Carter Dillard headshot

“The right to a fair start in life” – Carter Dillard of Fair Start Movement – Sentientism Episode 99

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Carter is Policy Director and Board Member of the Fair Start Movement, an organisation dedicated to giving every child a fair start in life. He is the author of Justice as a Fair Start in Life. Carter began his career as an Honors Program appointee to the U.S. Department of Justice. He later served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the national security law division. He wrote his thesis reformulating the right to have children under Jeremy Waldron, his extensive academic work on family planning has been published by Yale, Duke, and Northwestern Universities, as well as in peer-reviewed pieces.. He has served on the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project and was a Visiting Scholar at the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford. He has taught at several law schools in the U.S., served as a peer reviewer for the journal Bioethics, and most recently managed an animal protection strategic impact litigation program.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

1:21 Carter’s Intro

  • Fair Start Movement: Shifting family planning from prioritising the desires of parents to prioritising the needs of future children
  • Achieving the SDGs
  • A future of 4-6 billion humans vs. 12-14 billion
  • Economic growth & inequity & ecosystem factors
  • The right to a fair start in life

03:54 What’s Real?

  • Naturalistically based civil rights
  • Rejecting the flawed “science” used to justify discrimination
  • Truth & justice
  • “Scientific justifications for the denigrations of non-humans also fell apart under scrutiny”
  • Reading Peter Singer. Applying civil rights lessons to animal rights
  • Exploring the human population issue
  • Suffering, flourishing & relative autonomy
  • Climate/environment limitations on autonomy & flourishing
  • “Science had become god” & a naturalistic family
  • “What we’ve learned about non-human cognition really should embarrass decades & decades of human living as completely unethical”
  • “It’s our children, grandchildren &great-grandchildren that will suffer the most because we’ve failed to respect the non-human world”
  • Nagel’s “View from nowhere”… “we all mutually agree to avoid that pain… that doesn’t require supernatural grounding”
  • Systemic failures in law & early education

14:25 What Matters?

  • Naturalistic ethics
  • Social contract ethics
  • “Would you consent to that?”
  • Child-centric family planning & the conditions of early childhood
  • Naturalistic fallacy
  • Descriptive & normative ethics
  • Suffering & flourishing vs. autonomy & freedom
  • Defining target populations defined qualitatively, not quantitatively, by maximising relative self-determination
  • As groups grow, self-determination reduces & subdivision is required
  • “Being able to look someone else in the eye as an equal” requires welfare, equity, participatory democracy, ecological health
  • Is the individual best placed to assess their wellbeing & decide what to do about that? Hence the importance of freedom
  • Fair Start is a reaction to a mistake “Viewing the act of… having children as an act of self-determination for the parents” vs. considering the child
  • Anti-vaxx & anti-mask ideas that “freedom means doing whatever I want”
  • Instead, freedom is a capacity to act in a “town-hall setting”

28:54 Who Matters?

  • Human civil rights
  • Reading PETA literature, Singer, utilitarianism, reducing suffering
  • Restoring the non-human world
  • Skepticism re: social norms & untruths & power structures
  • A lightbulb moment
  • Veganism & Sentientism
  • “The precautionary principle requires scientists show that they’re not harming a sentient entity”
  • Reverse the anthropocene & our over-run
  • Social utility “Meth is valuable on the open market but it doesn’t mean meth is actually valuable”
  • Children & non-humans as “uniquely vulnerable populations”
  • Joel Feinberg
  • We fail to anticipate the participation of future children in our “functional town hall”

42:52 How Can We Make a Better World?

  • Making children empathetic & small, functional democracies
  • Negative views of humanity. Ecofascism. Antinatalism
  • Trust & fairness enable more compassionate, naturalistic norms
  • Qualitative optimisation, not quantitative maximisation
  • “Our species has to fit into the ecosystem”
  • Would veganism & tech mean we can continue population growth?
  • Do we need more people to drive growth so the worst off can benefit?
  • People value autonomy but aren’t getting it because we’ve over-run
  • “Total utilitarians cannot account for how their system ensures relative self-determination for those people”
  • Dumping as many people as possible into systems then hoping some genius solves the problems created by the dumping
  • “Those people are fuel for a system”
  • The Paradox of democracy (when structures get too big)
  • Fossil fuels were a solution unconstrained by democracy. Now they’re a problem
  • Climate justice & reparations
  • Population decrease. Famine, war, pestilence?
  • Unethical population interventions. Coercion, sterilisation programmes
  • A system that would accept… 11-12-14 billion humans… that’s insane… children might be born in abject poverty… there would be massive inequality… that’s completely inconsistent with the UN’s mandate”
  • “Ensuring children are born in conditions that respect the Children’s Rights Convention”
  • “Nation states want to continue to use children to build economic growth”
  • Julian Simon: “A system of exploitation of the most vulnerable entities: children… that leads to children being born in horrific circumstances”
  • “You have to require equity for children… so you have got to redistribute resources… level the playing field”
  • Incentivising smaller & delayed families
  • Women’s autonomy to have fewer children, later
  • As parents choose whether to have children, doing so with collective confidence they can have a good life
  • Education & development & empowerment reduces birth rates. Is that enough?
  • Religious & nationalistic & economic drives to have more children
  • Parental freedom vs. collective decisions (constraint & control)
  • “The idea that parents creating another person can be done independently is skirting with a major fallacy… there’s no such thing as procreative autonomy”
  • “There is procreative justice & that requires a collective system”
  • “I’m not as hopeful that simply encouraging autonomy will do that”
  • “Even if we have smaller families, lower fertility rates, that doesn’t address the question of children being born into horrific circumstances… that doesn’t address the question of the distinction between rich kids and poor kids…”
  • “It would require radical change… moving from subjective parental standards to child objective standards.”
  • “If we’re not willing to give children what they need I’m not sure we’re in a position to be parenting in the first place”
  • “The act of creating is inherently interpersonal – it’s not personal”
  • Hoping we can avoid coercion (e.g. China’s 1 child policy)
  • The analogy to limits on free speech. People accept social norms & laws that constrain them
  • “The problem is that the UN & states have imposed this concept of procreative autonomy… [against UDHR commitments for future children]… they saw growth as an opportunity”
  • “There are inherent limits to the right [to procreation]”
  • Nudges, tax policy, education… “ lists dozens of interventions… that don’t look like the jackbooted state coming in… what those interventions do is actually ensure freedom”
  • Children born into poverty or abusive situations or a climate crisis aren’t free
  • “Much as the same way masks & vaccines maximise freedom – we do the same thing when it comes to having children”
  • “We’re pushing against a tide of growth created by the UN & nation states that wanted to exploit people… as a resource”
  • “Look at Japan… doing better than countries who are in the tumult of unsustainable growth”
  • Would slowing population growth improve attitudes to migration? “If we think the freedom to travel & associate is a human right…”
  • Colonialisation & climate change
  • “The crisis we’re living in today… the result of the population policies of the past… what mistakes were made & why we’re continuing to make them”
  • Settling other planets/galaxies when we’re ready? “If we were in a position to do so in a democratic, relatively self-determining way then I wouldn’t have much of an argument against it.”

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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