You did not deserve to be born.
Now calm down. Neither did I. Nobody has ever deserved to be born. To paraphrase William Munny, “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
Using the language of justice to talk about births is completely inappropriate and incorrect. Births don’t happen because of any reasons deriving from some kind of grand plan.
The best we can do is that two people tried to make a baby. But oh so often those two people were not actually trying to have a baby and just having sex.
God didn’t want them to have a baby. (Why? There is no god, that’s why)
The Universe didn’t want them to have a baby. (The Universe cannot want things. It does not have the ability to want.)
The vast majority of the people in existence at the time of the pregnancy and birth didn’t want them to have a baby, merely because most people weren’t aware of these two people having sex. (With obvious exceptions in the cases of royalty, in the past, or celebrities.)
Perhaps even some of the people who know these two people didn’t want them to have a baby. (You definitely know someone who you thought would make a horrible parent.)
Moreover, nobody knows who the baby will turn out to be. Nobody can really want the person who will grow up from the baby, because we all have (relative) autonomy and we use this to make both good and bad decisions, few or any of which are predictable.
Let’s take me for example.
I was born in Toronto in 1981 to a mother who was born elsewhere in Ontario. My father was born in another country. My birth satisfied nobody’s grand plan.
I have never asked my parents how long they tried before my mother got pregnant. I have always assumed they were trying to have children – they were married, they were in their thirties – but I have never actually asked them.
So even if a baby was the goal, I, the author of this, could not have been imagined or planned by them. They had no idea who this baby would turn into – they didn’t even know my gender – even if they had some ideas of who they would like their first child to be.
They didn’t know when they had sex when I was conceived that this one particular moment would be the time my mother got pregnant. Just like the times before when sex didn’t produce a pregnancy and the times after when they had sex not knowing that my mother was pregnant. (That was awful, writing that. Ewwww.) And they certainly didn’t know it would produce me.
But my birth is far, far more accidental than this.
My mother was born in Ontario. My father was born four years earlier in New York. A whole bunch of different things had to happen for them to even meet, let alone decide to get married and have children.
The naive interpretation is that “Fate” or some other cosmic force willed their meeting, but this is both utter bullshit and willfully ignorant. There is no cosmic force that willed my parents together, nor was there any other singular force that brought them together.
Rather, it was a series of actions and decisions by them, but also their family and friends and Richard Nixon, among others, which brought them together. (Nixon is not on record as taking credit for my birth, I should point out.) My parents’ relationship was accidental, at least up until when they met and both decided they wanted to pursue a relationship.
And just like my existence is accidental, so is the existence of my parents. A similar web of all sorts of interweaving choices and influences brought my grandparents together. (Minus Richard Nixon, this time, as we he was definitely not President when my grandparents met.)
And we can say the same thing about my great grandparents, all eight of them.
If this is true, how is my birth deserved? How did I, the author of this, deserve to be born, if the whole thing is just a long series of accidents and choices where those involved could never know the outcomes? What possible use is there in describing births as deserved?
The only use is to make us feel better. We all want to be alive. (With the obvious exception of some of the people who try and succeed to kill themselves and maybe also those who think they don’t want to be alive but never actually kill themselves.) We can’t imagine not being alive. We have to come up for some justification for our feelings about being alive instead of being dead or never having been born. (There are many, many permutations of the different person who would have emerged had my parents had successful sex on another night, for example, or had never met because my father never left the US for Canada because of Richard Nixon, and so on.)
We believe we deserved to be born because, if we don’t, we feel like we don’t deserve to be alive.
But we don’t deserve to be alive. We just are alive. That’s it. There’s no reason we’re here. We’re just here because other humans had sex. There’s no merit or justice to it. It just is. Any moral dimension we put on it is purely imaginary.
We can choose to view this fact as very depressing, to ignore it or deny it, as nearly everyone chooses to do.
Or we can view it as a relatively unique opportunity, one not afforded trillions upon trillions of sperm and egg cells.
I am alive. I have an opportunity to live a life that I value.
It doesn’t matter that my birth is undeserved. That’s irrelevant.
There’s another important takeaway from the fact that our births are not deserve. A social one./ And it’s a consequence that most of us struggle with understanding as well.
Because I didn’t didn’t deserve my birth, I also didn’t deserve all the privileges that came with my birth. (Which I still benefit from every day.)
I didn’t earn my gender, height, my hair colour, my skin colour, my citizenship, my upbringing; none of it.
I still have all of those things, but I didn’t deserve or merit them. They don’t have a moral dimension, they just are.
And the same is true for everyone else alive, or who has ever lived or will ever live.
For me, that’s the other very valuable lesson of discovering my birth is undeserved.
Because we use the language of justice to talk about issues of gender and ethnicity and nationality and class. And that’s fine so long as we understand that none of us earned our births or chose the circumstances of our births.
As long as we understand that justice must concern the actions of actual people in the world we are doing the best we can do.
But, way too often, real world justice punishes (or rewards) people relative to circumstances out of their control, such as where, when and to whom they were born.
But that’s nobody’s fault.
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