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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Lingua Franca



I'm at a sales meeting this week with one of the product teams from work. Location-wise, this would be nothing exciting to say at previous companies I've worked for, but this company is much more global, and this particular sales team is based at one of our tungston carbide plants in a town outside of Lyon, France. So the sales meeting is being held at a hotel which was a private house build around 1820 on the foundations of an older fortified house, surrounded by rolling French countryside.

Last night I was sitting over after dinner drinks with a half dozen other attendees. Our group consisted of: 1 from Germany, 1 from Australia, 1 from Italy, 1 from India, 1 from China, 2 from France, and 3 from the US. We all spoke English, as it was the one language that all of us knew. It's also the company's official language. Perhaps that's not a surprise, given that a year ago it was purchased by a US investment company and now is headquartered in the US, but back when the company was owned by a Swedish mining conglomerate, the official company language was English as well. Even now, the majority of people working for the company are not American.

English, however, is no longer just a language for catering to Americans. It's become, in a phrase which is ironic as I write in France, the Lingua Franka of international business. When the Chinese sales manager and one of the French operations engineers talked to each other over a smoke break, they did so in English, because it was the one language they both spoke. Even among the French, Italians, and Germans, English was often their most fluent common language, and you'll overhear them speaking in it even when none of the Americans are present. Their own languages are exclusively reserved for when they're talking privately with people from their own countries.

You would think this provides Americans (and Australians and Indians -- and Brits if we had any) a distinct advantage. Not so, one of our French hosts informed us last night. To paraphrase roughly, he said, "You get up there, and you think you know everything because you speak English. And you speak too fast, and tell a joke no one understands, and use slang, and use three different words that mean the same thing just to show that you know them all. And you don't realize that half the room doesn't understand a thing you are saying. They don't want to hear your fancy English. They want to hear the English they understand."

And indeed, international business English is not necessarily spoken with any special love for the language or the culture, it's spoken because it's the most convenient for all involved.

So this afternoon when I gave my hour-long presentation on pricing strategy, I asked people to let me know if I was speaking too fast and I made a conscious effort to speak slowly and clearly. It went well.

I always feel a bit guilty at these kind of events that I'm not fluent in any other languages. I could stumble through some German if someone was really patient with me (and would stand a better chance at reading it) and I can manage a few phrases of French and Spanish, but my foreign language ability is below the English ability of anyone in attendance. One can get all down over American laziness about this, but of course, we don't have the motivation. When your language is the language of international business and travel, all you have to do is show up.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Repost: The Boy and the Frog Potty: A Fable

Suddenly Paul (age 2 and 2 months) has shown, not only an interest, but an ability to go potty, and let me say that I HAVE EARNED THIS AFTER YEARS OF POTTY-TRAINING RELUCTANT 3-YEAR-OLDS. But Paul, though a great babbler and a many of many single words, is not fully conversant, so when I tell him the potty story below, the only response I get is "EW, YUCK!", which he uses at every available opportunity.

**

Once upon a time, there was a little boy, and his name was William. One day he sat on the frog potty. And along came a kitty.
Kitty said, "Whatcha doin'?"
William said, "I'm sitting on the frog pot."
Kitty said, "Why don't you go on the kitty potty?"
And William said, "What's the kitty potty?"
And Kitty said, "I poop and pee in my litter box, and then I kick sand all over it."
And William said, "EW, YUCK!"

Along came a dog, and the dog said, "Whatcha doin'?"
And William said, "I'm sitting on the FROG POTTY."
And the dog said, "Why don't you go on the dog potty?"
"What's the DOG POTTY?"
"I run around and poop outside, and then my owner has to pick it up in a bag."
"EW, YUCK!"

Along came a duck, and the duck said, "Whatcha doin'?"
And William said, "I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY."
And the duck said, "Why don't you go on the duck potty?"
"What's the DUCK POTTY?"
"I just swim around, and poop in the water."
"EW, YUCK!"

Then along came a big boy, and he said, "Whatcha doin'?"
"I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY."
The big boy said, "Why don't you use the big boy potty?"
And William said, "What's the big boy potty?"
"I go poop and pee on the toilet, and then I wipe myself, and then I flush it down."
And everyone clapped!

TELL IT AGAIN, MOMMY.

Once upon a time there was a little boy named WILLIAM, and he was sitting on the FROG POTTY.  And in came the cat and said, "Whatcha doin'?"
I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY.
"Why don't you go on the kitty potty?"
And William said, "What's the kitty potty?"
"I poop in the litter box, and then I kick sand over it."
EW, YUCK!
And then along came the dog, and he said, "Whatcha doin'?" And William said, "I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY!" And the dog said, "Why don't you go on the dog potty?" And William said, "What's the dog potty?" And the dog said, "I run around outside and poop, and my owner picks it up and puts it in a bag.
EW, YUCK!
Then along came a cow, and the cow said, "Whatcha doin'?" And William said, "I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY!" And the cow said, "Why don't you use the cow potty?" And William said, "What's the COW POTTY?" And the cow said, "I stand around and poop in a field."
EW, YUCK!
Then along came Jack, and he said, "Whatcha doin'?"
I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY!
"Why don't you go on the toilet?" And William said, "How do you go on the toilet?" And Jack said, "I pee on the potty, and then I flush it, and it's all gone!" And everyone clapped and cheered!
YAY!
And then William went peepee on the frog potty, and everyone clapped and cheered! Let's see, did you go pee like a big boy?
TELL IT AGAIN, MOMMY.

Once upon a time, there was a boy named WILLIAM! and he was SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY! and along came a cat.
Whatcha doin'.
I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY!
Why don't you go on the cat potty.
WHAT'S THE CAT POTTY!
I go in the litter box, and then I kick sand on it.
EW, YUCK!!
Then the dog came, and said Whatcha doin'.
I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY!
Why don't you go on the dog potty?
WHAT'S THE DOG POTTY?
I go outside, and my owner picks it up and puts it in a bag.
EW, YUCK!!
Then along came a... an earthworm, and he said Whatcha doin'.
I'M SITTING ON THE FROG POTTY!'
Why don't you go on the earthworm potty.
WHAT'S THE EARTHWORM POTTY?
I chew up dirt, and then I poop it out in the soil.
EW, YUCKY!!
Then along came Jack, and he said, "Hey Billy, I'm going potty now. Want to watch?"
YAY!
Willie, don't touch that toilet seat! Thanks, Jack, that was good. And everyone clapped and cheered. YAY! And then William went peepee on his frog potty! And everyone said he was such a big boy, and they cheered and clapped and kissed him. YAY! BIG BOY! Okay, William, are you going to go potty now?

TELL IT AGAIN, MOMMY.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Job and Transportation Woes -- And Yet

Darwin is currently at cruising altitude over the dark, cold Atlantic ocean, winging his way toward Lyon, France, for a week of business travel.

And I, on my first evening of single parenting, am decompressing after having to rescue my brand-new driver after the battery died in the minivan -- as she was driving, in the dark, down a deserted road. Fortunately this was an incident which technology (in the form of cell phones) removed almost all the danger, and yet, as I ponder our aging cell phones which barely hold a charge anymore, I realize how fortunate we were.

Still, I have a dead minivan sitting in the parking lot of a rather sketchy industrial park. Tomorrow we go down and see if the thing just needs a jump, or if darker forces are at work. And yet I cannot be angry about it, because my daughter is safe and sound at home.

This past Sunday, Ida, the 4-year-old daughter of Ben Hatke -- illustrator of Angel in the Waters, and author of the Zita the Spacegirl graphic novels and the Mighty Jack graphic novels -- was kicked in the head by horse, and later died of her injuries. And as they left the hospital where their daughter died, the family found that their vehicle was also dead.

If you've ever read and enjoyed any of Hatke's books, please consider donating to the family to help cover the medical and funeral costs for little Ida.

Last year, Ben Hatke illustrated a short picture book about Job, written by Regina Doman after her own little son died in an accident. It's an accessible and appropriate way to introduce children to the difficult story of Job. If you are looking for a way to discuss suffering with your children, check out The Story of Job.

And pray for your family, especially those farther above the Atlantic than the Titanic is beneath it.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Tears, Idle Tears

I haven't time to write a short post, so I'll write a short post anyway because I wish I had time to write a long post.

First, have a chart:


Several weeks ago a friend touched off a lot of discussion by sharing this image. As I looked at it, I realized that I myself was a perfect "Freeze", and had been so for much of my life. I bought and read the book this was based on: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving" by Pete Walker, about dealing with trauma that results from not just a single bad incident, but the trauma that is built up by children having to adapt to parental neglect or abuse.

More recently, I've been reading Emily Nagoski's Come As You Are, a book about women's sexuality. Do I recommend it? Yes, with caveats. It contains a lot of valuable, necessary, relationship-changing information about women's psychological approach to sex that is important for everyone to know. At the same time, the author has no use for sexual morality, particularly Judaeo-Christian morality (which is ridiculously misrepresented in the book). Her school of sexual morals is "Whatever floats your boat", and there's a dearth of acknowledgment about the reproductive repercussions of sex. That said, someone with a firm moral grounding who is able to sift through the chaff will find much here that can be of immediate application.

The result of all this is that over the past four weeks, I've cried more than I have in the past quarter-century (or longer).

This is a good thing, I guess. The books tell me, and I acknowledge that it's probably the truth, that it's necessary to complete a grieving cycle instead of packing everything inside. And grieving is going to hurt, and it's going to be raw, and tears are an effective way to accomplish that.

But here's the thing. I hate crying. I hate it not just because it's messy and draws attention to itself, but because what the authors would consider a real, cleansing cry -- and it's always an ugly-cry with me -- is so draining. It leaves me with a headache. I don't feel better. I feel drained and weary and almost deadened. Some people love tears. I hate 'em.

What to do with this? I don't know, in this space and time. I said I only had time for a short post, and this is it. Processing must happen, I suppose, and I have the perfect supportive environment and husband. If only there were more privacy! (She says on the internet.) If only when one felt like grieving, the external circumstances were perfect. If only, when one had peace and quiet, one could schedule in the emotion and the reaction.

So I make a gift to you of all these resources. Go forth and have your own ugly cry, and your own red eyes and splitting headache. I'll pray for you.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Morals of Classical Liberalism

In this moment where conservatives are trying to figure out what principles they might be about in a post-Trump world, the self described "illiberal" Catholic right has taken it upon themselves to argue that the entire idea of classical liberalism is itself morally bankrupt and must be abandoned. We must instead, it is argued, pursue a political philosophy more in line with the old throne-and-altar ideas of a century or more back.

I'm not among those who thinks that the order of the past was clearly wrong. To each time its own thing, and there are things to admire about the Catholic kingdoms and empires of the past. However, there are also things to admire about the classical liberalism of which I think the United States, in its better moments, is an example, and it for that classical liberalism that I would like to speak up.

In a piece defending Sohrab Ahmari's notions of government, Susannah Black writes against classical liberalism, saying that in an attempt to avoid sectarian strife, it preaches of gospel of privatized religion which is not to be allowed to touch the public square:
OG liberalism wanted privatized religion, tamed religion, in order to avoid a reprise of the 30 years’ war, where men died for public claims about God. To avoid this, OG liberalism privatized those claims, attempted to tame the love that men have for the good– which is a terrifying love.

The French political philosopher and architect of the European Union Alexandre Kojève wanted likewise to make a world that was safe. It would be a world, specifically, where no one ever loved anything as much as the Nazis had loved GermanyРand thus a world without eros or thumos, a tame world.

This is what the current right-liberal critics of postliberalism are worried about: the releasing of that energy back into public. But it can’t be kept out. That’s inhuman, and it simply doesn’t work. Men will love. The problem is what they love.

The problem with the Nazis was not that they loved, but that they were idolaters. The weapon against bad-illiberalism is not liberalism, but good-illiberalism. “Love God,” Christ says, “and your neighbor as yourself.” And that’s what postliberalism seeks to do, politically. “Do not love– at least not politically. That’s private. Hedge your bets. Be safe,” says liberalism– particularly right-liberalism; left-liberalism has some of the love of the public good that is in genuine leftism.
Bringing the Nazis into this seems to me an unforced error. I don’t think anyone ever claimed that the problem with the Nazis was that they loved Germany too much. The problem with the Nazis is both that they hated others too much and that the things they did could never be done rightly in support of any cause. To roundup, imprison, and murder millions of those whom the state decided to hate is something which no state should do, for any reason. These are actions that would taint any belief, even if it were a more right belief than the exhaltation of "Germanic" identity. But let's set aside that odd move and assess the accusation against classical liberalism.

Is the point of classical liberalism to privatize religion, the belief in the highest good, in order to tame the love that man has for the highest good and thus avoid the strife that could result from such love?

Perhaps a certain soulless kind of classical liberalism may think this way, but if the illiberal right is going to get to pick their favorite illiberalism, I think it's only fair that we who support classical liberalism from a Christian perspective may pick our best liberalism. And in that best Christian version of classical liberalism, I would say that the reason we hold the state should grant people freedom of religion and expression is not because religion is too unimportant to be regulated. Rather, we hold that man should be given the freedom to believe (rightly or wrongly) because we believe that it is against man's dignity to force him to attend a state church or to punish him for following some other creed.

The reason I do not want the state to insert itself into our choice of religion and our most basic moral actions is not because I think those actions are hedged off from the public square, too unimportant to be the subject of politics. Rather, it is because I think that our worship of God is too sacred to allow the state to dictate it. We are made in the image of God, and God calls upon us to worship Him. I do not believe that the state should insert itself into each person's seeking of the highest good. The state is too low a beast for that. Allow it to stick with determining the best tax structure. Let it pay for road and trains and determine what other states we should ally ourselves with. But it is no surprise that our religion is larger and crosses all the world's borders, for it is dealing with a truth larger than any nation can control. The state should step back and give room for each person to pursue the sacred, not because the sacred is too unimportant for the state, but because it is too important for such a mean tool to shape.

Porch, Altered

 Yesterday I had my first opportunity to speak to my contractor and mention that I wished the porch blocks had been sectioned differently, but I knew there was nothing that could be done about it now. And he said, "Do you want me to saw new lines?"

!!

So we marked off where I wanted to see the bigger blocks broken up, and I approved the lines, and that afternoon he came back with a saw and cut new sections.

The handrail has been set back in.


Dear readers, I feel much more satisfied, and I thank you for your forbearance with my drama. I feel like I've been a difficult person to live with this week. I've had to make my apologies to Darwin for brooding and moping and being self-absorbed.

I try to make it a practice, when something gets lost or broken or otherwise put out of commission, to react as I would have wanted to if the thing suddenly turned up or could be repaired. I don't feel like I followed my own internal rule this time. I didn't know that the porch could be altered, sure, but now that it has been, was my week of angst appropriate? How mortifying to be only human.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Happy Update on the Porch

So, after my dramatic porch lament:

My contractor stopped by, and I expressed my concerns about the shape of the blocks. He said that once the concrete cures, he can saw new grooves to break up the shapes, and together we marked where the cuts should go. The whole interaction went pleasantly, and I'm feeling much more at peace about everything.


Monday, September 09, 2019

The Amphibious Landing That Wasn't

I've been listening to James Holland's book The Battle of Britain for the last few weeks, and enjoying it very much. (Thanks to whoever recommended it -- sorry I can't remember who that was.)

I'm near the end, and thus hearing about the events taking place exactly 79 years ago, in early September 1940, as Hitler was making the decision whether or not to stage an amphibious invasion of Great Britain. One of the things that has really been striking me is that German planning at this point in the war involved the incredibly methodical Wehrmacht attempting to follow the directives of Hitler, who was a very improvisational leader.

As recently as the end of May, it had looked as if France and Britain could be knocked out of the war at the same time with the massive envelopment which trapped French and British armies in a pocket in Belgium and northern France, encircled by the Panzer force which had cut across the Ardennes. However, due to strife among German generals and Hitler meddling in command, the British were able to evacuate most of their army (and some of the French) from Dunkirk, albeit leaving most of their heavy weaponry behind. Even then, many prime ministers might have sought an accommodation, which Hitler apparently expected.  But Churchill was not many prime ministers, he was the leader who had been raring to fight Hitler for years. And so, in July 1940 Hitler ordered his high command to come up with a plan to make a massive amphibious and airborne attack against Britain in August or September. They not only planned the operation, code named Sea Lion, but pulled together over a thousand barges to transport troops and staged the invasion force in French port cities, ready to go at Hitler's command. The first wave of the invasion was to be approximately 125,000 men, only slightly smaller than the 150,000 men that the Allies would land in France almost four years later on D-Day.

The difference in planning was huge, however. The Allies spent a year planning the Operation Overlord landings, from 1943 to 1944. They developed landing boat technology specifically for the landings, built massive portable portable harbor facilities which could be towed into place and then used to land the supplies that would keep the beachhead fed and armed, and perpetrated a massive deception designed to fool the Germans into expecting the invasion to be in Calais rather than Normandy.

That accomplishing such a massive landing with so little preparation was such a gamble is perhaps proved by the fact that even Hitler, the ultimate military/political gambler, flinched at trying to pull it off. He allowed himself to believe that Britain could be bombed and starved into submission by the combination of the Luftwaffe and the u-boat wolf packs and instead turned to planning a land invasion of Russia, a massive land operation which was much more the style of operation the Germans were comfortable with than a huge seaborne invasion.

Still, it's fascinating to wonder what would have happened if Hitler had made the opposite decision. Making an amphibious attack across the English Channel on barges, against the opposition of the Royal Navy and a Royal Air Force which was not nearly as weakened as the Germans had convinced themselves, would have the potential for spectacular failure. Amphibious landings are hard even with meticulous planning and huge advantages. Hitler's claim that attacking across the channel would be no different from a river crossing on a broad front suggests a level of delusion comparable with his invasion of Russia the next summer. Had he gone forward, might the German Army (which contrary to popular belief was actually pretty worn down after fighting first Poland and then France) have failed in the cross-Channel attack and brought Hitler's string of victories to a sputtering end? It's a fascinating question. I'm not sure someone has done a clear-eyed alternate history about how things might have gone if the Germans had actually tried their hastily planned invasion, but it would be a great read if someone did.

Set in Concrete

Once upon a time there was an old house, harmonious in its elements. This house had a stone porch, with many steps and levels.


Once upon a time, the stone porch had been strong and elegant, devised and constructed by master masons. Now it languished. After ninety years of service, it eroded with each passing season. Nevertheless, it was still beautiful, if only in the eyes of its mistress. And it was still in harmony with the house.

But the day came for it to be replaced. With much sorrow, the mistress -- of comfortable means, but not as wealthy as the homeowners who made such grand renovation plans in the heady days before the Stock Market crashed --- opted to reconstruct the porch in concrete. Her one request of the contractor was the porch should look as much as possible as it used to be. Of all things, she begged, she wanted the porch to look like it was made of stone. Such things were possible. She had seen it done elsewhere, with molds. Of course, said the contractor. It would be done.

Two days before the porch was poured, the mistress eyed the wooden forms warily as the contractor explained how he would texture the porch in one all-over stone pattern. The mistress demurred. She wanted the porch to look like stone. Many stones. Just as it used to be. Of course, said the contractor. But to stamp the stone with molds would cost more than his original estimate. What he could do was to etch lines in the newly poured concrete to make it look like large blocks of stone. It had been done elsewhere. He showed her photos. With trepidation, she acquiesced.

And the porch was poured over the ancient stone.




And here, friends, is where we leave tedious fairytale diction for the realm of the now. I have a concrete porch, one that is competently constructed and poured and will stand attached to my house for the next ninety years, indestructible. Never again will I have the option to improve my dear old stone porch. And I do not love it.

You tell me -- you tell me! -- whether any mason in the world would shape stone this way, huge L-shaped blocks. You tell me whether any mason worth his salt would lay stone in such a pattern, unstaggered or so barely staggered that it's an insult to proportion. You tell me whether this looks like stone blocks, or like a middle-schooler's simulacrum of a Mondrian grid.

I ask this explicitly because I find, to my horror, that it seems I am the only person bothered by this. No one loved the old decaying porch but me.Visitors ooh and aah over the new construction, congratulating me on well it turned out. These sincere and well-meaning compliments ring in my ear like someone leaning over your loved one's casket, exclaiming, "They've really fixed her up! She never looked so good when she was alive!"

That's just the word, alive. The stone porch was in sad need of repair, but it was gracefully alive. The concrete porch is shiny, regular, and dead, a huge slab of McMansion slapped on to my elegant old home. And no one sees it but me. No one grieves it but me. Even my loving husband, seeking words to comfort me as I lay in bed, stiff and quivering with rage, said that he didn't think anyone else would be appalled by it or think that I had ruined the whole facade of the house. "But if it bothers you, of course we can have it altered."

My marriage has never been so sorely tested.

At first my anger was pure and righteous, devoted solely to the cause of aesthetic integrity. But anger never stays unalloyed. All things became causes of fury to me. I bit my tongue. I retreated to my room. Sometimes I wallowed in my anger willingly. Othertimes I was consumed by it, even when I longed to be free of the burden. I could not dismiss it at will. And I realized that if I wanted to receive communion on Sunday, I had to be relieved, because my heart had become as hard as the concrete. So I hied me to confession on Saturday afternoon.

And you know what? I didn't feel instantly better. But the workings of grace had begun. I no longer feel sick to my stomach. I can look at the porch without crying. But I still mourn the beautiful thing that is lost forever, and I grieve the soulless thing now in its place. I'm still trying to find the right words to tell the contractor that his work is sturdy and professional as far as concrete goes, but that I am not satisfied with the admittedly unalterable surface. Instead of judging 99% of my acquaintance to be aesthetic cretins, I'm trying to be gracious whenever someone pays the new porch a complement. I'm trying to get used to it, because I'm going to have to look at it every day for the rest of my tenure here.

And I imagine that ninety years in the future, as archeologists poke at the crumbling concrete, one will beckon the other over. "Stanley, look at this!" he'll say. "There was stone under this concrete. Stone! Can you imagine? What idiot would pour concrete over stone?"

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Problems on a Spectrum

I was driving to the airport last week, setting off on my first business trip to Europe, and as I did so I was mentally running through the list of things that I had meant to do before departing and trying to think if I had done everything. It was thus that I realized that while the other toiletries that I had needed to use one last time and then pack (toothbrush, deodorant) had made it into my bag, the hair gel had not. Oh well, I would find some while I was traveling. Then I began to think about pulling my final things together downstairs. I remembered putting my laptop on the table and then bustling off to grab some other things. Had I put it into my backpack? I couldn't recall, and if there was one thing that I couldn't get through the trip without, it was my laptop. Better to check while I was still only ten minutes from home. I pulled into a parking lot, checked the backpack (where the laptop was indeed safely stowed) and then continued on to the airport only two minutes to the worse.

Someone may be thinking, "that sounds pretty OCD". I have a close relative who has actual, diagnosed OCD. Having lived with the experience of that person's serious OCD, I can tell you that it's actually very different. Not totally different in feeling, perhaps, but very, very different in effect. My mind likes to run through lists of things that may have gone wrong or been forgotten, especially when I'm already under stress. It will throw up questions like "Did you forget to pack that?" But when those questions come up, I have the ability to answer them clearly in my mind, and decide whether it's worth the time to check them based on a quick cost-benefit analysis. For my relative with diagnosed OCD, that ability to control worries such as that is much less developed. He'll end up doing and checking things multiple times because he can't shut down the concern that he might not have done them, or done them right, or done them enough. Getting out the door can take an extra twenty minutes as everything is done and checked multiple times. It's close to paralyzing. So what is really being talked about is not just having a mind that constantly runs through details and asks, "Is this right?" it's lacking the ability to keep those questions in their place and prevent them from taking over your life.

I think this is probably the case with a lot of mental conditions. In some ways, it can make those conditions feel more familiar: Oh yeah, I have those feelings too! But in another sense it's very different from actually having the debilitating effects of one of those conditions.

Often the feelings or thoughts we might associate with a particular mental problem are common, if not to everyone, at least to a lot of people. But what makes that condition a problem is when one not only has those thoughts but also has a decreased ability to dispatch them. On the one hand, this can give us a sense of common sympathy for those who suffer debilitating effects from some particular mental condition. Often we can see in ourselves similar thoughts and think, "Yeah, I kind of suffer from that too." And yet, while there are genuine similarities, it's important to remember that it's the ability to control these thoughts and feelings that is often what turns a mode of thinking into an actual debilitating problem. If you haven't suffered the overpowering feeling that you must give in to OCD-type questions, checking something again and again, you may have felt the stimulus of worrying about some topic, but you haven't felt what it is that people with serious cases of OCD actually suffer from.

Of course, the ability to resist giving in to problematic feelings is itself something that exists on a spectrum. Some people simply find it takes a lot of energy to overcome some particular set of fears, thoughts, etc. Others find it nearly impossible. But I think recognizing both the urging and the ability to manage it as two separate aspects of a mental condition is key to understanding whether one has the condition oneself or simply shares a few tendencies that way.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Family Economy

I'm fortunate enough to have Labor Day off, which gives me time both to rest up after a week of business travel and put in some much needed last minute work on preparing the older kids' homeschool plans for the next few weeks. (One of the advantages of homeschooling is that within certain limits one sets the rules, and one of ours is that school doesn't start until September, with the day after Labor Day serving as the first day of school.) That also gave me the unusual chance to go to mass alone with MrsDarwin, slipping off to weekday mass in the morning, and to think a bit about what work means in the context of our household.

For a number of years now I've worked in the American corporate world. These kind of jobs are often idealized. I've heard earnest MBAs tell me how this is the kind of work that they've always wanted to do and that they're inspired to be "part of the team". And while people sometimes put in long hours or spend a lot of nights away from family while doing business travel, they do it in comfortable hotels, doing work that doesn't leave you physically aching at the end of the day. Sure, meetings and bureaucracy can be tiresome, especially if one doesn't learn how to navigate them, but in general it's mentally engaging work, and it's work that society tends to treat you as respectable for doing. And it pays well. So in just about every significant way, it's a good deal. I'm very fortunate in those respects.

And yet, it often throws me when coworkers tell me that they'd probably do this work whether they needed the money or not, because they need the sense of purpose and the mental challenge. I particularly hear this from female coworkers when they learn that MrsDarwin raises and teaches the kids at home full time. "God bless her. I couldn't stand to do that. I need to get out of the house and away from the kids and do something important and challenging or I'd go nuts."

I'm not here to tell people how to organize their families. Ten years ago when I thought I had a lot more figured out in life, this would have been a piece on the importance on the single income family and one parent devoting himself or herself to raising the kids full time. But from the older me, my point is more general: work has a purpose in our lives, and that purpose is to provide us with the necessities of life and if possible some reasonable amount of comforts as well.

If I didn't have to pay our family's bills, I would not be spending all those hours every week sitting in an office. I like my job, it's interesting and fulfilling as jobs go, but it's not my purpose in life.

When God described to Adam and Eve the fallen world in which they would have to make their way among the consequences of original sin, he told them that a living would now come at the cost of the sweat of the brow. We labor for our food, our shelter, our clothing, and our possessions. We labor to take care of the young, the old, and ourselves. We labor directly, preparing their food, changing their diapers, cleaning their messes. We labor indirectly, earning the money that will allow us to compensate others in return for the goods and service they give us which we in turn need.

In some sense, all the work we do is to give someone the things they need or want.

This can be very direct, as when I change the two-year-old's diaper. Or it can be very indirect, as when I work with the our segment manager for rotary cutters to come up with a pricing model which allows our company to charge a manufacturing plant a per-cut price rather than a several-hundred-thousand-dollar capital investment for a carbide-edged cutting roller machine which in turn is used to cut out diapers on a high speed production line, which allows someone to buy a box of inexpensive disposable diapers in a supermarket, which allows them to change their baby's diaper -- and my part in all of that allows me to earn the money to buy a package of diapers for my own offspring. In the end, whether I'm working in the office or around the house, my purpose is the same: to provide for the needs of myself and others. There are things I do for the enjoyment of them -- writing here among other things -- but going to the office is not among them.

Too often, I think, in our work-obsessed middle class culture, we think of a job (a compensated "professional" job) as inherently ennobling. Those who work directly to care for those who depend on us are seen as somehow not doing "real work". Yes, we nod and call them selfless, but in some sense it's often implied that what's selfless about their caring work is that they've chosen to do something less important, less rewarding, less worth while because someone has to do it. They've drawn the short straw and accepted their lot cheerfully.

But I think we should think of work in a more basic fashion. Work is how we provide for the needs of others. The work we do around the house provides the necessities and comforts for our families. The work we do "on the job" earns the money which allows us to pay others for the things we need -- and for them to acquire the things they need in their turn. Even the creative work which I might otherwise think of as recreation (for me, at least) such as working on the community theater production or writing this post, is intended at root to provide others with the relaxation, the insight, the enjoyment which they need. To speak of the economy is to speak of the unimaginably complex network of interactions through which millions of people make these exchanges with each other. This can ennoble seemingly tedious work, but it also cuts seemingly noble work down to size. At root, we work to provide for the needs of others, whether we work for money or just to get something done. And so within the family, where we need both money and the direct care of others (and need to decide at times whether in some cases we will provide direct care or pay someone else to do it for us) we should do so with not some over-reverence for paid work, but with an eye towards providing the best case as best we can for all involved.