The media is abuzz these days about women not having enough kids. It’s an odd thing to hear, given that population will continue to explode by billions of people in the decades to come, exacerbating the population-driven climate crisis, and causing untold suffering
Are we missing a more important conversation though?
Let’s start with the premise that framing is crucial.
Whether we think about population, or start from a different concept, framing could change everything about how we perceive the subject. The debate surrounding “population” tends to focus on quantity, which is actually misleading. Shouldn’t we think of people in the world, and the act of having kids, as more qualitative? Shouldn’t we be talking about quality of life? The truth is that what we think of as population is actually at least four things:
- The quantity of the people we create.
- Their qualities, like empathy, and other key traits that will determine how people socialize and that are largely a product of early childhood development. These are inextricable from things like the levels, or quality, of personal well-being and development they are ensured.
- Their positioning in life relative to other children (the opportunities they have in life, with some kids today born billionaires and others born slaves, etc.). This positioning includes the inevitable attenuation from one another that comes with population growth.
- Their relation to their ecologies, i.e. are generations degrading the systems on which they depend?
These four things are inevitably intertwined in the act of having kids. That act is more complex than the traditional concept of population implies, and can capture.
Moreover, population is not some exogenous policy area we can choose to work in, or ignore. The people on the planet today, and how they limit what’s possible, are largely the product of what was done or not done in past family planning systems. We just have to shift and temporalize our thinking, or overcome the cognitive dissonance of temporal myopia, that makes it hard for us humans to see this. If a policy choice involves people, it involves family planning. Family planning, and the failure to plan, is the foundation of everything social. People are the first building blocks of any policy, and that which creates people, develops their traits, and gives them agency most accounts – and in free societies should most account – for the quality of life on this planet.
It’s time for a new, and more helpful, conversation.
Given that the population is always changing and is the product of our actions, it’s probably more accurate to use a verb, and to focus on the cause (having kids) before the effect (population growth). The concept of “constituting,” as in the reference to “We the People” in the United States’ and other constitutions, could be ideal.
Remember, framing matters. Technically, we were not constituted as a nation; if we value each person equally, we have to believe that we constantly reconstituting as future children enter the word. Constituting captures, much better than population, the antecedent, normative, dynamic and endogenous nature of the thing, and proceeds from a perspective of needing to justify the social organization (or the social contract) around us, or the power others have over us. That’s the perspective from which free and equal people would orient.
“Constituting,” as opposed to “population,” captures the fundamental human rights-based lens or perspective free people would have when thinking about the people with whom they share communities: How is the power others have over us justified? Are we constituting a community of free and equal people, or something else, like a hierarchical economy? What control do you really have over the rules under which you are forced to live? Aren’t you worth more than being one vote lost in a sea of millions of votes, for presidents and other antiquated figureheads with massive control over our lives?
Why does this change in framing matter?
For some, it lets them see past myths, like the myth that population, or the people with whom we share and will share the world, is something amorphous and out of our control. Or, the myth that some kids are born into fortunate conditions, with what they need to succeed in life, while others are simply not. That’s nonsense. Our birth conditions have nothing to do with fortune, God, or some invisible force at work. Inequity at birth is simply humans’ failure to ensure fair start family planning. Thinking about how we constitute, and beyond population, helps us see this.
What’s another myth? Often we limit our thinking, “inside the box,” to current nation-states. We assume they are the fundamental political entity, and all that is possible. In other words, a lot of population-driven thinking wrongly assumes we are stuck with the countries that exist today. This is exemplified by the media’s reaction to falling birth rates in China, and calls to strengthen China’s economy with larger families. China is perhaps the greatest threat in the world to human rights, democracy, and nature – why would any free person want to strengthen the country or its economy, rather than see it disintegrate into the various groups it colonized? Can’t we imagine better societies, and political entities, than the countries we have now? New frames let us see past myths.
And for others, moving past the concept of population, and towards constituting, goes past simple myth-breaking and will lead to effective ways to promote human freedom.
The U.S. Constitution was born of a revolution to ensure that people could constitute independent, or free and equal, people. But for many reasons, the Constitution was never applied intergenerationally. And human rights and democracy are in decline today. Instead of constituting communities of people where everyone has a voice over the rules under which they live, we have media pushing women to have kids in failing social systems, and in the face of ecological crisis, to further inflate the economy. Instead of seeing communities as a free and equal people in a town hall, the politicians, pundits and companies pushing women to have babies envision a world of crowded shopping malls. But how you would see people and want them to be in a democratic town hall, versus a shopping mall, is very different.
People who want to grow economies push women to have more kids, with less investment in each child, and no minimum level of welfare, or equity, for each child born. In these schemes people are just economic inputs, rather than citizens who must be sufficiently developed to co-rule their democracies. In these constant-growth schemes, it’s OK to push more and more children through failing educational, welfare, healthcare and other systems. In this worldview it’s perfectly acceptable – if not desirable – that the average American adult reads at the level of an eighth-grader. The idea of endless growth proceeds from state-based, and top-down, views of people as consumers and labor, rather than a bottom-up view of people as citizens with control over the world around them. Constant-growth systems push in the opposite direction from inclusive family planning systems that would create, or constitute, true democracies of capable and self-determining people.
The constant-growth worldview is antithetical to the personal autonomy that would be promoted and protected by a human right to nature, guaranteed minimum levels of well-being for children, and limitations on the right of abusive parents to have unlimited numbers of children who will be seized and spend much of their lives in state custody. Make no mistake – the people pushing poor family planning because they see babies as money are hurting people, and at the most fundamental level. They help ensure that children are born into horrible conditions, a culture where women are expected to have children, the exacerbation of the climate and other ecological crises, and the dominance of massive economic systems where the average citizen has no effective role in making the rules under which they are forced to live.
We can reverse the exploitation of future generations, and nature, by using Fair Start family planning to take resources from the entities at the top – both public and private – who have benefited from growth at cost to kids and our communities, and instead investing those resources in ways that give kids a fair start in life. And because constituting comes first, and involves the very first rights and obligations that lead us to become free and equal, the process overrides other rights and obligations – like property claims – that interfere. We are before we do, and the process of constituting – and thereby legitimating our societies – overrides everything.
It’s time to truly constitute, from the roots up.
Let’s move past the concept of population and towards the action of constituting free and equal societies. We cannot be free until we account for and include the people with whom we do and will share this world, the way we would in a democratic town hall, rather than ignoring them the way we would – and those entities in control would want us to – in a shopping mall.
Where do we go from here?
It’s time for another American revolution, but this time, a bottom-up intergenerational one that – simply by demanding more for each child – actually ensures the constitution of capable people democracies require. The social contract only works if it is made intergenerational, and if we constitute as such. Doing so will free us from ourselves and from the hegemony we hold over each other.
The revolution begins with parents demanding the resources they need, and deserve, from those who are destroying our future in order to give all kids a fair start in life. Parents have a right to those resources, in exchange for responsible and cooperative planning, and it’s time we help parents take them.
1. Speak out for the building of true human rights-based democracies by fighting for every child’s right to a fair start in life, as well as your fundamental right to nature, at the same time. These are the ethical borders of free communities. We cannot be free until these two rights are established, from the United Nations, and down through every member state.
2. Then lets turn our attention to the United States, and urge Elizabeth Warren, at 202-224-4543, 1) to use a child-centric and inclusive family planning model, 2) to seek bi-partisan support from Republicans who – like Democrats – should support family planning systems that ensure future citizens rather than economic inputs, and 3) to link her extensive child-care proposals to ecologically and socially regenerative future child entitlements.
3. And finally lets urge Lee Raymond, https://havingkids.org/he-helped-create-the-climate-crisis-tell-him-to-make-it-right-for-kids/, to lead by example and voluntarily relinquish the extensive resources he and his family have taken by harming future generations, so that they may be used for Fair Start family planning. Those most capable, and responsible, must pay.
Constituting free and equal communities is the first and overriding human right. We are before we do. Let’s start at the source.