The Results Are In: Nader Won

Ira Carmen, a professor at the University of Illinois, has theorized that political preference is genetic–not that there’s a genetic disposition towards liberalism or conservatism, but rather that there’s a genetic disposition towards moderation or extremism. As he noted, “a substantial number of ex-communists sat on the editorial board of the National Review. Can there be genetic antecedents linking hard-core conservatism and hard-core liberalism?” (17)

I can’t speak to the scientific soundness of his hypothesis, but I do know that in developing my own political beliefs, I passed from extreme leftism to extreme conservatism with very little time–perhaps a year or two–spent as an apolitical moderate. Several other right-wing bloggers, such as Daniel and Proph, report the same progression from one extreme to another.

I offer this observation in order to preface a statement that may seem surprising to anyone who’s been reading this blog: in the year 2000, I was a passionate supporter of Ralph Nader and a Green Party volunteer (though I didn’t actually vote Green, because I wasn’t old enough to vote). And, although much of my erstwhile support for socialism and feminism is repugnant to me now, I still do sympathize with that youthful refusal to compromise with what I thought to be intrinsically evil. That same refusal led me to write in a candidate in yesterday’s presidential election, because I simply couldn’t support Romney’s lukewarm stance on pro-life and pro-marriage issues.

As I reflect on what’s transpired between the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections, I can’t help but feel that such extremism is sometimes tactically beneficial. In the long run, didn’t Ralph Nader ultimately get much of what he supported? Sure, he had the immediate effect of aiding Bush’s election, but Bush’s reign was probably a boon to the Left. Nader himself predicted in 2000 that ”a bumbling Texas governor would galvanize the environmental community as never before.” In reality, Bush radicalized not just the environmentalists but also the feminists, the civil libertarians, the LGBT activists, etc. Hatred of Bush poured money into their coffers and provoked a lot of formerly listless supporters into action.

Meanwhile, the Naderites and their supporters, many of them now disillusioned by the Green Party, brought grassroots organizing tactics and idealistic rhetoric into the Democratic Party. They began to experiment with grassroots social media tactics, especially during Howard Dean’s ill-fated campaign. Democratic politicians who protested Bush gained powerful positions in the party–among them Barack Obama, who in 2004 was invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention because of the publicity he was gaining by speaking at antiwar rallies during his Senate campaign. The end result is that we now have a “community organizer” president who has instituted universal health care, tacitly allowed for the legalization of marijuana, promoted green energy, abolished “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and financially subsidized the sexual revolution by giving free contraception to all. Sure, he hasn’t always lived up to Nader’s ideals of participatory democracy–he prefers to make his own laws through executive orders, rather than abide by the normal constitutional channels–but not many progressives seem to mind a benevolent dictator, as long as he’s on their side.

Obama’s victory in 2008 could always be attributed to factors beyond his control, like McCain’s disastrous choice of Sarah Palin as VP and the poor state of the economy at the end of Bush’s last term. But in 2012, he won despite a persistently bad economy, despite his own lackluster debate performances, and despite savvy and well-funded opponents. Moreover, progressives prevailed in the ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage and drug legalization. It seems clear that his victory reflects genuine support for the progressive agenda.

I’m not saying there’s a direct causal connection between Ralph Nader’s presidential run in 2000 and Barack Obama’s in 2008 and 2012. Our country has been on a leftward trajectory since the 1960s, after all. But after Bush’s win in 2000, it looked like the leftward trajectory might at least be on pause. It was the Naderites and progressives who helped get it started again.

I am, it seems, perpetually out of step with the times. To be a Nader supporter in 2000 and a Rick Santorum supporter in 2012 seem like equally hopeless positions. But at least my experience as the former shows that perhaps there is hope for the latter.


Single Moms, Divorced Moms, Widows . . . One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

As Dalrock recently pointed out, feminists claim precedent for “non-traditional family structures” (single moms and same-sex parents) by pointing to widowed families. “After all,” they protest, “what about kids being raised by widows or widowers? They do just fine! Are you going to tell them they’re permanently scarred just because they didn’t have a parent of each sex?”

Dalrock argues that widowed families are an exception that become unsustainable if they become too widespread: “what is possible as an exception isn’t something we can build a society on.” However, I would also argue that the daily reality of widowed families is radically different than that of families made incomplete by divorce, illegitimacy, sperm donation, etc.

Take the example of a family that loses the father to tragic, early death. From what I’ve observed of these families, a widow with children usually ensures her late husband’s continued influence on the household. She hangs his picture on the wall, shares his life story with the children (if they never knew him), and often implores the children to respect his memory through making proper life choices. She usually tries to remain on good terms with his family so that the children will have access to the other half of their heritage. Often, the children also gain material resources from their father’s family, which prevents them from needing extensive government welfare.

In contrast, the woman who divorces or never marries her children’s father does not instill respect for him in the children. Even if the children can visit their father (usually every weekend, or every other weekend, in “joint custody” arrangements), he has been deprived of his unique paternal role through being deprived of their respect. They may also be able to visit their paternal relatives, but their holidays and vacations are already filled with visits to their mother’s and stepfather’s families. They probably receive “child support” from their father, but since maintaining two households is more costly than maintaining one, it may not be enough to meet all their needs, thus necessitating more demand for free government-paid health care, college tuition, etc.

But such comparisons between widowed and broken homes shouldn’t even be necessary, because it should be obvious that there is a tragedy at the root of every widowed family. I think that most families who have lost a parent to death would be the first to admit that their situation is not ideal. If they could bring their lost member back from the dead, they would. Therefore, adopting their situation as normative is a bit like saying that, because some people manage to live fulfilling lives after losing a leg, we ought to forcibly amputate everyone’s leg. If our society can’t understand that widowhood is a tragedy, then we are already lost.


A Clarification

I realized today that my post about Akin was insensitive towards rape victims. I don’t disavow my conclusions from the post, but I didn’t make enough of an effort to see the situation from their point of view.

So let me clarify something. I acknowledge that getting pregnant and giving birth after rape must be a terrible experience–more terrible than I could possibly imagine, since it hasn’t happened to me. I know that pregnancy and childbirth can be difficult even when you’re bearing children with a man you love. Doing so against your will, with an evil man, must feel like a second rape–one that goes on for 9 months of pregnancy and for the long, painful duration of labor.

So if I could wave a magic wand and ensure that no woman got pregnant via rape–or, better yet, that nobody got raped in the first place–I most certainly would. And I think that’s what many people are trying to do when they allow for abortion in the case of rape. They want to make this horrible situation go away and spare the rape victim from further pain.

The problem is . . . does abortion actually accomplish this?

Based on what I’ve read and heard about abortion, I have my doubts. Abortion is a mechanical or chemical invasion of the body, with serious physical side effects. As I said in my last post, “even by feminists’ own admission, then, abortion is a violent and painful act perpetuated against the natural integrity of a woman’s body.”

Then there is the possibility of regret. Yes, being pregnant for 9 months is a long time to live with the consequences of someone else’s sin. But a lifetime of regret and guilt over taking an innocent life–which is what many post-abortive women feel, even after rape–is even longer.

Let me be clear–I do not judge women who turn to abortion during the desperate and difficult period following rape. My objection is to the pro-choicers who won’t allow for an honest discussion of the issue.


Did Akin Have a Point?

I considered writing a post when Congressman Todd Akin’s infamous remarks became a scandal. But I thought the furor would die down as soon as some other politician made another dumb remark (which happens with some frequency), and I didn’t see the point in writing about a news story so ephemeral. Months afterwards, however, I still read editorials arguing that Akin’s remarks discredits the entire pro-life and conservative movement. It seems the subject still requires some attention from pro-lifers, so I am going to add my opinion, as unpopular as it may be.

Akin was incorrect and insensitive when he claimed that the female body can magically reject a rapist’s sperm. I think everybody–even Akin himself–acknowledges that his comments were wrong. Somewhere in his remarks, however, lies a kernel of truth, which is that abortion in cases of rape is very rare–not impossible, but rare. A survey from the Guttmacher Institute–a pro-choice research institution affiliated with Planned Parenthood–found that only 1% of women seeking abortion in the United States were doing so because of rape. Since the data was self-reported and didn’t require respondents to show evidence that they had been raped, it is unlikely that rape was under-reported in this survey. Therefore, the 1% statistic seems valid.

The rarity of pregnancy-by-rape makes sense when you consider the fact that women are infertile more often than not. Post-menopausal women, women on birth control, women who are already pregnant, breastfeeding women, girls who are too young to be menstruating regularly, women with fertility problems, plus women who don’t happen to be in their monthly “fertile window” (which consists of only a few days), are not going to get pregnant even if raped.  Since rape tends to be a random and one-time occurrence, the odds of a rapist (as opposed to a long-term partner) catching one of these fertile windows are probably low.

Hence I am not surprised that 99% of abortions in this country are the outcome of consensual sex. And yet, pro-choice rhetoric implies that nearly all women seeking abortion are doing so because of rape, and that restricting their access to abortion in any way is tantamount to raping them all over again.

By pointing out the small numbers of pregnant rape victims, I am in no way trying to belittle their experiences. Every single person is infinitely precious, and therefore her suffering matters regardless of its statistical frequency. But, in order to find the most compassionate attitude towards pregnant rape victims, we must first stop exploiting them for political gain, which is what pro-choicers do every time they use sympathy for rape victims in order to claim political privileges for non-rape-victims. In order to find the most compassionate treatment for rape victims, we need to confront the realities of abortion. We can only advise rape victims on the best path if we are honest about what abortion actually is.

Surprisingly, one of the best descriptions of the abortion experience can be found in a feminist anthology called Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. The author, Inga Muscio, opens the piece by radically declaring that “abortion sucks”:

“Abortion Sucks” is a literal statement, made in reference to the machine employed in ridding a woman of her unwanted pregnancy. This machine is a vacuum cleaner . . . . Vacuum cleaners are useful for cleaning up messes, and in our society, a pile of kitty litter on the floor is treated much in the same way as an undesired embryo. The main difference, though hardly recognizable to Western science, is that kitty litter is sucked from cold linoleum and an embryo is sucked from a warm-blooded living being’s womb. (112)

Her jaundiced views of abortion stem from personal experience. This is her description of the abortions she received at Planned Parenthood:

The lady [nurse] told me to recite my ABCs.

“A, B, C, D, E . . . ” Something entered my vagina, deeper, deeper, deeper than I imagined anything could go.

“F, G, H, I, O, W . . . ” The walls of my uterus were being sucked, felt like they were gonna cave in. I screamed “O, P, X, X, VOWELS, WHAT ARE THE VOWELS? R? K? A! A’s A VOWEL!” And then my organs were surely being mowed down by a tiny battalion of Lawn-Boys.

“S, did I say S?” My boyfriend was crying too and didn’t tell me whether I had said S or not.

There was a two-inch thick pad between my legs, and blood gushing out of me. The motor had stopped whirring. I felt delirious. I asked, “What do you guys do with all the fetuses? Where do they go? Do you bury them?” The lady ignored me, which was fine; I had to puke. She led me into a bathroom, and I vomited bilious green foam.

For two weeks, there was a gaping wound in my body. I could hardly walk for five days. (113-114)

As a good feminist, Muscio cannot bring herself to question the principles behind the pro-choice movement. She merely disagrees with the methods of clinical abortion, the unpleasantness of which she attributes to the patriarchal dynamics of Western medicine. For her third abortion, she seeks out herbal and natural methods, which she portrays as a beautiful and even spiritual experience. However, some of her comments imply that even these methods are not without their flaws:

I looked at the bathroom floor and there, between my feet, was some blood and a little round thing. It was clear but felt like one of those unshiny Super Balls. It was the neatest thing I ever did see. An orb of life and energy, in my hand.

So strange.

So real. (116)

An orb of life . . . except that it was dead. Because she killed it. Which, based on her next statement, seems to be a fact that haunted her even as she claimed to feel relief: “I wore black for a week and had a little funeral in my head” (116).

Even by feminists’ own admission, then, abortion is a violent and painful act perpetuated against the natural integrity of a woman’s body (as well as the natural integrity of the fetus, an orb of life and energy). If that’s how the true feminist believers describe their abortions, then how much more would an average woman, with no prior stake in the pro-choice movement, suffer from regret and guilt about having taken a life?

I don’t deny the painful realities of pregnancy and childbirth. I gave birth with no pain relief and in some rather unpleasant circumstances–and yet, I would rather endure childbirth ten times over then experience any of the abortions described by Muscio, even the supposedly pain-free herbal one. At least childbirth is natural to the design of our bodies–unlike a vacuum cleaner or poisonous herbs, which sound like they would merely be an additional violation of a woman’s body after she had already been raped.

In all the furor over Akin’s comments, then, we’ve lost sight of some more subtle truths: for instance, that pregnancy after rape is an unfortunate but rare experience; that exploiting rape for political gain is despicable; and, most importantly, that pretending abortion can erase the pain of rape is not the most compassionate way to treat rape victims.

Vitae necisque potestas

One might think that liberalism, which attacks the traditional authorities of throne and altar, opposes any vestige or semblance of kingly authority. However, if we examine the discourse of early liberal thought, we find language that confounds our expectations. Instead of attacking the root of absolute royal privilege—that is, the human pride and selfishness that led to such abusive power—it merely expressed a desire to extend these royal prerogatives to everyone. Locke defended the individual right to property by claiming that it allowed every man to live like a king—nay, better than a king: “a king of a large and fruitful territory there [in America], feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day-labourer in England” (Second Treatise Chapter V Sect. 41). Locke was preceded by an even more liberal group called the Levellers, which defended individual rights in the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. Richard Overton, one of the Levellers, went so far to say that “every man by nature being a king,” he is granted absolute “prerogative” within “his own natural circuit and compass.”

It may be argued that, if every man is imbued with kingly power, then his power is automatically checked by the equal power of others (and by the government, whose role is to adjudicate neutrally between each man’s powers). Thus there is nothing to be feared from individual sovereignty, as we see in Overton’s seemingly innocuous formulation: “No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man’s.” However, one liberal argument against governmental power is that it is the very nature of power to expand, to overflow chinks in its boundaries, to encroach on the powers of others. By liberalism’s own admission, then, conceptualizing the public sphere in terms of individual power (instead of duties or the common good) will lead us down a slippery slope to aggrandizement of that power, whenever we can find a plausible excuse to do so. Power over other people, for instance, can be justified by arguing that they are not really people and have no powers that we are bound to respect. Such a view culminates in the grotesque formulation of Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”. Make no mistake—this is not a stirring defense of free speech, but instead is a defense of the right to take the life of the unborn. The liberal individual cannot be truly free and sovereign unless he possesses the power of life and death that was traditionally the prerogative of the king or the pagan paterfamilias. He must define for himself the “mystery” regarding which human lives are legitimate and which are not.

Foucault wrote that “in political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king” (History of Sexuality vol. I 1990, 88). By this, he meant that political theorists concentrate excessively on the abuses of governmental power and not on the equally powerful influence of social institutions such as schools, families, factories, and clinics. However, he might have just as accurately meant that political theorists’ love affair with state sovereignty has merely been transferred to the realm of individual sovereignty—with results no less destructive than the absolute sovereignty of a monarchy or nation-state.

Are Housewives Obsolete?

In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan argued that new technologies should liberate women from their traditional role as caregivers. She lauded “the scientific advance[s] that might have freed women from the drudgery of cooking, cleaning, and washing” (342)–and lamented the fact that, instead of using washing machines to save time, housewives just decided to wash clothes more often. Friedan, being a socialist, believed that technology and the means of production dictate social organization–so now that we’ve reached a certain level of technological development, society must progress past obsolete social roles.

Friedan’s argument has become so ingrained in the conventional wisdom that even anti-feminists repeat it without acknowledging its origin. For instance, the blogger Pro-Male/Anti-Feminist Tech writes that, in the past, “there weren’t washing machines, stoves, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, etc. so there was more work to be done in maintaining a household.” Now that we do have such conveniences, there’s no need to even debate whether women should stay home–it’s clear that they don’t need to. Thus feminism and the “men’s rights movement” converge.

But, as the reader may have surmised, I am no fan of the conventional wisdom.

First of all, it is foolish to embrace all technology uncritically. When deciding which kinds of labor-saving devices to adopt in the home, we should consider their effects on the family, the community, and society at large. For instance, it is now technologically possible to outsource childbirth itself, in the form of surrogate mothers, so that Mom doesn’t even have to take a six-week maternity leave anymore. Outsourcing childbirth is efficient–after all, it creates a literal division of labor–but I think most husbands would reject such a proposal, because of its possible effects on mother-child bonding as well as the natural uneasiness that families feel when introducing strangers into such an intimate area. So the question isn’t, “Are there technologies that can replace some of the functions of a traditional wife and mother?”, but rather, “If such technologies exist, should we be using them? Are they moral? Are they compatible with the fundamentals of the good life?”

I think certain labor-saving devices, such as the washing machine and dishwasher, are largely innocuous (I say “largely” because there may in fact be environmental effects that could someday force us to limit their use). However, TV dinners and microwaves are another technological innovation that get cited as a way to replace the housewife. But even feminists have finally acknowledged that convenience food is really bad for you (probably because Michael Pollan made cooking cool again). So, can we agree that TV dinners and take-out food are not a civilized way to feed one’s family? That it’s healthiest for the family when Mom doesn’t get home from her commute at 6 pm, since it’s difficult to prepare much of a home-cooked meal when you don’t even get home until dinnertime?

So, while technology can facilitate housewifery, over-reliance on technology–or adopting the wrong kinds of technology–can dehumanize and weaken the entire family.

Secondly–and more importantly–the art of household management may have gotten easier with washing machines and online bill-pay, but child-rearing has actually gotten more labor-intensive in recent years. In bygone eras, extended families were more close-knit and could therefore help out with child-rearing more. Furthermore, institutions like the Church could provide much of a child’s moral education. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Children are probably more likely to learn heresy than sound doctrine in a catechism class, while public schools indoctrinate children into feminism. Countering the secular and materialistic dogma of our times is practically a full-time job, one that often requires homeschooling or vigilant involvement in your children’s school.

Of course, having a stay-at-home mother may not work for every family. Circumstances may require her to work outside the home, and it’s ultimately the husband’s decision to make. But I hope that families truly choose what is best for their situation, without being swayed by the conventional wisdom that mocks mothers as nothing more than glorified Roombas.

Great Marriage Advice from a Celibate Saint

When asked in an interview about his advice to married women, St. Josemaria Escriva gave a blunt but truthful reply:

If a marriage is to preserve its initial charm and beauty, both husband and wife should try to renew their love day after day, and that is done through sacrifice, with smiles and also with ingenuity. Is it surprising that a husband who arrives home tired from work begins to lose patience when his wife keeps on and on about everything she thinks has gone wrong during the day? Disagreeable things can wait for a better moment when the husband is less tired and more disposed to listen to them.

Another important thing is personal appearance. And I would say that any priest who says the contrary is a bad adviser. As years go by a woman who lives in the world has to take more care not only of her interior life, but also of her looks. Her interior life itself requires her to be careful about her personal appearance; naturally this should always be in keeping with her age and circumstances. I often say jokingly that older facades need more restoration. It is the advice of a priest. An old Spanish saying goes: ‘A well-groomed woman keeps her husband away from other doors.’

That is why I am not afraid to say that women are responsible for eighty per cent of the infidelities of their husbands because they do not know how to win them each day and take loving and considerate care of them. A married woman’s attention should be centered on her husband and children, as a married man’s attention should be centered on his wife and children. Much time and effort is required to succeed in this, and anything which militates against it is bad and should not be tolerated.

There is no excuse for not fulfilling this lovable duty. Work outside the home is not an excuse. Not even one’s life of piety can be an excuse, because if it is incompatible with one’s daily obligations, it is not good, nor pleasing to God. A married woman’s first concern has to be her home. There is a Spanish saying which goes: ‘If through going to church to pray a woman burns the stew, she may be half an angel, but she’s half a devil too.’ I’d say she was a fully-fledged devil.

I read it to my husband and he said, “That sounds about right.” He was surprised when I told him that it spawned an epic thread on Catholic Answers, mostly from people denouncing Escriva as a sexist pig. The main argument against him seemed to be, “But people are going to age no matter what, so men shouldn’t care about their wives’ looks!” However, I think it is a mistake to define appearance as an area totally outside our control. We can make certain choices that do influence our looks–such as the choice to exercise, to eat moderately, to wear clean and flattering clothes, to take care of our skin’s health, to avoid cutting hair too short or getting tattoos. Appearance is therefore a reflection of one’s inner character, which is why Escriva links the interior and exterior life. Of course, some aspects of our appearance do escape our control, and for that reason, I’m sure no sane husband would blame his wife for getting wrinkles at age 70, or for her natural bone structure.

Some people also criticize Escriva’s expectations that women, even working women, should be the “angels of the house”: sweet, uncomplaining, always centered on home life. Again, I see nothing wrong this expectation. He doesn’t tell women to efface all their needs–he merely tells them to recognize that there is a time and place for everything. Yes, you may wish to confide your troubles in your husband, but do it at the right time, once he’s had time to relax, and you’ll find a more sympathetic ear. Yes, you need to pray, but do it at a time when you don’t have pressing household duties. Yes, you may need to get a job to help support the family, but don’t bring your career mentality into the home. (And to the women who would screech, “But men don’t have to do any of those things,” I reply: Trust me, men have their own burdens to bear).

In the same interview, the saint was also asked whether forbidding fornication is “reactionary.” He responded, “Reactionary? Who are the reactionaries? The real reactionaries are the people who go back to the jungle, recognizing no impulse other than instinct.” What a perfect skewering of the leftist impulse to adopt apes and cavemen as our models. I’ll take St. Josemaria Escriva’s Biblically-based marriage advice over theirs any day. St. Josemaria, pray for us!