Comments on two discussions from Carolyn Ray's "Enlightenment" : Part II, Michelle Fram-Cohen, "Why Have Children?" (a sequel to Carolyn Ray)


Leif Martyn

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“Why Have Children? - A Sequel to “The Shame of Not Having Children”
Michelle Fram-Cohen
 Forum: Enlightenment [Inspired by Carolyn Ray's "The Shame of Not Wanting Children"]
[original source: <http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/essays/text/michelleframcohen/whychildren.html>
 - reposted at: <http://www.theatlasphere.com/columns/040616_cohen_children.php> ; dated 16 June 2004; retrieved 19 Oct. 2022.


I mentioned in Part I that after Fram-Cohen's 'sequel' in 2001, reposted in 2004, there has been a marked dearth of discussion of this topic.
I amend that after re-reading my own notes, and recognizing that Right Here In River City, between 2011 and 2015, there was an exchange among a number of participants, innocuously titled "Objectivism and Children." To the participants, my thanks for keeping the topic warm! Even if it did end with a sigh...
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to sift the nuggets of insight from amongst the detritus of linkrot and thread drift (not that much drifting, actually)!

By noting as many sources as I have been able to find, I am intending to leave a collection describing where we came from, and where we need to go.

So, here's Michelle Fram-Cohen's take, with comments. I also admit that I was less impressed with her essay after examining it, in what I hope is a spirit of charity, but it has had the great merit of helping me frame my own thoughts, some of which are interleaved:

....................................................................
    Today, with almost fool-proof birth control, legal abortions and the future prospects of self-cloning, the question "Why Have Children?" sounds rather appropriate.
    Indeed, why undertake an eighteen-year obligation to raise and support a completely dependent human being?
    Why assume the legal and moral responsibility for the conduct of someone else?
    Why would any rational, independent, self-respecting individual want to do that?

    My response to this question is a sequel to Carolyn Ray's essay "The Shame of Not Wanting Children", in which she refuted irrational arguments for having children. In my essay, I would like to provide some rational arguments for having children.

I would have been very happy with explicit answers to her opening questions. Notice that she's bound the question of "why have children" to the problem of parenting. The discursive format doesn't lend itself well to "Why? Because..." however.

    ... For many people parenting means sacrificing what they really want to do, therefore they should not have children. But what about the ones who want to have children?

This starts off on the wrong foot: it is a response to Carolyn Ray's Intellectual Argument about self-sacrifice, but at this point denying the premise might be better. What is the case for parenting NOT being "sacrifice?"


    A common rationale for having children among Objectivists is that this is their selfish wish: they enjoy nurturing a human being.
    But can this selfish wish be justified philosophically? Nurturing is not an Objectivist virtue....
    Rand did not provide a major model of parenting in her novels.

This picks up on Carolyn's Intellectual Argument about "nurture." However, it needs unpacking, as well as mentioning on the side that the absence of "a major model of parenting" speaks more to the author's decisions about what to emphasize and what to leave out. In Ayn Rand's non-fiction, as illustrated in earlier posts, she at least implicitly addressed philosophical justifications for procreation, especially the level of conceptual effort required.

At this point, I'll introduce a dictionary definition of "nurture":
    (verb) "the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something."
    (noun) "care for and encourage the growth or development of [someone or something]."
Nurturing, then has two aspects, at least in the context of human children: a physical (or "animal") and a conceptual.
The "common rationale... the selfish wish," requires engagement with both aspects.


    In her “Playboy” interview in 1962 Rand said that women who choose to be mothers should approach it as a career, not an emotional indulgence. She focused on the intellectual aspect of raising a rational human being. According to this approach, parents are not different from teachers, except that their hours are longer.

At this point I reiterate this puzzling, almost offhand dismissal:
    Toffler: Do you believe that women as well as men should organize their lives around work – and if so, what kind of work?
    Rand: Of course. I believe that women are human beings. What is proper for a man is proper for a woman. The basic principles are the same. I would not attempt to prescribe what kind of work a man should do, and I would not attempt it in regard to women. There is no particular work, which is specifically feminine. Women can choose their work according to their own purpose and premises in the same manner as men do.

The simple fact is that there is particular work, specifically feminine: specifically female. This is quite central to an argument for an egoist natalism, and is important for the recognition of the integration of the physical and the conceptual.


    Rand did not write about the bonding between parent and child, an aspect of their relationship that is not intellectual but emotional.
    Nevertheless, bonding is a physiological, as well as a psychological, corollary of parenting.

Several points: first, the experience of bonding follows the act of procreation, and bonding is an act of parenting; second, and more importantly for the integration of the physical and the conceptual, the experience begins as physiological (physical? animal?), and continues, as "bonding," conceptually as the child matures (and the parent's relationship with the child matures).


    Having a child in order to raise a rational human being can be a noble endeavor, but it does not have to be the main reason.
    The simple selfish enjoyment of having a child around is sufficient.
    In this context, parenting can be a very enjoyable emotional indulgence.

... which is, as it happens, in direct opposition to Rand's assertion in the Playboy interview (following her observations about "women's work", above).
The problem here is a lack of connection between the commitment to "a noble endeavor" and the emotional reward, decribed here as an indulgence.
The implication is that "the simple selfish enjoyment" is self-evident, which it is not.
This opens up a line of thinking about "flourishing," and that concept might be better used here.
 

Fram-Cohen makes a further series of arguments, attempting to compare procreation (more properly speaking, parenting) with other adult activities:

    Objectivism strives to provide men and women with a philosophy that can fit their nature and does not require any sacrifice.
    In this context, one reason for having children is that parenting is a part of human nature, just like a romantic relationship.

    If a person were to say that he or she decided to never have a romantic relationship because it will take away from his or her time pursuing a career, it would be considered odd. Then why isn't it considered odd when the same claim is made against parenting?
    Granted there are people who are not cut out for romantic relationships, there are also people who are not cut out for parenting.
    But having a romantic relationship is a significant experience within one's life and so is parenthood.

    In this respect, the commitment to raise a child is not different from the commitment to stay in a life-long monogamous relationship, "for better or worse." Bad marriages do not prove that long-range monogamous relationships are against human nature, so bad parents do not prove that having children is against human nature.

If "parenting is a part of human nature" then so is procreation, and this identification has led to apparent distress with "animal" aspects of human nature.

Carolyn Ray makes a similar point about bad parenting in her (failed) argument about virtue and virtuous procreators, but the real problem is that procreation is a unique activity, and does not compare with adult activities such as careers, romantic relationships, and contractual undertakings.
This uniqueness needs to be described; again, it is central to an egoist natalism.


Fram-Cohen continues to compare parenting and adult activities, but she also opens the discussion to a consideration of the child:

    ... One of the great innovations of Objectivism is its positive view of work as a purposeful, enjoyable task and the proper function of man....

    ... Parenting requires some concessions, but so do work and marriage.
    Career minded individuals are willing to put up with the demands and conduct of superiors and co-employees at work, for longer hours than they would ever spend with their kids.
    Married people are willing to work out their differences in order to preserve their marriage.

    When a child is brought up rationally, he or she is not likely to be the screaming brat many people dread.
    Children are not necessarily the worst irrational whim worshippers one must deal with.
    In many cases, they are the only uncorrupted, reasonable human beings around.

She leaves open the question of how parenting can be described as "productive work" - the topic, it seems, might be better phrased, "Why Parent Children?" which is not the same thing as the necessarily prior action.

Almost offhand, Fram-Cohen notes the value of a rational "nurturing," but leaves many ideas to be unpacked, such as corruption and behavioral consequences of a poorly planned procreation. This is, however, the first time "the child" comes to the center of the discussion.


In her final argument, Michelle Fram-Cohen says the quiet part out loud.

   A major aspect of having children that is rarely addressed by Objectivists is that children are the future: they will be here when we are gone.
   They will carry on our genetic makeup, and possibly, our values as well.
   They will inherit what we created....

   In her introduction to the 25th anniversary of The Fountainhead, referring to the fact that her novels have been read by several generations of readers, Rand paraphrased Victor Hugo as saying: “If I only write for my own time, I might as well throw my pen in the trash.”

   Wouldn't it be sad indeed if Rand's generation was the last generation of Homo Sapiens on earth and we were not around to read her novels?

    ©2001, Michelle Fram-Cohen

In spite of the immediate rejoinder that the child is not a means, but an end in itself, we can read this a little more charitably and recognize that humans are mortal. The fact that the recognition of one's own mortality is a conceptual effort is also rarely addressed.
The extent to which this bears on an egoist natalism is not clear.

That Victor Hugo reference?
    "Many people have asked me how I feel about the fact that The Fountainhead has been in print for twenty-five years.
    I cannot say that I feel anything in particular, except a kind of quiet satisfaction.
    In this respect, my attitude toward my writing is best expressed by a statement of Victor Hugo:
    "If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away."

 

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... kind of lame to reply to my own post, but in lieu of editing it (translation: I can't figure how, if at at all, I can do that...), I wanted to add "more sources!"

If nothing else, this set of posts ought to function as a sort of Vade Mecum for the topic (why have kids?). I'm still staying away from the "how to parrent successfully" material because this question is rich enough....

Anyway, over in Barrytown they've chewed on this, several times & several ways, over several years: an extensive discussion between 2005 - 2008; a shorter exchange in 2007; another in 2008, and one in 2010.

I don't know if any of that informed the discussion here (2011 - 2015), but it comes & goes...

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