Monday, June 16, 2014

From The Junk Drawer

1. New Dangers.

NBC News wants us to worry:

Kids today — they’re smoking less, having less sex, and fighting less often at school. They’re less likely to use drugs, and they’re more likely to wear seat belts and helmets when they are supposed to.

The latest federal look at teenage behavior is reassuring and suggests that some safety messages are getting through to American youth.

On the downside, kids are fatter than ever before and just a third are eating anywhere near as many fruits and vegetables as they need to stay healthy. And less than a third are getting enough sleep.

...and while texting behind the wheel is a definite no-no, I'm more worried that they're not having sex. Stop: wait! Before you conclude that I've gone completely around the bend, consider this:

When Sweden went "free love," which was heralded by the legalization of all sexually-oriented behavior and entertainment falling short of cannibalism, was when its birth rate started to fall. Mind you, that wasn't because of contraceptives in the drinking water; it was because young Swedes stopped having sex. Apparently, letting sex "out of the darkness" and making it just another pastime, nothing to talk about, sharply reduced young Swedes' interest in "getting busy"...with one another, at any rate. Marriage rates fell almost immediately, and live births soon thereafter.

Go ahead and laugh if you must, but it's quite possible that only Americans' continued prevalent disapproval of sex between unmarried young folks, however watered down it's been, will sustain our ZPG birth rate of 2.07 live births per couple. A pattern is being reproduced -- and if history is any guide, just about nothing else will be.

2. And While We're On The Subject...

...consider this Times article cited by Crusader Rabbit:

‘Can you remember a time before the cult of motherhood? A time when parenting wasn’t viewed as a cross between competitive sport, a money-spinning, cash-in opportunity and the root cause of 95 per cent of contemporary neuroses?

A time before Yummy Mummies, Tiger Moms and SAHMs (stay-at-home mums), mummy bloggers, mumpreneurs, $2000 prams and the school-gate fashion scene; before women posted videos of their developing home pregnancy tests on YouTube, threw baby showers of such epic proportions that they’re renamed Power Showers, and declared the sex of their unborn child by cutting into a custom-baked cake, the interior of which has been food-dyed either blue or pink, by way of a formal announcement? A time before Baby Madness engulfed our society wholesale?

Me neither. General consensus suggests Baby Madness has held us in its thrall for little more than 15 years. It’s reasonable to say that in that time parenthood has been reimagined as a consumer opportunity. All this would be fine, I suppose — everyone needs a hobby. Except great swaths of research suggest modern parenting is not making us at all happy.

Various extensive studies produced over the course of the past decade repeatedly demonstrate that parents experience more stress and lower happiness levels than their childless equivalents....

We know that modern motherhood is defined by guilt, judgment and anxiety, by shifting rules and shifting goalposts, by fads and trends that conflict horribly with each other, by debate and antagonism drummed up in the media and disseminated via the toxic tendrils of the competitive motherhood movement.

We know our decision to breastfeed in public or not breastfeed at all, to go back to work too soon or stay at home too long, to name our child Xavier and hothouse him through primary school and keep him away from all sugar/touchscreen devices/non-organic substances until he’s eight years old, will be challenged endlessly by our friends, family, daytime TV discussion segments and the state.

How, given the circumstances, could parenthood lead to anything other than anxiety, neuroticism, indecision and misery?

Please read the whole thing. It's a peek into a phenomenon I've written about in another format:

"The structure of [21st Century American] society was far distant from ours. Extended families and clans such as we admire were very few. Even intact nuclear families had become exceptional. Many children never knew their fathers. Many couples consciously averted the possibility of conception their whole lives long. A great many women regarded childbearing and child rearing, not as a fulfillment and an honor to be cherished, but as costs, nuisances, and impediments to commercial achievement, or artistic expression, or social access.

"My Bakunin colleague would say that the typical family was limiting its total economic exposure by having very few children or none, since the expense of child-rearing in a heavily regulated State exceeds any other expense by a considerable margin. Parents wanted their children to 'have it all,' as the saying went, but with such a large State burden, which not only reduced the family's effective earnings but dramatically increased the price of every good for sale, most couples couldn't square that desire with a family of Hope's typical size.

"I see things differently. Families are the fundamental building blocks of a stable society. Extended families -- clans -- are the best conceivable environment for the rearing of children, the perpetuation of a commercial forte, and the germination of new families and their ventures. A clan like yours, Miss Albermayer, conserves a brilliant genetic line and a priceless medical specialty at the same time. A clan like yours, Mr. Morelon, makes possible a benign agricultural empire and produces natural leaders one after another while connecting Hope to its most distant origins. And all healthy families, which cherish life and bind their members to one another in unembarrassed love, can find far more to occupy and amuse them than they need."

Teresza's mind lit with memories of the way the Morelons had enfolded her and made her one of them. No day could have been long enough for all they had to say and do and share with one another.

"When Earth's regard for families and their most fundamental function deteriorated, her people ceased to enjoy the sorts of ties that had held them together throughout the history of Man. Without families, and especially without children, they groped for other things to fill their time, whether to give them a sense of purpose, or to distract them from the waning of their lives. Some invested themselves in industry or commerce, but without the sense of the family line to be built up and made prominent, those things failed to satisfy. Others immersed themselves in games, toys, fripperies, and increasingly bizarre forms of entertainment, which palled on them even faster. Still others made a fetish out of sex; there was a substantial sex industry on Earth, though it tended to operate in the shadows and was seldom openly discussed. They needed emotion and substance, but all they could contrive was sensation and novelty, and they pumped an ever greater share of their effort and wealth into seeking them. That's my thesis, for what it's worth."

That lecture catapulted my hero into a great breakthrough -- a deepened comprehension of his society and the one from which his forebears had fled:

"There's only two forces that really matter," he said. "Life and death. Everything else is a sideshow. When we work to live, and to make more life, and to take pleasure in life and help others do the same, that's healthy. That's freedom. But the people of Earth weren't free. They were surrounded by their States. By death. And the States never let up for a moment. So they couldn't make more life, or take a lot of pleasure in it. They had to distract themselves from all the death hemming them in. All the bodies piled up around them." He rose and turned to her at last, and she rose in response. Tears trickled down his face. "But our ancestors chose life. The Spoonerites made the Great Sacrifice and broke the circle, so our ancestors could get free." He wiped at his tears and smiled, a peculiar compound of pity for those who had died in bondage and gratitude that he and she and their compatriots would not. "We are so lucky."

As the State's burdens upon us become more onerous and we yield to the impulse to wallow in material satisfactions as analgesic distractions, we grow less inclined to accept the responsibilities that accompany large families. The fewer children we allow ourselves to have, the more powerful becomes the impulse to fetishize them. When we've come to regard them as a luxury good, the costs in time, money, effort, and opportunities foregone weigh upon us so heavily that we begin to resent them. Resentment of one's progeny is a short cut to extinction.

Think about it.

3. Three Days.

Saturday, June 14, was Flag Day.
Sunday, June 15, was Trinity Sunday.
Today, Monday June 16, is the 110th anniversary of Bloomsday: the day in the Year of Our Lord 1904 on which James Joyce's masterwork Ulysses is set.

No, I'm not going to suggest that there's some vibrant connection among those three days. I just wanted to make note of the sequence, which unaccountably struck me as funny. But, regardless:

  • Fly your American flag;
  • Say a prayer or two, and don't forget to close with the Doxology;
  • Read Ulysses, at the very least the brilliant "Nighttown" sequence in which Leopold Bloom wanders the streets of Dublin. (Molly Bloom's soliloquy is, frankly, boring after the first run-through.)

That's all for today, Gentle Reader.

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