Thursday, December 10, 2020

50. Post-Nuclear Family: Where Do The Babies Come From? (Demographic Doom Podcast)

This is the transcript for my Demographic Doom podcast episode #50 recorded on 10 December 2020 (released on 13 December 2020). It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. The main website for this project is

This is a transcript (not a script as in previous podcasts). It is based on the transcript automatically generated by YouTube with minimal editing.

I'm Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I'm looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance like aliens would see us from space.

In this episode, I'd like to return again to my proposed post-nuclear family and answer the question: Where do the babies come from? Recapping what the post-nuclear family is: this is my hypothetical system of shared parenting intended to make child rearing cheaper and less risky for the participants, thereby encouraging both more children and more consistently raised children.

It can be started quite simply by three or more couples producing babies in the traditional way but choosing to raise them together in a single household, thereby cutting down on expenses. There are a lot of other ways a post-nuclear family could get started but this seems the least radical, in that it ought to be fairly easy to implement without violating too many norms. You've got parents creating kids just as they normally do. They're just choosing to raise them in a different way. Instead of two adults raising between one and three kids, I propose six or more adults raising at least nine and maybe as many as 18 kids in a single dwelling. 

The children are evenly distributed in age from 0 to 18 with no children the same age. This staggering of ages allows learning to flow from child to child and not just from adult to child. In other words, once a child learns something, they can pass it on to a younger child, which can only happen if you have this distribution of ages. It wouldn't work if you had all your children the same age because they're all learning at the same rate, but if you have this distributed system, there's more opportunity for the children to participate in their own upbringing.

For example, older children can provide routine care for younger children, at least to relieve some of the burden on the parents. In fact, I propose that the older children provide nearly all the care for the younger children—but that's a topic for another podcast. To prevent all these parents from getting in each other's way, I propose that none of them actually lives in the household. Instead, they conduct their own private lives much as they do today, in their own dwellings, coming into the household only for scheduled shifts. 

Instead of parenthood being a seven day a week job, it could conceivably be a one day a week job. I'm not proposing that this be a strict schedule. Parents can come and go with some flexibility, but they should also have a schedule that they can rely on. They should be able to know that five days a week, [they] can focus entirely on work knowing that the household is being taken care of. There's always an adult on duty or nearly always, and there's probably a full-time teacher employed to manage education, but I foresee children performing most of the routine tasks of the household like preparing meals and cleaning house. I propose that adults never prepare a meal, vacuum a rug or change a diaper, except to show how it's done. 

Instead of being caregivers in the traditional sense, adults are more like supervisors making sure that things get done but not actually doing the work. Adults still provide protection, financial support and an educational plan, but they are not the cooks and bottle washers. Instead of being parents in our current sense, you might see them more like grandparents or the aunts and uncles of today. 

I realize this system raises all sorts of questions and challenges, which is why I need to discuss it over multiple podcasts, but for now I just want to focus on this one issue: baby making. This in itself is such a complex issue that I can easily talk for 20 or 30 minutes or hours—and I probably will—but let me hit the high points in this episode. 

In previous episodes, I had a simple explanation for where the babies came from: that the stork brings them, and I now have to confess that it was a lie. Storks are big birds but they aren't strong enough flyers to carry a human infant, and this story doesn't explain where the storks get the babies that they drop down the chimney. Clearly I'm going to have to come up with a better explanation here. 

In the first two decades of the family, the source of the babies is no great mystery. If we have three heterosexual couples joining forces to raise children, the babies could be conceived in the usual way, which is sex between romantically committed partners. The only unusual thing for those first two decades is that they coordinate their births, so a child is born every two years among them. Assuming there are no existing children at the time the consortium is formed, it would take about 18 years to assemble a full family of nine kids. 

At that point my vision for a large family is realized and hopefully by then we will have proven that this family system works. At that point, however, the fertility of the original mothers starts running dry. They can't safely produce babies anymore when they get into their 40s, and the least risk lies with younger women. As the mother ages, the risk of birth defects increases, so you want people to have babies in their younger years, in their 20s and 30s. 

Now let's take the long view of this. I'm recording this episode in 2020. Optimistically, it might take till 2030 before anyone pays any attention to me and before anyone latches on to this idea and actually considers implementing it. 18 years later, around the year 2048, the fertility of the mothers is going to run out, and these families are going to have to start looking for other sources of babies—that is, if they want to continue the family as I'm proposing. 

I'm proposing that this post-nuclear family is a permanent institution. It goes on forever, because you want to preserve all that knowledge that is accumulated over time. Call it an institutional memory. After you've been raising children for 18 years, you've learned a thing or two. The whole institution has matured, and you don't want to just stop having babies, stop raising children because then you're wasting all this resource, this talent, these skills that you've developed, so you need more babies now to populate your system, and where are you going to get them? 

By 2048, it could be a very different world, and there could be different technology. Perhaps there's ways of making babies that we can't even imagine now. Society could be wildly different, so it's not a good idea for me to declare unilaterally right now where the babies should come from or what's going to be best for this family 30 years from now. I can only talk about what the options are as I see them in 2020. 

The one thing I can tell you will probably not exist in 2048 is artificial wombs that's where you gestate a baby in some kind of machine so you don't need a woman anymore. That's the stuff of science fiction, like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Babies are decanted through an industrial process called ectogenesis.

This technology would have to be so complex that I don't think it will happen even by 2048. Yes, we can raise preemie babies in incubators, but there's a certain threshold of viability where you can't do it anymore. You have to have a human host at least up to a certain point. The trouble with ectogenesis is getting all the nutrients and biological systems right. You have to ask what is flowing through this umbilical cord, and do we have the right mix going in, and I think that's really complicated chemistry. It's not just chemistry; it's living biology, and my prediction is by 2048, artificial wombs really won't be a thing, and frankly I think they will never be a thing, because at the very least, it's going to be a very expensive process compared to just having a woman carry the baby to term. 

Sadly, we males can't do it. I know it's grossly unfair, but that's the deck biology has dealt us. Males get off scot-free in the child-bearing business, and you may wonder what males are good for, and that's a very good question. Does society need them at all, and I'm sure that's a question I'll tackle in a future episode. Spoiler alert: I think you still need men, uh, for stuff. I'm not exactly sure what but I'm pretty sure we're still going to need a 50/50 mix of men and women. 

So after the fertility of the founding mothers has expired, the family is going to be searching for new fertile female bodies to bear its children, and there are several ways to recruit them. But before I get into them, I'd like to talk about another obvious alternative, which is adoption 

I predict that even in 2048, with the number of deliberate children dwindling, there will still be plenty of unwanted children in the world. This is because in virtually every society it's the most ill-equipped parents who tend to have the most babies. It's the drug addicts. It's the people who aren't thinking ahead. Unwanted babies are born every day to mothers who really aren't up to the task. Maybe they can't figure out birth control, or they're raped, or they have a baby on a whim without a clue about what a huge undertaking it is.

The child welfare system is filled with these babies, and I think it always will be. These children often end up in the foster care system, which I've studied extensively in Las Vegas. They are like pets waiting for a forever home, and frankly pets have a better chance. 

Wouldn't it make sense when your post-nuclear family needs babies to simply adopt the unwanted babies in the world? If there aren't enough available babies in the industrial countries, maybe they could go to the high fertility countries, like those in Africa, for another source of babies. 

The idea of adoption instead of birth is certainly compassionate, but it fills me with trepidation, especially given my exposure to the foster care system and child welfare. Compassion is not the aim of the post-nuclear family. The family of the future is focused on its selfish goal of perpetuating its own values, its own way of life. Children aren't objects of charity. Children are the carriers of your culture, and the earlier you can get them trained in your culture, the better. 

If you bring in a 12-year-old who has no experience with your family system, they could end up being very disruptive. They haven't been raised in your system so they haven't acquired all the fundamental habits to make it work. An adopted child could be a bull in a china shop, disrupting your carefully crafted family system. 

The younger the child is the more easily they can be assimilated into your new family, so ideally you want to start at birth, but even the pre-birth months are important. If you adopt a newborn infant from the child welfare system, you still want to know that they were treated well in the womb. If a baby was born to a drug addict who had poor nutrition during her pregnancy, you would want to approach that baby with great caution. For example, there are many kinds of fundamental brain damage that can occur before birth, and it's the sort of thing that might not be evident until the child is two or three years old. 

The post-nuclear family, or any family, is going to make a huge investment in its children, so it needs to know that the baby it starts with is healthy to begin with, and the best way to assure this is to monitor the conditions of the mother during pregnancy. You want to know at least that she isn't doing drugs and is getting good nutrition. You don't get this if you adopt a baby from the government foster care system. You only get it if you can directly monitor the pregnancy yourself. 

The post-nuclear family is not a charity. Its main mission isn't rescuing the weak or doing good for wider society. Its main mission is perpetuating its culture. Children are the carriers of that culture and you want to recruit the best candidates for the job. This includes the selection of an embryo—which is a hornet's nest we'll get into later—and assuring a healthy pregnancy. 

If the elders of the community can't verify the condition of the pregnancy, they are right to be skeptical. They would want to know where this baby came from. That said, I don't want to close the door entirely to adoption—that is, to a child who is already on the planet and needs a home. There could be a place for that, but I don't think it should be the primary method for obtaining babies. Every child is an experiment. It's a roll of the dice even if they are gestated in perfect circumstances, but adopted children are even more experimental and more risky. A lot of things can go wrong with even a normal pregnancy and adoption just adds an additional level of risk. 

So for the foreseeable future, the postnuclear family is going to need female bearers for its children, and I see three main ways of recruiting them. 

One is just to recruit more couples into your system. So we have this system that was started by three heterosexual couples, and when their fertility runs out, we just go out into the marketplace and we recruit three more couples. Or we don't really even need couples; we need women willing to bear, and if women are willing to bear, then we can arrange an embryo for them. We need to go out into the world and find people who match our goals and recruit them and bring them into the family. So that's one option. 

The second option is that you can hire someone. You could hire a woman. You could pay her money and give her an embryo and have her bring it to term and pay her a salary for it. That I would call a “mother for hire”. It's just a a cash transaction, and you're not actually admitting her into your family. So that's option number two. 

Option number three is using your own internal talent to produce these babies, and that would be the girls who you have raised yourself in this family and who have reached maturity, have reached the age of 18. That could be another source of your new babies. 

So you have these three methods, and I'm not saying which one is right because it depends upon the circumstances in 2048 that I can't envision, but let me go through those three options and talk about their strengths and weaknesses. 

And we haven't even talked about where the sperm and egg come from, and I'm not going to tackle that here. That's a really messy situation. The traditional way is a committed man and woman unite their gametes and make a baby, but we have a lot of other options. There's artificial insemination, and there is full surrogacy, where you take an embryo and implant it in a host. I'm not going to get into that in this episode because it is incredibly complicated. It has all sorts of ethical issues. Right now I just want to talk about where does the woman come from, the carrier come from, the host come from who's going to bear this child for nine months. 

So that first method I call “birth by recruitment”. That's when you put out a call for new women or new couples to join your collective. The women are going to bear several children until their fertility runs out, and then you've got to go out into the world and recruit still more young women or couples. These people that you recruit they remain full family members for life. You're bringing them into your group and even after their fertility runs out, they're still part of your family and they are entitled to the family's retirement plan. They're entitled to care in their older years, which is part of the mandate of the family. The family doesn't just raise children. It also takes care of its sick and its elderly, and if you're recruited into the group, you have all those all those privileges when you get older. 

I see two main complications in this. One is the likelihood that that most adults raised in some other family system are simply not going to understand your system. It's like adopting a teenager. Every new adult you try to absorb into your group runs the risk of being disruptive. The family needs to have very high standards of admission so it doesn't take in someone who isn't going to work out. And this might mean that there are no suitable candidates at all for recruitment. 

The second issue is more concrete and demographic. If you keep recruiting new adult members, eventually you have an unwieldy family size. The pool of adults just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and maybe in the end you have an elder-care crisis just like we have today. 

The whole family system is funded by a system of family taxes, a sort of tithe that you pay to the family throughout your life, so it's a little bit like a government system. If at some point the family ends up with too many elderly people and not enough productive workers paying their taxes, it might put a strain on family resources. 

You also have what I call the too many cooks phenomenon. It's hard enough to coordinate the activities of the six original parents in the collective. Now you're adding more parents, more adults, and the decision-making process gets more and more complicated. 

So I talked about the children being distributed in age. I also think the adults should be distributed in age, so each has their unique slot, their unique perspective. There aren't too many adults because too many adults are going to turn this thing into a great big bureaucracy where we're arguing out the smallest point. Recruiting too many outsiders could really muck up your whole system. 

The thing you have to factor in is that the post-nuclear family doesn't just raise children; it also cares for its sick and elderly. If you get a serious illness at any age and can't work, the family is going to take care of you, and likewise when you get old and infirm. Whenever you recruit new adults from outside the family, you have to ask how much is this going to cost us when they become old and feeble. I'm not equipped now to do this analysis, but family elders will have to do it when they are deciding whether to admit a new full-fledged member. 

You don't have these costs with option number two, which is where you simply pay a woman from outside your family to bear a child for you. Instead of recruiting a full-fledged family member, you hire a mercenary, someone who's willing to trade cash for pregnancy. You provide her with the embryo, and you could probably monitor her health during pregnancy, and then you take the baby and give her money and she goes her way. Technically that would probably work, but if you're like me you have great concern about this, great ethical concern. It raises all sorts of legal and ethical issues. 

First of all, in both the U.S and Canada and probably a lot of other countries, it is currently illegal to pay a surrogate to bear children. You can pay her expenses, which can be very generous, but you can't directly pay her for the service of her pregnancy. This is seen as the equivalent of selling one's baby to the highest bidder. I can't say whether this prohibition is right or wrong, and I don't know what the law will look like in 2048. Any family has to work within the regulatory requirements of whatever country they live in, and that's a wild card right now, but personally the whole idea of hiring someone to produce a baby makes me feel a little queasy. 

If you offer enough money, I'm sure you're going to have takers. Pregnancy may be inconvenient, but it's not the worst work in the world. It does, however, take a toll on one's body and one's emotions. Not being capable of pregnancy myself, I may not fully appreciate the emotions involved in bearing a child, but I imagine they're significant. I don't know how easy it would be to carry a pregnancy for nine months, have the baby and then walk away, and I don't know what it says about your family if you're willing to use this method, if you're willing to use someone else's body and then discard them, and then put the push them away. This mother-for-hire system seems messy to me. I mean, all child bearing is messy, but I suspect that child bearing works best and is most sustainable within the context of a long-term relationship. If a woman bears a child, she should be able to be a part of that child's life for the rest of her life. 

So that leaves a third option, which is using the family's own children to bear the next generation. This is probably the most radical sounding of my proposals in the whole post-nuclear system, so I need to explain it at length, both here and possibly in other podcasts. So here's what I'm proposing: children are raised to the age of legal adulthood within this large household. Once a child reaches, say, the age of 18, they enter the next phase of life which is a period of community service. 

There's a lot of precedence for this. Before the 1970s, the United States had a military draft where all young men were expected to serve their country in the military for a certain number of years. All young men were required to perform this service. This form of conscription is still a way of life in Israel and Switzerland and a few other countries, and in Israel it includes women. Women still have this same military service requirement, and the only way they're exempt from it is if they're actively bearing children, and that's the germ of my idea. I think that for girls in this family they should go through a period of community service, let's say from the age of 18 to the age of 22 where they become pregnant and have children. 

Now this sounds pretty radical to us, but it may not be to a woman herself who has been raised in this system. If we have 18 kids being raised in one household, each of them has had a lot of experience with babies over the course of their childhood. There's always been babies in their household, and by the time you reach 18 you will have probably witnessed a half-dozen births. I mean, physically seen them because I think the births should happen right there in the home. So pregnancy does not seem so radical for these girls. It might seem natural when you get to age 18 after having seen your sisters bear children and having enjoyed babies all of your life, it may seem natural when you turn 18 to bear a child yourself. That's your family service. That's your community service. Instead of going into the military and fighting in a foreign war, you are required or at least “expected” to have a few babies—two or three babies—that's your expectation. I wouldn't call it obligatory. I wouldn't call it a coercion. Once you're 18 you can do what you want, but I think it would be seen as a normal thing, that you want to serve your family by do performing this service. 

And these would be virgin births. No one is going to have sex to produce these babies, at least as I'm proposing it. I'm saying that if a daughter of the family becomes a mother, an embryo is provided to her. Now I don't know where the embryo comes from. Maybe the stork brings the embryo. I'm not really ready to talk about that. There's a lot of wheeling and dealing involved in obtaining an embryo and deciding which sperm should go together with which with which egg, and I don't think the woman herself should be involved in that. She just receives an embryo as part of her community service. 

She brings the embryo to term, and it is her baby. She can bond with that baby. She can breastfeed that baby under the protection of the family, under the protection of the same household that she grew up in. This same household that is raising the kids also has a maternity room, a place where the woman who is currently pregnant lives, and she gets all the perks. She gets a lot of special treatment in that maternity room. It's a big room.  She doesn't have to work. She's supported by the family, but she will want to work. She'll want to work toward her education or do whatever else that she can do while pregnant, but she gets a lot of privileges as well.

And all the kids in this family, they're watching their sister's belly get bigger and they're all anticipating the birth of the new family [member]. They know where babies come from, and in their world, babies come from embryos which are supplied by the stork. Everybody's excited for this new baby, and when this new baby is born, the mother can bond with this baby as she chooses to, as mothers have always done. It is her baby, and she will always be the mother. At the same time, she doesn't have to change diapers. When it's time to talk to the baby and have fun with the baby and play with the baby, the mother can do it as much as she wants, but she doesn't have to do the dirty work of raising children. She can let her younger siblings raise her children, just like she was raised, and she trusts them because she herself has raised these children, so she knows they will do a good job. 

So the mother can breastfeed her baby for as long as it's appropriate—let's say maybe a year—but she can still go on and do her life. She can pursue her education. She can go to work. She can do a lot of other things, because she has built-in daycare as much as she wants for her babies. Eventually as these babies become toddlers and they become more challenging to take care of, the mother can pull away almost entirely from the family, because now she has performed her community service. She's made her two or three babies, and she's 22, and now she's a full adult, and now she can go off and explore the world. She can pursue a career. She can travel. She can do whatever she wants. She's still the mom, but she knows her babies are safe with the family that she grew up in. 

Adulthood for her proceeds as adulthood proceeds for us. People in adulthood are free to pursue any career they want. They’re free to go anywhere in the world they want. They can have any relationships they want. The only requirement for adults is that they have to pay their family taxes. Family taxes are like the tithe that you pay to a church—10% of your income always has to go back to your birth family to provide financial support for them. 

So what I'm trying to do here is to front-load the baby making, which is the opposite of the back-loaded method that we use today. The way baby making works among disciplined and educated people is that they first pursue their education, then they pursue their career, then they find a committed partner, and then when they've accomplished all these steps, then they have babies. Unfortunately, the woman might be in her 30s at that point when you get all those ducks in a row. The woman could be already at the end of her fertility, so the likelihood is that she's only going to have one or two babies, and that's what I call back-loading. That's the back-loading method of having babies, in that you have to get all your ducks in a row before you have a baby. The front-loading method is you have your babies right away in your teens and twenties when the mother is the healthiest, that's when she has her babies, and she gets that task out of the way, and then she's willing to go on into the community and become a full adult.

So that, as I see it, is the most promising method of making babies in the long run. It requires a little bit of technology because you've got to be able to implant an embryo, but it's technology that we have today, and the best of my knowledge any woman can bear any embryo. It doesn't have to be her egg. It can be someone else's egg and—you can correct me if I'm wrong—but as I understand it, those pregnancies are not particularly dangerous compared to the natural conception method of sperm meets egg. 

So that's my vision of where the babies come from, but the family is going to have their own ideas. The family is going to have their own reproductive philosophy which is going to be present from the time they form the collective. From the time they form the collective, they're going to agree in principle on how we're going to make the babies 20 years from now. That's something that's negotiated among the members of the family. It is part of their identity. Their reproductive philosophy is part of their identity. 

The reproductive policy includes where you get your mothers, but it also includes where you get your embryos. That's a policy decision that I don't want to step into, that I'm not going to dictate from afar. Every family has to decide how they're going to select their embryos, how they're going to select the sperm and egg that make the next generation of children, and that's a complicated thing. It's a messy thing. I'm eager to talk about it in future podcasts, but right now I hope I've answered the question: where do the babies come from? They can come from one of three sources, and you can choose your own preference.


Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

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