As important as it is to ignore the Clickbait Industrial Complex most of the time, sometimes an article comes along that’s so backward it merits a response. In a recent piece called “Preferring Biological Children Is Immoral,” WIRED contributor Leo Kim argued that would-be parents should ignore their “rudimentary, mechanistic desire” to pass on their genes – a desire he terms “biologism.”
“[W]hen contextualized amongst our other modern ethical norms, this preference can feel downright ancient – a vestigial remnant of a different epoch, a fossil no longer animated by the same moral intuitions that gave it gravity in the past,” Kim writes.
Translation: Technology means that one-man-one-woman reproduction is a thing of the past. Get with the times.
“This biological desire reinforces norms that we are explicitly aiming to dismantle,” Kim continues. “It places undue emphasis on genetic similarity as a criterion for our ethical relations, running against our stated hopes to expand our nets of responsibility and care beyond the borders of nation, ethnicity, culture, and even species. Instead, it normalizes a certain conception of family that reinforces these parochial categories.”
There’s a lot going on in Kim’s piece, which is jam-packed with references to anti-natalism, gestational surrogacy, and embryonic screening. I’m sure that WIRED knew the article would generate backlash. The author’s prescription – that all would-be parents should adopt – sounds noble at first pass, but it’s just as problematic as his other claims. To make sense of it all, I reached out to Katy Faust, Founder and President of Them Before Us, an organization that defends children’s right to their mother and father.
Remaking Human Nature
Kim rejects basic human nature in the piece, citing humanity’s “evolving values.”
“The author is trying to remake human nature into his own progressive image,” Faust tells Evie Magazine. “Parents long for biologically related children, just like children long to be known and loved by their biological parents. Loving and knowing your genetic offspring, and loving and knowing those who gave you life … it's fundamental to the human experience.”
What’s so bad about the natural family? Why demonize so many parents?
The natural family insists that adults conform to the rights and well-being of children; the modern family insists that children conform to the desires of adults.
“The natural family insists that adults conform to the rights and well-being of children,” Faust says. “In contrast, the modern family insists that children conform to the desires of adults. And in an era where adult sexual expressionism is viewed as the ultimate good, who children are, what they need, and their fundamental natural rights are the enemy.”
So what exactly is Kim advocating for? He presents having biological children and adopting non-biologically related children as mutually exclusive (I find this questionable since I know many families who have done both).
“[W]e should avoid anything that actively disincentivizes this mode of parenthood [adoption]. Our genetic biases are thus questionable to the extent that they induce a certain inflexibility that precludes viable, and arguably morally preferable, alternatives,” Kim writes.
Pitting biological and adopted children against each other seems like a lose-lose situation. After all, life is not a zero-sum game. Would Kim really tell Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has both biological and adopted children, that her family wasn’t created in a “morally preferable” way?
What About Grief Over Infertility?
Many women (and men) struggle with infertility. By Kim’s logic, their grief at never conceiving or bearing children is a sign of moral lacking. Even women’s desire to carry and give birth to children (illustrated by the TikTok “dream baby” trend) is depicted as something to be rationalized away.
Grief over barrenness is one of the oldest, rawest female emotions. Just as adoption is in the Bible (just look at Ruth and Naomi becoming family despite different bloodlines), so is infertility. Hannah, wife of the wealthy Elkanah, wants a child so badly that she promises to give him up.
“And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head,’” Hannah says according to 1 Samuel 1:11.
It’s unclear if Kim has ever brushed with infertility, or if he himself is adopted. But his article shows a very shallow understanding of this human emotion.
Everyone loses under Kim’s philosophy, Faust says. “Parents long for children, and children long for their parents. Even in cases of adoption, very often birth parents miss the children they gave up, and adoptees fantasize and wonder about the parents they never knew. You could argue that absent biological parents, or absent biological children are the only people that you can love without ever knowing. Seeking to normalize, incentivize, and promote the breaking of those natural bonds harms everybody – men, women, and children,” she tells me.
No One Wants To Have Kids Anyway
Kim may get his wish – well, partially. Statistics repeatedly show that young people aren’t interested in parenthood, either biological or adoptive. And even if they are, economic fears make them hesitant to start a family, according to Insider.
All of society loses in this scenario. Research shows that having and caring for children encourages men to “behave in prosocial ways” – in other words, to be better.
“They are less likely to commit crimes, less likely to be violent, less likely to drink alcohol or consume drugs,” Samuel T. Wilkinson writes for the Institute for Family Studies (IFS). “Fatherhood seems to channel male energy and aggression toward constructive and prosocial ends. Indeed, across cultures, becoming a father has been observed to lead men to become less selfish and more socially responsible.”
In order to have a mature society, today’s young men and women need to go through the maturation process of parenthood.
In order to have a mature society, today’s young men and women need to go through the maturation process of parenthood. Rhetoric like Kim’s serves only to discourage and confuse them.
“Those young people may not want children now, but the ticking of their biological clock will likely be deafening by their mid to late 30s when it may be too late,” Faust says. “Diminishing the importance of marital and familial bonds serves no one, except those seeking to normalize mother- and father-absent homes and custom-ordered children.”
Having Kids…Upholds White Supremacy?
Kim questions whether biological relatedness is really all that important to family formation and parent-child bonding. Citing philosopher Tina Rulli, he claims that “it’s not as if the gestational bond is the be-all and end-all for mother-child bonds.”
Experience and observation tell most people that the bond between a woman and the child she’s carrying is one of the most special things in the world. Of course, this doesn’t nullify the concept of adopting or fostering; it just shows why individuals who aren’t blood-related becoming a loving family is that much more special. Interestingly, as technology enables us to separate conception from gestation, the strength of the gestational bond becomes more apparent – just look at the example of the California surrogate mother who wanted to continue carrying a baby after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But what about another point that Kim makes, namely that wanting children who are biologically related to you is a form of white supremacy? (Yes, he really says that.)
“Genetic provenance has long been used as a tool to construct and uphold white hegemony; think of the legacy of the ‘one drop rule’ that erected whiteness around a logic of ancestral purity. The desire for biological ties, in many ways, can easily legitimize a racially inflected obsession with genetic history. In contrast, the sociologist Dorothy Roberts notes how ‘sharing genetic traits seems less critical to Black identity than to white identity. The notion of racial purity is foreign to Black folk.’ By diminishing the importance of genetics in our family relations, we might begin to push back against the biological essentialism built into white supremacy,” Kim writes.
That cultures around the world and throughout history – with no concept of whiteness or blackness – have cared about passing on their genes seems to fly in the face of these claims. Additionally, a “large majority” of adoptive parents are white, while the majority of adopted children are not, according to IFS.
The Unspoken Claim of Anti-Biologism
Throughout the article, Kim seems to make the argument that not only is procreating not “morally preferable,” but it’s wrongheaded and unnecessary. Although he doesn’t identify himself as an anti-natalist, Kim references anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar’s claim that existence is so bad that new life should under no circumstances be brought into this world.
But the unspoken claim of Kim’s article is not necessarily that procreation is harmful, but that it’s beneath us. He seems to think we’ve reached the end of history – procreative history, that is – and that no thinking person should actively bring a child into this world.
“People will obviously continue to have children who are related, but that relatedness should play an increasingly trivial role in the parental decision-making process,” he writes. “Insisting that you’ll only be a parent to a related child will be seen as increasingly reductive and close-minded – a stance at odds with the momentum of our expanding ethics.”
Deciding we’ve reached the point in history where society no longer needs to reproduce seems to place a lot of faith in the premise that we’ll have amazing technology at our disposal forever.
Whenever I see someone declare online that they’ll never have children, I always wonder, “If not you, then who?” What would happen if we all made that choice? I guess we’ll be cared for by robots in our old age? Deciding that we’ve finally reached the point in history where society no longer needs to reproduce seems to place a lot of faith in the premise that we’ll have amazing technology at our disposal forever.
Ultimately, Kim is preaching to the choir. People who want to have families will find his arguments appalling, and people who don’t want to procreate might nod along but are going to keep touting the joys of being “child-free.”
Sadly, in many of these discussions, no one asks what is best for the child, Faust says.
“As is so often the case on social issues, proponents of overhauling the natural family appeal to ‘edge cases,’ citing the teeny exception among the dominant norm,” she says. “Notice how the edge cases always exalt adult sexual expressionism while infringing on child rights – their right to life, their right to their mother and father, their right to be received as a gift rather than manufactured in the lab.”
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