Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Rethinking the institutions of reproduction

‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men’ wrote Borges. Alas, the number of men needs to be multiplied sometimes in order for the population not to die out. What’s more, after reading Dawkins, it’s difficult not to view reproduction as the only truly objective goal of human life (because a human-centered viewpoint is myopic and hardly objective, while a gene-centered perspective on human life is broad and impartial).

As a civilization, we’re at the beginning of exciting times. The future is bright, and what science already allows us is a fascinating progress in the quest of liberating man from the dictate of obsolete nature. Challenging mainstream views on reproduction is still a taboo because many family-related institutions are considered sacred. But excessive attachment to customs is just a traditionalist legacy. I’m certain that in the next decades we’ll see radical changes related to the following spheres of reproduction: from fertilization and gestation, to the social arrangements of childcare and family life in general.

The mechanisms of fertilization

First, the future society will inevitably find a way to get rid of the unfair advantage that males have when it comes to reproductive timing. While biology permits men to preserve fertility until a middle age, it doesn’t allow women the same privilege, which puts a toll on their life, career, and personal fulfillment. Luckily, science is a path towards freedom. I’m certain that the future belongs to the process of oocyte cryopreservation– the freezing of cells (or embryos). It involves extraction of several egg cells or gametes from ovaries, and freezing them for years in order to delay reproduction until a more convenient time. This is a relatively new procedure developed in the 90s, however the process is already streamlined and widely used among those who can afford it. Here’s a report of one Russian science journalist who had successfully given birth after using cryopreservation just to prove that the science is majestic.

The Varian Rule (named after Google’s chief economist Hal Varian) states that whatever technology is available to rich people now will likely become available to nearly everyone within the next decade (as it happened to mobile phones, computers, etc). Along the same lines, William Gibson famously noted that the future is already here – it’s just not distributed evenly. Watching rich people’s habits is the simplest way to forecast what’s coming, as their habits inevitably become more affordable with time. Even today, the cost of cellular cryopreservation in Eastern European clinics only slightly exceeds EUR 1,000 (plus, an additional EUR 100 per year for storage!)

Full surrogacy now

Second, after rethinking the timing and process of fertilization, we also need to rethink the mechanism of gestation – or, in more common terms – pregnancy. When artificial wombs become available, human females should be liberated from the unworthy labor of gestation. Some moral philosophers like Michael Sandel argue that certain things are sacred and shouldn’t be exchanged for money (such as motherhood or serving one’s country in army). Surrogacy and private military companies are unethical for Sandel – which is easy for him to say since he’s a man (furthermore – a man above the age of conscription!). However, the truth that every female knows is that nothing’s more repulsive than the process of natural gestation and labor.

In the previous post we’ve already covered the is / ought (descriptive / normative) distinction: whatever is natural doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good. The mechanism of human childbirth is perhaps the most obvious example of why natural things don’t have to be good at all. In humans, childbirth is a notoriously traumatic process, the anatomical configuration of which often causes damage to a mother organism. For reptiles and mammals giving birth is not a big deal – a cat doesn’t give a damn. But evolution made humans too smart and human babies – grossly big-headed, which came with a certain set of biological complications.

It might be a total surprise for men, but a regular process of natural childbirth is usually accompanied by the following horrors. First, a shift of bones in a mother’s pelvis (imagine experiencing your bones moving and shifting with a squeaking sound). Second, a literal tearing of tissues in reproductive organs (imagine one’s own body tissues and muscles tearing apart, and not just any body tissues – the most sensitive ones). Third, a prolapse of intestines due to enormous pressure exercised while pushing a baby out. Not even mentioning the excruciating pain accompanying the whole process that often lasts for more than 15 hours. Yes, all of these are merely casual attributes of natural labor, and if this description hasn’t persuaded you that the whole process is awfully horrendous, I don’t know what else could.

The mechanism of human childbirth is perhaps the best illustration that nature is not beautiful: it’s gross, painful, and appalling. If this gruesome work can be outsourced to those who are willing to do it for money, perfect. If it can be outsourced to machines and artificial wombs – even better (if you think about it, the technology is not even that unimaginably difficult). Full surrogacy now!

Against the nuclear family

True happiness is theoretically accessible to everyone. However, as just John Stuart Mill notes: ‘The present wretched education, and wretched social arrangements, are the only real hindrance to its being attainable by almost all’.

Finally, we need to give a thought to the current social institutions related to childcare and the idea of family as a whole. I think we’re in this weird period of history when the institutions related to reproduction clearly prove to be dysfunctional – and yet, no one dares to admit it. Never ever in history of the mankind children have been raised within a nuclear family – traditionally, it took a village to raise a baby. How come we’ve forgotten about the main principle of economic efficiency? The economy of scale! Never has it been the sole responsibility of two parents – who, to add more, usually have two full-time jobs. And yet, in the modern post-industrial world, two people bear the cost of serving a creature with an underdeveloped brain, spending their most productive years on the least worthy human activities – like handling feces and negotiating with psychopaths whether they should put on shoes.

How could anyone think that the family life is appealing? In the current form, it’s nothing but degrading. I fully agree with Marx that a nuclear family is a bourgeois institution created by capitalists for the sake of burdening and distracting the working class – so that workers occupy their evenings handling offsprings and don’t contemplate a proletarian revolution. This is a broader historical trend – as Hannah Arendt notes, in the past century all the most meaningful and virtuous human activities were gradually pushed into the realm of private. Having thoughts about reforming the system? Feel free to discuss it with your spouse and children over dinner (one would rather choose Netflix). And never ever ever take it to the public sphere. Habermas called it a structural degradation of the public domain. The intellectual stuff remains interesting, but we resort to discussing it privately and rarely take any action offline.

What upsets me the most about this whole arrangement is that many of the smartest and most talented people of current generation choose not to reproduce at all – conducting a willful elimination of their own genes from the mankind’s gene pool, choosing a deliberate defeat in the quest of biological selection. Which is not going to improve the excellence of the future population at all.

To tackle the problem, we first need to admit that nuclear family is an artificial arrangement, and then – to rethink ‘the wretched institutions’ related to raising children. As mentioned, in traditional societies bringing up children was based on the economy of scale, as social life was organized around large communities and extended families. The idea was that upbringing many children only has a marginally increased fixed cost compared to upbringing just a few. For better or worse, traditional communities break down with the processes of modernization, industrialization, and economic growth – everything that has given us the best benefits of the modern world. Obviously, there’s no way back to traditional societies. We cannot go back and we shouldn’t. Conservatives are just sentimental cowards with no imagination for what the bright future could bring us. So we need to find a way to regain economy scale associated with child-rearing, the fixed cost optimization, by other means. So I propose the following. Affordable boarding schools. Full-year-long camps (preferably on a far-away island). Overnight kindergartens. If it seems too much, no worries: children can always be taken home for a weekend. Nature is everything anyway, while the impact of nurture has been proven to be overrated. 

Libertarians would argue: delegating stuff to communities (and what’s worse – to the state) would inevitably expose children to various sorts of propaganda such as learning about 78 genders in biology classes. To address this problem, I propose two options. First, we can either keep schools public and revive the idea of classical school education (focused on logic, rhetoric, and teaching of abstract concepts of human thought – through the studies of classical literature, fine arts, and the history of civilizations). Second option – to replace public schools with private schools completely, the curriculum of which would be aligned with moral values of each political community. Unfortunately, political communities in their current form are still tied to particular territories (we haven’t gone through the great unsettlement yet), so this would probably only be achievable online. But in the future, apart from decoupling states from the territory, we should aim at reducing the size of political communities (something more similar to a Greek polis is best) or make states entirely virtual.

The most vicious idea propagated on social media these days is presenting it as either / or, a choice between two alternatives: whether to pursue personal fulfillment or dedicate one’s life to biological reproduction. This sentiment is completely unnecessary – it’s only the current institutions that are utterly imperfect. In the future, every individual should be given an opportunity to alleviate the biological burden of reproduction. Instead of dedicating a large part of one’s life to ungrateful mammalian activities, delegate it at least partially to community, and by means of collective effort optimization – to allow for a more productive and more respectable time spending on the side of each individual. A choice, that I think, already implies a clear and definitive answer.

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