2012-12-06

Case In Point: You Cannot Communicate With Some

I'm not sure how to categorize this topic. I have selected the "optimism" label, although it does not seem to fully fit what's going on here.

Yesterday, Bryan Caplan made a pretty harmless and unremarkable case for why having kids is basically a good thing:
Instead of handing out another helping of guilt, natalists should try to deflate the guilt that so many people already shoulder.  Natalists should share the good news from twin and adoption research: The long-run effects of vaguely normal parenting styles are roughly equal, so vaguely normal parents should focus on enjoying the journey instead of constantly fretting if they're raising their kids right.  Natalists should celebrate the incredible safety children in modern societies enjoy, endless scary media anecdotes notwithstanding.  Natalists should hail the many undersung positive externalities of population growth to counterbalance misanthropic nay-saying. 

Above all, natalists should try to make kids fun again.  Forget doom and gloom.  Sharing the wonder of life with your many descendents is inherently exciting.  I savor it.  You might even call the experience... decadent.
Wow, what a controversy, right? Concept number one: Don't worry so much about parenting, because things will turn out okay! Concept number two: Kids are fun! Big deal. Caplan states the obvious, everything that parents have known about parenting for the last 10,000 years. The post as a whole is basically unremarkable. It is what it is. Have kids if you want.

But the crazies sure came out of the woodwork over this. Consider some of the comments Caplan received in response to the above. Here's a comment from someone who understandably preferred to remain anonymous. He seems to believe that having children is a bad idea because it takes time and money, and gosh you might get divorced. He'd rather just spend his money on a vasectomy.
I agree with Jack, what exactly is the incentive to have kids for high income males? Even hands off parenting still takes time, energy and money and at least to me, there is no obvious payoff involved.
And that is assuming (both big ifs)
a) You find a woman who would make a worthy mother
b) She does slap you with a divorce and related nastiness a couple of years into the child rearing
Frankly, it boggles my mind why people still want to have children.
So on a cost benefit analysis, it clearly falls through. I can't be shamed / guilt-tripped into having children either, so I (29) am in fact seriously considering a vasectomy myself.
Here's a person who - despite choosing to remain anonymous - is still willing to admit on a public forum that having a child has nearly ruined his life:
Bryan I'm generally somewhat sympathetic to your natalist argument, and some of your earlier writings helped convince me to have a child.
But I feel like you tricked me.
Parenting older children might be fun and rewarding, but parenting an infant is basically pure torture. Parenting a toddler (my son is now 15mo) has not been much better.
Our marriage is falling apart. We barely speak and never have sex. My wife's control over her own life is essentially gone, she is a slave to the boy.
And this is not over-parenting, it is simply meeting his basic needs.
I feel that you should temper your advocacy of child-rearing with a caveat on the risks. Perhaps there is a 99% chance that having a child works out great for someone that follows your advice, but a 1% chance of disaster is awfully risky.
Wait, wait. There's more. It gets better. Commenter "Jack" ads a level of dating psychopathy to the discussion (emphasis added):
You should definitely go through with the vasectomy. It's covered by most major insurance plans. However, when you do it, do not tell the women you date that you have had the procedure. When they ask if you want kids, just say, "I love kids!" and leave it at that. Otherwise, they'll leave you. Also, if a woman ever does come to you and tell you she's pregnant, you can say, "Congrats to you and the father!"
And, just in case you're not convinced that Jack is a psychopath, he adds this for additional clarification:
As mentioned earlier, when a woman asks me about children, I just say, "I love kids!," and that ends the conversation. Basically, just as a politician would seek to maximize votes (according to public choice theory), a guy should seek to maximize his number of flings. Furthermore, I really think, given the incentives, it's completely foolish to actually fall in love with a woman. It completely destroys one's ability to make rational decisions and thus causes people to do counterproductive things like getting married or having kids.
I think the most charitable thing that can be said for our friend Jack in this case is that he has a highly warped and extremely psychologically damaged view of love and relationships.

Well, all that being as it may, I figured the bizarre and disturbing discussion had more or less come to a close by the end of the day yesterday. But when I read Bryan Caplan's follow-up this morning, consisting of nothing more than a few simple exerpts from his book about having kids, the first response in the comment section was this doozy from "Rob" (the quotations in this comment are from Caplan's post - other emphases are added by me):
"Unless your baby is truly unlucky, he will almost certainly be happy to be alive."
Don't count on it.
"Aren't you?"
Not really.
Anticipation of typical response: "Why don't you kill yourself?"
Because suicide is hard, and made deliberately harder by law. The vast majority of suicide attempters survive involuntarily. Some of them after considerable suffering. Then they are forced into mental health facilities, where they are restrained and degraded against their will.
One might argue that bans on the best suicide drugs, as well as coercive hospitalization policies, are the fault of evil governments. But it is the world's parents who force children into the power of evil governments. Without consent.
"Jack" and "Rob" are both what we might call functionally insane. And I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but rather as a simple matter of fact. While they are obviously capable of living lives that resemble the lives of normal people, "Jack" has obviously been driven into emotionally vindictive psychopathy by his terror of commitment and maddening fear of love more broadly. "Rob" holds such a low opinion of his own existence that he can't even be moved to attempt suicide, and somehow blames his position in the world on his parents, for having spawned him.

Considering the above, I would like to remind my readers of something I wrote a couple of months ago: You cannot engage in good-faith discussion with the mentally ill. It simply isn't possible. They will simply pass even the most innocuous statements through the lens of their neuroses and turn it into something really nasty.

It is unfortunate, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Good-faith discussion is something that can only be had between parties who are capable of having it. Those with significant psychological challenges must first overcome those challenges before they can participate meaningfully in any discussion, even if that discussion is something trivial, like "Ain't it great to have kids?"