Because we are subject to so much indoctrination designed to elicit an affinity towards procreation and a desire to procreate, many confused people are led to the conclusion that procreation must be instinctual, that it’s part of what it means to be human, and even that it must somehow be our ultimate purpose to procreate. in the same way that it is a hammer’s purpose to drive nails and a train’s purpose to carry people and goods over long distances. Any procreation-unfriendly position is likely to run against these ideological obstacles, therefore it seems appropriate to address them.
First, let me dispel the belief that we have a procreative instinct. If we did, then with a rise in health care technology, fertility treatments, artificial reproduction, and so on, we should observe a sharp rise in procreation. Instead, we observe the exact opposite in the Western world, as reproduction rates keep going down. We also observe that this holds true for individual families (rich families are more likely to have some children, but the vast majority of families with more than three children are poor).
No, it is clear that what we have is a sexual instinct, not a procreative instinct, procreation being a side-effect, and a nasty one at that, of coital sex. Before the widespread availability of birth control, coital sex did entail the ever-present possibility of procreation (while homosexual sex, on the other hand, never has). But now, coital sex does not have to mean procreation; because we have no procreative instinct, and in fact many of us have some aversion (however slight or deep) to procreation, birth control is used widely.
These supposedly sex-specific instincts have been used as tools of sexism for centuries, especially the belief that “women are nurturing by nature” and that “women are meant to have children.” The fact is that we have plenty of counter-examples, but that because of social taboos we are unable to really evaluate how prevalent, or not prevalent, non-nurturing or voluntarily childfree women are. But because they are used as tools of sexism, we must reject claims of such instincts prima facie until the taboo is lifted and we can rationally assess, after a generation, whether they were entirely elicited by indoctrination and propaganda, or if something meaningful remains.
The very fact that such propaganda exists is inherently suspicious. We have no need of propaganda to tell people to breathe, eat, have sex, or sleep (although we may tell people how do to these things in a healthy manner).
There is a vicious circle in which indoctrination and propaganda become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, because they create a social climate where disagreement is suppressed (either explicitly by law or implicitly through intimidation and censorship) and agreement becomes normal, accepted, natural. Dissidents feel alone and scared, and don’t dare to speak up. In fanatically religious societies, the assumed benefits of religion and the assumed naturalness of religion are not questioned. It is simply posited that humans are naturally religious and that’s all there is to it. Same for natalist societies.
In a natalist society, the individual must, whether willingly or unwillingly, take on procreation as part of eir very identity. The human being is not just a being living in human systems, but becomes responsible for the perpetuation of those systems (be it the economy, the State, the family, the race, etc). We say that in capitalism, profits are privatized and losses are socialized; in natalism, we have the exact opposite: the benefits of procreation are socialized and the hardships are privatized. But while many people are rightly coming to the realization that capitalism is a false bill of goods, they are more than happy to take on the numerous hardships and risks of procreation for the benefit of abstract systems. In fact many are explicitly proud of this sacrifice.
This leads to a great deal of confusion about what is or is not natural for human beings. We always tend to believe that the institutions that exist in our present society are timeless and reflect something real about how human beings are made (we need government because people are innately evil, we need organized religion because people need salvation, we need nuclear families because that’s how it’s always been, we need a penal system because people who disagree with the norm can be converted by punishing them, etc).
No one will argue that procreation is not, in itself, natural. Of course procreation itself is a natural biological process, but so is cancer. The fact that procreation is a natural biological process does not have any direct ethical consequences.
Many people, however, believe that procreation is our objective purpose. Implicit in such a belief is an insult: anyone who does not procreate is objectively useless. This belief, therefore, serves to reinforce the indoctrination on childbirth; you are either objectified (“you are an evolutionary dead end”) or vilified (“you’re so selfish [for not submitting yourself to the mandatory sacrifice like we did]!”).
Science-minded people use the theory of evolution to try to prop up this belief. Because evolution works by differential reproductive success, with the “fittest” leaving more offspring and spreading their genes, we associate procreation with “winning.” This metaphor is then taken as literal fact and used to talk about purpose. The purpose of all living thing, it is surmised, must be to procreate, and so we must procreate too, or we will “lose.”
I have analyzed this bizarre set of beliefs in my entry debunking Richard Dawkins and my entry on the Ice Cream Argument. It is not really one single belief as much as a gradient of ignorance going from science-like metaphor-gone-awry (analyzed in the former entry) down to outright sports-fan thinking (analyzed in the latter entry).
What they, and the God’s will argument, all have in common is the desire to reduce human lives to the status of means to some abstract, inhuman end, whether it be God, evolution, or “mankind.” To which we have to reply: why are we beholden to these abstract concepts? A hammer and a train suit their purpose because they are inanimate, unthinking objects. We are not inanimate, unthinking objects (although many of my opponents think very little). We are able to deny any abstract purpose and put human values front and center, where they belong.
In fact, we already do so in the three categories I’ve mentioned. We have already issued our “fuck you” to natural selection with modern medicine; by the way we treat each other, we obviously don’t believe in “mankind”; and organized religion is constantly “reinterpreting” God’s will in accordance with secular morality.
Since my opponents have no qualms treating children and (in most cases) pregnant women as means to an end, in order to fully debunk the argument, I should answer this question: why is it wrong to treat human beings as means to an end? Why should we care? Because the proposition that we should not treat human beings as means to an end is fundamental to our conception of justice. We oppose murder, theft, fraud, assault, and we don’t want to be subject to them, because they harm us, but the basis of this harm is that we are treated as a means to someone else’s end instead of being treated as moral agents. There are plenty of actions which are painful or harmful which we gladly accept because they help fulfill our values.
Furthermore, treating people as means to an end goes against the most crucial social values: freedom, equality and cooperation (people using others as means to an end elevate themselves as an elite class exempt from the manipulations they inflict on others), consent (using people as means to an end is either done against their consent, or by manipulating their consent) and human rights (to use others as means to an end is to prevent them from fulfilling their own values). The ultimate end result of treating people as means to an end is slavery, which is also the opposite of being in society; slaves are objects, not equals. But the more we treat someone else as a means to an end, the more we treat them like slaves.
All of this may seem uncontroversial to my opponents, but, if that is the case, they must explain why they believe it is perfectly fine to use children and pregnant women as means to an end, when they already agree that it is wrong to treat people as means to an end. And if my premises seem controversial to them, they must explain why they believe it is fine to use people as means to an end given all that I’ve already said. Both prospects seem rather daunting, although I am open to refutations.
Note that I am not saying that pro-choice advocates should not believe in “mankind” or in choice, or that anti-abortion advocates should not believe in God or in “ensoulement.” What I am saying is that they should not seek to impose concrete harm on the basis of these abstract concepts. Whether their ends are justified is a separate issue, which I think I have sufficiently addressed in previous entries. But either way, whether these ends are justified or not, it is still wrong to treat people as means to an end (I wholeheartedly reject the consequentialist argument that it is okay to sacrifice lives as long as it serves a greater justified purpose).
The only right conclusion, I believe, is that there cannot be such a thing as a right or duty to impose harm on others. And the only position compatible with this conclusion is the pro-abortion position.
Now, I mentioned God’s will regarding procreation, but I left the discussion of this topic for the end, so that you may skip over this theological ending if you wish. Now, it is true that Genesis 1 states:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it
However, contrary to what Christians believe, this is not a command given to humans but rather a blessing. Not only does it say so in the verse itself, but consider these other verses in Genesis 1:
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
Obviously God is not commanding the whales and the fowls to procreate. How would a whale or a fowl understand commands? It is very obviously a blessing, not a command. So the belief that God commands humans to procreate in the Bible is plainly false on its face.