Children and the Stock Market

Here’s a compelling piece (sent to me by my partner) about being childless:

We are no longer citizens, sporting just one indivisible identity. We have become our genders, pigmentations, sexual leanings, lifestyle choices and credal enthusiasms, and our expanding notion of rights is always taking in new minorities: transgender people, the depressed, the merely offended. There is one exception to all this mutual reassurance. The tent of identity politics was never pitched wide enough to cover people who forswear parenthood.

The author, Janan Ganesh, points out quite well the tilted playing field, where every subsidy, cultural token, and social reward slide towards those who procreate. He writes, “The welfare state is disproportionately a resource for parents. Child benefit, subsidised childcare and the like constitute a prodigious transfer of money from non-parents to parents.”

While I agree that I, as a childless person, am paying for other people’s kids (and, in a way, helping to raise them, since I work in schools), I am not as miffed that public money supports people’s personal, private decisions. In America (Ganesh is writing mostly about Britain), we need more subsidies for childcare and education, not less. But the average person shouldn’t have to pay more; let’s just tax rich people.

The big gripe I have with child-bearers is their insistence that having kids has no environmental impact—or the somehow worse admission that it does, but any impact is overshadowed by continuing one’s personal family tree. Since we are all related to trees and snails and blue whales, shouldn’t they be on that tree somewhere?

But as I’ve written before, I’m not in favor of population control measures like China’s or even Iran’s (which is apparently highly effective). All studies show that the best way to curb unsustainable population growth is to emancipate, educate, and (potentially) arm women. In the US, where parents worship their kids as gods on earth, and where parents worship each other like members of a secret cult, we still have a declining birthrate, despite government policy practically begging people to have kids, in order to maintain GDP and keep the numbers on the computer screens from flat-lining. (Most parents also refuse to acknowledge the connection between their kid and the stock market.)

In short, Ganesh is correct, in that choosing to have a kid is roundly praised, while choosing to abstain is roundly jeered, even though those who don’t have kids are helping those who do, in many interconnected ways. But no matter, all childfree people need to do is continue to write about it, and lend assistance to places that provide education and contraception. We can circumvent an act of Congress. We already are.

Technotopian Visions Dancing in our Heads

Here’s an article (“Has All the Important Stuff Been Invented?”) that my friend sent to me this week. It’s about economists dueling over the future: one a realist, described as “curmudgeonly,” of course, and one a technotopian, described as “cheerful.” You can see where this is going.

I think the future holds much more technological innovation as long as resources allow, but I agree with the curmudgeon that it will mostly be attempts at corrections of problems created by previous technological innovation, like trying to clean air and water, reduce carbon emissions, and pack more and more people into city centers. Further tinkering will create further problems, rinse and repeat (pun intended).

Other than that, technological innovation will be purely about distraction (will the iphone 12 and iphone 13 really be that different?) for the purposes of helping the corporate-military elite consolidate their control. Such innovations may increase life expectancy, but they won’t necessarily improve life quality. In the future, people not in the elite will be more depressed and alienated—if, that is, they believe in the redemptive power of new gadgets.

Notice how people already worship Apple, and their main innovation was modifying an existing invention. It’s not like their “genius” innovation cured a disease (in fact, their phones may cause some) or stopped the accelerating death of migratory birds (in fact, their towers kill birds—seven million birds a year by one estimate) or helped clean contaminated ground water (in fact, Americans use phones on average for about 18 months before junking them in landfill, where the old phones leach lead, cadmium, lithium, and other chemicals into watersheds).

And Apple is extolled as an exemplar of the new era of innovation. Sounds like the same old shit to me.


Malthus and His Discontents

Here’s a review of two books about Thomas Malthus, the man who might well be considered the first “doomer,” as the word is used presently. According to the review, there are three stages of Malthusianism, the last being the current strand of doomers: those who think our population is in overshoot and will exhaust the world’s resources before they’re able to be replenished. Another definition of doomer might be someone who doesn’t believe in infinite growth—or thinks it’s only an illusion anyway, considering that the elite is getting both richer and smaller while a growing majority of people have less stability, less stake in the affairs of their insulated governments, and less viable food and water sources.

The third phase began in the later twentieth century with a new Malthusianism aligned with ecology and the fear that Earth’s resources would soon be outstripped by excess population. A reputation for apocalyptic warnings was earned by Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) – though two other biologists, Georg Borgstrom and Garrett Hardin, engaged more directly in the 1960s in support of Malthus’s arguments. Today, in the continuing debate between “cornucopians” and “doomsters”, some of the more pessimistic academics and commentators mention Malthus by name, but others prefer not to do so: partly because his original mathematical formula – asserting that populations expand geometrically while resources expand only arithmetically – has been shown to be applicable only to agrarian economies, but also, no doubt, because of his popular reputation (according to Mayhew, much exaggerated) for callousness or misanthropy.

I remember being introduced to new members of the editorial collective at Baltimore’s Indypendent Reader as a neo-Malthusian; I took the “popular reputation for callousness and misanthropy” as a compliment.

But is neo-Malthusianism a tool of the elite in the class war? This person seems to think so:

Abstractly considered, the relationship between scarce resources and a continuously increasing population turns the arguments in favor of population control into “self-evident truths” which can only be rejected by the unthinking and the dogmatic. From a Marxist viewpoint, such “self-evident truths” are but reifications of concrete historical, social, political, and economic relations which should be taken into account if the population issue is to be at all understood. Just as in the 18th century the English ruling classes fought the impact of the French Revolution with military and ideological weapons among which Malthus’ “Essay on Population” was perhaps the most important, today the ruling classes are bringing back the Malthusian argument in an effort to increase their control over the growing number of the dispossessed. Like Malthus, contemporary socio-economic theorists view excessive population rather than social institutions and social relations as the main source and barrier to the solution of social problems.

I take the point that solving our current problems, insomuch as they have solutions, isn’t just about population control. But surely unchecked population growth helps governments (which are really proxies for corporations) consolidate power—both by creating scarcity and by fostering unending competition between people with the same class interests. And this isn’t even mentioning the ecological impact of more and more people—and the space, resources, and energy they take up.

Any short-term benefit the corporate-military elite gains from purposeful population decline (i.e. contraception) would be outweighed by the prospect of a livable planet. Even if a leveling off of population somehow leads to more people being forced into wage slavery, it would be good for all other species.

Recitation During the Storm

A poem by Sandy Longhorn:


Let the thunder clamor above and continue

after lightning has licked the heavy air.

This is not a haunting. I mean to be awake

and wide-eyed—to be both owl and field mouse

caught in strobes of light.

The clock pushes past midnight, then one,

then two, and I am counting backwards

into what is left as the bruises fade.

One man told me love was a transitive verb,

worrying me like a rosary bead to prove it.

Another man stood me in the middle of Nebraska

to prove the Permian seas once stretched

from Pittsburgh to Denver, home to creatures

we read about with our stone-caressing fingers

but could never know. The last man was a thief,

his voice a prayer to a god so exotic I bloodied

my knees falling down before them both.

This is a recounting. I mean to be accurate

and true—to be both diary and document

held open and up to the light.

Let the storm pass, dawn taming the landscape

outside my room, leaves and branches loosening

back into the shapes of trees.

When I’m exhausted and mentally busy, like I am right now, I like to find and read a poem I’ve never read before. It not only calms me down but gives me a chance to think differently about things, and then go out into the world again, as if emerging from some imaginary den—ready to try all over again. I found this poem in my anthology after a particularly stressful day working with middle-schoolers (and adults) at summer camp. I think tomorrow I’ll read the poem again before I take my last sip of coffee and head out into the still dark morning; the last three lines might need to be repeated.