Gene Stratton-Porter and me, At The Foot of the Rainbow

In the same year (1907), Gene Stratton-Porter published a romance, the one I’ll discuss in a bit, and the first of her “pure” nature books, What I Have Done With Birds.  This was the start of splitting out her nature writing from her romantic novels by publishing them in alternating years.  The fact that she talked publishers into doing this remains a topic of discussion in many biographical essays about her.

But right now, I’ll just save that for another day and get back to At The Foot of the Rainbow.  This is a slightly obscure early book of hers, before her more famous works which primarily featured heroines rather than heroes.

It’s about two lifelong friends and the woman between them, but it’s not quite the usual love triangle.  It is weirdly manospherian, with the husband of the wife being a chronic drunkard who loves to party and not work very hard supporting his wife (who nevertheless continues getting pregnant with his ultimately stillborn children through the years) and the husband’s childhood friend being an orbiter, always helping out and making sure the wife is taken care of.

The husband is straight up Bros before Brunhildes, with a couple major subplots demonstrating his concern about impressing random men rather than tending to his (at one point quite) sick wife.  It’s a short read, it ends mostly happily (childhood friend gets to marry the wife after all, while she’s still young enough to have some live babies with him–this is stated outright as pretty likely), but it was a little weird to run into some of those tropes in a book a hundred plus years old.  I guess more fodder for the ever more demonstrable claim that the manosphere offers nothing new regarding insights into human nature except a hilariously foreshortened jargon to describe old patterns.

But moving away from that aspect of things, the book is notable for some details Porter moved away from as her writing developed and matured.  She writes the two friends (Danny the orbiter and Jimmy the husband) and the wife (Mary) as speaking with very heavy Irish accents.  A good comparison is what Margaret Mitchell did with Prissy’s dialogue in particular in Gone With the Wind.  As ever with Porter, though, the goal was authenticity.  She wanted to represent the speech purely as she could.  She moved away from this in later novels, toning it down.  There was something of a craze for “authentic” regional work in heavy dialect until the 1910s or so.  I remember growing up with the impression that it was only black dialects that this authenticity craze covered, but that isn’t the case.

This short novel, more a novella, is also the only time Gene Stratton-Porter spent a lot of time on male friendship.  Subsequent novels don’t feature two adult men in friendship over the years the same way.  She does write some novels with heroes, but they never have close male friends ever again.

I should perhaps have done this from the beginning with discussing her work, but here is an excerpt of the nature writing in this little tale of male friendship.  It’s early on, when the two are hunting muskrats to skin and sell.

Dannie’s gaze followed Jimmy’s retreating figure until he climbed the bank, and was lost in the woods, and the light in his eyes was the light of love. He glanced at the sky, and hurried down the river. First across to Jimmy’s side to gather his rats and reset his traps, then to his own. But luck seemed to have turned, for all the rest of Dannie’s were full, and all of Jimmy’s were empty. But as he was gone, it was not necessary for Dannie to slip across and fill them, as was his custom when they worked together. He would divide the rats at skinning time, so that Jimmy would have just twice as many as he, because Jimmy had a wife to support. The last trap of the line lay a little below the curve of Horseshoe Bend, and there Dannie twisted the tops of the bags together, climbed the bank, and struck across Rainbow Bottom. He settled his load to his shoulders, and glanced ahead to choose the shortest route. He stopped suddenly with a quick intake of breath.

“God!” he cried reverently. “Hoo beautifu’ are Thy works.”

The ice-covered Wabash circled Rainbow Bottom like a broad white frame, and inside it was a perfect picture wrought in crystal white and snow shadows. The blanket on the earth lay smoothly in even places, rose with knolls, fell with valleys, curved over prostrate logs, heaped in mounds where bushes grew thickly, and piled high in drifts where the wind blew free. In the shelter of the bottom the wind had not stripped the trees of their loads as it had those along the river. The willows, maples, and soft woods bent almost to earth with their shining burden; but the stout, stiffly upstanding trees, the oaks, elms, and cottonwoods defied the elements to bow their proud heads. While the three mighty trunks of the great sycamore in the middle looked white as the snow, and dwarfed its companions as it never had in summer; its wide-spreading branches were sharply cut against the blue background, and they tossed their frosted balls in the face of Heaven. The giant of Rainbow Bottom might be broken, but it never would bend. Every clambering vine, every weed and dried leaf wore a coat of lace-webbed frostwork. The wind swept a mist of tiny crystals through the air, and from the shelter of the deep woods across the river a Cardinal whistled gayly.

 

The Marginal Child in 2014

These are heat maps of where people decide to have the marginal third child that breaks the “family of four” paradigm that is reflected even in consumer goods and packaging because it’s become such a core part of post-Vietnam American culture.

For all races, about 30% of births for 2014 were third kid or higher.

Third births and higher, all races

For whites, it was about 25%

Third births and higher, whites only

A starting point for discussion is that while the coasts with good jobs where both parents can potentially earn 75-100k apiece are punching a little below the national average, they are nevertheless putting up third babies in the double digits in many high-cost counties.

Introducing civic natalism

“The early 20th century was the summit of civilization and human accomplishment.”

I think there is a good argument to be made for that statement. However, that is not quite what this post is about.

It’s about the worldview I’ve adopted as I’ve come to appreciate and learn more about that era of human history, a mere century or so ago. I discussed the idea that this blog was a way to work out an alternative to Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, and now I think I’ve got a grasp on what that alternative is.

Civic natalism.

This post is just an introduction to the phrase as concept.  Civic natalism was what a surprising number of Americans had a century ago, but it was an effect.  We can look at what they had access to that we don’t have now and the goal is to find out how we can have those things in a modern society.  Theirs was atomized and global, too, they were the vanguard of globalism.  Natalism also is about more than just maxing your pregnancy numbers, it’s about making it possible for motherhood to be something fully human, so women don’t want to reject the natural outcome of marital intimacy.

They had the following:

  • Large casual labor pool, particularly of women.  This means that there were maids and nannies and cooks, but it means so much more than that.  It means that you could pay people to do a lot of normal things and lend occasional assistance.
  • No commuting. The commuting was, mostly, the long-distance travel type, which human societies have developed a lot of tools to deal with.  It typically wasn’t the hurry up and wait tension that daily commuting tends to put onto people.  It is very possible to reduce commuting, but a deeper analysis of commuting patterns with an eye towards family improvement and cohesion is needed.
  • Rational autonomy for children. This means society is structured so that children take as much responsibility for themselves as possible, appropriate to their age.
  • Advocacy for feminine leisure.  

Starts are always rocky, so I’ll just conclude with this.  I’ve finally secured enough readable copies of Gene Stratton-Porter’s non-fiction nature books and essays that I will resume a publishing order review of her work in the coming weeks. She was a fascinating example of civic natalism, even though she herself had only one child.  Her entire career as a housewife who wrote bestsellers and spent hours in nature studies that are a direct line to the Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan strain of environmentalism and farming is an Ur-example of what civic natalism can provide when “just” a side effect of wider social norms.  She was also an influential advocate for other women to have better homemaking conditions and society-wide support.

And yes, there will be some commentary about the politics of civic natalism.  They intersect with how the right wing in America used to have a pretty good deal for bright women to be housewives and how they threw it away.  But those same politics also intersect with radical feminist policy ideas about how to support motherhood.  To summarize those future posts, let’s just say Phyllis Schlafly was a radical feminist when it came to motherhood.

Blew my mind, too.

Where the babies are, 2014

Heat map of where 4th and higher births are by county for all races.  National average is 12.4% of all births.

Fourth and higher births

Here’s just non-Hispanic whites.  Their national average is 10.2%.

Fourth and higher order births, whites only

The hottest counties have 24-27% of births (all races) and 31-35% of births (white only) as kid #4 or more.

Open for discussion.

A scale is not a switch

In the wake of this epic 1996-level wild thread/discussion about marriage difficulty for young Christian men and women these days, the male blogger Deep Strength posted a long rambling thing about “feminine beauty” that made me realize a key part of where some men are talking past some women in these matters.

A scale is not a switch.  When some men use the classic 10 point scale for looks/beauty/attractiveness, they aren’t using it as a scale, but as a switch.  On/off.  Yes/No (to the question of whether they might, in the abstract, desire to know a woman in the Biblical sense).  That is why Deep Strength thinks the young woman in his post went from a “3” to an “8” when she didn’t budge much in the scale sense.  She wasn’t a 3 or an 8 to start with.  She was an average girl who now looks above average because she puts more effort into her dress and carriage and lost weight via exercise and diet.  On a ten point scale she went from 5 to 6.

But this blogger converted “went from girl I would never think of desiring to girl I might have desirous thoughts of right now” into ten point scale language. “From a 3 to an 8!”

This is, needless to say, confusing.  He could have simply used a switch and reduced confusion dramatically.

This explains the obsession with “becoming an 8”, or “so and so is an 8 for sure!” by some men discussing love, sex and marriage.   8 is the switch.

He may be too young to remember Hot or Not.  That is all he needs, and all anyone needs who insists on limiting female beauty to a switch.

Related to this, Deep Strength’s post concludes that young Christian women should wear the clothing the young woman (pictured in his example towards the end of his very long post) wears at 124 pounds to show that they’d like to be considered marriage-worthy by men around them.

Yes/No?  No.

ETA 4/12/17: Deep Strength responds here with “Girls are dumb and don’t know things, amirite?” but about 500x longer.

 

Rousseau vs. the Puritans

My beautiful children are making a lot of noise, so this will have to be blunt and unlinked.

American motherhood has been defined since the dawn of America as a nation by what we would now call a PUA (pick-up artist).  That’s right, if you’re an American woman promoting mother-only care as historical, the most natural and the best possible care for children, you’re promoting the views of a man who abandoned his own illegitimate children to be reared in orphanages without the least thought.

Rousseau’s view on motherhood was that women needed to be constrained in the domestic sphere by sole (not primary, but SOLO) care of their children so that they wouldn’t go out into the marketplace and rule over men.  Yes, that was what the man feared.  He claimed women were sooooo powerful that if they weren’t trapped at home constantly pregnant raising kids by themselves (only to be handed off to men at apprentice-age of 12-13 if boys and married off at 15-16 if girls) that they would TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  And yes, he comes close in his writings about motherhood to using phrases like trapped or constrained.

The entire point of Rousseau-style motherhood is to limit female power and influence and constrain women’s roles, even in the domestic sphere.  One must remember that in the 18th century, household production by wives and mothers was still economically important and a Rousseau-style program of childrearing would make it much harder to maintain that economic role.  This was intentional.

Rousseau’s framework of solitary childrearing by mothers has, astonishingly, continued down nearly unaltered in 200+ years in American society.  American society really is just that weird and started out with wacky theories about mothering propagated by a man who didn’t do any proper family formation of his own.

In contrast, the colonial Puritans had a view of motherhood as a primary role for women and marriage as the highest state for men and women (presaging the Mormons, who replicated some aspects of their views on family and community), but they didn’t believe women were supposed to rear children alone.  Women were expected to be part of a large, bustling household composed of husband, wife, servants and relatives, with the husband sometimes gone for months earning the giant wheelbarrows full of money needed to keep what was essentially the original home-based business going.  So Puritan women were expected to stand in their husband’s stead and have authority in both the home and the marketplace.  In this respect they diverged wildly from Rousseau while still holding to the idea that women were best suited to marriage and motherhood.

And while there were many young-married Puritans, there were plenty of older-married ones who started families later in life when they could get the cash together to set up the proper household structure.  So all the current fretting about people delaying marriage “too long” is just a lot of Rousseau-inflected hokum.

Rousseau is the source of the obsessive pressure for teen marriage no matter what in various eras in America, especially of barely-pubescent girls.  Rousseau is the real source of what many think is just from attachment parenting, the idea that mom is the only possible proper caregiver for children (and yeah, it’s always plural).  Because of Rousseau’s influence, women braved the frontier life and tried to rear children that way and enough continued encouraging it that, well, here we are today.

So if you are a mother struggling with small children in isolation, and you see people saying that this is what women really want and really feel fulfilled by, they are telling you a PUA fish story.

I remain a neo-Puritan on this subject and ever will.

The military tail wagging the American conservative family formation dog.

Another intersection of many things discussed here, but military families are more likely to have more kids (about 1 full child more than other married families) and thus more likely to have YUUUUUGGGGGEEEE families as well, because of clustering effects.  Turns out a map of fourth births or higher has a bunch of the births happening near clusters of military presence even when there is no major metro nearby.  They don’t have all the fourth, fifth and tenth babies, but they have a huge chunk of them compared to the general population.

This also explains the relentless homeschool promotion since in that circumstance it often does make sense.

It explains the small biz/entrepreneurial mindset because you have this pool of people with PRIVATE INCOME AT AGE 40 giving advice about being “your own boss” to civilians.

Since the massive base closures of the 1990s, military bases are far more isolated from town than they used to be.  So there’s a closed loop effect.

Also, on base housing, you can have kids run around a heck of a lot more and of course walk to the commissary, which, you know, sells most of what you need to live.  So there’s a very distorted idea of what letting the kids run around really means, and that this kind of housing is not an option off-base.

And then there’s the fact that all this played out in the 1970s on, because the volunteer army started then, so there’s heavy selection bias.

While the military as a whole is slightly less religious than the general population, that’s driven by the high single-guy numbers.

And the military provides a lot of benefits that aren’t cash in hand (but sometimes are totally cash in hand, like hazard pay and bonuses) but which make living on the not-great pay a lot easier than the equivalent money in civilian world.  It also makes a lot of advice given by people who spent most of their child-having years in that environment of limited utility if they don’t actually say “but you’d need like twice the pay to do the same as a civilian of course”.

So you have a population that is a very tiny, very self-selecting slice of America punching way above their demographic weight in baby-having, which means there’s a disproportionate share of children of theirs running around and how those kids are reared exercises a disproportionate impact on the rest of the population, especially the conservative Christian one because their moms are very isolated except for internet and religious activities.