GENDER WARS Playing Cards were a hit of 2023, and I intended to make a 2024 edition. But recent schisms in the gender world have put me off, so I’m pivoting. I got into the gender mess because of my interest in Free Speech, and would rather focus on this subject. Therefore, I request your nominations for CANCEL CULTURE Playing Cards:
When I lived in New York, I knew two very talented and driven artists who had abandoned their children. One had left her son with her parents so she could move to NYC and pursue visual arts. The other had simply ditched his kid with his ex-wife, to devote his life to stage performance. Both told me separately (they didn’t know each other) that, had they stayed to raise their offspring, they would have killed themselves.
I always took the prospect of parenthood very seriously. I believed anyone who had a child needed to prioritize them, and if that meant giving up their so-called dreams, they were obligated to do so. I felt ambivalence admiring my friends’ works, when I learned they had abandoned children to create them. I believed their explanations were honest, that they may indeed have committed suicide if trapped in the parental role, which would have left their families even worse off. I judged them for not thinking this through before they had made innocent new humans to suffer their bad decisions. They were both young when got pregnant and impregnated, respectively, caught up in emotions and hormones and romance and a sense of fulfilling biological and social imperatives. Neither child was “accidental”.
Jordan Peterson recently said not wanting children is “either deluded or immature.” He is speaking primarily to young men, and maybe he’s right about them. He also asserts that many (most?) women are happier as mothers than in high-powered careers. He may be right. Most people seem to desire children, enjoy children, are attracted (maternally and paternally) to children, like being around children, and find children delightful and inspiring. Most parents discover a deep sense of meaning in their children, something they never experienced prior, to the point they see their lives before children as comparatively meaningless and empty. This is their main point of reference: a childfree adult is like a younger version of them that never grew up, because when they grew up they had children.
Not wanting children is socially difficult and alienating. Years ago, on the online forum alt.support.childfree, a woman asserted that only women are truly childfree. Men may not want children, but only women understand deeply what they are rejecting.
My fertile years were marked by constant awareness of my difference. Not only did I have no desire to have a baby, I felt pronounced revulsion to the idea, and to babies themselves. I had no ill will toward them, but no maternal attraction either, and preferred to stay as far away from them as possible. I was acutely aware I was supposed to feel and behave a certain way around babies, as relentlessly demonstrated in media: to coo, stare adoringly, ask to hold it, and wistfully long to have my own. My real feelings were perverse and would horrify anyone around me. I internalized much of their hatred. Deluded or immature. What kind of monster would be repulsed by babies?
A woman, first of all. A man with a calling doesn’t need to experience that revulsion; he won’t lose all his energetic resources to reproduction, he doesn’t gestate, give birth, breast feed, or otherwise surrender to children as a woman must. If a woman has a calling – to use her full energies to reproduce culturally, rather than biologically – then whatever culture destined to come through her benefits from her psycho-reproductive resources. Any emotional inclination toward biological children is a threat to whatever Art wants to be made instead. A female artist is at much higher risk of abandoning or starving her creative potential for a child than a male is. And if she abandons her child instead, as my NYC artist friend did, the consequences are devastating and maladaptive.
Only women can be truly childfree.
My own choice to never have children was realistic and mature. First, I clearly had no orientation toward them. It was possible – probable, even – that if I’d had my own, my revulsion would have evaporated and I would have loved them deeply, sacrificing my creative pursuits. Would this have been a net benefit to society? Because I was realistic and mature, I understood children need committed love and sacrifice. Because I was realistic and mature, I condemned the abandonment of children. Because I was realistic and mature, I took my ingrained and unwanted revulsion of children seriously. Most available men desired children; my aversion vastly reduced my relationship prospects. I have never wanted children, but I have wanted men who wanted children. I have also wanted social acceptance and a sense of belonging. My revulsion of babies and parenthood denied me this. But I was realistic and mature enough to understand that however much I wanted the benefits of fitting in, suppressing my feelings (revulsion), my true orientation to parenthood (against it), and my calling (Art), would be dishonest and commit me and any potential family to misery.
I had a calling. Much as parents wonder how anyone can not want children, I marveled how others lived their lives without making Art. How could you have any sense of meaning without creating something beautiful and significant? How dull and empty the lives of non-artists must be. I eventually concluded that the meaning and order Art brought to my life, largely came from children in theirs. Which is how I came up with the idea of a psycho-reproductive system. Our biological reproductive systems are evident; we are shown diagrams of them in sex ed; but our psyches participate as well.
I first learned about how Cuckoo birds reproduce in Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype. Cuckoos don’t raise their own chicks; they hijack the psycho-reproductive systems of other birds, who find Cuckoo hatchlings so irresistibly attractive they feed and nurture them to the detriment of their own offspring. Dawkins points out the behavior of the unrelated birds, hijacked into the parental role, is an expression of the Cuckoos’ genes, which evolved and adapted to do exactly that. Hijacking an organism’s psycho-reproductive system can be a winning evolutionary strategy. I thought about my cats, whom I love with the maternal affection I’m supposed to devote to human babies. Clever cats! Clearly I possess a psycho-reproductive system; I’m not fundamentally devoid of maternal instinct. Mine has simply been hijacked by other species, which have evolved to do exactly that: cats are cute for a reason. I have no regrets.
Culture is also a living and evolving thing. Humans are not human without it. Our brains are made for language (a subset of Culture), and language is made for our brains. Humans raised in isolation, without communication through language and other culture, grow into sick stunted animals, if they survive at all, which they don’t. Culture is insufficiently studied as a life form; it’s commonly considered a product or creation of humanity, rather than a symbiote.
Culture hijacked my psycho-reproductive system — for which I’m glad, don’t get me wrong! I’m part of a proud tradition of humans who have devoted their lives to Culture, although it’s more frequently called God in this context. Jesus Christ was notably childfree, at least in myth. Beloved saints were childfree. In many sects, if one is called to the Church, they must remain childless (celibacy being the means to achieve this). Many social and cultural specialties demand energies otherwise reserved for child-rearing. For some, giving up children to pursue a calling is a sacrifice. For others, the calling – Culture – does what any clever living thing would adapt to do, and hijacks its host’s psycho-reproductive system for its own life support. Not having children was no sacrifice for me. Making Art – cultural reproduction – was a joy. It did not feel like a choice.
The desire to reproduce, or not, is no expression of delusionality or maturity. Reproduction is a primal drive inherited from the dawn of Life. Humans live in symbiosis with Culture which, although relatively newer and not well understood, is alive, reproducing, evolving and adapting. In humans, biological reproduction entails sacrifice, especially of the mother: an enormous devotion of energy and time, and giving up competing dreams and desires. Cultural reproduction – Art – also entails sacrifice of energy and time and, in my case, of societal approval and a sense of belonging that would have been a great comfort. I will in some sense always suffer alienation from the majority of my species, as I do not share the basic, meaningful human experience of parenthood. Yet, I still seek ways to connect with and understand parents.
Most don’t return the favor. Maybe they’re deluded or immature.
Hey TERFs and Trannies! That’s my signature greeting on Heterodorx, the new podcast I’m doing with Corinna Cohn. Our first episode was recorded Friday evening, after I’d biked 30 miles and hiked two, so I wasn’t at my most articulate. We had some technical issues, including my cat, Lola, rubbing her head against my mic, causing loud horrible noises we couldn’t remove due to recording everything on a single track. Our next episode should be better. Still, I like this first foray, and hope you listen.
I mean this in the biblical sense. Biblical miracles are horrific, bringing death and destruction. The Ten Plagues of Exodus were miracles, or at least “wonders.” The miracles of Revelation are even worse.
A miracle isn’t a fluffybunny event. It is an act of God.
The COVID pandemic is a power greater than ourselves. We can’t stop it; we understand very little about it. It brings us to our knees.
I am in awe of it. I have watched humanity killing the planet my whole life, with obvious warnings of dire consequences. But this Spring’s COVID shutdowns were the first time I saw humanity do anything about it. It was short-lived, but amazing: flights grounded, industry slowed, pollution abated enough to reveal long-hidden mountains for the first time in years.
All of that ended after only a few months. Nothing to see here, folks; go back to paying attention to MONEY. And so contrails again fill the skies, mountains retreat back into smoggy shrouds, and the gears of commerce grind away.
Biblical miracles are famously unheeded, which is why it took all Ten Plagues for Pharaoh to relent. God issues clear commandments; humans don’t follow them. This is the whole story of the Old Testament. Even after occupying the Promised Land, the Hebrews can’t get their shit together, and Jerusalem falls over and over again. The New Testament is no better, especially the ending.
The COVID-19 virus makes its demands pretty clear: Avoid crowds. Stop industrial slaughterhouses and factory farming. Don’t go to (non-essential) work. Spend time with your children; actually raise them. Stay home from school. Stay home, but go outside; look at the sky, feel the sun, breathe the fresh air. Attend to Reality over money. Don’t go to bars, don’t party, don’t crowd into spectacles like sportsball. Calm the fuck down. Take a goddamn break from your hyper-consumer lifestyle.
We still need food and shelter and medicine, the sustenance and maintenance of our lives, and the virus doesn’t seem to have anything against these. The virus clarifies what is essential and non-essential. It turns out much of human activity isn’t essential. We already knew that; the virus urges us to stop denying it.
The pandemic makes another biblical suggestion: a Jubilee cancellation of debt. We can’t stop the gears of commerce, we argue, because we’re all in debt – if we don’t earn money, we will die! Our society won’t forgive debts, but what if we simply froze them, until a vaccine or cure is found? A year (or however long it takes) out of commercial time. Don’t end, but suspend the non-essential economy. All debts, for everyone, everywhere, frozen*. A global time-out. That would be a miracle.
I don’t believe in the biblical god. But I do believe in Nature, and natural consequences. The coronavirus is just one of many disastrous and inevitable natural consequences of human activity. Animal agriculture and overpopulation and global industrialization will do this; it’s a wonder it’s taken so long. It’s also a wonder how gentle the virus is, all things considered. It could have been more like ebola, with a much higher death rate. Plagues of the past have been far deadlier. The Black Death killed 50% of some European regions. We are getting off lightly here.
My response to this miracle is awe. Others respond with denial, or panic, or exploitation. So it has been written; so it ever was, and ever will be. I have long felt like I’m living in a dystopian novel, but right now I also feel like I’m living in a biblical prophecy. What a wonder, to witness these times!
*What about money to run the essential services? Our economic system accumulates vast reservoirs of money in billionaires. If these reservoirs can’t be used, then what exactly is this system for?
Last week, on various social media, I shared this brief thought:
I’m starting to find virtue signaling frightening, rather than just annoying, because virtue signalers are the same people who cancel (ie lie, denounce, and attack). Virtue signaling and cancel culture are two sides of the same increasingly troubling coin.
“What is the difference between virtue signalling and actually believing in something and wanting to spread the word about it? Asking seriously. I have only seen virtue signalling used as a phrase by Republicans who don’t believe in the cause being promoted.”
To which I replied:
That’s a great question! I am not a Republican, and I actually agree with the messages being used right now to signal tribal loyalty. Like a religious behavior – “praise Jesus!” – one can only ask oneself what one’s motives are.
The signaling happening at the moment has many layers. Yes, the messages are good. It’s also a “safe” time to share them. Suddenly it has become very important for white people to express their concern for black lives, when in fact we’ve been aware of police brutality for years or decades. It would have been much riskier to share these messages 60 years ago, but we weren’t alive then. (Funny, then, that expressing righteousness at that time was quite different, even though we are not inherently superior to our forebears.) It was not risky, say, last year, yet far fewer were doing that then, because there wasn’t a “movement” directing our attention.
It’s pretty clear that there are social rewards for white liberals to share BLM messages at the moment, and, increasingly, social punishments for not (“silence is violence!”), and most of us want to feel safe, so we know what to do. Even asking questions can get you publicly denounced right now. I do not expect people to deeply examine their motives, but I do examine mine, and when even a message I agree with is mixed with so much threat and reward, I pause. All mobs feel righteous. I am extremely wary of mobs and sensitive to mob behavior, and do not want to be part of them.
Another layer is White Guilt, which Shelby Steele wrote very eloquently about 20 years ago. White liberals are hungry to discharge guilt, and ironically use black people, and what should be a black liberation movement for black people, to do it. This isn’t all bad; white people can be useful to this movement, but the white liberal hunger is there, and it’s ruthless, and it causes problems. All we can do is examine our motives.
The social rewards for virtue signaling, and threats for not, come from other white people. White people use black people and a black movement to signal to other white people, and maintain or raise our status in white society. I have some black friends, but most of my social contacts are white. Like any good white liberal, I have anxiety about this. If only I could fix my society’s history of segregation by racially integrating my social life more! Like any good white liberal, I tried harder when I was younger, only to discover that most (healthy) black people don’t particularly like being used by white people this way, and that white hunger to discharge guilt is not a solid base for friendship.
But don’t we want to be “ALLIES”?? The best allies are like that asshole at your dinner party who tries to be “helpful” by getting in your way in the kitchen. (The worst allies are far worse.) I used to be a liberal feminist who thought we needed male “allies” to liberate women. Now I understand that women’s liberation is for and by women, and any man claiming to be a “feminist” is usually a misogynist using women to manage his male guilt. From the outside, it looks to me like a surplus of white “allies” has the same corrosive effect on any movement for black liberation, which should be for and by black people. Like that performative “helpful” dinner guest in your kitchen, like men claiming to be feminists, white liberals who want to help black liberation should just get out of the way.
Any involvement I have in black liberation is only going to come at the request of black people – specifically black women, specifically black radical feminists, whose narratives about current events differ from the mainstream and “alternative” media’s. Unsurprisingly, no one has asked me yet. I’m here if they do, but meanwhile my white guilt is my problem to deal with, not theirs.