The title of Anna Goldfarb’s New York Times piece (“What to Say When People Ask Why You Aren’t Having Children,” August 8, 2017) implies that she’s embarking on an examination of the ethics of procreation. But instead, she repeats the trite mantra you’ll hear on trash television and at the grocery check-out: Family planning is only about personal fulfillment, and is a highly personal topic that should be considered off limits for discussion.
That mantra is simply false. People forgo having children for many altruistic reasons: to protect the environment, restore biodiversity, to retain time and money in order to do public interest work, etc. All of our decisions about having kids profoundly impacts others – that’s the whole point. If we care at all about the future, then we all have a stake in family planning decisions. The topic is inherently interpersonal.
Why would publicly thinking about our collective future be considered off limits?
The topic is inherently interpersonal, starting – obviously – with the potential child. Rather than trying to close public forums, why not seek common ground? Specifically, why don’t we have a discussion about what future we want? Why not collectively plan an escape from our current crowded, polluted, divided, unequal, and relatively uneducated world?
Beyond the Isolationist View
Goldfarb’s article rides upon the isolation model of family planning. This model focuses only on what parents want in the short term, rather than on what children and society need in the medium and long term. Isolationist views break the link between vital needs and available resources, and ignore the fact that having children is the most public thing most people will ever do.
Furthermore, the isolation model completely disregards the fact that children are born entirely vulnerable, dependent on the people around them. By focusing only on the parents’ wants, rather than the child’s needs, we have created a society where children are not guaranteed a minimum level of well-being. Arguing that having children is a private matter also eliminated the opportunity for parents to cooperate in their decision making to achieve the best outcomes for every child. Because of the lack of organized, collective action dictated by the isolationist model, the caring and thoughtful people who forgo having children don’t have as great an impact as would otherwise be possible.
In short, the isolation view harms everyone’s future and denies many children a fair start in life – a deprivation that tends to pass down over the generations. The Fair Star model breaks that cycle.