A society that wishes to reproduce itself must take care to pass on to the next generation the knowledge required to maintain itself at more or less the same level of civilization. It is not enough to pass on the good china; you must also pass on the family recipe for making the pot roast. Yet even that is not quite enough; you must also find a way to pass along the culinary skills needed to transform a recipe written in words into an actual plate of pot roast. Figuratively speaking, a civilization must pass on the china, the recipe, and the cook. But even this is not quite enough. You must also make the cook realize that in addition to cooking, he must know how to replace himself, and, most critically, he must feel that he has a duty to replace himself. Not only must he teach his children to cook, but he must also teach them how to teach their children to cook.This helps encapsulate something I've thought about being a parent. I've long known that there's no way I can really repay my parents for my upbringing. I cannot give them back their youth, nor could any amount of money repay them for the opportunities they passed up in favor of me and my brothers. The closest I can come to it, I have decided, is to do for children of mine what my parents did for me. My child does indeed give my parents the joy of being grandparents, but I would still feel the obligation even if my folks had passed on.
If a society wishes to find a way of ensuring that newly emergent and valuable techniques are passed on and preserved, its members must feel themselves under an ethical obligation to leave the best possible world not only for their children, but also for their grandchildren.
I had not recognized this tendency in myself to be very important, but this observation by Harris has made me realize that this is the most important societal inclination I have. That I feel a duty to have children and transmit the culture in which I live to them is absolutely vital to the survival of my society. In churches, it is commonly observed that Christianity is a mere generation away from dying out. So, too, may America be in danger of dying, just as much of Europe already seems to be.
Is there a connection between the willingness to accept standards of, shall we say, a certain laxity (or even seek to uproot standards altogether) and the lack of desire to have children? I wonder. It seems the great thrust of a certain modern mindset is to break down barriers and tear down walls. Well, barriers and walls are built for reasons, and sometimes the reasons still make sense. Not every wall is the Berlin Wall, nor is every barrier an unnecessary or undesirable impediment.
Finally, the point Harris makes about the mother and the cat also echoes something I've thought in the face of all the experts and researchers that tell us how to live our lives all the time. Isn't it amazing that people managed to raise families and build countries without all these white coats with studies around to tell them how to do it? Gosh golly, just think how much better they would have done it with all that helpful advice.