Sometimes I find myself in the position of being asked by smiling parents-to-be why I don't want to have kids. I normally try not to answer at all or I let them off with half an answer: I'm too selfish to give up my own life in exchange for spending the rest of it worrying about someone else's. The other half of the answer, the part I don't normally discuss with smiling parents-to-be, is simply that I don't believe in the future.
That's not to say I don't think there will be a future. I'm sure there will be. But it'll suck.
The myth of progress is no myth. It's the central pillar of an elaborate marketing campaign. Myths are tales containing useful information designed to be easily remembered, while the notion of progress upon which our sense of "aren't we the lucky ones" is based contains nothing of any use whatsoever. It is utterly false, but effective at reassuring us that we are fortunate to have been born here and now. Then and there was so much worse, according to this advertisement for the present. I'm sure the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Mongol hordes and Aztecs all had self-gratifying stories that celebrated their uncanny fortune at having been born when, where and who they were. The Vikings no doubt felt blessed to be Vikings, even as they drifted out to sea under overcast northern skies.
But that ain't science.
However, as the appearence of rational thought is what floats our boats, we couch our self-aggrandizing myth in scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo. We convince ourselves that human life was "nasty, brutish and short" before the advent of our exalted rational civilization, despite copious evidence to the contrary. Any who doubt this party line are dismissed as hopeless romantics.
But what is more romantic really, than insisting that your world, your age, your way of living is the best in the history of humanity? To my way of thinking, a true realist would entertain other possibilities.
I know the arguments. I hear you saying that modern medicine has doubled the human life span. But you only say that because that's what you've been told. You haven't checked the numbers. Why would you? Who bothers to confirm good news? The purported doubling of the human life span is a trick based upon statistical dishonesty and highly parsed wording. Look, in the Old Testament, we're told that a man's allotted time on earth is "three score and ten." That's 70 years. I don't have the space to get into the whole thing here, but suffice it to say that an "old" person 50,000 years ago was over 50 for sure, and quite possibly over 65. The notion that the average life span was 30 is based upon child-mortality figures. Many children died as infants, both from disease and as a means of controlling population. A stable population is vitally important to hunter/gatherers, as the available food supply is pretty stable as well. There was no way to increase the holding capacity of the land until the advent of agriculture. So sure, if you calculate 30 dead babies, and 30 people who lived into their 60s, you'll get an AVERAGE life span of about 30. But that doesn't mean someone from this group was a doddering senior at 30!
What would the "average human life span" be in contemporary USA if aborted fetuses were included in the calculation? If anthropologists agree (as they do) that infanticide was a widely-practiced form of population control, then what's the scientific justification for including those in the mix but not the abortions?
And I hear you saying, "But Chris, modern medicine has cured so many terrible diseases!" Right, but the diseases that are so terrible weren't significant problems for humans until the "miracles" of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Influenzas, measles, pox, tuberculosis, fevers... all are viruses that jumped from one species living in close proximity to humans. Pigs, cows, chickens... they are the sources of these killer diseases it took modern medicine 12,000 years to bring under some form of control. If you light my house on fire, don't expect me to thank you for putting that fire out a few hours later.
You want to know why time always seems to be going faster and faster? Because it is; we're circling the drain, my friends.
I wouldn't wake you up with a phone call at 2:30 in the morning urging you to come to a party that is already at the spilled beer and full ashtrays stage, so why would I want to invite children to this party, a party that is clearly well beyond its best moments and pretty far into what is already recognizable as a very brutal denouement?
I love kids as much, or more than the next guy. That's why I let mine keep sleeping.