Sunday, March 6, 2011

on having a kid

Maybe this will post will both explain and end the drought of posts here. This is the only piece of writing I've done in 8-12 months. I wrote this in response to a query from Sean Manzano. I don't think he's going to publish it after all, so I'm finally putting it up here. You can tell from the Ecuador reference that this is old news- the question now is what is about to go down in Libya, when el Presidente Estados Unidos is calling for ouster (notice this is the only nation so far for which he's said that). Also, as of this morning, still no baby, for those keeping track...

I had stated repeatedly and for years that I would never have children, to family, to friends and to the woman who would become my wife. That woman merely rolled her eyes or ignored me, because she knew that she would have children and, after some time, she knew that she wanted those children to be mine. The first of them, a son, is due as of this writing in late February of 2011, a little over 10 years from the inauguration of George W. Bush, the election of Ariel Sharon and the creation of Wikipedia, my source for much of what follows.

When I taught briefly in 2006/2007 at the University of California Santa Cruz, a class of freshmen, I had the chilling realization that my students were in middle school, were not yet adults, when the West Wing of the Pentagon, the two towers of the World Trade Center, four airplanes, a swath of grass in Skanksville Pennsylvania and 2,996 human lives were destroyed. Which is to say they have not had a moment of their adult lives when they didn’t live in a country that was openly engaged in a perpetual war. The elementary school kids my wife began teaching around the same time were toddlers on that infamous date, and her latest classes had not yet been born. Some 40 million children have been born since 9/11/01 in the U.S. alone. This disproves one of my initial arguments, that ‘you can’t have American babies in the post-9/11 world’. In fact, you can, millions have and so soon will we.

The counter-argument I heard often, that ‘you, Dillon Westbrook, an educated, left-leaning, rational and moral person in a world of jingoism, profiteering and war-mongering must have babies, if only to counter-act the direction this country, the center of power in the world, is headed’- that argument is disproven I think as well by all these births, for the simple reason that a baby is not an argument for or against perpetual war. Neither babies nor wars are rational, and arguments are. Arguments are what we would be having if we, meaning the royal We of nations as singular agents, were rational- wars and babies are what we have instead.

Not only the core premise of the counter-argument is disproven, but the details as well. An educated, left-leaning, rational and moral person took the presidency of the U.S. in January of 2009, and he is bombing civilians in Pakistan from drone airplanes. In the interim, the U.S. ceased to be the center of power in the world. Now there is no center of power, or the center of power is in flux, in part because China had so many more babies, i.e. produced so much more capital, even when they tried rational schemes to limit those babies. The OPEC nations used to be our friendly petro-dealers, thanks in large part to George the Senior, and now they are a mass of feuding cousins whose allegiances we can’t predict or understand. Africa used to be a continent we could either ignore or stifle with charity, and now China is trying to turn Africa into its own petrol-and-mineral-dealer. Not surprisingly, neither China nor Africa wants to hear from an aging pimp like Uncle Sam: ‘just shut up and enjoy your iPad, grandpa- leave the economic expansion to us.’

But this too could shift, because wars and babies are what we have now instead of centers of power. Maybe that’s all we ever had. I’ve read that 1 in 200 men share a nearly identical Y chromosome, likely brought on by their sharing a direct, though distant, male progenitor- Genghis Khan. Khan was known to roll into town, line up all the men and execute them, then line up all the women and rape them. Now, some 800 years later, the babies are all that survived the war. The war is all that survived the historical record. Who knows what was going on in those towns before Genghis Khan showed up. They could have been educated, left-leaning, rational and moral people- lot of good it did them. If you read too much history, which I don’t, you can start to see why folks get caught up in starting another war- it becomes synonymous with all human activity, and people want to be known for doing something.

On the daily, though, what we do is hump economic hod up the scaffold. It keeps us distracted, because it doesn’t look anything like the war out there, in a mass of fueled-up vehicles pulsing towards destinations, Retail, Tech, Construction, Customer Service. You can tell from the statistics that the war never distracted us much from baby-making, 2007 had a surge in Iraq and on the homefront, with a record 4.3 million U.S. births. But a little dip in the road economically and we fall off by 2% in 2008 and beyond. If the lady and I had bought our house, married and conceived in 2005/2006, the grimmest years of the war, instead of 2009/2010, the grimmest years in the U.S. economy, friends and family would have applauded our timing, instead of questioning our sanity. Back then I was arguing about how another U.S. consumer was tantamount to a civilian death, or maybe ten civilian deaths, in Iraq or Afghanistan. But that’s not a rational argument. The unstable housing and job markets are “reasons” to hold off on the baby front. Wait another year until things pick up before committing to the $100,000+ liability that is a middle class U.S. baby. The two wars, or is it one war or is it 10,000, and their decades of destruction- no rational person would hold off giving birth awaiting their end. That argument actually persuades me, however, in the most cynical way- I don’t expect the wars to end before my wife passes child-bearing age. The two named wars we are in now may officially end, in the same sense they officially started, but that will hardly end the war.

“But wait!”, I hear you say, “Wars sure as shit are rational enterprises; they are instrumental to economic domination of one nation over others”. I am sympathetic to this argument to a point. It’s not hard to line up all the military interventions in the Persian Gulf and draw a line in the shape of an oil pipeline straight up to Afghanistan- mystery solved. But rationality requires that both means and ends are rational and are lined up through sound induction. From where we sit now, deposing the democratically elected Mohhamed Mossadegh in favor of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a bad move, because it fermented the Iranian Revolution and its government and they don’t like to play baseball with no Americans. Aiding and abetting Saddam Hussein as a counterfoil to the Iranian Revolutionary Government seemed like a winner at the time, but low and behold, he no liked-a baseball either. In fact, I’ll bet you Reggie Jackson’s signed #9 uniform that you can’t name one of these interventions that swung the way we wanted it 10 years down the line. Yet, we’re still at it, most recently with President Aristide of Haiti, and what the fuck is about to go down in Ecuador right now, anyways?

Nevertheless, we keep at it, and while that might look like dogged American determination, it’s also a text-book fit for the clinical definition of insanity- doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. And what about the results- are they rational ends? Sure, we all enjoy and agree upon super-sized cheese burgers and iPads. And, as Fox news will point out several times daily, hundreds-of-thousands of people annually try to bust in, legally or otherwise, to the land of super-sized cheese burgers and iPads. China is building its own, much larger land of cheese-burgers and iPads, and they don’t even have to import the iPads. But the Greeks took pains to show us that everyone and their mother agreeing on something doesn’t make it true or right. Ultimately, consumption to the point of engorgement is a losing strategy and one that we no doubt will pursue to our ecological, and cardiovascular, demise. If it is even rational to live, and there is plenty ground to argue inside that question, it is not clear that it is thereby rational to prosper. It may turn out that we would be better off struggling and starving a bit in the long run, and though it is certainly horrible to be the war-torn; the burned, the murdered, the raped and the beaten, it is by no means inversely grand to be the warrior. As of this writing there are more U.S. military deaths this year attributed to suicide than to combat action in either theater of the war.

The politics of birth in this country are all defined around Choice, and I doubt whether any other country talks about it in terms quite so stark. Certainly I’m the first to say that I know damn-well how the biology works. If my wife has a bun in the oven I’m fully culpable. It’s a “choice” I won’t live down or, I hope, outlive. But the metaphysics are complicated in a way the political debate never seems to capture. If the choice is between a world that contains a new agency, the baby, and one that does not, in which of those possible worlds does that agency itself have any say about its own existence? If the agent is never-to-be and I or my wife exercise any of the various options my Catholic forebearers would disdain, did baby’s agency decide not to be or did that agency simply never exist? If we do nothing but what biology dictates, did baby agency ascent, or is it possible for the agency to decide post-facto that it would rather not have been? To put it another way, is it so obvious that every baby that is born wanted to exist?

What choice would my future son have made if I had explained the full circumstance to him- the depleted environment, over-population of the human species, the hegemony of private agri-business over food production, economic and social injustice, war, rape and famine, the A’s moving to San Jose? Would he say, ‘fuck that shit, I’m out’ and reabsorb into his mother’s blood stream? Or would he say this: “You’re barely 30 years old, Dad, and I know you think you’re a smart guy and you got it all figured out, but by the time I’m your age the entire game will have changed in ways you can’t predict now, no matter what statistical or historical analysis you invent. Don’t ask whether I should want to be a future agent, but ask what you, old man, are going to do to prepare the future for my agency, to make it possible for me to even make meaningful choices, whose possible outcomes outstrip your imagination at this moment when my mother is pregnant, the house I will come home to from the hospital is half-built, and you don’t even know whether you’ll have a job in the next six months.” Then baby would giggle at me and put my smart phone in his mouth and chew on it. Because babies, like wars, don’t give a fuck about you and your mental anguish- they’re coming whether you’re ready or not.


Semina Music said...

Let's have Reginald read this at a dinner party in 20 years...invite me!

Linda Zetterholm Nelsen said...

Welcome to parenthood, young man. Your mind and heart will spin and spin...and you will ache and rejoice in equal measure, ad infinitum. I am reminded of Arlo Guthrie's "Take it easy...but take it". Anxiety will be on the bus with you this whole ride...just don't let it be the driver. Err on the side of what is possible and optimal. Little Reginald will open the world to you and give you insights Herculean for such a tiny being. It really is a trip not to be missed, come what may. Have faith the world is spinning for your enjoyment. Loving your family, Linda aka She Who Dances in the Mud