Thursday, June 23, 2016

Contraceptive misconceptions

The last post reminded me of other misconceptions I frequently see thrown around in Catholic circles.  I'm sure Bat would like me to remind you that not all Catholics believe or spread these errors.  Today I want to talk about a few things I've learned about birth control in the past few years that I found very surprising -- considering the things I have been told in my Catholic education.

Myth #1: 50% of abortions are in women using birth control, which proves birth control contributes to abortion.

I see this one often, and the first half is right: half of women who have abortions were using some kind of birth control in the month they got pregnant.  Most of these were using it inconsistently or incorrectly, true, but they were using it.  So did it give them a false sense of security?  Let's take a look at the numbers.

If 50% of women who were sexually active but did not want to get pregnant were on birth control, while 50% were not, that 50/50 split would mean that birth control had no effect on a woman's odds of getting an abortion.  However, we all know most sexually-active women of reproductive age are on birth control.  This very informative link  suggests that "at-risk" women -- women who could get pregnant and don't want to -- use birth control at a rate of 90%.  So already we're seeing that birth control is having an effect, because if 90% of women use it and get abortions at the same rate, they would be having 90% of the abortions, not 50%.

I am not sure what the correlation is between believing in birth control and believing in abortion.  Presumably there is some correlation, because the very religious don't believe in either.  We can then assume the subgroup that is on birth control is also a subgroup that also is more strongly in favor of abortion.  They're also, I would assume, more likely to have access to it -- they have money and nearby Planned Parenthood clinics.  But I can't say what the numbers might be here.

But I have the unplanned pregnancy numbers: 54% are among women who don't use birth control, 41% among women who use it, but inconsistently, and 5% among women who use it consistently.

I understand the assumption is that if women weren't using birth control, they would be less likely to have sex, but it doesn't appear so.  Over half of the women who are getting pregnant aren't using birth control at all.  I'm not sure what they expect to happen.  Maybe, as has been the case throughout human history, they don't have a whole lot of self-control.  Fornication wasn't invented in the Sixties.

But, you might say, birth control fueled the sexual revolution, and if only we didn't have that, we wouldn't have so much abortion.  Well, that might be true, sure.  But the numbers show that you can't put that genie back in the bottle simply by taking everyone's birth control away.  People who don't have access to it -- because it's expensive, because insurance won't cover it, whatever -- are still having sex.  And the odds of getting pregnant when you are fertile, sexually active, and not using any form of birth control are 85% over the course of one year.

And keep in mind that promiscuity isn't the only cause of abortion.  Women who are married still get abortions.  So even if no one had sex outside of marriage, abortion would still happen, because of the married women who feel unable to have another child right now.  Married women are much more likely to consistently use birth control, which is surely part of the reason why they are less likely to have abortions than single women.  What if women were more willing to have babies?  Well, most women who have abortions already have at least one child.  It looks like they like children fine; it's that they don't feel that they can care for more.  Attempting to convince women that having a baby every year for their entire marriage is okay, especially in an economy which makes having children very expensive, would be a much tougher change to make.

The abortion rate has dropped significantly in the past few years, and it's pretty clear from the statistics that the reason is more people using birth control.  It's not more people choosing to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, because it tracks along with a decreased unintended pregnancy rate.  And it's not more people wanting babies either, because the intended pregnancy rate has gone up only slightly.  Why are more women using birth control?  Because their insurance is now required to cover it.

So it really puzzles me that Catholics are putting so much of their energy toward getting rid of that law.  I understand, they feel it's cooperation with evil (and, in my opinion, they're wrong about that -- cooperating involuntarily, because you are legally required to, is not sinful) but still, do they realize they would be indirectly causing many abortions if they got their way?

Myth #2: But surely, on a cultural level, accepting contraception means encouraging abortion.

Then there's the question of whether, on a national or cultural level, widespread contraception use increases fornication and promotes a culture of death, thus driving the abortion rate up.  I want to just drop this link on you and tell you to read it, because it seems to put that theory to rest pretty definitively.  But instead I'll pull out a few facts for you:

*In Russia, at the time abortion was legalized (since illegal abortions were already rampant) an average married woman had ten abortions in her life.  In the eighties, contraception started to become available and abortions started to drop.  Between 1988 and 2001, contraceptive use rose 74% and the abortion rate declined 61%.

*In a region of Bangladesh which was provided with family-planning services, abortion rates dropped to one-third of the rates in the rest of Bangladesh.

*Studies like this one show that providing birth control did not increase sexual activity.  (In fairness, this one showed a very slight difference -- though much smaller than the reduction birth control causes in the unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates.)

So, no, it does not appear that the availability of birth control increases the abortion rate by encouraging people to have more sex.  It seems that the amount of sex people have and the number of children they want are both pretty independent of whether they have birth control available.  The difference is in what methods they have to achieve what they want.  When birth control isn't available, many people are going to turn to abortion.

Myth #3: The Pill causes abortion

That leads me to the third myth, which surely is a lot of people's reason for opposing birth control availability.  The theory is that the Pill causes zygotes to fail to implant after fertilization, thus causing an "invisible" abortion.  And I can't blame anyone for believing this, it's on the insert for the Pill: first, it claims, it suppresses ovulation; second, it thickens cervical fluid so that sperm can't reach the egg; and third, it makes the uterine lining thin and inhospitable to an embryo.  That third method would amount to a very early abortion, though legally it isn't considered one.  (In America "pregnancy" is defined as beginning with implantation, probably to avoid debates like this.)

The thing is, there isn't actually any evidence that this third method ever happens.  We do know that the pill makes the uterine lining thin.  However, that's when it actually works and prevents ovulation.  When a breakthrough ovulation does take place, a woman's hormonal profile is quite different.  Isn't it possible that in this case the uterine lining also manages to mature?

That's the argument made by these pro-life doctors.  I share this article often because I think it's important for people to know that not only is there no evidence that the Pill causes abortions, the evidence leans toward showing that it does not.  To sum up (because I admit the article is long and difficult; it took me a long time to read), the rate of breakthrough ovulation is (corrected for the normal early miscarriage rate) the same as the Pill's failure rate -- the rate of unintended pregnancy while on the Pill.  (The evidence is even stronger, surprisingly enough, for the morning-after pill.  The morning-after pill has a very high failure rate precisely because it can't prevent implantation.)

Now I mentioned "the normal early miscarriage rate" because a very large proportion of fertilized eggs never implant as it is.  This is probably because of DNA errors and it appears there is no helping it.  That means that if you are a sexually active woman who is not on birth control or pregnant, you have almost certainly lost many zygotes.  This post points out that out of 100 women who aren't on birth control for a year, 85 zygotes will be lost.  (And a further 85 will implant, which is why 85% of women will get pregnant in one year.)  But if they are all on the Pill, they will only lose (using the worst possible estimate in case the Pill does cause zygotes to be lost) only two.  Of course this is a utilitarian argument; I understand if your feeling is that it's better for 85 zygotes to die through no human cause than for two to die because of something a person did.  But you aren't actually saving any lives by trying to prevent people from using oral contraceptives.

What is my point, with this post?  Am I suggesting you should get on birth control?  No.  You should do what you want.  Your own behavior is entirely in your control: you can choose to abstain, choose to accept many children, whatever you like.  But influencing other people's behavior is another ball of wax.  In public health, they don't talk about what it would be nice if people did.  They talk about what interventions we can do, and what the actual results of those interventions will be.  And it seems clear that intervening to keep people from getting birth control doesn't change their hearts, it doesn't stop them from having sex, and it doesn't make them want more children.  It makes them get pregnant when they don't want to, and many of them will go on to have abortions.

So if you want to reduce abortions, trying to stop people from getting birth control when they want it is the most counterproductive thing you could possibly do.  That's all I'm saying.  I think it's important to shoot down these three misconceptions so that people know exactly what the results of their actions will be.  I don't think, as many pro-choice activists do, that the pro-life movement is dishonest, or that it's just trying to control women rather than to save lives.  I think people just don't know this information, and pro-life activity will be much more effective if it uses the most accurate information.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Catholic revisionism

The news of the Orlando shootings really upset me.  You kind of get used to mass shootings, in a way; you learn not to let them get to you and to get off the internet for a few days so you don't have to read about them.  But this one was extra upsetting because it targeted a group that I know gets targeted a lot.  And that must feel really scary to people who are gay and wondering if they are safe.

At first I was worried about the reactions from my Catholic friends.  In the past, I've shared things about violence against gays and gotten shrugs, or worse, statements that the victims brought it upon themselves and don't deserve protection because they are living a sinful lifestyle.  I thought maybe the whole thing would be ignored, erased, or even approved of.  And it was a huge relief that this did not happen.  My friends were quick to condemn the shooter and empathize with the victims.  And this is encouraging.  Regardless of my friends' opinions about homosexuality, they care about the individuals involved.  That speaks to how much I've pared down my friendlist, or how much society has changed, or just how uniquely upsetting this tragedy was, but whatever it is, it's good news.

However, what was a little less encouraging was the defensiveness.  Catholics announcing that they condemn all violence, OF COURSE, and always have, OF COURSE, and while Islam is a religion that naturally leads one to shoot up gay nightclubs, Catholics NEVER EVER would because it's a teaching of the Church that they should be tolerant of gay people and treat them with respect.

And what I wanted to say was, yes, that's true, the Catholic Church now teaches that gay people should be treated with respect.  But that is a new teaching.  In the past, Catholic nations punished homosexuality with the death penalty, just as many Muslim nations do today, and the hierarchy appears to have had no criticism for that.

Here are two articles on Wikipedia which testify to what I've said.  Legal violence against gay people has been pretty universal starting with the acceptance of Christianity by the Roman empire till the 19th century.  Sometimes the Church specifically argued in favor of the death penalty, such as at the Council of Paris in A.D. 829; at other times it simply said nothing and let the executions proceed under Catholic secular governments.

I will admit that this is not a case of the Church changing infallible teaching.  It never definitively or universally taught that gay people should be put to death -- although, of course, it is perfectly scriptural.  Leviticus 20:13 reads,"If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."  So it's no wonder that Christian countries have assumed that this was a good thing to do -- why would God have commanded it if it weren't?

But to revise the entire history and claim that Catholics would never and have never used their religion as a justification to kill gay people is simply false.  Or that Catholicism has always taught that gay people should be treated with respect and tolerance.  It does now, and I'm glad it does now, but it did not invent the idea of tolerance.  It was very late to get on board -- so far as I can see, the first ever condemnation of violence against gay persons was in 1986, the year I was born.

This of course is relevant to the question that's troubled me so much in the past -- if God were inspiring the Church, so much that he carefully spelled out how many natures Jesus has and whether the persons of the Trinity are equal, why did he not bother to say, "Don't burn gay people alive"?  Is it because he didn't really care that much about them?  Or is it because he really is not that involved in what the Church does?  I don't blame the medievals for being people of their time.  But that is clearly all they were -- not people with extra enlightenment coming from their divinely-inspired faith.

Some people I know acknowledge and accept the Church's tradition and maintain that in a truly Catholic society, we would still be putting gays to death.  It must be a good thing to do, because the Church once did it, and because it's in the Bible.  So they say it has something to do with divine justice, or avoiding the corruption of others.  I can't go that route, though I admit it's logical.  But the fact that people can, and that they can justify it with reference to scripture and tradition, shows that, like Islam, Catholicism can be used to excuse violence against gay people.  Hate crimes against gays are sadly common, and some of them are carried out by Christians.

Islam, of course, has its own controversies.  Some people use it to justify violence, but there are 1.6 billion Muslims and most of them don't actually do anything violent.  In part it's because, like many Catholics, they listen to their own conscience first, before their religion.  And in part it's because some of them see their religion as a whole picture in which love and mercy are at the center, just as Catholics do.  So I'm not going to say religion is bad, that it's the enemy here and everyone whose religion contains some justification for killing gay people is evil.  Rather, we should remember that different threads of the same religion can be wildly different, but the love-and-mercy types are doing good and should be encouraged.  At the same time, let's not lie or attempt to revise history: religion, including Catholicism, has been a justification for violence throughout human history.  Believe responsibly.

Monday, June 6, 2016

7 quick takes

Things have been nutty around here.  May as well start with the big news first.

1

I'm pregnant.  Let this be a warning to all NFP users .... it is possible to follow the rules, abstain almost completely, and still get pregnant.  I know all birth control methods can fail.  However, none of them seem to fail quite so much as NFP.  

I can't even tell you how bad it was when we first found out.  I didn't sleep for two nights, panicking about it.  The past almost-two years have been a long, slow slog into the light, and it was like being shoved right back to the beginning and having my head held under the water.  But, well, no choice really but to find some way to make peace with it.  I'm sleeping at night again.  I'm figuring out ways to make things better this time.  


The due date is January 20th, which means Miriam will be just shy of two and a half.  That's the longest space we've had between kids, by two months.  Yay, NFP!  You bought me exactly two months more time than I would have had otherwise!  That was totally worth the massive struggles of dealing with you!  *dripping sarcasm*

2
I wasn't able to spend much time coming to terms with this news, because immediately after finding out, we had a trip to Wisconsin to see John's mother graduate at last from college, and then to Chicago to see his sister, visiting from the convent.  A whirlwind trip involving seven days, 2,000 miles, two different hotel rooms, one guest bedroom for the five of us, three children, and a social event with strangers every single day is going to be difficult at the best of times.

Though, surprisingly, it was probably the smoothest trip we've had so far.  We shelled out for a car DVD player so they could watch The Land Before Time over and over again the whole way there.  Marko was in bliss.  Michael kept demanding attention and food.  Miriam slept part of the way and only fussed at the very end.

But I had a really hard time coping with my Awful Secret while surrounded by all those people.  I wanted to just hide in the bedroom the whole time.  Still, there were encouraging moments: the girl at the graduation party who told me all she'd ever wanted in life was a little sister, John and I picking names during our long drive, and the encouragement of my mother-in-law when we finally told her the news.  I find it very difficult to be congratulated for something I didn't accomplish and didn't want, but it was nice to have her sympathizing with how awful pregnancy is but at the same time saying "Oh, it won't be bad though!  My fourth was no extra work!"

The kids were pretty good through everything, but painfully shy.  None of them would speak to anybody but us, and Miriam cried if anyone even looked at her.  I felt like this was somehow my fault, that they must have absorbed my social awkwardness or else I had failed to teach them properly.  But on the other hand, very few people actually made any real effort to get on the kids' level and make friends, and the people who did try actually did get some interaction out of them.


for instance, Grandma got them hamming it up for awhile

3

Of course, there is no earthly way we can fit four children into a two-bedroom, 900-square-foot house, not without getting rid of things, like my sanity for instance.  We didn't intend to move till John finished his town council term, but there's a lot going on we didn't plan. So we've decided to put our house on the market.  We spent the remainder of John's time off after the trip scrubbing everything and throwing stuff into the attic.  We've met with a realtor and she thinks it will hopefully be snapped up fast, since there's not much in town in its price range.  

I'm feeling very nostalgic.  I know we never planned to stay here long, but I've never been able to help putting down roots.  And it really is a darling little house despite being tiny and in poor repair.  The view out the back has always calmed me, and I've put so much work into the garden in the front.  So many memories here.  (And so much crayon to scrub off the walls!)

We have to move within the town limits, which narrows down our options a lot, but there are some very nice houses in our price range.  Since John's been working at the library, we have a lot more leeway in what we can afford, and over five years we've gotten plenty of equity in this house, to go toward a down payment.  So I am not terribly worried about that end of things.

And I know dealing with kids will be so much easier when they have separate bedrooms, a playroom of their own, and places to be that aren't all up in my grill.  I dream of a dishwasher, a living room that can be kept clean-ish by not also being the playroom, and more than one bathroom.  Life will be better.  I have to keep repeating this.

4

Physically, this pregnancy has not been bad so far, probably due to still nursing Miriam lots.  (I know last time that really reduced my worst symptoms.)  So instead of morning sickness, I'm just having indigestion when I eat .... well, most anything, it seems, but I'm still working out what will and won't go down well.  Drinking a little apple cider vinegar in water seems to help.  The sad part is that, just as with Miriam, chocolate is a definite no.  I had a little bar of the super-dark stuff the other day and it felt like it was trying to claw its way back out.  Not worth it.

My back still doesn't hurt at all (knock on wood).  I think I must have gotten it into better shape this time.  I actually feel LESS tired and lethargic than I did two months ago -- which tells me, yes, something WAS wrong with me up to now.  Perhaps anemia or something, who knows.  I'm not going to question it -- I have energy now, and I need it, considering I'm working on the house all the time.  Keeping the house clean so people can look at it while also having kids is no joke.

Most days I feel just fine emotionally.  Some days I'm oddly touchy or weepy.  There have been some days that have been a yawning pit of despair and terror.  I'm afraid to even write about it for fear that thinking about it will bring it back.  It's hard to say how much of that is "depression" per se and how much is just not wanting to be doing this right now.  But, again, I actually feel kind of better, most of the time, than I did before so I don't feel inclined to complain.

Overall, as first trimester goes, I am so far getting off easy.  And, of course, this whole process is temporary.  

5

Thinking too much about the future, right now, is kind of borrowing trouble.  It occurred to me, early on, that the coward dies a thousand deaths and a brave man but one; and in the same way, if I don't obsess over it now, I should only have to undergo labor once.  There will only be one postpartum, and better still, I only have to experience one day of that at any given moment.  I have, in the past couple of years, gotten really, really good at coping through things I don't want to be doing or that aren't going well.  I did it before, which is how I know I don't want to do it again, but it's also how I know I can.

I do think about the future a little, though.  I think that if the baby is a girl, Miriam will have a sister close in age, like I always wished I'd had.  Maybe they'll all get along well together, anyway.  (I worry about this because my four younger siblings get on like a four-sided brawl.  But you never know.)

I think that Miriam is very independent, as almost-two-year-olds go, and she'll probably adapt to a younger sibling better than Michael did.  She is really, compared to either of her brothers, a very agreeable kid who doesn't get into trouble a whole lot.  I think having them for constant entertainment helps.

And I think that I'll get a baby swing, because I'll have the space, and baby can nap in it, and I might actually get some moments when no one is on me.  It could happen.  Especially if I have a dishwasher and don't have to use all that precious time washing dishes.

6

My birthday is coming up.  I will be thirty.  I was really excited for this, seeing the new decade as a whole new chapter in my life, a chapter where I stop being "constant nursing and baby-holding mom" and become "homeschooling and fun outings mom," where I do more baking and crafts, and I let the kids take out the legos because everyone knows not to eat them, and my garden can finally get through a summer without collapsing from neglect, and so on.  With the hope that by forty I would be pretty much free to get a second degree or start a second career or publish my novels or whatever I wanted to do.

But now, I'm seeing a long tunnel of two years or so before I get even back to where I am now.  I wonder if I will ever publish anything, if I will build the loom I dream of building, if I'll ever have anything to show for having been alive.  A firm belief in an afterlife would be really helpful for dealing with all this, but I don't have that so it feels like years just flushed away.

On the other hand (she said brightly) it's not like I don't like motherhood.  I do, and many of my hobbies are compatible with it, so long as I'm not too exhausted to do them.  And if there's a limited time to be alive in, all the more reason not to spend the next two or ten years waiting for the next thing before I'm allowed to be happy, but trying to ground myself in the present moment and find joy in it.

7

How about some more pictures from the trip to cheer us all up?






I swore up and down they wouldn't get in the pool because they've never done it before, and Miriam hadn't willingly gotten wet in six months, but what do you know, they all got in and loved it!



Well, keep me in your thoughts, or wish me luck, or whatever.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The illusion of control, and the illusion of non-control

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how control is an illusion.  We like to believe that we've got a handle on life, that if we work hard we'll succeed, and if we are careful nothing bad will happen.  People do a lot of dumb things to preserve that illusion, like obsessing over details or blaming other people for bad things that happen.

Of course we're not really that much in control.  Crap happens and sometimes it isn't anybody's fault.  Or it's someone's fault, but not yours, so that no matter how good or hardworking or careful you are, you wind up in trouble.  Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  Life isn't fair.

Simcha Fisher wrote a good article about this today.  So let's set it aside: control is an illusion.  Much of what happens in life, happens despite your plans and carefulness.

But I have been thinking as well that non-control is also an illusion, and one that's much more tempting to me.  I like to walk through life assuming things will just work out, or if they don't, I probably couldn't have made them work out anyway so it's not my fault.  I prefer to believe that the hour of my death is already somehow decided and doesn't rely on small decisions I make; that getting and keeping a good job is mostly a matter of luck and the economy and doesn't rely a whole lot on me being superlative.

Of course one ought to be responsible, in a general sense, but there's a certain basic level of responsibility that is all anybody could expect.  If you do your due diligence, if you watch your kids as well as most parents do and you work hard at your job and you look both ways before you cross the street .... you're responsible enough and anything bad that happens isn't your fault.

However, this too is an illusion.  Sometimes it's the germaphobe that avoids catching the plague.  Sometimes staying home instead of going out might save your life. Sometimes you forward-face your toddler at two because that is what everyone does and they break their neck in a crash.  Sure, you might not be blamed because everyone knows you did your basic diligence, but it will still be a reality that if you had been more careful, results would have been different.

And I know the illusion of non-control can be dangerous.  There was a time when I felt no sense of responsibility at all for how many kids I brought into the world because it was out of my hands.  It was wonderfully freeing, but was it responsible?  Maybe not.  Certainly there are cases where it would be terribly irresponsible to take this attitude -- if I had a serious illness and could die, if my children were all disabled and needed extra care.  I don't have a job, but if I did have one and was willing to work more-or-less hard and blame any layoffs on the economy -- well, sooner or later I might be jobless when I really needed to have a job!

However, giving up the illusion of non-control might be even more terrifying than giving up the illusion of control.  The latter means accepting that you could be perfect and crap could still happen to you.  The former means accepting that despite that, you still have to try to be perfect because if you don't, even more crap will happen to you and it will be all your fault.  Then you have to take both of these tough realities and work out a balance that you can live with, that will have you working hard at your job but still sleeping at night, looking both ways before you cross the street but not afraid to leave the house.  And you have to accept that the balance you worked out might not be the "right" balance, and in fact there's no way to know, but you still have to live with it.

Life is hard without these two comforting illusions.  But as they are illusions, and as you can't navigate the world in a moral way without reference to the truth, it's good to remember (at least once in awhile) that illusion is exactly what they are.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Voting and moral theory

I've said before than in most cases, different moral theories have similar results.  In fact, most of us aren't very conscious about what moral theory we're using to make our decisions -- we just feel our moral choices to be obvious, and will draw from a variety of different arguments if we have to defend them.

The differences in people's moral reasoning are never so obvious as when they vote and when they talk about voting.  Different moral theories result in different frameworks for reasoning about how to vote, and ultimately in different votes. 

Let me describe what I mean by a few examples.

Deontologist voter: There are a few non-negotiables.  Whichever candidate passes a basic threshold of agreement on these gets his vote.  For instance, this was how I voted in 2004.  I didn't research the candidates at all.  I simply knew that one of them said he was pro-life, and the other did not, so I picked the one that did.

Virtue ethics voter: This person says that his vote has little effect on the course of the nation (because it's only one vote) but a huge effect on his own morality.  If he votes for someone who supports torture, for instance, it might make him more prone to excuse torture.  So he will generally vote for a perfectly pure candidate who has no chance at winning.  Mark Shea recommends this approach.  I did it in 2012, voting for Gary Johnson because I found both major candidates morally unacceptable.

Group loyalty voter: This person chooses a person who seems like "one of us" -- someone who signals that they care about the same moral issues and belong to the same tribe as the voter.  Candidates are well aware of this method of voting, so they will gather endorsements from churches, drop dogwhistles to their key constituencies, and signal group membership any way they can.  The reasoning is that it doesn't matter what the candidate's individual positions are, because anyone might be lying -- what they want is a person they can trust to make the right decisions once they get there.  To do that, the candidate should share, as closely as possible, the moral assumptions of the voter.

Nihilist voter: They feel discouraged because their vote doesn't count much, or because they are unimpressed by all available candidates, so they stay home.  I did this in 2008, in part because I had moved and not re-registered in time, but partly just because I felt disillusioned with politics in general and didn't see anyone I could get excited about voting for.

Consequentialist voter: This person does not care about whether the candidate is personally likeable, and doesn't need to agree with the candidate on any one issue.  Instead, they consider, of all the possible consequences of the election, which would be best.  Sometimes they call this the "lesser of two evils" approach, to emphasize that they're not voting for who they are because they actually like them.  But it is possible that consequentialism might lead one to vote for a worse candidate in order to discredit that party or punish the other party.  Or they might vote third party in order to send a message to the two parties that there is a rise in libertarianism or socialism or whatever and the parties should trend that way to win more votes next time.  This was certainly a part of my thinking in 2012 as well.  Consequentialism is the entirety of my rationale this time.

You've probably heard that Cruz is out and therefore it will probably be Trump vs. Clinton (unless Sanders has a massive surge).  So it's a much simpler consideration than it used to be.  I'd have seriously considered voting for Cruz, but I no longer have to weigh potential consequences of that now.

I can't know what all the consequences of either result will be.  But my assessment is that the world will be significantly worse under Trump, while Clinton is more likely to preserve the status quo or make things slightly worse.  Of the two possibilities, a Clinton win is better.

In past years I probably would have voted third party while harboring a secret hope that Trump would lose.  But at this point, being more strongly consequentialist than I used to be, I'll vote for the result I want, regardless of any personal animus or rational disapproval of the candidate.  Because my moral duty is to make things the best I can, rather than to preserve my own sense of moral purity by voting third party.

If your moral theory is different, you'll likely come up with different answers.  Whatever you do, I hope we're all still friends come this December.  This country probably can't be saved, not in the way I might hope, but good friendships can.  And when you realize that those who disagree with you on voting aren't evil, but simply making their moral choices according to a slightly different framework, it may be easier to respect them even when they vote differently from you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Seven quick takes whateverday

1

If I start this on a Tuesday, I may finish by Friday, right?  Does it really matter, considering I never find the time to link it up to the little linky thing?  And in fact I no longer know who hosts it?

I haven't done much blogging in quite awhile, and part of the reason is that my moods have been bad.  Not that life is bad -- it's actually great -- I just feel bad, a lot of the time.  I feel depressed and anxious and overwhelmed and generally crummy.

Sometimes it's like this: I'm walking along, minding my own business, thinking happy thoughts about how excellently my life is going.  And in the middle of that, very suddenly, I'm hit by a crushing weight of sadness, so intense it hurts, like you feel when you're suffering from a broken heart, like badgers are eating out my innards.

Sometimes it's more like this: I'm running around doing stuff, and in my mind I'm constantly thinking of all the things I have to do, all the bad things that will happen if I don't do all the things I have to do.  My heart starts racing, I feel like my chest is hollow and I have to gasp for air.  If the kids are touching me, I snap at them and run away.  I feel like I have to hide under my bed and do nothing.  Or I wonder if massive amounts of alcohol would help, but I don't want to be a day drinker.

It got bad last month where I was constantly struggling for breath for a few days.  I thought maybe I had a chest infection or a pulmonary embolism (that's me, jumping to the worst possibility!) and kind of freaked myself out.  Then I told John and he freaked out, and in the end he took a half-day from work so I could go to the doctor.  He tested my lungs and blood oxygen and found nothing the matter with me.  Which made me very upset.  I felt like I was being called a liar, like he must think I must be faking the whole thing because I was breathing fine while I was there.

At the end he threw out that stress might be a factor, and then dismissed it saying I didn't look stressed.  Both of which annoyed me.  The first, because suggesting it was caused by stress meant that it was all in my head, I was faking, I wasn't really sick, I was wasting everyone's time and money, bad me.  And the second because hello, you don't diagnose anxiety by looking at them!  Anyway, he told me to keep up with my regular activities and come back in a month if it wasn't better.

I gave it some thought, concluded that it probably was stress after all, and resolved to just stop doing it.  When I feel like I'm out of breath and suffocating and I must gasp for breath -- I just don't.  I remind myself that my lungs work fine, that my blood oxygen is fine.  I force myself to breathe normally, I feel like I'm going to die, but eventually it goes away.  So, win for me I guess.  But I still feel horribly ashamed that I went to the doctor for something I should have been able to stop on my own.

2

Anyway, that's what I'm dealing with.  I want to blame postpartum hormones, but Miriam is 20 months old now, so isn't it late for that to start?  Of course, I haven't felt good since before I got pregnant with her, but for all this time I've mostly been putting down any issues to actual stress -- I mean, a baby who can't be put down ever and boys who are constantly biting each other would make anybody feel bad.  Now, I feel like my life is relatively calm but the problems aren't getting better.  They might actually be getting worse; I'm not sure.  This makes me discouraged; I feel like I've been waiting and waiting to feel better and it's not happening.

Not that it's an every day thing.  Some days I feel great, I accomplish lots of stuff and get myself thinking, "See?  I've been waiting to feel better, and it actually happened?"  But then a day or two later, it all comes slamming back and I realize that nope, it's still around, that was just a break.  And I can't find a correlation that holds; it seems to happen regardless of whether I got sleep last night or whether I eat right or whether the kids are cranky.  Exercise helps some; having as little as possible on my plate helps too.  I quit my homeschool group mostly, though I still do park days with them because that's low-key.  People ask "why don't we see you much anymore?" and I never know what to say.  I'm not busy, I'm just inadequate.

3

Anyway.  That is more than enough about that embarrassing topic.

Both boys had birthdays this month -- now they're four and six.  Can you believe it?  It astounds me.  They are both so delightful.  Michael doesn't seem different to me, but thinking back, I remember a year ago he was really whiny and clingy and he still nursed.  That seems like ages ago -- mostly he likes to play with Marko and come back to me from time to time with a big smile to give me a hug and a kiss.  He gets really excited about his ideas and the games he is playing, and tells me about them in a hugely expressive voice, with a bit of a lisp to make it extra cute.  His ideas are more original and freewheeling than Marko's, which sometimes cause arguments.  A lot of Marko yelling "NO, dogs DON'T ever fly!" while Michael answers, "but in my game they do!"  They rarely get into physical fights anymore, though sometimes they get really upset and push each other.

Michael still does not always sleep through the night, and when he wakes up, he insists a grownup stay with him till he's back asleep -- which might be up to an hour.  I wish we could call his bluff and just leave, let him cry if he wants to, but remind him that he's four and is capable of sleeping alone.  But he's got two siblings with him who would wake up if he shrieked, and he knows it.  So for now we are just dealing with it.

4

Marko is having lots of fun tracing letters and repeating their sounds, but sounding out real words he can still only do with help.  It's hard to tell if he is really struggling or just lacks confidence, but the problem is that it's very hard for me to work with him on this stuff.  His siblings climb all over me and grab the pencil and tear the book, so that we never spend as much time on it as I'd like.  I want to get him some good phonics workbooks that don't require quite so much supervision, so I'm looking into stuff.  I'd also like a teacher's manual of some sort so that I make sure I don't teach him wrong.  My hope that he'd just figure it out on his own, like I did, is not happening, and since he is six now I really want to work with him on it.  I wouldn't push if he weren't interested, but he definitely is, so I have to get serious about this.  He wants to read so he can read Star Wars books, obvs.

Marko likes learning B is for Boba Fett, b is for bantha

His favorite thing in the world to do is make movies.  Sometimes he acts them himself, sometimes he wants to do stop-motion with his toys.  It's adorable, but also a big hassle for me, because it's not like I know anything about video editing or having the right programs to do it.  Still, I'm sure it's educational and he's definitely having a good time, so I do try. 

As another sign of how grown-up he's getting, he's got a loose tooth.  Behind it you can see the new tooth coming in, which seems weird but is apparently not unusual.

John had the idea recently that instead of letting them watch cartoons before bed, he should read aloud.  They've started The Hobbit, but Marko is extremely upset about the change.  He does not like change. He wants to watch The Land Before Time 14 every night before bed at the moment, and the biggest change he's willing to tolerate is a switch to yet another watching of Lego Star Wars shorts on YouTube.  Michael is a fan, though -- he likes change, and he also is enthusiastic about the promise of dragons later on in the book.

5

Miriam grows daily cuter.  Every time you think "okay, this is about it, we've reached Peak Cuteness," she goes and does some other adorable thing.  She can put two words together, like "blue car" or "go out" or "hi Gilbert."  She likes to play outside ALL THE TIME, but to my great relief she no longer needs me to hold her hand and walk around the yard with her.  She'll settle for Michael holding her hand and walking around the yard with her.  She needs somebody to be right there with her, but it doesn't have to be me and Michael LOVES escorting her.  (Marko could care less.)  I am so glad there are three of them, considering that Marko is so solitary.  Sometimes Marko just doesn't want to be with other people, but Michael almost always wants someone with him, and Miriam is almost always game for that.  I think of my own childhood -- desperate for someone to play with, and having a brother who preferred to be alone -- and I think, this is much better.  There are options and nobody has to be guilted into playing with a sibling.

See?  PEAK CUTENESS!

Of course, very often Marko and Michael do want to play together, and sometimes they like to make Miriam the bad guy and run away from her.  That makes me sad and I try to either stop them, or play with Miriam myself.  It's no fun to be the odd one out.  (And yet, I am somehow not at all tempted to have a fourth kid to fix things up!)

We have moved Miriam into the boys' room, with a great deal of trepidation.  The first night I barely slept, certain that she would wake up and get into some kind of trouble before I heard her.  And I've been listening to a baby's breathing as I fall asleep for years.  But it's nice for John and I to finally get the joy of talking to each other before falling asleep, without risking waking her up.  Sometimes we even manage to communicate with each other about our plans for the next day instead of having to check our schedules by text on the day of!  It definitely does make a huge difference in how "in tune" we feel, having that time.  Also we go to bed earlier because we can read in bed.

The downside is that Miriam does not last very much of the night in bed.  ONCE, she stayed there pretty much the whole night.  Most other nights, she's up around midnight or one and I just bring her in bed with me because I'm too sleepy to want to put her back to sleep in her own bed.  John tried dealing with her at night instead for awhile, which sounded amazing when he suggested it, but it wound up meaning that he stayed up for an hour walking her around, trying to get her back to sleep, and in the end having to wake me up to help anyway.  Oh well.  Even if the kids never all sleep through the night, someday they will move out.

6

This warm weather is fabulous.  We spent a day down at the river last week and had a wonderful time.  The kids waded and I swam -- in knee-deep water, but it still counts because I got wet all over.  I got a sunburn, despite reapplying the sunblock twice.  The kids did not, because that 1/4 Latino is apparently enough to make a difference.


The garden is getting along well.  I surrendered one bed back to weeds, because it's gravely and has never done well, but all the other beds are either planted or ready to plant.  I have chard, beets, spinach, broccoli, purple cabbage, radishes, peas, and red onions planted.  I tried to plant lettuce a bunch of times, but I suspect it just hasn't been wet enough.  I watered a lot, but you just can't keep a bed really wet if it's 70 degrees and sunny.  I really want to get my tomatoes in, since we have a warm, rainy week predicted, but all the stores just have hybrid varieties and I want heirlooms.  Those can usually be found at the farmers' market, but do I dare wait till Saturday?

7

My TV shows lately are Fringe and Friends.  Fringe, of course, is for evenings when the kids are in bed, whereas Friends I watch while putting Miriam to bed or any time I'm not in the mood for scary.

I loved the first three seasons of Fringe, but season four is baffling me a bit.  I don't like the new timeline.  Walter's not Walter!  Olivia's not Olivia!  Are they ever going to explain how the people in this timeline think the machine worked?  On the other hand, I feel like some mysteries from season one might be explained a little at last.  Apparently JJ Abrams is famous for mysteries that wind up never getting explained.  But even if it does end up that way, I think I'll stick with it to the bitter end, because I love Olivia Dunham so much.  She is a freaking awesome character with a ton of depth.  And I like everyone else too -- Walter, Peter, Astrid, the people in the alternate universe.  Character development really is everything to me in TV -- that and moral quandaries, provided they are dealt with properly.  I need at least some of the characters to be morally admirable, or else forget about it (which is why I gave up on House of Cards and haven't tried Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones).

Watching Friends is part of my project to get caught up on the nineties.  (Buffy was the first step; I guess this is step two.  I want to experience everything popular enough to be a cultural touchstone everyone my age knows: I'm taking suggestions.)  Already I've recognized references to that show in other things I've read and watched.  It kind of puzzles me that I managed to get through the nineties while getting exposed to so little of its culture.  I remember the clothes and the hair though.  MY GOSH.  It's strange seeing people dressed in overall shorts and being portrayed as "cool."  And very strange getting a shot of the World Trade Center without sad music being played. 

My favorite character by far is Ross.  Who could help loving him?  He also reminds me of a friend of mine (if you read this, Ibid, it's you, and it's a compliment).

How have you all been?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I can finally define "cult"

In all my writings about cults and the terrible things they do, I've struggled to define a cult.  After all, much of what they do is also done by religions, political movements, and internet communities that people enjoy participating in and don't think of as manipulative.  In fact, most "cult tactics" are simply group cohesion tactics, in that a group that practices them will be closer-knit than a group that does not.  So I've often felt that you only get two choices -- a group that isn't very groupish but respects people's freedom, or a group that has all the benefits of groupishness but also is close to being a cult.

However, this last post gave me an insight into the difference.  It's this: a healthy group is in a symbiotic relationship with the people in it.  They keep it alive, and in turn, it benefits them.  The amount the members give the group is the amount they get back.

But an unhealthy group, a cult, is a parasite.  It takes from the members and does not give back accordingly.  So people are manipulated into making large sacrifices for the group, but when they need something from the group, it's never available -- they might be told they are selfish for expecting anything, or that the goal of the group is some faraway utopia and no one can expect anything yet.

There's also a difference between the leadership of a healthy group and the leadership of a cult.  In a healthy group, the leadership tends to give more than they get, while the members get more than they give.  So you have a president and secretary and so on who make this a major life project and invest a lot of their energy in it, while some more fringe members just show up to meetings, have a good time, and leave.  It's frustrating, but it's how groups work -- the more-committed members pick up the slack for the less-committed members; or if they don't, the group eventually dissolves.  In a cult, however, it's the people at the top who get more out of the group than they invest.  This parasitical structure, if it exists to serve anyone, exists to serve the leaders.  (This is not universally the case; some cults don't have a sneaky leader who started the whole thing as a scam, everyone believes -- so no one benefits.)

So the next time you ask yourself if a group you're in is getting too culty, ask yourself this: how much of your time and effort do you put in?  And what benefits do you get back?  Do you get spiritual peace, a sense of closeness, support in times of trouble, or opportunities to give back to the larger community?  Or are these things half-promised but never delivered?  Do you hear "success stories" where other people get a lot of benefits, but you never get those?  It's one thing if the whole purpose of the group is to benefit, say, orphans, and you're not an orphan so your only benefit is "I get to be part of helping orphans, which makes me happy."  But if the group is supposed to benefit you and doesn't, or if it claims to benefit the community but all it seems to do is recruit and fundraise, it might be a cult.

Meanwhile, it's possible that a group may seem too tight-knit and demanding while not being a cult, just being wrong for you.  Some groups are high-demand and high-yield -- you put a lot of effort into the group but it really pays off.  I know Mormons who describe their religion in this way.  They spend a lot of time and money on it, but if they fall on hard times, the church pitches in and takes care of things.  It's like a platinum insurance plan.  Not everyone wants that.  I don't; I like things to be low-key and I don't want to commit.  But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.

Groups also have a tendency to be wrong -- there's a reason "groupthink" has a negative connotation.  As my dad used to say, "None of us is as stupid as all of us."  But wrongness is orthogonal to cultiness.  For years I assumed Regnum Christi wasn't a cult because it had none of its own beliefs at all, simply borrowed Catholic ones.  But I was wrong, because your group can have all the right beliefs and still be a parasitical group.  Or it could be super wrong but a low-key, fun group which gives back to the community.  Obviously wrongness isn't good, and it's possible that the more culty a group is, the more it short-circuits your reasoning process so you're more likely to be wrong.  It's a good rule of thumb to do your thinking and decisionmaking on your own and come back to the community to share your ideas and come up with a plan of action.  Just remember, right ideas on their own don't guarantee that a group is healthy.

What do you think, is this a useful distinction?  It sure seems an improvement over my tendency to assume everything is a cult.
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