Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sex: Accept No Substitutes

I don't quite understand what the obsession with modifying the human creature is. It comes in various kinds, but particularly among those who spend much of their day sitting in front of a computer, the future is imagined to be one in which the old flesh and bones will be significantly improved. We'll upload our brains into vast cyber networks, or we'll have implanted computers that will allow us to google obsessively everything we see, or we'll reproduce only via in vitro fertilization and artificial wombs.
This last seems particularly confusing to me. I don't share the aspiration to literally play computer games 24/7, nor to google up the implications of my lunch companion's body language, but I suppose I can sort of understand why someone might want to do such a thing. I'm utterly confused, however, at the prediction that in the future we'll reproduce asexually -- at least when this prediction is made as something other than a distopian warning.

Yesterday, I had someone suggest to me that Aldus Huxley's Brave New World provided a good template for how we could soon be liberated from the tyranny of reproducing. He later followed up with, "So what's the problem with cloning or in vitro fertilization? Why is humanity condemned to reproducing itself the same way hamsters reproduce, even though we have the intellect and resulting technology to do it otherwise, if so desired?"


I don't want to claim that MrsDarwin and I are some sort of sexual superheroes, our experiences far beyond that of the common man, but I have to say that getting children the traditional way is not so bad. The hamster is a lowly creature, and I'm not sure to what extent he enjoys his little roll in the wood shavings, but the mere fact that as humans we have sex according to roughly the same mechanics as all other mammals doesn't strike me as being a reason to abandon the practice.

There's a strong Gnostic streak in modernity and futurism. It seems odd that in a culture which constantly attacks Christianity for having too dour a view of sexuality, sex itself is so often scorned -- even by its advocates. I was struck by this when, months ago, I was arguing with someone who described herself as "sex positive" and who insisted that sex wasn't the sort of thing it was possible to have moral rules about, because anything done by consenting adults was just a means to pleasure and fun.

One of the ways she expressed this, however, was, "I can't imagine that God cares what we do with our dangly bits."

Now, I've been around the block enough times to know that there's an element of absurdity in sexuality. The gap between how we think of ourselves and what we look like is doubtless large. But I think it's indicative that, in the attempt to make the case that all things are lawful when it comes to sex, the approach taken is to make it sounds like our sexual organs are some kind of deformity too trivial to have any moral implications.

Whatever the mild absurdities which come from the physicality of sex, it's actually an important and beautiful thing. It's a way that spouses express their love for each other. It's the way that new human beings are created. And human beings are pretty amazing things. Creating them is of no mean import.

Sure, we can imagine high tech and expensive ways of conceiving a child in a lab rather than through a man and a woman having sex. But think about the amount of work, money and sterility that's necessary in order to achieve the same effect that two teenagers in a meadow can without even thinking about it. Dystopian or utopian, reproducing via methods other than sex is always going to be a first world problem. The fact is: the human organism comes equipped to reproduce itself, and the process is not only very pleasurable in parts, it's fundamental to who we are.

So while futurists will continue to dream of not having to have sex in order to make babies, or getting rid of that pesky human experience of maternal attachment and love, these things are so natural and so basic to what we are, they will never go away. Nor should they.


Jenny said...

The reason the sex-obsessed want to make sex unnecessary is so they can justify their proclivities. If sex is thoroughly and completely disconnected from reproduction, there is no reason to restrict having sex with whomever you choose, however often you like, in whatever manner you prefer. They want to have their evolutionary cake and eat it too. Sex has intense physical pleasure in order to encourage us to reproduce, evolutionarily speaking. They want to keep the pleasure, but ignore why it is pleasurable. Making the creation of babies a specifically chosen technological procedure means they can turn up their collective noses at the notion of reproducing in a manner similar to an animal while retaining the ability to rut like an animal.

bearing said...

I think Jenny's right, but I would like to add that it has always seemed odd to me that it's usually males who come up with the idea of being liberated from the normal way of reproducing.

As you say, the traditional way of making babies is not really so bad, but along about the eighth month of pregnancy -- speaking for myself -- an artificial womb starts to seem less like a bad idea. So why is it guys who always wax romantic about growing babies in jars?

I think this rather lends support to Jenny's idea. Women are more available for sex and work if they aren't tied up gestating.

Jenny said...

And I am privately amused by the fact that the very suggestion by the "sex positive" to eliminate the reproductive capacity from sex is a tacit admission that sex has a moral component after all.

Joseph Moore said...

I've speculated before on how Brave New World would be merely baffling to the well-educated modern mind: what's the problem, really? Everybody get all the sex they can stand, nobody gets to suffer old age, nobody has to bother with raising children... Seems OK!

Also, that we boring married people with children clearly have better sex than our open-minded contortionist no-babies brethren must be denied. That it's better *because* we accept responsibility, first, for our spouse's well being and then for the children we hope to create - talk about kicking the experience up a few notches! Bam! The mechanical act separated from purpose and love really is just like hamster - noting more than a moment's distraction.l

Lauren said...

Interesting that our culture will accept all manner of moralizing about food (health, environment, migrant rights, animal rights, fair trade, etc.), but it will accept no restrictions on sex. Why the discrepancy?

Cminor said...

(The comments, too.)

Anonymous said...

Why do men want to break the connection between sexuality and reproduction? Because it rebounds to their favor. When the link between reproduction and sexuality has been broken before (aka artificial birth control) then the balance of sexual power tilts away from women and towards men.

Or, to put it simply: Birth control makes girls easy.