Tuesday, 1 May 2012
The Devil Made Me Do It

Choice is one of those issues that never leave the headlines for very long. The latest brouhaha began when Hilary Rosen, a Democratic Party advisor, claimed that Mitt Romney’s wife, mother of five, grandmother to 16, “never worked a day in her life.” What Rosen meant was that stay-at-home moms don’t contribute to the world of commerce as a plumber, or a lobbyist, might. Put aside for a moment things like tact or facts; and consider why an advisor or strategist would sneer at the rigors of motherhood on national television, in an election year – just a few weeks before Mother’s Day! The controversy echoes Hillary Clinton’s wild shot at women who bake at home.

As is often the case in these matters, the follow-on apologetics made a poor choice worse. Ms. Rosen quickly took to the airwaves to change the subject, claiming that, unlike Ann Romney, most women couldn’t choose between mothering and the workplace; asserting that wives are compelled to work outside the home. Rosen’s claim was quickly endorsed by President Obama who insisted, on the one hand, that political spouses should be off limits; then with the other hand, dragged his wife, Michelle, into the fray; claiming that even the distaff half of a breeding pair of lawyers, with a mid-six-figure income, had to work outside the home to make ends meet. The president argued, like Rosen, that wives don’t have choices; implying that they are victims - of economic circumstance. Never mind that claiming mothers (compared to fathers?) are not free to choose is at once condescending or patronizing. Indeed, the very phrase “working mothers” is at best a pleonasm.

Two of the four principals in this controversy are lawyers. You might think that litigators would have a better grip on facts, rhetoric, and precedent; but the real agenda here may be political, not economic or moral. The Rosen/Obama trope casts women working outside of the home as victims, not free agents. Or perhaps Rosen and the president merely confused no choice with poor choice.

Clearly, circumstances might mitigate a choice, but by tradition and common law, circumstances do not determine, control, or preordain. Unless the defense of poor choice is insanity, mothers are as liable for their selections as anybody. Custom and legal praxis does not support the Rosen/Obama twist on compulsion, on choice, on free will - or any related notions. 

Arguments about free will and choice have an antique lineage. The decisive moment for Western culture came in the 16th Century when two Augustinian Monks, Desiderious Erasmus and Martin Luther, squared off in the middle of the Reformation. Luther landed the first blow by claiming that free will didn’t matter in matters of salvation. Fra Martin argued that an omnipotent God knew and predestined the fate of all men; some were saved and others were destined to burn. No amount of good works could lead to salvation. Luther’s argument is similar to what you might hear from empiricists today; just substitute biology, illness, or natural forces for God’s omniscience – or the devil’s grip.

(Flip Wilson, an American comedian with a finger on the pulse of modern absurdities used to justify his comedic antics with: “The devil made me do it!” Using the devil as an excuse for human frailties was given more than a little traction at the beginning of the modern era by Martin Luther.)

Back at the Reformation, Fra Erasmus replied to Luther that knowledge of good and evil was not destiny; just as a scholar’s knowledge of planetary movements did not influence those motions. He further claimed that free will was a gift to humanity; the capacity to choose between good and evil and suffer the consequences; rewards or punishment. Erasmus also argued that there would be no need for God’s commandments (or man’s law) if men and women were not responsible for choices or behavior. Clear lines between church and state had yet to be drawn in the 16th Century. Still, the arguments of Erasmus had obvious civic significance.

Verily, these arguments were made in a day when morality was a serious issue in the public square, not the quaint historical artifact it has become. Nonetheless, over time, the views of Erasmus prevailed even in the secular world. Today, all notions of individual accountability, law, and democracy itself are based on an accepted understanding of free will. Indeed, the act of voting in a democracy is free men and women, freely choosing – and living peacefully with the consequences. Voting is true choice.

Political assaults on free will today, like those of Rosen and Obama, are not as convincing as they are selective. The contemporary understanding of “choice” is an example. Choice will usually be invoked when one or more options are inconvenient, burdensome, or selfish. Marriage, children, birth control, abortion, sexual proclivities, and even racial identity are examples.

Conversely, politicized notions of choice, or options, are seldom invoked when it comes to matters like: substance abuse, welfare, minimum wages, union membership, quotas, hiring, immigration, grade inflation, graduation standards, criminality, and now spouses in the marketplace it seems. In these cases, choice is often denied. A drunk, an addict, a dropout, or now a woman with two jobs is thought to be impaired, like a disabled veteran, as if choice had nothing to do with personal or even national destinies.

Indeed, many traditional cultures in the European Union, stimulated by generous welfare, labor, and immigration policies, are being displaced by primitive avatars. The no-go zones of France and northern Europe are egregious symptoms. Liberal immigration policies can be a value added, but when it morphs into colonization, the effects are far from salutary. Again, voting is choosing. Democratic choice in Brussels may be excising the adjective “European” from the noun Union.

Personal choices too, in concert, have enormous consequences. The correlation between selective notions of free will and poor choice has not gone unnoticed by science. 

Take the cumulative impact of no marriage, late marriage, birth control, abortion, and same sex unions among citizens of the free world. As Dr. Charles Murray points out, such choices are not the conceits of a selfish elite or an oppressed underclass anymore; these choices in America are now made by largely white middle and blue collar classes. Individually, each of the above options might be defended as progressive choices, but collectively they amount to a kind of biological or cultural nihilism, if not national suicide. The worst collective choices are often made with innocuous personal motives. Free will does not warranty good choices.

As Erasmus might have said, individuals and nations are responsible for their choices, good or bad, nonetheless. Free will is destiny; consequence is the price of choice.

In spite of what empiricists, lobbyists, or presidents might claim; we are not controlled or compelled by gods, devils, natural forces, or economic circumstances. And we are not free because we reside in a place called democracy. We are free only if we believe in free will - not moral evasions or selfish notions of “choice.”


Posted on 05/01/2012 9:18 AM by G. Murphy Donovan
1 May 2012

An excellent article.  I've had some half-formed thoughts along the same lines, but this states everything well.

Part of the problem is that when politically-powerful groups or individuals decide that a certain policy is inconvenient to themselves (such as securing the border), they find that their propaganda is more effective when it's aimed at convincing people, not that something shouldn't be done, but that it can't be done.  Of course their propagandists never offer a rational argument why the border can't be secured, but their purpose is sufficiently achieved by deceptive prattle about, e.g., "a vast nexus of sociological, economic, and logistical factors" that make any voluntary action all but impossible.

1 May 2012
Christina McIntosh

 I would be careful about castigating 'late marriage' as an evil in and of itself.  Some people just take longer to find their soul-mate.  If one looks at, for example, the demographic of Jane Austen's day one discovers that quite a lot of women didn't marry, or married just as late as women do today.  No matter how fervently religious and anti-contraception a society is, if you leave people free to marry when and whom they choose, quite a few people will end up marrying late, or not at all.

 And as for 'no marriage' - in western society there have always been significant numbers of men and women who never married.  I do family history and I can go back four and five generations on my and my husband's family and find the bachelor aunts and the bachelor uncles.  In Catholic families, one would find in every generation the aunts and uncles who joined celibate religious orders, or in the case of men, the priesthood; and in both Catholic and non-Cahtolic families one would find the unmarried son or daughter who simply stayed at home to look after the aged parents when the other siblings had married and left.

The bottom line is this: once one accepts monogamy as the norm, and also rejects forced marriage, and once (for good and sufficient medical and moral reasons) one raises the permissible age of marriage for girls in particular (it was devout Christian women concerned by the prevalence of child prostitution and pedophilia in the Victorian era, who fought to raise the age of consent, for girls,  from 12 to 16), and once one leaves both men and women free to choose their own partners, then it will be the case that some will marry late (perhaps even too late for childbearing, as was the case with one great-aunt of mine, a devout Christian, who simply didn't find a man she wanted to marry, until she was in her late forties) and some will marry not at all.  And I don't think that giving couples the means by which to control the number of children they have is always and everywhere a bad thing, either.  

Here's a sort of demographic case-study featuring  my own family, four generations of devout church-going Protestant females.

I have just celebrated 25 years of marriage.  I married at 23; I have four children, the eldest of whom was not 'planned', the other three of whom were deliberately invited.  And may I just say that I disagree with my Catholic brethren on the subject of at least some - the non-abortifacient, non-chemical - methods of contraception; if I had not had access to the humblest method of barrier contraception, I would have had to either stay away from my husband altogether for substantial periods of time or else resign myself to the prospect of a baby every ten to fifteen months for more than twenty years - which any midwife will tell you is not really advisable for either child or maternal health.  Furthermore, after the fourth child I had to have a hernia surgically repaired (a hernia caused by a greater than usual separation of the abdominal muscles down the midline, during pregnancy) and was not exactly inclined to test the repair job to the limit by any further pregnancy; so I stopped at four.  Was that 'selfish' of me?

 One of my sisters married at age 20 and has six children; I know that even so she deployed basic non-abortifacient contraception to 'space' those of her children that she 'planned' (though even so, one or two were happy accidents)..and to stop, after number six, at a time when (in her early forties) she could very likely have had more.  There is only so much room in the average modern suburban house!  Was she 'selfish' for not having ten, a dozen, twenty children?

 The other two sisters simply didn't meet their husbands till they were in their late twenties, and married at around 27/ 28; they have three children each.

 I would spit in the eye of any person who called those two sisters 'selfish' for not having had more kids. The second and third children of one of them were both born by C-section for strong medical reasons and doctors and midwives get jittery about repeated Caesareans. As for the other sister, she might well have had four or five children if things had happened differently; but after two rampantly healthy babies her third - a sweet little girl born with not one but three major medical problems - was at death's door for every month of the first four years of her life, undergoing multiple operations, and my sister and brother-in-law were pouring all of their resources, physical and spiritual, into helping keep her alive.  It was hard enough for them to combine that with the care of their older two children; the thought of conceiving and trying to rear a fourth child any time in those years of non-stop medical appointments and long, long nights spent in ICU and hospital waiting rooms was an impossibility.  And so they stopped at three.

My mother worked fulltime as a schoolteacher for nine years and did not meet my father until she was about 27; they married (early 1960s) just before her 28th birthday (my dad was 8 months younger than she, they always used to joke that she was a 'cradle snatcher').  That 'late start' didn't prevent them from having eight children in 13 years...four of whom, I am informed by my dad, were planned, and four were not.  So even my parents, with eight kids, did something to avoid having, say, twelve or thirteen.  Again, there is only so much room in the house, and we were struggling financially on a farm that could barely support us.

My dad's parents got engaged at the beginning of the Great Depression, when in their early twenties; they were simply not able to marry until 1934, by which time my grandmother was 29. (Again, the 'late start' didn't prevent them from having seven children; but I observe they did not have nine, or ten, or twelve, though they were themselves both from families of nine children; incidentally, none of their siblings, all married in the 1920s through 1940s, had more than four or five kids each).   

My maternal grandparents were also in their late twenties when they met, and 30 when they married; they had five children, neatly spaced (my grandmother had worked for years before her marriage, as a nurse/ midwife and ultimately matron; I suspect she knew exactly how babies got here, and also knew how to make sure she didn't have her children too close together).  She was from a family of seven and her husband the youngest of eleven; observe that their own family was smaller than their families of origin.  And none of their siblings had more than four or five children either (some had fewer).

I have to go back something like five generations in my family tree to encounter routinely very large families (fourteen, fifteen, seventeen children), born to couples married in the late 19th century (1860s, 1870s).  

None of the children of those  very large late-nineteenth century families had families quite as large as those into which they themselves were born; and this drop in family size happened before the drop-off in religious affiliation, and before easy access to any reliable form of contraception.  It does correlate, however, with improved public health measures and a resultant drop in infant mortality rates; the other drop in family size, a bit later on, happens around the time of the next big drop in infant mortality that resulted from widespread public immunisation against diphtheria, whooping cough, etc.  It seems that once people in the Western world knew that there was a very good chance that any child they have will make it to adulthood, they...just had fewer children.  Even when they didn't have access to reliable contraception, and even when any kind of contraception was frowned upon.

I will add that on my husband's side, his own parents were each from very small families: his mother because her father (having married in his mid-twenties) died at age 30, leaving his wife - who did not re-marry - a widow with two small children; his father because - way back in the early 1920s - his devoutly-Christian parents simply didn't get married until they were in their late 30s, and two children was what they had.

Final thought: I have a female cousin who identifies as gay and lives with her female partner.  She has given birth to two children - by C-section on doctor's orders, because she is a very tiny little person. So - once one allows for AI and sperm donors, a 'same sex' partnership doesn't necessarily mean No Kids.  One may object to the morality of the use of AI, etc, but the bottom line is that she's made her small contribution toward keeping Australia's fertility rate nearer to replacement level than some other countries..Her parents seem to take the view that a grandchild is a grandchild is a grandchild.

1 May 2012
Send an emailJohn MJ

I must admit that whilst agreeing with some points that Mr. Donovan makes I prefer Christina's analysis of the situation as her experiences bear a resemblance to my own and to those of others whom I can think of.

I also fail to see why same-sex unions should contribute to lowering the birth rate - either the people involved follow the route that Christina's cousin did or they don't, but if they don't it has to borne in mind that they would not have procreated anyway, whether or not they were allowed a union, officially sanctioned or otherwise.

Further, speaking as a gay person I strongly resent Mr. Donovan's dismissal of gay pairings and officially recognised gay relationships as "a kind of ... cultural nihilism". In fact, the desire for official recognition of our relationships points not to gay people being nihilists, culturally or socially, but exactly the opposite. Gay people see value in social, moral and belief constructs and seek, by asking for recognition, to be part of them.

As for "biological ... nihilism", I simply have no idea what such a joining of words might mean. It would have been usefull if Mr. Donovan had defined this term since I suspect that he has coined the usage himself (perfectly acceptably, I hasten to add) and should therefore explain what he means.

Finally, I must take issue with Mr. Donovan's use of the words "Again, voting is choosing. Democratic choice in Brussels may be excising the adjective “European” from the noun Union", for there is no democracy in Brussels nor in the European Union's systems. One may point to the so-called European Parliament and claim that its members are elected democratically, but even the feeblest analysis of the Parliament's elections and electoral procedures would rapidly give the lie to such a contention.

The only people in Europe who wish to see the Union continue to exist are those on the political left and, needless to say, they are the very people who promulgate the blatant and incredible lie (a lie so vast and brutal that even Goebbels could never have thought of it) that the EU is a democracy, for they are the self-same people who are slowly draining all freedoms out of the countries of Europe in order to further their own nefarious ends. Opinion poll after opinion poll in country after country of the so-called Union shows time after time that the large majority of Europeans want the Union to be dismantled - and in countries like the UK the vast majority of people just want to leave the Union and never look back or be involved with mainland Europe ever again.

Our politicians promise us that they will do something about the EU but they never do - that is not democracy. The EU itself is democratically unaccountable to those of us who live here. The use of the words 'democracy' and 'choice' in the same paragraph as the words 'European' and 'Union' cannot be countenanced for such a piece of writing simply furthers the Left's great lie.

1 May 2012
Christina McIntosh

Further thought. If you want to see more of those who do get married having children, and just a few more of them, it might be an idea to make it a bit easier for people to get by without cars.

When he got his first job my then-fiance lived frugally.  He rented a budget flat and instead of buying that First Car, he got a good bicycle.  He lived in a bike-friendly city at that stage - and he cycled to church, to work, to choir...and all the money he was saving by NOT spending it on petrol, rego, insurance, and repayments of the price of a car, he...saved.  That money, saved in 2 and half years of an entry-level white-collar job, was what became 25 % upfront down payment on the price of the - very small and somewhat dilapidated, only two bedrooms - inner city terrace house we bought just before marrying.

 And because of where that house was, in our fist fifteen years of marriage we never even considered buying a car.  

There was nowhere to park one anyway; and public transport was accessible and frequent.  My husband kept on cycling to work (taking bus or train in bad weather).  We could walk to the shops, post office, local hospital (yes, I even walked to the Birth Centre when in early labour), church and, in due time, primary school, ballet lessons, music lessons, etc. We could catch a bus or train to most anywhere else: to go to the beach, to the Show, or to visit friends.  When our eldest started high school, he could get a bus from one block away that took him directly to the door of the school. 

All the money we weren't spending on a car meant that even as a one-income family with young children we were able to pay off large chunks of the mortgage and also make very necessary health-and-safety repairs to the house...and in due time, put in an attic bedroom so we could have a Girls' Bedroom and a Boys' Bedroom.  Had we stayed there, we would never have bought a car; and we wouldn't have moved, our two sons and our two daughters would have simply had to share a room with a they do now, in our second house, also of modest dimensions, in another city to which we ended up moving in order to be nearer to aging parents and extended family.

Further point: for good and sufficient reasons, in Australia, all passengers in a car must wear approved safety restraints, and that especially applies to infants and young children.  But the average car only seats five; so couples who do want more than three children - or have a fourth whether intended or not - are, if they live anywhere where they have to have a car, forced to - very expensively - upgrade to a people-mover of some kind.  Not easy to make people-movers cheaper and more fuel-efficient.

Unfortunately, where we are now, we had to get a car (though I still walk our youngest child to primary school). And boy, do we notice the the budget.

Cars eat money: not just the petrol but the repairs, the insurance, the new tires...  So even though we were - by selling the first house which had increased in value extraordinarily over time - able to free ourselves of mortgage payments altogether, life on my husband's - rather bigger than back then - income is still one of watching the dollars and cents.

Soo - you want couples in the western, modern, urbanised world to have more kids?  Three or four rather than one or two?  Figure out some way to make it easier for people to get by without cars.  The money they save by not having a car they just might spend on children, or on more children than they might otherwise have had.

7 May 2012
G. Murphy Donovan
Thank you for your kind words, Christina. I appreciate that you took the time to comment with such vigor. My initial reaction was: “ouch!” You do fashion a tart riposte.
First, I would like to apologize to Martin Luther who didn’t deny free will so much as think that it was irrelevant for salvation. May have been Calvin who ultimately threw the baby out with the bathwater. And I also must confess a bias for Erasmus, a tolerant life-long humanist who had an appreciation of his classical pagan ancestors and the Talmud. Luther and Calvin, in contrast, were vicious, if not “elect,” anti-Semites. Might well be a legacy of moral arrogance – or cold climates. If Erasmus has a laptop, I’m sure he reads Dalrymple.
But, the purpose of my argument was not theological. I was trying to explore, with too few words apparently, some of the history, logic, and utility of personal responsibility as it has been absorbed by democracies. The Rosen/Obama colloquy merely provided the opportunity to suggest that selective choice is a road often taken by scoundrels to avoid responsibility. We always have a choice in all things optional. I can’t choose to be taller; but, I can choose read to a child everyday. And yes, some choices are selfish. As for collective responsibility, I should hope the representatives in Brussels are chosen by somebody.
Although not mentioned in my piece, Ms. Rosen is a neighbor of mine a few doors down and she provides advice to the president on LGBT issues. Her life style is not an issue with me. I referred to it as a “progressive choice.” But none of this excuses her ill chosen remarks about the rigors of biological mothers or choice either. The biological or demographic consequences of childless or late childbirth unions speak for themselves. The social price, of one-parent or fatherless families, is also self-evident at this point too. Some recent study in Europe and Canada even suggests that a fatherless home has neurological consequences for children, especially boys, as well. We ignore these unintended consequences at our peril.  
But put aside science, it’s the heart that rules. For most folks, how we feel is much more important than reason – or what we think. You shared your personal experience, Christina; so let me reciprocate with a personal narrative of my own.
My father was a function drunk; never missed a day of work nor a night at the pub. He abandoned his wife and four kids in the East Bronx. Today, he would be the victim; thought to be diseased, not simply irresponsible. We four kids ended up in an orphanage where we stayed until our majority. I then worked for four years in a similar institution while attending college. Early in my Air Force incarnation, I was a training squadron commander, working with teens mainly. In those years, I had a daily, curb level view of the flotsam and jetsam that is produced by many, not all, single parent or broken homes.
These personal experiences inform my judgments about behavior and blowback. And let’s be honest, the casualties of unintended consequences are often children.  All of which brings us to this question of selfishness. When children are part of the equation, it’s not about adult singles, adult couples, or life-style anymore; it’s about the kids. And any decision, which does not put the interests of children, first, is selfish. My sympathies are obviously with the kids; not careerists, drunks, or any other class of “victims.” No one sits at death’s door regretting they didn’t spent more time at the office.
Some children survive and thrive in the midst of the worst. I like to think I was one of those. Yet, science and experience tell me that most do not thrive or survive. Were I to recommend a single change to clueless spending on social pathology, it would be this: I would study success not failure. We know all too much, and do too little, about social pathologies and causes.  We know little or nothing about those few kids who overcome; the ones who crawl out of the gutter, over the curb, and up into the light.
Again, thanks for your interest. Nice to hear from generous souls who read critically.

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