The Plan documents the ongoing adventures that arise from living a truly alternative lifestyle: two people in love, no children, one works for an income, the other works to end capitalism, and the unifying force is a shared commitment to radical activism in all of its many forms.
“So, when are you and Jacquie going to have a kid?” my younger brother asked me as we sat in the movie theatre, eagerly awaiting the start of Fubar II.
I laughed, arched an eyebrow, and gave him the obvious answer: “Uh, never.”
It should be obvious, shouldn’t it? How could a pair of people whose entire lives revolve around radical activism even consider suspending their work towards an anti-consumerist utopia in order to spawn someone who would be utterly defenceless against the well-oiled marketing machine that pervades almost every moment of our public and private lives?
Only now — at the ripe age of 23 — am I learning that procreating is something of a societal expectation for people who have gotten married. Apparently, this is true even if the marriage was something that was gotten solely for the purposes of acquiring affordable dental care through spousal insurance benefits, and even if you both dressed in drag and the maid of honour wore a giant banana costume.
Amongst those who choose to do so, the following reasons are often given for being childfree: parenthood can be all-consuming and exhausting; children are expensive, unpredictable and bad for the environment, and children remind them of that one really creepy munchkin from the Wizard of Oz. These reasons are often dismissed as “selfish” by those for whom child-rearing is the only conceivable lifestyle. Call me crazy, but I think that devoting all of your time, money, energy and compassion to a single person that you share 50 per cent of your own genetic material with is clearly more selfish than spreading your material and immaterial resources around to those who are the most needy.
I know many good activists who are also good parents, so I’m not saying that a dual identity is impossible, but to me it doesn’t seem worth the risk of having to compromise one for the sake of the other.
As I see it, being a good parent involves two fundamental principles. The first is to prioritize your child’s well-being above the well-being of all others.
Imagine, if you will, the following situation: A train full of 100 passengers — all strangers — is barrelling towards a fork in a train track. You can choose whether the train will fork left or right. To the left is the edge of a cliff, to the right your child is tied Snidely Whiplash-style to the rails. If your primary concern is the greatest good for the greatest number — as mine is — you will save the lives of the 100; if your primary concern is being a good parent, you will save the life of your child. I think the third option is the best solution: never have a child in the first place so that Snidely has no one to tie to the tracks.
Although that hypothetical situation takes it to the extreme, conflicts between the well-being of your own child and the well-being of others face parents every day. Do you buy him the toy that he so desperately wants even though you know that doing so will prop up the neocolonial sweatshop industry and result in the further exploitation of children for profit? Do you support her decision to join the military even though you recognize that by doing so she will probably kill and possibly be killed for the sake of the military industrial complex and related interests? I’d rather opt out of the parenthood racket and avoid making those tough decisions.
This brings us to the second principle: to love and support your child no matter what.
As a society, we look down at parents who chastise their children because of their sexual orientation or their decision to become a death metal drummer instead of a doctor. Is it any better for a parent to express disappointment when their child joins the Conservative party or becomes the manager of an oil rig rather than leading a revolution? Since my view of what constitutes a “good” life is a tad narrower than most, how would that affect my unconditional acceptance of my child’s choices? And even if I could manage to choke out a “Good for you, kid” when my CEO daughter pontificated about profit margins or my police officer son waxed poetic about “getting tough on crime,” what would that mean for my identity as an activist?
Being a parent is a very demanding job. It involves huge sacrifices and requires a willingness to give up most of your own life for the sake of another person. Parents have to constantly fret about what impact their decisions will have on the well-being of their children. For a parent with politically radical ideas and whose life is based around radical activism, the task is made even more difficult. Because of the inherent contradictions between my values as an activist and the values of good parenting, I have decided to be childfree.
Keep an eye out for the next instalment of The Plan where Rob McGregor will explain why the public library is one of the most radical places around. Hint: It’s not just because books are super spiffy.