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October 05, 2007

Populatin' and Propagatin' 3 -- The Anti-Death Party?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The awaited-by-no one final episode in my trilogy on questions of population and propagating. Episode one can be read here; episode two is here.

Here's a short version. Episode one: Why the hostility between breeders and non-breeders? We're all in this together, no? Episode two: Why so much anxiety about birth rates among certain crowds? The world's population is currently growing every year by more than the population of France. (That's an increase of over 200,000 people every goshdarned day.) And though it will level off sooner or later, that will be -- by my standards, anyway -- at a very high level indeed. What? 9 billion people isn't enough for you?

In this final episode I'm going to pick on the crowd over at Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog. Incidentally, this is a little ungallant of me. I like Dreher's work, I'm fairly Crunchy myself, and I recommend regular visits to Crunchy Con, the blog. So please let's understand that I'm not putting anything or anyone down. Instead, I'm scratching my head over a phenomenon that I encounter at Rod's joint from time to time.

Here's the puzzling tendency I sometimes run across: people who have kids carrying on as though they're doing their kid-having and kid-raising in the face of considerable opposition. They portray having and raising kids as a defiant and heroic adventure, a stirring war story in which every small success is accomplished despite overwhelming and hostile forces arrayed against them. These people can get downright urgent and teary about what they seem to see as their noble crusade, namely childraising. It's all ... for the kids! Cue weeping and sobbing, blackslaps and high-fives, and intense frenzies of self-righteousness ...

I don't think I'm exaggerating, by the way. Check out the comments on this posting, for one example among many.

This attitude requires an enemy, of course. And by god, these people have one. They call it "the Party of Death." (Or sometimes "the Culture of Death.") They really do. I'm often unsure what's being indicated by this name. Sometimes the Party of Death seems to consist of aggressive secularists, sometimes of aggressive Muslims, sometimes of aggressive people who don't do everything in their power to keep population growth booming, sometimes of aggressive DINKs -- because those of us without kids spend our days, y'know, swilling cocktails, snorting cocaine, attending orgies, and making fun of breeders. Sometimes the Party of Death seems to include anyone who ventures the slightest bit of irreverence about the whole sacred having-and-raising-kids thang.

Whatever the case, these wet-eyed child-raising devotees share a fervent conviction that there are Lots of People Out There who don't, just don't, want them to propagate. You have got to understand!!!!

Now, in fact I do understand a few things about this position. For one thing, I understand that raising kids can be a struggle. For another, I certainly understand that most parents feel anxiety and concern about their kids. If parents need to blow off steam and shake their heads from time to time, I'm sympathetic. If they suffer the occasional anxiety-nightmare, I'm unshocked.

Even so, I look at this particular kind of Xtreme carrying-on and think, What the hell?

My main question: Is it so hard to have and raise a child in today's America? Really? The contempo U.S. must be one of the most child-centric cultures ever. I wonder if these people have any idea what 99% of America looks like to grownups without kids; outside of a handful of center cities and retirement villages, it looks like one gigantic nursery. Everything -- jobs, living arrangements, vacation destinations, food, transportation and communication, shopping -- seems to be optimized for mommies, daddies, and the tykes. Where's the opposition? Where's the enemy?

So I find myself wondering: What on earth are these people really gnashing their teeth and blowing their war trumpets about? Further: What is this so-called Party of Death that they imagine themselves to be waging furious and agonizing battle against?

I confess that when I read things like the comments at the link above I sometimes think, "Oh, I get it. It's a Catholic thing. Big families ... Abortion ... The glamor of martyrdom ... A tendency to overdramatize everything ... That need they have for a Devil figure ... Boy, those Popes sure are good at scaring and inspiring the faithful into supplying them with lots of new little Catholics, aren't they?" But perhaps this is unfair of me.

Can anyone enlighten me as to what's really going on here?

Semi-related: I've marveled before about how child-centric America is, and I've explained a bit about how we've caved in almost entirely to adolescent values. FWIW, it seems to me far more accurate to say that what's really under siege in modern America is adulthood.



posted by Michael at October 5, 2007


Better watch out for full diapers flying your way.

As a parent of twins, aged 6, and as one half of a two-working-parent marriage, I can attest to some of the difficulties. They are not imaginary; but on the other hand, they are not surprising nor so special to our era.

Parenthood was our choice. We make no complaints. We think our kids are great, despite their existence being, frankly, a huge blow to the free time component of our former lives.

The "victimhood" game of high-fiving parents is mostly an inside joke. We just like to see the circles under each others' eyes and be able to complain to someone who knows. It's annoying to the childless, maybe, but it's not for them. Just ignore us. We probably have ballet to go to and will be gone soon enough.

As for the kid-ification of America, I see that. But let me tell you: It's not such a good thing for parents, or kids, and not all parents want it. Catering to kids on an industrial scale spoils them and lures their attention away from their parents, the only ones who love them---I mean to say, who would die for them without hesitation. Show me a government functionary or a corporate advertiser who loves my kids so much, and maybe I won't resent his pitching to them.

Not having kids is a fine option. My best friend and his wife are childless, which is to say, having a hell of a good time and with a lot of money to spend on it. That was their choice and they don't rub it in our faces. We made our choice, and we don't rub it in theirs.

Maybe that's what you're calling for?

Posted by: Matt on October 5, 2007 3:32 PM

Michael, I agree with so much of what you are saying. Overly Kid-Centric culture, Mommy-ification of Jobs and Companies, the need to PG-13 our culture, etc.

Also, the idea that every parent seems to see their own Parental plight as being truly unique, special and important. That is, important at the Universal level, not just the personal level.
But, as Bill Hicks the comedian once put it, this has been done at least 6 Billion times already, so, trust me, you are not that special.
But, I can really relate to the Culture of Death stuff. It does seem like it is getting more difficult and MUCH more expensive nowadays to find a home and a town where your children can grow up with little to fear.

Michael, you live in Manhattan, no? Imagine meeting some young couple who just got married and are looking to start a family. And say they make the average salary. How far away would they need to move to find a place that was:
- Safe (i.e. Children can play outside w/o fear)
- Affordable
- Good Schools

I used to work in NYC, and I know that they would have to live at least 1.5 hours from Manhattan to find such a place.
And, speaking of Manhattan and the "Culture of Death". I can distinctly remember when Disney was moving into 42nd street. The place where I worked was VERY hip and had lots of gay men working there. And I will never forget how they lamented the fact that 42nd street was going to be cleaner and SAFER. This bothered them. And all the other hipsters agreed. It blew me away. How could some place like 42nd street become safer and this be a bad thing?

That is the Culture of Death.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 5, 2007 3:58 PM

"...because all of us without kids are spending our days, y'know, swilling cocktails, snorting cocaine, attending orgies, and mocking breeders."

You guys go to better parties than I. What do I have to do to get an invitation?

Posted by: Don McArthur on October 5, 2007 4:01 PM

I'd actually like to become a breeder, but I rue how child-centric parenthood has become in America. I don't want to have to infantilize myself in order to be seen as competant parent in the eyes of majority society, and goodness knows that the sort of belt and yardstick upbringing I had isn't really doable anymore, and knowing how me and my sister were, any fruit of my loins is probably going to be a hellion as well.

I do take issue with the whole notion of safeness. It's taken to such an absurd extreme nowadays that often I see freshmen on campus having no conception of risk, caution or danger at all. Being ensconced in SUVs between school and home all their lives, having their main conception of the world developed through the lenses of television and video games, it seems more and more apt that they do incredibly stupid and dangerous things now once out of the parental eyes than can be chalked up to just youthful stupidity alone. I'm happy at least to have been young when you could still break your arm falling off a jungle gym if you were careless.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on October 5, 2007 4:32 PM

I just lost a long reply to the Keegan query, so this is a test.


Posted by: Narr on October 5, 2007 4:53 PM

Matt -- I've got the raincoat on for protection from all those diapers. You, your wife and your friends sound like ideal folks to me. My own attention zeroes out pretty quickly when breeder friends go on about being a parent -- I'm good for five or ten minutes, but beyond that ... Still, I do understand that it's an overwhelmingly important and demanding thing. And I think most people handle it all pretty gracefully. It's the particular and extreme kind of grandstanding that some people do that puzzles me.

Ian -- Yeah, the way some people carry on you wouldn't think that propagating had ever been done before, let alone is the default experience. Maybe some people are just divas ... As for the rest ... Well, Manhattan would be a tough place to raise kids unless you had a fortune, that's for sure. But is it so rough otherwise and elsewhere? I mean, NY is a big state, and then there's CT, MA, PA, NJ ... Manhattan's really just a tiny dot in the midst of all that kid-friendliness.

Don -- If I were younger, maybe I could actually stay up late enough to indulge in some of those pleasures.

Spike -- That's true, I hadn't thought about the safety-and-coddling thing. It can be pretty oppressive. The occasional knee-scrape or even arm-break doesn't seem like such an awful thing, does it? I mean, kids have to be allowed to make a few mistakes they can learn from. But there's a whole culture of middle-class (and upper-middle) life and childraising I know nothing about ... People getting competitive about cars and bikes and schools and neighborhoods, and feeling that their kids absolutely have to do super-duper well, all that. Sounds like a scene I'd try to avoid if I were a breeder.

Narr -- Sorry you lost that Keegan comment. Did our software eat it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 5, 2007 5:30 PM

"You, your wife and your friends sound like ideal folks to me."

Thank you! But rest assured we're no such thing. :-)

"My own attention zeroes out pretty quickly when breeder friends go on about being a parent..."

Mine too. Even parents have their limits.

What may be worth considering about the droning-on of some parents is that few adults have much of a life anymore.

You've written well about this, and it's relevant here too. How many of us are doing for a living what we think we do best? How many of us even do our jobs well? I think for the most part, middle-class Americans do totally forgettable and pointless things for their pay. And I think we know it.

Into such a life, kids offer (if nothing else) a powerful diversion for those who need one. What else is our myopic focusing on the kids' every microsecond if not an admission that we haven't got anything better to do?

That's maybe stronger than I meant to put it. But there is some truth in it, even for me. It is a pleasure to know that in parenting my children I have an important role, one that no one else is qualified to do. I wish I could say the same about my job.

Fortunately for me, I have powerfully engaging avocations and means of self-fulfillment outside my job. If I didn't have that, I might drone on and on with the worst of us about the kids.

Maybe I am!

Posted by: Matt on October 5, 2007 6:07 PM

When a lot of people are upset about something, especially if they can't be articulate about it, it's possible that there's something evo-bio lurking underneath.

To give what may or may not be a good analogy, in the late 19th century lots of people could have given you excellent rational arguments for embracing socialism based on its twin promises of taming the business cycle via greater efficiency and delivering a universal welfare state. Knuckle-dragging conservatives would have been distrustful for reasons that they could only have partially articulated; responses like "Those that don't work shouldn't eat" would have popped up. How Neanderthal of them. Yet what they were saying ties in clearly to their profound fear of free riding, a fear that goes right back to hunter-gathering on the African savanna, where free riding was likely to prove fatal to the group.

I wonder if dropping birth rates doesn't trigger some kind of subconscious alarm bell in the primitive parts of the human brain. It could have signalled a long term decline in the attractiveness of the local territory or something.

Just a thought...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 5, 2007 6:10 PM

You are not alone, America. Much of the change in Britain in my lifetime has been an infantilisation. Or adolescentisation, if you prefer. Clinton, W, Blair: don't you just despise them?

Posted by: dearieme on October 5, 2007 6:13 PM

"Manhattan's really just a tiny dot in the midst of all that kid-friendliness." True, but I wasn't talking about the tiny-dot, I was talking about the 90 minute Radius that is simply unattainable to the average young couple.

That 90 minute radius aint too small.

So, when meeting these young people and many of them simply assume that they can't have children and, in turn, many also discount the idea of marriage and then we are right back to the Culture of Death. Yes, a certain elite can afford to have children and many in the Under-Class WILL have children, but the Middle-Class, they dwindle away.

And so it can definitely feel like a mighty struggle that takes a heroic effort.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 5, 2007 6:16 PM

Damn, Friedrich, that is interesting.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 5, 2007 6:43 PM

I hate to venture into word PC territory, but the simple use of the word "breeder" is a mark that you're anti-child. Referring to people who have children as "breeders" started with anti-child zealots of the sort who whine about overpopulation and how awful it is for Mother Earth for an American to have a kid.

Not exactly the crowd I'd want to be grouped with, even though I'm not a "breeder" at the moment.

Posted by: Foobarista on October 5, 2007 6:56 PM

I just want to thank Matt especially for that very insightful last comment he made. I hadn't thought of it this way before:
"I think for the most part, middle-class Americans do totally forgettable and pointless things for their pay. And I think we know it.
Into such a life, kids offer (if nothing else) a powerful diversion for those who need one. What else is our myopic focusing on the kids' every microsecond if not an admission that we haven't got anything better to do?"
I'll keep this in mind the next time I, the lonely, young, single and childless woman, feel rising disgust at the constant baby and grandbaby babble going on all around me all day long at my job.
I have been lurking around reading this site for a little while and I posted a review about it on my dinky little StumbleUpon blog. You guys have great, smart discussions here. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Kamilah on October 5, 2007 7:06 PM

Did my post disappear? Here's a copy...
I just want to thank Matt especially for that very insightful last comment he made. I hadn't thought of it this way before:
"I think for the most part, middle-class Americans do totally forgettable and pointless things for their pay. And I think we know it.
Into such a life, kids offer (if nothing else) a powerful diversion for those who need one. What else is our myopic focusing on the kids' every microsecond if not an admission that we haven't got anything better to do?"
I'll keep this in mind the next time I, the lonely, young, single and childless woman, feel rising disgust at the constant baby and grandbaby babble going on all around me all day long at my job.
I have been lurking around reading this site for a little while and I posted a review about it on my dinky little StumbleUpon blog. You guys have great, smart discussions here. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Kamilah on October 5, 2007 7:11 PM

"Culture of Death" is a specifically Roman Catholic catchphrase, which I believe originated with Pope John Paul II. I (non-Catholic) associate more with debates over abortion and euthenasia, but no attitudes towards children come into it. If you browse some of the populist Catholic blogs like Mark Shea's, you'll get an idea of where they (populist Catholics at least) are at.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on October 5, 2007 7:25 PM

Uh, that would be "... but no DOUBT attitudes toward children..."

And I can spell "euthanasia".

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on October 5, 2007 7:26 PM

"It's the particular and extreme kind of grandstanding that some people do that puzzles me."

No doubt, cross-bearing parents are tiresome, as your links show. But they really aren't any different from the equally strong and vocal anti-child contingent. It's just more culture-wars nonsense when you get down to it. If only they could all annihilate each other in one big matter/anti-matter blaze of glory and leave the rest of us in peace.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on October 5, 2007 8:13 PM

Down here, when we speak of "breeders" we're usually referring to livestock.

I delivered four daughters into the world, but you damn well better not label me a "breeder".

Nope, I'm not Catholic. I'm an atheist, actually.
Support abortion rights, gay rights, and usually vote anything anti-party line.

At least in this modern world, a woman who chooses to remain childless is not branded as a misfit. In the not too distant past, American married women who never had kids were looked upon with pity. Surely, there was (whisper) something wrong with her/his reproduction parts.

I will agree Americans are overzealous in the celebration of youth. Nothing new there.

Maybe the culture wars between the with-kids and the without-kids population is mostly confined to larger inner city areas. I just don't see it that much here in Cowtown.

Although, I must admit to being mighty sick of hearing and seeing the words "family values" pasted on everything from frozen yogurt to tires.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on October 5, 2007 10:23 PM

Michael: There's so much wrong with the post, but it's late and I'll limit myself to pointing out the obvious problem. The "child-centric," "caved in almost entirely to adolsecent values" culture is a completely different culture from the culture of traditional Catholics. The people you describe have one or two kids and treat them like accessories. Those who choose to have large families generally are bigger on old-fashioned discipline, self-reliance, etc., yet they are often the subject of disparaging remarks from others simply for choosing to have several children. As David Frum (Conservative Jew, non-Catholic) once said (quoted from memory), "Ask any mother of more than three about the looks she gets at the grocery store." Look at you yourself and your disparaging comment about "big families," which you apparently regard as an undesirable and self-evidently absurd phenomenon on the same level as "The glamor of martyrdom" and "A tendency to overdramatize everything." Even among those Christians who (for whatever reason) have one or two children, it isn't "hard to raise a child" in the sense of protecting him or her from physical danger and deadly disease, but it is obviously difficult to raise a child with good moral values. If you don't recognize that, you're a lot less smart than you make yourself out to be.

As Frum also said, Paul Ehrlich has triumphed in the public mind even though all his predictions turned out to be wrong. Re Corinne Maier, I was sympathetic at first to your "It's all a big cute French joke" argument at first, but after reading the original article it's clear she has a political, cultural, Ehrlichian agenda.

Posted by: James Kabala on October 5, 2007 10:40 PM

As a breeder "by accident" I am completely happy to be the father of a, now, 18 year old boy. Didn't plan it -- even discussed abortion with his mom. But that discussion lasted only 15 minutes. However, when I told my sister my girlfriend was pregnant, I could tell she was unhappy. She and her husband had been trying to have a child for some time. I felt for her.

I think women, more than men, feel the biological need to have kids. And men, more than women, want to show the world they're virile. It's a way of bragging.

Sex is fun. It's how accidents happen. It's funny how the extreme populate-the-planet types so often mix in religious mandates with having children. At the same time, for the most part, they do not celebrate sex (think fundamentalist muslims and christians).

Some actual sex-education would go a long way towards solving this problem. Of course, that would require schools.

Posted by: Fred Wickham on October 6, 2007 1:07 AM


Interesting post, as always.

I think our culture is neither adult-centric (obviously) nor really child-centric, despite some of the trappings of child-centeredness that you have described. On the contrary, it tends to be rather startlingly anti-child and anti-adult at the same time. Someone upthread mentioned the "adolescentization" of the culture, and I think that's closer to what's happening. Our current culture seems hostile both to the innocence we associate with childhood and the wisdom, prudence, etc., that we associate -- or used to associate -- with adulthood.

Posted by: Kate Marie on October 6, 2007 1:34 AM

Hmm. I might have looked it up before posting ...


I guess my ignorance of Catholicism is immense, but my Catholic-radar isn't bad ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 6, 2007 8:31 AM


2blowhards often talks about evolutionary biology and psychology, so isn't that at pretty obvious perspective for this discussion?

Evolution tells us that the whole point of life is to have children and raise them to adulthood. Anything that contributes to this is important, and anything that doesn't is irrelevant. Prettty much all of human psychology and sociology can be traced to this. Pleasure, culture, and the good life are only carrots to get humans to have and raise kids.

I profoundly regret that I bought into twentieth century silliness that obscured this.

This explains why breeders are so fixated on what they are doing because -- they are fixated on the central function of humanity. If the central purpose of humanity is annoying to non-breeders, then that annoyance is really a minor thing, no?

A sidenote: this doesn't necessarily mean that non-childbearing people are irrelevant. Society as a whole also contributes to child-having and child-raising, so childless people can also contribute to the central task of child-having and child-rearing.

Posted by: Terry on October 6, 2007 12:09 PM

If this article is supposed to be argumentative, persuasive, expository, or even informative, then I have a couple tips. First, be way less inflammatory, then people who don't have the same opinion as you might actually listen. Don't insult parents by referring to them as "breeders" like they were livestock, and don't exaggerate to extremes about parents' imperfections.

Secondly, don't write so much about your own self-pity. By attacking parents who seem to exhibit self pity and obviously displaying how annoying this is to you, you are doing exactly what you are attacking in parents.

Third, your post relies entirely on your own experience. You make assumptions that require more than your own assertions. For example, you define the "Culture of Death" in your own words and put it into the mouths of others. Find a reliable source - at the very least someone who actually uses it and believes it exists.

If you do these things you may not get as many comments (people like James Kabala won't feel compelled to fix your mistakes) but people are more likely to feel compelled to listen and maybe even realize it is in their best interest to share your opinion.

Posted by: Christian on October 6, 2007 2:21 PM

Concerning Wikipedia's definition, everyone I know who is part of the "culture of life" is extremely frustrated in our president's lack of culture of life. He may claim to be a part of that culture but he's not. Also, I have never met someone who claimed to be against the culture of death who was also pro capital punishment or supported unnecessary war

Posted by: Christian on October 6, 2007 2:34 PM

You know, Michael, I think this post was unworthy of you. Is it part of your campaign to alienate the squares? Keep it up and it might work.

I'm a never-married childless female, and I've never been offended to the degree that you appear to be by the antics of what you choose to call "breeders", even at their most objectionable.

On this issue I think the conservatives are quite right. There is an anti-child, "culture of death" (though that phrase does not refer specifically to childbearing, as other commenters have pointed out) loose in the world today - in spite or perhaps because of the "adolescent values" you note.

Parents are child-centric because, while their children are young, they have to be. That's even more true today than it ever was because the bar for acceptable child-rearing practises has been raised so high. Two-career households, necessary to supply children with the goods that society now thinks important, mean that family life is a very difficult balancing act. I feel sorry for parents with young children, as well as (sometimes), a little envious, but I don't feel annoyed with them.

At the same time, I do understand why, in some circles, parents believe that the larger society is hostile to them, and feel a need to find sympathetic politicians who support that view. Society, the non-parent component, is not exactly either child-centric or child-friendly. Have you not read the inimitable Steve Sailer on what he calls "affordable family formation"? The entire east and west coasts of your country are so costly to live in that raising a family in these areas is prohibitively expensive.

All the political solutions to the expense of childrearing proposed by Democratic politicians are aimed only at the poorest of the poor, but would have to be paid for by the struggling end of the middle classes: universal health care (something I support in Canada, but which I think would be difficult to make work in the US), universal day care, and so forth. All of these would make middle-class family life even more difficult than it is. That fact alone is what drives the political arm of the pro-family people.

As for your comment, "That need they have for a Devil figure ... Boy, those Popes sure are good at scaring and inspiring the faithful into supplying them with lots of new little Catholics, aren't they? But perhaps this is unfair of me" - this is not merely unfair, it's silly. No one today is Catholic involuntarily. No one who is a Catholic appears to feel any need to follow Church teachings regarding contraception or abortion. Those of us who try to adhere to Church teachings do so out of conviction, not fear of either the Devil or the Pope.

Meanwhile, it's easier today than it ever was to avoid having children. Contraceptive technology and greatly increased social acceptance of the childless has made it so. I honestly don't see what in heaven's name you have to complain about. If your subtext is that you believe that Catholics and other Christians have too much influence in political life today, and are attempting to impose their "values" on you and others like you, then that is a separate issue, and you'd do better to tackle it head on.

Posted by: alias clio on October 6, 2007 3:45 PM

Hey, I don't have any kids. But I know a number of recently and currently pregnant women. Almost all of them have related incidents of being insulted in public by strangers, especially if they already have toddlers with them. So somebody is offended by children, especially if one is exceeding her alloted share.

The West is dying off, and being replaced by populations that don't particularly share your values. That might be a problem.

Posted by: Disgruntled on October 6, 2007 5:09 PM

My take is more simplistic (as usual).

I think a quasi-analogy (with admitted faults) is something I observed at work. When my place of work first provided health insurance for the employees, the person who had the most pull was a single woman with no kids. The schedule was set up to reward single people with no kids, and couples with kids pretty much got gouged. Single folks actually got cash back every year, while the married with children crowd had to shell out a few thousand a year to keep covered.

Well, recently they did a survey to find out why we weren't considered competitive, and this structure was almost always near the top of the list. So, they leveled it out that everyone pretty much paid the same percentage of "out of pocket" costs, which meant that of course the singles got a lot less money and no more cash back, and families got a significant boost.

Oh the wailing and gnashing of our libertarian youth. "How come I should get less money just because I'm healthy and single?" went the typical lament. Families who were living like most families do - paycheck to paycheck - didn't even bother to look askance at such comments, knowing that when they grew up a bit and had kids of their own, they'd feel silly enough for saying something like that. And the whole point of group insurance is just that, spread the cost around, so those who need it don't go broke, with the understanding that eventually everyone needs it, and it all comes out in the wash.

Same with kids. I have no animosity whatsoever for DINKs and other childless folk. I respect (in the classic sense of the term) their choice to not have kids, particularly those that don't like them and wouldn't be good parents. But, it's like with group insurance, there's a basic obvious premise behind it, and if you don't get it and say something silly, well, I probably don't need to do that math for ya.

We all come from children (they are the future, etc.), the little souls get scared and aren't as smart/experienced us we adults, so children get special attention and care. Any adult carping about attempts to make this harsh world more kid-friendly strikes most parents as the whining of people who haven't really grown up themselves yet. Again, it's a choice, but that doesn't mean there's not some immaturity and selfishness behind it that's a tad odious.

In turn, parents have got to respect adult places - like "R" rated movies, bars, adult festivals, and so on. Any parent who wanders into the middle of a meat market at 9:00 PM with kids should simply expect hostility. They're being stupid.

We do have the family/kid world and the adult world that live alongside each other, and everyone will be happier if we're respectful of each other.

(Most humble apologies if I'm belaboring the obvious.)

Posted by: yahmdallah on October 6, 2007 5:35 PM

I am lucky enough to be a stay at home mother of 4 children. Its really simple, there is nothing more important than raising decent, respectful children. Children are a sacrafice, and if your not willing to sacrafice, please don't attempt parenthood. I have two teenagers, that see how their parenting is so much different than their peers, and they THANK me for being a parent first and foremost. This makes me prouder than any other achievement I could possibly have made.

Posted by: ellieK on October 6, 2007 7:25 PM

"Our current culture seems hostile both to the innocence we associate with childhood and the wisdom, prudence, etc., that we associate -- or used to associate -- with adulthood."

This is the best and truest comment made here so far.

By the way, I'm never-married and childless myself, but I can recognize a poorly-thought argument when I see one. (And surely Michael recognizes that the term "breeders" in inflammatory, and if he doesn't he ought to. I suppose childless people could embrace and re-interpret the term as gay activists have done with queer, but as yet they have not done so.)

Posted by: James Kabala on October 6, 2007 9:58 PM

"Our current culture seems hostile both to the innocence we associate with childhood and the wisdom, prudence, etc., that we associate -- or used to associate -- with adulthood."

This is the best and truest comment made here so far.

By the way, I'm never-married and childless myself, but I can recognize a poorly-thought argument when I see one. (And surely Michael recognizes that the term "breeders" in inflammatory, and if he doesn't he ought to. I suppose childless people could embrace and re-interpret the term as gay activists have done with queer, but as yet they have not done so.)

Posted by: James Kabala on October 6, 2007 10:00 PM

Hey, I'm enjoying everyone's thoughts and stories, tks. Can I observe that (once again) the comments-thread has turned into a breeders-vs-nonbreeders debate? Weird how that happens no matter what the proposed discussion. But maybe that's in the nature of this particular topic.

As for the use of the term "breeders," I suggest that those getting worked-up about it 1) develop a sense of humor and proportion, and 2) get out more. The term's been around for a couple of decades -- a couple of decades. And while it can certainly be used disrespectfully it's no more automatically-disrespectful than is using a donkey to symoblize the Dems or an elephant for the Repubs. Loosen up, people. When something's funny, flip, and ain't going away, the most sensible thing to do is giggle, relax and embrace it. You've noticed perhaps that the Dems have embraced the "donkey" symbol? ...

James, Christian, Clio -- You're smart people, what has become of your reading skills? My "argument" here goes this way:

* Having kids (or not-having-kids) is a big deal.
* I understand and am sympathetic to people going on some about this.
* Even so, there's a certain crowd (links provided) who go on in a really-really, super-melodramatic, us-vs-them way about having-kids.
* Whassup with that?
* And who on earth do they imagine to be the enemy?
* Especially in a culture that caters as enthusiastically to kidhood and kid-raising as ours does?
* Is it ... a particular bunch of Catholics?

And that's it. It's an observation (hey, there are some people who don't just carry on a bit about having-kids, they really-really-really carry on about it) followed by a question (who are they?).

Everything else in the posting is jokes, observations, and writin'. Where you're (for instance) getting the idea that I'm drawing a causal connection between the melodramatic carrying-on of a certain group with America's kid-friendliness, I have no idea.

Honestly, what you think you're debating is a mystery to me. It's probably an interesting debate in its own right, and I look forward to what you have to say on behalf of your team. But it seems to have zero to do with this posting.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 7, 2007 10:53 AM

Actually, I'm not sure I've ever heard the term "breeder" used before this post except as a sarcastic terms by homosexuals (or heterosexuals joking about straights compared with gays). Which is fine, but I think they would regard a childless heterosexual like you as at least a potential breeder, not a non-breeder.

Posted by: James Kabala on October 7, 2007 1:52 PM


I'm not sure the flip-funny connotations of "breeder" carry very far outside of your arty urban milieu, and I think that if you realized how it came across to large swaths of your readership, you wouldn't use it. To turn your argument on its head: if you find yourself offending people repeatedly by using a particular word, and using it isn't vital to communicating your argument or POV, stop using it.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on October 7, 2007 2:08 PM

Nice outline, it's just too bad your article doesn't deliver. You could write a nice article with that outline but the one you have hear seems to do little beyond complain and insult, but the more I read the more I think that was your original intent. I admit, it is flashy and sends sparks flying.

It's certainly insulting to read the following. "'Oh, I get it. It's a Catholic thing. Big families ... Abortion ... The glamor of martyrdom ... A tendency to overdramatize everything ... That need they have for a Devil figure ... Boy, those Popes sure are good at scaring and inspiring the faithful into supplying them with lots of new little Catholics, aren't they?' But perhaps this is unfair of me." This is a slap in the face to the intelligence and integrity of millions of people - there's certainly nothing funny here. Catholics and the many others who believe abortion is wrong etc. aren't scared into believing this, scared into having large families, or scared into taking action. There's no glamor in being insulted by complete strangers when you take your kids to public places, or standing in the cold to pray in front of an aboriton clinic when every other passing driver's favorite word is an obscenity. People who believe there is a culture of death and try to stop it are counter-culture and Catholic bashing has got to be one of America's favorite spectator sports - don't contribute to that.

And finally, while the term "breeder" may have been around for a couple decades, I can think of a few four letter words that have been around for a lot longer. The F word is centuries old; it originally wasn't considered an obscenity but when many people began to take it as such it became socially unacceptable. In the same way, many people take "breeders" as insulting language, and the word isn't even directed at many of those who don't like it. You seem stubborn in your use of the word, but you'll get a lot further with people if you don't use it. Maybe more "breeders" would find your post humorous like you intended instead of taking the defensive.

btw, I like how you inform me that I'm a smart person and then immediately insult my intelligence, all in the same sentence. *insert sarcasm here*

Posted by: Christian on October 7, 2007 4:34 PM

Hey, breeders? Wanna be even more offended? And remember, to become truly self-righteously outraged, pay special attention to the phrases "yuppified toddler-toadying" and "mommy-is-the-centre-of-the-universe mindset".

I'll bet you that gets something of what so irritates me (and perhaps Michael) about a certain class of self-absorbed urban parents. I mean, don't you find these people annoying too?

Posted by: PatrickH on October 7, 2007 6:02 PM

Michael, I read the comments on that Beliefnet post and I really don't see the us-vs-them hostility that you speak of in your own post here. Yes, some of the commenters appear not to get that the book the post refers to is something of a joke, but on the other hand, it doesn't appear to be entirely a joke either, to judge by some of the excerpts quoted in the comments. And believe me, I read enough Catholic blogs to know that there are far more striking examples of melodrama and so forth out there. I thought you might have hit on one of these, and was surprised to discover that the post was really rather bland.

The "catering enthusiastically" to children that you observe around you is not necessarily a sign of the culture's friendliness to children; it's a sign that certain businesses want to make money. I do think that it's difficult to have children in the western world today, for the reasons I and other commenters here have mentioned: expensive real estate; the (perceived) need for two careers so that people can afford houses in good neighbourhoods (with good schools); and the fact that there is a more or less unavoidable popular culture that sexualizes children at younger and younger ages.

Perhaps it's a good thing that birth rates around the world are declining; on the whole, I agree with you there. But it is not especially good for the western world that its birth rates should decline quite so rapidly as they are now. You do not have to be a racist, anti-Muslim, or paranoid, in order to worry about what will happen to the elderly in a decade or so when the various pension schemes to which the baby boom generation have contributed fall due, and there are too few people to keep the money flowing into them - or even to help care for those old folks who are too ill to care for themselves.

As for the note of irritation in my original reaction - all I can say is that when you use provocative language to express yourself, it's a bit disingenuous to affect surprise when people show that they have been provoked.

Posted by: alias clio on October 7, 2007 7:39 PM

James -- I should check in with my gay mentors for a final ruling. But I suspect that at 53 I pretty much qualify as a flat-out non-breeder.

IP -- Good points all. "Breeder" seems stuck about midway in acceptability, no? As you point out, some people aren't used to it and take umbrage. On the other hand, it's been around for decades, it doesn't seem to be going away, slang often flows from the cities to the heartland, and the majority of people commenting on this posting didn't seem to mind it. So I'm betting it's here to stay. Could be wrong!

PatrickH -- That's a funny cartoonist you linked to. tks. I like his entire Bane of My Existence series.

Christian -- I'm not dissing your intelligence, I'm pointing out that your emotions are getting in the way of your thinking -- different thing entirely. Anyway, you're expressing your displeasure by attacking my writing. That isn't a fight you're going to win. If you want to say something like "I'm hurt/angered/ offended/whatever by something you've said here," then I'm happy to respond -- I'll say something like "Oh yeah? That's too bad. Tell me about it." Happy to converse!

Clio -- A few quotes from Rod's posting and the commentsfest that follows it:

"What the hell is wrong with these people? ... The Culture of Death has a new poster mom ... She's setting herself up to die alone and bitter ... An incredibly selfish and incompetent mother ... One could hardly blame them if they eventually dumped "maman" in the cheapest nursing home available ... France really is a horrid country ... So libelous as to be sickening ..."

I'm hearing a lot of fast and harsh judgment in those words, as well as a strong "us" (tearful flag-bearers for the children) vs "them" (anyone who isn't similarly far gone).

My favorite: "Not wanting children is a character defect, akin to not liking blue skies or flowers or music. Children are ambassadors of God, beacons of delight, heralds of wonder in a grim world. To not love children is a grave defect."

I mean, people will have their opinions, and that's great. But in the face of the above it's a little odd to remark on my supposedly inflammatory language, no? Is using "breeders" really in the same class as damning a woman you've never met (and whose culture you don't understand), or declaring those who don't like or want kids to be defective?

Anyway, I think you (along with many others) aren't just mistaken about the population crisis in the west; I think you're being taken for a ride. I don't think there is a population crisis. Dean Baker has shown numerous times that, given a reasonable rate of productivity growth, we can perfectly well afford our aging population and still deliver growing incomes to younger people.

I think that with their numbers and pressures, ruthless and self-interested elites are doing their best to scare us into behavior that they find convenient. Funny how pressure for high immigration rates goes along with scares about declining birth rates ... and suits the Dems, who like votes, and the Repubs, who like cheap labor ... and accompanies ever-more extreme income disparities ... I don't think that the people doing the scaring have our best interests at heart, to put it mildly.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 8, 2007 1:44 AM

I am not particularly a fan of high immigration rates, Michael. Nor are the people at the conservative journal National Review, who appear for the most part to be rather alarmed about low birth rates while being entirely opposed to your government's present immigration policies. I think you're mistaken to suggest that the two worries are so closely linked. If Dean Baker says that worries about low birth rates are not well founded, then I'll have to check him out.

I saw the comments you mention above in the original post at beliefnet, and I did not perceive the "us versus them" attitude of which you speak. (Perhaps because I'm aware of how much worse it can get!) Certainly there was some anger directed at the woman, but I think that was because she did have children of her own, and was being so unkind about them. However different France is from North America (and I'm half-French, and come out of a French culture, of a sort, so your comments there don't really apply to me), public complaints about how nasty and disappointing one's children have turned out to be are not likely to provoke warm feelings in the children, or other parents. Announcing in public that your children are spoilt horrors is not quite the same as saying, "sometimes my kids wear me out and I find myself wishing I hadn't had them" - sentiments any parent would recognise.

It wasn't your use of the term "breeders" that I found provocative. It was the bit about "Boy, those Popes sure are good at scaring and inspiring the faithful into supplying them with lots of new little Catholics, aren't they?" This does not reflect present-day Catholic reality at all, as I said in my previous comment, and can fairly be called inflammatory.

FWIW, Rod Dreher himself is no longer a Catholic, and his more conservative Catholic audience has turned away from him on that account, at least according to comments I read on other websites.

Posted by: alias clio on October 8, 2007 8:33 AM

I'm sorry that I lead you to think I was attacking your writing. That wasn't my intent at all. As a teenager I admit I can get very emotional and that shows in my writing.

I just feel that you made certain comments that attack my entire life philosophy and that they were unprovoked. I understand that your opinions differ greatly from my own and I want to respect that. I don't ask that you keep them to yourself either, but am always happy to hear opposing stances. I simply ask you respect my opinions and believes as well by not stating things like "Catholics have lots of kids because they're afraid of the pope." I could make all sorts of equally inflammatory comments about people who are pro-choice or gay (people who believe differently than I), but I choose not to because I respect these people and I know to make or think such things would be wrong. In that light, I suppose you could say I'm "attacking" your writing, but that's entirely different than attacking you - which is what I'm against. So, once again, I'm sorry that the way I presented some of my ideas in previous comments was a little out of line. I have an essay on parenting in regards to homeschooling on my blog, perhaps you'd like to go "attack" it? (that's an invitation to come critique, not a challenge)

Posted by: Christian on October 8, 2007 9:43 AM

There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.
~Winston Churchill

Posted by: Bob on October 8, 2007 9:55 AM

Down here, when we speak of "breeders" we're usually referring to livestock.

Hehe! Thanks, Patty!

Sorry, Michael but this all seems very alien to me. I've never seen people hounding folks with kids for being "breeders" (though I've heard it described) and have never seen people with kids getting all self-righteous with people who don't.

Maybe this is some sort of Eastern Urban phenomenon?

Our daughter and son are now 25 and 21 and I must say that I never thought raising them was an accomplishment over "hostile forces arrayed against them." The places we have lived all seemed at worst neutral towards children. And that includes many years in Southern California. I also don't remember hearing other parents complaining about that as a societal thing. Only perhaps about their particular circumstances. Again - is this some Eastern Urban thing and I'm just isolated (thank goodness) from the dialogue?

Posted by: Reid Farmer on October 8, 2007 1:57 PM

Parents in our society feel stressed and threatened because child-raising doesn't fit with our patterns of work. Remember what you wrote about short fiction? Writers would prefer to produce it, and readers want it, and yet there's no market for it. It just doesn't fit.

There are other issues. The tax code ought to be much more child-friendly. (The per-dependent deduction should be at least 10K.)

Yahmdallah: that health-insurance scheme was "fair" to start with, and was shifted to favor parents. Should it be the company's responsibility to shift wealth from singles to parents? (IMHO, it's the government's, in the tax code.)

You mentioned the threat to adulthood, the "adolescentization" of culture. Well, there's a factor: parenthood is an adult thing. It requires responsibility and foregoing self-indulgence. Some people hate that, and hate being reminded of it. (They're the ones that insult "breeders" in public, I think.)

As to the demographic crisis: the decline in fertility is 200 years old. There's huge momentum there and now it's becoming critical. Bear in mind that the birth rates of the last 20 years will shape the populations of the next 20 years. The future will be much more Moslem, African, South Asian, and Latino. Which is a problem, because those societies are dysfunctional.

Current forms of contraception select for stupidity, carelessness, ignorance, and folly. We either figure out how to change this, or endure increasing social dysfunctionality.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on October 8, 2007 10:54 PM

The South Asian societies are certainly not "dysfunctional."

Posted by: jult52 on October 9, 2007 8:28 AM

Sorry for delayed response here, out of town for a day ...

Clio -- In fact, the National Review crowd was for a very long while in favor of high immigration rates, and was quite unforgiving towards people who weren't. (There was some big fight going on between neocons and paleocons that is way over my head ...) For instance, Vdare's Peter Brimelow was ostracized and cast out from the NR nest when he broached the topic of whether our current policies are good for us. Nice to see they've started to swing around on the topic, though, or at least be less vicious towards those who see things differently. You know some blogs where the judgments get even harsher than they do in that Crunchy commentsfest? Scary. People can awfully fast to pull triggers, no?

Christian -- Hey, if you aren't going to be a hothead when you're a kid, then when are you? Great old Churchill quote, since Bob has had the sense to bring up Churchill: "If you're not a liberal at 20 you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at 40 you have no brain." I think some people have disputed whether Churchill actually said that, and it certainly isn't an everywhere-and-always truth. But it's still a nice one.

Can I venture a couple of thoughts out on you? One is that it can be a big help to develop a sense of humor, *especially* about those things that are dearest to you. The big world is full of people who are going to think you're nuts where your deepest beliefs go -- the big world is full of people who think I'm nuts too, of course. And they aren't going to be shy about letting you know about how they view you. How to survive this fact?

It seems to me that you have one big choice to make: Either take offense, or chuckle and move on. In the first case, maybe you're true to your feelings -- but you'll almost certainly bog down and spend too much time in nonproductive states. You don't want to become like those Muslims who riot just because someone somewhere drew a cartoon. That kind of rioting doesn't do anyone any good, including the rioters. If you use humor (or something akin) to defend yourself, on the other hand, you'll keep your poise 99% of the time and be able to move on with your own plans and goals. Much more agreeable! Plus you'll find yourself able to make many more of the contributions you hope to make. Apologies for the pomposity of all this, but it might be worth mulling over anyway.

Second thought: You're reading the little passage about Catholicism and babies and abortion and such wrong. It isn't intended to be a take-it-seriously statement about real Catholicism. If you look at the way it's presented, it's about how hunches occur to us. Various elements fall into place ... And bingo, we have a notion.

To remove it from Catholicism ... What if I were to say, "Who *were* those people at the airport? ... Saffron robes. Some gibberish chanting. Ugly bald heads ... Card tables ... Oh, right, Hare Krishnas." You wouldn't take that as a slam at Hare Krishna as a religion, let alone a considered essay about the nature of their beliefs and behavior. You'd take it as a picture of my brain at work, trying, in its dim and fumbling way, to come up with an answer to a question.

By the way, did you notice that my hunch was right? The tearful and over-fervent people I was scratching my head over did in fact turn out to be Catholics. My fumbly brain sometimes serves a purpose, even if not often. Looking forward to checking out your blog, btw.

Bob -- Words of wisdom, tks. Churchill sure knew how to turn a phrase, didn't he?

Reid -- I almost never run into these stresses in real life either. When gay friends use the word "breeder," they don't mean ill, and my friends with kids wish nonbreeders well too. Hey, there's room enough for all of us. I'm writing out of my surprise at finding so much heat and anger about the topic online. Is the world in fact seething with these feelings, that are finally finding free expression online? Or maybe online people are a somewhat strange segment of the population?

Rich -- Yeah, work patterns sure do have their effect. That's a sensible and smart hunch. When did work patterns start to take this kind of toll, do you think? Was it with the two-job family? Amplified by the way computers and downsizings have altered so many workplaces? As for populations and such, all true of course. But I don't really see any problem for us so long as we're sensible about immigration issues. The world may go bonkers with demographic changes, but why should we? People may be knocking at your front door, but there's no automatic reason why you have to let all (or any) of them in.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 9, 2007 11:01 AM

I have found all this fascinating, thanks. As a right-leaning papist with a third child on the way who lives in NYC, I both appreciate and differ from where Miachael is coming from.

While our culture does denigrate "adulthood" as Michael says, in favor of what I would describe as a Boomer-derived long adolescence, a lot of the melodramatic "breeder" parents (around whose edges I hover) look around and say: public schools are the homes of ideologies and time-servers while private schools are expensive (and possibly also too pc); television is a constant array of ads of things to buy and - too early - physicalizes and sensualizes childhood in a way that makes some parents uncomfortable; once the kids are pre-teens, movies offer casual violence and meaningless sex and worse (anyone seen Hostel recently?) that will wear away any effort to foster even ethical kids, let alone religious ones; economic policies seem to crush middle-class families; and on and on. I am somewhat sympathetic to some of these arguments, but do think some parents go too far in thir whining.

As for the Catholic stuff, I wil have to disagree; what's going on here is that Church treaching on the importance of families, the reality of eveil, etc. is sometimes fetishized in a way that may not be healthy.

Parenting is difficult, mostly because you are dealing with new people, not so much because there is a "Culture of Death" hovering around, real as parts of that may be; so you try to deal with it.

Posted by: Gerald on October 9, 2007 12:02 PM

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