October 7, 2004

The Cowbird Strategy

Male and Female Cowbirds
Originally uploaded by octopod.
Went to court in Compton a few days ago. Compton's a majority-minority town in LA County famous for its indicted elected officials and schools so horrible the state took them over.

After I'd finished my appearance, I was waiting for the elevator. A middle-aged lady wandered in, saying to herself in a loud voice "Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus!" I don't know what the thanks were for. Perhaps a relative got probation.

Then a short, young-looking fellow came in, dressed in jeans whose legs would clothe an elephant's foot, grousing about having to pay child support. He announced that he was going to buy something or other and sell it for cash, because if he got a job, they'd garnish his wages for the $400 a month he would otherwise have to pay in back child support.

Then he remarked that anyway, he had another baby to support.

So, no doubt, we taxpayers are paying to raise this squirrely little sperm-donor's expanding progeny, who will be raised alone by a young uneducated mother with a crop of half-siblings, and a father who at best shows up every now and then for a hug, a meal, a loan, or a poke.

From a moral perspective, this behavior is disgusting. Parenthood carries with it responsibilities. "Multiply and replenish the earth" means more than "find her, feel her, f*** her and forget her."

From an evolutionary perspective, this behavior resembles that of the cowbird, which lays its eggs in strange nests for other, dumber birds to raise.

From a policy perspective, we should not provide incentives for this kind of conduct. "Snip, snip" on the sperm ducts would seem appropriate, except for the "slippery slope" danger.

There is a buried racial issue here. Let's un-bury it. This kind of behavior is stereotypically associated with the black commuinity, but is by no means confined to it. There are plenty of young white slackers who spead their sperm around with no thought of caring for the result.

The question of marriage is part of this issue. It used to be that young couples whose dalliances resulted in pregnancy were encouraged to marry, the "shotgun wedding." Then the high divorce rate among those who married very young and the availability of AFDC ("welfare") let to an increasing acceptance of single motherhood even among mothers with no education and no private means of support. Proposition: if you have kids, you are obliged to provide for them not merely with money, but with time, love, and attention. It's a corollary of "Multiply, and replenish the earth," and indeed, for the scripturally challenged, of natural moral law.

It may take a village to raise a child, but first it takes parents.

Moreover, to do it right, it takes parents of both sexes. I know a number of divorced women who have found it in their sons' best interest to have them live with their fathers during adolescence.

This is not to say that single parents are doomed to fail in raising children, or should be denied the right to adopt. Plenty of single parents (including me) have done all right. But two responsible parents is ideal.

The little notch-carving slacker sperm-donor in the courthouse hallway is really far from ideal. We are people, and we don't need cowbirds laying their eggs in our nests.

Oh, and thanks to Cornell's fine ornithology site for the bird picture. If you go there you can hear the sounds the birds make, and as much as (or more than) you may want to know about any North American bird species.

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