Introducing five precepts of civic natalism

In no particular order.

  1. Your time is not fungible. With the corollary that DIY is anti-community.
  2. Aim for mother-friendly, not child-friendly because child-friendly really means “no siblings allowed”.
  3. Busy is selfish.
  4. Leisure isn’t lazy. It’s how people get the fun social and civilizational goods they claim to (often “traditionally”) support, after all.
  5. Service isn’t servile. Having (usually unrelated) people do things for you and giving them money to do so is not imposing servility on them.  It was a staple of even the very poor in pre-modern times.  The modern era is defined most sharply as the point where paying people to do things for you was utterly deprecated.  In America, this was actually the postwar era, but in the rest of the West, it was early Vietnam-era.

These precepts are just a beginning, a tiny seed of a bigger idea, and working the implications out is a longer term goal.

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30 thoughts on “Introducing five precepts of civic natalism

    • To use one of the most simple examples, your night hours are not swappable for your daytime hours for the vast majority of people. Or another way to think of it is that all blocks of time can’t just be seamlessly pulled out and slotted in on a whim. The DIY ethos is an attempt to treat time as infinitely flexible and all tasks as rearrangeable under any circumstance.

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      • TPC said:

        “The DIY ethos is an attempt to treat time as infinitely flexible and all tasks as rearrangeable under any circumstance.”

        And not just infinitely flexible, but infinite, period.

        Related: years ago, a friend and I were griping about advice to moms in parenting magazines. Articles on saving money tell you to skip paper plates and wash dishes instead. Articles on saving time tell you to buy paper plates instead of washing dishes. As my friend and I noted, there is no single strategy that allows you to save time AND money.

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  1. Busy is selfish.

    Busy is the American way, and not being busy is a sign of sloth. A strange undercurrent of superiority exists with over scheduling playdates, children’s extra-curriculars, work-related events, etc. Unstructured or leisure activities reserved for family, volunteering, or church are looked down upon. Leisure time for one’s self is lazy because it’s not “productive.” It’s no longer accurate to say this is from Protestant work ethic, because at least that had “work ethic.” Now a lot of it’s not real work, and it’s not ethical if it causes family strain.

    My point here is there’s a lot of cultural attitudes that need to change before civic natalism is taken seriously.

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    • yes, you’re completely right that a lot has to change. what’s interesting is that it can happen and it even has in American history. A lot of “New Age” and hippie stuff about balanced life and blending technology with appreciation for nature are ideas from the early 20th century with the Christianity and origins in housewife and spinster-supporting-the-family writing filed off.

      But something has to change, because the current system is shortening lifespans and creating a lot of safety hazards, both physical and moral. I mean, that it’s making people want to have kids less and less is just the most easy to measure effect.

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      • But something has to change, because the current system is shortening lifespans and creating a lot of safety hazards, both physical and moral. I mean, that it’s making people want to have kids less and less is just the most easy to measure effect.

        I agree, but how do we convince people to make small changes? Here’s a practical problem affecting natalism– long commutes. We’ve discussed it, and there aren’t many options. A lot of men have to work lower-pay jobs that don’t allow them to have more than 1-2 kids, live in decently safe neighborhood, and go through health-killing work schedules. Or it’s coupled with mothers who have to work at some capacity outside of the home.

        One way to resolve this is through communal help, similar to what we talked about with the au pairs without the formal program. It requires a community, which requires people to know each other, which requires people to stay. I’m with you that things need to change, but why are so many things linked like a domino effect?

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  2. With regard to leisure and community, one thing that occurs to me is that traditionally, there were a lot of social events focused around work: quilting bees, barn raisings, husking bees. Even when I was a kid, haying was virtually a festival. I’ve heard the same about sauce making in Italian families–it continues to be true to the present day that canning tomato sauce for the coming year is a major extended family event.

    https://afreshlegacy.net/tomato-sauce-day/?doing_wp_cron=1509596910.9954259395599365234375

    Traditionally, a lot of major work projects got turned into social events.

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      • Maea said,

        “People could do it because they lived locally. How feasible is it when people live an hour away?”

        For a big yearly event, you could probably do it (my cousins would come help with haying from 90 minutes away), but yes it would limit frequency.

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      • Unseating the meritocracy is a big part of it. People live an hour away because it’s one of the perverse side effects of a sub elite class who believe they earned everything they have but who also demand to be considered experts and genuflected to. The media class and pundits are just one very public example, but there are a lot of other examples and classes of managerial work.

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        • People live an hour away because it’s one of the perverse side effects of a sub elite class who believe they earned everything they have but who also demand to be considered experts and genuflected to.

          I was thinking something more simple, like people have to move where the jobs are. Or they move where the housing is cheap.

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        • ” People live an hour away because it’s one of the perverse side effects of a sub elite class who believe they earned everything they have but who also demand to be considered experts and genuflected to.”

          Living an hour away is a best case scenario nowadays–at least in my family the distances have gotten bigger in my generation.

          My sister (who does actually maintain a family farm) lives a 4 hour drive away from the farm, and of course we live a solid 12 hour journey (including 4 hours of air travel) away from home. Baby brother and his family are somewhere in the middle.

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        • TPC said:

          “Unseating the meritocracy is a big part of it. People live an hour away because it’s one of the perverse side effects of a sub elite class who believe they earned everything they have but who also demand to be considered experts and genuflected to. The media class and pundits are just one very public example, but there are a lot of other examples and classes of managerial work.”

          –That’s basically my class. Not that we go around expecting to be genuflected to, but yeah, we do belong to the highly mobile, meritocratic world and we expect our kids to be part of the highly mobile, meritocratic world.
          –For a lot of us, the distances are way bigger than one hour away.
          –We’ll be doing well if our kids grow up to live two hours away.
          –In the NE, a lot of people are actually pretty close to their extended families (see, for example, NY/NJ). Italian-Americans, I believe, are notorious for sticking close to their families of origin.
          –Part of the reason why the struggle for survival is so tough in the NE is that people are TRYING to stay close to their families of origin, in the face of astronomical housing costs and property taxes. If they were to give up and move out of the NE and away from their families of origin, they could get by with much smaller household incomes.

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          • lol at the idea that this class of people doesn’t. the examples are so numerous even members of said class admit to it frequently. although i have noticed they do rely on lots of married college moms swearing otherwise as cover. a variation of the radfem ‘handmaidens of the patriarchy’critique. handmaidens of the mandarin class, one could say. a reasonable case could be made that the handmaidens aren’t really part of the class, but just part of the soft support for it socially.

            the merit part is also untrue, but the successful conflation of credentialism with legitmate merit makes the whole system appear aspirational for millions who are explicitly cut out of it before they even get to elementary school. it’s a very interesting way to recast nepotism and clannishness with an illusory gloss that income and position is acquired via merit, skill or talent that isn’t just knowing the right people and living in the right zip codes.

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          • TPC:

            “lol at the idea that this class of people doesn’t.”

            I meant that husband and I personally don’t expect forelock-tugging.

            “the merit part is also untrue, but the successful conflation of credentialism with legitmate merit makes the whole system appear aspirational for millions who are explicitly cut out of it before they even get to elementary school. it’s a very interesting way to recast nepotism and clannishness with an illusory gloss that income and position is acquired via merit, skill or talent that isn’t just knowing the right people and living in the right zip codes.”

            –Nepotism is fairly visible in the media/showbiz worlds (ever notice how the flavor of the month actress is almost always the kid of somebody famous?), but less so elsewhere. Upper middle class families typically really sweat launching their kids. I’ve been listening to these conversations for years now.
            –In the fields you’re talking about, it’s important to be able to work for free/cheap for a long time.
            –It is very, very expensive to raise middle class NE kids (see previous–parents have to keep 20-somethings afloat for years after college).
            –I have some upper middle class relatives who kept their new graduate son afloat for literally years during the last recession (his industry was one of those affected). There are a lot of affluent parents doing that.
            –Downpayment help is also a big deal in high-cost (or even lower-cost) areas.
            –There are a lot of people making great money because they’re really, really smart and really, really hard-working.

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          • nepotism and clannishness is visible in most white collar stuff. It’s very common with education and academia.

            NE is not America. There’s three other quadrants (South, West, Midwest) containing married-class people. The South, for example, is full of NE’ers who move there after the kids are born and hoover up resources for themselves and their friends and cut others out.

            Making great money being smart and hard working is rare precisely because “meritocrats” have made that nearly impossible without riding the credential express. Having three degrees but not being able to do the job requirements will still get you further than being able to do the job and having only one degree.

            Also, as the example of industries where you kind of have to leave room for people who can do the work even without credentials like IT shows, a lot of effort is made by “meritocrats” to turn their earnings from great to good to mediocre. Very meritorious.

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          • TPC said:

            “nepotism and clannishness is visible in most white collar stuff. It’s very common with education and academia.”

            I don’t know about education, but here are some thoughts about whether or to what extent/in what ways academia is nepotistic and clannish (based on narrow but deep experience observing one academic field).

            –“Nepotistic and clannish” can be the flip side of “community.” It’s hard to imagine killing the clannishness without also killing the community.
            –Tenure means that when you hire a new person, you may be dealing with them for the next 30 years. It’s potentially a relationship more enduring than marriage. You have to think very hard about whether or not you can deal with somebody that long. As Jean Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” and ain’t that the truth.
            –There has been a visible decline in tolerance over the last 10 years, mostly due to gay marriage, etc. Being opposed to gay marriage (or less than zealous about it) went from no big deal 20 years ago to a friendship killer (and potentially a career killer for young scholars). There has been some weirdness that I would be happy to email with you about–for example, one major professional entity was wrestling with the issue of whether or not to take job ads from religious colleges that do not allow faculty in same sex relationships. (Obviously, this was a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face measure–the entity’s secular membership would suffer a lot more than the religious colleges from not seeing the advertisements.)
            –Nonetheless, those religious colleges provide A LOT of jobs (at least in the field I am thinking of). So even though at the national level or at particular colleges, the field can be unfriendly to religious conservatives, there continue to be academic jobs available to religious conservatives, who are often a better fit for religious colleges in small to medium-sized cities in flyover country. (More liberal faculty are basically in hell in those settings, so ideology aside, it makes sense to hire people who can be happy in Red States–I believe this is reflected in political affiliation of Red State faculty.)
            –The field I am thinking of has very prominent religious conservatives at the highest level nationally.
            –There are a number of fields where one expects to run into religious conservatives–mathematics, philosophy, medieval history, Great Books, and classics come to mind.
            –I asked my husband about nepotism in academia, and he said that people are very wary of classic nepotism (hiring actual relatives). However, what you see a lot of is spouses getting preferential hiring treatment for recruitment purposes–that’s standard practice.
            –There’s an institutional bias in favor of “exogamy” (so to speak). So, for example, it’s almost unheard of nowadays for a person to get a tenure track teaching job at the institution where they got a doctorate. The closest I’ve seen is that at our local college, it’s common for people to get a BA here, get a doctorate elsewhere, and then get a teaching job here. But I believe that’s not a common pattern nationally.
            –It’s common for particular institutions to have a sort of “pipeline” with regard to staffing another institution. My husband’s previous institution had a lot of people who had graduated from the same doctoral program as my husband did–although they didn’t previously know each other.
            –From what I’ve seen, friendship is important in hiring. People are eager to hire their friends. That said, the candidate will need to be sold to the rest of the department. It is unlikely that a dozen or two dozen people will have the same warm relationship with the candidate as their backer. They have friends who need jobs, too, and they probably have different views as to what subfields need better representation.
            –Any good academic job is likely to attract 300+ job applications.
            –Conferences are an important venue for meeting people and creating relationships. Exposure at conferences is very helpful in getting a job. A good candidate will be familiar already to a prospective department, just based on conference appearances.
            –There are a lot of foreign-born scholars.
            –There’s a lot of suspicion toward foreign degrees.
            –I think it’s not uncommon for faculty to be the children of professors. My husband’s parents were both academics–but in a completely different field, and in fact, a different country. I suspect that one of our kids will probably have a go at academia, BUT it will almost certainly be in a different field than their father.
            –tldr, while it is true that there are pressures toward nepotism/clannishness, there are also institutional pressures and customs that contribute to fresh blood being brought in.

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          • TPC said:

            “the hour away was speaking of work commutes, btw.”

            I wouldn’t think of people who had really made it having such big commutes. There must be some, but “one hour commute” doesn’t scream privilege to me.

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          • TPC said:

            “It’s not at all unusual for Silicon Valley area programmers making 150k-250k per year.”

            Exactly. Having an hour work commute and making $150k-$250k in Silicon Valley is not living in the lap of luxury.

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          • “That’s basically my class. Not that we go around expecting to be genuflected to, but yeah, we do belong to the highly mobile, meritocratic world and we expect our kids to be part of the highly mobile, meritocratic world.”

            uh what is the point of all of this then. that world is sick and broken. I thought we were all discussing alternatives to it because we want to be Americans making a good life for other Americans. If you want to kill yourself to get your kids into a good college so they can get good jobs, then just tell them to move to Asia and follow them yourself and none of the problems we discuss here will be an issue for you because you will have maids.

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          • You Know Who said:

            “uh what is the point of all of this then. that world is sick and broken. I thought we were all discussing alternatives to it because we want to be Americans making a good life for other Americans. If you want to kill yourself to get your kids into a good college so they can get good jobs, then just tell them to move to Asia and follow them yourself and none of the problems we discuss here will be an issue for you because you will have maids.”

            I certainly hope to always have hired help. We’re entering the red zone right now with the kids’ school expenses, and barring some sort of deus ex machina, it’s going to be time to cut down to once a month cleaning help soon (not to mention a lot of other unpleasant scrimping). SAD! (Hopefully, the nanny work I’m looking at will come through. I love babies and hate vacuuming.)

            I’m being realistic here. If things go really well, some of our kids may be able to stay in town and do well. If things go very poorly, some will stay in town/live at home and need to be subsidized. Again–SAD! If things go ok, they may wind up a day’s travel away from us (the academic job market is a cruel mistress) or alternately, they may wind up two hours away in the Big City. There are a lot of different scenarios, some good, some bad, some ok–two hours away is not ideal, but doable, and certainly better than what husband and I have experienced, having both sets of grandparents a 10-12 hour trip away and very, very busy. I’d like to bring the lost art of grandparenting back to our family, but there are no guarantees.

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  3. I suspect TPC and I may mean somewhat different things by meritocracy. Here’s what I mean by meritocracy:

    My husband has two doctorates and since he’s been a kid, has been living a life that consists of jumping through dozens of flaming hoops. To this day, even enjoying tenure, there continue to be flaming hoops. You write a paper and submit it to a conference and possibly get rejected, or submit a paper to a journal and get rejected over and over again until you either rewrite to the journal’s satisfaction or find a journal that will take it or give up. (Same deal with academic book manuscripts.) He hasn’t done grants recently, but grants are the same–a lot of rejection. I personally did not last in that environment, which requires incredible persistence and emotional resilience. (It is true that at some point stars get work published or accepted for conferences even when it’s a sloppy rehash of their old work–but first you need to become a star, which does require at least a couple decades of jumping through those flaming hoops.)

    Obviously, this is not an appropriate environment for the vast majority of people, but here’s the problem–that’s what we know, and it looks like at least one of our kids is probably going to be part of that world and is going to flourish there. So, we do provide our older kids lots of opportunities to leap through flaming hoops. If we were bakers or farmers, we’d teach our kids commercial baking or farming, but we’re not, so we teach the rules of the world we know.

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