Self-Restraint

A recent article in Yahoo news is disturbing for several reasons. It reads, in part,

. . .a Tennessee man who has fathered 30 children is asking the courts for a break on child support. Desmond Hatchett, 33, of Knoxville has children with 11 different women, reports WREG-TV. The state already takes half his paycheck and divides it up, which doesn’t amount to much when Hatchett is making only minimum wage. Some of the moms receive as little as $1.49 a month. The oldest child is 14 years old.

One hesitates to open a discussion on this topic for fear of the charge of “racism,” since Hatchett is black. However, it would be racist for me to ignore the problem simply because of the man’s race. In any event, I will risk it because the wrongs in this case have nothing whatever to do with race: they are a result of a lack of restraint and downright stupidity. The man has 30 kids and cannot afford to support them or the women who had them. In 2009 he promised the court that he would have no more because of the financial strain it put on him (and them), yet in the interim he fathered 9 more.

The lack of restraint is clear, and since self-restraint is a major feature of virtue as we know it (though the word itself sounds very “old-fashioned” these days), one can conclude that fathering that many children when the man lacks the funds necessary to feed and clothe them is simply wrong. But it is wrong on a larger scale as well, given the plight of the world and the fact that the earth will soon be unable to produce enough food to keep humans alive. Indeed, there are people starving all over the world as I write this. But the problem will become much worse, given the present addition of 200,000 humans each day to an increasingly crowded world. Predictions are dire, as we can read in Wikipedia: David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, estimates that the sustainable agricultural carrying capacity for the United States is about 200 million people; its population as of 2011 is over 310 million. In 2009, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor, Professor John Beddington, warned that growing populations, falling energy reserves and food shortages would create a “perfect storm” by 2030. Beddington claimed that food reserves were at a fifty-year low, and that the world would require 50% more energy, food and water by 2030. According to a 2009 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people

And yet even in the face of these facts our culture still applauds the parents who produce scores of children and we flock to movies about mothers and fathers who are having more children or courageous single women who want to have a baby because their “biological clock” is ticking.  Our TV programs always show increased audience numbers when the main characters are (a) getting married and/or (b) having babies. The messages we read and hear on all sides are that large families — which are no longer necessary — are not only acceptable, they are praiseworthy. We seem to be fixated on the subject of children and without thinking, simply insist that more is better — whether or not “more” can be supported. There is serious cultural myopia here: can we not see that those who have children have a moral responsibility to raise them in a healthy world that can provide them with adequate food and clothing? But our present myopic view about marriage and family is in fact a kind of moral blindness.  It is reprehensible and irresponsible. And it will come back to haunt us in the not-so-long run.

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