Dec 042014

The way our economy is currently structured, we require constant growth. Of course this will someday come to a head, because as Robin Hanson has pointed out, even at extremely low growth rates we’ll run out of atoms in the galaxy well within 10,000 years. As someone who suspects we may already be beyond the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet, I fear the problem may be closer than that. So I’m already against anything that incentivizes greater-than-replacement procreation.

I also despise the lottery, for all the normal reasons. It hijacks normal thinking patterns to trick people into wasting money on false hope. It targets those who can least afford it, and are least able to resist it. It is morally repugnant.

So I really dislike things that combine the two, like the Procreation Lottery. As pretty as the song “Mary Did You Know” is, it fans the flames of procreation by igniting the hope that maybe your child will be the special one that solves all the problems. Or at least a few of your problems, because hey, let’s not be greedy.

No. Chances are any particular child will not be that special. Even if they’re above average, children in the modern age are a net cost to parents. If you want your life to be better, or to be special, or to mean something to the world in some way, do it on your own. Don’t pin your hopes on a child. Anyone can do that, and it doesn’t make any of them special. Others who use the same decision-making-algorithm will simply make more children as well, and since this subset of people generally includes your children, you’re just passing on the “breed a lot” imperative without getting any “do something special” results.

I know this post sounds grumpy. I’m sorry. I would get equally annoyed at a beautiful song praising the serene grace of being a Powerball Winner.

  3 Responses to “The Procreation Lottery”

  1. That is a really interesting take on the sentiments expressed in that song. I don’t know what your religious background is, but I grew up in a very religious Latter Day Saint (Mormon) home, went to church every week, etc. and I never heard the idea that if you have enough children maybe one of them could be another messiah. I haven’t even heard the idea that you might get lucky and have a child that solves big world problems. I have had the sense that some people have children in the hopes that it will fix a troubled marriage, but I never heard it mentioned in church, nor did I think it was isolated to religious people.

    I’m genuinely curious to know if you’ve heard religious people talk about Christ’s birth serving as an example of someone winning the ‘procreation lottery’, and giving them hope that maybe they could win it too. Honestly, I would think a lot of very religious people would think the idea was blasphemous.

    • Oh heck no, certainly there’s no entertaining the idea of another *messiah* being born! That would be heresy. I was also raised very religious, Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t mean for this to be a comment on religion at all, that was just the song that sparked the chain of thought/memory that lead to the post.

      I have seen on a couple occasions people pinning their dreams on their children. “I wasn’t great, but my kid can be.” “My son will grow up to be the man who cures cancer” and so forth.

  2. I wonder if the carrying capacity pessimism is not perhaps pushed by people who want to preserve nature for nature’s sake, not for the sake of how it is valuable to humans.

    If someone secretly thinks humans are a pest on Mother Gaia, then of course any decently developed civilization will be deemed “overpopulated” and “unsustainable”.

    Sustainability in the purely technical sense of allowing the civilization to run at this level for a long time might be easier to achieve. What would the nature-lovers say if we presented them with a realistic plan of an urbanized planet with sustainable resource-cycles that can house more than 10 billion people and their pets, but no vast jungles and rainforests? I think they would not be very happy about that sort of sustainability.

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