I wouldn’t want to be born… today…

I wouldn’t want to be born… today…

A close friend of mine, James, from my hometown in South Africa, who also now lives in England, is doubtful about starting a family with his partner, Sally.

James is unsure it’s the best decision for him given the state of the world, together with many other reasons. Sally is adamant she wants a child, and James doesn’t like himself for judging her reasons as selfish.

James is forty years old. Sally is a decade younger. He comes from a loving, united family with a younger brother. She comes from a broken, both emotionally and physically abusive family, also with a younger brother. James is a successful business owner and has created wealth through Bitcoin. Sally is a mentor for young adults and does voluntary work with all ages.

Sally’s biological clock is screaming out to her to have children and to experience unconditional love. She feels it will bring her parents closer to her, but wants to give a child more love than her parents showered her. Sally realises she is lazy and finds it hard to tie down any form of job, and so a child will give her life purpose and help her feel fulfilled. All her friends are having babies, even the transgender one, and besides, it will mean that James would always stay.

James is less passionate and says he doesn’t want children because of overpopulation and the environmental and economic impact, despite Sally pointing out that she only wants 1 baby, not 1.5 billion of them. James claims to be concerned about passing down physical and mental health issues, which Sally sympathised with until she realised he was referring to her issues, not his. He told her he stressed about his stress levels, and stressed about the likely lack of sleep, not having Sally’s undivided attention, sticky fingers over his bus ticket collection, and finally, when the child grew up, it could end up hating one or both of them. He also told Sally that his dream is to return to South Africa, fully aware of its irreparable state, and his desire to make a difference. Something he shall not be able to do if he has a child.

‘When I try to express my concerns to her,’ James says to me over the telephone, ‘she becomes distressed and accuses me of not wanting to meet her needs. And when I told her about my dream to return to South Africa, she said, “Fuck that for a game of soldiers.”’

‘I feel for you both,’ I say. ‘You are both trying to fit round pegs in square holes.’

‘I fear never finding another partner like Sally.’

‘Okay, then you know what will stop you from losing her. But it sounds as though you need to list your pros and cons, to make the right decision for you, not to please Sally.’

‘It’s so tough… You know how hopeless I am with spreadsheets.’

I say: ‘Don’t stand in the way of each other’s dreams if they are no longer yours together. Let her go to find a partner that wants a child, instead of being a child yourself, and then you’ll be freeing yourself to find a partner that matches your world… You can’t have everything in this world. And whatever decision you make is the best given your experience and knowledge up to that point.’

‘You sound like my therapist.’

‘That’s offensive,’ I say.

‘That’s a compliment. When have you ever struggled with accepting compliments?’

I ignore his question.

‘I’m terrified of regret,’ he says.

‘What about fulfilling your soul?’

‘I admire how you’ve never been afraid to leave when your needs are no longer met in your relationships.’

‘A friend recently asked, rhetorically, of course, “Why did my father bother having me when he treated me like shit all my life and then cuts me out a few decades into adulthood?” Would you ever want your child to wonder the same thing?’

‘Oh, God, no! Never,’ James says, his lack of self-confidence coming to the fore. ‘That would be the worst.’

‘My partner and I were joking the other day, and both agreed that if a child doesn’t ask to be born, then don’t have it.’

‘Oh, God, again… So true! People rarely think of how the child may feel coming into this world, putting themselves in a newborn’s shoes. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be born… today… Oh, my God… I get it!’ He chortled nervously. ‘You’re better than my therapist!’

‘You may expect a little too much from God… And I prefer Agony Aunt to a therapist, at my age.’

‘Agony Aunt it is!’

‘Consider ignoring your overpopulation and environmental reasons for a second… If you bring up your child to have a net benefit to society and the planet, and not be a greedy, self-centered arsehole, then you must have the child. And as long as it masters artificial intelligence, bioengineering, and Big Data algorithms, then it won’t struggle to find a job. Otherwise, it will be redundant. Also, forget what I said earlier about asking an unborn child… So, rather than try to give the biased answers yourself, ask a living one, say around 10 years old. Ask him or her: “Now that you are living in this world and have gained some experience of it, would you now like to die straight away?” If the answer is no, then free willy…’

I end by suggesting he read to Sally “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari.

“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. In theory, anybody can join the debate about the future of humanity, but it is so hard to maintain a clear vision. Frequently, we don’t even notice that a debate is going on, or what the key questions are. Billions of us can hardly afford the luxury of investigating, because we have more pressing things to do: we have to go to work, take care of the kids, or look after elderly parents.

“Unfortunately, history gives no discounts. If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids – you and they will not be exempt from the consequences. This is very unfair; but who said history was fair?

“As a historian, I cannot give people food or clothes – but I can try and offer some clarity, thereby helping to level the global playing field. If this empowers even a handful of additional people to join the debate about the future of our species, I have done my job.

“…in the 21st century, you can hardly afford stability. If you try to hold on to some stable identity, job or world view, you risk being left behind as the world flies by you with a whooooosh. Given that life expectancy is likely to increase, you might subsequently have to spend many decades as a clueless fossil. To stay relevant – not just economically, but above all socially – you will need the ability to constantly learn and to reinvent yourself, certainly at a young age like 50…”

What a sterling job you are doing, Harari! Keep it up.

 

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