An Exercise In Lament

An Exercise In Lament March 11, 2021

As usual, it’s so hard to know in what direction to wander this morning. I stayed up late,  as a sort of exercise in anthropology, reading that long piece about how the nation’s elite schools are all becoming woke. And this morning early, I read lots of tweets about James KA Smith becoming “affirming.” And then I also got around to reading Kevin DeYoung’s very sensible thing about racism. And then there is this curiosity. And, of course, I spent ages trying to figure out how much money the government is going to give me, and reading more about Harry and Megan. I really loved this thing–said everything I would say, only even more meanly. The main point, though, is that it’s very bad for me to put all these links here because now I will have nothing for Monday.

If there’s a common thread–and I think that there probably isn’t–it’s the great sadness of the commodification of people. No longer do any of us have to take people on their own terms, as people. Rather, all people are means to an end, to a private and personal virtue signal. We think we’re taking people as they are, but really we’re invited to only accept them as symbols of status, or moral virtue, or even as cogs in the wheel of our personal happiness. Their identity markers and grievances become a way for us to exalt ourselves. And by “us,” as usual, I entirely exclude myself. I don’t want to participate in that kind of thing.

Take, as only one example, the business of getting a lot of money from the government for being willing to have children. I will not say no to a cash outlay from the powers that be, though I feel queazy about it being offered. I have a lot of mouths to feed and I appreciate that civilization requires more children and that I’m “taking one for the team”–however fractured and confused and miserable that “team” might be. And, if 7 trillion of the 9 is going to pork, then I will accept my meager share. What is more interesting to me is that so few people experience any immediate and material benefits from having children. It’s a desperate and unhappy slog for so many. Children are a drain on one’s resources. They are a huge investment. They give almost nothing back to the person that has them, especially as the now essential task of the “parent,” if I may use that term, is to help the child enact his or her or whoever’s special and peculiar personhood. The “parent,” if you will, has to sublimate xer’s own self-identity for such a long time–years sometimes–for the benefit of someone else, and that is increasingly felt to be intolerable. Therefore, the government must shell out money in order to convince people to do that.

Of course, not everyone feels that way. I, in having children, felt that I did experience an immediate benefit, besides the dopamine-rush and the fact that I find babies excessively charming. Also, I arranged my life not so that the children would “find their true selves,” but so that they would fit into a busy, industrious household. There are meals to cook and books to read and church services to attend and floors to sweep. It would have been better if I could have had a farm or something, so that they would have had lots more manual labor and not quite so much “thought work.” But I blame God for that.

Similarly, around the world and through time, children were an almost immediate benefit to the whole community if they could make it past infancy. They could fetch and carry and help in myriad kinds of ways. They could pull weeds in the field and stir the pot and mind other children. Besides, having other people to whom you are related is such a blessing, especially in knowing who you yourself are. You don’t have to cobble together your identity out of whole cloth, internet tweets, and sadness. Other people get a say in who you turn out to be.

So anyway, I think it’s utterly tragic that The Grievance Industrial Complex has such a tight grip on the moral imaginations of even “Christians.” That’s too bad. It doesn’t lead to happiness–no matter how much money you have. It leads to death. Because God does not care about how put upon you are, and how hard you have it. He cares that he made you for the purpose of worshiping him, and obeying him, however painful that is.

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