Does infertility change how we think about the future?
On a day that’s all about the future, let me say first that today’s Election-Day post will not talk about politics. But it will talk about The Future, not as in “stuff that’s happening tomorrow”, but The Future as in cue-baritone-narrator, capital T, capital F “The Future”, the big shape-of-things-to-come Future.
So while this is not, I promise, about politics, today’s date is, however, relevant to what I will talk about in the following way; nearly all major political campaigns are essentially about competing visions of the future, and are predictably and unfailingly framed in hyperbolic phrases along the lines of “the world we leave for our children”.
Now, it’s mathematically true that the decisions we make to choose our leaders, and the decisions they make as our leaders, do indeed shape the world and society in which the next generation grows up. But as I listened to this meme weave its way through all the speech-making and fear-mongering on all sides, I had a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before, and one that, I must admit, caused a bit of disquiet in me.
My first reaction was actually the somewhat defensive, and yes, pained, knee-jerk of “what about us, you stupid hacks?! You know, just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean I care less about the future of our country!” (Or, for that matter, our people, our relations with our fellow nations or our planet.)
And then, being a data guy as I am, I wondered whether my contention, purely emotional and therefore difficult to measure as it is, was actually true. DO people without, or struggling to have, children feel or think differently about the future? Do attitudes about politics, religion, adoption, the environment or anything else measurably differ from similar, but childed, cohorts?
I had the uncomfortable feeling that, despite what I’d like to believe about myself, perhaps there was some deep, visceral, primordial way in which I don’t “get” the concept. Could I, as an infertile man, childless and approaching middle age, truly feel concerns about The Future in the same way as those who will leave children to live in the world they have left behind?
Now the easy, comfortable answer is, “Of-flipping-course I can!” Just because I have no walking, talking heirs who have to deal with the consequences of my choices doesn’t mean I’m going to sit around burning dirty coal in my McMansion fireplace, eating factory-farmed cheeseburgers in Styrofoam containers, and gleefully surfing global warming-powered waves over the ruins of submerging island nations.
I care! I care a lot!
Do I care as much? Do I care the same way? Is there even any way to know that? I mean, measuring attitudes, emotions and other ineffables is the whole purpose of social-science research right?
To the Internets! (Cue superhero music.)
So, despite my 17 years’ experience with professional-grade online research, (as in, scouring the Internet with fancy, expensive tools is actually what I do for a living), it turns out the answer is…
No one knows.
At least within the limits of my power queries, custom Web spiders, fancy tools and Google-dorking (that’s nerd speak for the powerful hidden features no one knows are present in Google, Bing etc. if you know how to ask), I can find neither mainstream reporting nor scholarly work that have ever attempted to answer this question before.
In fact, I can’t even find a place where anyone has ever asked it before.
So, it appears my recent “things no one is talking about” streak remains unbroken. Maybe no one’s talking because no one cares. But based on reactions to my last few pieces, I don’t think that’s right. I think maybe, just maybe, no one’s talking about it only because no one has spoken up and asked before. Now I don’t control a foundation or have grant money to fund some tweedy academic that could answer this question in a rigorous or scientifically valid way.
But hey! It’s Election Day! So in the time-honored traditional of anecdotal data, pure opinion in the absence of fact, and blatant “just makin’ stuff up” (see current US election season that, thank heaven, ends today as exhibit A), here’s your chance.
It turns out that you, dear readers of SS&FE, have the chance to be the first entirely-unscientific but potentially interesting, population to weigh in on this question. So comment. Post on Facebook. Write on our wall. Tweet at us. All that stuff.
Does the absence or presence of children actually change how you think about the future?
What say you?