Birth control is widely available;

That doesn't explain why people choose to have small families. In the Iliad the 50 rooms filled with Priam's sons are a mark of his wealth and power, guaranteeing the success and continuity of his bloodline. They aren't an accident. In developing nations people are proud of their large families and they regard as unfortunate people who only have a few children. Birth control may enable the transition, but it doesn't explain the stark difference in attitude.

Social safety nets (and middle-class wealth) reduce the need for children as someone who feeds you in your old age;

Would you seriously argue that people choose to have children as a reasonably optimal selfish way of guaranteeing that they continue to have enough to eat once they're no longer capable of working?

If you children's chances to survive to adulthood are very high you don't need to give birth to that many;

Why not? It's certainly helps maximize my genetic fitness. In general is an animal discovers a new environment with plentiful resources and no predators it doesn't suddenly decide to have less children, since they now have a higher chance of surviving to adulthood. It certainly doesn't end up with fewer adult children than it had before, but that's exactly the pattern we observe in many developed nations.

Women have attractive alternatives to just being a mother

I'm not sure what the difference is between this statement and "achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status".

The desire for children isn't, in general, a rational one. It is rarely in the rational self-interest of a creature to reproduce. My instinct is that the desire for more/less children is driven more strongly by the selfishness of genes and memes than the selfishness of organisms. Either way, the genetically maladaptive decision to limit reproduction in spite of being able to easily feed larger families is certainly not limited to the LessWrong subculture, however poorly defined that is, but appears to be the social norm in almost all developed nations.

Women have attractive alternatives to just being a mother

I'm not sure what the difference is between this statement and "achievements other than sex and children have become markers of status".

It's like saying that Confederate slaves didn't have any available positions other than being slaves that were high status for themselves.

In a sense it's true, since all positions other than being a slave probably resulted in the slave getting hunted down and shot. Can't get much more low status than that. Alternately, you could say that those don't... (read more)

1Lumifer5yNo, but that explains why that choice exists. Yes, seriously, I find nothing outlandish about this assertion. Why are you so surprised? Because if you're managing the number of your children, you're managing the number of children who'll grow up to adulthood. Clearly, people are interested in more than that and on a very regular basis choose NOT to maximize the spread of their genes. The difference is you're talking solely about status and I'm talking about a much wider context.

Why people want to die

by PhilGoetz 1 min read24th Aug 2015175 comments


Over and over again, someones says that living for a very long time would be a bad thing, and then some futurist tries to persuade them that their reasoning is faulty.  They tell them that they think that way now, but they'll change their minds when they're older.

The thing is, I don't see that happening.  I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully.  When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

Suppose that people mean what they say.  Why do they want to die?

The reason is obvious if you just watch them for a few years.  They have nothing to live for.  They have a great deal of free time, but nothing they really want to do with it.  They like visiting friends and relatives, but only so often.  The women knit.  The men do yardwork.  They both work in their gardens and watch a lot of TV.  This observational sample is much larger than the few people I've asked.

You folks on LessWrong have lots of interests.  You want to understand math, write stories, create start-ups, optimize your lives.

But face it.  You're weird.  And I mean that in a bad way, evolutionarily speaking.  How many of you have kids?

Damn few.  The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive.  It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.  A well-adapted human cares above all about sex, love, family, and friends, and isn't distracted from those things by an ADD-ish fascination with type theory.  That's why they probably have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

Most people do not have open-ended interests the way LWers do.  If they have a hobby, it's something repetitive like fly-fishing or needlepoint that doesn't provide an endless frontier for discovery.  They marry, they have kids, the kids grow up, they have grandkids, and they're done.  If you ask them what the best thing in their life was, they'll say it was having kids.  If you ask if they'd do it again, they'll laugh and say absolutely not.

We could get into a long argument over the evolution of aging, and whether people would remain eager to have kids if they remained physically young.  Maybe some would.  Some would not, though.  Many young parents are looking forward to the day their kids leave.

A lot of interests in life are passing.  You fall in love with a hobby, you learn it, you do it for a few years, then you get tired of it.  The things that were fascinating when you were six hold no magic for you now.  Pick up a toy soldier and try to play with it.  You can't.  Skateboarding seems awesome for about five years, and then everyone except Tony Hawk gets tired of it.

Having kids might be like that for some people.  Thing is, it's literally the only thing humans have evolved to be interested in.  Once you're tired of that, you're done.  If some of you want to keep going, that's an accidental by-product of evolution.  And there was no evolutionary pressure to exempt it from the common waning of interest with long exposure.

The way to convert deathists isn't to argue with them, but to get them interested in something.  Twist them the way you're twisted.