The Magazine

There Goes the Neighborhood

Rage against the ‘breeders.’

Sep 13, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 48 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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In 2007, Corinne Maier’s saucy No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children became a sensation in Europe. It was translated for American audiences two years later, and Maier’s quips—“Breastfeeding is slavery,” “Motherhood or success: Pick one”—were just as welcome here. Maier’s book is meant to amuse, but her conclusion is serious: “No kids, thanks. It’s better that way.” She would know. Unlike most people in the childfree movement, Maier has two children of her own.

There is more, so much more. In 2006 David Benatar, a philosophy professor at the University of Cape Town wrote Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence—a book which argues that all births are harmful. “[T]he quality of even the best lives is very bad,” Benatar explained, “and considerably worse than most people recognize it to be. Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible people.” 

In The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless, Elinor Burkett argues that the childfree are forced to work harder to compensate for their loafing, child-loving colleagues. The entire family-benefits system, she cries, is “affirmative action for mothers.” It’s a sign of how angry she is that Burkett—a liberal in excellent standing who almost certainly embraces actual, race-based preferences—would imprudently compare the unfair advantage mothers get from “the system” to affirmative action. Another sign: Burkett was the crazed woman who stormed the stage and hijacked an acceptance speech at this year’s Academy Awards.

It is a quirk of the movement that while the most committed childfree people tend to be women, being childfree is not primarily a feminist pose. In The Childless Revolution, Madelyn Cain describes three types of childfree women: “those who are positively childfree, those who are religiously childfree, and those who are environmentally childfree.” It is this last aspect that undergirds much of the movement, particularly at the policy level. 

There is, of course, a public policy component to the childfree lifestyle. Ever since The Population Bomb appeared in 1968, hostility to babies has been at the core of the environmental movement. The group Californians for Population Stabilization claims that “population growth [is] wildly out of control” and is causing “further degradation of America’s natural treasures.” The Dalai Lama in 2008 warned that overpopulation is “very serious—very, very serious.” A 2009 study at Oregon State University warned that children are terrible contributors to global warming. Dave Foreman, the cofounder of the group Earth First!, went so far as to say “The AIDS epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome development in the inevitable reduction of human population. .  .  . If [it] didn’t exist, radical environmentalists would have to invent [it].” In 2009, Canada’s Financial Post called fertility “the real inconvenient truth” and called for a “planetary law” limiting women to a single child in order to “reverse the disastrous global birthrate” which is responsible for climate change. 

It’s a credit to America’s childfree that they believe population control should begin at home. Though sometimes they are willing to go the extra mile. The environmentalist group Optimum Population Trust (OPT) has as its motto “fewer emitters, lower emissions.” OPT runs a program whereby environmentally conscious Westerners can purchase carbon-offsetting family-planning credits. In other words, concerned citizens give the OPT money to be used for funding birth control in developing countries. In case you’re curious, the OPT estimates that it takes $144.20 per year to keep enough of the great unwashed from reproducing to offset a typical American’s existence.

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