Of course I'm lucky in a way, having been born in a wealthy country with much advanced technology and societal values (cue the cultural relativists) means that I'm able for a large part be self-determined. While my socio-economic status still restricts me in many things, for instance I don't have a solid gold throne, it's still enough that I can make decisions about what I want to do with my life within my means. I say I, but really my decisions are connected to my family, my social group, and the greater society around me.
Because of this, I think, it's often forgotten that we are still natural beings who are limited and in-part controlled by our nature. It's a fact of life that we're going to die, and for most of us it's going to be a slow degenerative process. Likewise we have certain drives and desires, we have to eat for example. One of those drives is sex, and that's why abstinence-only education fails. People have sex and its a fact of life. And sex can mean babies, and babies mean an investment of resources so that the cycle can continue once more.
When I was a kid I wondered why there were some adults who hated children, because adults to be adults by necessity were kids first (I wouldn't have put it that way when I was a kid). It was hating a necessary fact of their existence and that's a very confusing thought for a child to have. Yet now I'm an adult (well, legally) I can see it from a different perspective and at least empathise with that view.
So what does the artificial environment and babies have to do with one another I hear you ask? Babies are something we can to a large extent control through artificial intervention. Contraception is a wonderful thing, it enables people to have sex with a much reduced risk of pregnancy. And for those who don't want children there are more permanent interventions to be had. Our education and our circumstances mean that we can reflect on that choice, so in general people can choose whether or not to have children.
One question I remember from Ethics at university for whether an action was ethical was "what if everybody did this?". For this situation it's tricky because if everyone had kids then the population would experience unsustainable growth and if no-one had children then there would be no replacement population. So in order to make a sustainable population that doesn't spiral out of control it would seem that individuals have to make different choices about how many kids to have.
And that's just it, it becomes a choice. But is it a choice in the same way that's it's a choice like getting a pet or even a couch? If someone chooses to have children then that's their choice, the reasoning goes, but why should I have to pay for parents to help raise their children when my lifestyle choice doesn't get that funding? After all I don't have kids, so shouldn't the government be helping me with getting a kick-arse home theatre system if I so choose? They won't even fund my dog, I have to pay for my dog's food and collar, the reasoning continues, yet parents get government money to feed and collar their children. It's unfair that the government is rewarding people for one particular lifestyle choice (and an annoying one at that) but not mine.
And so the argument goes. If you want children then you should be responsible for it, everything from the act of coitus up until the child leaves home. After all, we can be responsible thanks to birth control. If someone is thinking of having unprotected sex and didn't consider the financial and time investment 15 years down the track, then it's their own damn fault. And even if you don't use birth control before the act, there's post-coital methods like the morning after pill or abortion. And even if that's not enough then you can give the baby up for adoption. So what excuse do people have left not to take responsibility for the child? Why should the government fund that lifestyle choice?
The simplest answer I can give to this line of reasoning is that a dog or a couch can't become a doctor. I can see the value of a dog as a companion animal but I can't see it growing and distributing food. My couch is nice to sit on, but it's not going to write a book or do research. The fact that children turn into adults is sufficient reason to consider the difference between having a child and having a puppy. It by necessity is more than an investment in lifestyle, it is an investment in its long-term survival.
And that's exactly why it cannot be viewed as a lifestyle choice. Because while any individual can choose to have children or not, the more that choose not to have children are putting a strain on the long-term survival of a society. Instead of investing the time and money directly, they are seeking to avoid any sense of responsibility. Taxation and benefits for raising children is an offset of that lack of direct investment, a realisation of the necessity of replenishing a population and working towards ensuring its continuance.
In the west family planning combined with other health and technological benefits already mean that birth-rates are dropped even towards unsustainable levels. Education and in particular education of women has meant that there's already great control, so it does seem odd that anyone would complain about couples having children receiving government benefits. This is why I think such arguments are made about lifestyle costs, because the moment one reflects on the fact that children are a needed continual resource the decision not to have children becomes a selfish one. And worse still it promotes a form of classism, where the poor are demonised and made into scapegoats because they didn't take the adequate steps to reflect the long-term investment that child-rearing is. The fact of the matter is that certain people need help, to begrudge them is absurd and to deny them is both abhorred and a sure way to perpetuate the cycle. It gets to the point where this argument is not about anyone's lifestyle choice but wanting to punish people for doing things they wouldn't do themselves.
As sceptics we are meant to aspire to use our critical thinking faculties, but I think at times this is taken too far. We can forget that our passions are what drive us to use reason in the first place, that voice of impartiality that brings us beyond the subjective and be able to make cases external to the self. Because of that some sceptics shun what it means to be human, taking reason and rationality to the point of abstractness that it misses key points about what it means to be human. Yet reason is what we use because we care and these arguments stem from that fact, and that only serves to reason away what makes life worth living.
"Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." - David Hume