By Roland Watson
The last article focused on the implications of the instinct to survive. This one will concentrate on our drive to procreate.
What we can now see is that this instinct is not simply the general idea to have babies, to add more humans to overall population. Rather, it is personal - your compulsion to extend your line. And, as I described earlier, the instinct is actually a divisible need, composed of three separate parts. The first is the desire to have children, and it is quite possible that women, in their role as child-bearers, feel this need more strongly.
Needs versus motivations, and sex
I've talked about needs, and also referred to motivations, which are, among other things, the means by which needs are fulfilled. The second part of the instinct to procreate is the need, or motivation, to have sex. And sex, in isolation, is largely physical. It is a function of nerve stimulation and arousal.
Sex feels good with anybody, hence we are tempted to try it with everybody. This is why the thrill of anonymous sex, or sex with someone you have just met, can be as strong as sex with a lifelong partner. Also, the ecological logic of this behavior is that it ensures that our genes are continually mixed and spread around.
A secondary motivation, one that supports our drive for sexual satisfaction, is the fact that sexual attraction is, for the most part or at least in the first instance, based on appearance. Of course, the issue of appearance links right through to the desire to procreate. We find sexually stimulating those individuals with the most attractive appearances, who we also believe, as a consequence of this, are our best choice for mates.
Research has shown that an important factor in appearance is facial symmetry, if the right side of the face is symmetrical with, or mirrors, the left. We are unconsciously attracted to this symmetry. We use it as an indicator of good genes, of a good breeding partner.
However, this is another basic form that humans have learned to counteract. We now balance appearance with such things as character and personality, and financial success! But, in the first instance attraction is almost always based on appearance.
Indeed, this reflects another one of our fundamental traits, which is that we only believe what we can see, hence our emphasis on physical form. Said another way, if something is to be believed, we must be able to see it.
The role of love
The third and final component of the instinct to procreate is the motivation of romance, or love, although this is also a need in its own right. We do not bond temporarily, just long enough to have a baby. As I keep repeating, we are social animals. We seek to bond, if not for life, at least for the duration of the child rearing.
Again, though, there is a question of whether this need has greater relative importance to women. Given their traditional primary responsibility for child rearing, they need a long-term bond: the support of the father for the entire period that the child is growing up.
Of course, in another way love is a much higher need, one of our highest. In our passage through life, as we explore its marvels, having a partner in the journey, whom you commit to and trust completely, can greatly enhance the experience.
The roots of overpopulation
We have seen that instincts fuel our personal selfishness, and in the modern context this has proved to be devastating, largely as a consequence of the overpopulation that technology has enabled.
There is no formal national welfare or social security system in many nations. Because of this, people rely on their children to take care of them when they get old. They therefore try to have large families. This way, if a few children die, which is, or was, the norm given disease and accident risks, others will be left to provide the care.
In the present day, though, infant mortality rates have fallen, but the behavioral pattern to have a large family remains - although it has weakened in recent years in some cultures.
Also, other cultural traditions support large families, including the widespread treatment of women as inferior. In many countries, girls' educational and career opportunities are restricted, and instead they are married off as soon as they reach puberty.
Associated with this, the converse of the belief that girls are inferior is that boys are prized. Especially in Asia, having a son is greatly to be preferred. Families try repeatedly if need be until they get a boy. Indeed, other forms may come into play as well. For example, in India, in the Hindu religion, it is essential that a son preside over the funeral rites of the father. Therefore, there must be a male heir.
As a final example, there are the teachings of Catholicism, including its exhortation to have children and its parallel ban on birth control. One of the countries with the worst overpopulation problems is the Philippines, which is Catholic, and where many of the other forms are present as well.
The human Ponzi Scheme
With modern food production technology and health care, the desire to procreate has evolved into what is known as a "Ponzi Scheme," named after a Boston conman of the 19th century. Charles Ponzi ran a "bank," where he used the funds of new depositors to pay earlier depositors, with a very high rate of interest, as well as taking a substantial cut for himself. It was the archetypal "pyramid" scheme.
As we saw earlier, our overpopulation is also a type of over-borrowing from the bank. We no longer need large families, since we have found other ways to provide for our security as we age. But, we continue to have many children, pushing the planet's ecology to the breaking point.
Ironically, our attitudes also have changed. Formerly, when infant mortality was high, we accepted it as normal and inevitable. A woman during her lifetime would often lose a few children, at birth or in early childhood.
Now, any such deaths are viewed as a great tragedy. Also, while the act of procreation brings children to support us, and places additional demands on the environment, it is actually considered selfish not to have children, as if people who choose not to have children are decadent hedonists, who care only for themselves.
Having a child is a fundamentally selfish act, as evidenced by the following reasons for which many people do have children:
- As an unintended consequence of sex.
- As a manifestation of your genes, of your selfish instincts.
- Because other people you know have babies, so you want one, too.
- It provides a purpose in life, for people who have none.
- It gives you a friend, particularly one who is under your control.
- It gives you a free, bonded laborer.
- It provides, using "genetic selection," a source for a bone marrow or organ transplant for another child.
- It gives you an heir.
- It is used to trap a mate.
- It satisfies the demand of your parents for grandchildren.
- And, it is a social welfare system, or an obligation of religious form.
People have children to satisfy their needs, not those of the child. No one asks of an un-conceived child, would you like to come into the world, such as it is?
I believe that you should only have children if:
You believe that life, as an existential category, not your life, or even human life, is good. I might add, this precondition is easy to overlook.
Secondly, you want to bring someone into life so they can experience its beauty and mystery. These two preconditions together constitute the non-selfish basis for having children.
And finally, you are prepared to be a capable parent.
In summary, children should only be born when two individuals have made a loving commitment to each other, and when:
- they have worked to ensure a degree of financial security, such that they can care for the child, and have established a home in which to do so.
- they are both psychologically prepared for it, including understanding how much work will be involved, and how they will regularly have to sacrifice their interests to those of the child.
- and, they willingly accept this - actually - they look forward to it.
How many, or what percentage, of the children in the world today are born to such parents? Certainly it is less than half, and likely much lower.
The global population is 7.2 billion people. The annual growth rate is approximately eighty million, and the United Nations "medium fertility projection" is for a population of nine and one-half billion people by the year 2050.
This is far, far too many people. It is way beyond the planet's carrying capacity. If it occurs, it will unquestionably lead to hitherto unimaginable social and environmental disasters. We have to stop ourselves, now.
In the next and final article in the series, I will consider the goal of happiness.
© Roland Watson 2014