Friday, July 9, 2021

61. Babies in the Post-Nuclear Family ⸺ Demographic Doom Podcast Transcript

 Below is the transcript for my Demographic Doom Podcast episode #61, released on 9 July 2021. The "home page" for this episode—with annotations, links, corrections and a place for comments—is the YouTube version (42 minutes). The audio version is housed at Podbean and is available on most major podcast platforms, including iTunes and Google Podcasts. The main website for this project is Twitter: @DemographicDoom. Glenn Campbell home page: See bottom for notes on this transcript and how it was generated.

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.

In today's episode, i'm going to talk about babies in the post-nuclear family. The post-nuclear family is my hypothetical mind exercise for how you would go about raising more children in a world where it's very costly and very risky. If you were a potential parent who wanted children but didn't feel you could afford them, didn't feel you could take the risk, this is a system that might help you. [It’s] a theoretical system and i'm running through all theoretical threads of it. 

The basic idea of the post-nuclear family is raising a bunch of kids together in a big family. I'm thinking at least nine children in one household. Nine children from various different parents. This system could start quite simply, with at least four couples deciding they want to raise their children together. They coordinate their births so that children come into the world in timed intervals every two years. Nine children, two years each, means you have a range of children between 18 and zero. And the idea of raising these children together is economies of scale. You can systematize parenting and develop cultural systems for it that a two-child family just can't do. I propose that the system go on forever that it always has nine kids. 

Another important thing is that the parents do not live at the household where the children are raised. The parents live in their own separate abodes close to the main household but not in the main household. 

This is one of the episodes where i'm just talking off the cuff. I decided spontaneously a couple days ago [that] i'm going to talk about babies. With all these off-the-cuff episodes, I could make mistakes. There could be a lot of repetition from previous podcasts. If I make any errors, you want to go to the description on the youtube version of this podcast to see if I confess to them.

So why am I thinking about babies right now? Well a couple of nights ago, I was on a red-eye flight from phoenix to boston—five hours—and there was a screaming baby on the flight. So we have 140 people on the flight and one screaming baby which means hardly anyone gets any sleep.

The baby's screeches seem to be perfectly designed to irritate adults. Probably evolution has designed a baby scream to irritate adults and demand action from adults, and my first inclination is go to the mother and say “make your baby be quiet!” And of course, the mother can't do that. There's no legal way you can make a baby shut up. So we all just had to go through this. For a couple of hours I was just staring out the window at the lights below and thinking, “what can I make of this experience?” This is a miserable experience [so] what can I make of it? And I started thinking about babies in my system.

Now in my system, you would never have a screaming baby on a cross-country flight, and why is that so? Because in my system the babies and young children are very solidly anchored to the house where they live. In the post-nuclear family, everything revolves around the house, which is a big home in the suburbs or in the countryside, and everybody comes to the home. All your relatives, all your older siblings, all the adults in the family, they come to the home, so there's never any reason to take a baby on a plane. 

I propose that [young] children shouldn't go on planes. It's not valuable to them. It's not a valuable experience. [Visiting] the airport and looking out the windows at the planes, yeah that's kind of interesting, but it's way beyond a young child's head. You can take a child to europe or to some exotic location and if they're very young, if they're toddlers, the only thing that will ever register on their memory is some little detail like a playground or a ball pit or something that was really cool to them and the whole rest of the trip is over their heads. So I believe that [young] children should not travel beyond a few miles from their home. There's enough adventures within 10 miles of your residence to keep any young child occupied.

This isn't true for older children. Older children want to know more. They have more of the brain structure to be able to process travel. I think you've got to be 14 or 15 to comprehend an overseas trip, and you got to be even older to really take advantage of foreign experiences. In our family, a logical question is how do you take a vacation with nine kids? How do you get them all in in a car? And my answer is: you don't. The whole family as a unit very rarely leaves the house. The house is where everything happens.

As you get older and can process more experiences further away, well, maybe at age nine you can go on a bigger trip than a toddler would. Because the ages are so staggered—two years between each child—you don't have huge jealousy issues. If a seven-year-old can do something that a five-year-old can't, maybe the five-year-old is going to be upset, but everybody knows that you're going to grow into this position eventually. You'll be a seven-year-old and you'll have the same privileges to get on airplane that a seven-year-old might have.

So that's one thing I took away from my screaming baby experience: that in my system, there would never be a baby on a flight—so that’s solved. The other question that I had as I was staring out the window is: why is this baby screaming and the two or three other babies in the plane are perfectly content? I knew there were more babies on the plane because when the plane was getting ready to take off I could hear them burbling and gaggling, I could hear their voices making baby sounds, so I knew there was more than one baby, but [there was] only one baby screaming bloody murder for the whole flight.

So why is this? Why are, for example, some babies known as very easy, no problem at all, and some babies are known as colicky and very complaining and unhappy with everything. There could be two reasons for this: it could be nature or nurture. Some babies are born very calm, and some babies are born very uptight. This is part of their genes. And of course mother can have a huge influence. How mother interacts with her baby has a huge influence on the incentives that the baby might have to make a stink. Of course, it's very difficult to teach a mother this. Mothers themselves have their own inclinations, have their own abilities to handle things like that. Some mothers should have never been in the business.

So in in my post nuclear family, you have to take this into account: that each of your children is going to have their own personality, regardless of their gene pool. For example, in my genetic family, considering my siblings and my cousins and my nephews and nieces, the range of personalities of these people is immense, even though they all arose from my mother and my father [and grandparents]. This whole branching tree has a huge variety of inclinations and the most striking inclinations is are my twin cousins, fraternal twins born from the same womb, with completely different inclinations. One of them is very theatrical. He's flaming gay; he was from his earliest teenage years. The other one is very technical. He's into gaming he's into technical projects. He's not theatrical in any form. Completely different polar opposites in personality; yet they came out of the same womb and had the same environmental experiences in their early childhood. This must be accounted for by differences in genetics and how genetics interact with the environment.

So our post-nuclear family has to be able to accommodate a wide variety of personalities in the children that it brings into the world, and that's why it's very difficult to come up with fixed rules about how things are going to be structured, because we don't know what personalities are going to emerge. Some personalities are very nurturing, responsible. Some personalities, quite frankly, are psychopathic. They have no comprehension of caring for others—and you've got to accommodate that, too.

You also have to accommodate the fact that some children come out of the womb physically damaged. I mean, every time you mix an egg and a sperm, it's a crapshoot. There could be all sorts of birth defects that happened before birth, that are going to affect how functional this child is going to be, and the new post-nuclear family has to accommodate them, too. Someone might be confined to a wheelchair or be unable to work for their entire life. Well, the family is there to support them. It's much better if you have 10 adults supporting this dysfunctional child than just two adults. And that, to me, is the most terrifying reason that I would not want to have children: the risk that the child I produce might have some serious defect, that cripples them and cripples me.  If you can distribute that risk among a greater adult pool, then it's not so hard.

So if you are a baby, what's it like growing up in this environment? I don't know how much of your babyhood that you remember. Basically, I think I was two or three before I had my first memory but you know you grow up being helpless. You look up around you, see faces above you, bond to those faces, but you really don't care who those faces are. Traditionally, it's a mother that you bond with. You look up, because your mother spends the most time with you, you bond to that person, and that's the person you run to for comfort.

Every baby has a mother, even in the post-nuclear family. Every baby has a mother, and you have a very special relationship with your mother. Your mother may breastfeed you for a year or more, and you have this special bond with your mother. You always know who your mother is. You don't always know who your father is, but you always know who your mother is, and it's good to have a firm bond with that parent.

In the post-nuclear family, we're not going to cut mothers off and say, “you can't see your baby,” but mothers do have the freedom to pull away. You've given birth. You've had nine months to give birth and maybe a year to raise the child personally, and then you're free to pull away and leave things in the hands of your siblings—um—leave things in the hands of the other children in the family, because we have this nice staggering of children.  

You've seen pictures of big families where they arrange the oldest to the youngest. You can imagine one of those pictures with nine kids. The oldest is 18 the next oldest 16, and they get a little bit smaller and smaller. If you've got that graduated system, the older children can do an awful lot in caring for the younger children.

So if you're a baby looking up from your bed at the faces above you, yes, your mother's going to be there, but there's also going to be your siblings hovering over you and competing to take care of you. You're going to bond to some of those siblings just like they were your mother. An eight-year-old to a baby is for all practical purposes an adult. You will bond to that adult, and that eight-year-old adult will bond with you, so you don't have everything resting on the mother all the time. We're not going to deprive the mother of the joys of motherhood, but we can give the mother the opportunity to escape from some of the chores of motherhood, because I propose that children do all the major gritty care for an infant: changing diapers, making meals, teaching the child language—that should all be done by children.

And that's about as far as i'm willing to go with it. I'm willing to say that there should be a gradation of care. There should be a levels of care where an eight-year-old does everything that they can do to take care of the baby, and if they have a problem they can't handle, they go to their next older sibling who has more authority and more wisdom and can handle more complex things.

So we have might have a 14- year-old kind of managing the eight-year-old, who is doing the major care for the baby, but I'm not willing to get into more detail than that, and the reason i'm not is because of this personality thing. We don't know what the personalities of those children are going to be. Some eight-year-olds are very nurturing. They're very responsible. They take control. They know what to do with a baby. Others just couldn't care less. They just don't bond with the baby. They don't have an interest in taking care of the baby, so we channel them off into different things, different duties for the family, while the one who's very good at nurturing will take care of the baby.

The parties themselves determine this more than the adults do. The adults watch and see that certain parties are getting along better with each other. Certain parties have a natural affinity to each other, and adults shouldn't try to interrupt this. They should try to foster this. So although we have the children doing most of the work of the family—children are making meals. Children are cleaning house.—We do need adults in the family to orchestrate all of this, to direct people and to make sure things are getting done—and if necessary tell people to do things—but ideally you want to have a system in place. The idea of parenthood is to get a system in place where things take care of themselves for the most part.

As a baby, you may be very firmly bonded to your biological mother, but you're also firmly bonded to various other faces various, other characters in the family, so if your biological mother were to go away—even to go away for a very long time—you're not traumatized with it by it because you have all these other attachments within the family. So that's one issue addressed by the post-nuclear family: that having a baby doesn't have to be a an intense 20-year commitment. It might be an intense two-year commitment, and then mothers are free to go off and do their own thing.

Now, who are the mothers? I've discussed this in a previous podcast {where the babies come from}. The key question is, where do these babies come from? Who makes these babies? The initial post-nuclear family is a probably going to be a consortium of four or more couples—so eight people, conceivably more than that. These are fertile couples: the mother ideally can bear children. So the children in that case are going to come out of the mothers who are part of this initial consortium.

If you have the base level of four couples, you have four mothers, [and] they coordinate their births so they are producing a birth every two years, and that's fine for the first 18 years or so—what I would call the first generation. I consider a generation to be 18 years. For that first generation, [the babies] all come out of the original founding mothers, [but] then you've got the problem of what happens when the founding mothers lose their fertility around age 40 or so. Where do the babies come from then?

You've got these founding mothers that, say, might may have founded the family in their 20s and they get up toward age 40, where [are] the babies going to come from?

And even at age 40, it gets a little risky. A baby in your 40s has an elevated chance of various defects that you might not want to risk, whereas the healthiest the healthiest babies come from the youngest mothers. The youngest mothers have the most resilience to handle pregnancy. So if you're 21 or 22, biologically that's the ideal time to have a baby. Socially, it's a terrible time to have a baby. The ages of 18 to 22, socially, are a terrible time to have a baby because you interrupt your career, you interrupt your education, but biologically, that's the best time to have a baby.

So this is a question we have to work out after the first 18 years: where do the babies come from? Fortunately, you've got 18 years to think it over. After 18 years, you can decide, “should we keep this thing going? Do we want to keep nine children in the family forever?” I hope that you do, because by the time you've raised children for 18 years, you've learned an awful lot about it. You've come up with all these systems for managing this huge amount of children, all these very subtle customs—not only among the children but among the adults—for how to live this life, and once you've got a full brood of nine, do you really want to quit. Don't you want to just keep this thing going for as long as you [can]? That way, you can carry all this software that you developed over the previous 18 years into the next 18 years.

So if you're going to do that, you have to figure out, “where do the babies come from?” They can't come from the original mothers because the original mothers have lost their fertility. They've gotten too old. We could try to recruit new mothers, new young mothers, into your consortium, but you're increasing the size of your family. Let's say there's four couples in this original family, and then 18 years later you recruit four more couples. Well, there's a demographic problem here, because you're increasing the number of adults, and ultimately those adults have to be cared for in their old age. One of the functions of the post-nuclear family is to care for people when they can't care for themselves—for medical reasons or for old age—so there's a problem with just recruiting new mothers.

I propose that the people who bear the children for the next generation come from the family itself. As a young woman reaches the age of maturity, the age of consent—let's say 18 or so—she can be encouraged to bear a child for the family, bear two children for the family. It's sort of her community service. And although I'm suggesting this I have no idea about the politics, how this would be negotiated, or what the politics of this would be. You don't want to seem coercive, that you're coercing your daughters to have a child, so i'm staying clear of that. That's a policy issue.

But if this could be pulled off, then the young women of the family produce the new babies of the family from a donated egg. Although the mother is coming from the family itself, the egg doesn't need to be her egg. It's possible to donate an egg from someone else. The sperm? Where does the sperm come from? Well, ideally, you don't want it you don't want it to be installed in the usual way. The cleanest way for this to happen is a girl at age 18 decides she wants to do her duty by having a baby for the family [and] a fertilized egg is provided to her.

That's complicated enough: to get a young woman to consent to having a baby for her family using a donated egg. That’s messy enough. Politically, culturally that's complicated. The more complicated thing, however, is where does this egg and sperm come from? Whose egg gets united with whose sperm…. And that's where i'm just going to stay the heck out of it! It has been a major problem of humanity since the beginning. Which sperm connects with which egg has been a fraught subject since the beginning of time. Families negotiated among themselves. Men and women negotiated among themselves: which egg is going to be united with which sperm.

You can call it eugenics if you want, but it's eugenics that has been going on since the beginning of time: deciding who mates with whom. That subject is going to be no less messy with the post-nuclear family than it has been throughout all of history: which egg unites with which sperm.

I should caution from the beginning that eugenics, as it is classically formulated, doesn't work. It doesn't work in the sense that that you can breed dogs. You can breed dogs for certain characteristics, and that's why we have such a wide variety of dogs. You can't do that with humans. It's physically very difficult and the reason it's very difficult [is] a dog has a two-year period between their birth and when they can give birth themselves. Two-year latency period before they can give birth. For an adult [human], it's technically 15 or 16 years and practically 18 or 20 years.

Let's say you wanted to build a super race of hyper-intelligent people—like hitler might have wanted to do—by having all the smartest people mate with all the other smart people, according to whatever criteria you decide is smartness. The trouble with that is you've got to wait 20 years for each cycle. You've got to wait 18 or 20 years to find out what a child is really capable of. You know their brilliance might not really come out until they're 18 or 20. Then you can go and try to breed the smartest with the smartest, but even then it's a crapshoot. It's not guaranteed by any means.

Eugenics just isn't practical on a human time scale. The fact is, no organization, no family even, has enough organization over time to be able to build a master race. I think that more of what the genetic plan would be is to have a variety have children from a variety of gene pools/ I think variety is probably much more valuable to a family than trying to breed for specific traits.

Things you might want to breed for [are] general aptitude. Are the mother and father good members of the community? Are they resilient? Are they healthy?... Without nailing it down to any specific trait. You want the best people breeding. The people who are psychopathic, people who are not as functional in society, you might not want to breed them. You don't want to breed people who have obvious genetic defects. Intelligence doesn't boil down to a single gene that we can identify but there are countless defects in genes that we know cause problems, and we want to avoid reproducing those genes.

If this sounds like a really messy process, it is, but I would not call it “eugenics.” [The word] “eugenics” would apply when a government or an institution is trying to do it. When a family is trying to do it and individuals are trying to do it, then it's just “matchmaking”—matchmaking that has been taking place since the beginning of time. Which woman is going to mate with which man? Remember that for most of human history, a man and woman did not choose their own spouses. The choice was made for them, in terms of negotiation between families. It was an alliance between families and we're looking at both the man and the woman to decide: are these good breeding stock? That’s what matchmakers did back in the day. I propose bringing back the matchmaker, or at least the matchmaker function.

So you've got this big family with a lot of adults. When we get to the end of the fertility of the original mothers, we've got a crisis. We've got to decide how we're going to make new babies, and part of that decision is: where is the egg and sperm going to come from? [Maybe] you form a committee and that committee does a lot of wheeling and dealing. I don't know how they're going to do their wheeling and dealing. They can choose egg and sperm from within the family. They can trade with other families. They can look outward for egg and sperm. And they have to come up with some sort of criteria for deciding which egg merges with which sperm.

Who the mother is going to be is relatively simple. You just need a carrier. You just need somebody you could implant this embryo into. That's the easy part. The hard part is where the embryo comes from, and in advance, I can't give you any answers to that. It’s something that has to be worked out. I don't think even the mother—the carrier of the of the baby—should be given any discretion about the embryo she receives. The embryo just comes to her—like the stork brings the embryo—because if you did give the mother the right to choose her own embryo—boy! There would be politics! All reproduction would come to come to a halt. The fact is, human reproduction is a messy process. The negotiation of what sperm meets what egg is a messy process. It's an ethical minefield. The only way to eliminate all the ethical issues would be to eliminate all human reproduction.

So let me review a couple more features of the post-nuclear family that i've talked about before.

I think the ideal family size is nine children, spaced every two years. Every two years doesn't come out to nine children exactly because many children hang around into their twenties. Many children might leave the nest at 16. The important thing is spacing every two years. The reason for that is it allows every child to have a special place in the family, a unique position in the family.

Even though there are a lot of kids, your place is special. For the first two years, you are the focus of everyone's attention. The whole family is focused on you. After two years, you get a new sibling and suddenly you're not the center of attention anymore, and you have to learn to work with others more.

As you grow up, you gain more privileges, but not everybody gains the same privileges at the same age. Some children are capable of a lot more at eight years old than other children are, so you give them special privileges that maybe the previous eight-year-old and the next eight-year-old don't get. You manage to get away with it because of this gap between the children.

You know the big complaint that every sibling has is, "hey that's not fair! You're giving him this privilege and you're not giving me this privilege.” You reduce that by having the ages staggered every two years, [which helps] hides the fact that you are actually treating every single child differently, based on their actual affinities. One person is very good at math. One person is very good at nurturing. [We are] going to give treat [each child] specially based on their special skills, and because we have this this hierarchy of oldest to youngest the kids, don't really notice.

Ideally, the kids don't notice that they weren't treated exactly the same as their older sibling was, and that's why I think two years is the ideal spacing between childre—in current families and in future families—it gives everybody a special place, and it creates a hierarchy where older people can care for younger people.

I've also talked about having 18 kids in one family, which would be a spacing of every one year. That's only for a special circumstance [that] I call mitosis, where we're taking one family and dividing it into two.

Let's say for the first 18 years of the family, kids are spaced every two years you decide at the end of 18 years: number one, you want to keep the family going, and number two, you may decide that you want to expand the number of families. You want to split your family into two. That's mitosis. The reason you want to do this? I don't know. You have to come up with your own reasons. Why do you want to expand your footprint in the world? You've got something that you think works, and you want to expand it. I can't tell you whether you should or shouldn't, but I can tell you how to go about it.

How you go about it is you raise 18 kids. After the first 18 years, you start adding kids every year, which makes for a very crowded family. At the end of the next 18-year cycle, you take these families and you on “unzip” them. You separate them, so one family of 18 children is split into two families of nine children, each alternating years.

Now you've got two families of cousins. Maybe they live in the house next door, or maybe they live across town, but we've known this is going to happen for 18 years, so it's not a surprise to anybody. Your family is split. Now you have two families of nine children each. The important thing is, you have retained your family's culture—all these software systems that you've developed over time. When you split the family, those software systems are preserved in ways that couldn't happen otherwise.

So there is a potential for one of these families taking over the earth. Every 18 years, you split the family. You can grow your population if you feel that's something that should be done. All of this is motivated by what you think should happen.

I've talked a lot about antinatalism—the people who say humanity should just die out. “We don't need humans. They're a scourge in the planet. Let's get rid of them.” And the easy way to get rid of them is nobody has any babies. 

If that's your philosophy, well, you can turn off this video, because it won't mean anything to you, but if your philosophy is “humans are important, and my culture is important, and I want to perpetuate my culture into the future,” then you might consider the post-nuclear family. 18 years later, you might consider splitting your family into two, then four, [then] eight over the course of the next century—and take over the world, if that's what you want to do. 

The post-nuclear family is not saying. I'm very careful not to say certain things. The post-nuclear family just refers to nine kids in a big family raised by adults who don't live in the household. That's all it is. How you use it is a value judgment. Whether you use it at all is a value judgment that depends upon whether you think babies are important or not.

Whether you choose to have 18 kids so you can split the family, that's another value judgment—whether you think that your family should expand. You might see it as a survival thing. You might see that outside of your family is chaos, [and] to have a greater chance of your family surviving, you've got to make it bigger. You would make it bigger by having 18 kids and then splitting the household.

More than 18 kids would be a disaster. I contend that no two children should have the same age in the family, because then you get into direct competition, where one person gets all the goodies, and the other person gets left behind. That's not how families should work. In a family, everybody's got to be special, because there will be plenty of competition in the adult world. In the family you've got to be special. You have to have a special place, and the ideal way to do that is spacing every two years. 


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.

The transcript above is based on the automatically generated YouTube transcript, corrected by me based on my memory of what I said. In general, I make only the minimal changes necessary for clarity. I have not re-checked the transcript below against the actual broadcast. Editing consisted mainly of inserting punctuation and paragraphs and removing repetitive words and phrases. Passages in bold text are ones I consider particularly quotable. Items in [square brackets] are added words or minor grammatical corrections. Items in {curly brackets} are factual corrections or amplifications. —Glenn Campbell

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