My War on Thanksgiving

Just to be clear, I have no trouble with giving thanks.  I do hate the “holiday” called Thanksgiving, however, and I hate it a little more each year.  This year in particular, with the fairly constant complaining about the possibility of retailers opening on Thanksgiving day, my hate has grown.

I get frustrated when I encounter flagrant hypocrisy.

I just saw one of those easily produced pieces of internet propaganda–a square with some vague image behind large pithy text–complaining about people having to reschedule their Thanksgiving because a family member worked in retail.

Presumably, all of those retail workers should be free to sit in their warm safe homes, watching football and parades while chatting on the phone with any absent family members.  Naturally, the people at the utility companies, the police and fire fighters and doctors and nurses, the people in jobs we overlook (like gas station attendants), the television workers both onscreen and off, and all of the athletes both professional and amateur, all of those people are actually at home too, right?  Are they enjoying their own holidays with their own families?  (Or do they not count?)

How about if we want to complain about retail stores being open on Thanksgiving, we spend Thanksgiving avoiding all of the other activities that require people to work, including fairly passive activities like living in complex civilization.  (Or did we imagine that it maintains itself?)  While we’re congratulating ourselves that we want to save retail employees from the ignominy of a spoiled holiday, there are people all around us who are working to make our precious holiday possible, and nobody is clamoring for them to get that time off.

In fact, if they took the time, we’d probably yell at them.  Even something non-essential, like cable or satellite television, if it failed I suspect that most people wouldn’t respond by saying, “I’m happy that no one is working right now to fix this.”

We, the Thanksgiving People, all just expect that some other people are going to work so that the rest of us can live in a fantasy-land of comfortable and idealized gluttony.   When retailers talk about opening their doors on Thanksgiving, they’re not really doing anything new.  They’re just giving us what we’ve already shown them we want.  They’re treating us like the people we’ve already shown them we are.

That’s why protesting retailers isn’t going to help.  They’re not the problem.  We are.

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The Radical Harry Reid

It’s neither rare nor surprising for a politician to say something conspicuously wrong-headed.  That seems to be the bulk of what they do; it’s almost enough to make one suspect that they have special training.  Sometimes though one says something which is inconspicuously wrong-headed.  These are the times I’m most tempted to comment, a temptation to which I am currently succumbing.

Early today, in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision concerning a portion of the Affordable Care Act, Harry Reid reportedly tweeted, “It’s time that five men on the Supreme Court stop deciding what happens to women.”  This sounds like exactly the sort of comment around which feminists everywhere should unite, and they probably will.  It’s so groundbreakingly stupid though, it’s hard to believe that Mr. Reid, who isn’t stupid, invented the comment himself.

I’ll gloss over the suggestion that the five men of the majority opinion decided based on their sex rather than on the legal reasons that they themselves provided.  Not only is that suggestion obviously fallacious (and insulting), it’s very nearly a conspiracy theory about how more than half of the most powerful justices in the United States are largely and obviously incapable of thinking clearly.  (Or perhaps it’s an indictment of clear thinking in general.)

What’s far more interesting–at least from the perspective of absurdity–is the suggestion that a decision affecting women is somehow unjust unless it has been adjudicated by women.  Presumably, no one but women can fairly decide women’s issues.  Naturally, it would be helpful if there were more women, perhaps a majority, with seats on the Supreme Court.

Then how could they fairly decide men’s issues, though?

It seems that the only solution acceptable is to have two Supreme Courts, one comprised of women to decide women’s issues and one comprised of men to decide men’s issues.  They would of course be equal, just separate, or to be slightly more transparent:  “Separate but Equal.”  Naturally women and men should also each have their own Congresses, to write laws that affect them, and their own President, to oversee their own individual militaries and to spout their own most ridiculous rhetoric.  Afterward we can make sure that they attend different schools, so that their educations aren’t unfairly biased, and drink out of different water-fountains, so that they don’t get cooties.

According to Mr. Reid (or whoever tweeted as him), the difference between their experiences is so great that they simply cannot be trusted to represent each other.  Clearly no one can fairly decide any matter involving anyone significantly different from himself or herself.  Ironically of course, the difference in question is one that we as a culture are aggressively trying to pretend doesn’t exist anyway.  After all, it’s wrong to treat men and women differently.

Perhaps Mr. Reid (or whoever tweeted as him) should have begun with a difference that he’s ideologically prepared (and required) to acknowledge, an economic one.  Perhaps it’s time for rich people (like Harry Reid and most other politicians) to stop deciding what happens to poor people (like most of their constituents), with the complimentary claim that poor people should stop deciding what happens to rich people too.  (I’m sure a lot of 18th century French nobles would have liked that.)  Perhaps the rich and the poor should have their own governments too, and never the twain shall meet.

It seems we actually need four governments–one by and for rich men, one by and for rich women, one by and for poor men, and one by and for poor women.  I don’t know why we should stop there though.  After all there are other significant differences that might impugn someone’s credibility as a representative.  We might also divide by race, by religion, by marital status, by the marital status of one’s parents, by whether one lives in an urban setting or a rural one, and by any criteria that someone might possibly use to complain about disenfranchisement.

Of course that last is perhaps the most critical.  Eventually, as the various (but obviously more fair) governments become smaller and represent smaller groups of people, the most obvious division in any particular group will be between those people in government and those people not in government.  Why should those people in government make decisions for those not in government?  By virtue of being representatives, they fundamentally alter their experience so that they are no longer representative.

Clearly Harry Reid (or whoever tweeted as him), with his call for a more justly representative Supreme Court, doesn’t want representative government at all.  That’s something of a problem for an elected official in a representative democracy.

Freed From Good

As a Christian I believe that various moral restrictions are intended to preserve good things.  They aren’t arbitrary or meaningless.  My society tends to want to abandon them in pursuit of “freedom,” but the result is always a lessening, a loss, a degradation.  The current decline of fatherhood is an example.  I said yesterday that our various liberations are our problem.  I mean that we have been freed from the rules intended to protect us from ourselves.

As another example, Christianity has always taught abstinence before marriage, and then marriage as life-long monogamy.  Society rejected both in pursuit of liberty, but liberty from what?

The Christian understanding was that our physical relationship was important, because it was never merely physical.  We were always more than bodies, we were hearts and minds and souls that deserved care.  Our physical relationship was just a part of a deeper and more meaningful connection between two people, which was an important connection, a help to each.  That connection took effort and time, but was enriching precisely when it was challenging.  We learned to love someone, and rewarded them by our love and rewarded ourselves by becoming loving.

Even more, every person was so unique and valuable that nothing less than a lifetime could approach a reasonable season of appreciation.  We committed to one person for life precisely because he or she was valuable enough to deserve focused, thorough, undivided attention for even longer than that.

Is it honestly better to use each other and be used by each other for pleasure and entertainment, but only so long as our passing fancy lasts?  To stay together based on whether or not we’re getting something out of the relationship, consuming other people like the various other products we buy when we think they’re useful?  Is it honestly better to assume our physical relationships are meaningless fun and our romantic relationships are a sort of temporary expedient?  Have we really risen to some point where we appreciate human dignity and freedom more?

It seems to me that we’ve sunk to the point of abandoning dignity altogether.  We treat other people like we treat our cell phones; we like them when they’re new–when they make us happy and do whatever we want them to–but we don’t want to be tied to them too long.

That’s our liberty.  We are now free to treat other people like obsolete and worthless trash.  We’re free to do cost benefit analysis on our relationships, expecting other people to benefit us while only grudgingly asking what benefit we’ll be to them.  Basically we’re free to mistreat each other, because we have freed ourselves from the standard which told us how to treat each other well.

No Sense Putting It Off

The evidence is actually pretty clear.  Kids are significantly (and unfairly) disadvantaged (to use a euphemistic word for “hurt”) when they don’t have positive, consistent, reliable, present fathers.  The absence of fathers causes confusion, distress, distorted relationships, and large-scale societal breakdown, in addition to such a wide variety of other effects as to be staggering.

Non-partisan groups and even those partisan groups who are normally inclined to disagree with each other, all agree about this.  The research is overwhelming trending toward sickening.  It’s important to be clear too, that the research specifically discusses the involvement of a male parent, rather than a merely androgynous second parent, a void which could be filled by either sex.

Presumably something similar could be said about the necessity of a female parent, but discounting those women who neglect/abuse/murder their children, women are less inclined to be deadbeats.  That is to say, it’s significantly less likely that children would grow up without mothers, so there isn’t as much evidence for the negative impacts of not having a mother.  Thankfully, I think every person on the planet is willing to grant that mothers are important.  No one wants to find out what would happen without them.

Unfortunately, as I’ve already said, we as a society are almost eager to find out what will happen if we eliminate fathers.  We may say otherwise, but our actions betray us.

I digress.  Back to the overwhelming evidence that children need fathers, combined with the assumption I think we’ll all happily grant, that children need mothers.  Even more research suggests the rather obvious fact that children are best served when their fathers and mothers have a healthy relationship with each other.  In fact, once you add the weight of research about the damaging effects of divorce, it’s pretty clear that children’s best hope is to have mothers and fathers who have a consistent and reliably healthy relationship with each other over the course of the child’s entire development.

There’s not really anything shocking about any of this.  I mean, it’s shocking that we’ve let the problem get to the point that we have, but it isn’t shocking that the problem exists, and nobody significantly disagrees about its causes.

What’s more shocking is what we do about it.

Let me put this bluntly.  All the evidence clearly indicates that children are hurt if they don’t grow up in a committedly monogamous heterosexual family, and that society follows them into distress.  We respond by ignoring that entirely and hoping for the best.  Of course there are situations where the ideal isn’t possible; I’m not trying to criticize people if their situation is imperfect.  I’m criticizing all of us for accepting the lie that the ideal isn’t necessary or helpful.

The results are in:  denial isn’t working.  We have too many contradictory commitments.

We want men to be fathers, but we don’t want to offend women by suggesting that men are in any way capable of doing or being something which they (women) cannot do or be.  In fact we want to avoid any suggestion that there’s a difference between them sufficient to perhaps treat them differently. We certainly don’t want to suggest that the women who are mothers might in any way need the men who are fathers.

The collapse of fatherhood is exactly the product of those second commitments though.  To be blunt again, for a hundred years feminists have said that they don’t need men, that they can do anything men can do, that there is nothing special or unique about being a man.  Should we be surprised that so many men have listened?  That so many men have left women to fend for themselves, have left women to do what men ought to do, have stopped believing that they have anything special to offer.

We want children to see healthy relationship between their mothers and fathers, but we don’t want to believe that men and women might both have unique and important contributions to relationships. We want children to have families, but we don’t want to offend anyone by suggesting that they curtail their sexual impulses until they’re in some way committed to their partner.

I could go on, but I’m out of time again.  It’s pretty clear which of the contradictory commitments we favor.  The question remains: how long will we keep trying to preserve the helpful things our commitments won’t allow?  How long will we delude ourselves into thinking that maybe we can preserve social institutions which we’ve entirely gutted, like fatherhood and family?  How long until we accept that all of our supposed liberations are in fact the problem we face?