Thursday, June 27, 2013

Instability of Values Over Self Modification: Why Babies Creep Me Out

(Inspired by "Schelling fences and slippery slopes" by Yvain.)

Dear everyone who keeps human larvae as pets,

I am sincerely happy if you've found a way to satisfy your central values and if your children make you happy. Honestly, there are central terms for the preferences and happiness of others
 in my utility function. So please only read the following in light of that. I am not criticizing you for choosing to spawn, and, indeed, your kids are adorable and I like watching videos on Facebook of them playing with puppies and eating cake with their entire faces, so keep it up.

Here's what's bothering me. When I look at the walls of my friends with children, almost every post involves the kid. This is perfectly understandable. I also post almost exclusively about the things that interest me most (namely rationality, dance, and math), and of course your kid is the most important thing in the entire world. If I had a kid, I'd almost certainly think the same thing about it. I would love it more than I knew I could love, and everything else would be at least second place.

And I find that ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. It means that there exists a parasite that can first implant itself in the lining of my uterus, with or without my consent, and use me as an incubator before torturing me for hours or days as it extricates itself from my body.

And that's not the scary part.

It can then begin to covertly re-write the foundations of my personality, undermining my adherence to beliefs about the significance of my own happiness, the happiness of my friends, self-optimization, world-optimization, and anything whatsoever not directly necessary for its own survival. In fact, it would make sure that I'd not even hesitate to die (or kill) protecting it, regardless of whether its continued existence would most likely help or hurt the other things I (used to) care about.

From my perspective, this strikes me as a completely insane thing to desire. It's like wanting to take a pill that won't satisfy your values, but will change your values such that current circumstances already satisfy them, never mind that it means replacing yourself with SOMEONE ELSE ENTIRELY.

How the hell do people just take that in stride???


rosecongou said...

Couldn't we make virtually the same argument about significant others?

Brienne said...

I hesitate to call this an "argument" at all, unless the thesis is, "Omg you guys I find these things super scary," but the short answer is "yes". Indeed, I've invested a great many skill points in keeping this effect in romance to a minimum.

Anonymous said...

Not the same. You do not need to protect, socialize, nurture, and be responsible for the creation and development of a significant other in the way you must a child. You can leave a significant other and many do. Can anyone really abandon their child? If you neglect a significant other they will not suffer and die. You are also not wired genetically to shift your values and attention and thought to your significant other the way you are to your offspring.

Yonit said...

I enjoyed your very insightful post and have a few comments. First, it certainly is a hell of a thing to take in stride, and it amazes me that so many people embark on the parenthood journey without considering what it means. As you said, in some ways, it profoundly and fundamentally re-wires you. What I would like to add is that while yes, having a child may actually be a way of re-writing your desires rather than satisfying the pre-existing ones, another way to interpret it is that having a child matures and develops your pre-existing desires in a way that can be, in actuality, deeply spiritually fulfilling, perhaps in ways that would not otherwise be attainable. I think that if you ask [thinking] parents about how they feel about their children, they will tell you that they found their purpose in having and raising their children. Sure, this may be pure biological drive. But many of our other fulfilling experiences as human beings are based on biological drives, and that doesn't make them any less real to us.

I think that one of the first steps to viewing parenthood differently is to understand and accept how our bodies work. I am a big advocate of natural birthing, and I would recommend you do some reading on HypnoBabies and natural family planning (basal body temperature monitoring, etc.). It really helped change my views on having children and giving birth way before I even knew I wanted children. I used to see my cycle much in the same way that you do. I resented that my body took MY precious resources away from me to sustain a foreign life. I even suffered from anemia for a while and it made me downright angry that I was losing blood every month for some worthless purpose that I didn't support. Once I understood the biological processes, I started to see it as an artform. There is empowerment, meaning and beauty in your body's ability to sustain life, just as those qualities exist in your ability to go for a long run or climb a wall. The process of growing your own human larvae is deeply beautiful even just from a scientific perspective.

Furthermore, birth does not have to be a traumatic or painful event. One of the major reasons it is now interpreted that way is because of the way it has been medicalized. For example, how in the world does it make sense to give birth lying on your back with your legs spread? My sister has had three homebirths that she speaks of much in the same way that you hear an experienced athlete talk about winning the SuperBowl or an Olympic race- not an easy experience, but a profoundly fulfilling one. Because of the way birth and our cycles are medicalized and pathologized, many intelligent, educated women view them as unfortunate hurdles on the way to reproducing, rather than the monumentally fulfilling experiences they can be in their own right. I think that's such a shame!

Anonymous said...

I am a 39 year old man with one son who is now 11. Due to my wife's poor health, I have always done most of the child care.
I have single friends. They go to concerts, go out drinking, hang out with friends, and have fun in ways that aren't really available to me much anymore. Instead I jump on the trampoline, fight with foam swords, watch cartoons (it helps that I still like a lot of kid things-- Adventure Time, The Last Airbender, Legos, Star Wars) tell jokes, and so forth.
I have never felt anxious about what he thinks about me or how he feels about me. I know what's in his mind-- I put a good fraction of it there.
I also want to make the future a better place. But this isn't a bad way to do it. By investing my leisure time for 11 years in activities I enjoy, I've created (from scratch!) a dear friend who shares most of my values and will continue toward goals that resemble mine for decades after I'm gone. I've basically doubled my effectiveness and had a lot of fun while doing it.

Anonymous said...

Continuing my previous comment: it isn't really that he shares my goals that is important. It's that him achieving his goals is as important to me as my achieving my goals. My self has grown larger.
I suspect you know this though. By your own account you have a good relationship with your own mother. Why wouldn't you want someone else who had that good of a relationship with you?

Anonymous said...

I completely get where your coming from, but as the parent of a surprisingly adorable 4-year-old who brings me joy and surprise every day, I love the transformation I’ve been forced to undergo. It’s a whole new life for me, full of daily discovery. The fact is, her ever changing map of the world is way more interesting than my own old habitual one, and I’m lucky to have the chance to explore it with her.

decemberx said...

So all of the above are parents trying to lure you into the cult. These people apparently do not understand one can be completely happy without spawning. It's not like the human race will die out, on fact there are already too many of us. So be happy with your choice, and respect those that make a different choice.

decemberx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
decemberx said...

To clarify, the part about respecting others' choices was aimed at the breeders, not the author.

Anonymous said...

I'm gradually becoming convinced the volitionally childless are actively in contention to become the smuggest members of society. Coming closer and closer to surpassing vegans and leftists who deride others on cultural appropriation in between I ironic gorges of yoga with a white yogi and sushi at Asian fusion restaurants. This writing just makes you seem selfish and petty, even childish. It's a lamentation pondering why and how any human being could conceive of a life that isnt self centered or nurturing of anyone's desires aside from their selfish ones or care about the wellbeing of future generations. And it's apparent with the disgusting analogies of larvae and parasite that you've seem to forgot we're just another mammalian ape species that reproduces for survival, it's like you're arrogant enough to believe you're an abiological being or that you weren't once a child yourself. It's perhaps good whatever antihumanistic genes you carry won't be transferred, and just be blissful with your weird polyamorous or whatever arrangement you have with the other insufferable Bay Area new age whites