In my most recent blog post, I made a note that we as a society should begin to consider the real outcomes of plummeting rates of marriage and fertility in politics. How will the socially isolated cope with their unexpected reality as genetic dead ends? Are we thinking about femcel terrorists yet? Should we?
Debora Spar at The New York Times answered more quickly than I could anticipate. “The Poly-Parent Households Are Coming,” she says this week in The New York Times. Apparently, IVF’s younger, hotter cousin IVG (in vitro gametogenesis) is in the near future going to allow people to “manufacture their own eggs and sperm, mixing and matching between genders and genes, and enabl[e] more than two people to create a child together.” Spar paints a familiar picture:
Anna and Nicole, 36 and 39 years old, have been close friends since college. They each dated various men throughout their 20s and 30s, and had a smattering of romantic relationships that didn’t quite work out. But now, as they approach midlife, both women have grown weary of the merry-go-round of online dating and of searching for men who might make appropriate fathers for the babies they don’t yet have. Both Anna and Nicole want children. They want to raise those children in a stable, nurturing environment and to continue the legacy of their own parents and grandparents. And so they decide to have a baby — a baby that is genetically their own — together.
As soon as I start thinking we could be on the precipice of a Children of Men-style dystopia, I am reminded of what I like to forget. Technology has its way of swooping in to provide people with a facsimile of the natural: pretty lies, diversionary pleasures. Big Tech, Big Science, Big Pharma, Big Ag, you name it… when have Big Brother’s big comrades failed to supply precisely what is sufficient for us to forget all those messy familial experiences we’ve sacrificed on the altar of capital accumulation? But Xanax, Facebook, and Postmates aren't cutting it for Anna and Nicole anymore.
For Anna and Nicole’s sake, Spar (current Senior Associate Dean of Harvard Business School Online, former President of Barnard College, and board member at Goldman Sachs) looks forward to this forthcoming “revolution” in reproduction.
Of course, nothing about this “revolution” challenges the existing structure of power. It’s really more of predictable iteration of the zeitgeist rather than a catalyst. But devotees and beneficiaries of the neoliberal order love the word “revolution,” because it implies moral superiority, allowing them to take on the mantle of popular liberation while concealing their true status as technocratic oligarchs. It just so happens that every so-called “revolution” for which these types advocate weakens familial and community bonds, simultaneously strengthening their class’s vice grip on the financial and cultural engines of American life. How convenient.
Spar’s central argument is made clear in the following paragraphs:
If the revolution of I.V.F. was to liberate reproduction from sex, then the even bigger revolution of I.V.G. is to dismantle completely the reproductive structure of heterosexuality. Once upon a time, defenders of heterosexual marriage could argue that marriage was intrinsically a sexual union of husband and wife, because those were the only unions that could produce a new life. If I.V.G. comes to pass, that will no longer be true. Instead, two men could make a baby. Four sexually unconnected housemates could make a baby. And that changes everything we’ve ever known about sex and babies and marriage. In the early days of I.V.G.’s adoption, the most obvious users of the technology are likely to be same-sex couples who, for the first time in history, could conceive children who are wholly and genetically “theirs.” But single women could also choose to employ it, creating eggs to match with sperm derived from friends or family members. Platonic friends might become parents together, sharing lives and families that are not linked to sex. Older couples could conceive and raise their own grandchildren.
First of all, I’ll emphasize again, we really should not pass over the fact that Debora Spar the business shark is so deeply interested in “dismantling the reproductive structure of heterosexuality.” I won’t speculate on her personal life, but class interests are a legitimate question. Who exactly benefits when women devote their whole lives to financial acquisition? Spar is thrilled that girls and gays may now accessorize their lives with designer gene babies, without the need to build a family, hence with no disruption to their career trajectory or the consumer lifestyle. Progress, très chic!
While Spar’s explicit ideals (destroying the traditional family) may be vanguard-progressive, her basic worldview (unbounded fetishization of technology) is completely culturally dominant. Technological innovation is broadly understood in America as fundamentally good in that it allows human beings to overcome boundaries to liberty — what were previously understood as natural human restrictions. We imagine that by disrupting the natural order, technology has the power to nullify natural law — to transcend humanness, so to speak. Technology liberates us from our every limitation! It gives us the opportunity for completely unlimited political and social experimentation. Because liberty bears such a positive moral dimension in American society, so does science.
And it will take a long time to dismantle norms of marriage and parenting that have been around for millenniums [sic]. But the history of assisted reproduction is powerful and clear: Once we create new technologies for conception, we embrace them.
Modernity is material domination of moral direction.
Ultimately, our efforts to demystify life through the manipulation of material reality — to free ourselves of nature and its consequences — requires us to blind ourselves to the ways in which love, in all its mystery, binds and orders all things. And that’s what stands out most about Spar’s fantasies in the end: love is no part of this project. Anna and Nicole’s designer baby will not undo the years of psychosexual compromise that led them here, past the point of no return. A baby will not negate the deep desire for male companionship and protectorship that drove their dating habits all along.
These women want off the very carousel for which Spar and her ilk advocate. They want the babies that feminism disallowed, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to fill that aching void in their heart that God through nature authored. But instead of telling women the truth about their bodies and souls in relation to men, love, marriage, family, and sex, American elites offer them more efficient ways of living a lie. Now, Anna and Nicole feel empowered to turn around and tell the next girls in line (women in their 20s and early 30s) not to worry about love and marriage, either. It’s not necessary anymore, girlfriend! Just like me, you do you! And so we further normalize the fatherless, family-free world that Goldman Sachs executives champion.
What a hateful thing to do.