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Dialogues with The Elder
On Obligations and Morality -

Dialogue 1: Having Children

By Feng Xin-Ming, 2014

跟長者的對話 - 倫理、道德



(To "Dialogue 2: Raising Children, Marriage")
(To "Dialogue 3: The Multigenerational Extended Family")
(To "Dialogue 4: Homosexuality")

The Elder said:

Having and raising children is the natural morality of the universe; we are all obligated to have and to raise children. And both biological parents should marry to raise their biological children together. The multigeneration extended family is a great achievement in human morality. Persons with homosexual sexual orientations, just like persons with heterosexual sexual orientations, should also fulfill these same obligations - having different sexual orientations doesn’t mean one has different obligations...


I:   Why is one obligated to have children? To experience the joy of raising children, one can just adopt, so why have biological children?

Elder:   It is wrong to not have offspring when one can have offspring, because there is a chance that one’s children might mean the difference between survival or not, and flourishing or not, for the entire human species; therefore one owes it to the species to have those children.



I:   Please explain how one’s children could mean the difference between survival or not, or flourishing or not, for the entire human species.

Elder:   From DNA studies we know there’s a genetic Adam and Eve, who are the most recent common ancestors of all humans today. The genetic Adam lived some time between 140,000 to 340,000 years ago. Having a most recent common ancestor in the genetic Adam means that all the progeny of those who weren't Adam or weren't Adam's ancestors have died out; so, without the genetic Adam, either the whole human species would have died out, or, assuming some non-Adam progeny would have survived without competition from the Adam progeny, the human species would have survived at a lower aptitude, one that would have been out-competed by the Adam progeny. For all we know, without the genetic Adam humans might still be living in caves! Or otherwise not flourishing as well as we do today.

There was a set of decisive genetic and other features in that one Adam, and the human race would have been totally different - either extinct or not flourishing as well - if that one Adam had decided not to have children.

Now today’s Adam will no longer be the most recent common ancestor as time goes on, because some of his progeny lines will die out, and the most recent common ancestor will shift down one or more generations from him. So the most recent common ancestor continues to shift down the generations as the human races marches on and progeny lines die out. Anybody living today could become the most recent common ancestor Adam 100, 200 or 300 thousand years down the line.

Of course, the father, grandfather and all the male ancestor of this most recent ancestor Adam, from every generation, will also be the common male ancestors of the human race, only not the most recent one. The same goes for the most common female ancestor Eve: her mother, grandmother and all her female ancestors from every generation, will also be the common female ancestors of the human race, only not the most recent one.

So, someone from every generation will become the most recent ancestor; anyone could be the forefather of the sole survivors of human race; forefather of a set of people who forestall the extinction of the human race, or who uplift the human race to much greater heights of morality and splendor. Therefore, every individual’s genetic material is precious.

Human biodiversity is precious. We are obligated to preserve the human biodiversity that our ancestors have handed down to us, hence we are obligated to have children. That is why in their wisdom the ancient ancestors of the Chinese people said, "There are three major transgressions against xiao; of these not having descendants is the greatest." To be xiao, that is, to be good to parents and ancestors, the most important is to have children, to preserve the human biodiversity that our parents and ancestors have handed down to us.








I:   So, the human species is very valuable? Don't humans oppress, exploit, and on a massvie scale slaughter each other? Moreover, according to the Buddhist reincarnation theory, the fish cooking in the wok may be one’s grandfather, so aren’t other animal species equal with humans and just as valuable? Why must I be responsible only to the human species and not be responsible to other animal species? And doesn’t being responsible to other animal species mean that one should limit the number of humans, because humans are crowding out the other species on this planet -- and therefore means not having children?

Elder:   Of course, there are no non-human reasons known to us why the human species is very valuable, reasons that are not tainted by human bias. We only know of one moral standard – the one we humans have, the one with the bias of we humans.

The human perspective calls for the survival and advancement of the human race. The human race is so splendid: people are cooperating with each other on an extremely large and detailed scale; each purchase is an act of cooperation; humans are complex and harmonious. Morally and aesthetically the human race has value - now of course, moral and aesthetic value is what is felt by us humans (not necessarily what is felt by some God who may exist who doesn’t share this aesthetic and moral value). This moral and aesthetic value is based on an appreciation of increasing harmony: humans are utually helping rather than mutually hurting each other, and more and more so on a finer and finer and larger and larger scale; that’s just very beautiful, unique among all the species of sentient living things. The human species has advanced and is continuing to advance morally.

If one were to imagine an extra-human morality, that morality should still favor continued human survival and advancement. Let’s say we arrive on a different plant, and we come upon two species of approximately equal physical complexity, but one lower and one much, much higher on the scale of mutual help and mutual cooperation, and there’s a catastrophe coming and we are given the power to save one species over the other, you would have to say that you would definitely save the species that is much, much higher on the scale of mutual help and mutual cooperation, wouldn’t you? So the human species is valuable. It’s worth valuing a species that has become and is becoming more moral, and by moral I mean higher on the scale of mutual help and mutual cooperation.

We each may hold the genetic material that, by passing it on in the form of progeny, may mean saving the whole human species one day, or allowing the species to advance and become more moral much more than otherwise. One has an obligation to save the human species and to allow the human species to advance and become more moral, and therefore one has an obligation to have children.

Of course, we cannot fathom non-human reasons to not have humans – for example, the Old Testament God didn’t value the human species and had decided to wipe it out, along with all other species in the world. To us that God could not be moral, to us that God would be acting according to an immoral morality. We cannot fathom those other moralities, especially when there's no proof such Gods exist, and we cannot let that affect our actions and decisions.







I:   But humans oppress, exploit, and on a massvie scale slaughter each other! How can a species like that be called moral?

Elder:   Now yes, some would argue that, no, the basic feature of human society is immoral, is harming of other humans, is oppression, exploitation, and killing on a massive scale, call war. And humans have even invented and built a way called nuclear weapons to kill not just all humans but also all sentient life on the planet, not just once, but many times over. And humans kill other species, often for sport, such that many species have been driven to extinction. So according to these people, how can humans be considered moral at all?

My answer is that war and killing is not the basic feature of human society at all, but is an abberration; the basic feature of human society is exchange, which is a sophisticated, self-directed, and sustainable way of mutual help. Exchange is carried on daily, among all individuals: from simple barter and division of labor between the sexes in the most primitive Amazon tribes to the fine and myriad division of labor between the occupations in modern society, with the attendent buying and selling, almost all we live on today are given to us by complete strangers, often in faraway countries - in exchange for things we give them, of course, mediated by a medium of exchange, also known as money. Now some people will denounce exchange for money as being selfish and greedy, but actually it is only mutual benefit, and mutual benefit is not some kind of immoral selfishness or greed, but is fairness; a thing must be fair to be sustainable! Or could it be that encouraging others to be parasites, to take without giving or to take much but give little is fairness? No, humans are creatures with a sense of justice, and that's why exchange among human beings have been sustainable all this time. From the most ancient of times it has been thus, with or without money, and exchange is getting finer and more complex as human civilization advances. This exchange is mutual help: I make or do what you need, you make or do what I need, and we voluntarily exchange, not forcibly plunder. Besides that, the permanent mutual help between the sexes called marriage, the mutual help among members of the family, and the mutual help among members of society whether effected through the coercion of government or the volition of charities, can all be looked upon as exchange, only this exchange is not for money but for fulfillment of a sense of obligation. This exchange, this mutual help, is absolute and blankets every person every day. Meanwhile, war is only on a sparodic basis, among a minority of the human population, in a minority of countries. And as humans advance, especially since the Second World War, war is becoming less and less of an occurence, and when it has happened it has been on a small scale.

As for nuclear weapons, well, that has not been used except on small scales, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, right? Far from killing the whole species, let alone all life on this planet. While the capability is there, that capability is not being used, and there's no likelihood of being used. Humans are rational.

As for oppression and exploitation, my answer is that, sure, some injustice exists among humans. The mutual help is not perfect, but the marvelous thing is that humans are aware of the injustices, every society has implemented mechanisms for accepting complaints and upholding justice, and humans have been steadily improving as a species in increasing justice. Meanwhile, study some other species, and you will see that the domination/submission, oppression, and violence between members of the same species there are far, far worse. Look at how wolves bully, maim and kill each other. Or lions, even chimpanzees. And even among supposedly peaceful herbivores, look at the cruelty with which sheep mothers ignore the weaker members of the litter, such that they inevitably die from failure at competing for suckling. No, one has to admit, of all sentient species, humans are far more moral.






I:   But what about the Buddhist theory of reincarnation - if my grandfather could be that fish in my wok, doesn't that make all species equal?

Elder:   No. Whoever enunciated that famous saying that the fish in the wok was actually the eater's grandfather had the theory of reincarnation grieviously mixed up. The theory of reincarnation says that the next life one gets reincarnated into is actually better or worse than the last life totally as a result of the karma one has built up during the last life, and is a reward or punishment for one's acts during the last life. The next life is not random. Hence, for a person to get downgraded from a human to a fish, one has to have committed heinous crimes - Hitler perhaps? Ending up in a wok as a fish may be Hitler's punishment. At any rate, that fish has to be a good fish and go through many cycles of reincarnation building up good karma every life, to reach the stage of a human being again. So, according to karma, it is impossible that one's grandfather, without being Hitler, would end up as a fish in one's wok.

At any rate I believe that if reincarnation is true, then souls are capable of splitting and merging. How can the soul of a worm be the same as the soul of a man? Just as it takes a number of cells to come together to form a multi-cellular animal, it must take a number of the souls of lower animal to merge together to become a higher animal. So Hitler's soul may have entered the next life split into a number of souls that become lower animals.

At any rate, no, we cannot regard other species as being on the same level as the human species.





I:   But, what about crowding out the other species? There must come a time when we need to stop the increase of humans. And as human technology becomes more and more powerful, we are going to destroy the habitats of other species on a larger and larger scale, as each of us take up more and more space. So should we, or at least should some of us, not abstain from having more humans?

Elder:   Ah, excellent question. The fact is, it is exactly through technological advance that we humans will come to take up less and less space and make room for more and more habitat for other species. What takes up the space of most of the former animal habitats today? It is farmland. Now as human technology advances, we are going to, sooner than you would think, do away with farmland. Nuclear powered photosynthesis and cell culture meat in little food manufacturing machines in the kitchens of individual families will be where food comes from. Farmland to grow both food and animal feed will be a relic of the past, and all that farmland, and grazing land too, will be returned to natural habitat.

Another thing that takes up a lot of the space that used to belong to animal habitats is space for those high speed metallic monsters, called automobiles. Look at an aerial photograph of a city, and you will be struck by how much room is taken up by streets, roads, freeways, parking lots and even residential driveways. As human technology advances, our means of transportation will take up far less surface area: subways, trains, and air travel with vertical take off airplanes that don't take up huge airports. Moreover, as information technology advances, travel will lessen. That's because people can work long distance from home, and can hold meetings and converse long distance. The phenomenon of huge numbers of people every day spending long periods on the road to go to work will disappear.

In sum, the more human technology advances, the more humans will restore natural habitats and live in tune with nature, for that gives humans happier and healthier lives.

For human civilization and human technology to reach that level of splendor we need better humans, and better humans come from us having children and maintaining human biodiversity.



另外佔據很多動物棲息環境的,是供那些高速金屬巨獸即汽車使用的空間。看看一張空中拍的城市照片,便會發現街道、馬路、高速公路、停車場和甚至住宅車道等,佔去了極多的空間。隨著人類科技的進步,我們的交通工具將會佔據遠為細小的地面面積:地鐵、火車、和垂直升降、不需要龐大飛機場的飛機等。 而且,隨著信息科技的發展,出行將會減少。因為人們可以遠距離從家中工作,遠距離開會交談對話,所以龐大人群為了工作天天都很長時間在路上跑的現象,將會消失。



I:   But surely there must come a time when we need to stop the increase of humans. And aren't there too many humans already for the amount of resources on this planet? If even just China's population becomes as rich as the U.S.'s, there wouldn't be enough oil to support the consumption, let alone the rest of the developing world--isn't that so?

Elder:   As for "surely there must come a time when we need to stop the increase of humans", well, perhpaps, but let us not worry about it until then. The important thing to realize is: that day is far from arriving. When it arrives, the human race will be in much greater splendor, with far better technology. Humans will deal with that problem just fine then. Our descendants will be a lot more rational than us.

As for the argument that "the resources that humans depend on to live are already insufficient to supply the present human population and therefore the number of humans must decrease", this argument is wrong. That's because whether a substance is or is not a resource depends on the technology: two hundred years ago oil was not a resource but was a despised substance that welled up in some places and polluted farmland. It was only the internal combusion engine that made oil into a resource. Likewise, the technology of the future will not use existing resources, but will use as resources some other substances that exist in common abundance.

As for China, as long as China doesn't become a society where a handful of "elite people" determine everything, as long as China becomes a free market society such that the general populace and ordinary people can exercise their wisdom and imagination, then China will not copy the West and build China into an unsustainable society choked by roads, automobiles and pollution, but into a rich society that uses much cleaner technology, vastly different from the existing. Then, the false premise that "the world's resources cannot support the Chinese becoming as rich as Americans" will no longer exist. China can and should become as rich as America, nay, more so, only in a different way, and all developing countries can and should become rich.





I:   Alright, but what if by disposition I am cruel and selfish, and would be a terrible parent, should I not abstain from having children?

Elder:   Then you need to cultivate yourself and learn to be kind and generous, so that you would be a good parent. It is that old Chinese saying: “cultivate yourself and set your family in order.“ Everyone is obligated to become a good person, and everyone is obligated, as part of being a good person, to have children.

Of course, if your cruely and nastiness is because you have depression or some other mental illness, then you must seek treatment and not continue to harm others. Getting treatment for mental illness is also part of being a good person.

Besides, it's not the case that once you've cultivated yourself and become a good person, then you are set for life and can be a good parent forever. Cultivating oneself and being a good person, as well as being a good parent, "can only be an ongoing process, never a finished one", and must be continued throughout life. Challenges continue to arise throughout life and parenthood that demand continuously further cultivating oneself and figuring out how to be a good person, be a good parent, and carry out your obligations under the new circumstances. Therefore, you need not be afraid that you are not a perfect person and cannot be a perfect parent; no one can be a perfect person or a perfect parent. You only need to unceasingly do your best to carry out your obligations, that's all.





I:   What if my genes aren't very good? For example, maybe my IQ isn't that good and I can't get into a good university? Or my socioeconomic position is low, or I have some kind of hereditary disease? Then what hope do I have to become the most common ancestor of mankind? I should be one of those lines that get eliminated; why should I still be transmitting any genes?

Elder:   Aiya, that's not the way it is, that's completely wrong! Who can judge whether your genes are any good or not? Who can predict what the world will be like in the future and whose genes will be most suitable? That your IQ may be quite ordinary may not be the decisive thing; perhaps your descendants' IQ's will become quite good, who knows? You may, however, transmit certain decisive genes that will enable your descendants to survive extremely adverse conditions, or enable them to live in greater splendor, more morally, than anyone else. Who can predict? Maybe there will be a nuclear holocaust, and the genes that cause your hereditary disease might just turn out to be the same genes that enable you to adapt to and survive the nuclear holocaust environment, making you mankind's only hope. Who knows? So, everyone's genes, which have been tranmitted from his ancestors, are precious, human biodiversity is precious, and we have the obligation to transmit our genes from generation to generation.



I:   Since having children betters society, then is it that the more children the better, unto infinity?

Elder:   The more the better, but not to infinity – within the ability to raise them properly. The number of offspring you have is morally constrained by your ability to provide for them properly. Also, for males, to have infinite children you need infinite wives; to have more children than one woman can bear you must have more than one wife, and that means some male will go without. The number of offspring is also morally constrained by the obligation to let others have spouses to have children and thereby fulfill their same obligation to have children. (...continued)


長者:越多越好,但不是無盡數字,而是限制於妥善養育的能力。另外,只有男人才能生無窮數字的子女,而男人要生無窮數字的子女就要有無窮數字的妻子,因為要生超過一個女人所能生下的子女就得娶多個妻子,那麼就會令到有其他男人沒有妻子,所以子女的數字在道義上限制於要讓其他男人都能夠有妻子,都能夠踐行他們生孩子的義務和責任。( ... 繼續

Back to Essays Page 回到論文頁 To "dialogues with the Elder-2" 到“跟長者的對話-2”→

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