Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An argument which collapses standards

You may have read about Elizabeth Adeney, the 66-year-old single woman who is having a baby via IVF.

Andrew Bolt, the most right-wing of Australia's newspaper columnists, gave his opinion recently on whether she was doing the right thing.

Bolt believes that it's OK for people to take an interest in Elizabeth Adeney's choice, as we ought to care how children are raised:

... In Ms Adeney's case there are even more grounds to worry that her child will start with less than he or she deserves ... The child will know no father, for instance ... Nor will he or she have many relatives around, either, since Ms Adeney reportedly has no family in Britain ... Ms Adeny has been married only briefly, about 20 years ago. Does she really know what it's like to share a life, and does she understand how much of her own she will owe to her child?

This all sounds reasonable. The child will not have a father, and possibly won't even have a mother while it is still young. These are significant reasons for opposing Ms Adeney's choice.

But then Bolt shows why he is not really a conservative. He goes on to argue, on terrible grounds, that we should support 66-year-old women having children:

You see, so many children are indeed denied what they are owed, and not by mums past menopause.

I see hurt children whose dads have left and never call. Children whose mothers treat them as the foul shackles that kept them from soaring. Children who must daily witness their parents tearing into each other. Children treated as too much effort for the reward. Children who don't know which parent's house they'll get a welcome in from one day to the next.

Breaks your heart.

Here, though, is at least one child wanted so badly that her mother risks her body and the world's lectures just to have her. You could say the same of a child of lesbian mothers, too.

It's quite true, this child may soon be an orphan, far too young.

But what will that child cry then? That it was better never to have been born?

Or better to have been given life - and love? I think I know.

So it's all OK because:

1) There are families with younger mothers who don't treat their children well.

2) Elizabeth Adeney is going through a lot to have a child so must want one very badly.

3) The child will prefer to have been born, even to an older mother, than never born at all.

You could justify anything on these grounds. A father who goes around impregnating women and then absconding is justified. After all, the resulting children would rather they had been born than not, wouldn't they? And anyway, some families where the father actually sticks around are also dysfunctional, aren't they?

And what about a man who commits bigamy? He would have to want his wives and children really badly to put in the extra effort and expense required to run two households, wouldn't he? The children would rather they had been born than not at all, wouldn't they?

Each of Bolt's justifications is terribly wrong. It's not the strength of a want which makes it moral. Nor does the inevitable imperfection of an institution justify letting go of all standards. And the fact that it's preferable to have been born than not at all doesn't turn immoral decisions into moral ones.

By Bolt's reasoning, a young woman who chooses to have seven children by seven different fathers as a single mother living off welfare is ultimately morally justified.

Perhaps you think that Bolt is just trying to be a "compassionate conservative". But his arguments will only lead to more kids in the future having to deal with the absence of a parent, or living in poverty, or uncertain of their ancestry and identity.

What he could have argued, in order to be compassionate, is that we should be doing more to improve the chances of young people forming families in their 20s - rather than in their 60s. Family formation can be made either easier or more difficult for young people; I don't think there's any doubt that it's been made more difficult in recent decades.

If conservatives took the issue seriously we could win an audience from the many young people frustrated by the difficulties they now face in marrying and having children.


  1. many people would benefit if you were given such a column. Have you ever considered doing that for a newspaper or magazine that reaches a broader audience?

  2. Liesel, thanks. The problem here in Australia is that Andrew Bolt is the furthest right that the mainstream media is prepared to go. And there's not a very well devloped alternative media.

    On the positive side, the readership of this site is slowly growing. This month's figures are the highest yet.

  3. I'm pretty sure Quadrant would accept good articles from you.

  4. Totally agree with you Mark. Why deliberately bring a child into the world in family circumstances that are only to the detriment of that child? Because this is not an example of giving love but selfish love. Does Bolt really think this woman loves the child before it is conceived and born? Of course not. She loves the idea of herself, of having her own biological child. In normal married circumstances this desire would find a positive outlet.

    If this woman really did love, in the sense of unselfish love, then surely adopting an unwanted child is the good and noble path. Her less than perfect circumstances would more than make up for the abandonment of a child, her love would be a great gift.

    True love is opposing abortion, and offering adoption for those in circumstances where they do not or cannot parent their children. True love is not being your own bio-mechanic to furnish yourself with a child to prop you up in your declining years like some sort of comfort companion for the aged.

    On the subject of Bolt's conservatism, he notes in this article yesterday that "Yet I pushed Rudd for the Labor leadership, not just because I thought him a winner, but because I judged he’d be a leader a bit in the mould of Bob Hawke, for whom I worked on two election campaigns." [my emphasis]. So it would appear that Bolt is (or was) of the Labor Right style of conservatism.

  5. If the reports are correct that this woman wanted an heir It is an extension of the false idea of children as a possession of the parent rather than a new human person on loan from God a child of God.This culturally embedded notion of children as belonging to us needs to be overidden and uplifted to the spiritual notion of every person ultimately belonging to God.As to IVF technology I know courageous couples who accepteed the cross of their infertility and went on to adopt or foster children and in doing so brought much neede love into the world.

  6. I wonder how long it will take before the raising of children is completely socialized.

    Wait a second, child care, kindergarten, prep, primary school, high school, technical school, university.....

    Oh well, I guess all that is left is to transplant some mammary glands and breastfeed some deceased octogenarians orphan.

  7. "Each of Bolt's justifications is terribly wrong. It's not the strength of a want which makes it moral. Nor does the inevitable imperfection of an institution justify letting go of all standards."

    Thank goodness there are people who see as I do. Thank you God for giving Mr. Richardson a keen and wise mind so I may be edified.

  8. Bolt is not a conservative. Or rather he is a very "acceptable" type of conservative.

    All due respect Mark, but this site desperately needs an upgrade. Ever thought about holding a fundraiser? I would put some of my hard earned towards it, and Im sure there are a few others here who could chip in a few dollars.

  9. Westieboy, what kind of upgrade did you have in mind? I like using Blogger as it's easy to publish to. If it's just a matter of making the format look nicer, it's probably something that I can do myself using the options available on blogspot.

  10. dunno about Westieboy, but I think there needs to be a place for alternative conservatives of all stripes to write and share ideas that can be promoted across the country.

    Personally I would look to the Brussels Journal as a good model, what do you think?

  11. Anonymous,

    I have mixed feelings about group sites.

    There were several talented Australian writers running sites focusing on immigration and nationalism issues last year (e.g. Reclaiming Australia, Abandon Skip).

    I thought it a pity they didn't get together, as it would have been easier to get a larger readership and maintain a steady flow of posts.

    On the other hand, I once participated in a group site that was supposed to be an alternative conservative site.

    However, the range of political views was too great and the editorial control too minimal.

    I think you would have to set certain parameters for those putting their hand up to contribute to a group site and there would have to be one or two editors willing to keep things on track.

    My own preference would be for a traditionalist politics to gather strength and for a group site to emerge from this - but I'm open to ideas.

  12. Conservatives are only lagging liberals. That's why Mark's "traditionalist" label is much better.

  13. im an indian student, a month away for traveling to melbourne....... and to be honest with all of you'll i really don't care...... this happens all over the world, however what happens next is important....... and for some reason the attacks continue which speaks volumes....... its simple..... don't start pushing if your not ready to get pushed back....

  14. To anonymous Indian student, you're studies aren't working and... what are you talking about? Good luck with the English grammar and if you are a Uni student, how on Earth did you get past the entry examination?