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July 17, 2007

Propagatin' and Populatin' 1: To Have or Not To Have?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In a comment on a posting not long ago, Peter made an apt joke:

Read enough blogs and you'll think that most people vote for the Libertarian Party, homeschool their children, and have no cultural interests other than sci-fi and fantasy.

And ain't that the case? Another impression that spending too much time online can leave you with is that most people are obsessed with questions about propagatin' and populatin'. I felt the same sense of surprise on discovering this as I did finding out how many online people are fans of Ayn Rand's. "Where'd this come from?" I wondered. In my non-online life, I almost never run into anyone who wants to talk about Ayn Rand.

Similarly, I go about my non-online day assuming that most intelligent, rich-world people think that 1) it's lovely that we're able to live a life that gives us some freedom over whether or not to propagate; and that 2) 6 billion people -- actually a little closer to 7 billion than to 6 billion these days -- is a lot of people. (The earth's human population has more than doubled in the short time I've been around.) But here they are online: scads of people bursting with urgent feelings about propagating or not-propagating, and about whether populations are declining or booming.

I've noticed three main forms these conversations and monologues tend to take. Here's my description of and reactions to the first of them. Apologies for the lack of links this time around -- I haven't had the presence of mind to collect evidence so I'm going to rely on vague impressions instead. Here's hoping I don't commit too many injustices.


MBlowhard description:

Why is this argument so prone to break out online, and why is it so prone to become so vicious? You'd think that it would be easy for breeders and non-breeders to wish each other well. We're all sharing the earth; we're all in this crazy thing called life together, etc. Why view each other as members of antagonistic teams, particularly where breeding is concerned?

Whenever I stumble across this particular debate, it always seems both well-scripted and long-underway. I feel like I'm coming in on it at a very late stage -- like I often feel when I tune into NPR: "People are still arguing about this crap? Weren't they done with it in 1980?" I choose 1980 because I assume that the breeder-vs.-nonbreeder squabble has its roots in '60s and '70s eco discussions. But I could certainly be wrong about this, and am, as ever, eager to learn better.

(By the way: I once interviewed for a job as a producer at NPR. When I toured the place, many of its employees seemed to me to be exactly what you'd imagine from listening to NPR -- a bunch of entrenched and self-righteous old hippies. Had I been offered the job, I probably would have turned it down: Imagine trying to manage such people, let alone trying to break them away from their navel-gazing. A great topic for someone who knows the scene better than I do: Life at a nonprofit. My sister -- a successful businesswoman who has done a lot of work with nonprofits -- tells me that life at a nonprofit can drive a person crazy. According to her, it's almost impossible to get everyone focused on the same goal, no matter how general.)

What mainly gets said by the nonbreeders in these arguments is: "I'm treading lightly on the land. I'm putting up with your screeching, annoying offspring. And I'm paying taxes for your kids' public education."

What mainly gets said by the breeders is: "I'm killing myself raising the next generation, for which all humanity ought to be grateful. And, besides, my kids will be paying for your Social Security."

When the argument really gets down to brass tacks, though, what emerges from both nonbreeders and breeders alike are raw and heated accusations of selfishness. Is the breeder more selfish for contributing another eager consumer to a (supposedly) already overburdened world? Or is the nonbreeder more selfish for (supposedly) living only for the Self and the moment?

Come to think of it, The Wife and I, who have no kids, were once blindsided by one of these "selfish, selfish!" attacks. A neighbor-mom on our floor was in the habit of parking her loud and badly-behaved kids in the hallway outside our door. There they'd romp, screaming and wailing for ten or twenty minutes at a stretch.

(There are many advantages to living in a well-run apartment building. Leaving for vacation is a simple matter, for example; lawn-care chores are nonexistent, etc. But it's impossible to avoid the clashes that erupt over the legitimate use of "public space" -- hallways, lobbies, clothes-washing rooms, etc. In our building, for example, there are parents who feel that paying the co-op's fees means that they have the right to let their kids use the building's hallways as public playrooms. Needless to say, many of their co-op-fee-payin' neighbors disagree. Why aren't economists and sociologists doing studies of life in apartment buildings and co-ops?)

As politely as we could, we told Neighbor Mom that we'd prefer not to have to endure her kids' bellowings right outside our door. We were careful to say that kids will be kids and we're OK with that, it was just when it went on and on --

Neighbor Mom turned on us instantly and laced into us. Why? For being selfish. That was it; that was her response to our request that she not park her loud kids outside our door. We weren't asking anything reasonable; we were being selfish. We -- gasp -- just didn't know what it's like to have kids. Our supposed selfishness as people-without-children was the entire theme of her tirade.

Where in her did this well-prepared denunciation erupt from?

FWIW, my theory is that Neighbor Mom feels so overwhelmed by her gotta-have-it-all, out-of-control NYC life -- careers, weekends in the country, badly-behaved brats, cleaning help to line up, obnoxious husband, lazy nannies to scold, etc -- that she feels misunderstood and crazed. I suspect that she feels jealous of what she imagines to be the natty, well-ordered life that The Wife and I lead. We don't spend every waking minute frazzled and on the verge of exploding; therefore we're selfish.

MBlowhard reactions:

What's wrong with selfishness? I mean, up to a point? And why do people pounce on selfishness so quickly as that-with-which-to-clobber-the-other-guy in these arguments? It seems so Sunday-school, doesn't it?

Purely for the sake of self-preservation, we all have to look out for ourselves. Few of us can be -- or should even try to be -- Mother Teresa. Further: What's wrong with leading life as rewardingly as you can, whatever that might mean for you? Once again: We're fortunate to have these choices and opportunities, no? Beats the alternative, doesn't it? And shouldn't acknowledgement of these facts lead to feelings of gratitude rather than fury? Whence, then, the fury?

Beats me, finally. But perhaps something useful can be said about the selfishness question. It seems to me that whether or not someone has kids has no necessary bearing on whether they deserve to be called selfish.

Where breeders go: Having kids certainly helps get some people over themselves. And god bless the good parents, of course. But non-egocentricity and good-parenting are anything but automatic. People who breed just because they gotta have it all and for whom kids are nothing but narcissistic projections are hardly rare to run across these days. Neither are bullying, self-important people who use their kids to justify their already-bullying behavior.

Where non-breeders go: They may or may not be treading lightly on the earth; they may or may not be contributing in helpful ways to society at large. Lord knows that I've run into screw-everybody-else non-breeders. But I've also known a lot of generous non-breeders too, who perform all kinds of useful roles in society.

If we're in a judging-selfishness mood, how about forgetting the kids-or-no-kids question and using the following as a basis for judgment instead?

When we're very young, when we're ailing, and when we're old and infirm, we necessarily take more than we give. We have no choice in the matter. But for the rest of life, we're under an obligation of honor to give more than we take.

Works for me, anyway -- my own little Golden Rule, I suppose.

What it suggests it that healthy adults who are generally takers deserve some frowns and some slaps, while people who generally pitch in and go the extra mile deserve thank-yous and handshakes. Having-kids or not-having-kids? Irrelevant. Or at least non-determinative.

Incidentally, how do you react to the term "breeders"? I think it's pretty funny myself -- a good example of the way gay humor can wittily invert values. But I've encountered child-lovin' heteros who find the term "breeders" offensive. They take it as an insult, I guess. That strikes me as being waaaaay oversensitive. But I've spent my adult life in arty bigcity circles where enjoying gay wit is the normal thing. I don't take it too seriously. Still, maybe I'm missing something here.

Installment 2 tomorrow.



posted by Michael at July 17, 2007


When I lived in the Oregon "outback",
"breeder", referred to the product of
incest, and a run of the mill moron.
Your use of the word only makes me
laugh anew.

Posted by: Jay Al on July 17, 2007 12:03 PM

Although a non-breeder myself, I do think the word "breeder" is a little insulting. I don't have a problem with it in this post because its use is good-humored, but it's often intended to offend. It also tends to put people on the defensive.

And yes, I know from experience that the insults come from the other side too. When I posted some musings about the immaturity of men and women today, someone responded to it on another blog (I think one with vaguely neo-Nazi inclinations), with comments about my being a "forty-year-old with a barren womb". It was especially odd because one of the points I had made was that men and women today are immature precisely in that they are so intent on delaying childbearing. Not all of them do so deliberately, of course: some of us can't find suitable mates in good time.

The issues involved aren't merely personal ones, either. There are many international bodies devoted to trying to persuade, to trick, or even to compel people in the Poor World to have fewer children, alongside others which discourage these efforts. Although a Catholic, I don't object to giving people access to contraception, but I do object to the fact that it's sometimes forced on them.

Anyway, the reason the debate isn't dead is because, to turn a cliche, children are the future, and it matters very much who has them, and where. Birth rates in the Rich World have dropped below replacement levels - in some countries, well below. Without immigration, it may be impossible to make up the shortfall, yet immigration, as you yourself recognise, can be destabilizing even in a society as open as that of the US. Nations like Japan (where the crisis is acute) could find themselves altered beyond recognition.

Posted by: alias clio on July 17, 2007 12:09 PM

As a breeder myself, I'm with you all the way Michael. I do think that in general it's a good thing for society that *some people* want to have kids, but one's breeder/nonbreeder status has zero correlation with how selfish/unselfish you are.

There was a big to-do in our area a while back about the local mall giving special parking spots to pregnant women. Certainly watching my wife waddle around in the late stages made me sensitive to the burden of this condition, but there was *a lot* of community hostility to the idea, and not just from nonbreeders but from people (like us) who had finished with their breeding. It seemed like a nice idea to me, though maybe difficult to implement (what about perfectly ambulatory women in the early stages?) but the way some people were carrying on it was like folks would be churning out more rugrats just to get the parking spaces. The level of vitriol was amazing.

Posted by: Steve on July 17, 2007 12:25 PM

I have run into some venomous attitude towards children among Libertarians. One lady, after complaining that women with children demanded to be able to nurse in public called their babies, I kid you not "crotch snotlings"

My take is that people with that kind of attitude will not reproduce and therefore will eventually die off, leaving the world to the "breeders"

The question is not that the younger generation will pay the Social Security we will be using (try using that argument on Libertarinas and see the response you get....) but that they will be producing the goods and services we will be consuming when our producing days are over (Libertarianims is a philosophy that parts of the belief that we are all producers, always, a fact contradicted by simple biology). Therefore we must be careful as to how we deal with that new generation as it grows up.

Posted by: Adriana on July 17, 2007 12:26 PM

Probably the most reasonable thing I've ever read about this intractable debate, Michael.

As a proud Breeder (we always capitalize it, according to our style guide), I sympathize with the mom in the hallway that you describe. Not with her actions, as we generally try not to let our kids run wild in places like public hallways, but with her reaction to your very reasonable request. Kids are the touchiest of subjects, and sometimes even the most polite request related to them can seem like an attack.

As hard as it is for non-Breeders to take, having kids is something you just can't comprehend until you actually have your own. I jokingly liken it to combat experience. If you weren't there, you can't possibly understand what it was like. You nutty non-Breeders are like civilians to us.

btw, a comparable term to Breeder for describing non-Breeders, in terms of risibility, is DINK (Double Income, No Kids). As in, "Ah, they're DINKs, they can afford it."

But I'm with you on your Golden Rule. I just wish more non-Breeder types agreed. Normally, it takes having a kids themselves to come to such a realization.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 17, 2007 12:32 PM


The "barren womb" jibe is so quaint. Did he follow up by accusing you of having the vapours?

Posted by: CyndiF on July 17, 2007 1:03 PM

I'm a breeder, and I think the term is a riot, even if it's meant as an insult.

I know I'm hardly objective about it, but I consider my kids an asset to the world. People have often complemented me in public on their behavior (something that is only possible because they don't see them at home!). They aren't criminals (yet), they're very creative and unique, and I think when they grow up they'll bring some small amount of happiness into the lives of the people around them. Kids can be like fruit trees: you might have to water them for awhile, but eventually they'll give back some fruit.

And I don't think childless people are being selfish. Most of them have productive careers, and when people are productive, others by definition benefit. So what if they do it for selfish reasons? That's what motivates all of us most of the time.

Now as for your neighbor, she needs to be slapped. No way would I ever allow my kids to annoy anybody like that, regardless of how much hassle it caused me.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on July 17, 2007 2:22 PM

I'm under the "always wanted kids; took a lot longer than I hoped to find somebody suitable to have [one] with" heading. The clock ticks a little less relentlessly there for a man than for a woman, though.

The combat analogy. Yes, absolutely. A friend of mine was pregnant and due to have her first baby a few weeks after my son was born: when she asked me after my first couple of weeks what it was like I said exactly that - it's like what they say about being under fire. It's not about how much experience you have, it's about whether you've been there at all. After the first three or four days you know about as much as you're ever going to about how you cope. She found it a callous and shocking analogy; I still like it. (Disclaimer: I've never been under fire, although the IRA did try to blow me up a couple of times)

We live in a three apartment house, and were *very* worried when we moved in with the baby due in three months about how the new neighbours would deal with the (potential) noise. We got lucky - our baby was relatively peaceful and neighbours are great. But I'm very much aware of how much less lucky we easily could have been. It is a sensitive issue for a parent. (But I would never consider letting my child play in the hallway)

BTW, what's with the pathetic little low angle slides on playgrounds in Manhattan? The standard American litigation/liability hangup, I assume? I regard it as a crucial Dad skill to learn to watch your son climb into situations where you *might* not be able to catch him safely if it all went horribly wrong, and not too nag or visibly fret too much. Playground design is pretty good these days - not like When I Were A Lad, and the swings in our local park where fifteen feet high over asphalt. People (not me) used to loop the loop on them regularly too.

Posted by: Alan Little on July 17, 2007 2:54 PM

It's a mistake to assume that "being reasonable" has anything to do with this debate.

Until very recently, communities used religion and shame to insist that every person do their duty and reproduce. The ancient proscriptions against homosexuality arise from this need to produce more people. The emotional and spiritual demand to reproduce has nothing to do with intellect... it is very deep within us.

I'm not saying it has to stay that way. But the 100 to 150 years in which reproduction has not been a matter of desperate necessity to humans is a speck in the time span of human psychological and spiritual development. Thus, this discussion elicits our deepest primal responses.

I have children, and I am enjoying tremendously the time in my life when my children are grown and gone from the house. I'm living "selfishly" now, and I make no apologies.

An even more bitter argument waits on the horizon as sexual behavior becomes more public and less constrained by religion and shame. We are entering an era when sexual behavior finally emerges into the light to become public expression and play. This will also be a terrifying assault on our deeply held psychological and spiritual tenets.

I think it's a good idea to have a lot of sympathy for people. This struggle to live in the contemporary world that mostly rejects traditional views of procreation, spirituality and sexuality is very challenging. And, our responses are not ruled by the intellect, nor should they be. People are being torn apart by the demands of adjusting to this incredibly rapid change.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 17, 2007 3:10 PM

If it's okay for those witty gays to call heterosexual parents breeders is it alright for straights to call homosexuals recruiters?

Posted by: ricpic on July 17, 2007 3:35 PM

btw, I LOVE this description of Libertarianism:

"(Libertarianims is a philosophy that parts of the belief that we are all producers, always, a fact contradicted by simple biology)."

Pretty much sums up my problem with that school of thought.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 17, 2007 3:45 PM

What a great post! Well said.

As a breeder, I hate the term because it's so true and embarrassing! Kids take over your entire life. It's so... backward (?)

Posted by: Alice Bachini on July 17, 2007 7:17 PM

The barren (or "non breeders") are going to die out in time. From the perspective of evolution, the attitudes that lead people to voluntarily remain childless are like attitudes that lead them to commit suicide -- both actions result in a reproductive fitness of zero.

Posted by: blah on July 17, 2007 8:52 PM

A great post Michael!

My deep philosophical question is this: Would it matter if through our own non-coercive free choice the human race just blink our of existence?

Supposing our output drops to 1.5 kids/family, and centuries from now we're down to the very last man and woman on earth. Suppose they just decide that they'd rather listen to NPR than make babies. If that's how humanity ends, I don't know that that's so bad.

Is it?

Posted by: Lee on July 17, 2007 9:17 PM

If it's okay for those witty gays to call heterosexual parents breeders is it alright for straights to call homosexuals recruiters?

Alright, maybe. But witty, it ain't...

Posted by: communicatrix on July 17, 2007 9:19 PM

I've always found the term a bit insulting, with its overtones of ". . .and that's all you're fit to be". Besides, the years when your children are small are relatively few. It's hard to remember that while it's happening (mine are around 7 and 9), but it's true.

What surprised me, after having children was the fierce (instinctual?) protectiveness I found I had suddenly developed. Media reports of something terrible happening to a small child went from being merely disturbing to inducing waves of nausea.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on July 17, 2007 9:28 PM

The statement that libertarians "believe we are all producers" triggers of my straw-man sniffing instincts; so I am curious: can anyone tell me of any libertarian writers, philosophers, economists, etc., who said or wrote that? And is it possible--if some libertarian writer, philosopher, etc.--did say something to that effect, is it possible the context of the statement is being overlooked?

My experience is that those libertarians on the shallow end of the thinking pool are often too ready too dismiss anyone who isn't doing something that is money-making as "non-productive." (For example, a libertarian acquaintance who ridiculed a handicapped guy who was going mountain-climbing or some difficult feat for "wasting" his time on something "unproductive.")

Just off the top of my head, I would think a person who drops out of the market to raise and care for a child is producing a good home and good formative years for the child.

Re the "selfish" argument, decades ago (even before Ayn Rand) there was a very good book called THE ART OF SELFISHNESS, the central thesis of which, as I recall, was that when people criticize you for being selfish, they're often angry because you're not submitting to their own selfishness. That person whose kids were making noise right outside and who wanted to let them continue making noise--and then criticized you for being "selfish"--is a case in point.

Posted by: Bilwick on July 18, 2007 9:20 AM

I say that they "believe that we are all producers, always" not because of any statements but because their outlook seems to be about people entering contracts of their own free will, said people being all competent adults. No word is said about the stage of life when they do not enter into contracts.

Edmund Burke noted the problem when he said that people who found society in contracts hate instictively the family because the family is one entity which is not founded on contracts. He was saying it about Rousseau, of course, but in fact libertarians are of the Rousseau line. Rousseau believed that men are naturally good, but corrupted by an evil society (of course, he did not ask how come good men could create an evil society), while libertarians believe that men are naturally good and rational, and all the problems are due to government intervention (and they do not stop to consider that were all men good and rational government would not have arisen as the lesser evil)

Posted by: Adriana on July 18, 2007 11:15 AM

"while libertarians believe that men are naturally good and rational, and all the problems are due to government intervention"

That's not what this libertarian believes, though I can see why someone might think so. "Good and rational" doesn't enter into it, it's more that the amount of harm that can be done is limited by decentralized power. Humans are assumed to be amoral seekers of their own benefit by most libertarians, and the Rousseau connection is extremely weak, except maybe for the more Rothbardian/anarchist type.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on July 18, 2007 12:25 PM

Thanks for your explanation, adriana. But it has more to do with your perception of libertarians and libertarianism, and values you ascribe to them, than it has with libertarians or libertarianism in the real world. I'm speaking as someone who was a young conservative until all that Kirkian-Burkean rhetoric with no real substance or logic behind it--indeed, a scorn for logic as "defecated reason"--and a bunch of prominent conservatives at an ISI seminar defending Nixon's wage and prince controls, led him to take himself out of the fold, and who has read a lot of libertarian literature over the past forty years. I've known libertarians who were single by choice, libertarians who were single due to circumstances, libertarians who were married with kids, libertarians who were married without kids, and Gay libertarians, and I've never met any who hated the family. I'm not saying such people don't exist but I've never met them and I would think I'd have encountered at least one.

Just getting back to the original topic, I am single and childless, and while I've never encountered childless people who hate or resent people with children (unless they're parents who let their kids run amuck in public places), online I've encountered several "breeders" (not a term I generally use) who seem to foam at the mouth over the mere thought of some people being contentedly childless. Why is that, do you think?

Posted by: Bilwick on July 18, 2007 12:58 PM

Also, I don't know of any libertarians who base their antipathy to aggressive force on the premise that men are inherently good. This seems to be another "trad" straw man. I think it was Murray Rothbard who said that the belief in Original Sin is essentially irrelevant to the problem of Man versus the State. If all men are inherently good, fine. But if all men are inherently wicked ot sinful, placing some of them in positions of power over the rest of us makes no sense.

Posted by: Bilwick on July 18, 2007 1:03 PM

Ayn Rand was not a libertarian. She was fully against them from day one.

Posted by: Student of Objectivism on July 18, 2007 6:14 PM


I admit that I based my judgement of libertarians by the statements made by individuals instead of reading hte sources. But isn't that how any group is judged, by the behavior of their members rather than by the lofty statemetns of their founders? They do that with Communists, with Nationalists, with Christians, with Muslims, and with any groups who insist that whatever the individual failings of certain of their members, their original doctrine is pure and whiter than the driven snow.

So, why should I not apply the same standard to libertarians, judging by how they behave?

Of course, you might have pointed out that people who spent an inordinate amount of time on the Internet are not truly representative of any group except that of Internet addicts. Unfortunately, people who have too much of free time and spend it on the internet are the ones who get the word out.... In other words, your gospel is being propagated by geeks and nerds (I know that I am stereotyping but you get my gist), so your gospel is geeky and nerdy when we get it.

In any case, the venom that I saw Libertarians spew on the subject of other people's babies was truly shocking, and I wondered if there was any connection between Libertarianims and unwillingness to reproduce (which meant that Libertianism to survive as a doctrine must seduce the children of non-Libertarians - which reminds me of Simone Weil's comment that slavery was making use of a work force that you did not have the expense or trouble to raise).

As to whetehr or not Libertarians believe or not in hte inherent goodness of human beings, you might consider that each time I pointed out a social problem or other the answer was "that's because the governemtn got invovled. Without it, everything would be fine" Basically, all evil comes from the goverment, and none from human beings acting on their own. People with that kind of automatic respones might have trouble undestanding concepts such as Original Sin...

As for Rothbard's comment he must not have read enough history, as to why the modern State came to be, which was to keep in check warlords who preyed on the common people (the difference between a lord and a robber was not very pronounced in those days). I suspect that Hayek was a bit fuzzy about serfdom, because he missed that historically serfdom rose not out of imposition of the State but through the weakness of the State that led peasants to accept any terms in exchange for some form of protection - he also missed the fact that a lot of serfs used to be chattel slaves who were moving up the ladder (they gained the right to form their own families for starters).

Posted by: Adriana on July 18, 2007 8:56 PM

My take is that people with that kind of attitude will not reproduce and therefore will eventually die off, leaving the world to the "breeders"

Or put another way: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. No one is preventing smart and industrious people from having kids, except for themselves. It would obviously be bad if smarts and industriousness decreased in frequency with each passing year.

Whatever long-term solution one ponders, a quick-fix is to marry a smart girl from Latin America or France (university student or one with a degree already). They're more into breeding.

Posted by: Agnostic on July 18, 2007 10:41 PM

I always thought that breeders accusing (us) non-breeders of being selfish was really the pot calling the kettle black. I mean, how more SELFISH can you be than by having kids -- i.e. 'forcing' your genes on the world for yet another generation. ;-)

Here's something you might enjoy:

Posted by: Jun on July 18, 2007 11:28 PM

Its not that us libertarians believe that people are inherently good. We believe that some people are good and other people are bad. Rather, we believe than any kind of centralized, hierarchial social structure allows people who are bad to harm more people than if they were out on their own. It is any kind of centralized, hierarchial social institutions that we depise and want nothing to do with. It is not even the problem of evil people, merely the fact that incompetant people create problems for others way out of proportion than if they were not in charge of such institutions.

My hostility towards non-libertarians is rooted in their in their in ability to accept this reality of human institutions. They refuse to accept and respect the fact that we operate on the basis of the zero aggression principle and that this principle is the ONLY acceptable basis of interaction of people.

If non-libertarians want to create hierachies, that is fine with me. But they have no business, whatsoever, in expecting those of us not wanting anything to do with them to comply with their institutions.

It is the refusal of non-libertarians, especially those who call themselves "conservative", to accept the fact that ALL human organizations are artificial constructs and, therefor, have no legitimacy beyond whatever ostensive purpose that they were created for.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 19, 2007 12:20 AM

We libertarians recognize that some people are good and that others are evil. The reason why we are libertarians is because we despise any kind of centralized, hierarchial social institutions. The principle reason is that we know that such institutions allow evil people to have power over others, and this is always a bad thing. The other reason is simply because we want to be left alone to live our own lives an to pursue our own destinies.

Libertarianism is the only philosophy that is founded on the zero aggression principle. The reason why I despise non-libertarian ideologies is their refusal to recognize this zero agression principle. For some reason (probably rooted in socio-biology), non-libertarian type people simply do not comprehend, let alone respect, the zero-agression principle. This is precisely what I despise about them.

About having or not having kids: There seems to be all kind of ranting and raving about this on the Net. However, this is a subject that noone I know would ever consider discussing in a face-to-face conversation. I have no kids. Some people I know have them. Others do not. However, noone I know personally would ever question or criticize my choice not to have kids. This is simply not an acceptable form of polite conversation. In fact, everyone I know considers this kind of criticism to be offensive.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 19, 2007 12:34 AM

All I can say, adriana, is that we have encountered two vastly different groups of libertarians in our time. (Although I would add that my time has probably been spent around libertarians and among libertarians--and actually reading what key libertarians--think than yours.)

I would have to examine each unnamed issue that you refer to on a case-by-case basis but I can imagine that for most if not all large social or economic issues one can find the mischief-making Mailed Fist of the State in there somewhere, screwing someone. The reason being two-fold:

(1) If individuals or groups of individuals do evil, the impact, on the rest of the society, would be minimalized or localized, and the rest of society could counter-act; but if these individuals get "aholt" of the State as an engine for their evil, the impact on society is not only more widespread, but their evil-doing is now the Law.

(2) In a world where, even in a relatively free society such as ours, the State is virtually everywhere, meddling in nearly everything, the harm done to society by evil-doers in control of the State is commensurately greater, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Therefore, given these two factors above, it's not surprising if, in nearly every problem facing society, it takes only a little detective work to find a "smoking gun" leading back to the State. I personally don't see how one deduces from this that human beings are inherently good or evil. Obviously some individuals perform evil actions and others do not. Me, I don't initiate force against other people, and as the John Wayne character in THE SHOOTIST says, "and I require the same from them." Obviously there are others who do not subscribe to or practice such a credo. Does that make them inherently bad or me inherently good? I don't know and (except as a matter of some abstract intellectual interest) I don't care. What I care is the gun pointing at my face. Whether the gunman is stained with Original Sin or came into the world with a soul as immaculate as the Virgin Mary is of minor concern to me. (And for that matter, in that kind of situation, I don't care that much if the weilder is an agent of the State gun or a private criminal.)

I'm not familiar with the origin-of-the-State theory adriana mentions. I'm more familiar with the theory posited by Franz Oppenheimer in THE STATE: i.e., that the State began when roving bands of looters decided to settle down and realized that instead of killing all their victims and stealing all their property, they could leave most of them alive with enough property to keep producing, so that they could be looted in an orderly, regular manner--in return for which, the looters provided their serfs protection from rival bands of looters. (Oppenheimer greatly influenced one of my intellectual heroes, Albert Jay Nock. See Nock's OUR ENEMY THE STATE, in which he contrasts "government," the organization society forms to protect itself from acts of aggression, with the State, the organization imposed on society to make aggression legal for certain people under certain circumstances.)

But I go on too long. Could you bottom-line your beliefs for me, adriana, paricularly their practical application? Given your apparent belief in man's intrinsic evil, where do you go from there? In other words, given that you obviously feel the need to restrict someone's freedom somewhere--whose, how, and when? To bottom-line it even further, upon whose head do you want to lower the mailed fist, and for what reason Cwhether the "defecated" or "non-defecated" variety), and by what right?

Posted by: Bilwick on July 19, 2007 9:10 AM

I'm sure there is a well thought-out counter argument to this, but Kurt, please stop using the roads my taxes pay for if that is your position. For starters.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 19, 2007 9:56 AM

Of course, patriarch, in a free society, you wouldn't have to concern yourself with people whose philosophy you don't like using things your tax dollars pay for.

Posted by: Bilwick on July 19, 2007 10:37 AM

"Of course, patriarch, in a free society, you wouldn't have to concern yourself with people whose philosophy you don't like using things your tax dollars pay for."

I'm not sure if that's meant to be sarcastic or not. Whatever the case, I don't care if people I disagree with benefit from my tax dollars. That's the reality of living in a society where people are free to express and advocate for their opinions. I just find it hypocritical for people who hate the idea of government to use the services provided by the same.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 19, 2007 11:33 AM

Maybe Kurt is a Nockian, patriarch. Maybe it's the State, not "the idea of government," that he's against. But let me re-phrase myself to make my point clearer: You should concern yourself less with other people's alleged hypocrisy and more with having a free society. In a society where the State uses its tax-and-spend powers to provide a whole host of services to its subjects--whether those subjects chose to pay for those services or not--and intrudes itself into nearly everything, it is almost impossible to live without encountering or using those services. If those services weren't provided in the first place and people were left free to make their own arrangements ("Anything that's peaceful," as the late great Leonard Read used to put it) such "hypocrisy" mould be minimized, and you wouldn't have to concern yourself with it.

Posted by: Bilwick on July 19, 2007 12:06 PM

Sounds like tribalism to me, Bilwick. A mish-mash of standards and practices that would be a nightmare to navigate.

I'm not in love with "the state" as it exists, but the brand of democracy that exists in Western Europe and the US is the best governing institution we humans have come up with so far, in my opinion. And I am one who believes we humans need a governing institution to live civilly.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 19, 2007 1:30 PM

I have two children, with one more on the way. And I firmly believe that having children isn't for everyone. Clearly, a lot of parents have no real interest in putting their own needs secondary to the needs of their kids (the Prime Directive of child-rearing). These are usually the people letting their kids terrorize everyone around them, because that's easier than disciplining your children. I wish such people wouldn't have children. I salute anyone who abstains from having kids - if you don't want 'em, don't have 'em. It's better for everyone.

But that's a different issue from the abrasive loudmouths who are offended at the mere presence of children. Whenever I read a rant from some middle-class entitlement junkie about how they had to endure a bunch of kids at Starbuck's that morning, I always mentally replace "kids" with "niggers" or "retards" to take the true measure of that person's character. Sorry, you have no right to move through the world sheltered from the existence of people you deem distasteful.

I always want to ask the more strident anti-breeder types: do you wish your own parents hadn't had kids? And since they did, isn't there an obvious way for you to rectify their oversight? I mean, if we're talking about not being selfish, isn't suicide the ultimate way to reduce your carbon footprint?

Posted by: Jason Toon on July 19, 2007 6:03 PM


You say that some people are good and some people are bad. The problem is what keeps bad people from praying on bad people?

Without some form of police bad people do prey on good people, who are reduced many times, to buy protection from one of those bad people against the others. Like with the Mafia (a complaint of Southern Italians about the end of Fascism was that on the wake of that destruction the old mafiosi came back, ready to prey on them, with no one to stop them - meditate on why would anyone regret the end of Mussolin's regime)

The State as we know it was the response to the continual predation of barons. Each baron and his knights defended the villages under his protection, and then went to war against other barons, and ravaged the other baron's villages, stealing what they could, and burning what they could not carry. A strong STate meant that barons could not war with each other, and villagers could have some certaintly that what they had at the begginning of the year would not have been burned nor carried away at the end of that year. It may not seem much, until you do not have it.

Posted by: Adriana on July 20, 2007 8:47 AM

I love this theory of "non-aggresion". How is in enforced?

Any law, or principle, or whatever needs a police to enforce it. Without enforcement laws and principles are "just so much mouth music"

Please explain a method of enforcmenet that is

a) universal, that is that seeks to ban aggresion, no matter who it is who is the attacker, and not matter who is the one attacked.

b) impartial, that is that its decisions do not favor one of the plaintifs.

Please explain how do you enforce your "non-aggresion" principle, without going back to feudalism.

Posted by: Adriana on July 20, 2007 8:57 AM


All large-scale human institutions are bureacracies. Bureaucracy, by definition, is not capable of any kind of productive work, whatsoever. The state, by definition, is a form of bureaucracy. Therefor, anything a state does, by definition will not be productive in any meaningful definition of the word. Hense, the state is not useful for anything I seek to accomplish or become. It can only get in my way.

Governments through out history have been criminal enterprises. So have religions.

What makes you think that I need any large scale social institution to help me accomplish what I seek to accomplish or to transform myself what I seek to become?

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 21, 2007 3:30 AM


The most relevant quote with regards to social institutions such as governments and religions and the nature of good and evil is this:

Who will watch the watchmen?

You are committing the falacy of trying to solve the "strong man" problem by creating another "strong man". This is called an infinite recursion and is, therefor, irrational.

There is never a legitimate basis for centralized power. All forms of monopoly-authoritarianism are inherently evil and infinitely more evil than any individual human can possibly be.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 21, 2007 3:37 AM

I don't understand why people think that libertarianism and family values are incompatible. To me, they are completely orthogonal to each other. Libertarianism is about the right to make one's own choices free of external coercion. Prudence, itself, insists that, whatever personal choices you make, that you make the most of them.

If you choose to start a new business, you work really hard and smart to ensure its success. If you choose to have kids, you work really hard and smart to give them the best life that you can and to help them create their own future when they become full adults.

How is the second any less "libertarian" than the first?

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 21, 2007 3:44 AM


Of course, governments have been criminal enterprises, but do you believe that because you get rid of government that criminal enterprises will cease?

There will always be predators and parasites in this world, and our only hope is to convert predators into parasites (who feed without killing) and parasites into commensals, and even symbiotes. Getting rid of predation and parasitism is not feasible in this world (if you want to get theological about it, blame Original Sin for it)

In biology class we were told that there are a number of commensals and borderline parasites in our bodies, and that getting rid of them with antibiotics is not a good idea. You kill the bacteria that feed off your and next thing you get a yeast infection (and those itch like Hell), and your digestion gets screwed up because a lot of those bacteria are actually beneficial to your body.

You do not have to like having a government. But consider that the alternative is living under the Mafia or some such (the reason Putin is so popular in Russia in spite of his terrible ways is because they think that he is better than the Mafia...)

Posted by: Adriana on July 21, 2007 10:34 AM


The problem with your take on family values is that children do not have a choice. They have to do as their parent tells them.

And you seem to think that every parent is devoted to raising children and what the best for them, as if the police blotter did not show a lot of exceptions to the rule.

Under libertarianism, what recourse does an incest victim have? What recourse does have a little girl forced into genital mutilation? Who forces the parent to school her daughters instead of selling them into marriage or brothels?

You may have the theory, Kurt, but you do not live in the real world.

Posted by: Adriana on July 21, 2007 10:39 AM


The reason why I am a libertarian is because I live in the real world. I have enough real world experience to know that large scale social institutions (governments, large corporations, universities) are bureaucracies and are, therefor, incapable of intent and productive work. The fact that libertarians recognize this reality of human organizations clearly indicates that it is us libertarians, not our detractors, who are most connected to reality.

I have been a life extension activist since the late 80's (life extension, cryonics, etc.). Here, as anywhere else, government and the current medical system is less than useless (the FDA and AMA refuse to even consider ageing to be a bio-medical condition - amenable to remediation). Hense the reason why we have created our own organizations (Life Extension Foundation, Methuselah Foundation) to finance the R&D and to develop effective anti-ageing medical therapies on our own - governments and the existing medical industry is completely useless to us for this purpose. It even gets in our way.

Ditto for space development. NASA is a government bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to employ 20,000 civil servants until retirement. Having NASA in the space transportation business is like having a government-owned airline monopoly. It is completely stupid. This is the reason for the recent start-ups (Bigalow Space, etc.) and the space X-prizes.

Same goes for fusion power. The government-funded tokamak program is intellectually bankrupt. Like NASA, it exists to keep PhD civil servants and university research departments employed until retirement. Think of it as socialism for the educated classes.

I can go on and on for hours here. The point is that large scale social institutions are utterly worthless in helping me accomplish the things I want to do. Utterly worthless. Worse, because the things we want to do are perceived as threats by the parasites that make up these organizations, they often actually try to oppose our goals and objectives. This kind of opposition is utterly unacceptable in a free society. This alone tells me that the large scale organizations that you seem to cherish are utterly worthless and need to be eliminated.

Positive change and accomplishment cannot come about through traditional large organizations. It can only come through the actions of free individuals working together in decentralized networks. One of the big areas where this will have impact will be the development of synthetic biology based on open source biology. We have open source software with linux and whatnot. Open source biology (synthetic biology) and open source nanotech will be the next steps in this movement. Read "An Army of Davids" (by Glenn Reynolds) for a snapshot of what I am talking about here.

Decentralized networks of free individuals are the future of humanity.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 21, 2007 2:48 PM


You are confusing advocating decentralization and subsidiarity with getting rid of government altoghether. The first is a worthy cause, for the reasons you adduce. The second is walking into uncharted territory with an excessive faith on human nature.

You may be interested to know that an advocae of decentralization and subsidiearity in the thirties was the leader of the fascist-like party in Spain, the Falange. He also believed in a strong state. So, do not answer my objections to your desire to get rid of government with well-founded reasons for decentralization.

Posted by: Adriana on July 21, 2007 10:22 PM

I do not advocate getting rid of government altogether (anarchy). I advocate a very mininal government along the lines of Frederich Hayek and Ayn Rand.

I stand by my comments about the non-effectiveness of any form of bureaucracy and that the more rational libertarians being the only people to recognize this fact.

I consider people who subscribe to political philosophies that are based on the efficacy of bureaucracy as delluded.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 22, 2007 2:44 PM

I've seen the online debates about having/not having kids and think them quite silly. Noone I know would ever consider this a legitimate subject of polite conversation (face-to-face). What I do notice about these debates is that, excepting for the occasional deep green, it is those who have kids who seem to get quite prickly and sometimes offensive in these debates.

I do consider the term "breeder" to be offensive in this context and would never use it (even though I do not have kids and have no intention of having them). However, I have noticed that among the people who have kids, that there is a contingent that seems to have this obession with trying to "convert" those who do not have kids with having kids. It is this "missionary" attitude that is likely quite offensive to those who do not have or want kids. I have never understood this "missionary" attitude. If people think different from you, this means that they do not want to be like you and that you should let it be.

I believe that the desire to "convert" and make others think and be like you is a manifestation of personal insecurity. I believe this as fact from personal experience because when I know that I am totally what I want to be and live the life I want, I never feel the impulse to get others to "be like me". I accept others for what they are because I am totally secure and happy with what I am. The term "missionary" is the opposite of the term "cool".

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 22, 2007 2:54 PM


You are again mixing up two things: dislike of bureaucracy and dislike of government. Do you dislike the fact that you are ordered to do certain things or do you dislike being ordered through a bureaucracy?

Bureaucracy is a constant in human society. You can find bureaucracy in any human arrangement, be it public or private (I have worked in private companies and I can tell you how much time is wasted in meetings where nothing is decided, and other delightful activities). Reading Laurence J. Peter can cure you of any illusions that cutting down on government will get rid of bureaucracy.

Also, the military itself is a bureaucracy, and I understand that you accept its function in governemtn. You should know that any bureaucracy tends to grow and engulf, which means that the military bureaucracy will tend to encroach on the rest of us under the heading of "national security"

You might consider what happened in Russia, where after the fall of Communism all institutions lost legitimacy and stopped functiioning. Except the KGB. That bureaucracy still worked.

So now, Putin is in charge.

Posted by: Adriana on July 23, 2007 10:04 AM


I am well-aware of the nature of any large human institution to become a bureaucracy. This is a law of nature. I have said before that I consider bureaucracy to be incapable of intent, not to mention, positive work. This is the reason why I do not believe in large scale human institutions and why I call myself a libertarian, if I am to accept any political label.

You, on the otherhand, seem to have some affection for large scale human institutions, despite knowing full well their tendency to devolve into bureaucracies.

I stand by my point. For the things I want to do and what I seek to become, current large scale institutions are not very useful to me.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 24, 2007 5:08 PM

Kurt: I make no brief for bureaucracies, though I know that eradicating them is rather utopic. MIght as well try to get rid of dandelions or kudzu.

But it is one thing to complain about bureaucracy and advocate for decentralizacion than to deny all legitimacy to governemtn, as if getting rid of it would solve all problems.

I quote from you "government is a criminal enterprise", that is a very long stretch for complaining of creeping bureaucratization or centralization.

Posted by: Adriana on July 24, 2007 10:53 PM

If you are childless: consider what your parents gave you; consider what your friends with children give their kids. Then consider: is what you have given comparable?

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on July 25, 2007 1:02 AM

Rick Rostrom proves my other point. His comment makes it clear his need to somehow "convert" people into having kids.

This is the single most annoying aspect to online debates about having or not having kids. It is an annoying trait that, thankfully, everyone I know personally would never consider appropriate for polite conversation.

Posted by: Kurt9 on July 25, 2007 3:53 PM

Funny that I came to read this yesterday. My girlfriend, a nurse case manager at a teaching hospital in Boston, and I, a sales manager for a local firm, were leaving the gym after a workout. Our gym is located in a mall, and while walking back to our cars, we saw a young woman putting shopping bags in her trunk, a rather elderly American sedan. A cherubic young boy, about 2 years old, rode her hip, and she was, in my girlfriend's professional estimation, about 6 months pregnant. We took notice because all the while this mother was puffing away on a cigarette!

To paraphrase that great philosopher Keanu Reeves' character in the movie parenthood, you need a license to drive a car or catch a fish, but any ass*ole can be a parent.

Posted by: Rick on July 27, 2007 9:27 AM

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