Filed under: Family
Like Andrew Sullivan, I liked Tim Kreider’s piece in the NY Times on “The Referendum” — the sidelong glance we constantly cast at our peers, to determine whose life turned out better and who gets to pat themselves on the back for having made the right choices while ignoring how big a role luck played in it all. But I was also struck at how electrically the lines about the undesirability of children tripped my switches. I have the same reaction to people who make similar points based on “happiness research” (a fundamentally incoherent field that suffers from many of the same difficulties as “funniness research”).
My first, intemperate reaction on reading something like this:
I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life.
…is that it’s cruel to explain to a eunuch why having testicles is actually worthwhile, even though it creates a lot of emotional stress and often gets one into complicated situations. But on reflection, I don’t really care whether or not Tim Kreider wants to have kids. A lot of my friends don’t want kids; that’s where they’re at and that’s who they are and it’s, like, their life and everything, and as Kreider writes, they do us kid-having folks the favor of letting us vicariously experience the thrills (and tedium) of existence unfettered to dependents. Besides, every kid they don’t have fails to emit a titanic amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, leaving the world less ruined for my kids; so, thanks.
The part that bugs me isn’t so much the not having kids part, as the not raising kids part. Whether or not you want to put your own progeny into the mix is neither here nor there; but society is a going concern, and not having any interest or stake in how the next generation gets brought up is, by definition, antisocial. It takes a lot of work, and if you’re not helping out, the least you could do is recognize that others are doing you a favor, and not insult them for their trouble.
My wife and I are constantly arguing about whether things are blue or green. She generally takes the “blue” position; I take “green”. Or vice versa, I forget. I have never known whether to ascribe the problem to genetic differences in the way we perceive the colors or to a cultural difference in where the boundary between “blue” and “green” falls in Holland and the US. (I mean, she’s wrong, obviously; the question is simply whether her error has a genetic or cultural source.) And then today I saw this optical illusion on Phil Plait’s Discover Magazine blog, via 3QD:
The blue and green spirals are, in fact, exactly the same color: RGB 0,255,150. Check it. It’s for real.
I think this shows that the reason for our disagreement over various blue-green objects is that my wife may see everything else in the universe as slightly orange, while I see it all as slightly purple, for either genetic or cultural reasons, I’m not sure.
Edmund Andrews’s NY Times Magazine article (confessing to having fallen victim to crazy consumer and mortgage debt despite being a financial reporter) is brave and powerful, as many people have written. But I did also have a variant of the reaction Megan McArdle writes of having today, after reading Andrews’s book: not wow, getting a mortgage is risky but wow, getting divorced is risky. No moral opprobrium falls on Andrews here — nobody knows what goes on inside someone else’s marriage; relationships fall apart. And one has to avoid the temptation to distance oneself from someone else’s mess by blaming them (for something you imagine will never happen to you). Still, reading the piece was another little reminder to do something nice for my wife this week. Whatever emotional and practical investments you can make in your marriage to keep yourself and your partner happy are likely to pay off in spades, both emotionally and practically.
Or in the words of financial guru Neil Young, “Try to be sure right from the start… because if your world should fall apart…”
Matthew Yglesias notes that the $25,000 Alex Kuczynski (hi there Alex) paid the surrogate mother of her child is
a decent chunk of change in the United States but over six times per capita GDP in India.
I believe he must be looking at purchasing power parity-adjusted per capita GDP. In flat-out exchange rate dollars, per capita GDP in India is nowhere near $4,000 a year. If you handed someone in India $25,000 it would actually be a lot more than 6 times their per capita GDP (more than 25 times, I think) which means the prospect of carring babies for wealthy Westerners is even more attractive (and will continue to be so for a long time unless there’s a seismic shift in the world economy that collapses the value of Western currencies relative to the rupee).
Filed under: Economics, Environment, Family, Human Rights and Torture, United States, War
As it turns out, I am a conservative. Here’s my fellow conservative Daniel Larison:
As the temporary ability to pay increases, restraint recedes and a culture of feeding and exciting appetites grows. As virtue is the moderation or even denial of appetites, moral integrity in society as a whole weakens as this culture gains ground. When limits to our consumption seem to fall away, the desire for acquisition and domination becomes stronger and it begins to be expressed in our relations with the rest of the world. We begin to define our interests to satisfy unbounded desire, and so the scope of what we believe is rightfully ours expands until it encircles most, if not all, of the globe, and we are then violently offended when our claims are challenged. Coupled with this desire is the fantasy that technology will gradually overcome or address every limitation, so that every barrier to growth will fall sooner or later. The expectation of progress makes us impatient when our excesses lead to collapses, and when those collapses happen responsibility is deferred again and pinned on useful scapegoats whose punishment will allow us to return to our previous unrestrained habits.
I don’t think I can find a single thing to disagree with in that. If only there were actually a political party that represented this point of view.
This essay is absolutely brilliant. Here is one line:
The debate about mothers and work: it always ends—doesn’t it?—with Sweden.
That is the least interesting and entertaining line in the essay.
Basically, Sandra Ling Loh argues that 1. as Linda Hirshman says, educated women who opt out of serious jobs in favor of lighter and more entertaining homebody stuff are betraying themselves and their gender, but 2. as Neil Gilbert says, most work sucks and is hardly a space for emotional or intellectual flourishing, and 3. societies that try to provide state-supported backup for home caring, like Sweden, basically end up paying women to do the same tasks for non-relatives (like taking care of kids and seniors) which they used to provide to their own relatives for free, and paying punishing tax rates to do it.
I’d respond that this significantly understates the deficit of public services in the US and the value of public services in more social-democratic countries. Sweden, the Netherlands, France, and Germany are raising their kids more safely, more equitably, and to a higher standard of education than America is. Moms are staying at home in the US in part because they’re driven to stay at home by the defunding of the public sphere (coupled with a paranoid hostility towards the public sphere that has left American parents unwilling to let their kids play in the neighborhood or leave the backyard). In Holland kids can go out by themselves on their bicycles at age 6. That creates freedom for women, and it doesn’t happen magically because of greater “ethnic homogeneity” or whatever other sinister euphemisms Americans like to cook up. Nevertheless, Loh’s essay is fantastic and is rendered all the more impressive if, as she says, she wrote in bed with her kids watching a video in the next room.