Aaaahhh! Aaaaahhhhh! AAAAAaaaaahhhhhhHHHH!

Aaaahhh! Aaaaahhhhh! AAAAAaaaaahhhhhhHHHH! August 24, 2012

That’s my knee jerk reaction to Hanna Rosin’s new piece for the Atlantic on whether women are well served by hookup culture. I’ll get a little more cogent after the blockquote:

But this analysis downplays the unbelievable gains women have lately made, and, more important, it forgets how much those gains depend on sexual liberation. Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-­school party—are for the first time in history more success­ful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.

Plenty of room in the comment thread to talk about sex more specifically, but the thing that’s really creeping me out about this piece is that it’s essentially an attack on intimacy.  An “overly serious suitor” may indeed interfere with your career, but I’ll bet a too-close friendship will, too.  (Though that’s not mentioned, because we don’t take friendship seriously enough already.)  After all, whether or not your relationship in sexual, commitment and mutual dependence will constrain and limit your freedom from.

The trouble is, if that’s what you’re paring off, the freedom to that you’re preserving is pretty much just your freedom to work and advance.  Letting your job be your life makes more sense if your career is also your vocation, if it’s making it easier for you to be the person you ought to be and grow in goodness.  That’s not generally how I hear people describe the kind of high powered finance or legal jobs that Rosin’s profilees seem to hold.  And even if you’ve got a stressful job that does good (let’s say you work in the public defender’s office), the results of your work may be service, but the way you work may not be good for you.

If we’re actually claiming that the only way to get good works done is to call twentysomethings to a kind of emotional martyrdom (viz throwing unprepared, hastily trained teachers into the worst classrooms to hold the line for two years til they burn out), they we should admit that’s what we’re doing.  And then we should reel a bit in horror and try and think if there’s a better solution.

When I read the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece on not having it all, I had two big reactions:

  1. Women are slightly better off in that they recognize not having time for their children as a privation.  Men also don’t have it all, but our culture doesn’t even tell them they’re missing out, so they may not realize they need to fight.
  2. Auuugghh auugghhh augghhh, why do we structure jobs to destroy families?

White House jobs are intense, but I’ll bet most of the jobs that need you “on call” all the time could be toned down.  Instead of having people work 12-16 hours a day, why not just hire two people and have them each work nine hours?  There are enough bright young things to staff these high intensity jobs at reasonable hours but a larger workforce.

Essentially, I’m endorsing the doctor/nurse model, where, because the work is high stakes and constant, people work in shifts.  You can lose a lot if you muff the handoff at shift change, but I think the solution is to work on safeguards, not to stick with the anti-human model of work we’ve accepted.

Because regardless of whether you think a 20-something year old needs sex to have a full life, if you admit that you can only make it fit if you strip it of intimacy and mutual recognition, the debate on the need for sex should pause while you figure out how to revamp your society and your life.

Can’t this be the culture war battle where we all fight on the same side?

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  • Hieronymous Anonymous

    I used to think as you do, that the economy might be structured in a manner that is hostile to familial life. But then I noticed that I was using the passive voice.

    Or, to quote a friend:

    “What if people aren’t addicted to constant communication because their work demands it, but because they crave the illusion of indispensability? We should remain open to the possibility that some people whose work is alienating and empty sustain themselves on feeling that someone out there needs them, needs their attention, and might reach out for it at any moment.”-

    • Alex Godofsky

      We should also remain open to the possibility that their work isn’t alienating and empty and that they get a lot of fulfillment from the true knowledge that someone out their needs them, needs their attention, and might reach out for it at any moment.

    • deiseach

      It may also be because one piece of advice about getting/keeping a job in tough economic times is “Make yourself indispensable. Have one thing you alone know how to do, or be the go-to person about something. They can’t fire you if they really need you.”

  • Hieronymous Anonymous

    Oh, and while I’m at it, this essay by my new favorite leftist, Rob Horning, covers a lot of the themes of this post:

  • Kevin

    I’ve thought for a while that the trend in our civilization is to get rid of every distinction, every norm, and every prohibition that is irrelevant to improving the performance of an investment bank.

    • Emily

      I just read Karen Ho’s book Liquidated on this topic, it’s really interesting! Interview with the author here for an idea what it’s about.

    • connorwood

      That is the most insightful thing I have read all day.

  • Nicola

    The notion that marriage will “derail education or career” drives me nuts. Certainly it imposes restrictions — you can’t as easily pick up and move to a new city for a new job if you have to worry about your spouse’s employability there, too — but are we really going to suggest that everything else in life should be sacrificed on the altar of Making A Buck?

    Well, yes, I suppose we are.

  • Katie

    The trouble with corporate jobs is that they’re holdovers from a time when work could be structured with the understanding that the employee has a full-time homemaker to take care of all his domestic and parenting responsibilities. That’s why more people don’t work from home than currently do, to take one obvious example. The only reason we talk about women specifically “having it all” is that we still understand them to be the primary homemakers and caregivers. (“Husbands should help more with the kids!” Ugh.) I can’t believe more people don’t point that out. The focus on the women in Rosin’s piece is similarly myopic in bizarrely treating women as by nature the gate-keepers of sex, or the ones whose desire for sex is strange and newfangled. (Men? They’ve always wanted that stuff, nothing new to see here, it doesn’t matter.) And WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN for relationships, which we previously understood to be the proper and primary context for sex to happen in, and which are obviously a woman’s job to seek and control.

    Annoying essentialism aside, I’m a little put off by the idea that hookups are somehow a pale imitation of or replacement for relationships, or that the two models are somehow in competition. I suspect the women who said they didn’t have time for boyfriends or intimacy in general were probably being asked leading questions. And anyway, how often are people hooking up again? Once per semester, on average? That’s a pretty pitiful way to get some supposedly raging sexual needs met. This is all backwards. The kids these days are having sex because why the hell not, and because it’s a relatively acceptable Thing to Do in college, alongside getting smashed and getting into all sorts of shenanigans. I say this as someone who is generally hostile to hook-up culture but not at all to casual sex in principle. College party culture as a whole is shallow and not terribly conducive to intimacy, sexual or otherwise. The kind of casual sex that (some) older adults have, between friends, or between people who have just met and a had a good time chatting in a bar, or on a first date that’s unlikely to be repeated, is much less shallow and far more comparable to other social activities that we’re not nearly so prickly about. Nobody thinks that talking or cuddling or watching a movie with someone you like but care about to some limited extent is exploitative or mutually exclusive with doing those things in a more emotionally weighty context.

    Except, obviously, people don’t expect exclusivity from their friends (monophily?). But the people with the time, maturity, and desire to be in and maintain serious, monogamous relationships aren’t the ones we’re talking about here.

    • Alex

      Great insights. I must say though, that I don’t see the contradiction between hookups and “meaningful” sex. Suppose that there existed a society in which the stigma against being a “slut” was non-existent and people occasionally had sex recreationally whether in the form of hookups or with friends. Would such a society produce less fulfilling relationships? I don’t think the answer is obvious. They serve different fuctions.

      • deiseach

        Alex, this isn’t about slut-shaming, this is about the perception that a human emotional need must come way down the list behind the necessity to get a good degree in order to get a good job in order to have a good career, and then at some unspecified later date, you can permit yourself to have a ‘proper’ or ‘real’ relationship.

        How are you going to do that, if you’ve spent ten-fifteen years carefully avoiding any emotional engagement and uprooting anything that might seem to be developing into something deeper than would be convenient? It would be like saying “Right, I’m ready to run a marathon!” when you haven’t even jogged all the way around the local track.

        • Alex

          You’re right, I didn’t read the post carefully enough. The problem isn’t that people are having casual sex, its that people are depriving themselves of having fulfilling relationships for fear of them “getting in the way”. Sorry about that.

    • Casual sex is qualitatively different than those other activities – we’re flooded with hormones during orgasm, and hard-wired to form an emotional bond with the one that causes it.

      Not to mention unintended pregnancies – oh, I know, that just means an abortion to rid her of the “inconvenience”. Again, the hormonal changes cause unintended emotional reactions.

      Oh, and STDs that can be treated to reduce duration, but are basically life-long – what a way to permanently change your plans! Maybe it will just lead to awkward conversation with new beaus; perhaps it will permanently damage fertility; maybe it will lead to cancer.

  • Emily

    I completely agree with this post. Careers do not have to be the highest calling in people’s lives, and many (probably most) careers are not actually incompatible with committing to a relationship in your 20s or 30s. Being in a relationship with someone who’s not at all willing to revise their future plans in order to make sure you can be part of them, but expects you to give up or drastically reduce your career opportunities to do so? Yes, that is a problem, and perhaps a commitment to that person is incompatible with a career – but not because commitment is bad. Because that person does not value your work or the idea of equality. Hookup culture is a red herring here – partnership is the real issue. It’s not like after becoming a powerful executive or something at age 39, your average woman is going to say, “whew, glad I did that,” and quit her job to marry someone who wants to move to Montana to ranch, or insists she stay home with the kids.

    The reason that companies don’t structure jobs in ways that are better for, you know, people who have lives beyond the office is that they don’t have to, unfortunately. Companies often don’t replace laid-off workers, just redistribute their workloads, saving on salary, benefits (especially health insurance), office space, and the equipment and transaction time of more people coordinating their work. (And most jobs don’t have the life and death consequences of medicine – which have only recently contributed to limitation of residents’ work hours – so it’s easy to ignore the studies that people’s productivity starts to fall off after a certain number of hours, which means long long days are not necessarily good for employers either.)

  • Alex Godofsky

    White House jobs are intense, but I’ll bet most of the jobs that need you “on call” all the time could be toned down. Instead of having people work 12-16 hours a day, why not just hire two people and have them each work nine hours? There are enough bright young things to staff these high intensity jobs at reasonable hours but a larger workforce.

    There are a number of problems with this perspective.

    First, just the fact that these jobs haven’t adopted your proposal is evidence that it doesn’t work as well as you suggest. We don’t need to appeal to any sort of strong-form theory of market efficiency to make this observation, just a bit of epistemological humility. It’s analogous to Chesterton’s fence.

    Second, I can immediately observe a few direct arguments for why it doesn’t work too well. These ‘high-powered’ consulting-ish jobs are very project- and client-oriented, and involve a LOT of what’s basically institutional memory in miniature. In my job as an actuary I’ve observed that it’s fairly expensive to bring a new person onto a client team because there are so many little details they have to learn. Client-consultant relationships are also extremely important – e.g. when a lawyer moves from one firm to another he frequently brings many of his clients with him. (In other industries this happens less because of non-compete agreements.)

    There’s also a huge amount of specialized learning involved in these jobs that can last for decades. People in these jobs are not interchangeable; they specialize and specialize and specialize beyond anything you could expect. The father of a friend of mine is a lawyer who specializes in a particular subset of US railroad law.

    Third, you assume that this sort of high-stress profession is basically bad for someone. You look at the benefits and the costs and weigh them in your mind and decide the people who choose these are making a mistake and have the wrong priorities. But you aren’t them, you can only do so much to get inside their heads and figure out how much those benefits are really worth to them. It’s not impossible to make a claim that someone’s actions are mistaken, or maybe even that their preferences are ‘wrong’, but it’s an argument you should make with (again) a lot of humility; doubly so because the people you’re criticizing are generally very intelligent and able to predict the consequences of their actions as well as you can.

    Fourth, you suggest that there is a bunch of surplus high-quality labor lying around that could be applied to these jobs. There isn’t. This kind of labor is very scarce, even during a recession.

    • leahlibresco

      1. Part of this shift is driven by tech change that means things can happen at any hour. Suddenly, you do need people at all hours. But the cultural shift has been slow (a turn up the heat on the frog thing). I don’t think businesses are optimizing their models, I think they’re making gradual shifts as the situation changes. Kludging, not reevaluating.

      I’m suspicious of the epistemological humility defense when there isn’t much experimentation. Hospitals still mostly don’t use checklists, and that’s inertia, not tradition fueled wisdom.

      2. I agree that there’s a lot of specialize learning for many of these jobs, but I also notice that there’s very little emphasis on training. Ideally you hire someone who was doing almost the exact same job previously, so they can hit the ground running. Why not hire people with the right skills and way of approaching ideas and then actually train them. This approach makes fields really sticky, since your experience is treated as less fungible than I expect it actually is.

      3. Yup! I am Normative McNormative-pants. When the tradeoff is “I can’t form deep relationships” I think there are really really few things you can put in the other bucket to balance the scales. (Super important cancer research, astronaut). Again, I’m not so sensitive to the humility objection because many of these people aren’t claiming they’ve made the tradeoff. They say they’ve given up “forming up deep relationships, right now” and then don’t seem so good at predicting the consequence of that action.

      4. I know way less about this.

      • Katie

        Tangent: Astronauts do super important work? I thought exploring space was all about joy and discovery and all manner of useless* things.

        *by the usual standards of people who make this sort of argument.

      • Alex Godofsky

        1. The medical profession is very slow-moving (my preferred explanations are extreme cartelization and regulation, but regardless of the cause the fact is obvious) but other professions are less so. Investment banking, for instance, is a rapidly evolving field. Even within my own field I see plenty of experimentation going on – we have some people who choose to work fewer hours and spend time with their family, etc. – but the dominant model remains despite plenty of available observations of alternatives.

        2. There is seemingly little emphasis on formal training but there’s an enormous amount of informal training. A lot of this is because the relevant information can’t be learned except through experience. As an example, it’s widely recognized within my field that an analyst may take an hour to spot an error that a senior consultant would see immediately because they just have a solid intuition (i.e. well-trained priors) about the normal proportions between different numbers. You can’t train that effectively.

        Training can also take a long time. A law student has already spent three years in law school. An actuary typically spends anywhere from 5-10 years after graduation becoming fully credentialed (which involves a lot of format study and testing). Even so, we see that this is only a fraction of their job-relevant human capital.

        re: “Ideally you hire someone who was doing almost the exact same job previously”, that’s usually impossible. That almost-exact-same-job often doesn’t exist. You hire someone who is vaguely similar and hope that they can pick it up as they go.

        3. That may be, but I asked our firm’s IT guy to put Outlook on my phone so I could get work emails wherever and if you steal that from me I will be very unhappy 😛

        • deiseach

          All of which is very true, but the real way you find out you’re not indispensable is when you’re dead (happened in my last place of work; one of the section heads died suddenly during the holidays and although everyone was shocked and grieved, there was a new hire and organisational life went on within a couple of weeks).

          If, God between us and all harm, you ended up in hospital seriously ill (never mind dropping dead) and were not available, you would find your work emails drastically dropping off and your firm would find someone else to do what you had been doing. They would not have to shut up shop in the morning. So then, betweenyour firm and your family, why do we think “I told you not to call me at work!” is acceptable, to the point that taking and making personal calls can be a reason for disciplinary action, but taking work calls at home at any hour is perfectly fine, even normal?

    • I don’t think you’ve hit on the main reason firms don’t just hire two people to do one person’s high-stress job at half the salary each.
      The main reason is fixed per worker costs. Health insurance, liability, HR expenses, management expenses, office expenses, unemployment insurance, and etc., mean that each employee costs something like $30k before they are even paid a dime. So if you have one worker who gets paid 80k, he actually costs 130k. If you split his job in half with two positions paid at $40k, the actual cost is $160k. The higher the salary the less this effect, but then some of the concerns you point out kick in. For someone worth that kind of money, even marginal differences in productivity tend to be magnified, so you’d probably prefer an only slight better worker to work longer hours rather than having him or her split time with his marginally less competent counterpart.

      • Alex Godofsky

        That explanation doesn’t actually work; it just suggests that the two replacement workers would get less than half his salary. If you want to tell a story like that it has to involve genuine (and very large) transaction costs or argue that workers don’t actually value the non-salary compensation (the evidence strongly indicates that this is not true).

    • Ted Seeber

      The only difference between low quality labor and high quality labor is a company that is willing to offer training.

      • Alex Godofsky

        That claim is absurd on its face. e.g. how many years of training do you think Google would have to supply to a randomly-selected 22-year-old to make them as productive as a freshly-minted CS graduate? What do you think the odds are that this training would fail and the randomly-selected person would never be as good at the job as the CS grad?

        • Ted Seeber

          I’m a software engineer myself- and given the usefulness of my degree to my current position after 16 years of experience I’d have to say about 3-6 months.

          MOST of a CS degree is utterly useless to what programmers do for a living. And for the type of programming Google has built their entire business on, which is basically just stupid GUI tricks and database stuff? You don’t exactly need an advanced degree with the pattern for iteratively calculating intregals under irregular shapes to store data.

          It took me 6 years to get my bachelor’s degree- and at least HALF the jobs I’ve had since then the guy who is my immediate superior has either an Associate’s or nothing.

          • Alex Godofsky

            I’m a software engineer myself- and given the usefulness of my degree to my current position after 16 years of experience I’d have to say about 3-6 months.

            Really? You could hire a random 22-year-old and train him to be as good as the average Google hire in six months? If so, why aren’t you doing that now? Given how much more the average Google hire earns annually, you could be rolling in dough. There are massive gains from trade you’re eschewing.

            MOST of a CS degree is utterly useless to what programmers do for a living.

            I’m well aware of this, since I one myself. I’m speaking to its virtue as a signal of ability, not as human capital development.

            And for the type of programming Google has built their entire business on, which is basically just stupid GUI tricks and database stuff? You don’t exactly need an advanced degree with the pattern for iteratively calculating intregals under irregular shapes to store data.

            Yeah, uh, no. Most of my college friends work at Google/MS/Facebook/etc. and I’ve seen plenty of the tech they work on. It’s covered by a small portion of the typical CS curriculum, but uses plenty of advanced math that most humans seem to be literally incapable of *ever* learning.

          • given the usefulness of my degree to my current position after 16 years of experience I’d have to say about 3-6 months.

            If this is really your experience, I’d say you had a very different college experience than I did. I’d say the typical engineering student could probably be trained in 2-3 years instead of 4. The typical liberal arts student would probably require more than 4 years, and may never be able to do most engineering jobs (just as many engineers could not succeed in certain liberal arts slanted jobs)

            MOST of a CS degree is utterly useless to what programmers do for a living.

            I suppose this depends on where you went to school, what degree you got, and when you got it. But this is most certainly not the case at every major school.

            And for the type of programming Google has built their entire business on, which is basically just stupid GUI tricks and database stuff?

            +1 to what Alex said here. This just isn’t true. Google brags that it’s harder to get into than Harvard (supposedly it has a lower acceptance rate per applicant). The majority of people who work at google are brilliant, and they’re working on and solving some of the worlds hardest problems. You cannot swap the typical google employee with a random citizen and get back the same results, no matter how well you train them.

            The focus on google here seems like a digression. The point is, talent is a real thing. Some people are naturally better than others at certain tasks, and there is not an infinite supply of them. Certainly you can improve your skills through training, but that doesn’t invalidate the concept of being good at something.

        • deiseach

          Example? Popcap Games, computer games manufacturer, bright shiny new industry of the type that is replacing traditional manufacturing, is laying off staff and contemplating shutting down its Dublin office (which isn’t that long open).

          Why? Shift in games platforms from PCs (practically the day of the dinosaur now) to consoles to mobile devices – if everyone can play on their smartphones, they don’t need to buy an X-box or whatever. So the expertise on creating and programming games for the Playstation 390 is now irrelevant, and they need people who can code for iBlackcurrants.

          Experience and training that got you a well-paying job last year is now so out-0f-date they won’t even transfer you to another site.

      • Alan

        What poetic nonsense. I’ve hired and trained a lot of people in my white collar profession (management consulting) and even after applying filters that should reduce the quality gap it is still clearly evident that some in the labor are higher quality and some are lower quality than the average in very material ways.

        • Ted Seeber

          MANAGEMENT CONSULTING? There’s actually quality in that field?

          Most of what I’ve seen management do is get in the way.

          • *facepalm*

          • Alan

            Yeah, yeah and if the world were run by engineers dotcoms would have actually been profitable.

    • deiseach

      “Instead of having people work 12-16 hours a day, why not just hire two people and have them each work nine hours? ”

      Because it’s too expensive (what with wages and taxes and social insurance etc.) for companies to o this, because being a successful company often means having a high share price and since share prices don’t depend on what you make but on profitability, by reducing overheads (and employees are overheads), you increase profitability and your share price goes up and your execs get their bonuses.

      One of my brothers has a good blue-collar job in a pharmaceutical plant (he would be considered unskilled labour, which is ironic, since he’s running expensive automated machinery on a continuous production line which means push the wrong button and you blow tens of thousands of euros’ worth of materials) but anyway – he works twelve hour shifts. The company tried running four eight-hour shifts but went back to three twelve-hour shifts instead, because it was cheaper.

      Never mind the fact that he works two days on, three days off, then three nights on, two off, and so forth in a pattern that has to be playing merry hob with his sleep patterns or that twelve hours is a blinkin’ long time to be on your feet. It’s cheaper. (This is also why I am very cynical about the line trotted out that “Our people are our best resource!” Yeah, that’s why it got changed from Personnel Department to Human Resources: your people are your resources the same way strip-mining is handling resources).

      And that is why businesses don’t, in the main, fix their hours to suit family life. I can’t help getting echoes of “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” from this piece.

  • Bo Tait

    “The trouble is, if that’s what you’re paring off, the freedom to that you’re preserving is pretty much just your freedom to work and advance”
    Come on, now. There’s more to life besides relationships and working.
    There’s also the freedom to explore. Whether its a new house, city, country, continent. Whenever you want, if you feel like making a big change, you have no one to consult but yourself.
    I moved to Asia after college and had a million adventures I wouldn’t have had if I jumped into work and relationship mode. The best part is, Im done with that now and I can now move into work and relationship mode and not because it’s expected of me, but because I actually want to.

    • deiseach

      Relationship mode? Can I purchase one of those modules too, so I can integrate it into my circuitry?

      Because I’m way past college-leaving age and I couldn’t sustain a relationship to save my life (one of the reasons I am single by choice).

      God sent you wit, child (and from my advanced years and the way you speak of being out of school a few years, I can call you that).

      • Bo Tait

        Lol I don’t mean it to be a flip of the switch that I’m suddenly good at long term relationships. More like I’m now open to the possibility of even having one. The same with work. Before, I could get a job somewhere and a year later just leave and go somewhere else without really having invested a ton into that place. Now I’m more open to a career and sticking with one company, or at least one industry. Doesn’t mean I’ll get it, but I’m not actively avoiding it any more.

  • Perhaps one of the most telling indicators of our society’s attitude towards having both a career and a family is that the US is one of few 1st world countries that doesn’t have laws requiring any paid maternity or paternity leave.

    On the topic of hook-up culture in particular, one of the more interesting recent studies I’ve come across is an Oxford UP book by Donna Freitas in which she finds that college students tend to overestimate their peers’ participation in—and enjoyment of—hook-up culture and privately admit to significant reservations.

    • R.C.

      Yes, but how to tell when one is a “first innovator” or “principled holdout,” and when one is a “last, benighted straggler?”

      A person with libertarian political leanings would tell you that:

      (a.) Since violence or the threat thereof is so bad, a person must meet a very high threshold of justification for threatening violence against someone;

      (b.) As a general rule, the moral justification for using/threatening violence diminishes rapidly with diminishing certainty and severity of someone taking action to forcibly deprive another person of their rights (including by fraud, which is intellectual forcing);

      (c.) A law requiring paid maternity/paternity leave is an instance of the people (through their representatives, the government) threatening violence against a business owner and their employee because, when they negotiated the employee’s compensation, they opted for a higher salary without set-asides for paid maternity instead of a lower salary with set-asides which might never be used; and,

      (d.) The outcome of a voluntary salary negotiation of this kind, provided it is indeed voluntary, is not, in fact, a violation of anyone’s rights through force or fraud, nor anything even close to it…and thus does not provide adequate moral justification for threatening the business owner with violence.

      So they’d hold that the United States’ policy in this regard is an example of a principled stand against the immoral use of (the threat of) force.

      • Alan

        Yes, and if they did all that while whining about our declining birth rate and women delaying becoming mothers, and forgoing it altogether they would be great examples of irony.

      • I’d take issue with a couple of the assumptions that your argument rests on: (1) What counts as violence and (2) the definition of “voluntary.”

        I think that people would be much more likely to concede points (A) and (B) if you are talking about threats of physical violence. The “violence” that you seem to be suggesting would be some sort of “economic violence” or “violence against contract law.” Whether this can even be justly framed as violence is a question all its own, but even if we do frame it as violence it is almost surely a lower degree of violence than direct physical violence—it does not interfere with things as fundamental as a person’s control over their body, mobility, etc.—and so would not need to meet as high of a threshold for its “moral justification.”

        In terms of “voluntarily” entering into a contract: obviously the employee did make a choice to enter into a contract with his or her employer. However, that choice was constrained by various factors—including, in the case of many employees, that they had no option between choosing a job with maternity/paternity benefits and choosing a job without them. In contrast, the employer did have the option to voluntarily provide or not provide those benefits. In other words, the voluntary nature of the agreement was fraught from the beginning.

        Not to mention, we already place plenty of checks on these voluntary agreements: you can’t pay someone below the minimum wage, you can’t take someone on as an indentured servant, etc.
        Indeed, if we conceded that no law could ever interfere (or could only interfere under the most egregious of circumstances) with the sanctity of an employment contract then it is unclear how labor and employment laws could be enacted at all since they’d all run the risk of undermining a pre-existent contract. Even laws that were meant to simply ensure the existence of “free play” of relationships between employers and employees—something that libertarians would, it seems, support—would be difficult to enforce. The situation would also make it terribly hard to repeal any pre-existent labor laws (including some that libertarians might well want to do away with) since that would risk doing away with pre-existent union contracts, for instance.

  • Lukas Halim

    Amen! This is why I am on such a frugality jag – it’s difficult to limit your working hours unless you are also limiting your spending.

  • “Auuugghh auugghhh augghhh, why do we structure jobs to destroy families?”
    Amen, Amen, Amen and Amen! THIS is why I don’t want more kids. I’m lonely at home ALL freakin’ day by myself with small kids who need naps and snacks and things. They need to be home, which means I need to be home, which means I’m ALONE. And this is broken, because I’m made to have babies and my kids need more siblings, but in this culture I literally CAN’T do it. I want my husband home more, I want to see other adults, but mom’s with babies all need to be in their own homes. How do we do this well? I see the problem, but I don’t see giving up on intimacy and family to seek at high power job as the answer. No thanks! I also don’t see “just don’t use birthcontrol” as the answer either. But our culture certainly isn’t working for families at the moment and I don’t think that is good.

    • Ted Seeber

      I think the best solution for that is what my wife did. We have only the one, wanted more, but a myriad of health issues is preventing it. Still, she made child raising her career. Today, she has our 9 year old son, a 3 year old, and a 2 year old, and she’s taking them on a field trip to Salem (about 40 miles away) to meet up with another home daycare worker and her kids.

      It means when I get home from my 40 hour workweek, even if all the kids are gone, I’m sitting down in a classroom to watch TV (and not just any classroom, but one converted from a living room with a fence around the fireplace, educational posters on the walls, and enough toys to make any kid who comes to visit want to stay). But it means she can stay home with our special needs son *and* bring in that extra money that makes it all work.

      That and it means our cable TV bill is a write off.

  • kenneth

    We’re in this state because the forces in our society which label themselves “family values” and “pro-life”, are, in fact pure social Darwinists. Their value system has done as much, or more, to commodify human life as the sexual revolution they accuse.

    Capitalism as it is construed today no longer even makes a pretense of the idea that it exists for the good of humanity. Humans exist solely to serve it and have zero inherent value apart from that. Your right to a decent standard of living, or even life itself, is wholly contingent on your perceived ability to “enhance shareholder value.” You’re a unit of production, and the second you slow down, or they find a cheaper replacement in Mumbai or somewhere, you’re in the discard pile. Our entire economy is structured on the idea of people as a non-renewable extractive resource or as cost centers and liabilities to be minimized in any way possible. Why are we the least bit surprised to see this reflected down to the relationship level?

  • I’m not keeping track of the girls who think my clever and amazingly gorgeous son is a possible roadblock to their professional success; I’m sure I don’t even know them. Perhaps they think he’ll still be around when they’re thirty and at last prepared to think about domesticity. He won’t be.

  • Women are slightly better off in that they recognize not having time for their children as a privation. Men also don’t have it all, but our culture doesn’t even tell them they’re missing out, so they may not realize they need to fight.

    I totally agree with you here. I am intruiged by the asymmetry in Rosin’s piece. It seems to me one of the biggest consequences of the sexual revolution that relationships have become much more symetrical- in a lot of ways, we’ve sacrificed differentiation (and division of labor benefits) for equality. You can make a case for this being good or bad, but it’s bizarre to me to argue that equality is better for one of the two sexes than the other. It seems like an inherently contradictory position to say women and men are equal, but also that “having it all” means different things to men and women.

    But I really want to challenge the idea that “having it all” is a coherent concept to begin with. There’s simply not enough time in the day to have it all. It’s impossible to do your best at work and do your best at home, since both of these things require all of your time and effort. Certainly you can try to balance the two, but I think people get themselves into trouble when they forget that balancing means getting a little bit less of each, rather than getting all of each. There’s a finite amount of time you have to work with, and in the end we all have to allocate it based on what we decide what we value (it seems to me very remeniscent of your recent discussion on charity giving). There’s no magical balance to find where you can spend all day at home with your kids and also be a fortune 500 CEO, and setting that as an expectation is a recipe for a culture full of diappointed and disillusioned people.

    Auuugghh auugghhh augghhh, why do we structure jobs to destroy families?

    I wanna challenge this too. From a purely economic perspective, we don’t. We structure them based on whatever is the most efficient allocation of resources. If we didn’t, someone else could come along and structure their jobs more efficiently than us, and they would win. That’s the whole point of capitalism- it’s evolutionarily optimizing for efficiency.

    The problem with capitalism is that it uses money as a stand in for value. We are equating what people are willing to spend on X with how much value X has. And it turns out people by and large aren’t willing to spend an extra 50 cents on their sneakers to make sure they weren’t made in sweat shops. The trouble with Capitalism is that it’s a really accurate depiction of what humans care about, and what humans care about is really depressing. We could start optimizing jobs for employees happiness, but that will ultimately cost the employer money. Who’s pocket is that coming out of? It turns out nobody is willing to pay for it. Employers would rather keep that money, and consumers would switch to another product if you passed the cost on to them. The only way to achieve the stated goal of benefitting families is to cost somebody money, and in a free market economy, no rational actor can take that hit and remain competetive.

    • Really well said, Jake, on both counts. You can’t have it all because, well, it’s simply not possible. Each of us is only one person, with a fixed amount of time and energy, and no amount of wishing there were more hours in the day or that you could be two places at once is going to change that. (Which is why I didn’t much like the Slaughter piece: it sounded like one big long whinge about wanting to have your cake and eat it too.)

      The trouble with Capitalism is that it’s a really accurate depiction of what humans care about, and what humans care about is really depressing. — I’ve never heard it put quite this way before and I like how concisely this sums up the problem. You’re right: it is accurate, and it is depressing. Which raises the question of why we care about depressing things, why we’ve substituted money for value, and whether we can change that. Are we socialized to it because that’s the culture we live in, or is it something innate to homo sapiens? Do you think this problem would vanish in a non-capitalist society? Could a non-capitalist society survive in world of capitalist societies, or would it require everyone to make this change? Is change even possible, or are we too far down the money=value road already?

      Colin Tudge wrote a great article called Feeding People is Easy that talks about this in the context of farming and food production:

      …the food chain we have now is not designed to feed people. In line with the modern cure-all—the allegedly free global market—it is designed to produce the maximum amount of cash in the shortest time…When cash rules, sound biology goes to the wall and common sense and humanity are for wimps.

  • L.W. Dickel

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Love me, admire me, adore me. But please, for the love of Zeus, stop with the dying for sins bullshit. It’s fucking outrageous and makes us all look like a bunch of goddamn Cro-Magnon lunatics!!”–Jesus Christ, the Lost Gospel

    • deiseach

      The first reference to religion in the entire discussion! L.W., are you a born-again? Is that why you insist on witnessing to us at every opportunity?

  • Mary

    You write beautifully, Leah, and make excellent arguments.

  • Argus

    People must not be afraid to love and have meaningful relationships.

  • Hibernia86

    I’m in favor of a person having the freedom to have long term relationships or hook up culture. But what I don’t like is how Hanna Rosin treats women who don’t commit to marriage as smart planners while culture treats men who don’t commit to marriage as irresponsible. Also, I dislike how when women were behind academically, it was treated as a crisis while now that men are behind academically they are ignored or mocked about it.