Despair on the right: of depressed social conservatives, a lost culture war, and the misogynistic underbelly of the “marriage movement”

This is not an April Fool’s post.

The first three months of 2009 have been among the very happiest of my life. My wife and I have had our first human child, a splendid baby girl, and we are both over-the-moon with joy and excitement (and a fair amount of exhaustion, too, but let that pass.) As befits a new father, my focus has at least temporarily gone inward, towards my family; I have paid less attention to the state of the world than I might normally. But as silly as it might seem, I can’t help but connect Obama’s ascent to the presidency with Heloise Cerys’ birth. This doesn’t mean that both events stir equal excitement, or are of equal global import. But they both mark radical departures with the past, and each has left me suffused with new optimism. Forgive the jaw-dropping parental hubris: the world will be a better place because my daughter is in it, and because of what it is she will grow up to do. And somewhat less jaw-dropping: the world will be a safer, healthier, better place because Barack Obama is president, and George W. Bush and John McCain aren’t.

I’m an optimist by nature, even if that requires taking very long views. I don’t know how long I’ll be on the planet, but I expect the planet to be here for a very, very long time. My God is a very big God, and He works — so all those who know tell me — on geologic time. Though no one knows the time or the hour, my suspicion is Jesus will continue to tarry on his return; contrary to the fervent hopes of many of the depressed and the downtrodden and the downright mean, we are not living, I suspect, in the End Times. There is more to come, much more to come, which is why (among other reasons) I want to see environmnental policies adopted which protect the earth not merely for my daughter’s generation, but for the creatures and ecosystems which will flourish here ten millenia from now.

I want government policies that in time will lead to fewer humans on the earth, living more just and sustainable lifestyles — two of many reasons why family planning and environmentalism are the two top issues on my agenda. And those causes are nearer to President Obama’s heart than any of his recent predecessors — hence, my mild optimism.

But I have friends — mostly conservatives, including social conservatives — who have grown grimly anxious about the state of the world. While the budgetary and environmental proposals of the new Administration are a source of encouragement (and, given Mr. Obama’s predecessor, sheer wonder) to folks like me, my friends on the right seem glum. This gloom is particularly strong among those who fight on the opposite side of the culture wars; those who oppose embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, and what might generally be called “sexual freedom” are a confounded lot these days. Most social conservatives are deeply religious, and have the excellent consolation of prayer, but that doesn’t serve to soothe all of their growing fears and frustrations.

Despite temporary victories for social conservatives like the passage of Proposition 8 in California, the polling indicates a gradually growing consensus in favor of the freedom to marry, particularly among the youngest Americans. Legislative efforts to advance an anti-abortion cause continue to make tiny bits of progress, but much of their work has been undone both by the strongly pro-choice Obama Administration and by a series of disheartening defeats at the ballot box. Younger conservatives may still be anti-abortion, but despite the shrill cries of their elders, they are increasingly likely to see the “life” issue one among many; many young evangelicals are increasingly liberal in their views on fighting poverty and global warming, with many more inclined (rightly so, from a Scriptural perspective) to see the morality of the pocketbook as of more concern to Christ than the morality of the pelvis. And heck, as the headlines have told us just this past month, Americans are less religious than ever before, more likely to have babies out of wedlock than ever before.

Politics works in cycles; the GOP will come back eventually, and conservatives will come to power again. But culture doesn’t work in the same cyclical way. The genie of women’s liberation and cultural emancipation has been hard for the right to put back in the bottle, despite their most furious efforts for forty years. The Pill isn’t going away. Americans as a whole are not showing any signs of a renewed willingness to marry young and stay married to one spouse of the opposite sex for the rest of their lives. Oh, there are a few microtrends here and there that might gladden a reactionary heart — but for the most part, the narrative of American history holds true: rights once granted are hard to take away; freedoms once tasted are hard to give up. And that will be true if Obama is re-elected and it will be just as true if, heavens forfend, a Palin-Jindal ticket sweeps into office in a 2012 landslide.

I think social cons know that even when they win an occasional battle, they’re losing the larger war. This has led some to take some whoppingly extreme positions. Maggie Gallagher, one of the noisiest (and, to be fair, most hard-working) advocates of the limited marriage franchise, has been putting up a series of posts on the National Review’s main blog. This one from Monday is a stunner: The Amazing Power of the Culture (Part 9). Gallagher, who seems the poster child for the increased franticness of the right, is well aware that it’s possible for conservatives to win elections and lose the culture war; she suggests, rightly, that that is what has been happening for generations (but of course, particularly since that great bugaboo of all reactionaries, the 1960s). And in the past few weeks, the previously even-tempered Gallagher has begun to pull off the proverbial gloves, and in doing so has revealed some of the ugly underpinnings of the social conservative Weltanschauung. An excerpt from her latest:

“Marriage is about the love of adults for each other; it’s about caretaking intimacy, passion, not necessarily about children.” When I hear people claiming they are marriage supporters and saying these things about marriage, I cringe. They do not know what they are talking about.

A marriage culture means married men who fall passionately in love with their secretaries or their junior law partners saying, “My marriage comes before my happiness; my family comes first.” It means women watching Oprah and feeling underappreciated, like they are “settling” for less than they deserve, stepping back to say, “It’s not humiliating to accept less than I ‘deserve;’ it’s grown-up. It’s motherly. It’s what women have done for all of human history and it is good.”

And then stepping back and saying: “His mother can love him; if he were my son I would love him, there’s got to be a way for me to love him well and truly even though right this second I’m feeling humiliated and angry with how I’m being treated.” No marriage culture can survive unless adults are actively encouraged to surmount this kind of ordinary temptation…

Bold emphasis mine. Repost it widely, folks. Gallagher wants a world where wives baby husbands like mothers baby sons (she uses the mothering image too often for it to be careless). Her contempt for women and men is staggering; for Gallagher, a man is apparently an eternal child and every woman is called, perhaps like Mary, to be long-suffering, maternal, and self-abnegating. (Since when did the Jesus-Mary relationship become the model for good marriages? That’s a perverse twisting of Ephesians 5 indeed, more perverse than even Freud could imagine!) For Gallagher, humiliation and degradation are feelings to be suppressed, denied, and overcome, while happiness itself — especially for women — is a “dangerous temptation.”

Those who want to limit marriage to a man and a woman have rarely been so honest about the misogyny that undergirds their position. Here’s the shorthand: “marriage is about obligation and reproduction, not about desire. If gays and lesbians are allowed to marry, it will symbolize that marriage has become about love and feeling rather than solemn duty and reproduction. Heterosexual couples will look at gay couples and conclude that they are only expected to remain in a marriage as long as that marriage is fulfilling, because the non-reproductive nature of gay and lesbian relationships indicates that emotional fulfillment, sans reproductivity, is sufficient grounds to wed someone. And thus emboldened to choose happiness over duty, the divorce rate will spike, children will suffer, and the baby Jesus will cry.”

Good luck marketing this one, Maggie Gallagher. And you wonder why you’re losing the culture war?

I think the Maggie Gallaghers of the world are wrong. I think they’re wrong sociologically, wrong theologically, wrong psychologically. I’m not sorry that the tide has turned perceptibly against them, and and I’m absolutely not sorry that the sense continues to grow that though they might win an occasional ballot-box skirmish, the long-term demographic and cultural trend is likely against them. But because I’ve lived and worked among people like these, my schadenfreude is tempered with compassion. As an environmentalist, I know what it is to look at a world which seems to be heading ever faster towards self-destruction. As a vegan, I have a clear understanding of at least one meaning — not the right’s meaning — of what it means to witness a “culture of death” in action. I know what it is to despair of the choices my fellow citizens make, to despair of the seemingly willful ignorance of the majority, to worry deeply about the world in which my great-grandchildren will grow up.

Despair is not a pleasant feeling. It leads some to revolution, some to misanthropy, some to apocalyptic millenarianism, some to Zoloft, and some to unhinged postings at the National Review. As the evidence begins to grow that the battle to drag America and the Western World back to Calvin’s Geneva or Savonarola’s Florence is really and truly irrevocably lost, some essentially decent but misguided folks are struggling with despair. Watch with glee or empathy, but watch — because as they try and hold off despair, their rhetoric grows more honest. And that candor will hasten, I suspect, the irrelevance of the cultural right, as it reveals once and for all the deep-seated misogyny concealed beneath the lofty language of the “culture of life.”

85 thoughts on “Despair on the right: of depressed social conservatives, a lost culture war, and the misogynistic underbelly of the “marriage movement”

  1. 40% of children are born out of wedlock… not going to roll that back either?

    the secular pop conceptions of meanings of marriage is what is killing marriage… legalize gay marriage and the whole thing is gone withing 30 years…

  2. Children being born out of wedlock is not a social problem. Children being born to parents who are not prepared to care for them and raise them well is a social problem. My partner and I are not married, nor is she to her other partner, but our two-month-old son seem to be thriving under the intensive care of three parents.

    Children do not need their parents to be blessed by some specific social tradition in order to grow up happy and healthy.

  3. “40% of children are born out of wedlock… not going to roll that back either?”

    I think Hugo might disagree with me here, but I’m all for more children being born out of wedlock since I have little use for the institution of marriage myself. Besides the fact that I believe it to be little more than a misogynistic institution, I also don’t see why it’s even necessary. If you love someone, you don’t need a piece of paper and the validation of the church and state to make it so.

    “legalize gay marriage and the whole thing is gone withing 30 years…”

    How does that work exactly? ‘Cause I have yet to figure it out. Do you honestly believe that if we legalize gay marriage that all the heterosexuals are going to go “oh, look at how much fun they’re having!! i think i’ll give being gay a whirl!!”

    Because from where I’m standing, the only reason I can see for people forgoing heterosexual marriage in favor of homosexual marriage would be if homosexual marriage was better than heterosexual marriage. So, by making this statement, it seems to me that you are actually insulting the institution you mean to defend.

  4. The “gay marriage kills marriage” argument is based on a couple of things: an utter refusal to take responsibility for heterosexuals’ attacks on the institution of marriage, and a rigid, delusional fetish for zero-sum gender essentialism. (you know; the type of people who look at a same-sex couple and ask “Which one of you plays the man?”)

    Is Gallagher the one who was previously divorced, or was she a single mom before the current marriage? I can’t keep her good-for-me-but-not-for-thee life separate from Katherine Parker and Bay Buchanan anymore.

  5. Wait a minute….she wasn’t being facetious? Marriage culture is when your husband falls in love with another woman, forms an emotional and sexual relationship with her….but it’s ok as long as he tells his mistress that he won’t get divorced?! And marriage culture is when you choose to take a backseat to the mistress because it’s the motherly thing to do?

    And people are honestly wondering why this portrait of marriage isn’t appealing to very many women (or men, either)?

    Can she not see that the threat to marriage comes from the culture that expects that sort of cheek-turning in the “defense of marriage?” Defense of what marriage? What is more important: the certificate of marriage, or the lives and health of the people in it (and of course, any family members that share the household)?

  6. I like how she equates a cheating husband (with a secretary or junior law partner, because of course he’d never go for someone on the same level as himself or higher!) with a wife watching Opera and feeling unhappy. Sure they both can cause marital problems, but she somehow magically pardons the man for his major transgression and shames the woman for not policing her own self reflection. It’s quite a feat.

  7. Yes, and I’ve already deleted one comment from the moderation queue where a laddie tried to argue that falling in love with your secretary but not acting on it physically not only wasn’t infidelity, but a sign of heroism. He was a bit too vulgar, otherwise I might have let that whopper through.

  8. Hugo-

    I keep hearing that the culture war is over, but wanting it to be over will not turn that into a reality. (Exhibit A: O destroyed McCain in CA, but prop 8 still passed.) O is in office because of one thing . . . the economy. The culture war will likely drag on for MANY more years and there will be new players added into the mix. A lot of people on the right are being overly dramatic because there is power to gain if the economy doesn’t recover quickly.

    How fragile is the current state of Democratic power? God forbid we have one plane go into a building or the golden gate bridge and Obama will be the “weak liberal” who can’t protect us from the terrorists.

  9. Dave, you’re right that the battles will go on. But we’re moving the ball down the field. It’s not the end of the game by any means, but we’ve completed some long passes, and though we’ve had a few of our plays go for negative yardage, the current drive is looking promising. (Sorry, sports on the brain.)

    And the culture war isn’t about who is in the White House. The right-wing won a lot of battles under GW Bush — but the rate of babies born outside of wedlock and the rates of teen pregnancy went up during his administration, despite (and perhaps because of) the abstinence and marriage movements The forces driving this culture war cannot be controlled by politicians alone.

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  11. Is Gallagher the one who was previously divorced, or was she a single mom before the current marriage?

    Ten years as a single mother, now married. Not too strapped a single mother life, as single mother lives go; she had a Yale degree, and lived for at least a chunk of that time in Park Slope, not a bad Brooklyn neighborhood to be in. But I’ve always wondered, was she this conservative all along, or was there a younger Maggie Gallagher who was more skeptical of the Church’s teachings on sex, and perhaps got convinced by her experience of single motherhood that the Church was right after all?

    Wait a minute….she wasn’t being facetious?

    No way; this piece is consistent with everything else Maggie Gallagher writes.

  12. I suspect she’s just got the conservative doublethink down pat: the lectures I dish out don’t apply to me and mine. (I have many negative things to say about David Frum, not limited to his choice in spouses, but I give him credit for refusing to buy into that ‘morality is for the little people’ bullshit.)

  13. Hugo,

    Your post is a post of triumphalism. If I was you, I’d probably feel triumphalist too. Your side is winning. And in truth, as much as I disagree with your values, I don’t blame you. Your side has fought long and hard for what you believe in, has suffered and sacrificed. So enjoy it, you’ve earned it. But you commit the basic error that all triumphalists make, to assume that the trend of today is the trend forever. In the last century, the disciples of globalization, capitalism, industrial agriculture, Bolshevism, and European imperialism, among other projects, all assumed that history was on their side, and that the momentum of history was inevitable. They were wrong. How do you know you won’t be as well?

    There was once a society which had both gay marriage and widespread abortion, as well as a general free-and-easy sexual ethic. It was also had many similarities to our society in terms of political, ecological, social and economic features. Its name was Rome, and in time it fell. Now, you may choose to think that the move from Roman sexual freedom to Christian sexual asceticism was a good one, or a bad one. (I tend to think it was a good one, in large part, but like Luther’s drunkard on the horse we erred too far in the opposite direction). The important point is that the fall of Rome proves that history doesn’t only move in one direction. It moves in cycles.

    God works in history, but He works slowly. Jesus prophecied that Jerusalem would fall, and that prophecy was fulfilled 40 years later. St. John prophecied that Rome, too, would fall, and that prophecy was fulfilled 400 years later. Imagine if a Roman in 100 AD had heard St. John’s prophecy. Wouldn’t he have mocked it, in the same way that you mock social conservatives today? Savonarola, who you mock, was also mocked in his day, and he was burned at the stake after enduring long and bitter torture (and of all the things he hated about himself, most of all he hated the fact that he temporarily broke under the torture). Today, the church is considering making him a saint.

    As for despair, I’ve despaired of America for a long time. Before I loathed America’s stand on so many of the social/sexual issues, I loathed its capitalist economics, its political ideas, its imperialist foreign policy and its destruction of the natural environment, and though I love the American land and the American people, I have no love for the American political project. My despair leads me to do three things. In my personal life, in the kind of life I try to build with a spouse and children, I will strive to be a living witness to what I believe, and a rebuke to the me-first values of America. I will try to do whatever good that I can, in a small way, to help out those who need it, and who have been hurt by America. And, perhaps, someday I’ll leave America for good, maybe move to the mountains of Bolivia or something, and try to live my life in accordance with my values. I’ve thought about it a lot, since I was a teenager, and perhaps one of these days I’ll actually do it, if I find the strength, and if my future wife and children agree.

  14. You’re right, of course, about prayer, and about this consolation, that “on this rock do I build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

  15. I recall back in the day teen girls were advised that trying to trap a guy with the “I’m pregnant, marry me” routine was pathetic and doomed to failure. Maggie Gallagher apparently never got that memo because she’s constantly hyping the theme that marriage is all about tying men and women together via spawning. She conveniently fails to tell readers that she got knocked up out of wedlock and was unable to convince the baby daddy to marry her (though some other fool later married her). Now she’s convinced that allowing same-sex couples to marry will signal the end of heterosexual marriage because men will no longer feel obligated to marry the women they spawn with–if they do so at all; they’ll instead choose to get gay-married to other men. We must ban same-sex marriage so women can continue to use babies to trap men in marriages with them, you see.

    She’s quite pathetic, really.

  16. Whoa! Hold the phone! I just followed that link and…..well, the mind just boggles.

    I think it’s very telling that while she is quite descriptive of what contitutes bad marriages, the kind one is “supposed” to swallow down like castor oil—-nowhere does she mention communication, togetheress, intimacy, trust, respect, friendship….or any other basic building block of a relationship.

    Is she living this story, right now?

  17. Although not the main point of the post, I am curious about one thing Hugo. How can you simultaneously be convinced that the world is a better place with your daughter in it (not that YOU are happier, but that the world is a better place) and also be supportive of government policies that will lead to fewer humans on the earth? Should these policies not also apply to you?

  18. Hector, isn’t that an argument for same-sex marriage? If we don’t let the homos marry, they’ll continue their sexually profligate, never-gonna-marry lifestyle and then OMG JUST LIKE ROME!!!1!!

    La Lubu, I suspect she just makes shit up. I used to read the Family Scholars Blog because it was somewhere to talk with conservatives in a civil atmosphere – but it became apparent that other than Elizabeth, nobody else (Brad Wilcox or Maggie Gallagher in particular) was interested in an intellectually-honest discussion.

  19. “Now, you may choose to think that the move from Roman sexual freedom to Christian sexual asceticism was a good one, or a bad one.”

    I choose to believe that it was a bad one. I also choose to believe that the rise of Christianity also played a large role in the fall of Rome.

  20. The “choosing your marriage means choosing finiteness over infinite possibility” line I actually like, because that one’s true of even good marriages, IMO. Heck, choosing anything consistently means choosing finiteness over infinite possibility, and being unable to let go of other possibilities to choose one thing can be a trap. But then that line has to be followed by “I’m never going to get what I really desire,” and settling for that is a good thing. There’s nothing in here about even fighting to fix that marriage where you’re feeling humiliated. Sacrifice does have a place, but there also needs to be a place for actually fixing what’s making you unhappy (in balance, of course, with responsibility and care of others).

    Also, I didn’t much care for her “audacity of hope or the audacity of fidelity” line. It’s an undeserved dig at Obama, who’s done nothing to suggest that his “audacity of hope” is at odds with fidelity.

  21. Also, I didn’t much care for her “audacity of hope or the audacity of fidelity” line. It’s an undeserved dig at Obama, who’s done nothing to suggest that his “audacity of hope” is at odds with fidelity.

    I think the point being unintentionally made here is that Gallagher sees fidelity as composed mostly of lowered expectations. Those of us who actually enjoy our partner’s (or partners’) company don’t see hope and fidelity as at odds.

  22. Lynn, I think you underestimate how much Obama’s apparently happy, stable and responsible marriage drives cultural conservatives up the wall. Here he is living their ideal and he’s a goddamn liberal; plus he makes people like, oh, Newt Gingrich look like asses.

  23. Married Tom, I am a great believer that children can make the world a better place. I don’t want an end to the human race. I favor family size limitation. If I have six kids, I’m harming the world in a tangible way that I am not if my wife and I focus on zero population growth by reproducing ourselves.

    Just because I think one cookie is delicious doesn’t mean I think I, or anyone else, should eat the whole box in one sitting. You get the idea.

  24. Re: Hector, isn’t that an argument for same-sex marriage? If we don’t let the homos marry, they’ll continue their sexually profligate, never-gonna-marry lifestyle and then OMG JUST LIKE ROME!!!1!!


    I do support same-sex marriage. I don’t think churches should perform them, and I don’t think that explicitly Christian societies should perform them (no gay marriages, hopefully, in Poland, Peru, or Santo Domingo). But I don’t see good grounds, in the secular United States, for allowing voluntarily childless marriages or second/third/fourth marriages and not allowing homosexual marriages. Therefore, I’ve come to believe that gay marriage should be supported. What I would like to see in an ideal Florence-in-the-Andes is different from what is right for the United States.

    Homosexual acts in today’s America are also not really comparable to in ancient Rome (they didn’t really have our modern concept of innate sexual identity) and in fact some use that fact to argue that while the condemnations of Paul and Jude are valid, they aren’t appliacble to all homosexual relationships today. That argument is a compelling one, though I’m not certain if it’s dispositive. I cited Rome more as an example of the polar opposite of Christian values, to show that there’s nothing inevitable in history.

  25. I suppose I’m inclined to try really hard to find a way to give Maggie the most benefit of the doubt I can, even when I strongly disagree with her, because she’s a friend of a net friend. She’s also amiable enough in email, but she and Brad Wilcox both tend to straw man their opposition in a way Elizabeth rarely does. She also has a terribly “eat your spinach” approach to marriage (and an obsession with improbable dangers from same-sex marriage).

    Compare G.K. Chesterton – traditional Catholic like Maggie Gallagher, staunch believer in differences between the sexes like Maggie Gallager:

    Very few people ever state properly the strong argument in favour of marrying for love or against marrying for money. The argument is not that all lovers are heroes and heroines, nor is it that all dukes are profligates or all millionaires cads. The argument is this, that the differences between a man and a woman are at the best so obstinate and exasperating that they practically cannot be got over unless there is an atmosphere of exaggerated tenderness and mutual interest. To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are

    Now, I don’t actually agree with Chesterton here; I think he exaggerates the differences between the sexes. I’d put it more that any two people (whether of the same or different sexes) who fall in love are going to hit points where they find each other selfish or stubborn. But what I like in this quote is the acknowledgement that, if you’re going to vow yourself to one person, it’s a heck of a lot easier if that one person is someone to whom you feel “exaggerated tenderness and mutual interest.” I think a good life includes both willingness to sacrifice, and the ability to pick, as best you can, the sacrifices you can joyfully make. Sometimes either life or your own carelessness may stick you with sacrifices that you can’t make quite so willingly, but best to take all the opportunity you can get to pick the commitments you really want. (I’m reminded here of Alice Walker’s line about God being disappointed if you walk past the color purple in a field and don’t stop to take pleasure in it.)

  26. On a more frivolous note, my favorite blog post title ever in response to Maggie Gallagher (not one by me) was “Maggie, Wake Up, I Think I’ve Got Something To Say To You.”

  27. Except that I think you are a bit overbroad in your definition of “churches”, Hector, I’m glad we agree.

    but she and Brad Wilcox both tend to straw man their opposition in a way Elizabeth rarely does

    Ugh. There is nothing Brad will not stoop to in his efforts to show that women really, really belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. There is no study he will not distort, no information he will not cleverly omit from an article in his quest. I sometimes wonder if he and Mrs. Wilcox have some real issues to work out.

    Maggie Gallagher spent a million dollars of her own money to make sure that people I deeply care about can’t ever marry, because it offends some illogical little part of her psyche. She may be more intellectually honest than Brad Wilcox – not much of a stretch – but net-friend-thrice-removed or no, I wouldn’t piss down her throat if her heart were on fire.

  28. Can’t say I blame you, mythago; if I had a million dollars of my own money to spend, I sure as hell wouldn’t have spent it to promote Proposition 8.

  29. Re: I think a good life includes both willingness to sacrifice, and the ability to pick, as best you can, the sacrifices you can joyfully make.

    I don’t know that I, entirely, disagree. Except I don’t think all sacrifices need to be chosen to be valuable or beautiful. There were a lot of young soldiers in the Second World War, I suspect, who might have preferred to stay home and sacrifice in other ways- perhaps fighting for economic justice, or racial justice, both of which causes were every bit as important as any. I bet there were lots of black soldiers, in particular, who hated the fact that they were being called to essentially die for a white man’s government (and that, in its way, makes their sacrifice all the more heroic). But we can’t always pick the battles we are called to fight, or the sacrifices we are called to make, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In war, in faith, or in marriage. Choice can be a good thing in its way, but sometimes following what we don’t choose, and would never choose, but what we are being called to anyway, is an even better thing. As it’s said: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

  30. Hector: As a European, I have to say that the second world war may have been led by white men in government, but it’s success has saved Europe from the worst racially motivated, routine and universal racial attrocity possible – the final solution. So to argue that the second world war was not relevant to black men is bogus – ok, maybe it was not so immediately relevant to American black men as toEuropeans at that time because Hitler was not such an immediate thrreat to them. The same applies to American jews, catholics, homosexuals or communists. But winning the fight against Hitler was one of the greatest escapes (for the lucky ones) of non cocasians of the last century. The second world war was VERY much about racial equality – ask any European. I’ve been to places in France which are still haunted by memories of racial, and other, terrors. Thank god, and the soldiers who fought for us, that they are memories – for this reason the second world war reminds me why I can’t be a complete pacifist.

  31. Hugo–so you are in favor of family size limitation as a policy measure. I thought you were also “pro choice” when it comes to a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. Are these two not contradictory positions? Or are you only pro choice when it comes to the option of abortion, not the option of carrying out a wanted pregnancy that exceeds some government-defined family size mandate?

    And to think that one new child is OK but six is not is also inconsistent. Each child eats, drinks, and will eventually drive, need a house, etc. If we are on the precipice of disaster as is the claim, NO new children are good. Even a “zero population growth” approach leaves us with the current overpopulated mother earth, still polluting and overusing our limited resources. Whether it is one child or six, the damage is a matter of degree.

    If forcing family size and eliminating a woman’s “right to choose” through abortion or having no children at all seem draconian, I agree. But these are the logical conclusions one draws if one truly believes in a mandated family limitation and that human population is destroying the earth and must be limited. It seems that few people actually believe it, they simply propose it as a measure for people other than themselves.

  32. Hugo, with all respect to your new family, the only difference between you and a father of six is a matter of degree. You and I have selfishly chosen to add to the population of the world. And really, don’t blather about “replacement rate”. That’s an overall birth rate per woman; it doesn’t mean everybody is entitled to 2.1 children. For the birth rate to be low, many people need to adopt, rather than breed. You didn’t disappear when your daughter was born.

  33. Of course it’s a matter of degree! Lots of things are a matter of degree — the only difference between a Prius and a Hummer is a matter of degree too, but that’s hardly an effective argument for saying one might as well drive a Hummer, since all cars pollute to some degree. If you’re going to buy a car, some choices are more environmentally responsible than others; if you’re going to reproduce, some family sizes are more responsible than others.

    You all are free to call me a hypocrite when I have my sixth child, but the idea that there is no real difference between small families and large families seems to defy logic.

  34. Having six kids would make you a bigger hypocrite, just like flying a private jet to an Earth Day event.

    You failed to address the second argument. If you are in favor of a woman’s “right to choose” what to do with her body and her pregnancy, how can you “favor family size limitation”. If the government outlaws abortion, it removes by law the woman’s right to choose NOT TO reproduce. If the government sets a limit and enforces family size, if removes by law the woman’s right to choose TO reproduce. How do you reconcile these positions?

  35. I’m not in favor of enforcing anything. Look, empowering women with contraception, encouraging later marriage, offering more economic opportunity is getting the job done. I don’t want the Chinese policy, for heaven’s sakes. I want gradually declining birth rates and a shift from a growth to a sustainability model — and feminism is getting the job done, hence the alarmism from the right about population decline.

    Government can incentivize without mandates.

  36. “so you are in favor of family size limitation as a policy measure. I thought you were also “pro choice” when it comes to a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body.”


    I’m also in favor of lower family size. I’m not, however, in favor of enforcing it anymore than I would believe Hugo would be. There’s this really awesome thing that happens tho. When you give women education, access to contraception, tubal ligations, and even (*gasp*) abortions, we tend to have fewer children, maybe even no children. It is possible to work towards goals without passing laws and bans, etc.

    And btw, while I have had children (2 to be exact), I have also had a tubal ligation so I will not be adding anymore children to the destruction of the planet.

  37. if you’re going to reproduce, some family sizes are more responsible than others

    If you’re going to dump toxic waste on your lawn, some chemicals are more toxic than others.

    If you’re going to drive a carbon-spewing car rather than take public transit or walk, some cars pollute more than others.

    If you’re going to eat meat, some kind of animal husbandry is less cruel than other kinds.

    The fallacy, Hugo, is that you refuse to acknowledge that reproducing at all is an environmentally unsound choice. The equivalent of taking mass transit is adoption, not having only one child.

  38. Personally, I’ll be having three, and Hugo can put that in his pipe and smoke it. If I cann’t live in a country that aspires to my values, I can at least do my part to frustrate my political enemies by how I live my life.

  39. Fair enough, mythago. Adoption is best, for sure — but having one’s own children in small numbers and raising them responsibly is surely preferable to having a large family.

    And, ahem, having two vegan children, say, means less of a drain on the earth than two who eat the typical American diet.

  40. Is it? If that family of six is Amish their footprint on the Earth is probably half of what your family or mine creates.

    You have a long history of turning virtue into a competitive sport, Hugo. That’s a really, really bad quality in a new parent; believe me, you don’t want to be the guy who makes all the other parents at the playground roll their eyes when they see him coming.

  41. you don’t want to be the guy who makes all the other parents at the playground roll their eyes when they see him coming

    “Oh Christ, it’s the guy who’s sniffs at our SUV and lectures us about plastic bottles. Quick! Pretend to be having a seizure!”

  42. I personally want to thank ALL the people who limit their family size, for their voluntary recognition that my genetic material deserves a proportionally larger share of the biosphere than theirs does.

  43. Robert, can’t you just donate a whole bunch to sperm banks? Then your genetic material is likely to get a farther dissemination (sorry) than just about any of us.

  44. I started going down that route, but then realized that if I wanted to get serious, I needed a time machine.

  45. Mythago,

    Most social conservatives, and some moderates like myself, are opposed to artificially assisted reproduction so we wouldn’t donate to a sperm bank in any case. To do so would be to betray everything we believe about how things are meant to be.

  46. “Most social conservatives, and some moderates like myself,”

    By what definition are you a moderate? You seem to be one of the most far-right people I’ve ever encountered. And that’s saying quite a bit…

  47. Hugo, have you considered that it is but a short step from critiquing family size to critiquing family productivity and societal contribution…as in…certain people should not be reproducing at all.

    Sure you wanna go there?

  48. Ahunt, you remind me of my pro-life friends, who argue that support for abortion rights is tantamount to acceptance of genocide. Jeepers, people, “slippery slope” is a logical fallacy. Don’t they teach that in philosophy class anymore?

  49. Hugo, you remind me of those pro-lifers who argue that everyone’s abortion is wrong – except theirs.

    Ahunt is right in that you’re conflating two things: taking environmental concerns into account in choosing how many kids to have (or not have), and particular family size. The latter is simply OKOP carping about NOKOPs breeding like rabbits. It’s middle-class preening about how we only have the Proper Number of Children, tarted up in green.

    An Old Order Amish family of nine doesn’t use electricity, raises much of their own food, doesn’t drive SUVs, and doesn’t live in a part of the country that has to pump in water from the Colorado River to its urban areas. Are you really going to argue they have too many children for the Earth? Are you really going to say that by eating meat from animals they rear themselves, on small farms, is so much worse for the environment than a TVP patty manufactured by agribusiness giants like ADM?

  50. But Mythago, since Hugo is not Amish, isn’t it better that he have two car-driving children than six?

    I think having two children makes sense–it’s true that having a single child puts more strain on the Earth’s resources, but it’s also true that if the birthrate dropped very suddenly it would cause societal problems that might be difficult to sort out. So, if no family has more than two children, and you can count on some people to not want children, the population will shrink gradually. Perfect!

  51. Myth nails it, Hugo. Our early rural lifestyle depended on reducing, recycling, reusing, rebuilding and improvising, and simply doing without. To this day, I organically! grow and then preserve at least 75% of what we eat.

    The point remains…I can just as easily and “virtuously” snark about the energy consumption of spoiled central air sucking suburbanites with the proper number of kids who can’t stand a little heat or cold, or live without all their hobbies and hi-tech toys, and who won’t use a clothesline because their neighborhood association has determined that drying clothes outside brings down the tone of the neighborhood, and so on. (Don’t get me started on the energy and resources needed to power urban recreational facilities.)

    By your own reasoning, I can make a case that city dwellers ought to stop at one.

  52. The Better Half has pointed out that my first post is unclear and incomplete, Hugo, and that your response is actually justified.

    When I was a kid, I read Alvin Toffler’s Third Wave…and was taken by the philosophy of the “prosumer,” folks who produce as they consume. I won’t go into the details, but the you get the idea. Reality precluded any kind of strict adherence to stated ideals, but the concepts have served as loose guidelines for how we have conducted our homelife…from raising our own food, building the homestead with recycled/natural materials on hand, heavily supplementing public ed with our own knowledge and experiences, a spot of homeschooling, focusing on the natural world out our back door for our entertainment, the ag/craft-type home business, community service-and specifically, the caring for critters URBAN folk persistently dump on us…and so on.

    The result is a computer scientist, an outdoorsman engineer and an environmental scientist and activist, all of whom are dedicated to living environmentally responsible lives.

    There is no guarantee that folks who DO have the proper number of children in your view are also raising kids as devoted to the well-being of the planet as ours. So I can certainly suggest that urban folks less familiar and devoted to our natural world, less inclined to do without, less inclined to adjust their environmental comfort levels, less inclined to personally and responsibly produce a significant portion of their own sustenance ought not to be throwing stones, and should instead, avoid reproducing.

    But I wouldn’t suggest it, because I like kids, and my neighbors, and my urban customers, and I don’t think that anyone’s family size is my business.

  53. Medea, would it be OK for Hugo to have eight children because, hey, eight is better than fifteen?

    I am really trying to find a polite response to your “Perfect!” argument, and failing. It’s hand-waving nonsense. Unless you have something to back up your argument that promoting a only-child ideal would lead to Armageddon, all you’re really saying is that nice people don’t have more than two.

  54. Jeepers, people, “slippery slope” is a logical fallacy. Don’t they teach that in philosophy class anymore?

    Oh, and btw, Hugo, when you start to get bitchy and condescending like this, it’s a sure sign that somebody hit a big ol’ nerve and you can’t think of any better way to react than by being a petulant ass.

  55. Let’s find out which ethnic group has the largest statistical number of Nobel Prize winners, doctors, philosophers, mystics and inventors of cultural artifacts and products that help humanity and incentivize them to have six children or more per family.

  56. Mythago, eight is not a good number because it’s above replacement level. It is still better than fifteen.

    “Societal problems that might be difficult to sort out” is not the same as “Armageddon.” I’m talking about current fears of politicians in the EU–not enough new workers to pay for pensions, etc. I think Germany’s birthrate is a bit low, but a rate of 1.8 or so, maintained over decades, would gradually ease the pressure.

  57. And, Mythago, if you live in the United States–which has a birth rate of what, 2.1?–then it’s easy for you to wave off dire predictions of a too-rapidly shrinking population. Some don’t have that luxury.

  58. Medea, it’s very easy for me to wave off dire predictions that aren’t based in anything more than a warm, glowy feeling about two-child families. Please explain how encouraging (not requiring) people to stop at one child is going to lead to a sudden generational collapse?

    Two children per family adds two more human beings to the planet. Their parents don’t pop out of existence to maintain equilibrium. Reduction in overall population, not merely “replacement rate”, requires something more than having two kids and being self-congratulatory about having come in just under that 2.1.

    You also contradict yourself about the EU. No EU country I’m aware of is happy about its low birthrates.

  59. I didn’t contradict myself at all. The worry about low birth rates is my point exactly–they don’t know how they’ll subsidise the aging population, which is why a two-child policy would work better than a one-child policy. On the other hand, I think it’s short-sighted of panicking politicians to aim for a birthrate of 2.0 children per woman or above. Their chief concern is a healthy economy and the environmental costs are shoved to the side. That’s why I favour two rather than three children.

    It’s really irritating the way you assume that anyone who thinks two is a reasonable balance has “warm, glowy feelings” about the issue–I certainly don’t. I don’t care if a few English families have seven children, as long as the population overall is shrinking.

    I also don’t know what your objection to the idea of replacement is. So the parents don’t die immediately, so what? In the long run, it will balance out.

  60. In the long run, we’ll all be dead, as someone far more intelligent and famous than me pointed out.

    Two is slightly below replacement, three is slightly above. So if what you really want is “replacement”, some families have two and some have three. Nobody can have .1 or .3 of a child.

  61. Hugo, let me ask some respectful questions: who do you think bears the greater burden for limiting family size—men, or women?

    Who do you think bears the greater burden for personal ecological choices in general—-men, or women?

    (No, I don’t mean “in your opinion”. I mean, who gets the public scorn for trangressing the new boundaries? Or maybe, not so new boundaries. I live in the midwest, where Protestants still scorn folks who have more than (their) limit of three children as “must be Catholic”, and family size is a barometer of “real American-ness”—as in those damn immigrants and their huge families….it’s only the number that has changed, not the attitude. And there wasn’t any “environmental” concern in my grandmother’s day when she was getting the scorn—it was “cultural” then…)

    You said earlier “adoption is best”. Please read this post and its thread over at Shakesville. It may change your mind. It may enlighten you as to what that burden means for women.

    As for those who don’t adopt, who do you think gets the sneering attitudes for having their third child—couldn’t be the woman, could it? After all, the “choice” to have that third child was ultimately hers, wasn’t it? She’s the selfish woman who didn’t put her feet up in the stirrups for an abortion, like a good eco-warrior would.

    Seems like people forget—it’s not having children that’s the choice. It’s not having children that is the choice. Remember this post at Bitch, Ph.D?

    Now, I understand where folks are coming from about the “magic number” two children—-two kids, two parents, over time it’ll (supposedly) all even out. But here’s the thing: a lot of these “reminders” about the ecological responsibility of (a) not having children, (b) having one child, or (c) having no more than two children—well, it’s a lot like other “helpful” reminders dished out to women. The lion’s share of women, when we have educational opportunity, workplace opportunity, a decent standard of living that provides for the strong possibility of the survival of one’s children…’s what we do already.

    There’s a trend here in the U.S. that seems to say—personal, individual decisions can drop-by-drop add up to a tidal wave that changes institutions. This is evident in how the “green” movement operates here, as if bottled water and selfish car drivers, etc. are the main causes of ecological destruction, and if individuals just bit the bullet and made minor changes in their “lifestyles”, the planet could heal. Those pesky megacorporations don’t really want to harm the planet—they care a lot! It’s just that they’re held hostage by demanding consumers who want more stuff, dirt cheap.

    The “limit two (2) children” message is a lot like the “use vinegar instead of glass cleaner” message—-it completely ignores the larger structural questions about why people are behaving the way they do. Platitudes about what driving does to the environment are pretty meaningless in a locale where the housing market close to the workplace is $3000 per month, but 30 or 60 miles away the housing cost is $400 per month (with another $450 or so for driving). Gee, if you were taking home $3000-$4000 per month, which would you choose?

    The choice of a statistically smaller number of women in the western world who have more than two children isn’t what’s driving the population upwards. It the lack of choice that women elsewhere in the world live with. So, it seems nasty to me that the blame is once again being foisted on to women, and like mythago said, “concern” for the population is being reduced to suburban one-upmanship, phrased thusly: “we have the choice, therefore we should just say no to more than two (or to any, depending on how hardcore one is)”……and then ramp that into “gawd! that Roslyn over there with her three kids….*titter, titter*…..doesn’t she know what causes that?!”

    Instead of, structural changes that improve the lives of women that provide them with the ability to make that same choice, or to even imagine the ability to make that choice—and that goes for here as well as abroad. Same with with “green living”—structural changes that allow for the ability to make green choices go much further than tut-tuts from the holier than thou about nongreen (but affordable, and workable within the 24-hour day) choices.

  62. Hector, if you’re still around, since I’ve seen you use it a couple of times and I(and google) have no idea what you’re talking about re: “Florence on the Andes.”

  63. Clearly, I have been tut-tutting, and I am sorry for that. Here’s what I ought to have said:

    The planet will be better off, long-term, with fewer humans (this will be true regardless of how much each of those humans consumes.) The best way to reach that goal is not, however, through shaming and one-upmanship (or one-downpersonship, or whatever), nor through government coercion. La Lubu is right, and Mythago is right, that smaller families tend to result whenever we empower women with contraception and education. Letting women decide how many babies they want to have, free from the real or perceived coercion of popes and politicians, parents and pontificators, is probably going to get us where we need to go.

    The number of women globally who really want to have huge families is probably relatively small compared to the number who would rather have two, one, or none. As long as we send the message that having no children isn’t selfish or short-sighted, I’m comfortable sending the message that having large families also isn’t selfish or short-sighted.

  64. Oh, and DJW, what Hector means (I think) is a kind of utopian society — one of simple, communitarian, agrarian values combined with a reverence for Christian scholarship. It’s the ultimate crunchy con vision, like Wendell Berry meets Savonarola meets Che Guevara.

  65. DJW,

    Sorry if that wasn’t clear- it was an offhand riff of of Hugo’s reference to the short-lived attempt in the late 15th century to establish a Christian state in Florence. I think that if, hypothetically, a state were to be established corresponding to my ideals (Christian, neo-Platonist, anticapitalist, antiliberal) somewhere in the mountains of South America would probably be the most likely place- especially since I have a lot of sympathy for _current_ revolutionary movements in that region, as well as for the Inca empire.

  66. The planet will be better off, long-term, with fewer humans

    This is an opinion, of course, but it’s also one that seems counterfactual.

    The Earth is approaching one of its periodic comet impact event cycles. That means that every shred of the biosphere, right down to the plankton in the ocean, faces near-extinction. It happens every 65 million years or so; sometimes it isn’t so bad and “only” half the life on the planet gets scythed away like so much dust. Sometimes it’s really terrible and we lose 99% of biomass and 95% of species.

    This is history. It’s factual. It’s not subject to debate.

    The only historical event on the planet that has the potential to mitigate or avert this literally cosmic catastrophe is the development of an intelligent species with the ability to master space and with the economic vigor (= energy usage) to protect the planet from the thousands of comet strikes that are due any millenium now.

    Less humans means a smaller human society, which in all likelihood means one that isn’t going to be up to the challenge. We need every human brain we can get ahold of, to build the future society which will be able to protect the planet from a very, very hostile universe. Your Gaian tea-sippers with 0.9 children and a 100-watt lifestyle won’t be up to the job; they’ll have closed down the space program because of all the nasty chemicals in the rocket fuel, and to avoid the spectre of importing all the hydrocarbon fuel that the solar system is stuffed with.

    So the planet, in fact, will be better off with MORE humans, using MORE energy and with MORE industry and technology. Your preferred route is the gentle glide path into extinction, not just for us, but for most of the rest of the life on this fragile globe.

  67. Thanks. I was reading you a bit too literally, and trying to figure out which Andean city warranted comparisons to Florence…

  68. Mythago, I want slightly below replacement–so some families can have three, if slightly more have one or none. And as long as that’s the case, which it certainly is over here, that’s fine.

  69. Robert, you’ve come up with some doozies in your time, but “you tree-huggers are going to make us ALL DIE when the comet hits” is above and beyond. I salute you.

    As long as we send the message that having no children isn’t selfish or short-sighted, I’m comfortable sending the message that having large families also isn’t selfish or short-sighted.

    Hugo, did you read what you just wrote? You’re OK with not mocking people who reveal themselves as NOKOP because they breed too often, but only on the condition that nobody make fun of the childfree. Dude, WTF?

    You weren’t merely tut-tutting. You were excusing conduct of yours that’s at odds with your stated principles by drawing a line right around your toes, and scolding everybody on the other side of that line. And in this case, it’s got extremely nasty sexist and classist overtones, as La Lubu pointed out better than I did.

    I’m not saying this just to beat you upside the head. I say it because you do have a very, very bad habit of being in denial about your less admirable impulses, and when you set those aside – as you’re capable of doing – you’re a much more persuasive blogger.

  70. *Shrug* Believe it or not, as you wish. But a great deal of environmental hand-wringing is completely wasted time and energy if the actual long-term threat isn’t addressed.

  71. Less humans means a smaller human society, which in all likelihood means one that isn’t going to be up to the challenge.

    I’m of the view that population on a global scale is something of a distraction from far more central issues about human and environmental futures. However, this formulation is far from certain. It’s plausible that a lower population might lead to less resource conflict, and more of the kind of stability that produces the kind of educational excellence that serves as a bedrock for scientific advancement. More people=more scientific advancement is a far from an accurate formula on a by society basis, and there’s no particular reason to think it would automatically hold for the world as a whole.

  72. DJW – That would be possible, in a world with one culture. But Hollywood’s best efforts notwithstanding, we have a very wide variety of cultures and populations on Earth. “Lower population” doesn’t mean less people, it means less people from the groups that decide to endorse low population, and more people from the other groups. There is no stable population point for the human species, barring some kind of (quite totalitarian) world state, and we’re an awfully fractious lot for that to ever come to pass.

    It’s true that in terms of inter-society comparisons, population and tech are not automatically correlated values. But WITHIN each society, you’d be hard pressed to find examples of places that become more innovative and forward-looking while their population shrank, and it’s trivially easy to find the opposite. I suspect that it isn’t natalism per se that drives technology, but rather, that optimistic and forward-looking societies invest in the future, both through scientific progress, and through making babies to live in that future.

    And just to be a contrarian, I have never particularly noticed that a commitment to educational excellence is a primary driver of high-tech development (though obviously it doesn’t hurt). From history it seems that crisis and disaster are much stronger drivers.

  73. The lion’s share of women, when we have educational opportunity, workplace opportunity, a decent standard of living that provides for the strong possibility of the survival of one’s children…’s what we do already.

    I haven’t mentally worked through all the comments here…and this point is the stopper, and I can’t quite figure out why.

    Access to the conditions listed above do result in smaller families. Evidence is indisputable. And yet, and yet…despite the wider opportunities available to me…I wanted a big family. (Friends tell me the relative ease of my first pregnancy and delivery spoiled me.)

    La Lubu graciously slaps down the obnoxious assumptions made about women who desire more than two, and Myth baldly calls out those who, in an online forum, successfully put me on the defensive, and had me essentially apologizing for choices that have turned out very well, personally and socially.

    Not much liking this.

  74. Believe it or not, as you wish.

    But some day, scoffing liberals….oh, you will RUE THE DAY you laughed!

    I mean, you do realize that OMG DEATH COMET can be an excuse for all kinds of tax-grabbing liberal spending programs, like increased funding to educate public school kids on science and math so they can build comet-busting lasers, or throwing more cash at NASA.

    As for shrinking birthrates, it’s only in the last several decades that extremely reliable control of fertility was available. I don’t think you can really compare the existence of the Pill to Spartan infanticide practices.

  75. “Lower population” doesn’t mean less people, it means less people from the groups that decide to endorse low population, and more people from the other groups.

    You’ve got a chicken/egg problem here, Robert. Lower population growth (or even negative population for some areas) wasn’t the result of any “endorsement”, it was the result of access to effective birth control combined with the move from an agrarian-based society to an industrial society. Mimic those conditions elsewhere, and you’re likely to have the same result in regard to population, even if other aspects of societies don’t resemble one another—-basic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as the number of children is more malleable (in the presence of effective birth control) than access to money or other assets. People change what’s in their power to change.

    I think “respect” is a concept also worth mentioning. Human beings are social animals, and we have a craving for respect. When women get more respect from having children than they do from say, their workplace—well, it’s pretty nasty to blame them for the downfall of the planet for taking the option that’s open to them for getting respect, rather than the option that’s open to you. Even in the industrial/post-industrial world, we don’t all have the same access.

    Or to be more blunt, if you’re a college professor from a patrician family, married to another educated professional, it’s easy to claim that one can seek validation in ways other than having children and getting respect from one’s family and community (even while getting the stinkeye from the “OKOPs”).

    Hugo, you know better than this. You even alluded as much in a post about the “kind of people who should be having kids”. You’ve done an about-face on this thread.

  76. Hugo has done an about face on this one because he has been cornered into the inconsistencies in his position. He began with the clear statement that he “wanted government policies that in time will lead to fewer humans on the earth” in the post.

    When confronted with the fact that such overt policies exist in places like China and equate to a lack of choice, he demurred with the softer “incentivize without mandates” position in which government education and tax code (which is force, but another topic altogether) will yield to the “right” procreational outcome from a more enlightened populace.

    When confronted with the cultural snobbery and other implications this position his opinion morphed to “having large families isn’t selfish or short-sighted as long as there is no problem with few or no children”

    More amazingly, the position change to just wanting women to be “free from the real or perceived coercion of popes and politicians, parents and pontificators” is a whopper. From “wanting government policies to lead to lower population” to “incentives” to this–I think you have covered the entire gamut. I welcome you to the ranks of proud libertarians in our country who realize that freedom is the only coherent position and almost always the best alternative. See you at the next Tea Party.

  77. Sorry, MT, you lost me there. Everyone who disagrees with Hugo is a libertarian?

  78. I think the rhino in the corner is the assumption that women who desire “more than two” are not acting from rational agency, but rather from “real or perceived coercion of popes and politicians, parents and pontificators,” or the desire for respect, or the lack of opportunity, or inherent abilities which permit us to make other choices.

    Is there any room in the discussion for people who choose to have larger families simply because we like kids, have the resources and the werewithal to raise them into “relatively” happy and well adjusted, contributing members of society?

    (Yes, the EE still insists we raised him in a dark closet full of horsepoop, where he survived on the hallucinogenic mushrooms that sprouted, but he seems to be doing fine these days.)

  79. I’m hardly libertarian. I do think we still need to have discussions about how reproductive choices intersect with global environmental responsibility, and we need to do so in a way that doesn’t leave women in the old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position.

    And Ahunt, folks like you are an important part of the conversation — but statistically, you’re also increasingly rare as family sizes remain stable or shrink

  80. ahunt, the cousin of that rhino is family size as a class and ethnicity marker.

  81. ahunt, I’m a mother too, and although it worked out that I only had one child (and am unlikely to have any more, given my age and the fact I’m not even dating anyone right now, much less in a serious relationship), I’m one of those folks who would have had more than two if given the opportunity.

    Look, I’m not the kind of woman who gets a pat on the head from society in general for being a mother, and I don’t even get the nod and smile from folks who are ‘progressive’ enough to think that single women can be mothers if all their paperwork is in order. But yet….in my slice of the world, I do get a respect that doesn’t exist anywhere else in my life for the fact I’m a good mother. Not a made-for-tv mother, not a ‘soccer mom’, or any other socially approved ™ stereotype of what a mother is supposed to be….but someone who genuinely gets a kick out of parenthood and enjoys it to the fullest. Y’know, somewhere along the line in these conversations, the fact that kids—-if you like ’em, that is—-are a helluva lot of fun. FUN! I’m tellin’ ya!

    And I like my job. I’m paid pretty well, have good benefits, and union protection. But it still doesn’t compare to parenthood. Not even close. So, when I’m talking about respect and satisfaction, I’m just thinking about other folks in my family, most of whom have four (sometimes more!) children, and what they’ve said to me. And I contrast that with a message that comes from one branch of feminism, which is that at least half, if not most women would choose no children if there was no “reward” for motherhood (meaning, the nod and smile). And the problem with that is that there are intrinsic rewards to parenthood that have nothing to do with social acceptance. Even when I’m getting the stinkeye for being the bad mom who doesn’t put her kid to bed at 9PM, or takes her daughter out to the movies on a schoolnight, or explains what transsexuals are, or why people would want to have sex even if they aren’t planning on having a baby, or whatever *gasp* daily outrage I’m committing—-I still have a daughter that tells me I’m doing a good job. 😉

    So yeah, it’s completely possible, and even probable, that there would be a certain predictable number of people who would choose to have more than two kids regardless of other circumstances or avenues open to them. But it’s also probable that that number of people is going to be greater when other avenues aren’t open, or open in the same way. There are still structural issues that affect family size.

    Foe example, a lot of childfree folks think that having universal subsidized childcare would be terrible, because then couples would have more children. That there should be strong financial disincentives to having children (as if, ahem, there aren’t). But that isn’t the case—it’s the other way around. Things like universal childcare actually make it more likely couples will have fewer children, because mothers will have access to the workplace that many don’t in its absence. If you end up leaving the workforce because of conflicts between work and parenting, why not have a couple more kids to make it worth your while, right?

  82. Like the Amish, the religious and social conservative will try to raise their children apart and away from the influence of the larger culture. No television, few movies, private schools, etc. as much as we can afford.

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