I would like to mount an anthropological expedition to Europe, of the kind that used to be sent to study the lifeways of head-hunters in New Guinea. Strange, unexplained events are taking place across the Atlantic.
Forty years ago, Europeans behaved, roughly, like Americans. They went to church, worked hard for their daily bread, executed their murderers, and massed in large armies to protect the mother country. Like all people everywhere, they married and had children.
Today, the moral polarities of the continent have reversed. The churches stand empty. Europeans work far fewer hours than their competitors. They consider capital punishment more repugnant than homicide. Their armies have been disbanded. Strangest of all, when one reflects on human nature: they marry less and less, and they have almost stopped having children.
Our expedition would begin by tracking down these women inteviewed by the BBC. They are not childless. They are childfree. They have been liberated from the tyranny of tiny despots who suck on their breasts, cling to their legs, and poop on the kitchen floor.
The childfree, we would learn, are not selfish. They gladly tell us so themselves.
“Some people simply have no maternal feelings – some are worried about how the world is going, some like to travel, some like to pursue their careers – we’re not selfish people.”
Europeans, living in peace and prosperity, refuse to have children from worry about how the world is going: at this point, our anthropologists would exult in having discovered such refinement of conscience. These are not selfish people.
“I made the choice early on not to have children. I don’t dislike them – I simply decided that I could not devote 100 percent of my time to someone else,” she says.
Nothing selfish about that. Particularly when one reflects on what might be called, politely, the “long tail of children.”
“I have also been called selfish but I think that people who have three children are encroaching on the planet’s resources – I can’t believe the amount of waste that children produce.”
Of course. Think of the planet! Think of the rivers of baby poop! The horror… People who have three children — they are monsters of selfishness. Those anthropologists in our expedition who, like yours truly, are parents of three kids, would feel not only shame over the poopishness of their existence, but admiration that someone who has never dealt with children could so clearly understand their essence.
“I was sterilised at the age of 25. It’s a choice I have never regretted,” she says. “Once I had made the decision, I felt stronger as a woman. I have a long-term partner and he is happy with my decision.”
Womanhood means sterility. Barrenness is strength. Long-term partners hang around until they become ex-partners by walking out the door. At this point, our American anthropologists hold their throbbing heads, lose their professional composure, and shout, “But what about tomorrow, you twits. Who’s going to mind the store, if the next generation isn’t?”
But the childfree, who are angry because people think of them as selfish, which they are not — as they have told us themselves — and because for some perverse and arbitrary reason, life is organized to favor parents — poop-machine makers, destroyers of worlds — only wax more indignant over the anthropologists’ lapse.
Jane, who works in the media, says there is an increasing tension in the workplace because many employees without children feel that parents get a better deal when it comes to time off. [. . .]
He is fed up with the way the government is wooing parents with longer maternity pay, paternity leave, flexible hours and family tax breaks. He describes the latter as “simply a middle-class tax break masquerading as social policy.”
Jonathan McCalmont is the founder of Kidding Aside (The British Childfree Association), which was first set up on the internet to lobby for equality for people without children.
In one final attempt to cross the Atlantic cultural divide, our anthropologists observe that the British Childfree Association is unlikely to last more than a generation. It will be replaced by the children of those who associated differently. These need not be Europeans. They may resurrect capital punishment, literally with a vengeance. They may in fact consider self-sterilized women who live with long-term partners to be guilty of a capital crime. How is childfree behavior different from cultural suicide?
“We believe it is up to the individual to decide what constitutes a family,” he says. “It’s not up to the state.”
Suddenly, the anthropologists understand. They pack up their gear, climb aboard their canoes, and paddle back to America. At a convention, they reveal their findings, which settle the question of Europe’s moral reversal once and for all.
“Children,” they explain, “should never have children.”