On Rearing Children: A Philosophy of Morbid Pragmatism

SKE English

“To philosophize is to learn to die,” Montaigne, the former mayor of Bordeaux, said. To which I, the sometime governor of my own wayward piddling, reply: “To rear children IS to die (slowly, without anyone hardly noticing), just prior to adopting a philosophy of morbid pragmatism. 


1. To rear a child is to become a Stoic. It is to accept the moment “as it presents itself,” without judgment, without expectation. Thus, it follows, that if the moment manifests itself in the shape of a pygmy tyrant, who freely urinates upon one's neck region with impunity, one must remain calm. One must refrain from whipping out one's own plonker and micturating vengefully. One must repress such emotions—and let them slowly drag one's remaining remains to death. 

2. To rear a child is to become a Utilitarian. It is to afford precedence to the child on account of its youth: One must recognize that the life of the young is worth more than the life of the old—and, on those grounds, one must sacrifice one's own existence so that the existence of the child may be preserved. One must take the fact of one's parentage as irrefutable proof of one's incipient moribundity. Anything else is mere delusion.

3. To rear a child is to try to forget Nietzsche. It is to banish, from the failed state of one's mind, Nietzsche's demon, who offered a philosophical touchstone for the life worth living by way of the Eternal Recurrence: “What ... if ... a demon were to steal after you ... and say to you: ‘This life, as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh… must return to you—all in the same succession and sequence ...” One must admit that these are dangerous questions to put to a parent, especially one who has suffered the screams of a teething child within the cramped confines of a compact vehicle; one does not want to replay such moments, much less eternally. Indeed, the parent desires nothing more, at such a crossroad, than the atheist's promise of an eternal and starless night (i.e. an absolute death).

4. To rear a child is to be consistently befuddled by Kant. According to Kant's Categorical Imperative, you should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” But what does such a concept demand of the parent who is hungover, sleepless, on the verge of vomiting, and forced to wipe a veritable stable's-worth of feces from a diaper that procures a most accurate whiff of medieval Paris? Does not the letter of that universal law spell out, in all caps—“SUICIDE”?

5. To rear a child is to ignore Hegel. Hegel said that “the history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.” It follows thus that in the act of responsible procreation one abnegates the stage of history, for there is no freedom for the parent, no consciousness, even: Just the marching slave's aimless progression, whose feet—propelled by the tiny taskmaster's cruel whip—shuffle across a meaningless desert wasteland, littered with soiled diapers, unused pacifiers, and memories of better days.

6. To rear a child is to refrain from examining one's life. There are two kinds of phenomena: those who improve with examination, and those who do not. The life of a parent falls squarely into the latter category, without any of its edges flirting with any of the boundaries of any of the other less horrific categories. Indeed, the life of a parent is comparable to a song (if that is not too strong a word) composed by Pitbull (our modern Salieri); but whereas Pitbull is a hedonist who undermines his own philosophy by producing music contrary to its aim, i.e. pleasure, the parent is a former hedonist who desires to return to a state of hedonism (sex, alcohol, sleep) but is continually thwarted my a miniature Pitbull of his own making, who—smiling ignorantly from ear to ear—never fails to ruins the party (could it not be said that a desire incessantly foiled is tantamount to death?) 

7. To rear ... You get the point. Philosophy, because it keeps man mindful of his own limits, of his own finitude, teaches a man that the project of freedom is doomed to failure, and thus, in turn, teaches man to die. Child-rearing, on the other hand, because it asks man to confront, on a daily basis, his own pitiable finitude, slowly kills him. 

Of course, I am only joking: Parenting is life.