Re: Don't Answer That Phone

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Last week, I was trapped on an express train with a very loud subway preacher and was really annoyed by it until I realized the guy really did know his shit and was really scripturally grounded. I was rather impressed and kind of enjoyed it.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:00 AM
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Indeed, it is often difficult for people in my life to understand why I must give up so much in pursuit of my calling.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:03 AM
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I have more sympathy for the street preacher than I do for McCandless.

I think you're right that it's easier to process the extreme cases, because it's easier to justify cutting all contact off with them. The preacher guy was married and had a kid, and it's probably easier for her to have left him than it would have been if he's been trying to keep up some semblance of a normal life.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:04 AM
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What's great about Into the Wild?


Posted by: jake | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:17 AM
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4: the big dance numbers.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:17 AM
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Did someone say it was great? I did think Krakauer did a great job with the story, but the story might not be for everyone.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:18 AM
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Several summers ago I spent a few months solo camping in the Canadian Rockies. My girlfriend gave me a copy of Into The Wild to take on the trip.

I know she meant it as a cautionary tale, but I still think it's the most f'd up gift I've ever gotten.


Posted by: ptm | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:22 AM
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What did you eat?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:24 AM
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Or whom?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:24 AM
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Also did you have to cut your own hand off? Because then you could have eaten that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:25 AM
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Why are you lumping together living with the homeless and living in the Alaskan wilderness as forms of "dropping out of normal society"? Are the homeless not part of society? Are they just like Alaskan bears?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:27 AM
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My girlfriend gave me a copy of Into The Wild to take on the trip

My then, my ex-, my former?


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:27 AM
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Krakauer did a very good job of tracking down the story, but I'm not sure the portrait is as sympathetic in the end as he seems to want it to be.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:28 AM
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11: homeless people are bears, yes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:29 AM
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I haven't read the McCandless book but did see the movie the other day. It struck me that the simplest explanations were that he was 1) a prick, 2) insane, or 3) both. I'm leaning toward 3, although perhaps the book contains more data points.


Posted by: James Joyner | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:29 AM
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11: Because the guy is dropping out in a way that doesn't just mean that he's homeless. He's choosing to be homeless, and that choice isn't one that means he's buying into normal society.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:29 AM
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although perhaps the book contains more data points

It does. There were a couple of chapters where Krakauer digresses about other people who have gone into the wilderness, McCandless-style (including Krakauer himself, as a young man) and at first I was annoyed to be getting away from the story, but those chapters wound up complicating McCandless's story in helpful ways.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:32 AM
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Okay, wait. So the "Into the Wild" guy went off to Alaska and died, right? But he was a young single guy. Whereas the preacher was married with a kid?

And you guys think the Alaska guy is less sympathetic?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:33 AM
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I think Krakauer does a good job of letting people read into the story what they want. He is clearly sympathetic to McCandless (as well he should be, from the description in the book, Krakauer's escapades on the Devil's Thumb were possibly even more unhinged), but I think he does it with a light touch. What I find interesting is how everyone seems compelled to judgment on McCandless, which I think speaks to Ogged's larger point.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:34 AM
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total forgiveness for those who are "called."

I think part of it boils down to how charismatic and winning the person's personality is. When Grizzly Man dropped out and got eaten by bears, I thought the movie was great but the person annoying as hell.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:35 AM
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And you guys think the Alaska guy is less sympathetic?

He disappeared without telling his family that he planned to. Two years later, he turned up dead.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:36 AM
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Speaking of Krakauer, I finally read Under the Banner of Heaven last week. It was a pleasing diversion from the history of Napoleon's march on Moscow I've been slogging through. Verdict: it all seemed straightforward and familiar enough until the bit where he tries to pin the death of the Powell expedition men on the Mormons. Sure, it could've happened the way he suggested, but that whole chapter had the frenzied ass-covering and over-disputation of caveated evidence that reeks of late-night undergrad desparation. And then in the back of the book, he responds to an LDS spokesperson (whose attempts to "disqualify" Krakauer are laughably nitpicky) by feigning ignorance as to why anyone would think his book portrayed Mormons negatively. If he meant that, then he's far stupider than he appears.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:38 AM
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McCandless's experiences would have seemed much less extremist if, as generally happens, when he was done wandering around he'd gotten back into contact and become a normal adult. If he'd dropped of contact to go to a lot of punk clubs and dress all crazy-like and sleep with men or whatever, would people find it so wacky?

In other words, I sort of agree with B.

Yes, it feels weird.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:38 AM
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THIS IS YOUR POOP, MILLY!


Posted by: Timothy Treadwell | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:38 AM
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He's educated, profoundly idealistic and in love with the idea of rugged hard work and the wildness of Nature, but what struck me is that in his travels he keeps meeting people who recognize him as an intelligent young man who could be doing so many things with his life (they assume he didn't have parents or opportunities, funnily enough.)

Between that and the foolhardy mistakes, he would come across as sort of a prick, except that it seems he was a genuinely nice guy who maybe would have grown out of that phase.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:39 AM
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Okay, disappearing without telling people "I'm going to go to Alaska for a while and live off the land" is crappy. But it would be crappy even if he moved to New York without telling his family, non? And I mean, sympathy for the moms and all, but even so, making some kind of massively radical change when you have a young child, without discussing it with your partner and reaching some kind of acceptable compromise, is worse.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:39 AM
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18: Preacher guy at least is doing it for the benefit of his fellow human beings, misguided as it might be. McCandless guy wasn't.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:40 AM
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Between that and the foolhardy mistakes, he would come across as sort of a prick, except that it seems he was a genuinely nice guy who maybe would have grown out of that phase.

Right. He struck me as a very sensitive kid who never got over learning that his father had been something of a bigamist, which made him an extremely angry sensitive kid. Krakauer makes it sound as if McCandless is ready to come back to regular life after Alaska, although I wasn't totally convinced on that.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:42 AM
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27: I guess I'm just less sympathetic to preachers than people who accidentally off themselves.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:43 AM
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Also, I know the parts of California and Arizona he bums around in, and they are totally where I would go bum around if I were to ditch everything.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:43 AM
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But it would be crappy even if he moved to New York without telling his family, non?

Sure, although there are degrees. McCandless took some crazy risks, and Preacherman didn't just up and leave his family--he and his wife agreed that it wasn't going to work out.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:44 AM
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He disappeared without telling his family that he planned to. Two years later, he turned up dead.

In general, I'm slightly suspicious of people who claim that circumstances that the circumstances under which their loved one died compounded their grief.

I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but it seems like you all are saying, "McCandless's two-year unexplained absence makes his death much more awful for his family." Compared to what, a kid who tells his family where he's going and then dies? Isn't it the grief itself that is awful?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:47 AM
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Preacher guy at least is doing it for the benefit of his fellow human beings

Right, except for his wife and child.

31: Well yes, having read the Wikipedia article eabout McCandless, he took stupid risks (and was arrogant enough that he ignored the advice of an actual Alaskan that he at least needed a fucking compass). But I still think that responsibility to one's child pretty much trumps everything else, and "agreeing" to a divorce when you have a young child, just because you've decided you have some calling, is much more assholish than being a tragically romantic adolescent with possible mental illness.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:48 AM
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Yeah, I think the difference is that he and his ex split up before he took to the streets (after he started getting crazy); he didn't just disappear one day.

A friend of my sister has a sister whose marriage ended kind of like that: the guy decided after about three months of marriage that nearly everything about modern life was immoral: leather, eating meat, the small luxuries of middle class existence. And so one day he threw all of her stuff out while she was at work, and then told her she was going to be living this new, simple life as God intended.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:49 AM
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It's the two years of worry that's awful, not just the dying. They looked for him, hired a private detective, etc., and all the while he was trying not to be found.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:49 AM
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23: McCandless's experiences would have seemed much less extremist if, as generally happens, when he was done wandering around he'd gotten back into contact and become a normal adult.

Kind of my point on Krakauer himself, if he had died during one of his truly insane climbs, everyone could have legitiemately said WTF? With McCandless, he was not the one writing books about himself, his behavior may have been "prickish", but it was on a very small scale.

BTW, apparently Krakauer has a book on Pat Tillman due out this coming October. Timing will invariably lead to questions of politicization.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:49 AM
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If the idea of Into the Wild done as a social farce interests any of you, I can recommend T.C. Boyle's Drop City.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:49 AM
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32: Sorry, you're wrong. Two years of anxiety and worrying, followed by the news that your kid died of starvation, would be fucking awful. And yes, worse than a sudden fatal car accident (say). You'd have the agony of the death, but also the agony of "if I'd only know, if he'd only called, I should have gone looking for him, we should have gotten him into therapy...."


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:50 AM
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"agreeing" to a divorce when you have a young child, just because you've decided you have some calling, is much more assholish

Well, this is the issue, isn't it? Like I said, some people think the obligation trumps other things, and some people think the calling can't be denied.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:50 AM
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It's the two years of worry that's awful, not just the dying.

That's true, that would be excruciating.

Here's a different comparison: how does this kid's thoughtlessness differ from the kid who signs up for a tour in Iraq?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:52 AM
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I will say that, if you're going to rename yourself something self aggrandizing, "Alexander Supertramp" is a fucking stupid name to pick. I also found that MIT dude who cut his hand off super annoying. So, maybe my opinions on this are not perfectly clearly worked out.

But dude, he kayaked across the border on the fucking Colorado: that's badass!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:52 AM
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34: That's cool, if you don't have kids. It's the having kids part that violates my "no, you don't do that" line.

Of course, presumably he, too, was crazy, but still.

JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE CHILDREN, THEN YOU'LL UNDERSTAND.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:52 AM
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how does this kid's thoughtlessness differ from the kid who signs up for a tour in Iraq?

It's less socially approved, and therefore more likely to be a sign of mental illness and/or narcissism.

39: Agreed. People who think the calling trumps everything else simply shouldn't have kids.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:54 AM
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Hey, I have one: what if you're super-fundie and your kid disappears to go live an out gay life in San Francisco, and eventually dies of AIDS. Presumably your grief would, again, be much greater for all the reasons laid out in 38, right?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:55 AM
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40: Parents know where you are; you can talk to them; they can send you care packages; you're in danger but they know about it; there's an end in sight (end of the tour); you can show that you care about them.

42: But people with kids get divorced all the time for reasons that are far less than one person feeling like he has a calling. I don't see how, unless you're willing to argue that divorce itself is an absolute wrong, the reason he wanted a divorce is worse for feeling like he had a stronger reason to leave.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:57 AM
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43 continued: Which come to think of it, is really Catholic of me, isn't it?

Oh well. On some things the church's instincts are sound. (I'm not saying I agree with the whole priestly celibacy thing, only that the underlying principle* is a good one.)

*Not the principle of "married to the Church", which is stupid; I mean the principle that if one is truly called to serve god/one's fellow man, then having children is and should be a real limit on how far one can go.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 11:58 AM
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having children is and should be a real limit on how far one can go

Martin Luther King's children would like to disagree with you.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:00 PM
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Indeed, 46 applied, retroactively, as a general rule, would have dire implications for my current existence.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:01 PM
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I thought the annoying thing about Into the Wild - about the book itself, I mean - was that Krakauer presented it as a story that was supposed to have all this depth and meaning, and it didn't.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:01 PM
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49: yeah you could sum it up as "a kid did something dumb and it didn't work out". The specific details of things he did were neat, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:02 PM
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People who think the calling trumps everything else simply shouldn't have kids.

This is the same sort of argument made against divorce in the absence of abuse. Life's complicated.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:03 PM
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It's less socially approved

Right. I've been inclined to say that whether either of these people is an asshole is a matter to be judged by their respective families, and no one else: if preacher's guy's wife sadly agreed with him that it couldn't work, it's not for us to say that he's an asshole regardless. (It's not quite clear whether the wife does condemn him.)

But the Iraq tour of duty and the gay SF dropout examples suggest that the grounds for disapproval people are after here is not about the family's response, but about the degree to which the 'calling' in question is more widely socially approved.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:03 PM
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45.2: There's a difference between getting divorced because, say, your relationship has, for whatever reason, gotten to the point where staying together is just more painful for everyone involved than divorce; and getting divorced because you've up and decided in your own little head that there's something "more important" out there.

Sure, one could have a calling and discuss it with one's spouse and you both agree to support your following it, and following it leads inevitably to the relationship falling apart and hence divorce, but in that case you're dealing with human fallibility and the impossibility of knowing the future. Whereas deciding ahead of time, "I'm going to go do this," having your spouse say "I'm sorry, that's more than I can deal with," and saying, "okay, well, bye then" is about human assholishness.

I'm talking about the effects on the kid, though. If someone does that and they *don't* have a kid, hey, it's fine with me and kudos to him and his wife for both knowing ahead of time what their limitations are. But if you do have a child, and you know ahead of time what your limits are, then you accept and learn to live with them


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:03 PM
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47: Whatever. I think it is, in fact, true that saints should not have children.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:05 PM
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but about the degree to which the 'calling' in question is more widely socially approved.

Yup. Which I'm kind of OK with.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:06 PM
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So where does that end, B? If one were offered the opportunity to take a job with the potential to help many people every day, but it entailed a substantial drop in salary and concomitant drop in privileges allowed your kids -- including, let's say, pulling them out of well-regarded private school -- is that okay? What if your current job is something utterly worthless, from a social perspective?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:06 PM
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McCandless can't be compared to an adult. He was a f'cked up stupid kid who probably would have matured had he lived. The talk about how he worried his family so much? Is it fair to wonder how his parents may have failed him?


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:08 PM
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56: If it's a substantial drop in salary that's going to mean hardship for your family, you and your partner discuss it and make sure you're both willing to do what's necessary. If the kids are young, you figure out how to support them with the changes (for the most part, young children don't mind being not-rich in and of itself); if they're older, you discuss it with them, too, and help them accept the change.

Pulling them out of a "well-regarded private school" isn't a serious hardship, as such. Taking them away from their friends, of course, is. Denying them any education at all might be.

In any case, the point is that decent people don't go and make life-altering decisions without actually mulling them over with their partners, especially if they have children together. Duh.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:10 PM
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But dude, he kayaked across the border on the fucking Colorado: that's badass!

Sifu gets it exactly right.

Actually, ~50 comments in, and I don't think I have anything to add - I think Sifu, B, and ogged are all more or less right, and that

it seems he was a genuinely nice guy who maybe would have grown out of that phase.

is also right. One thing I thought very noteworthy about the story is that the universal presumption was that he had essentially died due solely to his own foolhardiness, but he actually died due to a flukey poison plant thing (obvs., he put himself in that situation, but it wasn't like he just got lost and died, or died from eating pretty red berries on a bush surrounded by bird carcasses). IOW, he was doing OK living by his wits; it just didn't work out.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:10 PM
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Hrm. This reminds me that I should update my "About Lizardbreath" page.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:10 PM
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53: To be fair, it's not clear he initiated the divorce; he was bringing home homeless people to sleep in their place, and his wife moved back East. Should she have stayed or learned to put up with it for the sake of the kid?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:10 PM
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Is it fair to wonder how his parents may have failed him?

No.

59: At least according to Wikipedia, the "poisonous plant" thing is bullshit; he died of starvation. (And really, 67 lbs at death? Even if he had eaten a poisonous plant, it would have been because he was starving.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:11 PM
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55: I'm not sure I am. I'm not sure why people are looking for grounds for disapproval in the first place. Preacher guy seems to be doing quite a good thing.

But I'm not wedded to arguing strenuously about it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:12 PM
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For the record, 59 was written without seeing 50. But 50 really reinforces 59.2.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:12 PM
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58: so there's no situation where you think it's okay for a parent to make a life-altering decision unless their partner is okay with it?

Going back to sexuality, I guess you're saying that coming out as gay late in life is inherently morally wrong, if you already have kids?

Decent people sometimes feel obliged to do things which the other people in their life don't want them to do, often quite strongly don't want them to do. Duh.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:12 PM
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Indeed, 46 applied, retroactively, as a general rule, would have dire implications for my current existence.

Despite what she may tell you, Sifu, your mother's no saint.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:13 PM
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I think it is, in fact, true that saints should not have children.

He wasn't a saint when he had his children. He was just a Baptist preacher.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:13 PM
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59: He did some pretty typically dumb things. Off he goes, without a map, or a compass, or proper boots, so he can live by his wits. Dude, we're social animals. Be witted and learn from others.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:13 PM
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In any case, the point is that decent people don't go and make life-altering decisions without actually mulling them over with their partners, especially if they have children together. Duh.

I think that the percentage of divorces that are a result of "mulling over" is substantially less than 100%. Often enough, one party makes the decision.

(Actually, it kind of seems like all decisions are individual. But I guess that's a slightly different issue.)


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:13 PM
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68: yeah I didn't mean "dumb" negatively, necessarily. I've done plenty of dumb things, many of them quite rewarding, and survived them. The above-referenced badass kayak trip was, objectively speaking, a really dumb idea. It was still badass.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:15 PM
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People who think the calling trumps everything else simply shouldn't have kids.

People who think their `calling' trumps everything else should probably endeavor not to do much of anything else --- works out best for all concerned.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:15 PM
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61: No, she shouldn't have; she should have made clear to him that this wasn't acceptable to her, and he should have stopped doing it. Or they should, together, have figured out a way to both provide shelter to homeless people and respect the wife's (presumed) safety and privacy concerns. E.g., did they own a house? Could he have converted the garage?

In any case, look, I didn't read the story. What you're saying sounds more like one of those divorces that sort of evolve, unintended, from people finding out after the fact that they can't live together. But presented as "he found he had a calling," it comes cross as, well, he decided X was more important. Which I think is assholish.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:15 PM
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At least according to Wikipedia, the "poisonous plant" thing is bullshit

I thought about checking that, but I like the story in my head better.

Also, Babe Ruth called his shot, dammit.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:16 PM
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55- Right. The guy tried to work out his calling with his family. It didn't work. Not unexpected as having homeless over on sleepovers is not everyone's thing.

The guy gives a few minutes of no-strings-attached, non medicated happiness to people otherwise considered trash. I'm ok with that.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:17 PM
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The above-referenced badass kayak trip

Theres a guy who kayaked california->hawaii. Crazy bastard (he did regret it).


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:17 PM
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he decided X was more important. Which I think is assholish.

Because you disagree with his judgment that X was more important. Parsimon's right: you can't separate this from the extent to which society's OK with the choice. Thinking about this a very little bit, I think that's the path that divorce actually traveled: unthinkable, doable but serious stigma, lots of people do it so not a big deal.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:19 PM
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57: He was a college graduate! Are you seriously saying 21 year olds aren't adults?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:19 PM
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IOW, he was doing OK living by his wits; it just didn't work out.

If I made a joke about accidentally getting one's feet wet and then screwing up by lighting a fire under a spruce tree, would anyone here get it?


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:20 PM
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67: Fair enough, and kudos to his wife for keeping the marriage together, nu?

I guess you're saying that coming out as gay late in life is inherently morally wrong, if you already have kids?

Bzzt, analogy ban.

I'm thinking that the general consensus here seems like it boils down to "McC was an asshole b/c he did something stupid, and preacher guy isn't, because he did something we think is nice." The effects on the families only seem to come in in McC's case, where "upsetting his family" seems to be a rationalization allowing us to say that doing something dumb is *morally* wrong.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:21 PM
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78: To Build a Reference.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:21 PM
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Spruce trees are kinda sticky and flammable aren't they?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:22 PM
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He did some pretty typically dumb things. Off he goes, without a map, or a compass, or proper boots, so he can live by his wits. Dude, we're social animals. Be witted and learn from others.

Oh, obviously. My point was that how we judge that stuff is contingent on his (for the sake of argument) flukey death. If he comes out of Alaska alive, then you shake your head, say "stupid, lucky kid," and that's it. But once he dies from his dumbness, it's a big morality tale.

It's like how every losing political campaign is "mismanaged;" sometimes, the other guy is just better (or circumstance is against you, or the election's stolen, or whatever). Rove made objectively stupid decisions in 2000, but his guy got into office anyway, so he's a genius.

McCandless did dumb stuff, and was immaturely cruel to his family, but he didn't have to die for his sins. Shit, if he gets jumped outside some bar in Montana and dies, it's still descended from his dumb and immature decisions, but he's no morality tale.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:22 PM
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Bzzt, analogy ban.

Well that was handy. It's not an analogy, B, you're proposing a general rule.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:22 PM
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77- I'd say he was a screwed-up young adult who hadn't yet developed the maturity to deal with major shit in his family.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:22 PM
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79: No, I think they both did stupid, morally questionable things with bad effects on their families, but in the latter case Preacherman's family at least knew what happened, and that at least what he chose to do benefited other people (as opposed to 'I walk into the wild without a compass')


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:24 PM
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78: Yes. God, I hated that ending.

80: Nice.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:24 PM
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Spruce trees are kinda sticky and flammable aren't they?

Not when they are full of snow that falls and dowses your fire.


Posted by: CJB | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:24 PM
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Ah, wrong story.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:25 PM
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Also, just so y'all know: the video of someone driving an ATV to the bus where McCandless died is not very interesting, despite its use as a reference in Wikipedia.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:28 PM
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I'd say he was a screwed-up young adult who hadn't yet developed the maturity to deal with major shit in his family.

What was the major shit?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:29 PM
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76: Sort of. You can't separate it from social norms inasmuch as it's reasonable to assume, upon marriage, that one's partner is not going to suddenly start inviting strangers to sleep in your house. Just like it's reasonable to assume that your partner isn't going to have sex with other people.

Now, I personally would say the latter assumption is kind of stupid, given what we know about the rates of infidelity (the rates of inviting the homeless to sleep in one's house being somewhat lower), and that therefore one would be *wise* to discuss the possibility of cheating before marriage to see how you each think you'd feel about it. But I think we'd all agree that, in general, person A is "in the right" if person B starts sleeping around, they discuss it, person B says they won't stop, and person A files for divorce.

And for what it's worth, if my husband had said up front that my sleeping around wasn't acceptable, and I did it anyway, and we got divorced, yes: I would be the asshole. If he decided *now* that he couldn't deal with it (having previously given his approval), and I said, "well, but I've actually got an established relationship with the boyfriend, and it would be cruel to him to just break it off on your say-so, having had your permission before we even started it", and therefore kept doing it anyway, and we got divorced--given that I have a young child--then yes, I would still be the asshole. (If we didn't have PK, then it would merely be sad.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:29 PM
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91: so changing your opinion about what is and isn't okay with you in a relationship, when you're in the relationship, by definition makes you an asshole, right?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:32 PM
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Sorry, 92 should include "if you have kids".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:32 PM
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85: That's cool. To me the major distinction is that one family involved the person-in-question's young child. If you're going to do something that has a bad effect on your family, I think "fucks up a child's life" trumps "benefits other people" on the badness scale, generally speaking.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:33 PM
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This thread reminds me a bit of: "The thing that really makes me feel much better about this is they died doing what they loved to do -- they were drinking, they were going fast and they were together," Lorie Flaherty said. "It gives me comfort, it does, to know those three things." (Which I think was discussed here, but I can't find it.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:34 PM
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92: Unilaterally? Yes. That's the difference between being "in a relationship" and "being single."


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:34 PM
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And at the same time, being rigid about a partner's changing, as people inevitably do, is also assholish. But what counts as "rigid" depends, for better or worse, on social norms.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:35 PM
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94: again, just trying to get my head around this: say you're a German family with a young child, and Jewish neighbors with a young child, and it's 1938. If you...

Nah, I won't go there. Later, later.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:36 PM
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94: If "fucks up a child's life" were an obstacle to action, no one would ever do anything, and I include recording Free To Be You and Me, which contributed to my lifelong issues with trust and intimacy.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:36 PM
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96: so if, for instance, you'd agreed before getting married that anal sex every night was a-okay, and you eventually just felt like, keep your damn dick out of my butt, I'm sick of it, if you were to insist on that, you would be an (untrammeled) asshole, yeah?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:37 PM
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99: Okay, "predictably" fucks up a child's life in some fairly major way, when you are that child's parent. Duh.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:37 PM
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what counts as "rigid" depends, for better or worse, on social norms

Ah. This is what I wanted to see. Comity!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:38 PM
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94: I think the strength of the calling is important here, too. I'm not giving the guy a pass because he thinks God wants him to preach, but something's moving him so strongly in a way that it doesn't seem likely that 'just stop doing it' would have lead to a happy home for the child.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:38 PM
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100, please see 97 and consider such things as "social norms," "good faith," and the related issues of whether or not some kinds of agreements ought to be entered into at all, and/or considered binding.

Also, interesting choice of analogy there.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:39 PM
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91: More than that--though that's a good point about initial assumptions--if a lot of people are doing it, it seems likely to me that society has made some efforts to ameliorate the bad consequences. If you had a kid and got divorced twenty years ago, you probably exposed your kid and others to more risk than if you were getting divorced today.

But I am, per Tweety, OK with various kinds of "growth" in a marriage. Nobody sticks to the terms of the initial deal.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:40 PM
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I think what we can learn from this is that people can't not be assholes.


Posted by: ed bowlinger | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:40 PM
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I actually think, by B's definition, a great many of the most important people in history, helping-people-wise, have been assholes. Which may well be true, but I still salute them for it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:41 PM
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103: Sure, but otoh, talk about rigid: it sounds like the wife's problem wasn't with the calling per se, but with his refusal to continue to respect her expectation that she'd have some say over who did and did not come into their home.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:42 PM
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I think 105 is exceedingly naive.

107, see previous remarks in re. saints and having children.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:43 PM
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104, please see 102. And obviously I chose that analogy for a specific reason, because you seemd to be making a frankly unsupportable blanket assertion and I wanted to point that out as clearly as possible. Now that you've backed off from blanket assertions, hey, no problem!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:43 PM
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If you had a kid and got divorced twenty years ago, you probably exposed your kid and others to more risk than if you were getting divorced today.

I think this is one of those times where you use "twenty years ago" as a unit of time to mean "twenty years ago from when I first started thinking about these things," because technically I don't think 1988 was all that different.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:43 PM
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109: people don't know they're going to be saints when they have children, is the point. What people are saying is that it has, in many cases, been a damn good thing they didn't let the fact that they already had children stop them.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:44 PM
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I think what we can learn from this is that people can't not be assholes.

At my last office job, one of my coworkers would send us* off to client meetings with a cheerful reminder, "Don't be a dick."

* OK, mostly me.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:45 PM
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This thread seems, on balance, unexpectedly hostile to the craving for extraordinary experience.

You can take the progressive/academic/feminist/whatnot out of the middle class, apparently, but you can't take the middle class out of the progressive/academic/feminist/whatnot.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:46 PM
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To really throw a wrench in things, Preacherman sounds like he took the part where people come up to Jesus and say 'I'd like to follow you, but, you know, my family' very seriously. That they rejected him would seem to have only reinforced what he thought was right.

114: Eh, McCandless could have had an extraordinary experience and written a letter once in a while.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:49 PM
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I haven't read much about either of these cases, but I see a qualitative difference between deciding you want to be divorced and deciding you are not going to be available to be a co-parent.

Lots and lots of people get divorced; at least that is between two adults. Deciding -- because you are dropping out of society and going to live among the homeless, or whatever -- that you are not going to be emotionally, physically or financially available to support your child(ren) is an adult wielding power over minors. And I'm basically sympathetic to B's arguments on this point (except 62.1).

I know secondhand of a man who decided that he wanted to keep his income below poverty level so as to be a war tax resister. It put tremendous strain on his family, and his wife finally left when they couldn't afford healthcare for their children. That to me speaks to B's point above -- not that parents can never choose difficult or unpopular paths for themselves and their children, but that for one parent to do it unilaterally is a generally dreadful idea.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:50 PM
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77 -- Do you know anyone who's 21?

There are levels of stupidity. No one, especially not the witless, should expect to be able to live by his wits in backwoods Alaska.

I didn't read the book, but saw the movie. Everywhere the kid went, people are bending over backwards to help him, and all he has to say is that humanity sucks.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:51 PM
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I think 105 is exceedingly naive.

Maybe. I'd need to see an argument about it, though. Nobody looks down on the child of divorces anymore, AFAICT. Nor are the parents assumed to be some sort of moral mutants. And I'd be surprised if schools aren't, for example, as accommodating as can be managed for the existence of one parent families, etc., just because of the sheer number.

I think this is one of those times where you use "twenty years ago" as a unit of time to mean "twenty years ago from when I first started thinking about these things," because technically I don't think 1988 was all that different.

Maybe. Once upon a time, there was a stigma attached to divorce. However many years ago that was.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:52 PM
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the craving for extraordinary experience

Others might say, "antisocial personality disorder."


Posted by: ed bowlinger | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:54 PM
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JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE CHILDREN, THEN YOU'LL UNDERSTAND.

I HAVE A CHILD AND I STILL THINK YOU'RE FULL OF SHIT.

(Not really, just way the hell too sure of your pronouncements. Families are complicated. Kids can handle pretty much anything with love and support, and they can get thoroughly fucked up in very "normal" settings. It's not the big stuff that makes you an asshole, it's all the accumulated little stuff.)


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:57 PM
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Others might say, "antisocial personality disorder."

"Disorder" seems unduly pejorative.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 12:58 PM
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It does seem like there's a somewhat bright dividing line between those who understand the appeal of getting the hell away from everybody, and those that mostly don't. Maybe, as a sympathizer with the former concept, I'm wrong about that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:00 PM
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people don't know they're going to be saints when they have children, is the point

But they do know that there are children, and that someone is going to have to take care of them. Ditching that responsibility is assholish.

114: Is the "craving for extraordinary experience" equally admirable when it's a craving for affairs, for drugs, for the ability to just pick up and leave at the drop of a hat? Or is it only "progressive" when it's, like, outdoorsy and shit? And who the fuck is taking care of your children while your "progressive" "academic" "extraordinary experience" is going on?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:01 PM
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I know two men now who, after some years of marriage and with young children, decided to become women. I'm sure it wasn't nearly as sudden as it seemed to the rest of us, and I hope they're happier now, but it sure has been hell on their wives and children. They're separated and divorced or divorcing now. I'm still not sure what I think about this--I support individual self-determination and all that, but the cost to others here is staggering.


Posted by: y | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:02 PM
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It does seem like there's a somewhat bright dividing line between those who understand the appeal of getting the hell away from everybody, and those that mostly don't.

I definitely understand the appeal. Still, the Into the Wild kid sure does sound like an irritating idiot.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:03 PM
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124 is illustrative of how complex this can be. Is seeking peace with yourself ultimately a selfish act, or does it allow you to be a better person to others?

114: Is the "craving for extraordinary experience" equally admirable when it's a craving for... drugs...?

Yes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:04 PM
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125: oh, I agree.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:04 PM
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Kids can handle pretty much anything with love and support,

True. It's just a little hard to be loving and supporting your children when you've decided that your "calling" is more important than providing that love and support. Or when you've dodged the question by deciding that your "calling" is more important than respecting your partner's reasonable limitations, thereby forcing a divorce.

and they can get thoroughly fucked up in very "normal" settings

Absolutely; I never said otherwise.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:05 PM
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I mean, "Alexander Supertramp": bleah! Krakauer seems like no prize, either. Edward Albee, on the other hand, makes the whole concept seem so appealing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:05 PM
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123 I buy.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:06 PM
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And who the fuck is taking care of your children while your "progressive" "academic" "extraordinary experience" is going on?

I think you should read this as agreement, Flippanter.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:06 PM
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123: I'd argue that asking whether the craving is admirable is evidence of a category mistake.

The "progressive/academic/feminist/whatnot" wasn't a reference to the cravers, whoever they are.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:07 PM
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128.1: Two well-functioning parents are better than one, but one well-functioning parent may be better than two that aren't, especially with support from extended family or friends.

I'm pretty much with you in how I live my own life, but in dealings with others I've come to think that "shit happens, deal" is about the only really useful general rule.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:10 PM
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craving for extraordinary experience

I don't have much faith in pure inner voices or whatever, myself. Live in a teepee, walk the earth, take amphetamines and do math-- but don't hold up a self-directed life as an ideal. Look, I hate people too, but giving in to that feeling is bad for my kid. Also, I'd be a lot more open to the possibility this idea has merit if I had ever actually met an adult who marched to an inner drummer that really had it together. Lots of young searchers, lots of charming flakes with admirable facets, but not much spine generally in my direct experience.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:10 PM
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The thing that bugged me deeply about Into the Wild was how privileged McCandless was by his gender. I guarantee you that Alexandra Supertramp would have been raped and murdered midway through her "extraordinary experience" of hitchhiking cross-country, riding the rails and confronting railroad bulls, illicit border crossings, and random manual labor jobs.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:10 PM
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135: maybe, maybe not. I know two girls that hitchhiked cross-country abord big rigs, filming the whole thing for a documentary, and nothing bad came of it. Certainly it would've been riskier, and that's a shame, but it's not like what he did was perfectly safe for a man, or perfectly impossible for a woman, your guarantees nonwithstanding.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:15 PM
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117 - I do. I deal with them all the time. And I think we do ourselves a real disservice in this country by our insistence that young people can't make their own decisions. And worse, that the definition of "young" keeps getting older and older.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:22 PM
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135, 136

Yeah, it's largely a matter of luck. I know a fairly small woman who traveled solo through the Middle East as a teenager without incident.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:23 PM
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I'm with F; we should ship everybody 21 and under to the Alaskan wilderness, armed with nothing but dreams and the vigor of (relative) youth.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:23 PM
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There were two of them, their participation in a project suggests that other people knew about their journey and perhaps their approximate whereabouts, and they were on big rigs, not rail cars. A solitary woman, who volunteers to all and sundry that she's on a voyage of discovery and out of communication with her family and friends, hopping on rail cars and wandering across the Mexican border? Toast.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:24 PM
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139

Oooh, that's tempting.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:24 PM
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139, further:

I understand the appeal of getting the hell away from everybody, but the appeal of getting everyone the hell away from me is far greater.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:26 PM
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140: I understand that you believe that to be the case. I agree it would be more dangerous. The idea that it would be certain death is, at least so far in this thread, unsupported by evidence.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:27 PM
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Also, I'd be a lot more open to the possibility this idea has merit if I had ever actually met an adult who marched to an inner drummer that really had it together.

You may well be defining "had it together" in such a way that no one who marches to a different drummer can possibly have it together.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:28 PM
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I mean, "Alexander Supertramp": bleah! Krakauer seems like no prize, either. Edward Albee, on the other hand, makes the whole concept seem so appealing.

You mean, Edward Abbey, right?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:29 PM
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I have known women who played somewhat that game, but it involved attaching themselves to a succession of male partners. One ended up being the elephant-rider in a circus (and girlfriend of the Mafiesque owner) for a season or two, and then lived in Baja California with a Mexican fisherman for awhile, and so on. Another ended up settling in Nepal as a hippie beggar.

Not exactly the same thing, but equally crazy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:30 PM
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145: good point. Although Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a fairly compelling argument for antisocial misanthropy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:31 PM
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139: Eh, they'd just all end up having sex with each other, and then getting eaten by grizzlies or mountain lions because they were too noisy to notice the predator approaching. Sure, it may seem tempting to wipe out the high school generation now, but then who would sloppily supervise the amusement park rides or wear our uncomfortably hot mascot costumes?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:31 PM
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143: I haven't seen any evidence that it would not be. No comparable cases have been cited.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:32 PM
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146: I know a woman who ran off with the circus! I think she was kind of following a dude, too; oh well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:32 PM
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149: so we agree to not believe what the other's saying, I guess?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:33 PM
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149: How is 139 substantially different?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:34 PM
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I think maybe you meant 136, F.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:35 PM
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Do you want more explication of 140?


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:36 PM
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Yes, either one.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:37 PM
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Since we're dealing in evidence free assertion that seems like it would be kind of pointless.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:38 PM
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Two well-functioning parents are better than one, but one well-functioning parent may be better than two that aren't, especially with support from extended family or friends.

Indeed. The point is that the parent who up and decides that X is more important than parenting is doing an assholish thing.

Re. the MLK example upthread, a better response than "saints shouldn't have kids" would have been to point out that, in fact, Coretta Scott King was fully supportive of what her husband was doing, and that therefore, as a couple, they made sure that their obligations to their children *and* their cause were met. If she'd said "hey, the house is getting bombed, the kids' lives are at risk, I want you to step back and let some young single guy take over," that would have been reasonable; if MLK had said, "too bad, my calling is more important," that would have been assholish.

It's to *both* their credits that that's not what happened. I don't think you (or I) can claim sainthood for MLK without acknowledging that that sainthood was *very much* a joint endeavor.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:38 PM
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132: If it's "middle class" to point out that someone has to be raising the kids (which by the way, it isn't--at least not exclusively), then good for the middle class.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:39 PM
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153: I think he meant #138, which is his own about a woman traveling alone in Egypt. That said, I don't think you have to modify Amber's claim that much--a young woman traveling alone would be judged to be much crazier than the Into the Wild guy, for the reasons she cites--to find broad agreement on it. I don't know how you'd show that such a woman would definitely come to a bad end, but the risks would, I think we all agree, be much, much greater.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:39 PM
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But hey, don't let me stop anybody.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:39 PM
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Agreed with 156. If it's not obvious to you why a single woman is more likely to be assaulted than a pair, I wouldn't know where to start.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:39 PM
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I once dated a girl whose father struck out on his own in his youth, but subsquently settled down and had a family.

I admired and slightly envied him for what he did. As a young man in post-war Germany, he had trained as a photographic technician. One day, he decided he would see the world. He took a Leica camera with him and departed on a freighter for South America. He lived as a semi-vagabond, never having a fixed address, and taking jobs as a photo lab technician (a distinctive and valuable skill in those days) whenever he needed to replenish his coffers. Five years later, he had made his way around the world, by way of Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East. He has the most amazing photo albums from his experience; lots of pictures of his gaunt young frame in exotic locales.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:40 PM
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I think that if your moral standard finds you sitting in judgement on Nelson Mandela and Gandhi and finding them both wanting, you probably need to, as the great woman said, "check your premises".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:40 PM
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159: I'm with you. I just don't think the fact that he got away with it for as long as he did is necessarily more a product of gender than luck, or that a woman necessarily couldn't do largely the same thing, with a proportionately greater amount of luck.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:41 PM
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144. Maybe, or maybe people who do their own thing without ostentation don't seem so unusual. One friend's mom made surrealist films and taught while keeping a household together. Perhaps it's a felt need to be somehow apart-- certainly a warning sign if it's advertised, and even if it's internalized, often a sign to pay attention to. Lots of people do something unusual; it's making a virtue of being apart, or even making a point of disdainfulness, something I'm certainly prone to, that seems off.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:44 PM
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I'm also mostly with dsquared. Sure, helping great numbers of people can be a pain in the ass to those close to you; I'd still be loath to call you an asshole for doing it. Your kids can feel free to call you an asshole, but hey, some things are transcendentally important.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:45 PM
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Apologies, I didn't see 138. I just came from Egypt, and she was very, very, very lucky. Certain death was an exaggeration for effect, but I don't think that the probability of a safe outcome is significant, especially if the travels go on as long as McCandless's.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:45 PM
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158: Isn't "someone has to raise the kids" a charge that feminists are supposed to be uncomfortable with, when used as a club to deter self-actualization?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:47 PM
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Mandela and Gandhi's families were both taken care of, as was King's. King took risks but in everyday life was an upper middle class professional.

I don't think that we should merge saints, heroes, and wild and crazy adventurers, though. Not everything is a "calling".

A woman I know raised three kids by two different adventurers who abandoned them. That's what romanticism gets you. She was conventionally nurturing and conventionally romantic, but not conventionally practical, and got predictably shafted. The kids turned out fine, though.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:47 PM
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Surely we are looking at a multivariable equation where how big a jerk you are for "changing your life" is a function of:

a) the stress you put on family members/friends/dependents
b) how dependent those people in fact are
c) how ultimately admirable the change is

All I see here is a different level of weighting on these variables, right? Surely comity is in the offing.

you can't take the middle class out of the progressive/academic/feminist/whatnot

An people say that like a bad thing. Bourgeois values are the source of almost everything good that has happened in human history.

I'd be a lot more open to the possibility this idea has merit if I had ever actually met an adult who marched to an inner drummer that really had it together. Lots of young searchers, lots of charming flakes with admirable facets, but not much spine generally in my direct experience.

My inclination is to say yes to this. But then I think of Paul Farmer, and wonder if I'm not just making excuses for seeking moral perfection in my own life...


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:47 PM
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163: Did either Gandhi or Mandela abandon their kids? I honestly don't know. If they did, then doing so was assholish.

In any case, I'd reply that if your moral standards find you excusing people for abandoning their children because they had more important things to do, then you, too, might want to do some re-examining.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:48 PM
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The point is that the parent who up and decides that X is more important than parenting is doing an assholish thing.

Maybe, if you find sorting human behavior into "assholish" and "not assholish" a useful exercise. And even then, a guy like Preacherman who decides that other people need him more than his family does may very well be right. Doesn't mean it's easy for the family, and that's not the way my mind works either, but it's a complicated old world out there.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:49 PM
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I don't think that we should merge saints, heroes, and wild and crazy adventurers, though. Not everything is a "calling".

Probably not. St. Alexander Ghanditramp!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:51 PM
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168: Feminists are also supposed to be uncomfortable with the assumption that men can find out, after having had kids, that they have something more important to take care of, especially when joined with the assumption that it's okay for them to do this since, after all, the kids will be fine with one good parent (who just happens to be mom, who luckily doesn't have anything more important to take care of).

In any case, there are certainly feminists who find my own bottom line about the importance of children--which bottom line, may I point out, expects both mothers *and* fathers to make young children their main priority--offensively "pro-natalist" (as at least one person has said). I think that those feminists are mostly young and/or childless.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:51 PM
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My inclination is to say yes to this. But then I think of Paul Farmer, and wonder if I'm not just making excuses for seeking moral perfection in my own life...

Yeah, that asshole has kids, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:52 PM
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Ghanditramp

Good/terrible name for a band.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:52 PM
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176: Celibate groupies?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:53 PM
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An people say that like a bad thing.

Middle class people say that like it's a bad thing. The poor want it, and rich couldn't give a fuck.

All I see here is a different level of weighting on these variables, right? Surely comity is in the offing.

Probably also the likelihood of change. Also, I think people are unclear about the nature and extent of the duties they owe kids. That seems like a particularly fraught area. Witness the mommy wars.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:53 PM
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Bourgeois values are the source of almost everything good that has happened in human history

There goes baa, spouting Marxist rhetoric again!

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground -- what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?

Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:54 PM
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I am somewhat in agreement with B here, for a change.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:55 PM
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that asshole has kids, though.

Dude, you buried the lead from that wikipedia section. Paul Farmer's brother is Sting! OMG!


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:55 PM
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He lived as a semi-vagabond, never having a fixed address, and taking jobs as a photo lab technician

One of the few moments that I have felt sympathetic to the Reagan White House was seeing this story about Mitch Deaver.

After graduation [Deaver] worked briefly as an IBM trainee salesman and served in the air force. Then he set off with a friend to go round the world, playing the piano to pay his way. He got as far as Australia, where he ran out of money in Sydney. He only got back to California because a San José nightclub prepaid his ticket for a six month contract.

(story found online here)

There's something negative about politicians hiring their friends for important positions, but there can be something positive about having people who's experiences are outside of those typical in the political class.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:56 PM
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Before someone sets up a strawman, however, let me preemptively knock it down by pointing out that my saying kids are the *main* priority does not mean that they are the *only* priority.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:56 PM
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A woman I know raised three kids by two different adventurers who abandoned them. That's what romanticism gets you. She was conventionally nurturing and conventionally romantic, but not conventionally practical, and got predictably shafted. The kids turned out fine, though.

Did she raise the kids to understand that their fathers were Off Following Their Dreams or that they were assholes? That kind of thing is likely to make a difference in how the kids turn out, too.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:57 PM
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181: fooled you!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:57 PM
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I haven't read the whole thread, but at least up to and including 58, I'm with B. I think it's totally self-indulgent to abandon one's own family in order to devote oneself to some supposedly higher or nobler cause.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:58 PM
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186: so Ghandi and Mandela were assholes?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:59 PM
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I also think Marx is right about the cash nexus driving out all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. That's how I felt about Mo Vaughn going to the Angels. But I don't blame the bourgoeisie per se.

people are unclear about the nature and extent of the duties they owe kids

Yeah, that may be what this debate is really about...


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:59 PM
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174: You remind me of this review in the TLS:

... But this relationship depends on the secular Left-liberals co-operating, by also making childhood a transcendental category. That they have done so has less to do with the welfare of children than with a restless search by these elites for a source of moral legitimacy to shore up their managerial foundations. For the dilemma of contemporary American elites is that, while their only real justification is that they form a class necessary to the terms of consumption - a combination of salesmen managing consumer demand and social workers managing the resulting social breakdown - in America this is an insufficient moral basis on which to rule. Elites are therefore pressed to find sources of purely moral legitimacy to supplement the practical ones. The list of categories of legitimation deployed, exhausted and then tossed aside is long: community, religion, rights, civil society and, more lately, virtue and shame - but among the most enduring and one of the few still potent is children.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 1:59 PM
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I think that if your moral standard finds you sitting in judgement on Nelson Mandela and Gandhi and finding them both wanting, you probably need to, as the great woman said, "check your premises".

the Buddha too:

He decided to give up his worldly life. He would not keep his wife, his child, his wealth, or his palace. He would become a holy man with no home. He would look for the answer to the problem of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

That is a pretty douchebag move, Siddharta.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:00 PM
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Did she raise the kids to understand that their fathers were Off Following Their Dreams or that they were assholes? That kind of thing is likely to make a difference in how the kids turn out, too.

How about Off Following Their Asshole Dreams?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:00 PM
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188: you mean Mo Vaughn the affordable housing developer?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:01 PM
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Mandela was absent in jail for a long period, but his kids were taken care of and his wife Winnie was a major independent force in SA politics. Gandhi was a celibate renunciate following a weird but standard Hindu pattern. His kids were all grown by 1920, five years after he returned to India from South Africa. In South Africa he was a British-educated professional and it would seem (no absolute verification) that his political activities there didn't cause his kids much harm.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:01 PM
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193: okay. Paul Farmer's the asshole, then.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:02 PM
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172: if you find sorting human behavior into "assholish" and "not assholish" a useful exercise.

Ha! Thank you! It is a peculiar exercise, the seeming desire to point to this, point to that (person or thing), and ask: Asshole? Approved of? yea or nay?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:02 PM
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Did she raise the kids to understand that their fathers were Off Following Their Dreams or that they were assholes?

Agreed that it's important for women whose ex-husbands are assholes to pretend otherwise to the children.

189: Meh. People have prioritized raising children over other shit since before the invention of "contemporary American elites," thankyouverymuch.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:02 PM
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174: You remind me of this review in the TLS:

... But this relationship depends on the secular Left-liberals co-operating, by also making childhood a transcendental category. That they have done so has less to do with the welfare of children than with a restless search by these elites for a source of moral legitimacy to shore up their managerial foundations. For the dilemma of contemporary American elites is that, while their only real justification is that they form a class necessary to the terms of consumption - a combination of salesmen managing consumer demand and social workers managing the resulting social breakdown - in America this is an insufficient moral basis on which to rule. Elites are therefore pressed to find sources of purely moral legitimacy to supplement the practical ones. The list of categories of legitimation deployed, exhausted and then tossed aside is long: community, religion, rights, civil society and, more lately, virtue and shame - but among the most enduring and one of the few still potent is children.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:02 PM
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so Ghandi and Mandela were assholes?

You can judge someone to have been an asshole and think that it is outweighed by or forgiveable because of some mitigating factor.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:03 PM
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That is a pretty douchebag move, Siddharta.

And don't even get me started on Jesus.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:03 PM
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198: well, sure, I agree. Blowing off raising your kids for (what turns out to be) no good reason: sucky! The actions of an asshole!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:04 PM
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Agreed that it's important for women whose ex-husbands are assholes to pretend otherwise to the children.

Pretending doesn't work very well. How about trying something a little more nuanced than "asshole"?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:05 PM
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I think that those feminists are mostly young and/or childless.

Breeder.

You can judge someone to have been an asshole and think that it is outweighed by or forgiveable because of some mitigating factor.

That's probably the best way to put it.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:05 PM
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That is a pretty douchebag move, Siddharta.

Not quite the same when it's an arranged marriage and he presumably had little part in the labor of childrearing to begin with, is it?

I do periodically think how little I would enjoy being married to someone who discovered suddenly that he was a saint, particularly in some way that involved renouncing me and our notional kids. "All very well for you, fancy SAINT MAN!" I would yell, and probably throw something.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:06 PM
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193: In which case, no, Gandhi is not an asshole, nor is Mandela, and it's important to acknowledge that Winnie probably did the lion's share of raising Nelson's kids and thereby making sure that theyk, as a couple, fulfilled a major shared moral responsibility.

195: Wasn't the issue of judgment kind of the point of the post? Surely it's as peculiar to object to people discussing the topic at hand as it is to actutally, well, discuss the topic at hand.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:06 PM
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This guy, for instance, was an asshole.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:06 PM
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To me "abandoning your kids" means leaving them in destitution, not failing to be physically present for them. Remember all that stuff about how the nuclear family isn't the only way to raise kids? Mandela's kids were raised in an effective matriarchy, for Christ's sake. And as I said above, Gandhi's kids were full-grown by 1920, when he was just starting his political career in India.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:06 PM
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Just to be clear, I blame Duquette, not Mo. Who is, in my opinion, a prince. The cash nexus in this case degraded not the loyalty of the worker, but the loyalty that should be felt by the owner. C.f., giving Varitek the extension. A good idea not simply because it was a defensible deal.

The list of categories of legitimation deployed, exhausted and then tossed aside is long: community, religion, rights, civil society and, more lately, virtue and shame - but among the most enduring and one of the few still potent is children.

Well this is just obviously true. It's explains why Spielbergs' remake of War of the Worlds sucks so much (with billions dead, it's hard to care if Dakota Fanning makes it back to Mommy in her Brownstone). But just because it's one of that last shared moral points doesn't mean it's not correctly shared. Ceteris paribus, if you abandon your kids you are a jerk. Surely no one disputes that. All that's being explored here is the weight of the exculpatory factors.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:08 PM
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204.1: Judgment can be a lot more nuanced and interesting than "asshole" vs. "not asshole."


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:09 PM
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Blowing off raising your kids for (what turns out to be) no good reason: sucky! The actions of an asshole!

Okay, but now you're the one expecting people to be able to predict the future, and basing your judgment on whether or not their endeavor turns out well.

That said, I still can't really conceive of a good reason to "blow off" raising your kids.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:09 PM
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Meh. People have prioritized raising children over other shit since before the invention of "contemporary American elites," thankyouverymuch.

Very few of those people have been among John Emerson's saints, heroes and crazy adventurers.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:10 PM
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We're stuck on men. What about Doris Lessing?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:10 PM
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it's totally self-indulgent to abandon one's own family in order to devote oneself to some supposedly higher or nobler cause
or one's family should be the most supportive of one's calling
for Tolstoy for example his wife should have built all the possibly necessary conditions for his work
instead of bugging him with petty grievances
or maybe she did and thanks to her his books were written


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:11 PM
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A friend of mine was stuck on Doris Lessing. That was the best glue ever!


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:13 PM
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What about Doris Lessing?

Or Sylvia Plath.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:14 PM
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Okay, but now you're the one expecting people to be able to predict the future, and basing your judgment on whether or not their endeavor turns out well.

No, and yes.

I can't think of a good reason to blow off raising your kids, either, but sometimes when people do it turns out to be a good thing, overall. Those people are, there for, laudable, even if some of the things they did, in isolation, would seem the actions of an asshole.

In summary, Mr. Patrick Harris is right in 208.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:15 PM
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It seems so extra galling to have your partner leave you for a career in saintliness. If they leave you for some caddish or even neutral reason, you can expect the world to sympathize with your lot. If they go traipsing off without so much as a by-your-leave to be wonderful and lifesaving and glorious, who cares about the tiny trouble it causes you? They're so admirable! You must be so proud! Certainly the children are. I imagine I would eat my own liver in gnashing, furious frustration.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:15 PM
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"abandoning your kids" means leaving them in destitution, not failing to be physically present for them. Remember all that stuff about how the nuclear family isn't the only way to raise kids?

Nah. Leaving young children who have grown fond of you is very hard on them, even if you pay child support and/or visit on weekends. No, not everyone who does that is an asshole, and yes, the nuclear family is problematic not least because when relationships fall apart the kids suddenly lose 50% of their primary social support system.

Pointing out that Mandela's kids were raised in a matriarchy, or that the Buddha's kids were conceived in an arranged marriage where, after all, childrearing was exclusively the job of the women, doesn't (you know) completely solve the problem. Yes, it means that it is (presumably) possible for men who live in a society that accepts and enforces pretty rigid gender roles under which children = women's job to not see their children as a priority without damaging the kids. (Except possibly if they don't provide material support, as John says.) In a society like ours, where we believe--I assume--that children depend on their parents, period*, that's not the case.

*Regardless of the number or sex of said parents.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:15 PM
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You may have noticed that I'm rather selfish.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:15 PM
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216: true, true. It must be deeply irritating.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:16 PM
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207: A very apt citation, as a friend of mine remarked after seeking Crystal Skull this weekend, considering that Spielberg is less an artist than a politician nowadays: he has constituencies to pander to, ruffled sensitivities to soothe, specious moral authority to maintain and, in the oft-delayed Lincoln biopic, the equivalent of a fanservice presidential run.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:18 PM
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Very few of those people have been among John Emerson's saints, heroes and crazy adventurers.

Yeah, so?

sometimes when people do it turns out to be a good thing, overall. Those people are, there for, laudable, even if some of the things they did, in isolation, would seem the actions of an asshole.

And the converse: yes, they're laudable *for the good that they've done*. That doesn't mean that the bad things they've done weren't bad. Assholish, even.



Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:18 PM
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Tolstoi is a hero for me not because of his novels, not because of his pacifism, not because of his vegetarianism or his celibacy, but because he neglected his teeth and had them all pulled.

If he didn't really do that, don't tell me about it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:19 PM
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And the converse: yes, they're laudable *for the good that they've done*. That doesn't mean that the bad things they've done weren't bad. Assholish, even.

And yet, in retrospect, we can be very glad they did them, and would be poorer for it if they hadn't, out of fear of being assholes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:19 PM
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who cares about the tiny trouble it causes you? They're so admirable! You must be so proud!

The world wouldn't say that at all.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:20 PM
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Both Gandhi and Mandela lived in societies remarkably different than ours. Whole nations of children have grown up generation after generation for centuries without intimate relations with their fathers.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:21 PM
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Buddha contributed by naming his son. Obstacle.

How have Lucien Freud's kids turned out? He seems like an interesting special case that's orthogonal to the hero-saint to selfish bum axis. Also, at the risk of trivializing, interest in ideals is usually high for young people, usually low for the middle-aged. Intergenerational exchange of generalizations is unlikely to work well without a lubricant, beer or prayer or something.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:22 PM
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218: That's okay, you're allowed. As long as Snarkout's taking care of the kids, of course.
.........
Lessing and Plath: interesting counterexamples. I actually don't know Lessing's biography well enough to say. Plath, though, committed suicide, no? Hardly a case of choosing a calling over one's kids, I would say. Also, I think that of the two of them, Ted Hughes was less involved with the kids early on. (Though maybe that's just pro-Plath propaganda, I dunno.) In any case, sure, I'm willing to say that Plath's and Hughes' neglect of their kids was assholish, though I think judgment has to be ameliorated with the knowledge that Plath was surely severely depressed. (And I'll point out that way upthread, I said that maybe preacher guy is mentally ill, too, by way of concession.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:22 PM
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222: Are you creating a "Toothless Hall of Fame"?
George Washington?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:23 PM
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223: And yet, in retrospect, we can be very glad they did them, and would be poorer for it if they hadn't, out of fear of being assholes.

Of course, the thrill of calling other people assholes is all the consolation that some people are likely to get for their thwarted ambitions and abandoned principles.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:23 PM
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The world wouldn't say that at all.

You don't think? Wouldn't you would find yourself reading glowing accounts of their wonderfulness in newspapers and so on, where you and the kids were mentioned as an afterthought? I think so. I'm speaking here of genuine, massive-level good works. Your friends of course would pat your hands and recognize that it was hard for you, but it seems like you would be confronted with a lot of people who gushed about the partner's wonderfulness. The who cares about you part would go unspoken.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:23 PM
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223: *We* can be glad, yes. Their kids, possibly not. And surely a fairly important basic quality of most saints is not being overly worried about looking like assholes.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:24 PM
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the thrill of calling other people assholes is all the consolation that some people are likely to get for their thwarted ambitions and abandoned principles

Excuse me?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:25 PM
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231: fair enough. Anybody in this thread who will cure cancer sometime in the future: it doesn't matter what B thinks of you!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:26 PM
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I said that maybe preacher guy is mentally ill, too, by way of concession.

Why? Because he chooses to live with and help homeless people?


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:27 PM
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Read, for example, would say that she hoped I didn't nag Partner Saint and distract him from his great works.

I recognize this is all an antifantasy. I'm bemused to discover that through my cranky girlhood I managed to build up such a detailed, fervently pre-irritated version of it, though.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:28 PM
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A lot of the real-world neglect and abandonment of children comes from ambitious professionals and businessmen with no transcendent goal. In most cases they provide materially for their kids, but not always. (E.G., my sociopath brother in law).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:28 PM
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Paul Farmer, whose wife, in her single cameo appearance in Mountains Beyond Mountains, dropped a pot in the kitchen in shock at overhearing that he was to spend less than 24 hours with her and their young daughter before leaving on his next trip. (Really. She overhears it. Tracy Kidder doesn't even portray that Farmer told her himself.)

People can do heroic things for human society and be lousy, lousy partners and parents. This is not news and I imagine everyone here would agree with it.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:29 PM
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Well, sure, for those who only knew the person in question not the family left behind.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:30 PM
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235: thank goodness snark had no such elaborate fantasy, so that when you embark on your transformative, world-historical odyssey, he will stand nobly by your side without a second thought.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:30 PM
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In this society we accept people putting their kids in second place for many reasons, most of which fall far short of saintliness. For instance, all the divorces that happen because adults are simply romantically unfulfilled and unhappy in their marriage. Widely accepted, normative even, but not too helpful for the kids.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:30 PM
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People can do heroic things for human society and be lousy, lousy partners and parents. This is not news and I imagine everyone here would agree with it.

Yup.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:31 PM
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237: yeah, by all accounts Farmer really is a lousy partner and parent, in addition to being a huge pain in the ass to work with.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:31 PM
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204.2: Wasn't the issue of judgment kind of the point of the post? Surely it's as peculiar to object to people discussing the topic at hand as it is to actutally, well, discuss the topic at hand.

I am discussing the topic at hand (well, to the extent that I'm making a comment here and there): I'm saying that feeling the need to decide whether you approve or disapprove of any given thing in each and every case is excessive. But the point's been made, no need for repetition.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:31 PM
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234: Yes. I am saying that anyone who chooses to help homeless people must be crazy.

236: I bet if you asked them, though, they'd say that their ambition is indeed a transcendent goal.

237: Exactly. Although apparently everyone here doesn't agree with it, which I think is bizarre.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:31 PM
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241: What, if anything, does that tell us about the importance of partnering and parenting?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:32 PM
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In most cases they provide materially for their kids

And often enough, that's enough, though not always.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:33 PM
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235: thank goodness snark had no such elaborate fantasy, so that when you embark on your transformative, world-historical odyssey, he will stand nobly by your side without a second thought.

I know, it's totally awesome.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:34 PM
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237 is correct. The idea that your religious calling to minister to the homeless is important enough to leave your wife and kid might make you a pretty lousy husband & father and a pretty great minister to the homeless.

I was reading a bio of King recently, and thinking, "boy, am I glad I wasn't married to him"--not even so much the getting shot, which was obviously involuntary, or the sexual stuff, which I had some inkling about, but the "always being off at some speaking engagement while his wife gives birth" sort of thing. (Though thanks to 226 I see he was still much better about it than Buddha.).

I think b is setting people on edge by saying most divorces are matters of painful circumstance rather than choice, but THIS guy is a self-indulgent asshole for deciding that anything trumps his family. But in fact many, many couples who divorce aren't acting out of sheer necessity, and even if the divorce is psychologically necessary there will usually be subsequent actions involving the children that weren't so much.

And b, you aren't saying "lousy husband and father," which seems inarguable; you're saying "lousy person," and that's why people are arguing back.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:35 PM
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Yes. I am saying that anyone who chooses to help homeless people must be crazy.

Snipe if you'd like, but I don't see any evidence of mental illness from the article.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:37 PM
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And b, you aren't saying "lousy husband and father," which seems inarguable; you're saying "lousy person," and that's why people are arguing back.

This is my reading of B's position as well.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:38 PM
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196

"Agreed that it's important for women whose ex-husbands are assholes to pretend otherwise to the children."

And if their husbands died in a stupid war they should pretend it was a noble cause for the sake of the children? I am not convinced.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:39 PM
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244 B: It's not for them to say. Subjectivist relativism! Foul!

People who have kids they can't support and aren't interested in, e.g. Paul Farmer, are prime targets of the no-relationship policy. Apparently the guy felt obligated to be married and have kids, but no to play any part in their lives, and felt no obligation to his wife except financial support, and no affection.

In his wiki picture he looks very rigid and cruel.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:39 PM
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230- Oh, ok, I'll go with that.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:39 PM
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What, if anything, does that tell us about the importance of partnering and parenting?

That different individuals assess it differently.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:40 PM
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253: Woo!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:40 PM
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245: It tells us nothing, unless we're inclined to think that life is some kind of zero-sum game.

248: I didn't say "lousy person". I did say "asshole," and I said from the very beginning that this was (1) based on what I knew about the story, which is very little; (2) my opinion; (3) possibly wrong, depending on the circumstances of the situation which I don't know. Not quite from the beginning, but certainly fairly early on, I also said that (4) Cala's comments suggested that the divorce was more an evolving decision than an ultimatum; and that (5) there's a difference between divorces that are the result of human fallibility and divorces that are the result of one person deciding that they need to "find themself" or "follow their calling", etc.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:40 PM
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But look, surely abandoning your kids is prima facie evidence of being a lousy person. It's not decisive, and their can be mitigating factors, but it's a good general rule. Is the argument that no such general rules can exist?


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:42 PM
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It is a peculiar exercise, the seeming desire to point to this, point to that (person or thing), and ask: Asshole? Approved of? yea or nay?

Precisely. But without it, the entire vast electronic village would collapse. We have to depend on our assumed intimate relationship with total strangers to replace the sense of connection and agency we once had in face to face communities. Judging others is so satisfying.

in fact many, many couples who divorce aren't acting out of sheer necessity,

Self-evidently true in one sense. But in another, aren't we all trained to regard maximizing our own individual happiness as a great and central necessity?

Also, the link in 197 is terrific.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:42 PM
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Matthew 10:34 et seq.:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:43 PM
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there's a difference between divorces that are the result of human fallibility and divorces that are the result of one person deciding that they need to "find themself" or "follow their calling", etc.

And we tell these things apart how?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:43 PM
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249: Then, if he's not mentally ill, deciding that taking homeless people into his house is more important than living with his wife and daughter strikes me as kind of assholish, yes.

251: Strawman, analogy. But for the sake of snark, no: they should say to the kids, "Daddy died uselessly because he was stupid enough to be a soldier." I'm sure that will be a great comfort to everyone, and a first-rate example of excellent parenting.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:43 PM
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there's a difference between divorces that are the result of human fallibility and divorces that are the result of one person deciding that they need to "find themself" or "follow their calling", etc.

I think a fair bit of the disagreement comes from here. It seems pretty hard for me to see how a need to find oneself, suddenly, wouldn't fall under the rubric human failabilty, for example.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:44 PM
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260: Generally, we can't. However, this is an internet comment thread, based on a post that made some initial judgments that a lot of people agreed with, and I didn't, so a discussion ensued.

Now I have to go because I need to pick up my child. I'll preen myself on not being an asshole as a way of consoling myself for my thwarted ambitions and abandoned principles while I'm gone, shall I?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:45 PM
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But look, surely abandoning your kids is prima facie evidence of being a lousy person. It's not decisive, and their can be mitigating factors, but it's a good general rule. Is the argument that no such general rules can exist?

I think we've been trying to generalize away from the two specific instances in the post, and I think we've said that general rules exist, but that there are varying degrees to which one can be said to have "abandoned" one's kids.

I think, though, that "In general, don't abandon your kids" is a pretty good rule.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:45 PM
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I read the book ages ago, and watched the movie on Sunday. Technically, I thought Penn did a very good job with it. He obviously loved his subject. For a while, I thought he would end up with a very nice comparison between McCandless's journey and death. The journey was filled with joy and, relatedly, companionship; the death was stupid, ugly, and in complete isolation. I thought this was where Penn was going, until the very end, when he left open the idea that maybe at the very moment of death McCandless realized the truth he sought all along. What that truth is, however, is left ambiguous, which I think is kind of cop-out, but one I at least understand.


Posted by: Brad | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:47 PM
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It is a peculiar exercise, the seeming desire to point to this, point to that (person or thing), and ask: Asshole? Approved of? yea or nay?

Sure, if by "peculiar," you mean "consumerist."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:47 PM
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Then, if he's not mentally ill, deciding that taking homeless people into his house is more important than living with his wife and daughter strikes me as kind of assholish, yes.

So if the APA decided to add religious callings to the next edition of the DSM it would be OK?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:49 PM
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I'll preen myself on not being an asshole as a way of consoling myself for my thwarted ambitions and abandoned principles while I'm gone, shall I?

There are many mansions in the house of the Lord.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:51 PM
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"(5) there's a difference between divorces that are the result of human fallibility and divorces that are the result of one person deciding that they need to "find themself" or "follow their calling", etc"

You pretty much have contempt for the idea that a religious-type calling might be real--psychologically real, if nothing else--or anything other than self aggrandizement, self indulgence, etc. I agree, that if you are going to voluntarily be homeless for religious reasons, you shouldn't get married to someone who expects a normal life & have a kid with them. Similarly, if you are gay, you shouldn't get married to someone of the opposite sex & have a kid with them. But that doesn't mean that the best remedy for that is to remain in the marriage. Religious identification and conviction were traditionally considered strong forces, to be respected--that's why it's considered such a fundamental liberty. I haven't actually experienced religious conviction or anything resembling a calling, but that doesn't mean the people who describe it are faking it & being self indulgent & deserve scorn and square quotes. Some are, some aren't.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:52 PM
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Actually, didn't Nick Hornby write a book about this very topic (How To Be Good)? I'm pretty sure the conclusion of that novel was, yes: asshole.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:52 PM
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Don't know about Gandhi, but it's pretty clear that both Mrs. Mandela and Mrs. King were political partners with their husbands, and not victims who had been expecting a normal married life.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:53 PM
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No comparable cases have been cited.

I knew a woman whose situation was comparable. She hitched from the East Coast up to Alaska by herself and wandered around there, unarmed and extremely hott. Then again, I also knew a woman who spent a year backpacking around the world and was hitching back home to SF when she was picked up and murdered by a serial killer in Nevada.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:54 PM
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Wow, teach me to post without reading the thread. Beyond pwned.

I loved "Into the Wild", but there's no question McCandless was cruel to his parents. Does any of this really matter, though? In the absence of authoritarian enforcement of duties, we have all the disembodied hordes judging "asshole", but who really cares?

People can live for lots of things and all of us end up selling something or someone short.

It would suck if you were his parents, though, no question about that. They for sure get to call him an asshole, but it seems they'd prefer to remember him for the good things.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:54 PM
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269 was me.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:54 PM
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270: Yes, but that conclusion applied to Nick Hornby, if I recall the reviews correctly.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:54 PM
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Orwell took on this question head-on in his Reflections On Gandhi.
"The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid."

The conflict in the thread above comes from trying to measure "goodness" on a linear scale - is Preacherman "better" than a devoted father? "Worse?" The answer is that he's worse at fathering and better at comforting the afflicted.


Posted by: freight train | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:55 PM
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Also, in 269, "square quotes" should be "scare quotes".


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:57 PM
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So I do think I'm with BPhd - Preacherman sounds kind of assholish. It's just that his assholeishness doesn't invalidate or interfere with his good works. They're different issues.


Posted by: freight train | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:58 PM
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A specific factor in the case of Gandhi is that his sort of renunciation was a normal role in India. You can count this as Hindu sexism or something, but it was fairly mainstream behavior where he was.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:59 PM
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One of the many excellent aspects of Hillary Mantel's excellent novel A Change of Climate is a subtle and nuanced exploration of what it means to be the "better" person in the balance of doing good on a social vs. a domestic level. It's all in the context of a really brilliant and sympathetic depiction of how two (good) people deal with having something quite quite horrible happen to them, as well. So, so good.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 2:59 PM
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It's just that his assholeishness doesn't invalidate or interfere with his good works.

Of what significance, then, is the judgment of assholiness? If Manic Street Preacher is not so much an asshole as entirely to invalidate his good works, what is the point of calling him an asshole? Except to help us feel superior to him in some respect?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:02 PM
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square quotes can also be called guillemets. Assez des virgules deja.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:02 PM
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281: The significance of the judgment of assholiness is that Preacherman's a good saint but (arguably - I of course don't know enough about his private life to say) a crappy person or husband. These are different realms and neither realm validates or invalidates the other. Which realm we judge him on depends on what we're trying to figure out. Some people are assholes but accomplish good things. That doesn't invalidate either their assholiness or their good works, but it's important to understand if we're to understand what human beings are.


Posted by: freight train | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:09 PM
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283: But we're pretty much all assholes in one way or another, which makes that sort of analysis a bit limiting.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:12 PM
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Judging others is so satisfying

This reminds me of this bit from a New Yorker article about David Mamet:

"He and the interviewer realized that they shared the most happy bond: a prejudice."


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:15 PM
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I think I'm with Flip, now. #283 seems like a dodge. The post was, at base, about how we balance competing interests. Noting that the interests are not the same is trivial.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:15 PM
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I've been agreeing with BPhD pretty much throughout the thread, but this:
Agreed that it's important for women whose ex-husbands are assholes to pretend otherwise to the children.
is just plain wrong. If Daddy's an asshole who abandons his responsibilities to his kids they damn well better know about it. Making up some kind of shit so that the kid has to cast around for reasons other than the correct one not only leaves them confused, it invites the kind of self-blame that leads to years of self destructive behavior. In addition, if asshole dad (or mom) suddenly decides to show up again, the kid needs to be ready to deal with the reality that the person they are dealing with was at one time a complete shithead and may well still be a complete shithead. This isn't like pretending there's a Santa Claus - there's no danger Saint Nick will suddenly show up in the kids life and turn out to be a sociopathic manipulator who delights in hurting vulnerable people, because Santa isn't real. Asshole dad, on the other hand, is real and can cause serious harm.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:21 PM
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I laugh - I was going to quote from "Reflections on Gandhi" too. Still will, since my chosen passage overlaps with the one freight train picked:

No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. There is an obvious retort to this, but one should be wary about making it. In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that "non-attachment" is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings. If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for "non-attachment" is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:26 PM
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I've skipped the last hundred or so comments, but this has descended into hilarity. A lot of history's great men, and hundreds of great artists, have been assholes on the "takes care of his family" scale; that's not even worth arguing against. That's not, of course, the only measure of failure or success.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:26 PM
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286: That was the comment that brought you around? Not my antisocial Ernst Jünger-esque musings on the extraordinary life or my disparagement of bourgeois liberalism's "mollification of mind"?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:28 PM
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"agreeing" to a divorce when you have a young child, just because you've decided you have some calling, is much more assholish

Oh, hell. I'm not going to bother reading the whole thread (until later, maybe), but of course this jumps out at me and of course I will respond in the manner to be expected. Agreeing to a divorce because you have some calling isn't what is assholish, not being there for the kid (married or not) is what's assholish.

(Yeah, I know. Knee-jerk response. I can't help it.)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:29 PM
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Reflecting on one of the hard cases mentioned above...

I don't see gender reassignment as being in the same category as taking up preaching, because I see SRS as more like getting any other big medical problem treated. Refusing to give up smoking because the kids love the smell of your pipe smoke would be bad, for instance. (Yes, I did know someone who gave that as one of his major reasons for continuing to smoke.) If I were to be convinced that being a street preacher were a necessity in the way that taking insulin is for some people, I'd judge it differently. I criticize people who abandon the people who've been depending on them for the former precisely because I think it's much more a matter of choice.

I also have known some mighty fine preachers who weighed in strongly on the side of not doing abandonment-making things just because one feels called by God. Their take, which makes sense to me, is that if you're serious about the idea of divine or other calling at all, you have to consider ideas like "you might have been a great preacher, but you are in fact called to be a gainfully employed husband and father, which is also entirely worthy and just as crucial to the well-being of society in the long run" and "you are being tempted to do something for reasons Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians 13". That is, if there is any larger framework of judgment, "I want this very much" absolutely cannot be sufficient all by itself, and one's present obligations necessarily weigh heavily.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:37 PM
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...a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work.

How very twentieth-century of Orwell to conclude that a sexual perversion was the cause of anything that might alienate one from the working class and its quotidian pleasures (Hillary's beer and a shot, Obama's bowling).


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:37 PM
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I don't read that line as attributing sexual perversion.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:39 PM
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287: I think it depends on what we mean by 'asshole' and 'pretend', doesn't it? Surely the primary caregiver parent shouldn't be pretending that the other parent is a saint if he isn't; on the other hand, most divorces aren't the result of one person being such a selfish asshole that they have no worth as a human being, and demonizing the other parent isn't in the best interests of the child. Especially if the horrible thing that the other person did wrong was something that the child can't fully understand.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:39 PM
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Also, Orwell's own relationship to working-class pleasures was complicated and (anti-)phobic.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:42 PM
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292: The daughter of my parents' closest friends is considering joining a religious order, and one of the things she has to consider is whether she wants to join a cloistered order (no contact with family for ten years, minimum) or not. It's interesting how many otherwise people are skeptical of the daughter's interested in being cloistered ('God didn't put us here to hide away from the world')

I think at this point her parents are just hoping she decides on a more relaxed order. I feel so bad for them, because on the one hand, their daughter is pretty much getting an A+ in being a Catholic, and on the other hand, it must feel like they might as well have the wake now.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:44 PM
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294: Post-Freud, the rejection of sexual activity is a perversion, no?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:44 PM
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Cala, that strikes me as a very hard kind of situation to be in, absolutely no snark of any kind intended. Reconciling any set of principles with the personal consequences is sometimes hard, more so when the costs can be so high. Does it seem like the daughters getting good advice from someone who is managing to love both God and Creation?


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:48 PM
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294: Post-Freud, the rejection of sexual activity is a perversion, no?

He's quite explicitly making his point there be about something else, though. He's saying that love is HARD, and that for some of us it might be easier, rather than a renunciation, to just skip it.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:48 PM
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297: It must be immensely difficult for the parents. I'd recommend the documentary Into Great Silence on the subject of cloistered orders, for what it's worth.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:49 PM
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A lot of history's great men, and hundreds of great artists, have been assholes on the "takes care of his family" scale; that's not even worth arguing against. That's not, of course, the only measure of failure or success.

I'm tempted to make the stronger form of this argument: that being great artist /statesman / humanitarian / thinker almost requires you to neglect some relationships or disappoint some people. If genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, then successful world-changing endeavors are 1% vocation and 99% dedication. It takes a certain quality--perhaps a quality akin to narcissism--to tune out all the other demands and distractions to focus on the One Truly Important Thing.

So pursuing a noble utopian calling is a high-beta strategy: if you succeed, your neglect of others becomes a footnote, perhaps even a churlish footnote. If you fail, you'll be an asshole who sacrificed others on the altar of your fantastic dreams.

It's not unlike entrepreneurship, where successful entrepreneurs and failed entrepreneurs share a common psychic trait of overestimating their realistic chances of success and underestimating the risk of failure. The successful entrepreneurs get lucky, in a sense, by having their cognitive errors validated, and transformed into virtues ("takes stupid risks" becomes "ignored the nay-sayers" or "pursued his vision despite the odds"). Successful world-changers have their moral errors validated (or at least relativized).


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:52 PM
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Orwell's determination to endure the misery of relationships, to say nothing of his wife's, perhaps deserves a degree of respect, but we need not imitate him in his masochism. There's no shame in following Gandhi's more comfortable path.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:53 PM
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for some of us it might be easier, rather than a renunciation, to just skip it.

...even if it requires renouncing sex as a side effect. To me this seems entirely different from attributing the celibacy to Freudian sexual perversion. So he's taking neither the view that renunciation is always the act of selflessly giving up pleasure, nor that it is the reflection of some perverted sexual impulse, but that it might be a perfectly reasonable response to the fact that love and attachments are painful. (But of course, he's saying, for most of us it is patently worth it, and that's why it's a mistake to think that we'd all do it if only we were stronger. Still, this doesn't strike me as a claim that the other impulse is sexually perverse, just deeply unusual. "Inhuman," he says, but he seems to be attempting to recast the word as (mostly) non-pejorative.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:54 PM
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As John says!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:55 PM
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I think at this point her parents are just hoping she decides on a more relaxed order. I feel so bad for them, because on the one hand, their daughter is pretty much getting an A+ in being a Catholic, and on the other hand, it must feel like they might as well have the wake now.

An acquaintance of mine started as a novice for a cloistered order and later left. I'm pretty sure she joined not out of religious conviction as such, but because of being conflicted about her sexuality.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:55 PM
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Whole nations of children have grown up generation after generation for centuries without intimate relations with their fathers
i remember i read somewhere that after retirement the divorce rate is the highest in Japan iirc
if not the highest, so high enough to be seen as a trend and that is considered like a sign of the female liberation
b/c the males work long days and almost always are absent and suddenly they are home all days long and the incompatibilities between the spouses become more like obvious
good thing is the wifes have their rights on the half of the retirement money if they were the housewifes
for the children they just set an example of the good hard-working fathers providing their livelihood and that's maybe considered good enough as being there for the kids
and this is maybe a common sentiment throughout Asia


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:56 PM
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288: I'm trying to put this in the framework of Samuel Johnson's, He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.

Hmm, maybe the attempt to construct a coherent view of mankind via soundbites is a flawed enterprise. What fools we mortals be.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:56 PM
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300, 304: Isn't Orwell implying, not particularly subtly, that the ascetic is too weak for the world of grown-up men and women, and certainly weaker than (pats reader on the back) us who participate in it in our life-affirming ordinary ways?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 3:58 PM
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Il n'y a pas hors de soundbite.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:00 PM
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308: We would have to know what the Doctor considered the pain of being a man, but the knowledge of one's own mortality might be part of it.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:03 PM
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I take him to be more thoughtful than that, and think the point is less that the ascetic is weaker than a good strong tobacco-smoking man, and more that the difference between the two rests on something other than pure strength of resolve.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:04 PM
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Long-haired preachers come out ev'ry night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right.

From the linked article:

"After 30 minutes, Pannizzo handed out a few dollars to each - about $50 total, from a deck-rebuild job that day - blankets and food. Then the homeless disappeared to their sleeping places."

So what's really going on here is that Preacherman is no saint. He's just a junior-grade version of the same old holy-roller bullshit artists that homeless people have had to deal with since day one. If he was really a saint, he'd have passed out the money, blankets and food BEFORE the sermon. And if he was better than a saint, if he was an organizer, he'd be working to get people a better deal in this lifetime.

I give money to homeless people too, and I don't make them sit through a half-hour sermon to get it.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:09 PM
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I give money to homeless people too, and I don't make them sit through a half-hour sermon to get it.

May I have a dollar, then, for reading your comment?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:16 PM
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This is neither here nor there, I just can't believe I haven't related this anecdote in this thread yet:

I have an acquiantance who's brother-in-law decided, years ago, to drop out of society. He moved way up into the woods and set about building himself a house, starting with the root cellar. He finished the root cellar, but never got the rest of the house done, instead living in the root cellar. After a number of years, he started to be thought of as sort of a guru, for the way he'd renounced worldly things -- after all, he was perfectly content to live in a hole in the ground. He accepted their attention graciously and developed quite a large network of people who looked up to him for succor. Many years later, he discovered that he was dying. His family -- whom he had long since stopped contacting -- was alerted, and paid to have him admitted to the hospital. Once installed in his hospital bed, he announced he would forego food and water, so as to hasten the end. My acquaintance, who had always thought the guy kind of a loser (he couldn't even drop out right) and a mooch (being a guru means people bring you things, after all) welcomed this addition, and was somewhat disconcerted to learn that the fast was being modified by the daily addition of (at first) a few triscuits, then a little soup, then a small meal at lunchtime, and so on. All the while, the guru kept having more and more visitors -- his acolytes, as it were -- in his hospital room, so many that he eventually decided to implement a scheduling system, with half-hour visiting blocks, and a sign-in sheet. With this system, if his sister wanted to visit her dying brother in the hospital room she was paying for, she would call a few days in advance and see if there was a half-hour block he had free.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:21 PM
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315 Was a fairly good impersonation of Emerson.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:26 PM
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316: I'll say.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:33 PM
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308: He who makes a beastcunt of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man

fixed.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:37 PM
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315: He continued to live this way for years. Even his acolytes eventually figured out the scam, but they braced themselves, crowded around the bed, and did not ever want to move away.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:43 PM
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319: nice. The root cellar artist?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:44 PM
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320: Or with the eating scam, the unhunger artist. (And it was in fact the replacement panther that folks were crowding to see.)

And the idea of referencing it here is via Blume and w-lfs-n.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:54 PM
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While I have all the admiration in the world for Orwell's stoical willingness to accept the married state at whatever cost, we should remember that British marriage during his era did not involve the density of remodeling that it does today.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:56 PM
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And the idea of referencing it here is via Blume and w-lfs-n.

This I knew.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 4:57 PM
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323: Not only for you was that written, and I felt churlish in not acknowledging the fact that I would not be Kafkaing it up if left merely to my own devices.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 5:07 PM
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Blume: here for all your Kafka needs!

(Maybe I'll put as the motto on my c.v., under my name.)


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 5:59 PM
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My contribution to Kafka scholarship is the speculation that Gregor Samsa's father was the first person to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Based on the fact that Google found no earlier statement of that enormous inanity.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 6:01 PM
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You pretty much have contempt for the idea that a religious-type calling might be real--psychologically real, if nothing else

Actually, no, I don't. What I have contempt for is the argument that a genuine vocational calling, religious or otherwise, trumps one's responsibilties to one's children.

Of what significance, then, is the judgment of assholiness? If Manic Street Preacher is not so much an asshole as entirely to invalidate his good works, what is the point of calling him an asshole? Except to help us feel superior to him in some respect?

Think about it this way: it's not unlike implying that random internet strangers are overly judgmental because doing so makes you feel superior to them in some respect.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 6:44 PM
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Okay, so maybe B shouldn't have called that guy an asshole (though I believe she did qualify that judgment?). She's still right, though. Yes, there are no doubt special cases with exceptional and/or extenuating circumstances. But those cases are few and far between. In general, parental obligations carry a "no-exit" clause, and for good reason.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 7:00 PM
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I've just realized that I don't understand the post title: Don't Answer That Phone. I frankly first understood it as referring to the families of people who drop out of society, given the post's statement that "there's no sense in trying to keep them around": the families should not answer a phone call from such people. Cala's 3, way upthread, it's easier to justify cutting all contact off with them corroborated this reading. I admit I bristled.

But hey: perhaps it is not the families but the drop-outs who are telling themselves not to answer the phone! Huh.

I think I'm going to leave it at that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 7:49 PM
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I think it is a pun on "calling".


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 7:51 PM
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Relevant. I keep seeing a book about her in used bookstores.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 7:53 PM
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I assumed it meant if you hear a 'call' from 'a higher power' telling you to do 'abandon all your responsibilities', don't take it.

Also, not to ruin the sanctimony party, but I think it's a stretch to get that out of #3, but I meant that it's probably easier in some ways to deal with abandonment by a loved one when they're doing so very fervently, very whole-heartedly and in response to what they perceive as a higher power, because it's easier to comfort yourself with the idea that there's nothing you could have done to have rectified the situation.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 7:58 PM
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It remains true, however, that if someone asks you if you're a god, you say "yes."


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 7:59 PM
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I assumed it meant if you hear a 'call' from 'a higher power' telling you to do 'abandon all your responsibilities', don't take it.

Abraham to the operator, asking if he'll accept a call from god: I respectfully refuse the charges.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:04 PM
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330: Oh my. But of course.

332.2: Yes, I understood that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:04 PM
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operator,


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:05 PM
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It remains true, however, that if someone asks you if you're a god, you say "yes."

But for God's sake, don't let it go to your head!


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:06 PM
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asking if he'll accept a call from god: I respectfully refuse the charges

If you live in the right place, it's a local call. Bitchez.



Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:11 PM
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That's why it's important to have Caller ID.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:13 PM
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The telephone is so Old Testament. These days God is on Facebook, although only the elect can friend him.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:14 PM
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338: And it has worked out oh so well.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:14 PM
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331: Interesting. This is ultimately political, you know! (Did you know that??)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:15 PM
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I'm sure you are all dying for this Wrongshore-bulletin, but subscribe me to 37 (T.C. Boyle! Always a winner) and to 114.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:29 PM
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327: Predictably judgmental. Studiedly judgmental. Reflexively judgmental. Not overly so.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:41 PM
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god: d00d sacrifice ur son
abraham: I am away from my altar right now.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:42 PM
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207: Only the END of War of the Worlds sucked. Spielberg's great paradox is that he doesn't trust how dark and fucked up he is. The reason it's a paradox and not a failing is because that's what draws him time and again to the nuclear family as his subject matter, which is where he uncovers terror and then quickly pulls the rock back over it.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:43 PM
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288: If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for "non-attachment" is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work.

Oo! I recognize that from the end of my recent marriage.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:47 PM
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346: Anti-semite. Also, maybe "rug"?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:50 PM
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Rug would work. I was thinking of the squidgy things under rocks. Like bugs, and being an unloveable robot child, and HOLY SHIT EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD IS DEAD.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 8:52 PM
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OK. I was thinking of the nuclear family, which stereotypically inhabits a house, with rugs under which things are swept from time to time.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 9:04 PM
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Nobody looks down on the child of divorces anymore, AFAICT. Nor are the parents assumed to be some sort of moral mutants. And I'd be surprised if schools aren't, for example, as accommodating as can be managed for the existence of one parent families, etc., just because of the sheer number...Once upon a time, there was a stigma attached to divorce. However many years ago that was.

Yes, thank goodness that's all fixed! [/smirk]


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 9:36 PM
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Agreed that it's important for women whose ex-husbands are assholes to pretend otherwise to the children.

Obviously an issue I've given much thought to. If dad truly is an asshole, you don't want to sugar coat or make excuses or defend, because your kid at some level sees or will eventually see for themselves and will either find themselves unable to trust their own judgment ("why can't I come to terms with dad when even mom thinks he's swell?") or won't be able to trust your judgment ("what the hell does mom know anyway -- she can't even see what an ass dad is!"). Or they grow up thinking that crap is normal and wind up with an asshole of their very own.

BUT.... Your kid probably still loves dad, even if he is the biggest asshole to ever have walked the earth. And it is unbelievably important for your kid to know that's okay and how it should be. Which is kind of a tough balance. And probably means just biting your tongue most of the time -- not pointing out he's an asshole, not trying to justify the assholish crap he pulls.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 9:56 PM
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DK, unsurprisingly, knows exactly what I meant.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-27-08 10:04 PM
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352 is wise. That must be an extraordinarily difficult balance to strke, because most people in that situation--even the most fair-minded, well-meaning individuals--will be so plagued by confirmation bias that they overinterpret the other party's assholishness, and so, in the attempt to be fair-minded, must constantly question their own reactions to decide whether this is one of those cases where they should bite their tongue.

One of my neighbors is a divorced mother with shared custody. Her ex-husband has some great qualities, but he was an asshole as a husband (domineering, psychologically abusive, occasionally physically threatening). By all appearances, he was and is great with the children, and they were devastated when the marriage ended. She stayed with him for a long time for the sake of the children, but finally enough was enough. For her, the act of nobly squelching the urge to bad-mouth him must feel like a continuation of the suffering in silence she endured before the divorce.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 5:56 AM
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For her, the act of nobly squelching the urge to bad-mouth him must feel like a continuation of the suffering in silence she endured before the divorce.

You should tell her to comment here, then. Just because you refrain from badmouthing in front of the kids doesn't mean you can't totally trash the guy on the internet.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 6:01 AM
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My sister was as good as should could be about not badmouthing her sociopathic husband. Fortunately, he's as crappy to them as he was to her. (Example: he collects antiques, which he stores somewhere. When his daughter was setting up her new home, she asked for one of them and was turned down. Everything will go to the kids when he dies, but not now when they need it.)

So the kids are loyal to my sister, in one case making an irrevocable decision to that effect. But I'm not sure that they completely uderstand that the reason why their life was sort of shabby during their middle-school / HS years was that their father had cheated my mother out of her share of the divorce settlement and repeatedly was in arrears on child support.

Not, that is to say, because my sister was a loser.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 9:17 AM
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355: Knecht already has enough unfogged/neighborhood overlap, I suspect.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 9:21 AM
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Yesterday, I was talking with a woman who has just been hired in our department. I knew she was divorced with two daughters, and I asked whether she had full custody. She replied no, with an unmistakeably bitter edge, so I figured I'd let the subject drop. But:

"Oh, were you not there when I was explaining my situation?"
"No."
"My husband left to become a woman."

I thought she was joking at first, but no. Not even a little. He's just finishing up the year you have to live as the opposite gender before they'll perform the operation, but has had a bunch of facial surgery and breast implants. The best line from the conversation: "I told the guy I'm dating now that I never thought I'd be having to think about what kind of bathing suit a pre-op transsexual wears when they take my kids to the pool. I don't know why he couldn't just be gay, like normal people."


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 9:34 AM
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358: I (used to) know somebody who was in much the same situation with her (mostly estranged) father. The shock of seeing him for the first time in nearly two years only to learn that "him" was no longer the appropriate pronoun was, needless to say, significant. In retrospect, the fact that he'd snuck off to get breast implants when she was 10 or so (he'd later gotten them removed, and explained it all as a big mix-up) should have been a tip-off.


Posted by: Martin Van Buren | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 9:39 AM
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345: That's a Bob Dylan song!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 9:59 AM
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In northern Minnesota there was a married man in the middle of a MTF transformation whose F wife planned to stay with him and the kids as a lesbian couple. They were living on welfare, so the surgery, but the initial had been postponed steps had been completed.

The clincher was that he/she was a conservative Republican and had filed to run for the State Legislature.

See, in Wobegon everything is better than wherever it is that you come from.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 10:16 AM
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Link


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-28-08 10:18 AM
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