The decision to have children carries huge moral, financial, and ecological implications, but they aren't enough to dissuade us
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote of a discussion with friend and fellow author William Styron, in which they tried to determine what portion of the people on Earth have lives worth living.
The figure they arrived at was 17%—about one in six people.
On a good day I can tell myself that number must have gone up since then—that we've made progress in battling poverty and disease on a global scale. Maybe it's up to 20% or even 25% by now. On a bad day I'm certain that they were being far too optimistic and that things are bound to get worse.
In the coming decades humanity is guaranteed to face mounting ecological crises as a result of the pollutants we've already pumped into the atmosphere. This is likely to feed into current political trends toward nationalism, as tens and hundreds of millions of climate refugees are forced to seek safe haven around the world.
Countries will seal up their borders and churn out propaganda about the inhuman hordes pounding at the gates—the crime, the diseases, the vermin. If we aren't careful, full-blown eco-fascism will take hold. The climate crisis will become a powerful excuse for state-sanctioned violence, oppression, and racism, and the coming generations will relive horrors that were supposed to be behind us. Those are the threats we face even if we defy current political trends and pass sweeping climate legislation—finally beginning the hard work of avoiding total ecological collapse.
Given the scale of the problem, the choices we can make at the individual level are inadequate, but still valuable. I cut out red meat, I avoid driving as much as possible, and I try not to buy a lot of stuff that I don't need. If millions of people made the same changes…it would probably be better than nothing. Of course the reality is that I still produce far more ecological damage than the average person on Earth. Some of that is unavoidable—a product of living in the US —but I can't deny that a lot of it is because of the way I live. There are certain things I don't want to give up. I travel. I eat dairy. And my wife and I are planning to have kids.
Whatever other decisions you make with your life, none are likely to have as much impact as deciding to create another life—another human to eat and travel and make imperfect decisions. Another human to wrestle with difficult questions and fear for the future. How can we justify the decision to force life on another person in a dark world? Another person whose life we can only try our best to make worth living. Another person who will, in many ways, add to the collective problems of humanity. I'm not going to claim that it's an easy decision to justify, and I don't fully expect to convince anyone who disagrees with our decision. As much as anything, this is an attempt to articulate a hazy justification for myself—and possibly to bolster my rationalization.
The aspect of being a parent that most excites me is the opportunity to reinvest in the future. After multiple decades of passionate concern for the planet—all while people with the power to effect positive change have done nothing—it's hard not to become a little jaded and complacent. Now that prominent political figures are finally pushing for the kind of societal transformation we need, I want to have a stake in fighting for a world that can sustain life beyond my death.
If I'm going to invest in that hope, I have to believe that—despite the ecological impact—it's still possible for a person to make the world a better place. And I want to believe that the people raised with care and love and positive intention are exactly what the future needs. Having a child—and caring for them, teaching them about our complicated and frightening and beautiful world—is a manifestation of that belief. I want the surprises and challenges that will come with parenting, and I want the pressure to contribute to something greater than myself—both in my personal life and my engagement with political change. I want a connection to the future of humanity that this fight is all about.
Of course, I can get all of that through adoption, and get it without forcing existence and the challenges of life on a brand new human. My wife and I do intend to adopt—or at least to be foster parents—down the line. But right now the window to have children of our own is closing. The financial burden of raising a child is so daunting that we would probably put it off for another decade if we could, but we can't. There are biological pressures that can't be ignored. Our bodies are getting older. The safest time to have kids will soon be behind us. If we could satisfy ourselves to raise adopted children, then we could wait until we reach some hypothetical state of readiness—prepared for the endless crises of raising a child. That state probably doesn't exist, but why is adoption not enough for us?
To suggest that the answer is anything but selfishness would be a lie; but, love is in some ways a selfish emotion. Being selfish for each other and selfish as a unit is part of what makes love worth all the pain and the effort we put into chasing it. We love what we are together, and we want good things for that union. We love us.
The bond and belonging between us is a strong comfort in a world that's dominated by so much loneliness. And as much as we believe that we could extend that bond to any child who needed to belong, there is something beautiful and exciting (and selfish) in the thought of using that bond to bring a new life into the world—a new person, autonomous and unique, but a person who embodies aspects of us both and of what we love about each other.
It's the idea of transforming what we are to welcome that new person into our bond. Life at its best is transformative and a little bit frightening. What could be more transformative and frightening than the process of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood? I can only be supporting staff in much of that process, but I'm still excited by the prospect.
Maybe this is all just a muddled translation of my evolutionary function. That excitement might be a purely biological impulse. But there are limits to denying biology. At the base, biology drives everything we do. Regardless, at this point we are committed to having children of our own—or committed at least to trying. If it weren't such a common choice—if friends weren't choosing the same; if our families weren't also excited for us to pursue that selfish impulse—we would probably be shamed out of it. Instead, we just worry about being good parents while people with experience try to reassure us that the worry gets us halfway there.
Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation reveals a Supreme Court facing a legitimacy crisis, making it the perfect time to make it more democratic and accountable.
The bitter confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has left the Supreme Court facing a legitimacy crisis. This was exposed by the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary committee, who showed little interest in seriously investigating Christine Blasey Ford's allegations of sexual assault. Democrats were not completely blameless either, especially Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who failed to come forward earlier with Ford's allegation. This flawed confirmation process was ultimately revealed by a sham of an FBI investigation that lasted only five days and never interviewed the alleged victim or perpetrator. Worst of all, Dr. Ford's bravery and sacrifice in coming forward with her story was in vain. What's been revealed is that the Supreme Court is an institution in the midst of a crisis of accountability, and one in need of major reform.
Urging radical changes to the Supreme Court must be on the progressive agenda in 2020 and beyond. If Democratic voters and progressive activists are angry about Kavanaugh's confirmation process, as they should be, maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. It is paramount that both common sense and radical reforms be pushed to ensure that the court is more responsive and accountable.
1. Code of Ethics
In addition to facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct, Brett Kavanaugh faces a series of other ethical questions. These range from issues with his finances, such as the strange disappearance of his debts and spending $200,000 on baseball tickets, to issues over potential bias. But, interestingly, there is no ethical rulebook for the behavior of Supreme Court justices.
Kavanaugh is not the first justice to face ethical problems, either. There have been questions of the morality of the justices appearing at partisan events, financial disclosures, and conflicts of interest. But it's now time for the Supreme Court to be subjected to the same ethical standards that Congress is held to. Not too long ago, the House introduced a bill called the "Supreme Court Ethics Act." If Democrats take back the House in November, it's important they be pressured to reintroduce and pass that legislation.
2. Term Limits
If you think about it, the Supreme Court has an unfair share of power. How else would you describe a group of nine unelected bureaucrats appointed for life to shape the laws for 300 million people? It's hard to believe that we still accept the idea that certain government officials should be given lifetime appointments. We no longer accept it for presidents, nor should we accept it for senators and representatives and, especially, Supreme Court justices.
The United States would be wise to join the rest of the world and introduce term limits for its highest court. Other countries have introduced 18-year term limits. An article in Vox argued that term limits would decrease the "partisan warfare" of Supreme Court nominations. Staggered 18-year terms would allow for a new vacancy every two years. Every president would get to nominate two each term. Every 20 years the court would be entirely remade. Term limits could also greatly decrease the likelihood of sudden deaths or retirements, and could introduce younger blood to a court whose average age is the highest it's ever been.
3. Direct Election of Justices
One of the more radical suggestions being widely discussed is the direct election of justices. Up until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, most Americans never considered directly electing senators. This was a major victory of the progressive movement in the early 20th century in making the Senate a more democratic institution. Today, judges at the local level are routinely elected in most places.
The same should be done with the Supreme Court. While the court was originally intended to be above politics, it is anything but that today. The Supreme Court has always been a political body, though it's often been thought of as the least partisan of the three branches. But the moment Brett Kavanaugh spoke about "revenge on behalf of the Clintons" the idea of a nonpartisan court was instantly crushed. If this is the case, it would make sense to subject it to the same standard of democratic accountability as the other branches of the federal government by proposing a national election to fill vacancies.
There are obviously major hurdles to overcome before these changes can become reality. In conservative judicial circles, strict constitutional textualism — the concept that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended — holds considerable influence. Look no further than the Federalist Society, which played a big role in the confirmations of Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. It's crucial that progressives push back against this idea of the Constitution. The Constitution, while being a useful blueprint, should not be treated as a sacred document, but as a mutable, living representation of America's moral and ethical framework.
There's also the question of political will. These changes to the Supreme Court, especially term limits and the direct election of justices, will likely require an amendment to the Constitution. In today's political environment, passing such an amendment would be a Herculean effort. Constitutional amendments don't happen overnight. They often require decades of activism and agitation to become reality. Prohibition and women's suffrage both involved major social movements that triggered cultural and political upheaval, this would have to be similar.
Radical changes to the basic structure of the Supreme Court will invariably face huge opposition from conservatives who will frame such changes as a power grab by Democrats angry about Kavanaugh. They would also face challenges from Democrats afraid of the potential political backlash to such bold proposals. But progressives must fight back against such criticisms. Making the Supreme Court more accountable to the public may not happen for along time, but that's not an excuse to cease pushing the idea. It's crucial push the envelope, as it expands the realm of what's possible.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
Why the only amendment never brought before the supreme court may be more important than you think
You'd be hard pressed to find someone living in the U.S.A. (and, perhaps in Russia) who could not tell you that the Second Amendment involved the right to bear arms. And, most people understand that something in the Bill of Rights protects them against unlawful search and seizure, even if they don't know that it's the Fourth Amendment that does so. But sandwiched in between these two celebrity amendments is the all-but-forgotten Third Amendment. Since its inclusion in the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the constitution), the Third Amendment has been the subject of a small handful of cases, and not one of them has gone before the Supreme Court. Here it is:
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Called the "runt piglet" of the Constitution by the American Bar Association, the Third Amendment would seem on the face of it to have little place in our lives. Does anyone think the government is going to try to use our homes as barracks? The idea is almost laughable. At the same time, this anachronistic addition to our Constitution is fundamentally concerned with the same issue as its better known siblings, namely protecting citizens from excessive government authority, and the elemental conflict between the rights of the individual versus the rights of the federal government. As such, the Third Amendment actually does have some relevance today, and could have even more in the future.
Militarized police force
Written by James Madison in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties, the Bill of Rights lists specific prohibitions on governmental power. Its purpose was not to grant rights but to protect rights the framers saw as fundamental and to place specific limits on government power. Third Amendment centers around the individual's right to privacy in their homes, and underscores that citizens have the right not to have the government intrude in that sacred space, even in times of war. When the amendment was written in the eighteenth century, quartering troops in private homes would have been top of mind for Americans and Englishmen. In fact, one of the many accusations Congress leveled against the king in The Declaration of Independence were his "quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us." One issue then, as now, is a balance between the rights of individual citizens and the needs of the military. For example, what if the military claims they need to occupy a home in order to surveil a suspected terrorist cell next door? Beyond that, what actually constitutes "military?" Civil liberties activates warn that our nation's police forces have increasingly taken on a military role, and that the increased use of police in this capacity is bound to create conflicts.
Back in 2013, a family in Nevada claimed that police had occupied their home to gain a tactical advantage against a suspect in a near-by house, there-by violating that families' Third Amendment rights. The case was dismissed in federal court because, among other findings, Judge Andrew Gordon ruled that a municipal police officer is not a soldier. Judge Gordon also followed a 1982 decision that the Amendment does not relate to state governments. But, as the lines between the police and the military are increasingly blurred, if not obliterated, we might expect to see more of these Third Amendment cases being brought before the courts. As Ilya Somin of the Washington Post pointed out in 2015, "The difficult issues raised by the militarization of police forces suggest that it may be time to stop treating the Third Amendment as just a punchline for clever legal humor."
A surveillance society
The Third Amendment is the only part of the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution as a whole, that actually addresses the relationship between citizens' rights and the military. Scholars have pointed out that it actually underscores civilian control over the military. That power dynamic would be important in any era, but takes on another layer of significance today when what passes for, and acts in the capacity of, the military is very different from what it was in 1791. We live in a world where people leave a digital trail of data wherever they go, and where we rely on the use of independent contractors, satellite surveillance and drones for our national defense, and let's not forget about AI. In a not-too-distant future when our military may be more machine than human, what could having "soldiers" in our "homes" mean?
A 2015 article "Could the Third Amendment be used to fight the surveillance state?" quoted law professor Steven Friedland, who had an idea.
"The Third Amendment no longer will be the forgotten amendment if it is considered to interlock with the Fourth Amendment to provide a check on some domestic mass surveillance intruding on civil life, particularly within the home, business or curtilage of each. In the digital era, the dual purposes of the Amendment should be understood to potentially limit the reach of cyber soldiers and protect the enjoyment of a private tenancy without governmental incursion."
Home is where the heart is
While the US Constitution itself does not contain an express right to privacy, the Bill of Rights reflects the Framers' concerns for protecting specific aspects of it, namely; the right to privacy of beliefs in the 1st Amendment, the right to privacy for person and possessions against unreasonable search and seizure in the 4th amendment, and the right to privacy in the home, the Third Amendment.
The right to a private space we call home is not just an American right. It is unquestionably a fundamental human right. The Third Amendment is largely forgotten in today's world of bots, drones, data, and virtual reality, but that "runt piglet" may end up being the very thing we need to call upon to protect it.