The Next Generation

I've been giving some thought to children lately. Not to siring any of my own, but children in the abstract.

Individuals decide to have children for a host of different reasons. They may want to propagate their religious or moral views. They may want to have a copy of themselves to pass into posterity. They may want to try raising kids to see if they're up to the challenge. Companionship may play a role. Having an heir is still important to many folks. Even interpersonal dynamics, like holding a marriage together or getting back at someone can result in children

I've understood many of the reasons people have for carrying on their line for some time, but lately I've been wondering if it's a good idea for society to have children in it. If we didn't have to replace people would children be worth having?

Immortality stories are prevalent in literature, from the Fountain of Youth to Niven's boosterspice. Most of the immortality stories are cautionary tales about how long forever really is, and why people shouldn't live that long. Many of those are entertaining and thought-provoking; however, I side with Neil Gaiman's Hob Gadling. I can find plenty to occupy myself for eternity. There are languages to learn, skills to master, books to read. Reality is diverse and complex enough hold my attention indefinitely.

As happy as I would be to be the perpetual man, what if everyone were to choose that option? Let's also ignore the resource limitations; let immortality imply sterility, or at most the ability to exactly replace oneself. What happens to society?

As much as it pains me to say it, I think it stagnates. Even the most mentally resilient humans seem to mentally ossify with time. Perhaps this is a function of the changes that come with aging that immortality would remove, but I think it's just the mental ruts that we dig for ourselves. Those ruts are assumptions, preconceptions, and prejudices.

Every day that doesn't challenge a rut, deepens it, and there are only so many challenges one can get to in a day. The mental diligence to keep all the ruts filled in is probably more than anyone can sustain indefinitely. Eventually enough people ossify in the same way, and society develops a blind spot. Societal blind spots have covered some horrifying inequities.

The magic that children bring to the world is a supply of untracked minds. In addition to the physical vigor, they bring moral and intellectual innocence. They find new paths because they have no well-travelled routes. A constant infusion of children is a constant re-invention of society.

Not all innocence improves the world, of course. Starting from scratch means that sometimes the same mistakes happen again, too. But on the whole there is progress. The clearing of society's blind spots continues, and lapses into blindness are rare and regrettable. Such is the power of innocence, which is required for positive change to society. If this were Utopia, perhaps immortality would be viable. This world, however, needs new generations.

Of course, I'll still happily volunteer for immortality to watch those spots heal.

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