Monday, June 22, 2009



Last week, a friend told me an amusing story. He told me that a woman sued a man for battery after he put horseradish sauce in a used condom to determine whether the woman was “using” his sperm without his consent after they had “protected” sex. Sure enough, the couple had sex and the man threw the condom in the bathroom trashcan. Then he put horseradish sauce in it while she was in a different room. He went back into the kitchen. She went into the bathroom, and a few moments later the man heard a bloodcurdling scream. The woman irritated herself with the horseradish sauce; she did not suffer permanent injury. The relationship did.

This all might sound funny. But it raises some interesting issues about men, women and procreation. In vitro fertilization aside, men and women need to have sex with each other to reproduce the species. That, in turn, implicates monumental emotional problems, because men and women view sex in very different ways. In the horseradish story, for example, there was tension between the man and the woman because the woman was in her 30s and said she wanted to start a family. To use a cliché, her “clock was ticking.” The man, by contrast, said he just wanted to have sex. He didn’t want to be a father or alter his lifestyle to care for a child. More cynically, he also did not want to pay child support and compromise his income. This difference in opinion led to mutual mistrust between the two parties, which ultimately culminated in the woman’s duplicity and the man’s mean-spirited trick. Men and women do not see sex in the same way. And amid all this suspicion, children usually are a consequence to be either feared or exploited, not a gift to be treasured.

Several male commentators asserted that the horseradish story proved women are “natural gold-diggers.” That assertion assumes that women only want to procreate because it entitles them to a paternity check. It does not acknowledge the fact that women may have deep spiritual and emotional reasons for wanting to have children. Nonetheless, these commentators marshaled some evidence to support their conclusion that women “just want to make a profit” from “unauthorized procreation.” Specifically, they pointed to recent “legal warnings” issued to NBA stars “to guard their used condoms” and always to “assume that women want to get pregnant for money.” In a less extreme example, they also pointed to the right-wing-proverbial “welfare mother” who just wants to mass produce living children in order to maximize her individual benefit check.

As superficially convincing as this “evidence” may be, I am hesitant to label all women inveterate gold-diggers. I have no doubt that some unscrupulous women are willing to bear the pain of childbirth and the difficulty of motherhood in order to get a check. But there are unscrupulous men, too. Women do not have a monopoly on duplicity and deception. In this sense, these modern “male as victim” arguments are at best self-righteous and at worst hypocritical. Historically speaking, men have always enjoyed superior power over women. As recently as the 19th Century, for instance, women faced “petty treason” conviction (and burning at the stake) for killing their husbands, while men only faced “murder” prosecution (and hanging) for killing their wives. In virtually every way, the common law regarded the woman as the husband’s “property” and, as such, the husband had “exclusive rights to use it.” At common law, a husband could not legally “rape” his wife, even if the sexual intercourse was nonconsensual (“Rape be the carnal knowledge of a woman, not the perpetrator’s wife, against her will”)(common law rule, emphasis added). Women could not vote or serve in official positions (unless they were monarchs). They were barred from traditional employment. They depended on men for income and inheritance. At the same time, men had virtually free rein to “discipline their wives;” husbands’ domestic brutality toward their wives rarely troubled the law or society. In short, women have not been roughly “equal” to men until relatively recent times. And for centuries, men could freely tyrannize women without the slightest consequence. To that extent, I find these modern “male as victim” arguments strangely pathetic.

When it comes to procreation, why do men consider themselves victims? Obviously they do not like the law’s approach to child support. For better or worse, the law throws the financial risk of sexual activity on the male. It does not matter whether the male employed measures intended to prevent pregnancy; if the condom breaks, he is the “father” and he owes child support payments. He might consider this unjust, but society has decided—through legislation—that men must pay to help raise their children, whether they wanted them or not. This indirectly benefits women, since a wealthier father must pay more money to support the child. But in the abstract, child support laws are not intended to provide a windfall to women. Nor are they intended to express moral contempt for irresponsible men, no matter what the talk shows say. Rather, child support laws are intended to promote procreation and to protect children. The fact that they breed mutual suspicion and enmity between men and women does not alter their social purpose.

We have seen that men and women think about procreation in very different ways. But child support laws reveal that society and government see procreation in yet another way—a demographic way. For law and government, procreation is not about emotion, love or even suspicion; it is about numbers. Specifically, the law vigorously promotes procreation. After all, the law would not force unwilling fathers to pay money to support unwanted children if it did not have a policy preference for births. The law could care less about a woman’s comfort; the law merely wants women to give birth. More births mean more citizens. And more citizens mean more workers. More workers mean a bigger economy in the future, and a bigger economy means more taxes and more national power. National strength has everything to do with population. Nations with large populations can produce more than nations with smaller populations. More production means more power and influence. Just look at China. The fact that China has the most people means it has more labor capacity and the best economic potential. These are fundamental government interests—and they depend on procreation. No matter how mechanized a Nation’s economy may be, there is always strength in raw numbers. Nations with flat birthrates will not stay strong forever.

In America, both State and Federal governments employ many subtle methods to further their policy preference for greater procreation. Mandatory child support payments are only one example. More significantly, American governments frown upon abortion and contraception, even though the Federal Constitution technically provides a right to both. Many States, for instance, carefully regulate the circumstances under which citizens may obtain consultation about abortion or birth control. They purposely bias the informational debate to favor procreation over contraception and abortion. They tell women who want abortions that the State will pay for hospital stays and adoption services. They exclude contraception from health plan coverage. And from a historical perspective, American governments criminalized “frauds on procreation,” including homosexual sex and nonprocreative heterosexual practices. From the government’s perspective, every ejaculation should be well spent because it needs more citizens to compete in the global economy. Wasted sexual energy, in other words, represents wasted national potential. This is not a moral question. It is an economic one.

In short, governments in America take a positive stand for “potential life” and “procreation,” even if the woman—or the man—does not want to procreate. After all, America needs more Americans. If America promoted contraception and abortion too much, it would flatten the birthrate and allow China and India to overtake us.

I am not writing satirical scrawl. I am reflecting on genuine geopolitical strategy. Governmental support for procreation has nothing to do with mistrust between men and women, nor does it reflect real compassion for children. Government does not care about children’s emotional lives or spiritual well-being; it simply wants them to be alive and healthy so they can mature into productive citizens. Of course, government takes a risk that every live birth may degenerate into a crack addict, welfare recipient or murderer. But every live birth also represents a chance that the child will become Albert Einstein, Bill Gates or at least a bourgeois with taxable income. Abortion may snuff out future criminals, but it also may snuff out future industrial barons. Government would rather save everyone in order to protect the potential industrial baron. Again, this has nothing to do with caring or compassion. It has merely to do with national strength. Government’s support for procreation over contraception, then, reflects government’s national self-interest, nothing more.

There are two realities at work here. On the micro level, men and women bicker with one another over money and child support. Men want orgasms without financial consequence; women want orgasms, child support payments and the emotional fulfillment of motherhood. On the macro level, government just wants men and women to keep having sex. It does not foist financial obligations on men to morally denounce their ill-advised (or even unlucky) sexual practices. Rather, it foists financial obligations on them so that their offspring can develop into productive citizens. Indeed, government may say it prefers that men and women procreate only when married. But from a geopolitical standpoint, this is an inane requirement. Children are children. They all have the potential to later pay taxes, serve in the army and perhaps invent things. Marriage may provide a stable platform for procreation and a child’s emotional well-being, but government just wants births. A child’s emotional well-being is a peripheral concern.

Governments do not exist without people. Procreation is the only way to generate more people. Bearing that in mind, it should not surprise us that government prefers procreation in every circumstance. As obvious as this sounds, however, it is somehow unnerving to think we are just grist for the governmental mill. After all, we were all children once. Although our family lives may all differ in some respects, we all experienced family dynamics. We experienced love in some form. Some of us were more fortunate than others on that score. When we were children, we did not think about our country’s geopolitical fortunes or the State’s goals. Rather, we just wanted to live and experience life because it was new. We knew our families and little else. Yet little did we know that government had very different ideas about our existence. Our concerns and our emotional connections to our families meant nothing. Rather, we were simply “new citizens” with “future potential.” We not only would pay taxes and contribute to the economy, but our future sexual activity might one day result in more taxpayers and workers. Emotion and compassion have nothing to do with these expectations. No: For the government, procreation is about national survival, not the individual mystery of existence. And no matter what private squabbles men and women wage with regard to procreation, they are mere pawns in a much larger chess game.

Procreation is valuable because more people mean more power. Our sex is instrumental in creating power because it creates more people. Government does not want us to waste it. If we did, government would eventually have nothing left to rule.

Women want children for their reasons. Men want children for their reasons. Sometimes neither men nor women want children; they fight about it. But government always wants children. And it wants them for very different reasons than any individual man or woman.

1 comment:

Timoteo said...

How ironic that what fuels the economy (population growth) may someday choke the life out of the planet.