Should This Be the Last Generation?

picture of Peter Singer

I don’t like or agree with every view that Dr. Peter Singer has. I do love reading his short essays. First, he is a real philosopher who still knows how to talk to and write for the general public. Second, his opinions are usually based on a chain of reasoning. I know that should be a given for a philosopher, but the subjects I have read Singer’s views on are usually filled with people basing their opinions on strong emotions and pretending not to have noticed any surrounding facts. Instead of getting wind blown at me when asking about an opinion , I get reason from Dr. Singer. Dr. Singer also avoids getting personal, which I can’t say the same for some of his critics.

In this online essay for the New York Times Dr. Singer discusses deciding whether or not to have children from the point of view of the sake of the potential child and of the planet.

Interestingly, I recently learned of a group called “choice moms”. “Choice Moms” are single women who have made the decision to have a child, on their own, sans having a partner in their life or a father in their child’s life. My impression was that such decisions were driven by the desires of the mother and not by whether or not it was good for the child, good for the world.

Dr. Singer brings up that point, but in a unique way. He makes the point that people only consider the welfare of a potential child if that child will be born into a bad situation like a physical handicap. With just about 7 billion people on the planet with the threat of 11 billion by 2050 ( http://tinyurl.com/currentpopulation ) Dr. Singer asks if people should begin weighing the decision to give birth for children who would also be born into optimal circumstances.

Going beyond the mundane ( as well looming, threatening, and important ) issues of what life will be like in a more overpopulated world, Dr. Singer brings up a point by Arthur Schopenhauer, which sounds remarkably similar to some points in early Buddhism:

The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer held that even the best life possible for humans is one in which we strive for ends that, once achieved, bring only fleeting satisfaction. New desires then lead us on to further futile struggle and the cycle repeats itself.

IMHO, this is fairly evident, but life can be worthwhile simply for the pleasure of being alive, relating to people and growing.

Dr. Singer also thinks things are not as dire as Schopenhauer saw it. Dr. Singer then raises an interesting question. If everyone on the planet would agree to not reproduce, would that be a good decision?

Many issues which conscientious people worry about would be gone, as we would soon be gone. We could live it up, leave the Earth to heal itself and become a suitable home to the other species who still inhabit it.

My answer is no. It would not be a good decision.

There would be nobody around to appreciate that peaceful garden, so what would be the point?

Like Singer, I think the human race is headed for some rather unpleasant times, but if we don’t perish in those time I think, as a whole the human race will learn to live in a much better way. That world, is worth having and that world is worth having people in to appreciate it.

Anyway, enough of my blabber. Here is a hyperlink to his essay.

Should This Be The Last Generation?

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3 thoughts on “Should This Be the Last Generation?”

  1. You state:

    “There would be nobody around to appreciate that peaceful garden, so what would be the point?”

    But there will be others around, after us. There will be billions of animals who will appreciate the earth. They’ll appreciate it MORE when humans are gone, since not only the damage we’ve done to it but our very presence has largely been a hindrance to them.

    So, let’s minimize our impact here, enjoy it while we can, and leave it for others to enjoy after us.

  2. 1. I don’t find the idea of the human race’s extinction to be particularly troubling. The idea that it’s up to us to appreciate the universe strikes me as kind of arrogant. There are other sentient species on Earth, there are almost certainly other sentient species elsewhere in the universe, and even more will almost certainly evolve in the future. And even if there weren’t, the universe wouldn’t care that it wasn’t being appreciated, so why should we?

    2. I do find Singer’s idea (that everyone alive today could agree to have no more children) troubling for other reasons. If humans stopped reproducing today, then 90 years from now there would be no one alive younger than 90. What kind of world would that be? I don’t think human extinction is worrisome, but neither do I think it’s especially *desirable*, and I certainly don’t think it’s *so* desirable that today’s newborns (who can’t agree to anything, at least not yet) should be condemned to a life in which they can’t ever retire.

    3. That said, the human population of Earth obviously can’t go on increasing forever, and right now overpopulation is a more pressing issue than voluntary extinction.

    4. I’m not a parent myself, and I don’t plan to become one, but that’s almost entirely due to personal preference, not ethics. And I don’t think my personal preferences make me morally superior (or inferior) to other people who happen to have different preferences.

    5. OMG SINGER THINKS WE SHOULD ALL FUCK OUR DOGS!!!! (Just thought I’d get that in there before anyone else did.)

    6. Is this really the first time it’s occurred to you that there are women who become single mothers on purpose?

  3. I have met intentional single mothers before. “Choice Moms” is the first formal group/movement/term to provide support/justification/rationalizations for that decision that I’ve encountered.

    I don’t see human beings as being any less noble or deserving as other animals.

    If you ever read about Jane Goodall’s work it looks like people are still playing the same basic game that other animals are, just making it more sophisticated.

    It is my opinion that if other animals evolved to have the same cognitive powers we have, while retaining their animal drives like we do, they would be having the same kind of issues we are.

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