Puzzling Attacks By Ignorant People

The fabulous Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune passed along to me this alt-weekly broadside on James Lileks, as Eric knows I’m a pal of James from a while back. So I read it and I have to say it’s got me terribly confused.

It’s clear that the writer, Dennis Perrin, doesn’t share James’ politics, which I understand, since I don’t share many of his politics, either. But the article seems to be about the fact James has gone and expressed his personal opinion on his personal Web site on his personal time, on subjects which appeal to him personally (in particular, about the war). Perrin seems additionally shocked that James’ observations are off-the-cuff sorts of things, without footnote or journalistic kow-tows to impartiality — indeed, it’s almost as if they were written, you know, late at night or something. In short, Perrin’s huge news flash seems to be that James Lileks is writing like a blogger. On his blog, no less!

And I’m thinking, what does this Perrin fellow want? A cookie? I don’t think that at this late point that anyone’s shocked, shocked to discover personal online sites, whether one calls them journals, blogs or whatever, are vast repositories of half-masticated thoughts spewed out on the screen during the stolen moments between putting one’s kids to bed and going to bed one’s self. Perrin appears to see something ominous in this, but the questions is: Why? What possible harm comes from James, or anyone, ranting and raving on their own personal site? I mean, it’s better than him (or anyone) going out to a bar to rant and rave at his fellow bar patrons, which would have been his realistic avenue of rantiness ten years ago. This way no one has to hear him who doesn’t want to, and James doesn’t drive home a little tipsy. And at the very least James has the presence of mind to warn people when he’s going to go off on a screed, which I think is right polite.

What it comes down to is that Perrin appears not to like James’ politics, so he’s using blogging as a framing device to say Look! He’s ranting ill-considered conservative crap from the safety of his own blinkered worldview! On the Web! Well, Mr. Perrin, I don’t know how to break this you, but conservatives aren’t the only ones spewing ill-considered crap from the safety of their own blinkered worldview, on the Web. People from all political tribes, personal proclivities, ethnic background and religious views are spewing their ill-considered crap. It’s everywhere! That’s what you get with an unmediated connection between someone’s brain and their personal Web site. To this end, James is not special, other than that he writes far better than most.

Perrin seems to want to shout that Emperor James has no clothes. Problem is, he’s shouting this momentous discovery in the middle of a nudist colony. We’re quite aware James has no clothes and is spouting off from the top of his head, thanks. As are we all. If you don’t like it, you are of course perfectly free to go away and leave us nudists alone.

If Perrin wants to attack James’ politics, then by all means he should do so. But doing so by vaguely implying there’s something sinister about the fact James does it on his Web site — thus showing what he’s really thinking! — is pretty stupid. Perrin has made the attempt to make James look bad, but he ends up making himself look ignorant. So you tell me who comes out ahead from this article.

Addendum: Just for fun, I mailed a link to Perrin’s article to Glenn over at InstaPundit, on the rationale that if Perrin wants to get frisky with the blogosphere, it’s only fair that the blogosphere is allowed to get frisky right back. Hopefully, the end result will be a learning experience for all. And isn’t that what writing online is about? Sharing?

Update: ThoughtViper thinks it is I who is missing the point, and suggests that my comment “What possible harm comes from James, or anyone, ranting and raving on their own personal site?” is “the fucking most moronic thing I’ve ever heard from someone who’s already proven that he has an actual, functioning brain.” Heh. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I’ve said much worse. (Go to the 1/14 entry if that link has since been updated.)

Technical Note

Through the help of a good friend who is rather better at that there InterWeb thingy than I am, I have made one minor upgrade to this page: If you look over at the links, you’ll note that recent entries in By The Way are now listed and clickable (you can also still get to the main page of the site). As most of you know, I update BTW at a rather more frequent pace than the Whatever (on account of I get paid to), so there’s almost always something new there. I hope the tantalizing headlines will encourage some of the more reticent Whatever readers to take a gander.

Righteous props for my pal, who I do not name so that he is not inundated with people begging to use his mad MT skillz. I mean, really: Step off, people. He’s mine.

Why I Breed

Yet another irritating “childfree” whine generator erupted biliously toward me in e-mail recently.* This is not an infrequent occurrence, as my trolling of said population in the Whatever is apparently of some passing infamy in their small and angry circles. I don’t mind at all, of course, since there’s very little I enjoy more than afflicting the aggressively affrontable, which is what the “childfree” so frequently are. Short of slathering the childfearing in the collected mucus of an entire preschool, it’s the most fun to be had out of these little, little people with their little, little hates. They’re well up there on my List of People to Taunt, right along with creationists and Confederate sympathizers. If I could meet up one day with a Confederate childfree creationist, well, I don’t know what I would do with myself. I expect I’d probably explode with glee.

The letter itself was not particularly noteworthy, just the usual childfree claptrap about how breeders are irresponsible, awful people to bring children into this terrible, feculent world and why couldn’t we just have adopted if we wanted kids and there are too many people and we’re all just gonna die in our own piles of misery and poo. Letters like this don’t do much for me except make me glad that the senders have indeed chosen not to breed, because they’d righteously screw up their kids. But at the very end, the sproghater asked an interesting question, which was:

Anyway, I have one question: In the light of 40,000 children dying everyday and many more on the adoption lists, why did you feel the need to clone yourself (aka breed)?

My rather flip response in e-mail was “Because I rock, you silly person. There should be a million of me.” The response was of course designed to enrage the recipient due to its potent combination of dismissive smugness, consciousless ego and reproductive fervor. But in all fairness it’s not a bad question and is worth a more responsive answer. Clearly, there are children to adopt; also clearly, lots of children die for various horrible reasons every day, all over the globe. With such a clear surplus of young humanity in the world, why add to their number?

Well, obviously, because I wanted to, and because I could. I wanted to for a number of reasons, some undoubtedly rooted in fundamental biology (living things naturally wish to make more of their number), but more — and more influentially — because of the conscious desire to be a father, which is something I’ve always had so long as I could remember thinking about the subject of breeding at all. This isn’t to say I was in a rush to become a father — I didn’t become one until I was 29, after all — merely that it was on the agenda of things to do with my life. On this matter, I was additionally helped in that a) I met a woman willing to conjoin her genetic material with mine and b) that said genetic material was up the task; i.e., my boys could swim.

But you say: I could have as easily been a father and experienced all the joys of parenting by adopting. That’s true enough. And to be perfectly honest about it, I’m very big on the concept of adoption. My family, through my mother, has experienced adoption from both sides of the adoption coin: When she was 16, she put a child up for adoption (my brother Robert, whom I met when I was in middle school), and then when she was 54, she adopted a child of her own. I’m not personally opposed to the idea of adopting a child with Krissy, either. We’ve discussed it from time to time when we talk about whether we want to have additional kids. And who knows, one day we may adopt. Regardless of whether we do or not, I think adoptive parents make an unmistakably strong statement of parental love by affirmatively choosing their child to love and care for and as such have, and always have had, my admiration. So yes: Adopt, if you like. It’s a good thing.

For all that, I think I can make a compelling case for making a child the old-fashioned way. First off, there are the economics. To be coldly fiscal about it, adopting a child costs a lot of money, whereas, assuming normal fertility, making one of one’s own does not (and it’s fun besides, which is an adjective I have yet to hear anyone apply to the adoption process). As a matter of policy, I would and do support ways to bring down the cost of adopting a child (bring on the tax credits!) to make adoption affordable for every family who wishes to adopt. But at the moment, we’re not there.

Second, I believe that both my wife and I offer a compelling set of genes to the proverbial pool: Both of us are fit and intelligent, and have no family history of inherited diseases or other afflictions, either physical or mental. It seemed likely that our offspring would also be fit, intelligent and healthy, and indeed, so she is. I would argue that the gene pool and the overall hybrid vigor of our entire species is incrementally enhanced by our contribution to it, and thereby the positives provided by such a genetic union rather greatly outweigh the negatives associated with bringing yet another human onto this groaning sphere.

To restate the above on a more personal level, I was also intensely curious to see what a child of mine would be like — and more specifically, a child of mine and Krissy’s. Yon agitated childdespiser rather derisively asked why I would want to clone myself, and in fact I wouldn’t. There’s already been one of me, and I think we can all agree that one is sufficient. But in the entire history of the universe, there has never been someone like Athena, who is, for the moment at least, the summation of a couple billion years of evolution as expressed through the genetic lines which run through myself and my wife.

The combination of those lines results in an individual who is synergistic — more than the sum of her parts, and uniquely her own person thereby. To be sure, I see myself in her, as well as her mother. But mostly I see Athena. For herself alone, and not for the mere continuation of my own genetics, is her existence amply justifiable, and thus my desire to have her come into being. You are free to disagree, of course. But honestly, now. Ask me if I care.

As regards bringing children into the awful, terrible world: whatever. The toddlerkickers may believe it’s a terrible time to bring a human into the world, but when has it not been? Pick a year, any year, that humans have deigned to grace with a sense of history, and you’ll undoubtedly discover that it’s an atrocious and utterly irresponsible moment to birth another generation of homo sapiens. Tell me that there are too many humans on this planet, and I’d agree — but then I’d ask you why it must then necessarily follow that I must volunteer my own genes for extinction. As far as I’m concerned, the issue is not only that there are too many people, but simultaneously too few like me. Breed a few more of my line, and then we might have enough people to vote in a President who doesn’t think that providing birth control to third-world women who desperately need it is a moral evil — thereby reducing the human surplus far more effectively than by my falling on my genetic sword.

Agreed, too many children die daily. But this is not in itself an argument against my producing a child of my own. My child is almost certain not to die of starvation, or curable disease, or war, or neglect or ignorance or any of the reasons that the vast majority of those children die every day. This child is as safe from harm as any child not trapped in a plastic bubble can be. I can’t save 40,000 children a day, but I can be a good parent for one every day, and I try to do that. Agreed, breeding is a selfish act, probably the fundamental selfish act — one is, after all, passing on one’s genes. But I’ve read enough “childfree” griping about having to pay for schools with their taxes not to be terribly worried about these particular pots calling the kettle black.

So in summation: I breed because I can, because I want to, because I believe my doing so is a net benefit to humanity and planet (or at the very least presents no net damage) and because I expected to be (and am) fully pleased with the results. I realize these reasons are almost certainly insufficient to satisfy the babyslappers, but as there’s not likely to be any reason that would satisfy them, I’m hard-pressed to be deeply concerned about that fact. Indeed, I wish I could say that I breed specifically to piss them off. Alas, I do not. It’s merely a fringe benefit.


* Standard disclaimers: Not everyone who chooses not to have children is an obnoxious hater of the pre-adult; you are sensible people and know who you are. This taunting does not apply to you. The relevant pathology of the unpleasantly childfree is not that they are childfree, but that they are unpleasant. They would very likely be unpleasant no matter what subject they chose to get worked up about.

Additionally: Not everyone who is a parent deserves to be; some — hell, many — need to be mulched in a wood chipper. And there are plenty of children who ought to follow their so-called parents right into said chipper. Just in case you thought I thought these particular populations were not capable of rank dumbassery.

Update: The sender of the original e-mail says (in a new e-mail): “Someone as arrogant as you does not deserve a beautiful child like Athena.” Well, this is probably true. But as Clint Eastwood once said, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.