We think we’ve abolished slavery in 1865. We think we’re morally superior to ISIS today.
My wife wants to have a baby. So, we are trying this week to have a baby. The first time went well, the second time went ok. I made it through the third “try” also. The fourth try was a challenge. I cannot muster any enthusiasm, and she knows and reacts with bitterness. But in the end it worked out.
“Do you want to have a baby?” asks the theoretical reader.
I don’t know. In theory, yes, I want a family. I hope I’d make a halfway decent father with some practice. But anxieties have accumulated:
- Will my marriage suffer as my temperamental wife becomes more stressed?
- Will we disagree significantly on how to raise children? If so (and the answer is probably yes), the pattern of our relationship suggests her position will usually prevail. What will this mean for the children’s development and my relationship with them?
- Will we be able to balance our more-than-40-hour-a-week jobs with the 24/7 responsibility of family life?
- Will I be able to stop drinking and swearing so fucking much so the children don’t learn bad habits?
- Will I be able to tolerate the stench of baby formula, baby food, shitty diapers, random toys in every room for on and on?
- Will I be able to tolerate the jibber-jabber of toddlers (then adolescents, then teenagers) in my house, as a naturally quiet and solitary person?
- Will all these tensions and the unknown-unknowns associated with parenthood widen the rift between my wife and lead to divorce 10, 15, or 20 years from now? How much compromise is too much, and what about myself am I, or should I be unwilling to compromise?
Perhaps my anxieties are ill-founded. Becoming a parent is a “transformative experience” that would change who I am, and who my wife is. People commonly and successfully adapt to this life change successfully. Of course, as a warning, others do not. It would by extension change the tide and current of our relationship as experienced so far. I’m accustomed to almost 10 years of childlessness. The question is, for better or for worse?
A few months ago David Brooks wrote in a discussion of L.A. Paul’s book “Transformative Experience” that we cannot know how to make this decision from a purely utilitarian standpoint:
The decision to have a child is the purest version of this choice. On average, people who have a child suffer a loss of reported well-being. They’re more exhausted and report lower life satisfaction. And yet few parents can imagine going back and being their old pre-parental selves. Parents are like self-fulfilled vampires. Their rich new lives would have seemed incomprehensible to their old childless selves.
So how do you make transformational decisions? You have to ask the right questions, Paul argues. Don’t ask, Will I like parenting? You can’t know. Instead, acknowledge that you, like all people, are born with an intense desire to know. Ask, Do I have a profound desire to discover what it would be like to be this new me, to experience this new mode of living?
Brooks later recommends that we go a step further than wondering whether we want to find out what life will be as a parent (in this example). Instead, I should ask myself if I admire parenthood as a matter of moral principle. If so, applying moral logic I should try to become what I admire.
Most important, we’re moral creatures. When faced with a transformational choice the weakest question may be, What do I desire? Our desires change all the time. The strongest questions may be: Which path will make me a better person? Will joining the military give me more courage? Will becoming a parent make me more capable of selfless love?
I hope it does make me more capable of selfless love. In some ways my major unhappiness with myself as a person is my inability to think beyond my own desire. Sure, being a father I might not have any time to get drunk and watch sitcoms. But I might find new ways to help the world and become a better person. Once I learn to function on zero sleep without arguing my wife while tolerating the olfactory sensation of dirty diaper mixed with spoiled milk and Cheerio crumbs.
The newly created Music and Culture Department of my blog is busy with this latest (because I have zero readers but multiple departments!).
First, a critical profile of the rapper by the New York Times Magazine trying to discern the meaning of Minaj’s self-objectification and need for control that concludes with Minaj giving her interviewer the boot:
‘‘Is there a part of you that thrives on drama, or is it no, just pain and unpleasantness—’’
The room went quiet, but only for an instant.
‘‘That’s disrespectful,’’ Minaj said, drawing herself up in the chair. ‘‘Why would a grown-ass woman thrive off drama?’’
As soon as I said the words, I wished I could dissolve them on my tongue. In pop-culture idiom, ‘‘drama’’ is the province of Real Housewives with nothing better to do than stick their noses where they don’t belong. I was more interested in a different kind of drama — the kind worthy of an HBO series, in which your labelmate is releasing endless dis tracks against your boyfriend and your mentor is suing your label president for a king’s ransom. But the phrase I used was offensive, and even as I tried to apologize, I only made matters worse.
‘‘What do the four men you just named have to do with me thriving off drama?’’ she asked. ‘‘Why would you even say that? That’s so peculiar. Four grown-ass men are having issues between themselves, and you’re asking me do I thrive off drama?’’
She pointed my way, her extended arm all I could see other than the diamonds glinting in her ears. This wasn’t over yet. ‘‘That’s the typical thing that women do. What did you putting me down right there do for you?’’ she asked. ‘‘Women blame women for things that have nothing to do with them. I really want to know why — as a matter of fact, I don’t. Can we move on, do you have anything else to ask?’’ she continued. ‘‘To put down a woman for something that men do, as if they’re children and I’m responsible, has nothing to do with you asking stupid questions, because you know that’s not just a stupid question. That’s a premeditated thing you just did.’’ She called me ‘‘rude’’ and ‘‘a troublemaker,’’ said ‘‘Do not speak to me like I’m stupid or beneath you in any way’’ and, at last, declared, ‘‘I don’t care to speak to you anymore.’’
Second, The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber tries to figure out why Minaj shut that shit down. Essentially, politeness isn’t top priority in the hip-hop world, and furthermore, Minaj is more concerned personally with standing up for herself than her image:
Oh, right: Minaj is a rapper. Grigoriadis’s article, to its credit, aptly traces how Minaj achieved stardom after working her way up in the hip-hop world. (An important part of the Minaj legend, and many legends in the field, is the selling-CDs-out-of-the-back-of-a-car phase, though Minaj apparently does not indulge questions about the specifics of that period in her life.) Her status as a rapper is not just a matter of biographical trivia, or even of how she delivers her lyrics. It’s a matter of her outlook. Hip-hop, which rose from and reflects a social condition characterized by constant peril, doesn’t fetishize go-along get-along niceness to settle disputes. The best rappers, from Ice Cube to Jay Z, have often proven themselves through straightforward but brutally clever verbal confrontation.
Perhaps more accurately, her image depends on standing up for herself. And I can’t blame her. It was a condescending question. Do reporters ever ask male rappers (or musicians of any genre) if they thrive on drama? Not so far as I’m aware. The question would irrelevant and condescending. So it was for Minaj.
My secondary reaction to these pieces is to attempt to empathize with celebrities who routiinely deal with this sort of thing. No one is trying to make any sort of story out of my life. But for Minaj or any pop star, every interaction has an angle of some sort – dissecting their romantic and career decisions, successes and failures, mainly. This inability to control or even react to the sheer volume of what is written about you as a person on the internet and in print in any given day must create some sense of powerlessness. If freedom means anything, it is the ability to fuck up once in a while in privacy, then move on and try better next time. But when every day of your life is on the record, who can blame you for fighting back on the record? Haters gonna hate anyway!
The tragic events in Roseburg, Oregon last week call for my first blog post in three years. Predictably, the killing of nine people at Umpqua Community College has precipitated the recurring media flow of profiles of the shooter, analysis of any possible motive, and debate about gun control. Meanwhile, the victims are essentially ignored. This is why I’m particularly intrigued by today’s New York Times article exploring the notion that each mass shooting and the media reaction inadvertently encourages others to commit mass murder:
Experts in violence prevention say that many, if not most, perpetrators of such shootings have intensively researched earlier mass attacks, often expressing admiration for those who carried them out. The publicity that surrounds these killings can have an accelerating effect on other troubled and angry would-be killers who are already heading toward violence, they say.
The killing of nine people at an Oregon community college last week was a textbook example. Before opening fire, the gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, reportedly uploaded a video about the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The perpetrator of the Sandy Hook murders was himself a student of earlier shootings — in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado, where 13 people were killed, and in 2011 in Norway, where 77 people were killed.
The implication is that each time an angry, alienated young man goes to a public place and discharges a firearm capriciously to kill as many strangers as he can, and sometimes taking his own life, there are one or several other young angry men who say “That’s a good idea! I could do that!” and proceed to plan and execute their own violent fantasy, creating more victims and continuing a tragic cycle that then inspires other angry, alienated, would-be shooters.
But why? So many people are lonely in our world. So many are weird in some way or another. So many are quiet in class, fearful of interaction, and keep to themselves. Most are not particularly angry or prone to any form of violence. And yet in our world many people are angry, about their jobs or lack thereof, about family situations, politics, or whatever. And still they do not kill anyone!
For all the media investigating and profiling, there seems to be no conclusions about what triggers certain silently angry young men to kill at random, while many others with apparent similar characteristics go through life without ever physically harming anyone.
And it is always men. Usually men in their twenties. Sometimes there is some issue that raises their ire – in the Oregon case there are hints that the shooter was outraged by organized religion. In Charleston, sadly, the shooter was motivated by racism. In another case, the shooter appeared to be jealous of other men’s success in picking up women. For others, the reason for the individual’s madness has been entirely unclear. What compels some men to such devastating and pointless violence? That is an open question, as none of these cases make any sense to me.
There is no legislative solution to this. There are certainly cultural changes we need to make to decrease the likelihood of future mass shootings. Look out for one another. Engage in compassionate conversation aimed at encouraging kindness instead of feeding wrath and hatred. And yes, stop glorifying guns and make it more difficult for individuals with a history of mental illness to purchase a firearm. But there are so many guns in this country already that whoever is inclined enough to violence is going to find one by legal or illegal means.