Reasons Not to Reason Your Way through the Baby Decision
My mom, who still reads a physical copy of the Wall Street Journal and takes the time to clip interesting articles and mail them to me, has just sent something my way that’s essentially rendered this entire blog pointless. It’s Alison Gopnik’s piece: Is it Possible to Reason About Having a Child? For those of you too lazy to read the article (no judgment), I’ll give you a brief synopsis.
Renowned philosopher L.A. Paul argues that the decision to have a child cannot be approached with the same economical ease as other decisions that allow us to consider probabilities and values of each outcome. Why? Because the outcomes are somewhat unknowable. We can’t truly understand what it’s like to have our own child, without actually having it. Gopnik summarizes this conclusion even further:
You might get hints from watching other people’s children. But that overwhelming feeling of love for this one particular baby just isn’t something you can understand beforehand. You may not even like other people’s children and yet discover that you love your own child more than anything. Of course, you also can’t really understand the crushing responsibility beforehand, either.
And lo and behold, it’s even more complicated than that:
Rational decision-making assumes there is a single person with the same values before and after the decision. If I’m trying to decide whether to buy peaches or pears, I can safely assume that if I prefer peaches now, the same “I” will prefer them after my purchase. But what if making the decision turns me into a different person with different values?
I think it’s safe to say that in the case of having a child, for the most part (except for those either browsing or posting on the “I hate being a mom” website), it does. But how are we to know who that future person is and what they would value, cherish, loathe? What gets them through the day, gives them a reason for getting out of bed, makes them want to scream with joy or crawl into a dark hole and never get out? Gopnik sums it up best here:
The person I am before I have children has to make a decision for the person I will be afterward. If I have kids, chances are that my future self will care more about them than just about anything else, even her own happiness, and she’ll be unable to imagine life without them. But, of course, if I don’t have kids, my future self will also be a different person, with different interests and values. Deciding whether to have children isn’t just a matter of deciding what you want. It means deciding who you’re going to be.
The verdict? There’s no way to rationalize your way through this decision. And yet, we keep trying, don’t we? I’ve written on this before (see Intellectualizing the Baby Decision), and even after coming to the rational conclusion that no rational conclusion can ever be reached, we just keep talking in circles about it. I believe this is the definition of insanity, no? Well, if I wasn’t insane before starting this blog, I’m certainly coming closer. And I can’t imagine I’m alone.
I should note that it’s not my mom’s intention to send me articles that render a large writing project useless. Her intention, obviously, is to find an excuse to send me cards with paintings of cats in jester outfits: