Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 30, 2012

X is Good != You Must Do X

I've been thinking about the tendency of discussions about lifestyle choices to turn radioactive. You know: homeschooling, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, eating organic, 'sustainable' living, stay-at-home moms, NFP vs. providentialism, marrying young, etc.

One reason discussions on these topics almost invariably become fraught is that they're highly personal, but I think the big issue lurking behind this is that when someone makes an argument that "homeschooling is good" or "there are lots of good reasons to homeschool" we invariably read it as, "everyone should homeschool, and if you don't you're a bad parent."

Now, this impression is not unfounded. You can certainly find advocates of all the above topics who believe that everyone should live the way they do. However, most advocates would not go that far. They might think that more people should emulate their choices, because those choices are very good, but they would, if pressed, acknowledge that doing otherwise can be the best thing in certain situations.

Nevertheless, people tend to make the jump from "X is good" to "You must do X" and respond accordingly. I wonder if perhaps part of the reason is that we're inverting the thought process "X is bad, therefore you should not do X". It does not follow that because we must not do any things that are wrong, we must do all things that are right, but the symmetry is appealing.

Rather, it seems to me there are three categories we should consider (though not all actions will fall in one of these three):

1) Things that are wrong -- you should not do these

2) Things that are good, but not obligatory

3) Things that are good and are obligatory

Now, obviously, even if we posit that some action or lifestyle falls into 2), there's a lot of room to argue about why it's good, whether it really is good, how good it is, when it might be useful as opposed to not, etc. But at least we're clear that it's not something belonging to category 3), as in something that's obligatory.

But wait a minute: if we're classifying these sorts of activities in category 2) as "good but not obligatory", doesn't that put us back right where we started? Aren't people who don't do some good thing less good than people who do?

Not if we think about it clearly. First off, just because something is a good, does not necessarily mean that it is good in all circumstances. Secondly, we often have to choose between goods, because we simply can't do everything.

So, on the side of those arguing for a good, it's probably wise to be aware of whether you're talking about something which is a good but non-obligatory thing, or a good and obligatory thing.

And for those who see or hear someone else arguing that something is good, keep in mind that even if they are right, and what they're arguing for is good, that that does not necessarily mean you are bad (or even less good) if you don't do likewise.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Contraceptive Mentality: 19th Century Style

Anna Karenina has been my latest commuter literature, as I may have mentioned before, and this morning I hit this passage, which struck me because of all the discussion of "contraceptive mentality" which has been going on in local Catholic blog circles lately.

There's a tendency, at times, to think of our modern age as particularly afflicted while projecting onto the past a warm glow of wholesomeness. This is fairly natural. We know our own age up close and are much aware of all its faults. The past we encounter mostly through books, and it's easy to note the aspects we like without thinking so much of the rest.

What particularly struck me here is that this is a set of attitudes towards childbearing which sounds almost brutal now. After all, one of the things that makes the "contraceptive mentality" so attractive is that by rendering sex sterile, people can escape the unpleasant feeling of not liking "real" children. Either their conception can be avoided in the first place, or they can be aborted while they're "just a blob of cells". But in Russia circa 1870, we get this line of thinking out of Darya Alexandrovna (Dolly), a doting but often flustered mother, with a wandering husband and flagging strength:
At home, looking after her children, she had no time to think. So now, after this journey of four hours, all the thoughts she had suppressed before rushed swarming into her brain, and she thought over all her life as she never had before, and from the most different points of view. Her thoughts seemed strange even to herself. At first she thought about the children, about whom she was uneasy, although the princess and Kitty (she reckoned more upon her) had promised to look after them. ‘If only Masha does not begin her naughty tricks, if Grisha isn’t kicked by a horse, and Lily’s stomach isn’t upset again!’ she thought. But these questions of the present were succeeded by questions of the immediate future. She began thinking how she had to get a new flat in Moscow for the coming winter, to renew the drawing room furniture, and to make her elder girl a cloak. Then questions of the more remote future occurred to her: how she was to place her children in the world. ‘The girls are all right,’ she thought; ‘but the boys?’

‘It’s very well that I’m teaching Grisha, but of course that’s only because I am free myself now, I’m not with child. Stiva, of course, there’s no counting on. And with the help of good-natured friends I can bring them up; but if there’s another baby coming?...’ And the thought struck her how untruly it was said that the curse laid on woman
was that in sorrow she should bring forth children.

‘The birth itself, that’s nothing; but the months of carrying the child—that’s what’s so intolerable,’ she thought, picturing to herself her last pregnancy, and the death of the last baby. And she recalled the conversation she had just had with the young woman at the inn. On being asked whether she had any children, the handsome young woman had answered cheerfully:

‘I had a girl baby, but God set me free; I buried her last Lent.’

‘Well, did you grieve very much for her?’ asked Darya Alexandrovna.

‘Why grieve? The old man has grandchildren enough as it is. It was only a trouble. No working, nor nothing. Only a tie.’

This answer had struck Darya Alexandrovna as revolting in spite of the good-natured and pleasing face of the young woman; but now she could not help recalling these words. In those cynical words there was indeed a grain of truth.

‘Yes, altogether,’ thought Darya Alexandrovna, looking back over her whole existence during those fifteen years of her married life, ‘pregnancy, sickness, mental incapacity,indifference to everything, and most of all—hideousness. Kitty, young and pretty as she is, even Kitty has lost her looks; and I when I’m with child become hideous, I know it. The birth, the agony, the hideous agonies, that last moment...then the nursing, the sleepless nights, the fearful pains...’

Darya Alexandrovna shuddered at the mere recollection of the pain from sore breasts which she had suffered with almost every child. ‘Then the children’s illnesses, that everlasting apprehension; then bringing them up; evil propensities’ (she thought of little Masha’s crime among the raspberries), ‘education, Latin—it’s all so incomprehensible and difficult. And on the top of it all, the death of these children.’ And there rose again before her imagination the cruel memory, that always tore her mother’s heart, of the death of her last little baby, who had died of croup; his funeral, the callous indifference of all at the little pink coffin, and her own torn heart, and her lonely anguish at the sight of the pale little brow with its projecting temples, and the open, wondering little mouth seen in the coffin at the moment when it was being covered with the little pink lid with a cross braided on it.

‘And all this, what’s it for? What is to come of it all? That I’m wasting my life, never having a moment’s peace, either with child, or nursing a child, forever irritable, peevish, wretched myself and worrying others, repulsive to my husband, while the children are growing up unhappy, badly educated, and penniless. Even now, if it weren’t for spending the summer at the Levins’, I don’t know how we should be managing to live. Of course Kostya and Kitty have so much tact that we don’t feel it; but it can’t go on. They’ll have children, they won’t be able to keep us; it’s a drag on them as it is. How is papa, who has hardly anything left for himself, to help us? So that I can’t even bring the children up by myself, and may find it hard with the help of other people, at the cost of humiliation. Why, even if we suppose the greatest good luck, that the children don’t die, and I bring them up somehow. At the very best they’ll simply be decent people. That’s all I can hope for. And to gain simply that—what agonies, what toil!... One’s whole life ruined!’ Again she recalled what the young peasant woman had said, and again she was revolted at the thought; but she could not help admitting that there was a grain of brutal truth in the words.

UPDATE (based on some discussion with a friend, it struck me I should try to complete my thought process here a bit):

I think too often those of us who believe that contraception is wrong make an inappropriate leap into assuming that contraception came in and disrupted some idyllic situation in which families were huge and loving and every child was welcomed. But of course, that isn't the case. The reason why people adopted contraception so eagerly is because it seemed to be a solution to very real problems that made women and marriages miserable. Dolly (who really is an affectionate mother and wife, but who has a shallow and chronically unfaithful husband) is at the same time terrified of getting pregnant (which makes her unattractive to her husband, takes a toll on her body, and leaves her unable to cope well with the children which her husband is often happy to leave to her and the servants) and at the same time probably fears that her physical distance from her husband is one of the things that causes him to always be out chasing other women. And so she finds herself hating her fertility, and fearing motherhood, because it seems like it puts her in the place of denying her husband the one thing that might keep him around more. Now, does this mean that putting Dolly on the pill would have solved all her problems and made her marriage good? No. Her marriage is simply bad. Her husband would probably still cheat on her even if she were more available to him -- that's just how he is. She's in a terrible situation. It's probably a toss up whether contraception would really have helped her or not. But, it's completely obvious why if someone had offered her the seeming assurance of the pill, it would have seemed like a godsend to her.

In an odd sense, hearing this voice out of the past is a bit reassuring. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we, even if we stand in opposition to some elements of the culture, are still prisoners of it, and that when we find ourselves conflicted about these issues, that it is in some sense giving in. Really, though, "the contraceptive mentality" is simply the modern version of a conflict which has always existed for us in our fallen world and which will continue to exist as long as we do. It's hard to live by the limitations of what we are. So no, when we find these things hard, it's not because we've given in and been taken over by some spirit of the age. We're simply struggling with the same issues that people have always struggled with in marriages throughout history.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Californians

I just don't have that much to say this week that doesn't relate to painting my bathroom, but here: I think I will never stop laughing at this:


A) People who live in California DO talk about driving like this.
B) "You have cancer. But don't even worry about it!"
C) Bill Hader totally cracks up in this sketch, which makes it so much funnier.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Has Rome Overreacted to the LCRW?

So, you think you're a calm and balanced guy, and you read all these news stories about how the nuns are just "stunned" that Rome would investigate them. I mean, "stunned". How could the mean old Vatican investigate nuns?

Well, Thomas L. McDonald of God and the Machine gives us a little bit of an idea. He takes a look at the upcoming LCWR Assembly 2012 (to be held in August), and notes the keynote topic: "Mystery Unfolding: Leading in the Evolutionary Now" which will be delivered by Barbara Marx Hubbard. He takes a look at Barbara Marx Hubbard's site and finds the following:
It has become obvious that a creative minority of humanity is undergoing a profound inner mutation or transformation. Evolutionary ideas are not only serving to make sense of this change, but also acting to catalyze the potential within us to transform. (Thought creates; specific thought creates specifically.)

It is the planetary crisis into which we were born that is awakening our sleeping potential for transformation. Planet Earth has given birth to a species capable of choosing whether to consciously evolve ourselves and our social forms, or to continue the course we have set toward our own extinction. And the choice is clear.

All great spiritual paths lead us to this threshold of our own consciousness, but none can guide us across the great divide — from the creature human to the cocreative human. None can guide us in managing the vast new powers given us by science and technology. None of us have been there yet.

What we can envision

The enriched noosphere, the thinking layer of Earth, is now replete with evolutionary technologies that can transform the material world. Within the next 30 to 50 years, we could transform our physical bodies, our minds, our social structures, and set in motion the emergence of a new civilization.

Science: It is said that the power of quantum computing may increase exponentially in the next 50 years bordering on silicon-based life. At the same time biologists studying aging, cloning, and stem cells tell us we may reverse aging and gain a sort of immortality. One scientist writes, “We may live 600 years and only die by accident.”

Moving deeply into the nature of matter, students of zero point energy believe that we can tap into and use the infinite sea of energy that underlies everything. Furthermore, with nanotechnology we can build as nature does—atom by atom.

Expanding beyond the earth itself, space engineers envision the formation of an extraterrestrial sphere, much as hundreds of millions of years ago the biosphere was formed. We can live in an integrated Earth/Space environment restoring the Earth, freeing ourselves from hunger and poverty, exploring the vast untapped potential of human cocreativity.

Social systems: As we shift from maximum procreation to cocreation, the Feminine would be liberated from its restrictive roles, as men and women cocreate in a balanced way for the good of the larger human family. The Masculine would be released from its long-standing roles of patriarch and protector to discover the peace and ease of true relationship and cocreation.

Patterns of unification are set in motion already, as nonprofit, corporate, and governmental alliances are built around countless initiatives. Those that are successful are already witnessing the melting of borders and boundaries that have prevented successful compromise and negotiation in the past. Political events, like the fall of the Berlin wall, are foreshadowing the possibility of unification around the globe, and creating the hope that seemingly insurmountable problems may find yet find solutions.

Spiritual grounding: Jesus said, “These and even greater works shall you do.” We may actually be on the threshold of those abilities that Christ was able to do and that He foresaw as possibilities for us all. Specifically, the ability to use conscious intent, perhaps in conjunction with scientific and technological capacities, will allow us to create bodies sensitive to thought. We may find ourselves transforming the human body from its physical, animal, degenerating phase to a regenerating and evolving phase.

This capability would be the fulfillment of the words of St. Paul: “Behold I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound. This corruptible will become incorruptible. This mortal will put on immortality and death shall be swallowed up in victory.”

This would also be the emergence of what Alan Lithman calls, psyche materialis, and what the Bible calls, Adam of the quickening Spirit. [And so it was written: the first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45).]

Sri Aurobindo named the human being with this ability, the gnostic being; Teilhard de Chardin called it the ultra person; and I have selected the name, universal human and universal humanity. This type of human is a quantum jump beyond the species Homo sapiens. It is a new species that is incubating in millions now.

This is a Naissance; this is new for Earth — but it is not new for the universe. The name universal human is good because it connotes the reality that we are entering the phase of universal life.

Although we may never know what really happened, we do know that the story told in the Gospels is that Jesus’ resurrection was a first demonstration of what I call the post-human universal person. We are told that he did not die. He made his transition, released his animal body, and reappeared in a new body at the next level of physicality to tell all of us that we would do what he did. The new person that he became had continuity of consciousness with his life as Jesus of Nazareth, an earthly life in which he had become fully human and fully divine. Jesus' life stands as a model of the transition from Homo sapiens to Homo universalis.


Now millions of earthly humans from every spiritual tradition, from many social movements and scientific lineages of human inquiry, are evolving to the stage at which they recognize their soul, their higher self. They are becoming willing, even passionately desire, to be one with that Self. And as a critical mass of humans evolving toward their new capacities arise, humanity will undergo an unprecedented shifting in our entire way of being on this planet.

We are the generations born into this moment in history. Our powers are immense. We can destroy the earth as we know it, or alternatively, transform the material and societal limits of human life. We or our children may actually live to experience either the destruction of our life support systems (with unimaginable consequences for billions of people), or the literal transformation of our bodies from creature human life cycle to cocreative human life cycle. The choice is ours. [emphasis added]
That is what I would call some crazy-ass shit. But Thomas McDonald is classier, so he says "that’s not merely crazy: that’s weapons-grade crazy". I concur.

So. Is Rome over-reacting in thinking that there may be a few screws loose over at the LCWR? Nope. Not a bit.

Not Many Like Us

There are no more seats in the van. We bought it six years ago, when our third was an infant, and it seemed to have unimaginable amounts of room, as well as really cool seats that fold down flat into the floor. We loved it. We still like it well enough, but now every seat is full: seven seats, two adults, five kids. No room. That in and of itself can be a little frustrating. If we want to bring one of MrsDarwin's siblings or parents on a trip, we need to bring two vehicles. And with the smallest one getting close to two, you have to figure that one of these days... (And as for fighting in the back seat, it is never ending.)

So I found myself starting to look at full size vans the other day. Sure, there is the Suburban which has six seats in the back, and so do some minivans, but if I'm going to have to replace our van, I don't want to be out of room again as soon as we add one more. It's time for a full size. And I have to admit that I'm dreading it a bit. I prefer small cars. Preferably small fast cars, though you wouldn't know it from the cars I actually own at the moment. And a full size van is neither small nor fast.

Nor, I find, are they primarily marketed to consumers. They're primarily marketed to businesses. The answer, it turns out, is easily found in the handy "how many families are like yours" calculator that was being passed around last year.

This informs me that there are 205,172 households in the US consisting of a married couple and five children under 18. 0.18% of US households. Ah, but we still fit in our van. When we outgrow the van (I suppose I should say if, for one never knows, though it seems highly likely to happen eventually) we will enter an even smaller demographic: 58,747 households consisting of a married couple and six children under 18. 0.05% of US households. I'm told that the full size van market in the US over the last decade averages a little over 200,000 new vehicles sold per year, so it's pretty obvious that most customers are businesses, not families.

Maybe if we change our name to Hyatt or Marriott we could get a van with our name on it?

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Living Example

Brett Salkeld has a post up about the witness of simply having children (and particularly, more than the "nice , neat family of precisely two children").
I had taken my three children out for a walk for the first time – Daisy is brand new – and met a family of precisely two. Their youngest was a little younger than my second. A lovely family, they just couldn’t imagine how we did it. A family of five in a little two-bedroom apartment downtown. Even in their big house in the burbs they couldn’t imagine where they’d put another baby. And the lack of sleep! No, they couldn’t have another one, even if it would be nice.

Daisy sure is crying a lot though.

Is she hungry?

No, she just ate. It’s probably digestion.

Maybe I could get her to stop?

Be my guest.

Mom held Daisy for a long time. Then, Dad. He’s the expert at this, after all. Maybe he can get her to stop. Then Mom again. They could not put her down. It’s really too bad we can’t have another. Really too bad.

Here’s the thing. We can’t imagine how we’re doing it either. Our heads are barely above water. Sometimes we order pizza to avoid dishes and sometimes we put on the cartoons and have a nap. But we’ll get there. People have been having more than two kids for a long time.

In other news, a family in the neighbourhood recently told us they’re expecting number 2. Number 1 is still home in China with relatives and they miss him terribly, and this pregnancy wasn’t planned. They had scheduled the abortion, in fact (“We’re not religious, you understand.”), but cancelled at the last second. They’re scared, but excited.

We see you out with your kids all the time. They look like so much fun. How do you do it?

I have no idea. But you’re right, it is fun. You’ll never regret having your baby.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Greatest Hits

As Blogger forces me, at last, into it's "upgraded" interface, I find myself poking around at some of the newer features that I'd never used before. One of these is the expanded stats page which, among other things, allows you to see which of your posts have received the most visits during a period of time, or for the life of the stats database (which is back to May '09).

Looking at our own top-ten provides a few obvious choices, but also some quirky ones that show what Google has liked on DarwinCatholic over the years, or perhaps even how we've been useful to people. So, here's the Top Ten list for DarwinCatholic:

1) How Far Can We Go? -- MrsDarwin's review of Brett Salkeld & Leah Perrault's book on chastity and dating was picked up by several of the major portals and has had four times as many visitors as the next runner up.

2) How to Marry a Nice Girl -- the most recent post on the list, driven by link-back from the manosphere

3) African Rift Likely to Form New Ocean -- A quick science news post from the summer of 2010 which has drawn 2300+ visits thanks to Google.

4) Income Inequality: 1945 Edition -- I really have no idea why this wonkish dive into the finances of the characters in The Best Years of Our Lives has drawn so many readers in the last couple months, though it is certainly a worthwhile movie to watch.

5) A Frank Breech of Trust, revisited -- MrsDarwin's discussion of having a breech baby turned at 37 weeks has consistently drawn Google visitors over the years

6) The Vatican's Rifles -- The traffic drawn by this discussion of the only battle rifle ever commissioned specifically for the papal army demonstrates that if you write about something quirky enough, you can be an expert.

7) Poverty and Abortion: A New Analysis -- I was always pleased by this statistical analysis, and it seems Google is as well.

8) The Unmanly Bitterness of the Manosphere -- Argue with heavily traffic websites, end up with traffic.

9) Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 1) -- I'm not sure why it's specifically the first of this four parter that gets the most hits, but it was some writing I remain quite proud of.

10) The Magical Mystery Glock -- My discussion of the myths surrounding the Glock handgun also seems to be a persistent Google draw, and that makes two gun posts in the top ten, which isn't bad. Why no alcohol posts?

Surfing with Mel

Oh, Lickona. Only you would be awesome enough to write a meta-screenplay about a meta-screenplay about Mel Gibson dealing with his angst against the Catholic Church (and everything else).

Open on a long shot of Mel’s Malibu estate. We hear sounds of sobbing, screaming, stuff getting broken, a marked contrast to the serene, Mediterranean splendor of the vista. 
MEL (Voice Over): The Catholic Church is not a big fancy church in Rome paid for by people trying to buy their way into heaven. It’s not a guy in a funny hat telling people who they’re allowed to screw and how they’re allowed to screw them. It’s not even weeping, bloody Jesus on the cross – I should know, I made a movie about him. 
As the voiceover progresses, we cut to a mid-range shot of a private chapel on the estate. It’s a gorgeous little building. Suddenly, one of the stained-glass windows shatters from the inside, and we hear, clearly, Gibson bellowing from within. 
MEL (Voice Over): No, the Catholic Church is rehab. It’s a halfway house for people who are just smart enough to know they’re f-cked up, and just dumb enough to hope there’s something that can be done about it short of getting their own sh-t together or blowing their brains out. They know they can’t make it out in the world on their own, so they come here for support. Meetings on Sunday. There’s rules posted by the door, but nobody really checks to make sure you’re in compliance. 
As voiceover progresses, cut to interior of chapel. Gibson is inside, and he’s tearing the place apart. Pews are upended. Light fixtures shattered. The crucifix has been torn off the wall behind the altar. Now Gibson is wielding a huge monstrance like a bat, breaking windows and smashing statues. We come on the scene just as he winds up on a statue depicting Mary – one that looks just like the Mary from The Passion of the Christ. With a guttural cry of anguish, he swings and smashes her head.
MEL (Voice Over): You meet a lot of people inside. Some are on their way up, some on their way down. Some are lifers, and some walk in one day with their eyes shining like they’ve just found Jesus or something. Others have tried to move out and go it alone, only to wind up back inside. That’s how it was for Joe and me. Maybe that’s why I thought we could work together.  
Panting, heaving, Gibson stops his rampage and surveys the damage, simultaneously thrilled and horrified at what he’s done. He pauses to look at the monstrance, which still amazingly, contains the Host. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Welcome, First Things Readers

Thanks to Clare Coffey for linking to us in her post commenting on the stay-at-home motherhood fracas.

With that said, it seems to me that we do women no favors when we conflate childcare and motherhood. Motherhood isn’t a job–it’s a vocation and an identity. Stay at homes are not “full-time moms” any more than women who work outside the home–as if breadwinning fathers were “part-time dads.” Fulltime childcare, especially as it’s usually combined with housekeeping, however, is a job–is hard, demanding, work. And the sooner we stop fetishizing it as the core of what it means to be a mother and a woman, as some sort of sacred, higher, path for the female sex, the sooner we will see it for what it really is: difficult, necessary, and honorable work whose workers deserve dignified and decent working conditions.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. –G.K. Chesterton

I appreciate Chesterton’s thought, but rhetoric like this seems to imply that childcare is one long, exhausting, ecstasy of creative energy and emotional fulfillment. A woman needs no other identity or outlet: motherhood, or at least the Victorian ideal of motherhood predicated on rapt and constant communion between mother and child, is all in all.

Our cult of motherhood demands human sacrifice—hence the constant need for, and glorification of, victimhood (interestingly, in my experience especially by women privileged enough to pay me for childcare while they work neither for pay nor passion). I see women at the playground who look like zombies–completely exhausted, frazzled by the demands of their children, clad in dirty and ill-fitting clothing, constantly interrupted in what may be their only adult interactions till the Mr. gets home by the requests and complaints of their children. “Men just don’t understand,” they say. “It’s all part of being a mom.”

My experience of my life, and of my own personhood, is one of continuity. Motherhood has intensified certain of my tendencies, exacerbated some traits, and ameliorated others. But it has not fundamentally altered who I am or thrown some bright line across the continuum of my life. Being married and having children has been a rich and demanding phase of my existence and has defined much of my experience for the past ten years, but those aspects of my life are not the totality of it.

In fact, I feel most broadened when I branch out into new ventures not connected specifically to being a mother, because those are the experiences that round me out as a person. Can I tell you how exhilarating it was to run a 5K last year? Or to complete National Novel Writing Month in November despite having a death in the family and no heat in the house? My family wasn't absent from these ventures -- indeed, I relied on their encouragement and support, as always -- but they were ventures in which we interacted as people who loved each other as family.

My children, at their current ages, tend to view me as "Mom". That's my primary function to them, and that's okay. But I hope as they grow older, our relationship will deepen (as have my family relationships) to the point where they relate to me as a person who loves them as a mother. "Motherhood" may be an archetype, but every mother is a person. Just as trinitarian nature of God reveals that he is too full to be contained just in the roles of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, so motherhood is only one aspect of femininity, not its end.

Something Completely Different

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm kind of over all the discussion of marriage, sex, men, and women. So I went looking for some Mitchell and Webb to post, but these were the only ones I could find that were clean enough to post.

And don't comment to me about marriage, sex, men, or women.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

NFP: Not Just Natural Birth Control

If you think you've found the key to a better life, the most natural thing in the world is to want to rush out and convince everyone else to do likewise. We want to shout from the rooftops, "Hey! Better life to be found here! You can too!" As someone who finds significant meaning and happiness in the Catholic understanding of sexuality and prohibition of contraception, this view (and the approach to natural family planning that springs from it) is indeed something that I think other need to hear -- but as a result it's doubly frustrating when it seems like it's being "sold" wrong.

This is why my teeth went a little on edge when I ran into what ought to have been a very encouraging article to see in the Washington Post detailing the efforts of young and faithful Catholic women to re-explain the Church's teachings on contraception to the modern world. Here's the section that threw me off:
Yet the images the church uses to promote its own method of birth control freaked her out. Pamphlets for what the church calls natural family planning feature photos of babies galore. A church-sponsored class on the method uses a book with a woman on the cover, smiling as she balances a grocery bag on one hip, a baby on the other.

“My guess is 99 out of 100 21st-century women trying to navigate the decision about contraception would see that cover and run for the hills,” McGuire wrote in a post on her blog, Altcatholicah, which is aimed at Catholic women.

McGuire, 26, of Alexandria is part of a movement of younger, religiously conservative Catholic women who are trying to rebrand an often-ignored church teaching: its ban on birth control methods such as the Pill. Arguing that church theology has been poorly explained and encouraged, they want to shift the image of a traditional Catholic woman from one at home with children to one with a great, communicative sex life, a chemical-free body and babies only when the parents think the time is right.
Now, before I go any further, let me say that my limited experience of dealing with interviews is that what you say and the way you come off in the article are often very, very different. So I don't want to suggest that McGuire was misrepresenting NFP. It may well be that the WaPo writer talked to her for a long time, wrote up the article in good faith, yet ended up infusing it with an attitude that's just -- off.  (And indeed, I see that Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary (quoted elsewhere in the article) feels like what came across in the article is not exactly what she was trying to convey.)

That said, I think the message that the article conveys is problematic in that it simply doesn't reflect all that accurately what it's like using NFP, and when your advertising message doesn't fit the reality of your "product", user dissatisfaction is sure to follow. Emily Stimpson covers this well in a post titled Truth in Adverstising:
Let me be clear: I think it’s all sorts of great when young, attractive, faithful women talk to The Washington Post about contraception and NFP. And I totally get the importance of marketing and branding in this media age. We want people to know that NFP is not your grandmother’s rhythm method: It actually works. Nor is it your mother’s birth control pill: It doesn’t give you cancer or diminish your sex drive.

So what unsettles me?

Me, I guess. Me and my 11:45 a.m. battle with the brownie.

Like passing up turtle brownies, NFP requires self-control, temperance, and prudence. Only, it requires a heck of a lot more of each—more self-control, more temperance, more prudence, plus a ready knowledge of how to make chastity within marriage work. (I may be single, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that. Besides, I live in Steubenville, and my girlfriends talk about NFP as much as my sister’s friends talk about “Jersey Shore.” So…a lot.)

Regardless, temperance, prudence, and chastity aren’t virtues most people possess in spades anymore. Our culture, where instant gratification and over-indulgence are the norm, has seen to that.

At the same time, rejecting contraception in general requires trust—trust in God’s will and God’s provision. It requires generosity—a willingness to put others needs before our own. It requires a spirit of poverty—detachment from the extras our culture says are essentials. And it requires a heart that delights in pictures of fat smiling babies, that believes babies are precious gifts from God, not a reason to run for the hills.

Basically, it requires that we be everything our culture has programmed us not to be. That’s why NFP is a challenge for the most faithful couples I know, let alone those decidedly less faithful. Few are able to use it to space births with the same precision the manuals promise. Not because the methods don’t work. But rather because wills are weak and temptation is tempting. If a tiny tasty brownie can almost fell us, what can love and desire do?

Does that make NFP impossible or unrealistic? Of course not. Nevertheless, we should remain realistic about the fruit better branding can yield. We also should be realistic as we go about that branding.

No matter how savvy our marketing may be, NFP will remain a radical, counter-cultural choice, at least for the foreseeable future, because it asks…no, it demands that we reject our cultural programming and embrace a different way of thinking. Not simply about sex, but about everything: children, family, marriage, finances, work, God, desire, love, life’s purpose, life’s meaning, human freedom, the Divine Will, suffering, sacrifice. Again, everything.

NFP is not Catholic birth control. It’s the Catholic world view…lived out in the bedroom. [emphasis added]
The corrective is not some sort of bitter, "Oh I hate NFP. We can never have sex when we want to, half our kids were 'unplanned' and I never even feel like it during the infertile times, but it builds character, dammit, and it's about time people learned that marriage isn't all about self indulgence." That's not going to win any converts, and unless you allow yourself to be completely taken over by resentment (at which point people are able to make even unloading the dishwasher into some sort of Bataan death march of marital suffering) it's not even true. But living the NFP lifestyle -- which can be most briefly summed up as understanding that if one doesn't want to get pregnant at the moment, one is going to have to not have sex on some occasions when one would really like to -- takes effort and commitment. If you go into it with the idea, "all I want is to not have a baby right now" or even "all I want to do is control my fertility without using chemicals" it's going to seem pretty onerous.

With a difficult and commitment heavy process, success and satisfaction depend on actually learning to embrace the process itself, not just the goals. The people I know who look seriously fit are not the ones who hate exercising and eating well, but like to look good and so struggle through. Almost no one is able to put that much consistent effort into something he doesn't actually want to do. Success in that area comes from finding an athletic activity one can like and working up to the point where one actually wants to engage in it. That doesn't mean it isn't hard. But it's something hard that you want to do.

Using NFP is rewarding. It trains spouses into greater consideration for each other, a more communicative and other-focused sexuality, and a greater appreciation of the way that their love for each other ties intimately together with their parenthood. But it's no more a natural form of birth control than picking up a loaf of "organic" bread at Wal-Mart is the same as farming.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Who Survived The Titanic: A Story of Chivalry Not Class

There's something about the magnitude and timing of the sinking of the Titanic that makes it almost irresistible for people to turn it into a sort of fable. The sinking of the "unsinkable" ship, the largest ship of its kind built up to that time, seems like a perfect example of hubris, and the fact that the wreck occurred just two years before the outbreak of the Great War (which perhaps more than any event defines the beginning of "Modern Times") allows the Titanic to serve as a symbol of all that was bad and good about the world before the world before the War.

One of the things that most people are pretty sure they know about the sinking of the Titanic is that many of the first class passengers survived while those traveling third class were kept below decks and perished in far greater numbers. This fits well with the image of rigid class stratification in the pre-War years.

It is certainly true that a much greater percentage of third class passengers died in the sinking than first and second class passengers, however, the images popularized by James Cameron's movie of third class passengers being locked below decks by the viciously classist crew appear to be fiction. The question of whether third class passengers were actively kept from the lifeboats was examined during Lord Mersey's official investigation of the wreck and his conclusions were as follows:
"It has been suggested before the Enquiry that the third-class passengers had been unfairly treated; that their access to the boat deck had been impeded; and that when at last they reached that deck the first and second-class passengers were given precedence in getting places in the boats. There appears to have been no truth in these suggestions. It is no doubt true that the proportion of third-class passengers saved falls far short of the proportion of the first and second class, but this is accounted for by the greater reluctance of the third-class passengers to leave the ship, by their unwillingness to part with their baggage, by the difficulty in getting them up from their quarters, which were at the extreme ends of the ship, and by other similar causes. The interests of the relatives of some of the third-class passengers who had perished were in the hands of Mr. Harbinson, who attended the Enquiry on their behalf. He said at the end of his address to the court: 'I wish to say distinctly that no evidence has been given in the course of this case which would substantiate a charge that any attempt was made to keep back the third-class passengers ... I desire further to say that there is no evidence that when they did reach the boat deck there was any discrimination practiced either by the officers or by the sailors in putting them into the boats.'

"I am satisfied that the explanation of the excessive proportion lost is not to be found in the suggestion that the third-class passengers were in any way unfairly treated. They were not unfairly treated."
The biggest predictor of who survived and who drowned on the Titanic was age and sex. 74.35% of women survived, across all classes, 52.29% children survived, and only 20% of men survived. This site provides a stark graph which shows the survival rates by class, sex and age.

As you can see, a greater percentage of third class women and children survived than first class men. This was not by accident. In accordance with the Victorian ideal of protecting "women and children first" when a ship was sinking (a practice made famous by the wreck of the HMS Birkenhead), Captain Smith had ordered that women and children be loaded on the lifeboats first. There were not enough lifeboats on the Titanic to save all the passengers and crew (this was common at the time). The lifeboats were rated to carry a total of 1178 people, while there were some 2227 people on the ship (908 crew and 1319 passengers). In theory, this means that following Captain Smith's orders, it should have been possible to save all the women and children on board (534 total) plus an even greater number of men. However, in the early stages of boat loading, many passengers were unwilling to leave the apparently steady ship for the tiny boats, and some officers took a strict view that no men should be allowed onto lifeboats until all women and children were evacuated. The result was that many of the earlier lifeboats were not actually full when launched.

The sense in which chivalry took precedence over class is exemplified by the accounts of American millionaire Colonel John Jacob Astor IV's last hours:
When Second Officer Charles Lightoller arrived on A Deck to finish loading Lifeboat 4, Astor helped his wife with her maid and nurse into it. Astor then asked if he might join his wife because she was in 'a delicate condition'; however, Lightoller told him that men were not to be allowed to enter until all the women and children had been loaded. Astor stood back and simply asked Lightoller for the boat number. The lifeboat was lowered at 1:55 am and Astor stood alone while others tried to free the remaining collapsible boats; he was last seen on the starboard bridge wing, smoking a cigarette with Jacques Futrelle. A half hour later, the ship disappeared beneath the water. Madeleine, her nurse, and her maid survived. Astor and his valet, Victor Robbins, did not.
Louis Garrett's eyewitness account stated: “What a sight! Most of the lifeboats were gone. The crew was permitting women and children only to board the lifeboats—there were not enough for everyone. We saw women crying, not wanting to leave their husbands; husbands begging their wives and children to hurry and get into the lifeboats. Amid this complete pandemonium and mass hysteria stood my sister and I, two immigrant children, unable to speak English, frightened beyond belief, crying and looking for help. The last lifeboat was being loaded. A middle-aged gentleman was with his very young, pregnant wife. He helped her into the lifeboat, then looked back to the deck and saw others wanting to get aboard. He kissed his wife good-bye, and, returning to the deck, grabbed the first person in his path. Fortunately, I was there in the right place at the right time and he put me into the lifeboat. I screamed for my sister who had frozen from fright. With the help of others, she also was pushed into the lifeboat. Who was the gallant man who performed this kind act? We were told he was John Jacob Astor IV. At that time he was 45 years old and his wife, Madeleine, was 19. They were traveling to the United States because they wanted their child to be born there. Many newspaper stories were written that told how John Jacob Astor gave up his life for a young immigrant. The Astor family records indicate that, according to Mrs. Astor, Mr. Astor had words with a crewman who tried to prevent him from helping his wife into the lifeboat. He did so anyway. And, as I said, he kissed her and, returning to the deck, began helping others into the lifeboat."
There's a modern tendency to see such issues in terms of moral worth or rights. Is a woman or child's life worth more than a man's? Does a woman have more of a right to life than a man? This is not, however, I think the way that society at the time saw such issues. The turn-of-the-century chivalric ideal was instead based on extrapolating the feelings of the family out to society as a whole. Just as any man would naturally wish to save the life of his wife and children, even at the expense of his own, it was seen as the duty of society as a whole to protect the lives of women and children in such a situation, acting as their husbands and fathers would themselves have wanted to do.

In 1931, a memorial was erected to in Washington DC dedicated to the men who died on the Titanic. The statue is, to be honest, a fairly ugly example of '30s sculpture, but the sentiments are admirable.

APRIL 15 1912


Further reflections on home and work

Everyone's heard by now about Hilary Rosen's comment that Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life". Romney, who stayed at home and raised five boys, quickly answered this lazy charge, but this surely won't be the last time that a woman who stays at home will hear this accusation.

What grows personally wearisome is that this line of thought -- that staying home to raise children and keep house is not "work" -- suggests that these things are not because *I* am doing them. The maintenance of children would be work if I were paying someone else to do it; the education of children would be work if I were paying someone else to do it; the business of cleaning and cooking and generally managing a household would attain the status of "work" if I employed a butler, laundress, maid, and cook, but loses this distinction because I perform these activities in my own home for my own benefit and that of my family.

This raises the question of what, exactly, is work. Activity that receives financial compensation? Activity that takes one away from family? Activity done outside the home? Activity requiring management, external accountability, or special training?

Perhaps one of the reasons for the perception of stay-at-home mothers as non-working members of society is that they do things that have to be done even by people who work. Everyone's laundry has to be done; everyone needs groceries. All children need care and education. It's hardly surprising that a woman who, after a long day at work, drags herself to the store and feeds the kids and puts them to bed, might think, "Boy, women who stay at home really have it easy. Why should they complain when I do everything they do, and still put in a full day of work?"

This is a question that deserves to be answered, even if it's not an accurate description of the life of stay-at-home mothers (especially if they teach their children at home as well). The value of what women who stay at home do is not primarily monetary, though there is a large financial advantage in having an adult in a family whose time is dedicated to making the family and household run smoothly. But the stay-at-home mother is able to tailor her work to fit the family's specific needs and style. I know exactly where the stains in all the laundry are, because I'm here when the baby spills something on herself or the boy goes rolling down the grassy hill. I have the time to make meals that cost-efficient, nutritious, and personalized to my family's taste. All these are benefits that it would be very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to replace were I not at home most of the day.

But these are all things that could be done competently by a live-in housekeeper, and even lovingly by a relative. The true value of being at home with my children is that I am the one who is raising them. At every point, whether we're doing schoolwork or cleaning or reading or just hanging around, they're absorbing my values and culture, not that of the daycare staff or the nanny or the neighbor down the street. They're also absorbing my flaws -- any child who takes after me will be a mediocre housekeeper and an inveterate procrastinator -- but it's fine with me that my children have a safe and loving environment in which to encounter the idea that adults aren't perfect. If children are a gift from God, then I see it as my job to be a gift back to them, in the most personalized and effective way possible.

Not every mother is able to stay at home with her children, and not every woman wants that lifestyle, but it's absurd for anyone to denigrate the work of a stay-at-home mother, as if the inherent desire of a woman to raise and care for her own children was the height of decadence and luxury.

UPDATE: Apropos of the discussion of what stay-at-home mothers add to the economy,Rebecca Ryskind Teti reiterates the point she made in her chapter of Style, Sex, and Substance.
The economy exists to be sure each household has what it needs. What that requires may look different for each household (does it make more sense for us to outsource childcare or provide it ourselves?), but it’s the flourishing of the human person that is the point. Is someone sneering at you for not working outside the home? Smile. They work for you!

...The human person is of course not reducible to a mere “worker.” Still, in strictly economic terms, people are our most valuable economic resource and the family is not a nostalgic religious notion, but also the most essential engine of the economy. Stay-at-home moms are not outside the economy, they’re at the heart of it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nearer My God To Thee

The fabulously talented mezzo-soprano Anna Egan gave her Junior Recital yesterday. As it happened to be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, she chose an encore piece that was reputed to be played by the band as the ship sank: Nearer My God To Thee. And since she has a number of siblings who would do anything to oblige her, she was able to get some four-part harmony going on. Alas, the performance video died, but here is an encore of the encore. You know it's at my dad's house because the Christmas tree is still up in April.

(Anna, as faithful readers will know, is the cute one with the curl in the middle of her forehead.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

There Are 2,227 Stories on the Big Ship

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and so it's time to post a link I've been saving for years for this occasion: the biographies of almost every passenger and crew member on board. I give you fair warning that you can spend hours reading the stories and still not exhaust the human drama of the Titanic.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Your Friday Fix: Existential Edition

About to wrap up my work week, I feel for Henri The Existential Cat

Real Jobs

Foxfier has a good post up over at The American Catholic on the idiotic "being a full time mom is not a real job" attack which Obama proxy Hilary Rosen thought it might be a good idea to launch this week (which is probably about as big a favor as an Obama supporter could do to the GOP candidate apparent that no one on the Right really likes all that much.)
Yeah, I’m posting on that. Some idiot talking head makes a slam at a grandmother with MS and everyone has to comment about it. I think I have something worth saying, though, rather than just talking about it because it’s big.

I’m a stay at home mom. A home-maker. A house wife.

I have worked outside the home, before I got married, in a very similar field—I was a Petty Officer in the Navy, specializing in calibration. (Making sure things that measure are accurate enough.) Before that, I was in another similar field, at least sort of—I was a ranch kid.
[Continue Reading]

The Quintessential Pie Fight

Years ago, before the advent of the internet and search engines and Youtube, one might see a movie once and never stumble upon it again, which meant that certain scenes, remembered as they were viewed in the first flush of hysteria, achieved a crystalline status as the funniest thing ever.

Do such memories live up to the harsh reality of re-viewing? Not often. And yet, just last night I found a cinematic moment that has haunted me for two decades, and it was everything I remembered, and more:

"You simply must try my pies!"

It also struck me that there was a passing rememblance here to the past weeks of blog conversation at DarwinCatholic.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

In Search of the 'Strong Female Character'

I've been continuing to use my commute time (and Audible subscription) to work through long (mostly older) books that I would otherwise have trouble finding the time to read at the moment. By chance, the last several that I've listened to have centered around female characters, and looking back over them I can't help reflecting on the differences and similarities between them and the more modern "strong female characters" one runs into in books and movies. (post contains plot spoilers on all books discussed)

Middlemarch: I found Middlemarch a bit slow to get into (this is where the audiobook format helps, I just have the one audiobook to listen to during all commutes, so there's no real temptation to set it aside and there's nothing else to do during my 30 minutes each way) because the main character, Dorothea, is so clearly chasing a phantom of sorts when we first meet here. Dorothea wants to do good things. When we first meet her, these good things mostly involve advocating for social improvements in her local town, which is pretty much to the good, but very shortly she meets the aged Edward Casaubon whom she is convinced is a Great Man. If, she thinks, she marries him and serves him selflessly, she will be doing Great Things. (You know that the girl is in for problems when she's daydreaming about how wonderful it would have been if she could have been Milton's wife or one of his daughters, because she thinks she would have been happy to have been badly treated by him and serve his genius.) Dorothea proceeds to marry Casaubon, and it quickly becomes clear this is not likely to make either of them very happy, though they muddle on through until Casaubon is taken mercifully off the scene by heart disease. She does learn a bit during this process, and is a more interesting character by the end than she was at the beginning, though she still doesn't know herself all that well for my taste. Given how thoroughly she deceived herself about Casaubon during their courtship, you can't help wondering how well her second marriage at the end of the book is actually likely to go.

Along the way, we get a couple of interesting female counterpoint characters. Rosamond Vincy (later Lydgate) is a character with a strong ability to get her way in interpersonal interactions, but a fairly shallow understanding of life and other people. She's strong in the sense that she sticks to her guns and plays very hard, but her inability to understand people and the world makes it hard to get what she actually wants, and tends to result in her struggles just creating situations that make her unhappy. Her marriage is the worst that we see in the book.

Mary Garth on the other hand is probably the actual strongest female character in the book. She works hard to support herself and her family (she's one of the poorer characters), understands people well, and toughs it out through several fairly unpleasant situations. Given this calm strength, one of Mary's more surprising choices is to marry Fred Vincy. Yes, he's had an affection for her ever since they were children, but he's also somewhat spoiled, a spendthrift, and not very good at buttoning down and holding a job. However, Mary manages to both admire him and steer him towards better behavior at the same time -- promising him she won't marry anyone else, but at the same time saying she won't marry him until he's able to provide for a family in a way she can respect. He does turn himself around, and from the epilogue they sound like the most successful marriage.

Of the three, I'd rate Mary Garth as the best "strong female character", though she does this in a fairly quiet way (and is honestly a comparatively minor character in the book.)

Jane Eyre: The book is a biographical novel, following Jane from her very young days through her marriage, and all other characters are fairly minor other than Jane Eyre herself and Mr. Rochester. As I wrote while I was still reading it, I was surprised how appealing I found the book and the title character. Confronted with a fairly Dickensian childhood and no prospects of marriage (due to being an orphan with no fortune, who is no great beauty and whose family is not interested in putting her forward in society) Jane has fairly limited prospects but makes the best of them quietly and with a good deal of self discipline. After teaching for several years in the school where she had been a pupil, she advertises for a position as a governess and finds herself at isolated Thornfield Hall teaching the young French ward of the absent Mr. Rochester.

As a male reader, I found Jane a very appealing heroine in that she is "100% girl", with strong feelings and a very feminine way of dealing interacting with Rochester, but she's neither a flirt nor an emotionally self-indulgent character. She seems both like someone who would be rational and enjoyable to work with, but also very womanly, not "one of the guys" like some tomboyish heroines. And, of course, her moral strength and ability to deal with adversity throughout (especially in the period when she has to leave Thornfield Hall suddenly and finds herself effectively homeless in the Victorian countryside for several days prior to finding help and then work) are impressive and admirable. Jane was definitely my favorite out of these characters, and I think she also comes across as being the strongest -- though in a way that is intensely feminine, not "doing things just like a man." Julie and Scott had a good discussion of the book over at the A Good Story Is Hard To Find podcast, and Julie brought up (with prompting from her daughter) some interesting points contrasting Jane with more modern "strong" heroines that I want to get back to in a bit.

Persuasion: I'd read this Jane Austen novel several times before, but it had been a good 6+ years since I had read it, so in some ways I was coming at it fresh. Anne Elliot is one of Austen's quieter heroines, she lacks the conversational sparkle that makes Eliza Bennet and Emma Woodhouse so enjoyable to read, but then Anne is 27 (the other two are both 20) when the book opens and the story focuses heavily on regrets: When Anne was 19 she fell in love with and was briefly engaged to the ambitious but poor young Commander Wentworth, however she was persuaded by family and friends that it was imprudent to become engaged to a man who did not yet have any way of supporting a wife, and so she broke the engagement off. Just over seven years later, in the brief peace before Napoleon's return from exile, he is now Captain Wentworth and has amassed a very good fortune in prize money, while Anne has faded and spends much of her time trying to bring some order and propriety to her rather self-absorbed sisters and father.

As an older character who doesn't expect much from life, Anne is a very quiet character, but she does have a quiet strength to her as she tries to guide her father's financial retrenchment from behind the scenes and make peace in her sister Mary's chaotic household (Mary's in-laws still wish that Mary's husband had married Anne instead). And, of course, she has a very strong loyalty to Captain Wentworth, even long past expecting that he will ever propose to here again -- a loyalty which causes her to turn down several other men in the intervening seven years, despite the increasingly likelihood this will leave her always unmarried and thus at the mercy of her families whims and finances. Her strength is probably best summed up by this exchange from Chapter 23:
"Ah!" cried Captain Harville, in a tone of strong feeling, "if I could but make you comprehend what a man suffers when he takes a last look at his wife and children, and watches the boat that he has sent them off in, as long as it is in sight, and then turns away and says, 'God knows whether we ever meet again!' And then, if I could convey to you the glow of his soul when he does see them again; when, coming back after a twelvemonth's absence, perhaps, and obliged to put into another port, he calculates how soon it be possible to get them there, pretending to deceive himself, and saying, 'They cannot be here till such a day,' but all the while hoping for them twelve hours sooner, and seeing them arrive at last, as if Heaven had given them wings, by many hours sooner still! If I could explain to you all this, and all that a man can bear and do, and glories to do, for the sake of these treasures of his existence! I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!" pressing his own with emotion.

"Oh!" cried Anne eagerly, "I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures! I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as -- if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!"

The Portrait of a Lady: I'd never read any Henry James before, and after reading The Portrait of a Lady, I don't know if I necessarily shall again. Here again we have a female main character, Isabel Archer, who shows up at the house of her rich uncle in England and promptly has everyone she meets fall inexplicably in love with her despite the fact she shows few really interesting qualities other than being young, pretty and seemingly full of potential (potential for what neither the reader nor the characters never seem all that clear.) Compared to the preceding heroines, Isabel Archer is a fairly weak and un-knowing main character. However, her consumptive cousin (who, of course, is in love with her) convinces his father (who is kind of in love with her in a dying-old-man sort of way) to leave her a fortune, and so having had a big fortune-hunter bulls-eye painted on her, she heads off to Italy on tour after her uncle's death, and there falls victim to the two interesting characters in the book: The accomplished and beautiful widow Madame Merle (for whom Isabel proceeds to develop an excessive admiration) and her old friend who exceeds her in both cool and lack of principles, the widower Gilbert Osmond. With Madame Merle's help, Osmond manages to cause Isabel to fall in love with him and marry him -- while along the way turning down proposals from several young men who, while not fascinating, are very rich and probably would have treated her well.

What makes the book gripping for the last third to quarter of its length is the presence of thoroughly fascinating villain in the form of Gilbert Osmond, who after initially fascinating Isabel and causing her to construct and almost wholly false idealized image of him, proceeds after their marriage to make her life a misery while almost never actually stepping outside the bounds of correct behavior. I kept waiting for something more fascinating to happen with him to make the novel worth while, but the conclusion in some ways just trails off rather than tying off what I found most interesting about the latter part of the book. Still, just watching him work is absolutely involving. Isabel does not come off as a particularly strong character, however, nor a very appealing one. If there's a strong female character in the book it's Madame Merle, who plays co-villain to Gilbert Osmond, but is, in the end, a far more human character.

Anna Karenina: I'm still only about a third of the way through Anna Karenina, so I won't say a great deal about this one, but thus far Anna doesn't seem to be shaping up as a very strong character either. She's even more led by her feelings and her illusions than Isabel Archer, and lacks Isabel's ability to even carry through with her own wishes or convictions, giving new reinforcement to the 'man is a rationalizing animal' witticism. While I get the impression Anna herself is going to be a gradually worsening car wreck of a character, I'm curious to see what trajectory her husband and her lover follow (at the moment neither seems hugely interesting) and what goes on in the Levin/Kitty side plot, as well as with the increasingly on-the-rocks marriage of Stiva and Dolly. Thus far, I'm not seeing any female characters looking likely to stand out.

As I mentioned, there was an interesting side conversation in the A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast on Jane Eyre relating to how Jane stacks up against more modern "strong female characters". Julie's daughter had put together a list of the six characteristics of the modern "strong young woman" character, particularly slanted towards genre YA novels, but I think fairly widely applicable:
  • She is independent to the point that she spends little time with her family (whom she loves) and relies little on family or her one or friends for help. She and her one or two good friends very themselves as outsiders and while that may be true for her friends, she is most likely held in high regard by others, simply inapproachable.
  • She had a lack of self-awareness of her good qualities, including but not limited to physical attractiveness, intelligence, leadership, etc, which she generally possesses in abundance. Because of this, she is prone to self-doubt.
  • She has little to no interest in romance unless with a childhood friend whom she views as inaccessible. Because of this she is uninterested in her own beauty, never wearing makeup or a dress unless forced.
  • She is averse to a leadership position, but excels when it is thrust upon her, generally because of a special ability she discovers she has.
  • She is proficient (or aspiring to be) at a physical skill such as hunting, combat, survival, etc.
  • She is surprisingly unobservant or uncritical of society until shown its flaws by someone else, typically her love interest. However, she is perceived as being highly intelligent because of her tendency to speak her mind, something she attributes to how bad she is at lying.
This strikes me as a moderately accurate description of a lot of a lot of modern "spunky" heroines one runs into, particularly in SF/F, and it's a very unisex sort of "strong character" writing. (Come to that, it applies to a de-masculinized sort of hero as well -- for example, what was done to the movie version of Aragorn.) It's also a fairly striking contrast with a strong classic heroine like Jane Eyre.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

There's Something To This DarwinCatholic Thing

Razib pulls some data from the General Social Survey and find that not only are Catholics more likely to consider the theory of evolution to be correct than Protestants, conservative Catholics are more likely to consider it correct than liberal Protestants. 58% of Catholics who also identify as politically conservative (and 71% of those who identify as politically liberal) agreed with the statement, "Humans beings developed from animals". However, only 26% of Protestants who identify as politically conservative and 53% of those who identify as politically liberal agreed with that statement.

It turns out, however, that race is a significant factor in the results. Many Protestants who are Black are politically liberal by reject evolution. If you filter the results on non-Hispanic whites, 65% of politically liberal Protestants consider evolution to be correct.

I'm a little surprised that so many Catholics actually doubt evolution, given that the Catholic Church has never been explicitly against the theory of evolution and Pope Pius XII specifically stated there was no conflict between the faith and evolution back in his encyclical Humani Generis back in 1950, something John Paul II echoed in his letter Truth Cannot Contradict Truth in 1996. However, since concern about evolution is fairly common among religious people in the US overall, it's probably not hugely surprising.

Game Over

This pretty much sums up my reaction to "game" as a source of wisdom in interacting with the opposite sex.


Philosophies of Reproduction

Ross Douthat links to a New Yorker review of three books dealing with "how many children should you have".

The first two books, which the New Yorker author clearly has more sympathy with, are Why Have Children?: The Ethical Debate by Christine Overall and Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence by David Benatar.
Overall, who teaches philosophy at Queen’s University, in Ontario, dismisses the notion that childbearing is “natural” and therefore needs no justification. “There are many urges apparently arising from our biological nature that we nonetheless should choose not to act upon,” she observes. If we’re going to keep having kids, we ought to be able to come up with a reason.

Of course, people do give reasons for having children, and Overall takes them up one by one. Consider the claim that having a child benefits the child. This might seem self-evident. After all, a child deprived, through some Knowltonian means, of coming into existence, loses everything. She can never experience any of the pleasures life has to offer—eating ice cream, say, or riding a bike, or, for the more forward-thinking parents among us, having sex.

Overall rejects this argument on two grounds. First of all, nonexistent people have no moral standing. (There are an infinite number of nonexistent people out there, and you don’t notice them complaining, do you?) Second, once you accept that you should have a baby in order to increase the world’s total happiness, how do you know when to stop?
Apparently Overall then goes on to examine and reject other arguments as to why one should have children.

I think this goes off the rails pretty much at the get-go, where she argues that having children is not natural and thus needs some sort of justification. Given that we, as a species, are designed to reproduce and can only continue to exist by reproducing, it seems odd to assert that we need to come up with a rigorous justification for reproducing or else refrain. Yes, it's true that there are many "urges apparently arising from our biological nature" which we shouldn't act upon, but there are also urges resulting from our biological nature which we must act upon unless we are making an active choice for suicide. I have an biological urge to consume food. I may (wisely) choose not to eat all the time, or not to eat some given thing, but if I refuse to eat at all, I'll end up dying after a while.

Now clearly, any given person is not obliged to reproduce. Unlike eating, the individual can thrive without producing offspring, and that may well be the calling of some people. However, the species as a whole cannot exist without many of its members reproducing, and given that it seems a little odd to me to insist that none of us should do so unless we can come up with a really good reason to. Unless, of course, we think that it's better that we go extinct. Interestingly, this is exactly what David Benatar believes:
The volume is dedicated to his parents, “even though they brought me into existence,” and to his brothers, “each of whose existence, although a harm to him, is a great benefit to the rest of us.” (It’s fun to imagine what family reunions with the Benatars are like.)

Benatar’s case rests on a critical but, in his view, unappreciated asymmetry. Consider two couples, the A’s and the B’s. The A’s are young, healthy, and rich. If they had children, they could give them the best of everything—schools, clothes, electronic gaming devices. Even so, we would not say that the A’s have a moral obligation to reproduce.

The B’s are just as young and rich. But both have a genetic disease, and, were they to have a child together, that child would suffer terribly. We would say, using Benatar’s logic, that the B’s have an ethical obligation not to procreate.

The case of the A’s and the B’s shows that we regard pleasure and pain differently. Pleasure missed out on by the nonexistent doesn’t count as a harm. Yet suffering avoided counts as a good, even when the recipient is a nonexistent one.

And what holds for the A’s and the B’s is basically true for everyone. Even the best of all possible lives consists of a mixture of pleasure and pain. Had the pleasure been forgone—that is, had the life never been created—no one would have been the worse for it. But the world is worse off because of the suffering brought needlessly into it.

“One of the implications of my argument is that a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad—a life of utter bliss adulterated only by the pain of a single pin-prick—is worse than no life at all,” Benatar writes.

He acknowledges that many readers will have difficulty accepting such a “deeply unsettling claim.” They will say that they consider their own existence to be a blessing, and that the same goes for their children’s. But they’re only kidding themselves. And no wonder. Everyone alive today is descended from a long line of people who did reproduce themselves. Evolution thus favors a kind of genetically encoded Pollyannaism. “Those with reproduction-enhancing beliefs are more likely to breed and pass on whatever attributes incline one to such beliefs,” Benatar notes.
People sometimes wonder why this blog is called "DarwinCatholic", and the answer is pretty much that last line: Those who have a philosophy of life which opposes reproduction are unlikely to pass on their view, while those whose philosophy provides a reason to foster family life will thrive.

In this regard, the third book reviewed in the article is a bit off on its own, Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think is one that I've been curious to read for a while, but it sidesteps more philosophical questions to focus on the practical (perhaps typically, given that Caplan is an economist).
According to Caplan, a professor at George Mason University, the major mistake that parents (or prospective parents) make is overvaluing the present. This is a common enough error. Workers in their twenties and thirties don’t save enough money for retirement because it seems such a long way off. Then their sixties roll around, and they wish they’d spent less on S.U.V.s and HDTVs and put more into their 401(k)s.

Couples, he argues, need to think not just about how many children they might want now, when they have better things to do than microwave Similac, but how many they will want to have around when they’re old and lonely and watching “The View.” Caplan recommends what he calls the “take the average” rule:

Suppose you’re thirty. Selfishly speaking, you conclude that the most pleasant number of children to have during your thirties is one. During your forties, your optimal number of kids will rise to two—you’ll have more free time as your kids assert their independence. By the time you’re in your fifties, all your kids will be busy with their own lives. At this stage, wouldn’t it be nice to have four kids who periodically drop by? Finally, once you pass sixty and prepare to retire, you’ll have ample free time to spend with your grandchildren. Five kids would be a good insurance policy against grandchildlessness.

Caplan does the math and concludes that in this case “the best number of kids is three.”

Although the figure may vary from one family to another, the same calculation, Caplan argues, applies across the board. Kids are a pain in the ass when they’re small. They require lots of care just at the time their parents tend to be busiest establishing themselves in their careers. As a result, most people stop producing children before they’ve reached the number that would, over the long haul, maximize their self-interest. “Typical parental feelings paired with high foresight imply more kids than typical parental feelings paired with moderate foresight,” Caplan writes. (Unfortunately, he does not explain what parents should do if their ideal number of children includes a fraction.)

Caplan concedes that some may feel compunction about having more (or any) children when they are already short on time and resources. Wouldn’t it be better to provide one or two children with a decent upbringing than to give three or four a lousy one? Here the good news, according to Caplan, is: it doesn’t matter. He cites a variety of twin and adoption studies showing that genetics swamps parenting on traits ranging from children’s health and intelligence to their chances of going to prison. There’s no need to monitor a kid’s French-fries consumption, or ferry him to music lessons, or teach him to avoid felony charges. As long as you “don’t lock him in a closet,” he’ll be O.K. Or not, as the case may be.

Parents who realize just how little difference hard work makes will work less hard. This should, in effect, drive down the cost of procreation and, by the logic of the marketplace, increase its appeal. “If kids are the product, consumer logic still applies: Buy more as the deal gets sweeter,” Caplan writes. At the very least, the additional kids will provide the world with more consumers and more labor: “Many think there’s no place for unskilled workers in the high-tech economy of the future, but someone has to do their jobs.”

Benatar’s child-rearing advice, if followed, would result in human extinction. Caplan’s leads in the opposite direction: toward a never-ending population boom. He declares this to be one of his scheme’s advantages: “More people mean more ideas, the fuel of progress.” In a work that’s full of upbeat pronouncements, this is probably his most optimistic, or, if you prefer, outrageous claim.
Actually, it strikes me that Caplan's rationale has a built in cut-off feature: If the world were such that it seemed clear that having children would not add to one's happiness at any point, then the conclusion one would reach from his argument would still be not to reproduce.

As I say, I'm mildly curious to read Caplan's book (which is more than I can say for the other two) in that he's a personality I find mildly interesting online. However, it does strike me that he doesn't really articulate any kind of a philosophy that explains why reproduction is a good -- he simply assumes that you at root understand this (having children will make you happy) and then encourages you not to make to it too hard for yourself and also to consider long term happiness above short term. At a pragmatic level, this may make a fair amount of sense, and as I said above, I don't think one must abstain from being fruitful and multiplying unless one can rigorously prove a justification for it, but generally speaking people do want to have some sort of comprehensive philosophy which explains why they should do difficult things, and Caplan doesn't so much provide that as assure you it's not really that hard.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Whether “you could bear the idea of marrying me”

Given all the talk about marriage here of late, what better time to feature one of the greatest proposals that the English literary scene has to offer: that of Evelyn Waugh to Laura Herbert.
“I can’t advise you in my favour because I think it would be beastly for you, but think how nice it would be for me. I am restless & moody and misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve. In fact it’s a lousy proposition. On the other hand I think I could do a Grant and reform & become quite strict about not getting drunk and I am pretty sure I should be faithful. Also there is always a fair chance that there will be another bigger economic crash in which case if you had married a nobleman with a great house you might find yourself starving, while I am very clever and could probably earn a living of some sort somewhere.” 
“All these are very small advantages compared with the awfulness of my character. I have always tried to be nice to you and you may have got it into your head that I am nice really, but that is all rot. It is only to you & for you. I am jealous & impatient — but there is no point in going into a whole list of my vices. You are a critical girl and I’ve no doubt that you know them all and a great many I don’t know myself.”
I myself would be inclined to accept this proposal, if I weren't currently married and Waugh hadn't made the offer in 1936.

h/t to Angelico's comment at the Korrektiv

On Living In A Sub Culture

Chris at Dark Brightness was kind enough to blogroll us, filing us under "Nutraditionalism because there is not place in the blog for 'Catholic Amish'". The "Catholic Amish" description comes, I think, from one of the commenters over at Dalrock's blog, who described those with a Franciscan University of Steubenville background thusly:
I have had some dealings with people from FUS, and I think what others need to understand is that, in effect, the people who come from FUS (and the handful of similar very conservative Catholic institutions scattered around the US) are basically akin to the Amish. A huge percentage of the people there get married either while they are still in college at FUS or immediately thereafter. They’re not geographically concentrated like the Amish are, or technologically limited, but they are similar in that they are a very small separatist-type group that doesn’t generally participate in the culture at large — even in the *Catholic* culture at large that you may see in your local Catholic parish.
I have a vague admiration for the Amish, but it strikes me that the orthodox Catholic sub-culture with which I'm familiar isn't all that much like the Amish, and having stated that there is a difference I find myself wanting to explore in a little more detail what that difference is, because I think it relates to how one can get by in the modern world while not being "of it".

The Amish, it seems to me, effectively form a separate culture. It's not just that they reject certain technological innovations which necessarily involve disconnect from the wider culture, but also that they live in fairly self-contained communities, living and working with other Amish in fairly un-mixed communities, if only because us "English" don't have an interest in living in the sort of way that would result in fitting in with Amish society.

Thinking about the Catholic circle in which I move, there is definitely a shared culture of sorts which the rest of the mainstream culture (even the rest of mainstream Catholic culture) does not necessarily say. There are books and periodicals and TV and radio shows that most of us will have heard of, even if we haven't actually followed them. (So, for example, I know a fair amount about EWTN even though I never watch it -- while I would imagine that many mainstream Catholics, much less non-Catholics, would have no idea that there even is a cable channel called EWTN.) On the other hand, it's probably worth noting that most of these are not consumed exclusively by members of the sub-culture, it's just that we consume a lot more of them and thus have much greater familiarity. A more mainstream Catholic might see magazines and newspapers in the back of church or in the church bookstore that we actually subscribe to or read the websites of. And the books that we know well are in many cases the same ones that a mainstream Catholic might pick up as a confirmation present, or stumble across in bible study or reading group.

There is a surprisingly small social network that seems to tie many people in the sub-culture together. We've often met other orthodox Catholics at some sort of social gathering only to find that we already have several acquaintances in common. For instance, the transitional deacon recently assigned to our parish turned out to have a sister in Texas who reads our blog, and also to know my wife's brothers and borther-in-law. However, this isn't because orthodox Catholics don't socialize with other Catholics (or with non-Catholics) but due to two factors: 1) A lot of us have certain experiences in common (certain faithfully Catholic colleges, certain lay movements, etc.) and 2) Even in a parish with 2000+ families, almost all the activities and ministries are run by a fairly small number of people who actually spend significant amounts of time doing church-y things. If you have nationwide connections among the orthodox Catholic sub-culture due to factor 1), and then also have local and diocesan connections due to factor 2), Catholic circles can start to seem like a fairly small world very quickly. And although we may not be "mainstream" Catholics, it's pretty usual to find a several families who are members of the orthodox Catholic sub-culture who are part of that very involved group of people who run most of the activities in the parish.

Laying all this out helps show why "sub-culture" is the apt term here. Orthodox Catholic circles aren't so much a group apart as a sub-group within mainstream Catholic culture. In general, we form only a very small minority within the parishes we go to. We read Catholics books and periodicals which are available to all Catholics, we just read them far more often. (We also tend to have strong opinions about which books and periodicals are "solid" and which aren't -- whereas Catholics who spend less time around on these might not make clear distinctions.)

Again, different from the Amish, members of the Catholic sub-culture lead fairly ordinary lives when not engaged in church activities. Yes, there are certain things that mark us out. Many of us have more than the average number of kids, operate as single income families and a fair number of our families homeschool. You may notice use eating something vegetarian at business lunches on Fridays through much of the year, or see some of the more dedicated slipping off to early morning or noon weekday masses. Sometimes just the books that sit on our selves can be a tip off. Not long after I started at my current company, I had a meeting in the office of one of the top executives and noticed a breviary and some books by John Paul II and Benedict XVI tucked away on a corner of his bookshelf. I never said anything about it, but a while later I made a couple inquiries via friends with wider business networks that mine and quickly found a couple people who knew him and who informed me that he was friends with a couple of the writers who move in orthodox Catholic circles. (No, this didn't lead to any advantages for me in the company -- I never brought it up with him, though I was pleased to note a fellow member of the sub-culture.)

However, there is a certain separateness to our culture. But we don't we live apart or work apart or go to separate churches. We spend the majority of our time around people who aren't part of the sub-culture. However, living and believing differently from the mainstream culture is hard, and so one naturally seeks out others who live and believe similarly. As is observed in Genesis, "It is not good for man to be alone." It's not impossible to stick to one's beliefs without the support of like-minded company, but it's a lot harder and more lonely. When it comes to not only living out but passing on one's beliefs, a community of like-minded people becomes virtually essential. While I know people who do it, I can't imagine trying to live and pass on my faith to my children with a spouse didn't fully share it. And actually, that concern was one of the main reasons I opted to go to Steubenville, a college very much a part of the sub-culture, rather than one of the secular colleges on my list. It's also why we try very hard to always have a core social group of fellow orthodox Catholic families with kids of similar age for our kids to spend time with -- because although many of their friends on the street are nice kids, as they get older we want to make sure that they have friends who are also struggling to live the same faith that they are. And when the time comes, I'll strongly encourage my children not to date or marry someone who does not share their beliefs. So while we certainly do not live in a closed community only seeing other orthodox Catholics, our closest friends are nearly all other members of the sub-culture, and having that sub-culture for support and community is very, very important to us.

Thinking about all this, it seems to me that a better analogy than the Amish would be some of the conservative Jewish communities (who, in my experience, tend to be very much in the world while still having a clear religious sub-culture that is very important to them and their identity), with the big difference that membership is much more fluid: at least half the orthodox Catholics I know did not grow up Catholic or else were baptized Catholic but spent a period of time away from the Church.