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The Royals: Will they be more like Trump, or Thoreau?

Recently Having Kids wrote an open letter to Prince William and Kate Middleton asking them to consider adopting the Fair Start model. Among other things, we noted a simple fact based on math and exponential growth: Large families of three or more children are not sustainable. Three kids each have three kids, each have three kids, each … you get the picture. It evoked a powerful response from some: “Mind your own business – it’s a matter of personal freedom.” Lessons learned (apart from the fact than many parents are really angry and openly racist): A lot of people think about freedom the way Trump does. For them personal freedom includes the right to harm others – to degrade our environment, to endanger our own children’s future, to exacerbate inequality, etc. Trump’s version of freedom is doing whatever he wants to do – like a petulant and greedy child.

Instead, Thoreau’s version of freedom was transcendent, like a child being emancipated into adulthood, or the becoming of someone with a deep empathy, who therefore wanted to and was able to control his behavior so as not to harm others.

Why do these different versions of freedom matter? It’s very important that we use the right version of freedom when we think about family planning.

Remember the story of the social contract, the historical basis for many modern systems of human rights and democracy? In essence, the story justifies today’s systems of government by treating them as the product of free and equal people voluntarily or consensually coming together to make the rules they will live by. The story tried to maximize human freedom. But – and this is crucial – that story relied upon people who were able to control their behavior so as not to harm others. In other words, people who were more like Thoreau than Trump, or Trump’s followers. How do we make sure future generations actually do grow up, and are more like Thoreau than Trump?

What if rather than thinking of the social contract as something that happens at a particular point in time, we instead temporalized the process to account for how we “come together” with future generations? Incoming generations might demand some minimum level of well-being at entry that would be consistent with child welfare laws and the Children’s Rights Convention, as well as a fair start relative to other incoming children. Extant members of democracies would also want to consent to incoming generations, their new fellow citizens, which would give a powerful reason for them to invest heavily in the development of those generations as democratic co-rulers. All persons would want, in the process of bringing in future generations, to preserve nature so that humans would be able to consent to coming together. In other words, so that there would be places, states of nature, or neutral political positions from which to consensually come together and to which persons could withdraw. Finally, in this process would-be parents would want to be assured a right to have children, and the help they need to give their kids a fair start, and a better life.

Our current family planning models do nothing to assure these things, and help us become emancipated or free. The Fair Start model does. Lessons learned? It’s time, more now than ever, to rethink the way we plan families.


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