“Useful idiot” is a term used to describe members of the intelligentsia who were exploited by Stalin to promote his murderous “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Bryan Caplan is a useful idiot for the natalist order. I already addressed some of his natalist propaganda before, but this short article, called Parenthood as the Trump of All Past Regret, definitely trumps that. In it, Caplan basically makes himself into the next Candide, but he’s actually serious:
Here’s my argument:
1. Basic biology: A man produces hundreds of millions of sperm every day. Each of these sperm contains (half of) the genetic blueprint for a different person. The slightest physical movement changes the position of sperm.
2. Therefore, any change in my life prior to my children’s conception would have led my children not to exist. If I had crossed my legs differently, or walked to the frig, or even chuckled an extra time, the sperm would have been rearranged, negating my children’s existence. I might have had different children, of course, but they wouldn’t be the ones I have.
3. Like most parents, I have a massive endowment effect vis-a-vis my children. I love them greatly simply because they exist and they’re mine. If you offered to replace one of my sons with another biological child who was better in every objective way, I’d definitely refuse.
4. Therefore, if you offered me a “do-over” on any aspect of my life prior to my children’s conception, I would refuse, for it would mean that these specific children would never have been born.
5. Since I wouldn’t want to change any event prior to my children’s conception, I have nothing to regret. And since I have nothing to regret during this period, I don’t regret anything.
Yes, you read that right: Caplan believes that his children being the way they are now is non-negotiable, and that any change in history means he’d be “replacing” them for other children which are not his. This of course is a complete error in logic: if Caplan’s children had been born different (i.e. different than the ones he has now), he would see that as the default and would have never known the “original” children. From his perspective, those children are the ones he would be “defending” from “do-overs,” not the ones he has now (the “original” children).
If he seriously believes that these “changed” children are not his, then we fall into this statement he makes after the argument:
It also doesn’t apply if you wish you’d had a different child, or no child at all. But your child has to be pretty rotten to warrant such a wish, no?
Since there is no way for Caplan to distinguish between children he wants and children he doesn’t want because they are not “his” in some weird metaphysical way, I guess he thinks his own children might be “pretty rotten.” Or his arguments makes no fucking sense, whichever.
You may also have noticed the more astonishing gap in logic in his argument. Commenters Dennis Mangan and eric sure did:
By your line of reasoning, no one (who has children anyway) has any reason to regret anything at all. Everyone lives in the best of all possible worlds.
According to that logic, you should appreciate everything that has ever happened, including WW2, news reports about Jeffrey Dahmer, etc.
To be fair, though, we already know that natalists are budding Candides. After all, they have children, or want to have children, in a world where a million people kill themselves every year, six million children die of starvation every year, and we’re headed towards Collapse in a handbasket. So yes, this is truly the perfect world to have three children (not just one or two, but a whole three children), just like Bryan Caplan.
My suggestion that Caplan is a useful idiot is not meant as an insult; I mean that he is a tool of the natalist order. It is otherwise rather mind-boggling to imagine how anyone could rationalize an argument which basically amounts to believing that this world has nothing in it to be regretted. The similarity of this behaviour to the intellectuals who ignored the starvation and purges in the Soviet Union for the sake of communism is hard to ignore.
I don’t think that Caplan intends to be a useful idiot any more than anyone does. I think he really believes the utter dreck he spouts about how great for ourselves and for society it is to have children. Since he is intelligent enough to realize that his argument here is fallacious, I think this article is probably a rationalization he’s constructed to bolster his beliefs.
To a certain extent, I think this is also a manifestation of the “my children are perfect and I wouldn’t want any other” syndrome, as well as the “my genes are so great” syndrome. Why would Caplan refuse to have his children be replaced at birth by other children that are better in every way? Because they are not “his”? Because they do not carry his genetic code? Why should we give a shit about Caplan’s genetic pride? Are his genetics so great that they, and not others, should be used to create new human lives? How does his pride (in something he has no control over, making it an imbecilic pride on the same knuckle-dragging level than patriotism and racism) justify inflicting suffering on innocent human beings?
Well at least they’re HIS children, right? And that makes it all worth it, right? Because, as a good “anarcho-capitalist,” Caplan naturally believes that a man should be judged solely by what he owns, and by jove he’s gonna own the hell out of those three human beings! They are a reflection of his own genetic, um, “merit,” right?
I would love to try to talk to Caplan about it. I can imagine how THAT conversation would go:
FT: “Mister Caplan, how do you feel in your heart of hearts about your conscious infliction of suffering on three innocent human beings that you claim possession of, you disgusting birtherbot by way of Randian hyper-optimism and Rothbardian self-contradictory property rights?”
BC: “I don’t regret anything. Well, I do regret making the astonishingly retarded statement that women were more free in the 1880s than they are today, making me the stupidest man alive. But if I wasn’t the stupidest man alive, then my children would not be my children, and that would be terrible.”
FT: “Well, I think that the stupidest man alive having children is already pretty terrible, regardless of whether they’re actually ‘yours’ in a weird metaphysical way or not, you coercive natalist scumbag.”
BC: “A fair point.”
(Note that this is how you know this is an imaginary conversation: Caplan actually concedes something)