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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 7:27amSanction this postReply
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I found this article thought-provoking and sanctioned it.  I prefer the term "childfree" rather than "childless" and refer interested readers to this site:

http://www.childfree.net/

An excellent book for those considering children is The Parenthood Decision which gives a fairly balanced look at the benefits and detriments of bearing and raising children.

I do not consider the placement of children into day care facilities inherently bad or good.  It is simply another venue parents have for maximizing their own values.  I do consider many parents as failing to account for all the unintended consequences of parenting before deciding to have children.  I know of some parents who say they would never have had children if they lived their lives over again.  Harsh but true.

(Edited by Luke Setzer on 8/27, 7:30am)




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 8:19amSanction this postReply
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Hi Roger:

Thanks for the insightful essay!

I really enjoyed it.

Cheers!

Ed




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 8:23amSanction this postReply
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Luke:
I do consider many parents as failing to account for all the unintended consequences of parenting before deciding to have children.  I know of some parents who say they would never have had children if they lived their lives over again.  Harsh but true.
 
Oh yeah. Maybe more like unanticipated. They often don't take the time to anticipate even the basics involved in bringing another human being into the world. Imagine! Of course you never know what the experience will actually be like, but you can at the minimum evaluate if you are fit enough as a couple to begin one.

And, yes, harsh but true is the case. It's a big question, it requires honesty. Not that you can do anything about it, but you can try to answer it honestly, even though it's moot. I might not have, but I'm happy with my family. Hindsight is 20, and all.

Thoughtfully written article~ enjoyed and sanctioned.

rde






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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 8:37amSanction this postReply
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Roger, I really enjoyed this essay and I like your writing style and tone.

Regarding parenting, you mentioned a rise in "egocentric" (poor) parenting dating from about the 1980s (the decade of egocentricity). However, I wonder how much of this is real, and how much is merely imagined. It is easy for us all to become a "victim of the times." Michael Shermer writes about the Beautiful People Myth, which speaks to the human tendency to view greener grass in other times or places.

Here is what I learned while in Nottingham, talking to the locals: it was socially acceptible for fathers to sleep with their daughters -- in order to "break them in." When I pressed for a relevant date for these atrocities, I got one -- a particular year, in fact! -- most likely from an actual victim of this blatantly "egocentric" parenting policy: 1949.

As I examine history, I find similar tendencies of children treated as slaves, of the "should be seen but never heard" bromide, and other evidence that leads me to conclude that parenting has always been more "egocentric" -- than it is now.

Sure, there is a tremendous problem of kids (literal or psychological ones) having kids. This is an unavoidable consequence of the Welfare State. In defense of older times, it was not possible to bear children, unless produced resources were available -- and producing requires dealing with reality (it requires a measure of psychological maturity). Now, responsibility (to be productive) has been severed from child-rearing, so that one can occur without the other.

Regarding generativity, my first take was: Well, I'm SURE that generativity is subsumed under flourishing (because the standard for flourishing, already encompasses everything -- ie. a whole life, well lived). After reading your essay however, I am not so sure about what seemed to me to be so obvious. You make a good argument for distinction (between generativity and flourishing), but I will have to refrain from judgment for now, until I achieve a position on the matter where I "know how it is that I can know" that my achieved position is the right one.

I thoroughly enjoyed your analogies, I felt comfortable and drawn-in by reading your words (due to tone & style), and I appreciate you overstepping usual boundaries (philosophical trail-blazing) to advance this theme of generativity. Thanks for moving me thus you, you, you ... generativitor.

Ed





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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 10:58amSanction this postReply
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Rich Engle wrote:
Oh yeah. Maybe more like unanticipated. They often don't take the time to anticipate even the basics involved in bringing another human being into the world. Imagine! Of course you never know what the experience will actually be like, but you can at the minimum evaluate if you are fit enough as a couple to begin one.
Ha!  I would include marriage with that description of "unanticipated consequences."




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 12:33pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Roger:

I enjoyed your article and it made me think.

But I get the feeling I don't quite "get it". Maybe I am missing something, but I cannot find a philosophically acceptable explanation for raising "generativity" to such a level of importance. You seem to be simply endorsing the ideas of Aristotle, and Aristotle through Aquinas, without explaining "why" generativity is philosophically central as a guide to establishing a purpose in life.

I say this reluctantly because I instinctively "feel" that "generativity" as you explain it is a virtuous activity - I say that purely derived from the selfish feelings of happiness I feel when I see my child aquiring good values, or when I create something worthy of leaving behind for others to enjoy.

What I mean is that I just don't see how you justify this on foundations of reason. I don't understand how creating an image of oneself ... presumably for the ultimate benefit of others more than oneself ... can be considered an ultimate life purpose.

Please don't take this as a disagreement. I would like to agree with you on this, but right now I just don't understand it. I am but an amateur philosophist (and not a particularly enthusiastic one) but this is something central to the philosophy I aspire to living, so I will reread the article tomorrow, plus any light you or others can shed, in order to see if I can grasp the central tenet of what you are claiming.

Or maybe you are just wrong. (Big smiley!) :)

All the best
David




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 2:16pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for your insightful article. Your observation that proper human living naturally includes not only survival and flourishing, but a particular sort of flourishing that you identify as generativity, seems valid. Often successful businessmen in the later years of their lives strive to share their ideas and wealth with other people. They may turn to writing, or politics, or leading philosophical crusades, forming foundations, and so on. I think this may be an expression of self esteem: the need to project onto the world one's achievements, so that one may see those achievements objectively, sometimes through the lives of others.

In addition, this desire may be inspired by the objective need we all share to affirm the principles that give rise to life. That's why people spend a lot of energy and effort in trying to persuade other people of their abstract philosophical and political ideas. That's why other people plant and raise roses.

Finally, I agree with your observation that the desire to find an optimal mate and raise and nurture children is natural to humans, even though that desire sometimes gets repressed.  

My only quibble is with your idea that a country is a sort of biological entity, with desires and the need to grow and project itself. Only individuals think, choose, and act. Are there Swiss colonies? However, I consider this a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent article. 




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 9:08amSanction this postReply
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Luke, thanks for the link to the "childfree" site.  That's a good resource to know about. 



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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 6:33pmSanction this postReply
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I found your article quite thought provoking, Roger. I see from the above remarks that Iím not the only one. Iíll definitely have to think further and reflect on the nature of the generative and itís completion of the survival/flourishing picture. You definitely introduce an important component of human happiness missing from many Objectivist discussions. Thanks, again.




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 8:49pmSanction this postReply
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I enjoyed your article.  This issue is probably more important to the future of Objectivism than any other.  I've never quite understood the passionate opposition to children displayed by some Objectivists (as well as some Feminists).  I personally would rather build a house, share it with a wife, and fill it with children, than build a skyscraper, write a novel, start a company, etc.  I'll just make sure it's the best damn house I can build - then I'll watch my children build houses and skyscrapers, write novels...  and spoil my grandkids.

If the only thing that is "irreplaceable" is individual human beings, then isn't the highest productive act creating people and providing them with an environment in which they can thrive?  I understand the flip side of this - the argument that placing such importance on other people, independent of their having earned such importance, might be skewing values by making them dependant on other people...

My experience growing up on a farm is that there are very few things more fulfilling than helping living things succeed at living, and that the higher order life - the more fulfilling.  I never found soybean sprouts to be nearly as intriguing as a baby calve just learning to walk after I helped with the delivery.  I think most people, certainly not all, are probably making a mistake if they actively decide not to have children, given a "reasonable" opportunity to do so.




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Saturday, August 27, 2005 - 11:07pmSanction this postReply
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Fine article, Roger. Thanks. My speculation:

To see something of ourselves in the world. That's the thing. Be it a bit of music that you've written, the laughter of a close friend who actually gets your crazy jokes, or a quick self-congratulation over the freshly-cut lawn. We all need to see something of ourselves out there. A child, your child, is an open window into your soul. You can learn so much about a parent from the child. And the parent with a keen eye will learn best (about themselves). You will learn much more about yourself from your living, breathing, smiling, playing child than you will from your skyscrapers. The smile of a child trumps cold steel. 

There is also a great danger in having a child because there is no guarantee that the kid will turn out anything like the way you hope. Objectivist-types are often control-freaks. The decision to have a child is the decision to throw caution to the wind. Anything at all can happen. It can be a long series of mostly wonderful experiences or it can lead to the most painful experiences imaginable. It's a calculated roll of the dice. 




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Sunday, August 28, 2005 - 6:14amSanction this postReply
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Casey Brown reminisced and evaluated:
My experience growing up on a farm is that there are very few things more fulfilling than helping living things succeed at living, and that the higher order life - the more fulfilling.  I never found soybean sprouts to be nearly as intriguing as a baby calve just learning to walk after I helped with the delivery.  I think most people, certainly not all, are probably making a mistake if they actively decide not to have children, given a "reasonable" opportunity to do so.
I also grew up on a farm but I assigned a considerably lower value to the same events you described:
  1. Dealing with cows is a pain in the backside--period.
  2. Dealing with cows in labor doubles the pain in the backside.
  3. Dealing with cows assures a bollixed schedule, inconvenient emergencies and other unplanned catastrophes.
  4. Dealing with cows puts one at risk of getting trampled or gored by ungrateful, easily spooked, big dumb animals who rightly face a destiny of becoming steaks on my plate.
By contrast:
  1. Soybeans behave in a much more predictable fashion than cows.
  2. Soybeans will not trample or gore a person although their planting and harvesting equipment might.
Guess what?  I now work as a mechanical engineer, not a farmer or rancher.

Oh, one more thing:
  1. Many children share qualities 1-3 of the cow list.  I hear some tribes in the world also occasionally assign them quality 4 as well.  I am only being slightly facetious here.




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Sunday, August 28, 2005 - 11:22amSanction this postReply
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Luke seems to think that dealing with labor can be a pain in the backside.

Not for you and me, Luke. And donít underestimate the entertainment value of those every-30-minutes checks when one fresh nurse after another comes in and puts her hand into your wife.

Jon



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Sunday, August 28, 2005 - 1:50pmSanction this postReply
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Jon that line was so wrong... =)

---Landon




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Sunday, August 28, 2005 - 6:21pmSanction this postReply
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Roger,

Itís a great article. While not strictly required for the establishment of the Objectivist (meta)Ethics, generativity is, as you say, required for a full, healthy life.

All,

Letís not have a kid debate. Generativity can entail that, but includes more.

Jon



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Monday, August 29, 2005 - 10:15amSanction this postReply
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Roger,

Thank you for a most intriguing article.

You cut to the core of the nature of life itself to build on, not just rational life. I have found a lack of this to be a shortcoming in focus by Objectivist writers in most of what I have read and intellectually digested.

Before I am an individual, I am a human being, but before that I am a mammal - and so on until we get to living organism. Each and every stage has particular characteristics that build on before. Crowning the whole kit and caboodle with reason does not invalidate those characteristics. On the contrary, reason is to be added to them.

So before asking what is the nature of reason, we have to ask what is the nature of life itself. The confusion from omitting this seems to be reflected in David's post above (with all due respect, David).

You have filled in a huge gap in my on thinking. I knew it was there and I knew more or less what to fill it with, but you gave it extremely clear words and helped me refine my own thinking in other areas.

In my very first essay on Solo I discussed "biological love." "Generativity" hits the mark much squarer in the middle. The term is a bit cumbersome, however. I would like to see a more attractive term that is easier to communicate. If you say "generativity" is one of the meanings of life to a normal factory worker, for instance, his eyes will glaze over.

Still... more. I want more. You have a wonderful mind.

Michael



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Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - 1:04amSanction this postReply
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The discussion seems to have tapered off, so now is a good time for some wrap-up replies and comments (though additional comments are always welcome!)...

Ed Thompson wrote:
Regarding generativity, my first take was: Well, I'm SURE that generativity is subsumed under flourishing (because the standard for flourishing, already encompasses everything -- ie. a whole life, well lived). After reading your essay however, I am not so sure about what seemed to me to be so obvious. You make a good argument for distinction (between generativity and flourishing), but I will have to refrain from judgment for now, until I achieve a position on the matter where I "know how it is that I can know" that my achieved position is the right one.
and David Bertelsen wrote:
I enjoyed your article and it made me think. But I get the feeling I don't quite "get it". Maybe I am missing something, but I cannot find a philosophically acceptable explanation for raising "generativity" to such a level of importance. You seem to be simply endorsing the ideas of Aristotle, and Aristotle through Aquinas, without explaining "why" generativity is philosophically central as a guide to establishing a purpose in life. I say this reluctantly because I instinctively "feel" that "generativity" as you explain it is a virtuous activity - I say that purely derived from the selfish feelings of happiness I feel when I see my child aquiring good values, or when I create something worthy of leaving behind for others to enjoy. What I mean is that I just don't see how you justify this on foundations of reason. I don't understand how creating an image of oneself ... presumably for the ultimate benefit of others more than oneself ... can be considered an ultimate life purpose.
In a certain sense, one is flourishing if one is living well, but I tend to use the term more narrowly. Here's a simple example to argue for this: consider the lilies. (Har-har.) Lilies grow and develop -- and, in time, they also create new lilies. We generally only use the term "flourish" to describe the former activity, while for the latter we instead use the term "reproduce" or (if they create many new lilies) "proliferate" Both terms refer to an increase of fullness, a burgeoning outward, of the life process of the lilies -- in the former, expanding themselves, in the latter, spilling outward into the environment. 

So, and to generalize, within the broad concept of "living well," I see the need for a distinction between flourishing (including physical growth and development, learning, character development, etc.), which is creating or producing value within oneself -- and generativity (including child-bearing and supporting, art, commerce, earning a living, etc.), which is creating or producing value outside of oneselfAnd since one's values are an aspect of oneself, then by creating or producing them outside of oneself, one is reproducing an aspect of oneself in the world.

There are important existential and psychological reasons for regarding both flourishing and generativity as rational virtues and, particularly, as means to happiness (which is one's ultimate moral purpose). It is good to learn (an aspect of flourishing) and to produce material goods (an aspect of generativity), because educating and supporting oneself are ways one exercises one's rational faculty so that it functions as one's means of survival (and happiness). It is also good to build one's moral character by virtuous actions (an aspect of flourishing), because this is how one enhances one's self-esteem, which is one's sense that one is worthy and capable of living, another precondition of one's happiness. It is also good to inject one's values into the world (an aspect of generativity), because this is how one makes ones values real and open to one's direct observation, as a reminder that the universe is benevolent, that man is capable of achieving his values (and being happy) if he acknowledges and adapts to the nature of reality.

As Lance Moore wrote:
To see something of ourselves in the world. That's the thing. Be it a bit of music that you've written, the laughter of a close friend who actually gets your crazy jokes, or a quick self-congratulation over the freshly-cut lawn. We all need to see something of ourselves out there.
Mark Humphrey also touched on this last point when he wrote:
Often successful businessmen in the later years of their lives strive to share their ideas and wealth with other people. They may turn to writing, or politics, or leading philosophical crusades, forming foundations, and so on. I think this may be an expression of self esteem: the need to project onto the world one's achievements, so that one may see those achievements objectively, sometimes through the lives of others.
It is true that people, especially those who have not had children, often explore other avenues for generativity in their later years. This phenomenon is sometimes called the "legacy" urge or motive. It is because one's achievements during one's earlier years may not have left much of a discernable trace in the world that some yearn for a more visible, concrete representation of their presence on earth. However, it should be acknowledged that anyone who has led a productive life has already projected much into the world. For further details, see "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Mark also wrote:
My only quibble is with your idea that a country is a sort of biological entity, with desires and the need to grow and project itself. Only individuals think, choose, and act.
A correction here: I referred to a nation not as some "sort of biological entity," but as a "group of biological entities" (viz., people). My referring to things that the nation did was just shorthand for what the people comprising it did.

Casey Brown wrote:
This issue is probably more important to the future of Objectivism than any other.
Amen to that!
I've never quite understood the passionate opposition to children displayed by some Objectivists (as well as some Feminists).  I personally would rather build a house, share it with a wife, and fill it with children, than build a skyscraper, write a novel, start a company, etc.  I'll just make sure it's the best damn house I can build - then I'll watch my children build houses and skyscrapers, write novels...  and spoil my grandkids....I think most people, certainly not all, are probably making a mistake if they actively decide not to have children, given a "reasonable" opportunity to do so.
I think most childfree-by-choice are not particularly opposed to children -- as long as they're someone else's children! Seriously, I do think that there is something important missing from the lives of those who eschew all dealings with children. There is plenty of opportunity for the childfree-by-choice to teach, mentor, or otherwise help children, if that is how they would prefer to interact with children. Uncles and aunts, "Big Brothers" (and Sisters), etc., have a welcome role to play, too.

There is a flip side to the including of children in one's life, whether in one's household or in one's schedule. That leaves less time for other things. Just to name two areas of my own values: I know I could have read and written more essays and books, and I could have played and recorded more jazz music, had I chosen to remain childless. But I wouldn't trade the quality of life I have had, and the very special pattern of generativity (kids and career and hobbies) I have had, for a more one-track and prominent stack of achievement. My legacy will be a patchwork quilt, it seems.

And Michael Stuart Kelly wrote:
"Generativity" hits the mark much squarer in the middle [than "biological love"]. The term is a bit cumbersome, however. I would like to see a more attractive term that is easier to communicate. If you say "generativity" is one of the meanings of life to a normal factory worker, for instance, his eyes will glaze over.
Sometimes a single word, however accurate, is just too wordy for some people. Okay, how about, "give value for value to the world"? Or maybe simply "give" or "share"? (I can hear the anti-altruists sharpening their knives now! :-)

In conclusion, I would summarize my perspective with three injunctions:

1. Be all that you can rationally be (flourish).
2. Make all that you can rationally make (be generative).
3. Prioritize!

Thanks, everyone, for your good comments and questions!

REB




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Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - 7:03amSanction this postReply
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Roger,

I believe I have found something close to a more layman-type term and it comes directly from Ayn Rand: productive achievement.

I even kinda like the idea of children being productive achievement since I really do like sex a lot.

//;-)

On flourishing, there is one aspect that is not included very much in Objectivist discussions. Decadence and dying. These are parts of reality (but not necessarily goals to seek!). Nevertheless, they are very much parts of reality, and being such, good philosophical musing dictates that they be included and not simply ignored as something unpleasant you don't want to talk about.

The full life cycle (to those who are not prematurely eaten or squished or something) is birth, growth to a climax of realizing the organism's potential, decadence and death.

I believe that preparing for a good biological decadence is an important part of living to the fullest. Some ways of facing death that occur in Oriental and Indian (like American Indian, not India Indian) cultures also appeal to me. For example, the idea of writing a poem of last thoughts right before dying (but without the suicide, please!) is a strong one to me, if you are able to be aware more-or-less of the time you are going to die. There are others. This would be a good idea for an article.

This subject makes people uncomfortable and has nothing to do with death-worship. Merely looking at reality and trying to enhance the complete experience of our all too temporary existence.

Michael
(Edited by Michael Stuart Kelly on 8/31, 7:05am)




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