Friday, August 19, 2016

Three consequentialist goals

I've talked before about consequentialism, but at the time I put to the side what consequences one should be striving for.  It's no small consideration: not only will a person make very different moral choices based on what consequences they are aiming for, but choosing the wrong consequences can seem to refute consequentialism altogether.

I mean, consider the basic utilitarian formulation: "the greatest happiness for the greatest number."  In that case ought we to euthanize unhappy people, to increase the sum of happiness in the people who are left?  If we get the technology to put wires in people's heads that make them feel happy all the time without changing any of the realities of their lives (say, they are still hungry and filthy and sick, but they just don't mind anymore), should we impose that on everyone?

That's where preference utilitarianism comes in -- rather than say "the goal is to make everyone happy," we could say, "the goal is to give everyone, so much as possible, what they want out of life."  So we shouldn't wirehead people unless that's truly what they want.  But that raises more problems: does that mean that, rather than taking a suicidal person to the hospital, we should give them a big bottle of sleeping pills because that's what they want?  Yet, of course, the second we edit it to "what a person of sound mind would want" or "what a well-informed person would want" we run the risk of invalidating everyone's preferences because, after all, that isn't what they really would want if only they were as mentally healthy or well informed as us.

Existence is the third possibility.  Rather than preserve happiness even at the cost of ending some people's existence, we should preserve life above all.  I'm a fan of this, for sure.  After all, when considering whether a public-health proposal is a good one, we ask not "will people like it?" but "how many lives will it save?"  If saving lives is one's end goal, it seems like it wouldn't wind up with anything really monstrous.  Except .... well, we don't actually force medical interventions on people, even if they're really helpful ones.  Take the extreme case: a very elderly person, someone who has a short time to live in any case, and who has begged not to be rescucitated again and again, but to die naturally?  Is it right to overrule their preference because preserving life trumps everything else?

Another consideration is how we are to rate existence for those who do not yet exist.  Is it morally equivalent to save a life and to bring a new life into existence?  Well, not really -- a person who currently exists has rights, responsibilities, preferences, loved ones, and so on, while a person who doesn't isn't tied into the present reality in any way.  To choose not to beget them is no injustice to them, because they don't exist.  But if we really were taking existence alone as the only consequence of importance, we would consider saving a life equal to creating a life, because both result in an equal amount of existence.  I do think creating a life has value -- that is part of why I've done it so many times!  Sociologists may remind us that becoming a parent is likely to reduce our happiness (and I think they're right, in at least one sense) but that doesn't really matter all that much to most people.  On the one hand, we have preferences beyond happiness, and on the other, the child you have will have infinitely increased happiness once they exist.  But I feel odd about saying, "I'm having this child because he will increase the sum of happiness in the world."  I'd rather simply say, "I'm having this child because it is a good thing for him to exist."

In the end, my choice has been to balance all three of these considerations: existence, preference, and happiness -- which could also be stated, "life, liberty, and happiness."  To pursue any one of these completely without reference to the other two has the potential to be drawn out to morally repellant conclusions.  I think in most cases that doesn't even come up because the three are interconnected.  You can't be happy if you are dead; most people prefer to be alive; most people are made unhappy by not being free to pursue their wishes.  But in case it should come up, I think it's appropriate to balance them.  If, for instance, a person desires to die, one might simply overrule that because life has value apart from your preference, and because the person has an opportunity they don't recognize for future happiness.  And yet, when my grandmother chose to forego cancer treatment, her wish was respected because it was a clear, sane, adamant preference being weighed against a very short increase in lifespan anyway.  I can save the threatened suicide victim but not kidnap my grandmother to force treatment on her, without being a hypocrite, because I see in one case a weak preference (because it may be compromised by poor mental health) weighed against a great deal of potential life and happiness, while in the other I see a strong preference weighed against very little life and no increase in happiness (because death would have been slower and more painful).

How much weight ought to be put on each one?  It's not really possible to say.  I tend to rate life the most highly; I think each person is an irreplaceable individual with much to offer the world, so that even if they do not seem very happy, they still have value.  I know others who care more about liberty -- they were not exaggerating when they said, "Give me liberty or give me death!"  Many have died rather than endure what they perceived as slavery.  And some people care more about happiness; they feel their life is better spent bringing joy to others' lives than curing diseases.  I don't think any of these weightings is wrong, though I do think it would be wrong to consider only one while entirely neglecting the others.  To pursue a course of action which serves one of these ends while destroying another -- for instance, wiping out life on earth because people aren't happy enough, or having twenty children and neglecting them all because at least they would exist, or wireheading everyone against their will because it would make them happier -- would be a morally repugnant thing to do.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

7 quick moving takes


 Well, we've successfully moved.  It was an exhausting and somewhat painful process.  But, thanks to John taking three days off work for it, plus the weekend, we're entirely unpacked and living comfortably in our new house.

So, pictures first!

Here is the living room, on the middle floor, just when you come in.  It's the cleanest and most peaceful room in the house, so I like to sit here.  This picture was taken before the piano was delivered -- it sits next to the brown couch now.  I am very excited to hear John play, and for the kids to get a chance to start learning.

If you turn the other way, you can see the front door and the steps up to the bedrooms.  It's a split level, so only a half flight to go up and a half flight to go down.

Through the living room (if you were to turn right from the previous picture) you get into the dining room.  We got all new chairs, because we had only four dining chairs, of which two were broken.  So every day we had to drag John's computer chair over to the table, plus my chair too because it was just a borrowed dining chair.  Now the old chairs sit out on the screen porch with the card table and the dining room actually seats six.  Which is handy because that's the size our family is going to be.

The dining room adjoins the kitchen -- how nice not to have to bring all the food out into the living room like we've done for five years!  It has quite a lot more cabinet space than I've been used to, and there's a dishwasher beside the fridge there.  I think of it as my robot servant and it makes me so happy.

I kind of hate the colors in here -- the walls are yellow, the counters are almond, and the cabinets are very light gray.  Not sure what they were thinking with that.  I want to paint the walls white except for a red backsplash area.  But not right away; just moving here was enough work to hold us for awhile.

Here is the family room, which is downstairs.  It is very cozy and I thought it would be my favorite room in the house ... but it's often boiling hot down there because it doesn't have any window air conditioning units like the upstairs has.  And the heat makes the ancient orange carpet smell weird.  Eventually, we want central air, but that's massively expensive to do in a house this size -- doubly so because it doesn't have air ducts, only radiators.  And we'll probably pull up the carpet at some point.

The other half of the downstairs is taken up with a huge bedroom which we have designated the playroom.  It was only this tidy very briefly, because John cleaned it; as soon as he was finished the kids ran down and dumped out all the toys.  Marko in particular was really upset by having it cleaned up.  I guess he's only happy if he's stepping on Legos.


I'm a little overwhelmed by the yard.  The previous owner was an avid gardener who actually had time and money to keep it up, so there's tons of stuff there, both edible and ornamental.  The trouble is I am not always sure which is which.  I also don't really consider flowers to be worth prime garden space, so I may be digging some things up and moving them around or giving them away before next spring.

The previous owner gave us a three-page list of instructions for how to care for all her plants, which left me feeling rather inadequate.  Then I remembered, I own this, I'm not plant-sitting, so if I want to neglect some of her many mulching steps, I can.  But I'm still nervous about all she's said about pests.  She put in some fences to protect against deer, but she admitted there was basically nothing you could do about the bears other than store the trash in the freezer till trash day.  This sounds dreadful.  And also, if there are bears around, are any of us safe?!

But, on the bright side, there are scads of herbs, there are tomatoes (though not ripe yet -- how late did she plant them?!), there is a late planting of beans.  It doesn't have as many of the things I like as my old garden usually had -- no bell peppers, no cabbage, no cucumbers.  But next year it will!  There's plenty of space.

And the rest of the yard is a perfect jungle for kids.  Some flat, smooth grass and lots of trees, especially in the side yard, where there is a huge, climbable magnolia tree, two holly trees, and some dogwood and redbud.  There's a huge back porch.  In the front there's a brick walkway which is good for toy cars.  I worried about there being no fence, but they have all been excellent about staying in the yard and not playing close to the road.  Though it's a very quiet road as it is, and the house is right at the end where few cars pass.


I found moving extremely difficult, especially that last day before the move where absolutely everything was packed and there was nothing to do and nowhere to sit.  It was very sad, looking at our house all empty and lifeless.  Once we had arrived at the new place, things started to get better right away -- with every box we unpacked, we got more comfortable.

But moving is an emotional experience whatever you do.  You don't have any place that feels like home to relax in, no habits to revert to.  Plus you have to go through boxes and boxes of stuff with sentimental value.  Unpacking my clothes got me very upset -- when I see all my clothes, rather than just the stuff I usually wear and keep handy, it feels like I'm looking through someone else's closet.  It's the closet of someone who isn't pregnant or nursing, who doesn't get grease and dirt on her clothes, who gets invited places.  Cute dressy clothes, clothes in my size and my favorite colors.  And the present version of me doesn't get to have any part of this.  I wear John's t-shirts and the exactly two pairs of pants that still button.

That, plus the sight of myself in all the full-length mirrors, gave me a bit of a body-image crisis.  This is why I always get drastic haircuts when I'm pregnant.  I just can't bear the way I look, but the thought of buying a new wardrobe sounds dreadful.  I couldn't afford it before, and now that I can, I'm thinking it's much better not to bother for just four months.  And I do have some decent cold-weather maternity stuff anyway.


Once John went back to work and I started settling into a routine, I felt a lot better.  There is just so much more SPACE here.  Like, the kids can go down to the playroom and have noisy adventures, and I can be upstairs barely hearing them.  I can relax in a comfortable chair and read a book, or potter around my new kitchen.  I feel way more motivated to do housework than usual, perhaps partly just from the novelty factor, but also because things actually stay clean after I'm finished for more than five minutes.  And I am finally spared my most time-consuming chore, daily dishes.  I just put dishes in the machine whenever I'm finished with them, which means my counters are always pretty clear.

And after John gets home, we have a nice dinner in our pleasant dining room, put the kids to bed in their own rooms, and then spend the evening in the rest of the house.  We don't have to whisper for fear of waking them, or leave the lights dim so they don't shine under the door.  Instead, I can tidy the kitchen, or I can sit and read in the peaceful living room, or I can go downstairs and lounge on the comfy couch.  John generally sits at his desk in the family room, so we can talk or not, without that awkward pressure of being two introverts a few feet from each other feeling like we should be talking because we don't want to be rude, except we're both tired and don't want to talk.

There are lots of little things that make life easier.  Having more than one bathroom, for instance, so Michael doesn't suddenly get desperate to go potty the second one of us gets in the shower and not be able to go.  Or having a built-in water filter so we don't have to keep filling up the tank on the one we had.  Being able to park in the carport right by the side door, so I can let the kids run out to the car without worrying they'll run in the street.  Miriam having her own room at night so that if she wakes up and throws an hours-long party (like she did last night, ugh) she only keeps one person awake.  But I think the one that matters to me most is the quiet.  The split-level design muffles everything; I can vaguely hear where the kids are, but if they're not on the same level as me, they aren't loud.  And oh, how I have needed quiet.

(Of course this does not work when Miriam is feeling clingy and crabby and is climbing all over me screaming.  Which has been a lot lately, probably for a lot of reasons.  But I'm sure that will get better.)


I had a big freakout the first day we moved here when some ants got in the trash can.  And then they got on the counters.  And then we found them in both the dog's and the cat's food bowls.  I sprayed citrus vinegar and wiped down their trails, but they were persistent little buggers.  John finally sprayed the outside of the house with some nasty chemicals and they are now staying out.  I hate poisons, but I also really, really hate ants.  So hopefully they do not come back.

Speaking of the dog and the cat, they are going through some trauma.  Gilbert whined a lot the first night, wondering when we were going home.  He's recovered to some extent, but we haven't yet let him explore anything but the downstairs.  And since there's no fence outside, he has to be tied up when he's out, which he doesn't love.  The result is that he's been pretty hyper.  I want to walk him and explore the neighborhood, but it's going to have to wait for a day when it's not in the nineties.

Kitty-kitty is worse off -- she's still pretty scared to come out of the basement.  I'm proud of her that she's even come off the top shelf in the basement, which is where she stayed the first three days.  She's always been like this about change.  When we first brought her home as a kitten, I thought we'd lost her until I saw her glowing eyes shining out at me from behind the fridge.  And she stayed there a solid week.  Hopefully soon she will get used to our new place so I can get back to snuggling with her in the evenings.  I think it's one of the highlights of both of our days.  BUT, we can still shut her up downstairs at night so I can leave the bedrooms doors open without her coming in and walking on our faces.  Definite perk there.


We finally have internet and phone now.  That's a big relief; communication with the outside world has been slow and difficult all week.  I have data on my tablet, but only a limited amount, and that was problematic considering Miriam only likes to go to sleep to cooking shows.

And with that, I feel like we are back to normal life.  Since May we have been in the process of packing up and selling the house and moving, so I haven't been able to do any other projects.  Now I can get back to spinning or start on that rag rug I want to make.  I want to make a new sourdough starter, since I accidentally destroyed my old one over a year ago and haven't felt like I was in a place where I could be responsible for another one.  These little things are what make life feel like MY life, to me .... projects that excite me and make me feel I'm accomplishing things.

Sadly, despite my interior motivation, I'm finding it very hard to actually DO anything....


... because at 17 weeks, well into the second trimester when one is supposed to have energy, I feel more lethargic than ever.  I'm sure Miriam's poor sleep is a factor.  But other than that, I don't know.  I've had more out-of-breath-and-heart-racing moments, usually when going up the stairs or walking around, and I'm beginning to think maybe it's not anxiety.  I feel very relaxed lately and a bit excited.  But on some days, I just struggle to be even moderately active around the house.  I'm supposed to get bloodwork done soon, so perhaps we'll find out if I'm anemic or deficient in some vitamin.  That would be excellent news, because I could fix it.  If that isn't it, I may just have to put up with it for the next four months.  Lovely.  Seeing what I said above -- that completing projects that excite me is one of the big things that makes life worth living -- feeling my energy sapped like this makes me feel utterly despairing.

Most days my mood is good, like I said, but for two days last weekend I had a total breakdown.  It was very weird; there wasn't a lot I could point to that was upsetting me, I just couldn't keep it together.  It went away, thank goodness, but I am worried it will come back.  I felt that way for much of Miriam's pregnancy and postpartum, and it was horrible.  Not even mainly for how I felt, but for how incapable I seemed to be of reacting empathetically and patiently with my kids.  I don't have a lot of skills, but keeping it together emotionally is one I'm super good at usually.  Not having that makes me feel I am failing my kids.  It's a terrible way to feel.

I don't want to end on this note, so let me just say -- overall I feel hopeful.  I feel that living here is going to be great for us.  We have the space we've needed for so long, and so many small things that make life easier.  I think we can manage.  I'm glad we did this.  And while pregnancy is a very temporary burden, living here will last a lot longer.  I think we'll be happy here for a long time to come.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Some thoughts on third parties

I've never seen my friends so divided by an election before.  Some are voting for Clinton because Trump is just that bad.  Others are voting for Trump because Clinton is just that bad.  And probably the majority are planning to vote third party for various reasons.

I'm generally in favor of voting third party.  If no one ever does, it pretty much guarantees that the two major parties will be unresponsive to their bases, because they know the base will never abandon them -- or if they do, they'll stay home, in which case it's really hard to say exactly why they didn't turn out.  A third-party vote says, "I'm committed and involved, and this is the sort of candidate I would have voted for."

As long as your vote is guaranteed to a certain party, you have basically no say.  The party knows you won't vote for anyone else, because you're too scared of the opposition, so they don't really have to work for your vote at all.  This is, in my opinion, why the prolife movement never makes any progress.  They've made it quite obvious that they will never vote Democrat, and they also are so scared of Democrats that they rarely vote third-party either.  That means all a Republican candidate ever has to do is be just barely less pro-choice than the Democrats, and all the terrified prolifers fall in line.  It is not necessary to have a prolife voting record or to actually pass any prolife legislation while in office.  He just has to say "sanctity of life" a couple of times on the campaign trail once or twice, and that's a whole bloc that's all his.  Lobbies that are more bipartisan, whose supporters will withhold a vote as needed, get a lot more done.  (Apparently the gun lobby is famous for this.)

So I'm heartened that people are finally drawing a line somewhere and withholding their vote from the candidates they don't like.  That's the only way you get better candidates.

On the other hand, if you always vote third party and never for a major party, you're in the same boat.  Your vote can't be won, so no one will bother with you.  (And by "you" I mean mainly your issues and groups, because no one is tracking you as an individual of course.)  Every year there is some small percentage who vote Libertarian or Green and it's pretty obvious that no mainstream candidate will ever satisfy these people.  So no one actually caters to those groups.  To have an effect politically, you have to be the sort of person who has both standards and realism.  You have to both understand that politics is about compromise and perfect candidates aren't available, and be willing to draw a line somewhere and deny your vote to candidates who are truly unacceptable.

That is, of course, if you're voting third party because you hope to influence the two major parties to care more about your issues.  That's not the only reason people do it, though.  Some people do it because they believe that you are morally complicit in everything the person you vote for does, but you aren't responsible for a person you didn't vote for, even if you could have kept them out of office with a different vote.  I don't see that.  You don't "keep your hands clean" simply by voting for people who you know won't win, because your vote isn't just about picking your favorite person but also about the effects you have on the result as a whole.  If you don't vote for Joe, and Bob wins instead, you're not really any less to blame than if you voted for Bob.  (Well, perhaps 50% less, since you would have put Bob two votes ahead if you had voted for him.)  That's a consequentialist ethical view for you, but where voting is concerned I don't think it can be anything but a consequentialist question.  Voting itself is morally neutral, and it seems the morality of the vote is in the foreseen results, not in how morally upstanding the guy you voted for (or didn't vote for) was.

Another reason people vote for third party candidates is because they think that if everyone did it, those candidates could win.  I used to think that, too -- that deep down everyone wanted libertarian candidates and just didn't vote for them because they were scared to.  But after further experience, I think that isn't true.  Libertarian ideals are popular in maybe 10% of the population, and maybe another 10% would settle for a libertarian candidate because they hate the major ones so much.  But the reason the major parties do well is at least partly because they have wider appeal.  People like liberty, but not too much, and not for people they don't like.  Likewise, socialist-type candidates are popular in a certain crowd, but most people don't really want a socialist in power.  They just want some basic programs.  Pacifists, sadly, are not a big lobby with any party, and as I talk to people I realize it's because people don't actually agree with pacifism.

It's easy to get confused about this because we hang out with people like us, and we know everyone we hang out with likes some of our own pet issues.  But most of the country doesn't.  They care about lower taxes, or more government programs, or a more interventionist military, or less immigration.  These are ideas that appeal to large swaths of the country, and the two parties have divvied them up in a way that isn't really perfect for anybody but which is good enough to still get votes.

But think about it: when ten friends try to decide on a place to go for dinner, or a movie to watch, what are the odds even half of the group gets their first choice?  If two want pizza and three want burgers and four want tacos and one isn't really hungry, they are all going to have to bargain and compromise until they come up with something that no one actually hates.  And that's if they're lucky and get along well.  It's the same in politics -- there are so many issues and so many possible positions on these issues that if each person actually dreamed up their ideal candidate, it's unlikely that any two people would be thinking of exactly the same thing.

So we all compromise.  We decide that we're willing to compromise on foreign wars but not abortion, for instance, or immigration but not welfare.  And that's how we find our way into one party or another, or voting for one candidate over another.  The second part of this process is a bit more sketchy -- often we rationalize the compromise we've made, or pick up ideas from other people in our party, and convince ourselves that we actually do believe in foreign wars or immigration.  It feels better to think we're not really compromising, and that way we feel less out of place among our political allies.

Despite the suboptimal nature of this process, though, it does work.  Everyone gets some of what they want.  While democracy doesn't give everyone all of what they want, it does ensure that the decisions that are made are actually wanted by somebody.  Sometimes it seems way too messy and frustrating, and we all wonder if there isn't a better way.  Certainly there are things that could be better about our system.  Even with a perfectly set-up system, there is never any such thing as 300 million people all getting what they want.  (Except in capitalism, whoooo!  But not everything can be decided that way.)

So, if your analysis leads you to vote third party, you should do so.  There are cases when it may do some good.  I think it's important to take the long view instead of listening to fearmongering that This Is the Most Important Election in History (every election in my lifetime has been described that way) and therefore we must all crowd behind a candidate everybody hates just because nothing could ever be worse than getting the other one.  Sure, there are some candidates so bad it might be best to beat them in the short term and worry about strategy later.  (I think Donald Trump is one of those candidates.  It kind of shocks me that some Sanders fans are willing to let him win rather than compromise -- he clearly is opposed to almost all that they stand for.)  But you can't do that year after year if you expect your voice to be heard.  You've got to do what you can to push the major parties more into line with what you want -- which will include things like voting in primaries, voting in local elections, donating to campaigns, and knocking on doors.  It may also include not voting for "your" party's candidates, if they don't meet some basic minimum standard.  I think it additionally includes voting for that candidate if they do meet a basic standard.  They won't be perfect and you might not like them all that much, but if they'll really forward some of your main issues, you should reward them with your vote.

Well, that's what I think, anyway.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

7qt - new house!


First, the house news!  After many nail-biting moments, we finally did close on both houses.  The old house (henceforth to be called Dunsinane House for clarity's sake, since I'm not going to give you the address) was sold for its asking price, although we had to pour quite a bit of money into the repairs.  The buyer, a young woman buying her first home, seemed unbelievably suspicious.  Not only did she insist on many different repairs, but even after the work was done she (or rather, her agent) would pick apart the invoices and demand they be redone because they weren't worded properly, or didn't have seals on them, or whatever.  It was kind of ridiculous and I felt like we were being given the third degree, with threats to back out at the last minute if all their demands weren't met.

In the end, though, we found out the real trouble was that the buyer's father was convinced his daughter was making a huge mistake.  He was sure that since the house was inexpensive, old, and in the town it's in, it must be falling apart.  So he constantly questioned everything, which is why his daughter got spooked and demanded so much extra stuff.  I don't really regret selling the house to her, despite the trouble -- at least our house is going to someone who is excited about it and plans to take good care of it.


Dealing with all the repairs, though ... was a headache and a half.  It seems that a contractor who does a good job, at a reasonable price, at the time he said he'd do it, is rarer than diamonds.  We had roofers whose price wasn't that great, but who promised they could get the job done that week, before our inspection got done.  Nope, took them a MONTH, they added extra money onto their bill that we never agreed on, we had to keep calling them back to put our bathroom vent back on, and after the fact we found out their price was about a thousand dollars more than another company would have done.

(I never ever ever in my life want to be in a house that is getting the roof worked on again.  Constant bangs and crashes left me jumping out of my skin, and I actually started to have trouble breathing.  I have always known that it would be idiocy for me to have a job working with, say, explosives or jet engines, but now I am SURE.  My system just can't take loud noises.)

The plumbing was an even bigger headache.  The first guy we had come out diagnosed the problem, a cracked waste line which had some sort of break or tangle under our front lawn, but wasn't authorized to give an estimate -- but he thought five grand at least.  We had his boss out to give the real estimate and got $3500.  Better, but still, quite a bit more than we could afford considering the other repairs we had to do at the same time.  Finally we got a different company out and they agreed to do it for $900.  Sweet deal!

Only, it wasn't really a sweet deal because after they fixed the pipe, we started to get water in the cellar.  The first time, they thought it was because they'd left the old pipe in place and the water was getting in through there.  (Seems reasonable, and also WHY did they leave it in place?)  But instead of taking it out, they plugged it up and said it would be fine now.  Nope, more water.  They came out again, dug the yard up again, and found they had somehow broken the fresh-water line, which was gushing water out.  (Oh dear.)  I thought for sure that would be the end of it, and we set to drying out the cellar, when one day we found fresh puddles.  I did some sleuthing of my own (that is, running faucets and then running down to the cellar to check the pipes) and found out that the sink was the actual culprit.  The drain of the sink was never hooked up to the new waste line, it was hooked up to the OLD waste line, which of course was hanging right out into the cellar and dripping the water right out onto the floor.  Once I told the plumbers the problem, they were able to fix it in an hour.  But seriously, that's FOUR visits for one repair.  They always came back promptly and didn't charge us for the further visits, which was the honest thing to do, and that's why I haven't given them a horrible review calling them nasty names.  But .... I wouldn't hire them again.  I'd pay for the monstrously expensive guys and hope that the extra money would get me some competence.


On to the new house -- which I'll call here Powhatan House, for the same reason as the other pseudonym.  It really is gorgeous.  John's the one who really fell in love with it, whereas I ... well, I keep dreaming of a house in the country with the cows and everything, a dream that gets further away all the time.  But I have to admit, it's a nice house, larger than we thought we'd be able to afford, in a pleasant neighborhood a little closer to John's work than the old one.  There's nothing to really dislike about it.  I just hope I feel at home there.

What gave me hope that it is the right house for us is that is has great gardens, both edible and ornamental.  Here's a picture of the back of the house -- note the chimney (two working fireplaces!), deck, and screen porch.

It's a split-level -- living room, dining room, and kitchen on the main level, where the entry is; family room and play room downstairs, and bedrooms upstairs.  It has my non-negotiable features -- more than one bathroom, and .... a dishwasher!  It does not have central air, which is a real downer, but of course that can be fixed eventually.

Anyway, so we were under contract for this house and things were going great.  But then two weeks before the closing, we got bad news: the appraisal had come back for $10,000 less than the agreed-upon price, and the bank was not willing to let us buy it for more than the appraised price unless we made up the difference in cash.  Of course we didn't have the cash because we spent all our cash fixing up Dunsinane House.  And we couldn't redo the whole loan (trying to make our down payment smaller so that we could have some cash left to make up the difference) because there wasn't time before we would have to move.  We tried to bargain with the sellers to bring the price down, but they refused to budge even a little, because they were convinced our appraiser was wrong and their house was worth more than that.  We tried to get the appraiser to adjust the appraisal, but after making us wait over a week, they denied the claim.  We had a week before we closed on Dunsinane House and two weeks before we would be homeless, and the whole deal on Powhatan House was falling apart.  We looked at other houses but everything else in our price range sucked, and anyway, you can't buy a house in two weeks unless you've got the whole price in cash.  So we were looking at short-term rentals where we could live while we continued looking.  I felt like everything was collapsing around us.

And then, miracle of miracles, the bank suddenly "put us in a special program" wherein they'd agree to the original terms of the loan.  It seemed to be because we and our realtor harassed them so much, pointing out that leaving us with so little time to spare was entirely their fault, and they figured it was best to placate us rather than being That Bank that destroyed our homeowning dreams.  Or whatever.  At any rate, we were back on to close right on time, and that was the last complication -- we signed the papers and now own the new place!

We don't actually move till Friday, because the old owners of Powhatan House needed time to arrange their new housing in another state, so we are technically renting Dunsinane House from the lady who bought it and the old owners of Powhatan House are renting from us.

The closer we get to the move, the more trepidatious I feel.  What if I don't feel at home there?  What if it's actually harder to keep track of the kids in so much space?  What if I find myself desperately wishing we'd never moved, that we'd just put up wtih living here two more years so we could have gotten out to the country?


On to the kids.  They have not been at their best at all lately, probably because of the chaos in their lives (on this day, you can't play outside so the roofers don't drop things on you! on that day, we can't be home at all because there is an inspection!  on the other day, we can stay home but we can't flush the toilet!  also, all your toys are packed up!) and perhaps also because I haven't been pouring positive emotional attention into them the way I'm supposed to do.  This, more than anything, is the part that shatters me about having kids so close together -- that I change from the mother who enjoys spending time with her kids and snuggling them and answering their million questions, to the mother who's hunched in a chair begging them to please, please, not touch or talk to her.  I do try to force myself out of that zone, but it's hard.  I just want to be alone and quiet so much.

Anyway, in that vein, instead of talking about all the many misadventures the kids have gotten up to lately, I want to talk about the good side of each kid.  I don't want to forget this stuff.

Marko is so brilliant these days.  He reads more and more fluently, still only the easiest kind of easy readers the library has, but definitely real books.  He reads Little Bear and Mouse Soup and Pete the Cat.  Sometimes I can't read with him so he sits and tries to puzzle them out for himself -- yelling out every minute or so, "How do you pronounce T-H-R-O-U-G-H?"  Reading with him is difficult because Miriam insists on being on my lap and will try to grab the book away.  And Michael gets on the other side of me and tries to "read" just by guessing from context.  But I try to do it every day because technically, we are really homeschooling this year, and because when a child is able and interested in a subject, you have to jump on it THEN, not later.

(Some of these "easy readers," though, I question their vocabulary.  One story began with the sentence, "The two friends would often take a walk."  No big deal to you or me, but that adds up to only THREE words that follow the rules and FIVE that don't.  Way to make a kid give up on the first sentence because he thinks the whole story is going to be that hard.)

John finished reading The Hobbit to the boys and is now reading, by Marko's demand, The Fellowship of the Ring.  I think it's waytheheck over their heads, but Marko is super excited.  I track their progress by what they pretend each day.  Lately it's Barrow Wights and Tom Bombadil.  Marko has a "one Ring" he made out of a twist tie, but that wasn't good enough so he got me to make him this one:

It makes me so happy seeing him pick up all his parents' obsessions.


Michael ... poor Michael.  He's almost always the problem child, and when he's not, he's just the middle child whose achievements never seem like a big deal because Marko's done all that stuff for years.  But he is a delight all the same.  He's in that four-year-old stage where their love language is having you attempt to answer a million hypothetical questions: What if we were walking in the woods in the dark and there were bears?  What if the sun came down to the earth?  What would happen if a germ ate my sandals?

It gets super annoying when it goes on constantly.  Especially in the car: Why can't we drive on the other side of the road? What would happen if we did? Why are there lines on the road? Why is that car blinking its yellow light?  The same questions are repeated every trip and he doesn't pay that much attention to the answers, he just wants my attention.

On the other hand, he's so adorable that one is willing to put up with a lot.  He still has kind of a lisp and his gap-toothed smile is just ridiculously cute.

And 85% of the time he is a really, really sweet big brother.  He loves to get Miriam involved in his games.  He gives her hugs and kisses and tries to get her to sit on his lap.  It's adorable to watch.  


Miriam gets cuter every day.  I try not to pick favorites but HOW COULD I NOT?  Not only is she almost two, which is Peak Cute in my opinion, but she's learning all kinds of new and adorable tricks.  For instance, she likes to play complicated pretend games now: all the steps for what you do with a baby, all the steps for making dinner.  Today she was packing up her toys in bags and carrying them to different rooms, saying she was "moving to the new house." It's the cutest thing in the world.

She is annoyingly helpful, in the sense that I am not allowed to wash dishes, do a load of laundry, or make dinner without her involvement.  She drags over a chair and "helps."  And she really wants to actually help -- she's not just splashing in the water or tasting the food.  She wants to do exactly what I am doing.  Unfortunately, she's no good at most chores so she makes more work for me while at the same time making me feel overstimulated and overwhelmed because even housework, a usually kid-free activity, has become this exhausting Montessori thing.  I am sure it's for the best, as long as she doesn't lose interest in helping the instant she becomes competent, but boy would I rather do chores by myself right now.

Her obsession with cooking extends to her preferred shows.  She will pass up kid shows for a chance to watch "show foodie," meaning shows in which people cook.  She enjoys the YouTube channel "Tasty" and in the evenings before bed we watch Parts Unknown.  Food plus travel, what's not to like?  Well, the part where I finish the show with the munchies, walk into the kitchen, and find the food in my kitchen is not at all like the stuff Anthony Bourdain was just eating.  But I mean, other than that.

Of course she has hit the terrible twos lately, in conjunction with my milk mostly drying up so that she spends all day climbing on me, very difficult to settle down or console.  Nights are sometimes great and sometimes simply awful -- we will be nightweaning after we move.  She's moved from extreme independence (refusing to hold my hand in parking lots and throwing fits when I insist) to extreme neediness (demanding to be held the entire time we are out and refusing to walk anywhere).  You know.  Standard two-year-old stuff.  That's why they are so cute, to make up for how hard they are.

But man, listening to her talk.  She'll go on for some time telling a story she remembers of something that happened to her: "I fell down!  I hurt my cheek.  I cried.  Mama put bandaid on.  Feel better!  Got back on merry-go-round."  I'm pretty sure this is an advanced level of talking for an under-two.  I wish I could share a video, but she never obliges for the camera.  She's too interested in looking at herself.  Here's a photo though:

She's also every bit as affectionate as Michael, if not more so.  She loves kisses and hugs and often says, "I like you Mama.  I like you Mama."  If someone is sad she tries to figure out how to cheer them up.


And baby?  Baby is for-sure alive -- I heard the heartbeat yesterday.  I'm relieved, and relieved that I feel relieved instead of disappointed.  I feel like every child deserves to be wanted, even if they aren't.  I still don't exactly want a baby.  But I definitely don't want a dead baby, and at this point those are the only choices.

I feel pretty okay these days.  I had a week of crushing headaches, though I think those are just the standard ones I get in stormy weather rather than a symptom.  And my back was giving me a lot of trouble for awhile there, but I started being extra careful with it -- never kneeling, never lying on my back -- and it's mostly okay now.  I mostly do not feel depressed or anxious, but I do feel hyper-sensitive to sensory things.  I wish I knew what causes that.  I do know that in past pregnancies, weaning or partially weaning always helped.  Perhaps it's a depletion thing.  I take vitamins already, but if there were some tablet I could be taking that would make me no longer want to tear my skin off when Miriam wants to sit on my lap and be fidgety .... that would be great.

I expect my next update will be from our new house!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why I don't believe in natural law

Andrea has promised to come back and argue in favor of natural law, but it occurs to me that the comment thread we were on has gotten very long and unwieldy, so I thought I'd write a new post to continue the discussion.  I'll include a more complete explanation of the problems I see in "natural law" arguments against, for instance, birth control and homosexuality.

First, I have to clarify, because "natural law" is not a clearly defined term.  When some people say it, they simply mean "those ethical rules we can derive through reason alone," or "the moral intuitions everyone agrees on."  Of course I have no objection at all to this idea.  I've written a number of things on the emotional and rational grounding of morality.  Simple rules of thumb for moral action include things like, "Would I like it if someone did this to me?" "Does this action harm anyone, either inherently or through some distant side effect?" or "Would I like to live in a world where everyone acted like this?"  These rules are reasonable -- I can demonstrate that it is to everyone's benefit if we all follow them -- and they are universally applicable.

The sort of "natural law" talked about in these arguments, though, is much more specific.  The natural-law argument that underlies Catholic sexual ethics is as follows: Human faculties possess a teleology, a purpose or end.  For instance, the sexual faculty exists to create children.  The pleasure we get from using it is meant as a spur to get us to beget children, and to seek out the pleasure while frustrating the primary end, reproduction, is a perversion of the sexual faculty.

The first simple objection I can make to this is that teleology implies a creator.  That is, nothing has an end unless someone creates it for that end.  If I create a car, a fork, or a chair, I create them the way I do because I have a purpose in mind for that thing.  To comb my hair with a fork or to stand on a chair would be misusing that thing, and if it's my item you're misusing, I might object.  However, from a human perspective there is no "proper use" of a tree.  It simply is, because we didn't make it for any particular purpose.  We can turn it to any purpose we like -- we can make it into chairs or into paper or we can sit underneath it.  It might be better for some of those purposes than others, but no one will object to how we use it if it's our own tree.

If God created us, it's reasonable to say he built in our different functions and desires for his own purposes, and he might have an opinion about how we use them.  If, however, we came into being through the blind process of evolution, nobody actually cares what we do besides other humans.  Evolution is a terrible source for morality, because it doesn't care about human concerns like happiness, love, or beauty.  If we took evolution as a guide, we should probably give up things like art and music, each of us should have the maximum number of children we possibly can -- celibacy or late marriage would be sinful -- and we should euthanize our grandparents because they're a waste of resources.  That, need I point out, would be terrible, so I vote for "kick evolution in the face and do things it never intended."

So if you are already Catholic, it is quite reasonable for you to believe in natural law.  However, the church claims that natural law is available to everyone, regardless of their religion, through the unaided light of reason alone, and it just does not appear that this is true.  You have to have a prior belief in God, and it's pretty evident that reason alone does not bring everyone to a belief in God -- particularly not a specific version of God that has specific expectations for what we are to do with our bodies.

The second problem with natural law is that it doesn't really distinguish between things that are perversions of a bodily function and things that aren't intended by our body but are just fine.  For instance, if the purpose of the sexual faculty is to beget children, you would think that we are all bound to beget children since we all have a reproductive system, but the church says no to that -- you can forego using the sexual faculty altogether, provided you don't use it in a way that frustrates procreation.  That seems a distinction without a difference -- as though the point was to make sure those who don't have children suffer for it, rather than to get everyone to have children.

And, while natural-law proponents make a huge deal over the difference between sex between naturally infertile people and artificially infertile people, it does not appear to me that there is a real difference.  In both cases, the effects are the same; and the intentions of the people may be the same too.  (For instance, a couple that only has intercourse when one of them is infertile is deliberately avoiding procreation.)  Only the means varies, and what is the justification for making the means matter?  What is intrinsically bad about the means?

Another issue, when you bring homosexuality into the equation, is that a gay couple is not deliberately frustrating procreation.  They might want to procreate, like an infertile couple might, they just can't.  Like the infertile couple, they experience the other ends of sex, like pleasure and bonding.  Like the infertile couple, they don't experience the procreative end, but that's not intentional.  It's a massive stretch to me to imagine that there is a teleology of the body that exists to encourage procreation, but it cares about things irrelevant to whether a couple procreates.

And then, of course, we can point out that sex is the only faculty of the body that is treated this way.  The digestive system can be frustrated in similar ways, but no one makes a fuss about it.  You can drink a zero-calorie soda.  You can chew gum, which gets your stomach growling as it expects food, but which will never nourish you.  You can do all this purely to get the pleasure of food while not nourishing your body -- even though the only reason it is pleasurable to eat is to get you to nourish your body.  That doesn't matter; no one thinks this is immoral.  And if you're sick, it's okay to nourish the body without eating -- with a feeding tube or an IV.  That's perfectly fine, even though begetting children without sex is not okay.  The rules for sex are different, and I don't think there is a rationally-explicable reason why this should be.

It's a general medical principle -- accepted by the Church -- that you can damage one part of the body to save the whole.  You can take out a diseased kidney.  You can irradiate the body to kill a tumor even if it makes the rest of you sick.  You can do a gastric bypass which hinders the digestive system in order to help a person lose weight.  All of this is okay!  But sterilizing a person because pregnancy will risk their life is not okay.  I can't see a clear rule which you could figure out ahead of time that would allow you to draw these conclusions.  Instead, it seems like people had the conclusions in their minds in advance and tried to come up with an argument that would justify them.

And you know what?  That's totally fine.  It's okay to say, "We think God created us with a purpose, and through revelation, we know a lot about what that purpose is.  Let's spend some time and see if we can figure out what the logical rules are that made God draw the lines where he did."  That's a part of religion, but it's not a bad thing.  The bad thing is when you claim that non-Catholics could come to the same conclusions without first knowing the rules, and then claim that this means they are bound to your rules despite not sharing your beliefs.

We all know that virtually no non-Catholics ever are convinced by natural-law arguments.  The few who are generally wind up converting to Catholicism, because apparently they already believed many of the same first principles.  I think it's uncharitable the way that some Catholics put this down to self-deception or outright lying -- that is, "you would be convinced by this argument if you weren't so selfish/lying about not being convinced/morally twisted by your sinfulness."  Is it so hard to imagine that people might simply disagree?  I myself was ready and willing to be convinced by natural-law arguments in college, and I studied them quite a bit, but I simply felt that without the basic premise that God wanted certain things of us and had revealed what they were, the arguments would never be convincing.

For more on this topic, I recommend this post by Melinda Selmys, as well as the comments.  I also agreed with many of the counterarguments in the comments on this post.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

7 Independence Day takes


Happy Fourth of July to my American readers!  It's not my favorite holiday, mainly because I don't care for loud bangs going on all night.  And of course American patriotism can sometimes take on a jingoistic tone that I really don't like.  I love my country and don't want to live anywhere else, but I also think that criticizing it is part of the point.  "Love it or leave" is cult language, not American openness.

On the other hand I used to love the Fourth of July a lot because it was the time of our family's reunion.  My great-grandfather's birthday was nearby, so we would celebrate both together.  G-gpa would put on his ridiculous 1920's bathing suit, take out his hearing aids, and leap in the freezing lake.  Nobody else would be brave enough to get in the water, except me!

After G-gpa died, the reunions shrank down a bit, but we still had them.  I have so many great memories of swimming with my second and third cousins, the stomp rocket contest, the water balloon toss, the push-the-marshmallow-with-your-nose race.  (Having the Clarke profile -- i.e. a big nose -- really helps with that one.)  The last time I went, my grandpa was starting to decline from cancer.  It was the only time I've seen him less than a glowing picture of energy and health.  He had a brave face and a good attitude, but he confided that his doctors weren't trying to cure him anymore, just to give him time.

He rallied enough to participate in the paddleboat race -- the main event of the day -- and I was lucky enough to be his partner.  Despite his illness and my inexperience, we won!  For a moment I couldn't help but think, maybe this means he isn't really going to die.

That was the last time I saw my Grandpa.  I sobbed as we pulled away from their house.  I knew there was no way I could afford to fly back out anytime soon, but I also knew I'd never be ready to say goodbye.  He was a special person and things just aren't the same without him.

*clears throat* Anyway, it makes the "Glorious Fourth" not a huge thrill for me these days.


So I haven't given you all any updates on our house situation!  When we finally got it on the market -- a process that took longer than I would have thought -- it sold in three days for our asking price.  What a relief -- especially as attempting to keep it clean for people to look at it, and finding places for us to go during showings, were both extremely difficult with these kids.  I would kick them outside to clean the house for a showing, go out to check on them, and they'd be drawing on the outside of the house with charcoal.  I am kind of amazed we managed, especially as I've felt very lethargic lately.

I thought that meant our worries were behind us, though, and they really weren't.  First we had to bid on the house we wanted, and had to hold our breath for quite some time because someone else almost got it away from us.  Then our house had its inspection, and that was nervewracking too.  The inspector spent three hours checking every last thing, as if eager to find something, anything, he could ruin the deal with.

The roof, we already knew we had to fix, and that wiped out most of our savings.  The inspector found a cracked pipe, too, and insisted we hire a plumber to send a camera down to inspect the rest of the line.  More problems were found, and we had to drop almost a thousand more dollars to fix it.  (That went on the credit card, ugh.  Though we should be able to pay that off before it accrues any interest.)  And the inspector also was concerned about the foundation.  Nothing specific, he just was "concerned"!  The buyers demanded we hire an engineer to look at it -- $750 just for an assessment!  The assessment came out just fine, so we thought we could breathe out.  The engineer said that it might be good to pour a little concrete at the base of one column, and we thought, "That doesn't sound so bad.  We could get that done for cheap."

Well, despite having an engineer's recommendation -- the recommendation they insisted we get! -- the buyers still weren't sure.  (When I say "the buyers" I really mean the buyer's agent.  I really like the lady who is buying our house, but she has never owned a home before and I think the agent and inspector are teaming up to freak her out, for whatever reason.)  They wanted more work done.  And they wanted the plans to be drawn up by an engineer ($$$) and the work to be inspected by an engineer after (more $$$).  Now we've found a contractor to do the work, and she says because the work is being planned by an engineer, that puts us into a category of work that needs a permit and the permit will take weeks to get.  It's just one ridiculous thing after another.  And all that money is going to come out of the proceeds for the house -- which, between the down payment on the new house, the realtor's fee, and paying off what's left of our mortgage, doesn't leave a lot of leeway.  We thought we would have enough money out of this house to pay down our car loan, but NOPE.  I just hope we have enough money left to buy a washer and dryer for our new house.  I'm not really keen on washing our family's copious laundry in the tub ... again.


I am just staggered by the unprofessionalism of all the contractors we've dealt with.  It seems to be everyone's habit to say "we'll be out there tomorrow" every day for weeks.  The roofers said they could get the work done in time for our inspection, and they didn't even start until two weeks later!  Then it took them over a week to finish what they said was a two-day job.  Not because they spent a week working on it, but because they would come, work for awhile, and then vanish and not come back for days.

The roofing work has been the worst for me.  The kids couldn't play outside because they might have gotten hit by roofing material or poked by nails.  And the constant banging was like a nail file on my nerves.  I felt anxious and starting having trouble breathing again, like I had a few months ago.  But, at last, it is finished.  Now we just have to pick dozens of nails out of the yard.

We had to deal with some unethical plumbers, too.  They gave us an initial guess of $5000 to fix our waste line, and then the official estimate was $3000 -- I guess to make it feel like we were getting a bargain.  But another company came out and did it for $950.  So I'm not sure what the extra couple thousand were supposed to be for -- John's guess is, they saw the "for sale" sign and figured we were in too much of a hurry to get a second opinion.


I have to acknowledge that it could be a whole lot worse.  We feared the engineer would find serious structural damage in the foundation, which could have cost tens of thousands to fix.  It would have not only destroyed our sale, but made the house unsellable for the kind of money we needed to get for it.

Or we could have lost the house we want to buy, if our house had sold even a day slower.  To me that wouldn't have been a huge deal; there are other nice houses.  But John was extremely attached to this one.  And I have to admit it's very nice.  It's over twice as big as this one; it has a room we could use as a playroom; it has a dishwasher and a vegetable garden with blueberry bushes.  And it's on a quiet street that's on the end of town closer to John's work, so it will shave a little time off his commute.

Really, we're very lucky that things have gone as smoothly as they have.


I'll miss this place, though.  I have a lot of happy memories here.  Of course we never meant to stay long, but knowing that hasn't stopped me from sending down roots.  I love spending time in the back yard, or under the plum tree.  I hate the thought that we might be gone before my tomatoes get ripe.

It's hard to imagine waking up in the morning in the new place, wandering downstairs, getting breakfast.  Where will I drink my tea?  I have a spot here to drink my tea, at my desk which faces out the front window toward the rising sun.  The new place faces west.  So where will I put my desk?  Or will I want to sit at the dining room table?  I just don't know.  It's weird to think about.

I like continuity in my life.  If there is to be change, I want it to be one thing at a time, while the rest of my life stays the same to buoy me up.  But my life has never changed like that.  It's involved a lot of getting into airplanes and flying across the country with two suitcases.  I have more continuity in my life now, to be sure -- I have my family to come with me wherever I go.  But the kids, of course, just keep growing and changing.  It feels like trying to hold onto a river.


Part of the nostalgia in all this comes from going through our stuff.  Of course we've had to go through our attic and throw as much stuff as possible out -- we don't want to move with dozens of old copies of The Philadelphia Bulletin and a broken tennis racket.  But it's hard.  John does it with ease, consigning whole boxes of books to the giveaway box and bags of old letters to the trash.  Not I.  I wistfully look through folders of old college notes and sketches of scenes from novels I was writing and poems in made-up languages, and I can't part with a thing.  I do try.  I threw out some old stuck-together letters from boarding school and some cards we got at our wedding.  But that caused a pang and maybe I shouldn't have.  I've got enough change in my life right now!

I've read articles about the KonMari method and how you're supposed to get rid of anything that doesn't spark joy.  Admit you'll never read those books, wear those clothes, whatever.  The thing is that my stuff really does spark joy.  Old journals?  Letters?  Notes John and I passed to each other in class?  So much joy.  I readily get rid of old clothes, but most everything else stays.  Even jewelry, despite the fact that I never wear jewelry.  I like to take it out and look at it and remember the people who gave it to me.

I read an article about tattoos lately, saying that it's just a desperate grasp for commitment in a world where nobody gets married and everybody gets divorced.  (Most people still get married.  Most marriages last.  C'mon, people.)  But someone commented that it's hard enough that so many things have to change, even if you do have real commitments in your life, and a tattoo is something you can always take with you, no matter what happens to your other stuff.  And I get that.  I'm still scared of needles, but it is a tempting idea.


I feel ... eh.  Not horrible.  I feel randomly sad some days.  I have very little energy right now but hopefully that will pick up soon when I get into the second trimester.  Food still sucks.  I hate it all.  Well, that's not true.  A lot of it sounds delicious and then I feel ill afterward.  Fatty things make me feel like I ate some bad sushi.  Acidic things give me heartburn.  Vegetables sit in my stomach like a pile of rocks and then I get bloated.  Dairy makes me gag.  Bread, crackers, and ramen noodles are acceptable, but you can't live like that!  So I try to plan very carefully what I'm going to eat and then eat teeny tiny portions of everything.

My stomach's pickiness has caused a lot of wasted food.  Well, really, it's Miriam who causes that, it's just that I'm used to eating her leftovers and lately I can't make myself do it.  She will come up saying "I hungee, I hungee."  I offer a million things and finally she picks one.  She has a bite, throws it on the floor or gives it to the dog, and then comes back: "I hungee, I hungee."  If I physically feed her, she'll eat more.  I remember Marko having a stage like that too, where he would starve to death if you didn't put the food in his mouth for him.  I guess it's just an almost-two thing.

I suspect the lack of eating is why she is sleeping so badly.  I'll put her to bed at eight and she'll wake up at 9:30 or ten, go back to sleep in her bed, and then wake up again around midnight.  At that point I just bring her to my bed because I've had bad luck trying to get her back into her bed that far into the night.  But I do not like sleeping with her all night.  She always lies on my arm and it falls asleep.  I want to work on getting her to sleep better, but that's always a challenge because to get a child to sleep better, you generally have to sacrifice your own sleep for awhile.  I'm barely functional as it is!  So I'm saving it for after we move.

I finally got around to contacting the midwife.  I'm getting the same one as last time, because we were very happy with her work -- or, honestly, her nonwork.  A midwife is someone who can be trusted to sit back and NOT do anything when she doesn't need to do anything.  But she also said all the right things at the right times, and basically seems competent and confident.  She brings calm and positivity into a room.

I feel anxious about my first appointment with her, which will be in a couple of weeks.  Till I hear the heartbeat, I don't feel that sure that we are even having a baby.  Something in the back of my head keeps bugging me that something is wrong.  On the other hand that may be just my anxiety talking.  If I can finally hear the heartbeat, I think I'll be able to put those thoughts to bed and start focusing on actually planning for a real baby.

Happy Fourth of July weekend, all.   Hope you are having a pleasant one.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

In which I abandon the naturalistic fallacy

I've changed a lot in the past decade or so since I started blogging.  That's obvious, I'm sure, to all of you.  But a change I've not remarked much upon is that I've become a lot less crunchy.

Don't get me wrong.  I still love whole foods, clover in my yard, and handspun socks.  But I've gradually realized the errors in the prime directive of crunchydom -- a prime directive that I unconsciously was taking as a first principle: the way things happen in nature is always the best way.

It's not usually expressed in those exact words.  Rather, we say, "Why would nature work things out that way if it weren't better?"  Or, "If you have a health problem, it must be something unnatural in your environment."  Or, "I keep noticing this health problem!  It must be a modern epidemic because people surely didn't use to suffer from this."

It's pretty easy to believe.  If humanity was designed, then obviously our designer would make sure that our bodies were generally functional.  And if it was just evolution, one would expect evolution would have weeded out the problems by now.

But the evidence is against either theory, because human bodies are defective all the time.  There are genetic mutations, of course, and there are always communicable diseases.  Then there are just normal variations, like being a person who gets a lot of headaches or is vulnerable to mental illness or gets heartburn.  I don't know how you explain this in a theist worldview, but from an evolutionary perspective, these don't matter because you can still live to adulthood and reproduce.  Evolution doesn't care if you are happy, it cares if you have kids. And it doesn't mind occasional mistakes.

Evolution, after all, is a constant process.  It's never perfected because it's always ongoing.  The mechanism it needs is mutation, and the mutations happen regardless of whether or not they are harmful.  Most of them are either neutral or harmful, because the odds are always against a beneficial mutation.  And the way harmful mutations are weeded out is that you die.

Now, of course, is a good time to point out that evolution's goals aren't ours and that one of the great successes of humanity is our ability to kick evolution in the face: save frail babies, take care of our "useless" elders, and spend our time doing things like art and poetry that evolution would see as pointless.  So we have found treatments for a lot of perfectly "natural" ailments; the natural solution is for people who get them to die, but we don't want that so we turn to the "artificial" art of curing people.

So when I have a minor health problem, I have begun to realize it could be more than one thing.  Sure, it could be a toxin in my environment -- I don't at all deny that modern life is full of dangerous or untested things.  But it could also be that I was infected with an all-natural virus, or just that my body has some nonfatal but annoying variation.  And while I believe that, in theory, a headache is my body trying to tell me something, it's also possible that it's just a headache and I should take some (unnatural!) tylenol because there isn't going to be some easy explanation.

Another thing that bothers me about the naturalistic fallacy is that there are plenty of all-natural things that are deadly, so making a dichotomy between "natural plants" and "artificial chemicals" is often not so simple.  For instance, peach pits and bitter almonds are often touted by alt-health gurus as a perfectly safe cancer treatment because, after all, they're plants.  But they contain cyanide, which the plant produces to protect itself from predators like you.  It's all-natural and it wants you to die.  Meanwhile some pharmaceutical treatments -- aspirin, for instance, or digitalis -- are plant-derived.  The sorts of things that are so medically useful as to become drugs are usually quite powerful, so having an expert carefully dose you with them is a good idea.  The kinds of things that don't have a lot of healing power never get picked up by the medical community and thus remain "all-natural."  So rather than the line actually being drawn between "things that are plants" and "things mixed up in a lab," the line is drawn between "things for which there's good scientific evidence of efficacy" and "things for which there really isn't."  Believe me, if cyanide or frankincense is really that great and you can prove it, sooner or later a medical researcher is going to come test it and then market it as a pill.  Maybe it just hasn't happened yet and you are very clever and ahead of the curve to have figured it out first.  But maybe it just doesn't work.

You can see that just because something has never been picked up and marketed as a drug doesn't mean it's harmless.  You know how I mentioned bitter almond and how toxic it is?  Well, it's available as an essential oil!  They recommend that, if you do decide to take it internally, you just take "a little bit."  How little?  Who knows?  I know, I know, some essential oils have been shown to be effective for some things.  But I also know that some people take them willy-nilly and, unlike homeopathics, they actually contain active substances and can therefore be toxic.  And the sorts of people who so constantly assure you that they come from plants and therefore cannot ever be toxic are usually paid to say that so they're not really any more trustworthy than Big Pharm -- they have a profit motive to lie to you.

All that said, I admit the medical establishment is freaking frustrating.  It's expensive, it's slow to change and adapt to new discoveries (see: childbirth), it's dedicated to breaking you into little bits and hyperfocusing on the bits to the exclusion of the rest of your body, and it's way too eager to prescribe stuff without paying a whole lot of attention to the side effects.  I, too, wish there were another option.  But often there is not.  I can get a midwife, for instance, and that's great, but I can't get an all-natural Rhogam shot, which means I have to fight the medical establishment for nine months every dang time I have a baby so that someone will give it to me.  I can see a naturopath or chiropractor and it is possible they will give me some new directions I can look in for healing.  Or, you know, they'll try to sell me on some quack medicine.  You can't really know when you go to these people -- yes, they are willing to look outside the system at evidence-based treatments your doctor didn't think of.  But they are also willing to look so far outside the system that they want to put you on a permanent juice fast or feed you cyanide.  You can get a recommendation from a friend, but it's possible you have a gullible friend.

Of course I still look for a home remedy for minor ailments before going to the doctor.  I consider the possible side effects on the rest of my body before taking anything, because even though my body isn't perfect, it is in a delicate balance.  I haven't taken an antibiotic since 2006, though I would if I had an infection that I felt merited it.  I'm not saying nature is the enemy, or that it doesn't have to be respected, because it has its own way of doing things that we always have to work around.  But it isn't exactly our friend.  Sometimes it wants to kill you, and it's okay to fight back.
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