November 12, 2012
I believe western civilization to be in the middle of a profound transition. The change I’m referring to is the move from thinking of ourselves primarily as supporters of society to being direct contributors to it. Put differently, it’s the transition from being parents to being individuals.
Defining One’s Identity
Nothing defines one more than being a parent. It is today, by nearly any account, the most important role one can have in life. And for a strong reason: it’s a massive undertaking with profound implications in both success and failure.
This being true, it’s unsurprising that it usually encompasses one’s entire existence. Parents–or at least good parents–structure their entire lives around ensuring that their offspring are at least as well off as they are.
A parent’s days, months, and years are planned based on achieving this goal, and to the extent that this charge is taken seriously the parent doesn’t just ignore their own interests, but actually supplants them with the interests of their children.
Where one will live, what career to have, where to vacation, how to spend your free time–these are all chosen not by what the parent would like to do as an individual, but what is best for their kids. This is accepted as noble in our society, as I would agree it should be.
What goes unnoticed, however, is how extreme of a choice is actually made when someone decides to have children. Rather than being just an individual taking on a new responsibility to be added to his list of priorities, it can–and I argue should–be considered a fundamental change of identity.
It’s a designation change, and perhaps the most important one that can be made. It’s declaring that your goal is no longer to affect the world directly, but to instead ensure that your children are empowered to do so in your stead. It’s sacrificing yourself as an individual in order to become a creator of individuals.
Another View of Women’s Rights
Interestingly, this perspective greatly illuminates the discussion of women’s rights.
Women are, almost indisputably, more “parent” than men are. This is true for a number of obvious and no so obvious reasons, with the fact that women spend nine months physically bonded to their children being primary among them. Perhaps second would be the fact that men are designed to produce high numbers of offspring in a rather flippant fashion.
We still search for all the reasons why women are more dedicated to parenthood than men, but the data show it to be true. It’s so obvious as to be uninteresting, but what is worth exploration is how this translates to real-world outcomes.
In deductive form:
- The more parental one is the more dedicated they are to their children’s pursuits rather than their own.
- Those who are dedicated to their own pursuits less than those of others are less likely to achieve as individuals.
- Those who do not achieve as individuals are less likely to be recognized and respected by others and by history.
- Women are more parental, and therefore are less individual, and therefore are less likely to achieve as individuals and be recognized and respected by others and by history.
In short, women have achieved less throughout history, and continue to achieve less today, because they have choose in far higher numbers to make the primary sacrifice in life: that of being a supporter of people instead of a person.
When you set aside ambition and the drive to create as an individual you also set aside your chances to individually mark the world, and this results in you and those like you (women) being less respected in a world all about individual achievement.
There are many other dimensions to this problem, but none is as descriptive as the violent distinction between individual and supporter. Individuals produce unique ideas and create new things, and supporters (parents:women) produce people who do those things.
Men simply started being individuals before women did, and in many parts of the world they are still largely considered the only individuals even today. This lag is the primary reason for women being less respected, and any place you find the ailment of women being inferior you should look for a lack of female individuality or the perception thereof.
A Human Problem
The gender perspective is interesting, but it’s truly only a datapoint in this discussion. The issue to address is human advancement, not that of just men or women.
My argument is that this will come in the form of a massive human shift from being enablers to being producers. From being technical to being artistic. From being parents to being individuals.
The greatest gains here can clearly be made with women because in so many societies they are still faceless placeholders without identities who will hopefully produce a man into the world. Getting women out of that predicament would improve creativity and idea production for roughly half of our 6 billion.
But the problem is much more grave than this, as most men are not free either, i.e. the bar for matching their male counterparts is still depressingly low.
The reasons for this are two-fold:
- Even in advanced or affluent societies far too many in the middle and upper-middle classes are focused purely on slogging through a corporate job in order to (supposedly) make life better for their children. They don’t think as individuals. They don’t focus on creation as their primary goal. They have sacrificed their individuality for parenthood.
- In poorer and less advanced societies the choice isn’t even there. In these places the options have been chosen for the parents: they are purely supporters of their families because 100% of their effort must be made in order to have a chance of survival. This is the model humans came from, and it’s why it’s so built into us now.
It’s interesting to notice that in the richer households throughout the world a new model of parenthood is becoming prominent: that of the parent continuing to be an individual while much of the parenting is offloaded onto others.
This should be expected. As education and awareness increase, so too should the recognition of the drive to create as an individual. And with wealth comes the ability to, in significant degrees, have both.
People know that the rich are doing this, but people don’t realize precisely what’s happening when they do. It’s imperative that we identify it for what it is: the claiming of individuality and creativity as primary desires in those who have the option.
Under this model they still enjoy parenthood, but they do so with the ability to go on about their own lives as individuals while their children are still cared for. I have no data, or even any formed ideas, on whether this produces good children, but my first glance says that it can.
- As our civilization matures through education and quality of life, we will continue to migrate from a “by default” parenting approach to a world in which individual creative achievement is primary.
- Women, who throughout time have been far more parental than men will continue the gains they’ve made in becoming individuals, and will eventually enjoy the same ‘identity resolution’ as men–which will be much higher than it is today for either men or women.
- Human reproduction will come to be taken extremely seriously, as will the responsibility of becoming one who raises children. Those who do this will do so explicitly through a formal declaration of status change from individual to parent, and they will be celebrated and honored for their choice.
- An entire class of child-rearers will flourish for parents who want to have children but do not want to change their status from that of individual. These parents will be able to function as individuals while still fulfilling their duties to their children through supplemental help.
- Both true parents and these supplemental trainers of children will be highly respected and will achieve something like individual recognition through the proxied achievements of the children they helped create.
- A draft could even become possible whereby society chooses qualified individuals to become parents. The news would be received in two ways: as the end of individuality and therefore distressing, but also as a wonderful opportunity to give back to society through support and creation of a new life.
In short, our future has us realizing the primitive way in which we currently view human identity and reproduction. It will address this by recognizing the importance of human identity as crucial to happiness and by placing the highest possible standard on anyone wishing to bring a child into our world.
1 This is one of the most interesting illusions in society–that parents work their dull jobs so that their children won’t have to do so themselves. What happens in reality is that the parents who hate their jobs/lives go on to groom their kids to have the exact same desires and goals. And thus they end up settling into a corporate rut exactly as their parents did and then have kids themselves with the promise that they’ll endure the mediocrity so that their parents won’t have to. And the cycle continues.