My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Kids are All Right, If a Bit Loud

I haven't posted in a few days, mostly because the digital camera batteries were dead and I wanted to put up some pictures. They will be coming eventually, as will more neighborhood demolition goodness. Went to the circus last night, which was more fun as an adult than it was as a kid. We met up with Trope's high school friend (who works for the circus) and her fiance there. She took us backstage after the event which is infinitely more exotic than the faux exoticism of the show (alas, no pictures). The company seems to be a gaggle of Brazilian show girls, Moroccan animal trainiers and lip-ringed Australian clowns who cart a "retired" elephant around the country by rail because "she just wasn't happy" put out to pasture in Florida. Apparently she "didn't get along with" the retired zoo elephants, who were boring and just sat around talking about their grandchildren. Trope's friend told us circus elephants live longer than wild or zoo elephants because the "intellectual stimulation" keeps them active. Just when you think there's no magic left in the world.

Trope seems a little concerned about her friend, who is marrying cross-culturally and converting to Islam. It's nothing against the man or the religion per se, but she's worried about a woman entering into a family or a relationship in which she might be expected to assume a submissive role. I frankly don't know her well enough to have an opinion, but mulling it over brings up a whole bunch of issues that deserve some attention.

I think the "culture wars" have a lot to do with the "role" of women in society. The latest round was a sham: stem cell research and gay marriage just don't have any impact on typical Americans unless they are dying from parkinsons or lymphoma, or are gay themselves. Such people are being picked on by the Right in the name of "traditional values" and these issues are voted on as a way to give expression to a desire for said values. So what are people really angry about? Fafblog, the nation's finest source for news and world domination, as usual holds clues. They link to, a "ministry" of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. These people call themselves "complimentarians," by which I think they mean to refer to the belief in society in which men and women are assigned different, "complementary" roles (that such a society has little place for gays and transgendered people goes without saying). They see themselves fighting for "traditional families." Their big crusade of the moment? Condemning married people who choose not to have children. Fafblog also links to this guy who doesn't understand the outrage because "It's fairly obvious that none of the couples in this article is ready to be parents, and would, in the main, fail at it, or at least resent it."

Now, a couple thoughts on this.

1.) I am giving serious attention to issues raised by a website purporting to be the rantings of a giant stuffed bunny who wants to take over the world. What is it with the bunnies lately?

2.) "Complementarian" sounds a lot like "separate but equal" to me. If one "role" is to make all the decisions, and the other "role" is to scrub the toilets, how "complementary" is that?

3.) These people are crazy. They have, among other things, accused the Episcopalian church of worshiping pagan gods.

4.) This is funny: "It was also encouraging to see the rise in [the number of] women who were attending and are supporting." So the complementarian movement has is the past mostly been . . .men?

5.) Biblical Schmiblical. I've read the Bible. Polygamy was viewed as the norm, King David nailed every piece of tail he could get his hands on, and genocidal warfare was seen as blessed by God. The social roles of conservative evangelicals have their roots in early modern agrarian America as filtered through 1950s suburbia as seen on TV.

6.) On some level, they may have a point.

Okay, you can pick up your jaw now. I'm not about to go join the Pea-brain Bigot Society. But it disturbs me that so many of the bright, progressive people I like and admire tell me they're not going to have children, when right-wing zealots appear to be breeding like . . . um, still more rabbits.

I'm no buying into the gender role thing - the "role" of a woman is to live, and seek happiness and a satisfying, meaningful life - the same as man's "role." We are actual living people, not pieces in a jigsaw puzzle or actors reading a script. But in a rapidly changing, competitive world that many people experience as scary or intimidating, the cultural conservatives are offering a plan, a guide to what life is "supposed" to look like. And what are we offering in response? A lifestyle based on consumption of cultural products, priced out of reach of most of our citizens? Purchased experiences, whether in DVD or video game form, or "high adventure" style featuring hang gliding trips to the Andes, are no substitute for real life. Not having kids so you have the time and money to go to the opera and watch drama about somebody else's family seems shallow to me, playing it safe and easy.

So far in this blog entry, I think I've written something to piss off everyone I know. Let's push forward and see if I can finish alienating everyone I've ever met. My point isn't that everyone should have children. I spent a little time counseling children, and my conclusion was that most of their problems stemmed from unfit parents. And in spit of our annoyingly child-oriented (childish?) culture it's not actually easy to raise kids today. Our society seems incapable of supplying health care, child care, good schools, even safe public parks to any but the wealthiest Americans. And the worst schools and services tend to congregate in precisely the areas with the good cultural amenities, leaving many people my age with a bitter choice between having an active life of the mind and the soulless zombiehood of suburban parenthood. Certainly any real progressive movement should be demanding the services that make child-rearing bearable be made accessible to everyone.

But we don't fight for our communities, we hardly even care about them at all. In this mobile society, we might just move to the suburbs or the West Coast next year anyway, so while it's tragic that the schools suck, it's not our problem. The result is that Blue America is largely a patchwork of declining cities and towns with crappy schools and an abysmal gap between rich an poor, dotted through with sushi places. It could be that people aren't buying our progressive vision of America because we don't have one. Consumerism and cultural extinction do not offer a real alternative.

The righties have a plan for society. It's a crappy, outdated plan, but it's a plan. The only people on the left that seem to have a vision are the hippies. I tried that, I lived in an idealistic hippie co-op for a year, and while it was fun at times, there was no food. If I never hear the term "macrobiotic diet" again it will be too soon. And many of these people are going around saying that Bush, the CIA and the Mossad were responsible for 9/11, which makes me wonder - is everybody with a plan a complete lunatic? Their radically self-denying lifestyle is just not attractive, and doesn't always smell that nice anyway.

Until we have a progressive vision that can distinguish self-actualization from self-gratification (hint: it's like sex vs. masturbation) we're not exactly inspiring people to join us. What would that look like? I guess a founding principal should be, no matter who ends up taking out the trash, it's gotta be somebody. I'm not thrilled with gender roles either, especially one where, as a man, I'm expected to come up with all the cash in the event that my wife "chooses" to stay home with the kids. The fact is, I'm just not good for the money, neither are most guys, so that whole "role" thing should just be tossed out the window. But it doesn't change the fact that you gotta get money, you gotta change diapers, you gotta clean the toilet. How people work this stuff out is their own business. If someone volutarily chooses to be submissive, well, a lot of people get off on that. Who am I to judge that? But that's a very different thing than your neighbors or the government coming in and telling you that you should be submissive.

But a perpetual state of open-mindedness ends up as madness. We need a model for a healthy society, and standards that are durable enough that people can rely on them. The demands by gay people for the right to marry and inclusion in the military are good start. Thirty years ago activists were denouncing these institutions, now they are demanding access to them. This about-face represents great progress for movement, indicating the desire to participate in society, as full adults on their own terms, rather than merely denounce and flee from "Western Civilization." Because the Right isn't afraid we'll fail, they're afraid we'll succeed. Right now they have a monopoly. Their God may be a vicious, intolerant, cruel dominatrix, but right not she's the only bitch in the yellow pages.

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