as by educating the younger generation and changing the nature of conversation around old age.

Lastly, this is not an argument for or against multiple generations living together. It is merely a point of view on the oft-heard claim stated in the beginning. And yes, it is a bit of a rant for I feel passionately on the subject of entitlements.

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