Spanning the gamut of online wisdom, advice columnist Carolyn Hax and philosopher Peter Singer weigh in on the advisability of adding to the sum total of humanity. I've long been curious about the ways in which people choose (when they do have a choice, which they usually do) whether or not to have children.
Hax, responding to a letter-writer who asks if her anxiety disorder may be too severe for her to attempt parenthood, replies, in effect, that wanting to be a parent is no justification for becoming one. She advises the inquirer to consider, in light of her own knowledge of what it is to be a child, whether she would want herself as a parent. How drastically different human history would be if this were a precept that were followed with any consistency! Isn't the presumption of fitness for parenthood pretty much wired into the human organism? Indeed, it may be only the seriously depressed or demoralized, like the letter-writer in this instance, who even consciously consider the matter (which isn't to say that most people who choose not to have children do so for reasons of pathology).
Singer reminds us that creating a child is, of course, a portentous act of either good or ill. He alludes to recent philosophical writing that argues that, well, life often isn't the unqualified good we take it to be (I envision The Onion article: "Philosophers discover that life isn't worth living."). And all joking aside, one does occasionally encounter lives that are so chock full of misery and degradation that, really, not only the moral universe as a whole, but also the possessors of the lives in question, would seem to have been better without them.
Half tongue-in-cheek, Singer wonders whether it would be reprehensible for the species to decide that we will in fact be the final generation. After all, there is no categorical duty to procreate; we do not hold the childless to be guilty of some existential failure or infraction. We cannot be held to have a responsibility for vague beings of the future who may or may not exist; we have duties toward the living, that is all. And yet...one could argue that the presumption of a future for humanity, even if one does not have biological children oneself, is so deeply ingrained in the human organism that the horror of apocalypse far exceeds one's own demise. The future of humanity is not an obligation, but it is a hope, or perhaps a faith.
If one were to genuinely doubt the chance for a worthwhile life of one's offspring, then one would implicitly have to question one's own as well. I am surprised that Singer didn't mention The Children of Men, the movie a few years back that showed the depression and desperation of a world without reproduction. Arguably the final generation, whenever its grim day may come, whether in years or in millenia, will be the saddest one of all.