Last Update: 24 Apr 00
Return to "Babies" essay
REPLY #2 TO
(R) I agree that the human reaction to the image or presence of babies can be silly and irrational to the point of irritation for those of us not similarly "blessed" (or even those who have had children and gotten over the giddiness), but I'm not sure what point you're making. Is it simple bemusement at the extremes to which people overreact to babies, or the fact that people display such an idyllic and benevolent attitude in the first place?
(MB) It's more of a hybrid of those two. My main question was why so many otherwise rational adults are turned into gibbering fools at the sight of a baby. Certainly, one can protect and care for babies without all the rampant silliness.
(R) The latter, of course, is easily understood as a product of evolution. The animal which values and protects its young is likelier to pass along its genes. This protective urge (which I know is neither total nor perfect in the animal kingdom, as incidences of young-killing and even cannibalism demonstrate) accounts for a large portion of the human attitude towards their own babies, and even those of others--and perhaps even towards the offspring of other animals as well. It's no more mysterious than the attraction to young, healthy members of the opposite sex.
(MB) Agreed. I just wonder what protective value is present when an adult makes "goo-goo" noises or silly faces or acts like he has never seen a baby before.
(R) The problems come in when this normal biological impulse gets extra attention and justification on an emotional and social level. Then we have situations of "venerating the child" or "worshiping youth" that are, in my view, unhealthy extremes which can spell major trouble for a society.
(MB) Agreed again. Children should be raised to understand that there are going to grow up to take their places in adult society and not in a way that suggests that adult society is there primarily for the benefit of the child's life.
(R) The protectiveness urge alone, taken to an extreme, can generate social and legal consequences that run counter to other basic principles of democracy, such as the equality of all adult citizens under the law. Is it discrimination to offer a parental leave policy to some employees--a benefit which is not available to single and childless employees? Or is it more important to society that the family unit and raising of children be given special and privileged status?
(MB) I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to label parental leave policies as being discriminatory. These policies would seem to fall under the general heading of health care benefits. Such benefits *are* available to all employees. It's just that not everybody needs to use them. I don't know if any companies are actually doing this or not, but I think an enlightened policy would be to offer monetary bonuses to employees who do *not* miss work due to medical or parental leave. This would alleviate any seeming discrimination in benefits.
(R) I'm childless, and some of my taxes are spent to educate other people's children, not mine. (Of course, they also went to educate me when I was a kid, but I believe I've since repaid my share for that.) Should I carry an extra burden because other people choose to have kids? Or is the benefit to society so clear and certain that everyone can reasonably be expected to chip in, even if they aren't the direct receipients of those benefits? These are value judgments, often handled on a case-by-case basis, because meaningful and persuasive arguments can be made for either side (at least in my view).
(MB) Since you are going to pay taxes in any case, I can't see where the portion that goes to educational benefits would produce any extra burden upon someone who is childless. Everybody's taxes help fund programs that don't benefit all people equally. Likewise, everybody benefits from programs which may not also benefit his neighbor. If one was to figure out exactly where all of his tax dollars went, it's quite likely that he'd discover that his proportionate share of the load for the majority of taxpayer-funded programs doesn't amount to more than he would spend for a decent meal. In most cases, it would be much less than that. I remember a discussion I once had with a guy who complained about his tax dollars being used to fund the National Endowment for the Arts (the group who occasionally gets into hot water for sponsoring some controversial art exhibits). After pushing a few numbers, I determined that his share of the NEA budget amounted to about 7/10ths of one cent. That pretty much took the wind out of his sails.
(R) As for the attitude that a death is 'more tragic' if it involves a child rather than an adult, I can see your point that a productive, full-grown adult generally contributed more to society than the child did. However, I think at least two contributing factors to the "added tragedy" response are: 1) the notion of the infant as an "innocent," and 2) the sense of lost potential.
The former is easy to understand. The odds are slim that an infant has led a life of crime, sin, wickedness or whatever label you care to put on antisocial behavior sufficient for them to "deserve" death. Of course, it's not likely that the adult who dies in an accident "deserved" death either, but the longer lifespan suggests at least an increased opportunity for some vice and crime on his record. In this sense, the death of someone wholly innocent of wrongdoing is viewed as morally "worse" than the death of someone who is mostly innocent.
(MB) If someone hasn't committed any offenses that are normally punishable by death (or even by significant incarceration), I find it a bit difficult to make any distinction between "wholly innocent" and "mostly innocent" as regards the emotional reaction of most people to the accidental death of a baby vs. that of an adult. I think that these reactions are more a reflection of the protective instinct most people have for babies as opposed to the comparative indifference that most of those same people would have for the welfare of other adults.
(R) (This, by the way, is a frequent attitude among animal lovers and, in its more extreme forms, animal-rights activists: the notion that animals are free from evil, whereas humans are not. Therefore, in this light, cruelty to humans might be justified--or at least explained--in some cases, whereas cruelty to animals never is.)
(MB) I won't argue with *that* assessment! I find it rather appalling that these folks would actually prefer to subject humans to injury or death if it meant the betterment of an animal.
(R) The sense of lost potential is more abstract. It too easily slides into an anti-abortion argument that a fetus is a "potential" human being and therefore deserves as much protection, if not more, than an actual independent human being.
(MB) In fact, you'll see very similar arguments in some of the responses to my Abortion essay. The "potential" argument against abortion is defeated by pointing out that *all* babies possess "potential" and that very few women desire to have as many babies as they are physically capable of producing. Therefore, if a woman desires to have only two children, she will produce only that much total "potential" no matter how many pregnancies she may have.
(R) I don't share this viewpoint, which I consider extremist, but I do have difficulty deciding whether it's worse to cut down a hundred-year old oak or a sapling. One has already made significant contributions; the other has the opportunity to make even more. Deciding which would be the greater loss is not a black-and-white choice for me.
(MB) Consider that the hundred-year old oak provides many immediate benefits as well as having the ability to produce a great number of new saplings. Consider also that there any number of things which could prevent any given sapling from maturing into a new oak tree and that no one sapling is much, if any, different from any other. These considerations would seem to make the choice between the mature oak and the sapling somewhat easier to make.
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