Babies and Puppies

It’s summer and everywhere you look there are hugely pregnant women. Happy pregnant women proudly showing off their taut, swollen bellies (Gone are the days of maternity tents, thank goodness). And not-so-happy  pregnant women smoking; pregnant sucking back a beer on their front steps; pregnant women wearily dragging 3 or 4 toddlers through the mall, at least one of whom is being pushed in a broken-down stroller; pregnant women huddled in doorways asking for spare change.

Sometimes you feel sorry for the woman. Always you feel sorry for the kids. And sometimes you can’t help but say (quietly) to yourself, “some people shouldn’t have kids.”

Is having kids – bearing them and/or raising them – an inalienable human right? Is the idea of screening people for parenthood even palatable? 

Adopting a child requires quite a lengthy and rigorous process. Even adopting or buying a puppy from a reputable source often requires some sort of screening process. But becoming a parent the biological way requires nothing and, in fact, is now treated like a sacred, untouchable phenomenon. Even if unplanned and unwanted, people are guilted into letting nature take its course.

Except that pretty much all non-Catholic western countries have, at some point practiced eugenics. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta was repealed in this country. One of the largest eugenics programs in the world, created by the social democrats in Sweden, was in effect until 1975. Large scale programs were also in effect for most of the 20th century in the US, Belgium, Brazil, Norway, Australia, France, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland and Switzerland.

Most of these programs called for the mandatory sterilization of people considered to be “mentally deficient“ and some also targeted genetic illnesses and/or racial and ethnic minorities who were considered to be “genetically inferior”.

Prominent people throughout history have believed in, supported and promoted eugenics including:  Margaret Sanger, HG Wells, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Emile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and Linus Pauling. Hitler, of course, was the biggest and most totally insane fan of eugenics.

There are groups active today (who I won’t name or link to because they kind of give me the willies – but who you can find by googling “eugenics”) who are attempting to advance the mandatory sterilization of all persons of “inferior intelligence”.  They say that intelligent people are having fewer children, while less intelligent people are having more and that this will eventually bring about the downfall of our society.

Like I said, they give me the willies, but in some twisted way they have a kernel of a point. It is statistically true that in this society, people who are better educated and consequently have greater means, are having no children or maybe 1 or 2 children, while people with less education and lesser means are having far more children. That doesn’t necessarily mean smarter people are better parents though, or that their children will turn out to be more productive members of society.

Which brings me to the question of what makes for good parenting? Let’s take for granted that parents love their children unconditionally and care for them and feed them, clothe them and keep them safe and sheltered. These are pretty much the basics. Some people believe if they do those things well, they’ve been good parents.

But, do parents have obligations beyond that? Should they be able to support their children through at least one post-secondary degree or diploma? Should they provide them with enrichment opportunities as they grow up – travel, music lessons, involvement in sports, exposure to the arts and culture? Feed them food that nourishes and enhances their minds and bodies rather than just filling it up?

These are things you can’t do if you aren’t particularly well off or have a big family. Yes, there are all sorts of community programs to assist in these areas, but unless those children are particularly bright and determined and lucky, they will never be able to achieve the successes that children from more advantaged families will achieve quite easily.

And that’s sad.

And then there are all those children whose parents may love them very much, but are not able to care for their children adequately; who can’t provide them even with the basics; who pass on addictions and mental or physical illnesses; who can’t keep them safe or sheltered. These kids have even less hope of success in their lives. (And by success, I don’t mean being rich and famous. I just mean getting an education, a good job, being able to raise a family comfortably, being healthy and happy adults).

And that’s even sadder.

And that brings things full circle because we, as a society will have to take responsibility for these families to help them succeed and to stop they cycle of poverty and ignorance. And how do we accomplish that? One answer is eugenics. The less autocratic answer is much more complex and is one which no government seems to want to address.

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32 responses to “Babies and Puppies

  1. Funny…how everyone was on the Eugenics bandwagon…it finally took the Nazis involvement in it to get people to smarten up.

    This is a perfect example of how bad science gets politicized and popularized. Michael Critchton wrote a good essay on eugenics in the epilogue of his book “State of Fear”. Worth reading, just for that last chapter.

    And actually, Mother Nature dosen’t CARE who went to university or how much money they make.

    All that matters is who can procreate the most, and pass those genes on the next generation, for the survival of the species.

    So in that respect, the Welfare Mom with her pack of 6 kids is actually MORE successful than the double-income yuppie couple with their 2.2 children.

  2. I definitely think in the ‘it takes a village’ kind of way but the way our society is set up, it’s really hard to practice. Everyone is so isolated and wants to ‘make it’ on their own so there is guilt and shame in requiring assistance (but everyone would benefit from it!)

    I think all children and families would be better off with strong community roots, no matter how well off they are financially.

  3. If only responsible people could have kids, I wouldn’t be here today and, thus, neither would my very responsible two daughters or my grandkids.

    My mother was 16 when I was born, though she was married, though the marriage didn’t last long at all. While I long ago forgave her how she was and not being there for so many years when I was a child, the truth is that she is no more responsible today in her seventies.

    In my view, ethically and morally, eugenics is NOT an answer. I suppose if it were administered justly and fairly, there might be some legitimate argument for it. However, any subjectivity in carrying out such a program would be entirely unacceptable, but, regardless of any safeguards, there would be abuses.

  4. I’m glad eugenics isn’t as popular because A) Its malicious and nuts (obviously!) and B) My mother suffers from epilepsy, which is considered “undesirable”. (Pfft! Whatever!)

    I think the best human beings can do in terms of reproduction is to continue to promote sexual education to everyone-rich and poor, in Western and non-western societies. Not just name the parts of the human body (like my piss poor high school sex ed program consisted of) but go into nitty gritty detail regarding human relationships, STDS and reproducing and provide access to reliable birth control methods.

  5. Why don’t we just let people live their lives and hope for the best? Let nature have its run. And, in the meantime, promote more peace, love, and tolerance.

    The first four responses quite literally blow your opinion piece to pieces. The programs you write of simply cannot be administered fairly. Hell, never mind fair! It’s not moral. Not from where I come from. Can’t be done, shouldn’t be done. Just by the very nature of the intended goal, and just by the very nature of people at the helm. And your list of prominent people amounts to a hill of beans.

  6. Excellent thought provoking post. I used to want to have kids but now in retrospect it’s a good thing I didn’t have any.

  7. James Rollins newest book The Doomsday Key also addresses the issue of overpopulation based on food supply. It’s very interesting but very scary.

    Here’s my idea: People who are able to pass the homestudy requirements for adoption should adopt and give the children who would not have had the opportunities the chance to thrive. My three adopted kids (who were in the foster system) all test on the genius level on IQ and problem solving skills. While in care, my oldest was considered borderline mentally retarded. Some studies have shown that children who are adopted from foster care and provided stability show an increase of around 35 IQ points after adoption. On the other hand, for children who age out of the foster care system, 75% end up in jail, homeless, dead, or with children who end up in foster care. If “responsible people” were to provide permanent homes for the children who are already here then we would see a dramatic shift in the poverty demographic.

    Also, if we stop considering mental illnesses as illnesses, we would see a dramatic change in how we educate our children. Many of the most brilliant people in the world were autistic, schizophrenic, OCD, or otherwise anti-social. If we can teach people with these differences how to use their unique brains as tools we should see some very interesting results. For interesting reading, just google visual spatial learners. It’s an interesting genetic shift (evolution) that children are being born with visual-spatial skills instead of auditory-sequential skills.

  8. Technological advances have led to sociological changes and threats which we have never ever adequately addressed. Industrial revolution led to social ills from urbanisation and the long work hours and the downtrodden lower classes. More recently, the modern materialistic lifestyle and the advance of telecommunications, internet, mobile phones etc has led to the decay of the family unit and the unsociable individual. Instead of supporting one another, we are increasingly self centered and selfish. Again society has no answer to these changes. I do not believe in eugenics. It is not the solution that we need to find. The change must be in the heart of men. Without that, any tool will just be misused.

  9. As Tom Sawyer said, why not just let people live their lives and hope for the best? After all, it’s worked pretty well for the past several thousand years….

    As for eugenics, Mike noted: In my view, ethically and morally, eugenics is NOT an answer. I suppose if it were administered justly and fairly, there might be some legitimate argument for it..

    The question is, how do you administer it justly and fairly? Who decides who is sterilized? How can it be unbiased since as humans we all have biases – just deciding who gets to decide opens up a world of bias…

  10. If we were all Harvard grads saving the world, who would raise the kids, never mind clean the house? I’ve heard that theory about weakening the gene pool but there are so many of us humans, I don’t think that’s a problem. And I am sick to death of reading op-eds about how we North Americans should have more kids because we aren’t replacing ourselves! Apparently the Zero Population Growth concept of the 70s has been forgotten. When global warming wipes out a few billion of us, there will be a resettling of things. On the other hand, I just finished reading this interesting book called “In Search of Time” (not the one by Proust) by the scientist writer Dan Falk and even the universe won’t be here in a few billions of years, so I guess all this doesn’t matter. As Ripley said when she flung the paper across the room in “Aliens”, “And all this bullshit you think is so important? You can just kiss this goodbye.”

  11. If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis……..

    Well,

    She had the child – named him Ludwig VB

    And while we are at it – rich or not – why should any kid survive that is born with defective vision – and needing eye glasses!

    The predators would have taken them out of the gene pool in the past so that faulty gene did not replicate!

    Not to mention living in something like a wheel chair!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_hawking

    Or could it be that perfect vision – is no longer needed when darwinian selection no longer needs it?

    PS – if you did not get it – VB is Van Beethoven 😉

  12. I may have mentioned this before here, but there is a movie called “Idiocracy” that is based on this very concept. Basically, as the world gets crazier, conservative, more intelligent people stop procreating because its impractical, while stupid people keep pumping out the children. After hundreds of years of this, eventually the language becomes a slang-riddled, valley girl hybrid of english and the number one show on tv is called “ouch my balls,” which is basically just a guy getting hit in the balls in various ways.

    I know you’re not a big TV person, but you should rent this film. You’ll get a kick out of it.

  13. Sure it’s amusing for intelligent people to have conversation over cocktails about possibly turning off the genes for reproduction at birth and then making people pass an intelligence and financial test to have the genes turned back on, but then look at these two examples: My friend’s nephew had such a horrific childhood, that he has legally changed his name so that his beastly mother can’t find him. He is a published author and is in law school. She would not have passed the test. And on the other side, some of the Kennedys did not turn out well at all. So really, no matter what you start out with, you never really know what the result will be.

  14. Friar – Yes, it’s an interesting coincidence that the whole eugenics thing sort of died after the mid-1940s. The only problem with your welfare mom vs the double-income yuppie example is that it’s not nature making that selection. The double income yuppie might be just as fertile, but chooses to prevent his/her thriving fertility.
    Tiana – My thinking exactly. We’d be so much better off if we still lived in communities/tribes to support and help each other out instead of living this dog eat dog model.
    Mike – A lot of us wouldn’t be around if our parents had been screened. I don’t think there’s any way to administer eugenics and still call it moral or just. But we do need to step up and stop the cycle of poverty and ignorance – education, jobs, living wages for all, etc.

    Hannah – Sex ed and life skills ed and people need jobs and fair wages and treatment centers, etc., etc. – all that stuff that helps people out of the sort of situations in which no one in this century in this part of the world (or any part of the world, really) should be living/

    Tom – I think if you read carefully you’ll find this is not an opinion piece, just posing some questions. Nowhere did I say I was in any way in favour of eugenics. I was just putting it out there because there are people who are trying to promote the idea even today. There is an issue of many children being raised in poverty and ignorance for which there needs to be an answer. Not this answer. On the other hand there may be instances where screening might be a good thing. What about parents who carry genetic illnesses – they are usually counseled to reconsider their plan to have children in order to eradicate that gene
    Dr. Monkey – Why? You seem like you would have made a fine pop.
    Cyndi – Thanks so much for your comment. Those are some very interesting statistics – and good for you for giving 3 great human beings a better chance in life. Not everyone wants to give their kids up for adoption, though.

    LGS – You’re so right. Like Tiana’s comment, I think you speak to the heart of the issue – increased isolation, lack of community/extended family/societal support.
    Jazz – That’s pretty much what we’re doing now – just letting people do their thing and keeping our fingers crossed. Unfortunately it’s resulting is more and more disenfranchised youth, more kids growing up in poverty and ignorance, more youth crime. It worked well for a long time because people helped each other out – they were connected in a tribe, in a community but, as a couple of others have pointed out we are becoming increasingly isolated – and that’s not working out so well. I think that’s what we have to fix – not individuals.
    Julia – Well, then! Germany is one of the few countries that stuck to the zero population growth thing and now they’re in big trouble as they’re experiencing negative population growth and are getting a little worried about their aging population.
    Elliot – Interesting. These ARE exceptions though, I would think. The problem of all the kids today being raised in situations where they have little chance of succeeding in life isn’t negated by a few stellar examples. It does prove, however, that eugenics isn’t a good answer.
    Mayopie – I’ll look for it. It sounds scary.

    Geewits – True – like I said to Elliot, there are always going to be excellent examples of why we shouldn’t mess around with playing god.

  15. The thing is, you can’t just keep growing and growing. It doesn’t work for animal populations and it won’t work for us. We have to learn to look at infrastructure and economics differently, so that we can handle and enjoy a ZPG scenario. And I’m not kidding about the global warming “correction”.

  16. @XUP

    True. Despite being fertile, the yuppies will make choices to have less kids.

    But then again, Nature can be the root cause of the problem.

    Maybe Yuppies have a gene that tells them it’s more important to focus on their cubicle-job careers, instead of making babies.

    Makes me wonder…the Yuppie sub-species are probably an evolutionary dead-end.

  17. Eugenics is alive and well TODAY ! Just watch Maafa21, it is a new documentary on how it is targeting African Americans TODAY ! All the old players you mentioned plus many new ones – you will be shocked . The film is VERY WELL DOCUMENTED ! get several copies and get the word out: http://www.maafa21.com

  18. Thanks for responding. I just wanted to clear one thing up though, because I’m not talking about voluntary adoption plans. I’m talking about kids in the governmental foster care system due to abuse, neglect, and abandonment by their biological family. These children often have resulting mental and physical illnesses caused BY their genetic ancestry. There are about 510,000 children in foster care in the US at any given time and about 130,000 of those are legal orphans. The parents didn’t WANT to give up their parental rights, they lost them with their own behavior.

  19. Oh man, I recently nearly finished reading “The Broken Cord” by Michael Dorris (late husband of Louis Erdrich a favorite author of mine).

    Dorris adopted 3 children as a single man in the early 1970’s. His first son suffered greatly from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and the book is mainly about the trials of raising that son at a time when FAS was not exactly a diagnosis.

    I had to put down the book for all of the things you mention in this entry and all the comments.

    In the book, Dorris chooses to approach FAS and Native Americans (it is his field of cultural study), and he and some people he quotes flat out say some Native women should be put in prison through pregnancy.

    I struggled so much with the innocent children and the need for resources to give them a chance, throwing in the specific culture/race threw me over the edge. My bus to work goes through Little Earth, a public housing development that is home to the largest urban Native American population in the US. Reading the book while busing by the people at Little Earth mad me so angry and sad at the book.

    First, the fact is that it is a problem for all kinds of people, it is not culturally or racially specific. Second, Little Earth is not a place that beams hope and as a community member I have no clue how to begin to support my neighbors and their children. Dorris did not approach how to help beyond adoption and funding. I did my Master’s thesis on the neighborhood and I know there has been a ton of money given to Little Earth and little change.

    Another reason I had to stop reading the book was I did more research on Dorris and he was accused of abusing his children and they became estranged from him. He committed suicide. There is plenty to that story I do not know, but the basic facts increased my hopelessness. He used his love and resources to adopt 3 abandoned, special needs children and it all went to hell.

    When I waited tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant, when pregnant women ordered drinks we usually told the bartender and then they would make a weak drink but first coat the glass with alcohol and straw for the smell. I suppose it was none of our business, but most of us felt irresponsible serving a pregnant woman margaritas. Some servers flat out asked not to serve the women at all.

  20. Another aspect of this question that should be considered are fertility treatments. Often, when a couple fails to conceive, that is Mother Nature’s way of declining to pass along faulty genetic material. Yet millions of dollars are spent trying to make it happen anyhow, only to produce a child that is possibly… damaged… genetically.

    I am a member of VHEMT… the voluntary human extinction movement. I acknowledge the huge gap between your statement (there must be fewer humans) and mine (there ought to be no humans). However, the means to either end begin in the same place… we must as a race drastically reduce breeding.

    The “how” is a very interesting question indeed. Education is key… when we know our options, when we recognize the enormous carbon footprint a single “first-world” human has, when we can fulfill our humanity without submitting to the feral biological imperative to reproduce… then there’s hope.

  21. Julia – Did you have a look at Susan’s comment? Did you guys meet at one of the OBBs?Y You seem to have a similar philosophy.

    Friar – I thought yuppies were already extinct anyways?

    Cyndi – Thanks for the clarification. Don’t parents still have to sign over their kids for adoption even if children’s services have taken them away? I know they can take them indefinitely into foster care, but at what point do the parents completely lose their rights?

    Missy – Thank you so much for this perspective. You make it all sound so hopeless, though. From your research, what would you suggest? I know from my own experience that a lot of social programs fail despite a lot of money and good intentions pumped into them. What’s the answer for a place like Litte Earth?

    Susan – That’s interestingly radical. You actually advocate making the human race extinct? To the point of disappearance? I guess I applaud the strength of your convictions. I didn’t realize there was an entire organization like this out there. I’ll have to go have a look.

  22. this is a topic i’m quite interested in. i’ve yet to come up with a solution b/c it’s such a complicated topic. how does one decide who should have babies and who should not?

    maybe a person should have to take a test when they get pregnant, maybe that’s why health classes have become more literal in their teaching about birth control and what it’s like to have a baby.

    sadly, it’s not just ignorant people that are breeding. you have well educated woman out there having babies b/c they are trying to save their marriage, or they think they’re going to have a real life dress up doll. they have babies for all the wrong reasons.

    it’s a sensitive topic and i couldn’t support eugenics, unfortunately i don’t have any solutions either.

  23. XUP – No, birth parents do not have to sign anything to have their parental rights severed. It does take the court years and plenty of chances for the parents to work a case plan before Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) happens. It’s a crazy court process which is bent more towards giving birthparents every concession and chance to join society as a whole instead of finding the kids a permanent placement. Even after TPR, they get appeals, last minute pleas, blah blah blah until the court finally gets tired of it and says no. At that point, the child is a legal orphan and free for adoption.

  24. XUP- I still do not know what would work! I hate to sound hopeless, I just do not have the knowledge to know where hope lies. Everyday when I see the kids hop on the Head Start Bus, I say a little secular prayer for their future. They are so young and happy and eager!

    It could be a PhD thesis. As I’m sure you know, there are plenty of people who are not influence by data on potential outcomes and by suggested healthy diets or behaviors.

    A good friend of mine is a psychologist who studies obesity behavior. She will be employed and busy for YEARS. Her research often finds new interventions helping for a small segment of her study population but totally ineffective for the bulk.

    My thesis was about private, culturally specific non-profits, some who worked with government funded human services and some who did not. I did a case study of existing programs that were all in the same neighborhood (actually they were all on the same street within 10 blocks of each other! The neighborhood includes Little Earth.) and discussed where these programs see successes, where they need more $ or time to achieve goals, etc. I played off the benefit of using cultural norms and shared history as a tool to empower people. IE: At a Chicano Latino Center they teach Latin American History and at the same time encourage the importance of leadership and knowledge “The Incas were a powerful people who used math and had a great civilization, everything they had is in you too” sort of thing.

    One thing I learned in my observational research was that a big problem tackled by the Native American centered programs in the area is family building. (I do not mean to pick on that culture, I really did find it interesting and new to me! Again, all kinds of people struggle with all kinds of behavior problems). For several disturbing reasons, Native American families have been torn apart again and again- missionary schools, small pox, war, etc. The population has the highest rate of children in foster care in MN. There are so many people who just do not know how to parent or how maintain a stable family unit because that was taken away from them or their own parents. People are constantly moving from the reservations to the city, children are not raised by their parents, etc.

    A big fault but good intention of the programs serving Little Earth is that they will not work with people who are not sober. All the pow wows, support groups, and other community events are dry and the participants are expected to be sober. Well, sobriety is a HUGE issue. The intention is to peer pressure people to be sober and to reward sobriety, but alcoholism/alcoholics does not really respond to that- so you get alienated community members with the same problems hanging out.

  25. Friar – Ya. Ain’t that something?

    Cyndi – Interesting. I don’t see it as a bad thing that birth parents are given plenty of opportunity to get their shit together. Kids will almost always wonder about their birth parents and want to know them, don’t you think?

    Missy – Holy . I think this cultural thing is something we can’t fully understand and therefore can’t fix. It’s been going on for so long.

  26. Nope, not a bad thing for the parents that actually DO get their shit together. Rhetorical question: would you rather believe that you got fucked by the system or KNOW that the only reason your bio parents showed up to court was that they were currently in jail? For me, I’d want to know so I tell my kids the truth, no matter how hard it is. I always preface it with ‘some people never learn to be grown ups and children can’t raise other children.’

  27. I’m really NOT trying to have the last word! But no, I don’t advocate the elimination of all humans. I just think we’d be better of with fewer of us. Interesting that Susan is into fabric arts! But more knitting links – I don’t knit. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

  28. A subject near and dear to my heart. With my super intelligent daughter having three sons and my “not so bright” daughter and her downright mean husband having eleven (three of whom I am raising). Sometimes, I think there outta be laws. What kind? I don’t know the answer, but these people, with huge families, who keep their children home and away from other people, there needs to be someone watching. Shoot, they don’t even make them test their kids at the end of the school year or they would have found out the eleven year old was now in grade two and three level work. His mother decided she just wouldn’t teach him.

  29. “They say that intelligent people are having fewer children, while less intelligent people are having more and that this will eventually bring about the downfall of our society.”

    -just a little observation on my end down here in the south… those with 4 or more children think that the last president did an okay job.

  30. Cyndi – I’m a great believer in telling kids the truth, no matter how unpleasant it can be sometimes.

    Julia – She and you are both interesting women aside from the fabrics and the no kids thing. And ya, we could certainly do without people having quite so many kids — one or two should be enough for anybody.

    Sheryl – Eleven kids? Holy crap. Obviously they just churned them out without any though as to how they were going to get them from the womb to the happy, healthy, productive adult stage, if you’re having to raise them (and from some of the stuff you’ve written about them in the past). Sheesh. There are some great people home-schooling their kids and doing a much better job than our government-run institutions can do. But they are doing it because they want their children to be freerer and more creative and more engaged in the world around them rather than the opposite — which is why some of these religious cult types keep their kids at home.

    Helen – Uh oh!

  31. Very interesting post and comments!
    Europe’s declining population growth rate is a menace to the Social Security system over here. Spaniards have far less kids than South American and African immigrants living here (from which it would be outrageous to infer that Spaniards are the most intelligent of the lot) but it’s precisely the immigrants who are helping to sustain the system that later helps the less fortunate of Spanish kids as well .
    I dislike the whole principle behind eugenics because it implies the acceptance of someone/some institution that is a cut above all the rest – who decides? who sets the standards?, etc.
    A point no one mentions (maybe Canada’s different in that sense) is the fact that many women feel “obliged” to have children. As if women who feel no need to become mothers, in not fulfilling the role mother nature set out for them, were not real women. Many women who do not feel that need and don’t even like children, still go ahead and have kids, giving in to pressure (spouse’s/ social)
    The worst thing I can think of is an unwanted or unloved child – a lot sadder than a kid whose parents can’t send to University – and a lot likelier to end up being a messed up and unsocial adult.