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07/25/2011

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Love and sex are two of the sweetest joys of the human condition. It should not surprise anyone who believes in the Fall that we are never able to enjoy them without limit and without pain.

This is great.

AMDG

Although your title makes me think of your old subtitle, "Sex is Just a Problem, but that is Not, Indeed, All There Is to It." ;-)

AMDG

I was tempted to say this on Daniel's blog but I was hesitant at laying myself open to the charge of either being overly pious or a card carrying member of the petit bourgeoisie.

My experience of NFP, and of almost everything in the spiritual life, is that it only works (and by "works" I don't mean not getting pregnant, I mean not causing great stress in your marriage) if you abandon yourself to it in trust. This was not easy for us, but when we eventually did, several difficult areas of our life seemed to slip into place.

AMDG

True. You know, I've been thinking of bringing that subtitle back. Not sure I can implement it in TypePad, thought.

Thank you.

Cross-posted there.

I used the subtitle in a paper that I had to write on Ode on a Grecian Urn last semester.

AMDG

Money quote:

Love and sex are two of the sweetest joys of the human condition. It should not surprise anyone who believes in the Fall that we are never able to enjoy them without limit and without pain.

Indeed.

Sex is just a problem and that's all there is to it

Exactly. We need to hear this and often.

Artificial contraception doesn't solve the problem, as you note, and as the high abortion rate shows. Honestly, we'd probably all be a lot happier if we just accepted that:
1. Life (including marriage and child-rearing) is just plain hard.
2. Sex is a problem, as you say.

My experience of NFP, and of almost everything in the spiritual life, is that it only works (and by "works" I don't mean not getting pregnant, I mean not causing great stress in your marriage) if you abandon yourself to it in trust.

This is absolutely true and this is the only kind of "solution" we can have. None of us can really be happy until we can trust in God fully. For most (all?) of us, this is a really big deal.

For myself, I always found that discovering what my fears were precisely was very helpful, b/c then I could face them and work through them. E.g. I worried with my fourth pregnancy about all the (dumbarse/rude/mean/socially inept) remarks I would receive, so I worked on a few smart replies to shut people up (and they worked):

E.g. My aunt said, "You're breeding like rabbits!" (Uh... 4 children in 7 years is not breeding like rabbits) to which I merely said, "No, we're breeding like humans." She realised how abominable her remark was and back-peddalled pretty quick!

And sometimes silence is eloquent, as when I remained in profound gobsmacked silence for at least a minute when another aunt told me Nick should "tie a not in it." I was so disgusted, I couldn't say a thing and I'd be very surprised if that didn't say more than words ever could!

Suffice it to say that if one does a reasonable job of parenting, one ends up with a few or several children who are pertty capable and lovely human beings and then people (mostly women but sometimes men) start whispering to you, "I wish I'd had more..."

Really, Louise, you could just reduce your two to one: "life is hard." That pretty much covers everything...

Very good comebacks about the children. One I got really sick of, although I didn't hear it very often, was "don't you know what causes that?" And we heard that after just two.

It's my impression--purely anecdotal--that a lot of women really would like to have more than 1 or 2, but either their husbands don't want to, or they're afraid of being overwhelmed, not having enough money, etc. I think it's fairly standard practice in hospitals here to offer to tie a woman's tubes right after delivery of the second baby. Sort of sickening.

Janet, re your 8:18 comment: I don't really remember having any transition like that, but maybe my wife did. It was always just sort of muddling through to me.

I think it's fairly standard practice in hospitals here to offer to tie a woman's tubes right after delivery of the second baby. Sort of sickening.

That is sickening.

A really good article I read about the various problems contracepting couples face pointed out that for some couples there is tension about who will get themselves neutered.

One of my friends spent the better part of 3 years encouraging her husband to get the snip.

The ironic thing? She had fertility treatment (not IVF) to conceive the first three children.

This same friend (who is very quick-witted) once said to me that Nick should go for the snip. I used one of my pre-prepared lines (not original to me, however) and exclaimed "Oh no! Couldn't do it to me dog!"

And without missing a beat she just said, "Don't do it to your dog then - just Nick."


hmmmmph!

"my"

I have to admit I laughed at that (your friend's line).

However, I find it hard to imagine any circumstance in which I would accept that for either my wife or myself. Both the male and female versions strike me as mutilations and give me the creeps, all moral questions aside. I think if it were life and death, even, the creep factor would cause me to accept abstinence. Big talk, I guess, from someone who hasn't been that desperate, but that's the way it looks to me.

I liked the old subtitle.

I laughed no 'we breed like humans'

I fought against having Leo neutered until the 7th litter of kittens coincided with a slipped disk. With the males, Pius and Stan, I refused until the neighbours threatened to take them themselves (unfortunately, they are so tame it was not an idle threat)...

I have to admit I laughed at that (your friend's line).

Oh yes! It was hilarious! I was just so annoyed that:
1. I didn't "win"
2. She is naturally funnier and quicker than me!

The whole neutering thing is quite vile. Here's another story from the time I was about to give birth to #5. (No gory details, I promise).

For this story to make sense, you only need to know that this was a surgical birth. While being prepped and probably less than an hour away from the moment of birth and as you may imagine, therefore, feeling very anxious and vulnerable, this random senior surgeon (who I never saw before or since) passes by - I'm not kidding, he's just passing by as I'm having my IV line put in and the anaesthetist is making a bit of a hash of it, as it happens.

Senior surgeon says to me, "This is number 5? Will we just tie your tubes while we're there?" as though he were asking "would you like a cup of tea?" I answer, cheerily, "Not today, thankyou!"

"More babies, then?" he asks.

"Oh yes!" I reply, "We have to keep you people in business!"

[*Universal laughter*]

Kingdom of Heaven: 1
Prince of the Air: 0

Our friend Tim has 5 children. Here is an anecdote:

Unoriginal, Unfunny Man: "Don't you people have a TV?"

Tim: "Yes, but there's nothing on at lunch time."

*Boom boom!*

Peter, the father of one of my friends and who has six children is asked by a work colleague:

"Are you a Catholic, or a sex maniac?"

Peter: "oh... a bit of both, really."

The father of one of our friends had four girls and then a boy. Before his son was born someone remarked to him "and every time, a girl?"

He replied, "No. Lots of times, nothing."

I don't think anyone has ever asked me, "don't you know what causes that?"

If they did, I'd be tempted to answer, "Nuh."

Good lines from your friends, Louise.

And the "will we be tying your tubes today?"--yeah, that's exactly the way it is here. Good rejoinder.

I'm the same way about neutering animals, Francesca. I know it needs to be done and I eventually give in, but I always resist. With female cats over the years we used to let them have at least one litter before doing the deed. But by the time we got our last-acquired females (dog and cat) we were so weary of animals that we didn't do that.

The conversation over at C & T has haunted me all week. I have never been told by a group of practicing Catholics that I am off base by having a large family from so many angles. And to be told that because I don't live in abject poverty having 9 children is easy has brought me to tears more than a few times this week. It is never easy to raise children. Ever. Not if you take it seriously. It seems the Catholics that "failed" in the contraception category got lots of sympathy, but those of us that have the large families were basically mocked. Shocking, really. To be clear, I understand and sympathize with everyone who posted. There is no easy answer, as you say (which is why I put "failed" in quotes. We all fail, often, in life). I was just shocked that the option of accepting children was seen as either imprudent or somehow unjust. I am approaching giving birth to my 9th baby in a few weeks, and somehow I need to get my confidence back. I still have so much work to do, raising another child for 18 more years. I am having such a difficult time shaking off the negativity from that conversation.

Well, Renee, I just couldn't read very much because it was so negative. There's just no point in engaging in a conversation where no one is listening to what you say. I did read what you said about your family and I thought you said just the right things. I also thought when I read the response that it is so true that raising a family is always hard. And if you have a bit more money than some people, what better could you be doing than using that money to bring more children into the world? The Church asks us to be generous in bearing children. That's what you are doing.

I think what bothered me most was the politicizing of the subject.

AMDG

As I was finishing up this post I thought "you need to add something about being charitable and generous to each other in this struggle." But I was running out of time and didn't.

I have to say I was pretty appalled by some of the stuff I read in the CT thread, but I didn't want to jump into it. At one point I realized I was feeling sort of defensive about the fact that I've managed to provide a middle-class living for my family, and then I thought "what the hell?!?"...

In my opinion anyone who welcomes nine children is brave and generous.

Oh, and I thought your responses were very good, too. Also somewhat surprisingly...not-angry. I sort of expected you to lash out. I probably would have.

More snappy answers here:
http://simchafisher.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/7-quick-takes-snappy-answers-to-stupid-questions-edition/
My favorite is #7.

The woman who brought me Communion in the hospital when I had my 7th child told me to get my husband fixed, because "those priests don't understand." She said that while holding the Eucharist in her hand. I have often regretted that my postpartum fatigue and fog meant I didn't report her to the hospital authorities.

Another aspect of the Problem of Sex, as articulated somewhat indignantly by my then 9-year-old upon learning that her aunt and the aunt's non-husband were expecting a child:
"I don't think God should reward people who are doing something wrong by giving them a baby!"

Well, Anne-Marie, sounds like your 9yo has the right idea. Kudos to you.

Renee, I am appalled beyond words. God bless you as you carry this precious child. I am the "insane" member of the family, having SIX kids. My brother and my cousins have only one or two kids. But I'm always comforted in knowing that our Nan was the third of nine children and if great-grandma had taken the same position as my cousins now do, none of us would be here. I reckon Great-grandma would be proud of me and I'll bet you have tons of ancestors who would be equally proud of you. May God bless you and keep you and help you to retain some equilibrium. I pray you have a good delivery.

The only anger I saw was from Owen. Owen is pissed off. He is a highly intelligent guy who works in a small metal shop- "metal" in that it makes metal stuff, and also is made of metal- in Memphis, which is not air conditioned.
For this grueling work he is paid a pittance, no insurance or benefits. He has racked up $30,000 in medical debt in the last two years.
He was also raised in a radical leftist home, so he brings a Marx-influenced analysis to his anger.
He really gets mad at affluent Catholic who blithely laud the big family ideal. He has three kids, but if he had 9 or 10 it would mean abject poverty.
Just a context, plus he is pretty ornery by temperament...
I must say that though I started the whole thing I did not read the comments carefully, more skimmed. I am spread thin, and always feared that this sort of impassioned conversation would catch fire, which I would not have time to follow closely.
I thought, Renee, that your comments were the best and most spiritual. And you even tried to reach out to Owen, though he would have none of it.
I am not unsympathetic to Owen, because I also am working class- though union, with good insurance and a better wage- but with 7 children it is very tough, and it is hard not to share his anger.
And one thing that seems very clear in that conversation: the happy NFPers were either young, with two or three (and also recipients of government aid, both of them) or pretty well off. Those that swore off NFP when it was unreliable- one chose permanent abstinence, the other vasectomy- had encountered pretty grueling poverty.
But yeah, pretty exhausting. When I wrote the initial piece I figured I might get a few criticisms from NFP adherents, but instead provoked an impassioned, and sometimes heartbreaking, firestorm....

Affluent Cathlics who laud the large family do not thereby necessarily condemn poorer families for using NFP to limit their family size, nor suggest they should have more kids for the heck of it, so in one sense, I can't understand why Owen is pissed off with them. Unless, of course, rich Catholics have been taking him to task about his family size.

I do wonder, half the time, what people mean by poverty. Clearly $30,000 is not much to live on, but I know from surfing the 'net looking at property prices, that there is a very wide range of housing prices in the US. One is hard pressed to get a 3BR home in Australia within 50 miles of a city for less than $200,000. In the states, there are properties available in various places for much less than this and in good condition. Presumably rents are on a similar scale. When Nick was first in a job, he earned about $35,000 pa. We probably spent about $10,000 in rent, and paid a similar amount in tax and then I guess about $7000 on groceries and maybe $3000 in petrol as best as I can recall.

St Paul says "be content with food and clothing" which, along with water are the main things we really need. Abraham was very wealthy, but he lived in a tent.

"Better to be poor with fear of the LORD than have riches and discontent."

I really wonder what the average Westerner thinks is "necessary."

Nick and I are pretty well off now (but I won't feel well off until we have paid off the mortgage), but we weren't to begin with. We made the decisions we made and had to sacrifice certain comforts to do so and it's equally galling to have people assume that we only have so many kids b/c we are fairly well off. The best thing any family can do is simply stop spending on anything which isn't housing, food and clothing related and to minimise health expenditure as much as possible. Modern medicine seems to just make people poor rather than healthy. Sometimes I have to spend $60 to go to a doctor so he can write a script for a medicine we all know I need and could just buy over the counter, if only that were legal!

re: angry people. It seems to be the case, the more I look at it, that when people are angry, very often they're just angry at themselves. Also, anger is a secondary emotion, which means there is normally something else going on - often fear or guilt/shame. It's so much easier to project our emotions "out there."

So, back to Renee - just keep in touch with your own feelings and instead of stuffing them down inside yourself, see if you can just say to yourself "I feel angry/sad/bad/afraid and that's okay." If the people you interact with are important to you perhaps you can just share your feeling, but I find that merely acknowledging my own emotion to myself or important people like my husband, then I can let go quickly and be healed. The problems arise when we stuff the emotions down and then they either do long-term hidden damage, or they explode out of us unpredictably and do unhidden damage. At least, that's my experience.

Being even a little bit Marxist would be enough to make anyone angry!

Daniel, I didn't want to get involved in a firestorm so I just thought I would look a little at this remark here from your post:

Natural Family Planning, after all, mandates abstinence when a woman is ovulating, which everyone knows is the time when her desire for her man is most intense. Does frustrating this bring about stresses in the union?

I'm just kind of "typing out loud" here so to speak.

I happily admit that NFP is a very frustrating thing in itself - right up there with say, complete abstinence, child-bearing/rearing and arguing about who is going to be desexed (for those who don't follow Church teaching).

Now suppose a couple do not use NFP but simply go with the flow and then have however many children come along. Or suppose they are sub-fertile and simply have plenty of sex and fewer children. Now, this time in the month when the woman most "feels like" having sex is around ovulation and probably lasts about 12 hours to 2 or 3 days, depending on the individual. Is that really a whole lot more sex happening than in those marriages which use NFP, or where the Pill suppresses all sex drive (artificially), for instance?

I just wonder, you know?

I heard a great comedienne give a classic lecture to a young married couple as her routine and told then that "women are crazy and complex and men are simple and delusional." The more I think about it (and laugh!) the more I think - you know, that's probably true and it probably explains an awful lot.

for me, when I learned how to recognise my negative emotions towards Nick and just feel comfortable with them and at the same time appreciate him and all the things he does for us, I was able to overcome many of my own emotional blockages, which I think are th main hindrance for a woman in terms of sex drive. That's my experience, anyway.

And all the contracepting/desexed couples out there (100% of them, I'll bet) are also yelling at each other about sex/money/housework/kids too (!) so you know - I just think marriage is hard. And divorce is what happens when one spouse becomes selfish (except in that very small proportion of cases where there is serious reason to separate).

Divorced couples who used contraception cannot blame NFP, but they'll find lots of other things to pin it on. Anything except to simply assign the blame to the deserting spouse for being uncommitted, which is what the problem there really is.

Louise, Daniel said that Owen had $30K in medical bills, not that he made that much a year. I have to admit that if I were doing physical labor with no air conditioning here in the Memphis area, I would probably be mad all the time about everything. We have window units in our house and its 81 in our living room at 11 p.m., so I can't imagine how horrible it must be where he works.

Well, we are a happy NFP family, and we are old 60/66 and lived most of our married life fairly close to the edge, by which I mean that if my husband had made about $50 less per month, we would have qualified for food stamps. I have to admit, though, that we didn't using NFP until my late 30s because we were stupid.

The conversation at your blog, Daniel, is really two conversations. Some people, like you are looking at NFP from a place of using no birth control at all; and some are looking at it from the point of view of having used it since they got married. Those are two very different discussions.

Time to go to work.

AMDG

When I attained majority at 18 I decided that being an adult simply meant having to take full responsibility for myself - no blaming mum and dad etc. No fobbing off my own issues onto others etc. I can't say I've always done that, but when I do take full responsibility, it's a good thing and feels good (if also very painful). Seems to me that many "adults" are not doing this.

Louise, Daniel said that Owen had $30K in medical bills, not that he made that much a year.

you're right, Janet, I just had a brain wobble, or something.

Interesting bunch of comments here. I'll add my 2 cents later while I eat the enchilada that I brought home from the Mexican restaurant the other night. I am greatly looking forward to it.

All of a sudden the lunch I brought seems very boring.

AMDG

I'd like to clarify that I am not angry at Renee for being more affluent than I. What makes me angry is the increasing concentration of wealth and the loss of the middle and working classes in this country, which has been brewing since the late 70s.
And it angers me that Owen and I work very hard, at grueling physical labor, and have trouble making ends meet (Owen more than I, thank God for the union), while guys who never break a sweat live lives of ease and luxury. And most of their riches do not exactly come from serving the common good, but from various schemes and exploitations.

Well, this has been the case in every age and we have the Lord's word for it that it will always be so. I guess this is going to be overly pious or something, but here goes. The psalms tell us not to fret over evil men, etc., etc. The Scripture says that we'll have perfect peace if we keep our eyes on Jesus. I know that none if us is very good at this, but to choose to spend great amounts of time looking at the prosperous and perhaps evil (although not always) men, is to make oneself impervious to peace.

Also, what you've said here sounds perilously close to the sin of envy. It's not just that you want to have more of the worlds goods (What you need--I understand you need it.), you want them NOT to have it.

AMDG

Going back to Louise's "I do wonder, half the time, what people mean by poverty."

I don't know how it is in Australia, but in much or most of the U.S., poverty means a lot more than lack of money. I mean, it's not just that you struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over your head. If you live in a city like Memphis or Mobile or any of dozens of others, where there's a lot of crime, it means you may live in an unsafe neighborhood which is hazardous to your children's physical and mental/moral health (not to mention your own). Thanks to our crazy health care system, it may mean that any need for health care is a crisis, unless you're so abjectly poor that you just throw yourself on the mercy of Medicaid, which I'm sure has its own set of problems. Those two things alone make being poor stressful beyond the obvious reasons. And you pretty much have to have a car to get around, so if your old car breaks down that's a crisis, because you can't get to work. Etc. etc.

I've never really had much tendency to envy, but I have noticed in recent years, as the wonderful little formerly-hidden enclave where I live has been colonized by rich and near-rich people, that I find myself resenting their wealth in itself. The $450,000 dollar house built next door a few years ago is the second home of a couple from New Orleans. It was built to stringent "green" standards. It sits there empty 90% of the time with the air-conditioning running. We've joked that people are going to start pulling up at our house, which is the first one you come ti, and telling us to announce them at one of the big houses. I frequently remind myself that we have all we need, and it's still a wonderful place to live. If we didn't have all we need, it would be a worse struggle not to be resentful.

This might surprise some people, but I actually share some of Daniel's anger, though in a sort of impersonal way--that is, it's not connected to my personal situation, which is ok, but to the undeniable fact that we have some very visible people making unspendable amounts of money while driving the economy over a cliff. But that's a really complicated situation. There are an awful lot of factors that have resulted in the growing income gap.

Also, I know several people who have risen to pretty high levels in big corporations because they're exceptionally gifted and they really work hard. It's not like they're the little Monopoly moneybags guy.

Financial anxiety can really be crippling. Things have always been somewhat tight for us, but since the children left home and my wife went to work, we're able to live within our means without a lot of stress, and are in a position to help the kids etc. when needed, and I have to say it is really nice.

I think I'm just thinking out loud here about the things y'all have said--no particular point of my own. Alas, the lovely little enchilada with which I enjoyed such a pleasant interlude seems to have disappeared, and I must go back to work.

never had much tendency to monetary envy, I should say--all to much of other kinds.

"it angers me that Owen and I work very hard, at grueling physical labor, and have trouble making ends meet (Owen more than I, thank God for the union), while guys who never break a sweat live lives of ease and luxury. And most of their riches do not exactly come from serving the common good, but from various schemes and exploitations"

What angers me is the fact that there are people who really do think they need that much money, and that there are other people who think it's fine that they make that much. I work for a Fortune 500 company where the median income is $35,000 a year, but last year the CEO made $13 million.

Nobody on this planet needs that much money. That they want that much money is sinful, but we do not see it is such since we have effectively removed avarice from the list of the seven deadly sins:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/05/the-emancipation-of-avarice

That there is something of a worm in the root of capitalism I have no doubt. But Marxism, being simply its materialist flip-side, isn't the answer either. That's why I'm something of a distributist/agrarian -- it seems like the one option that avoids the extremes of the other two.

I think that this entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia on jealousy pretty well describes what I'm talking about.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08326b.htm

I problem with jealously or what I think of as envy is this:

It is defined to be a sorrow which one entertains at another's well-being because of a view that one's own excellence is in consequence lessened. Its distinctive malice comes from the opposition it implies to the supreme virtue of charity. The law of love constrains us to rejoice rather than to be distressed at the good fortune of our neighbour.

Of course, the article explains that there are reasons to be unhappy about another person's good fortune.

If, for instance, I feel sorrow at the news of another's promotion or rise to wealth, either because I know that he does not deserve his accession of good fortune, or because I have founded reason to fear he will use it to injure me or others, my attitude, provided that there is no excess in my sentiment, is entirely rational.

So, I can't really judge whether a person that I only know through reading blogs is exceeding what is reasonable, which is why I said it was "close" to the sin of envy, but I just think it's worth some consideration. Especially Daniel, because it seems to be so much more debilitating to you and harms the people you are concerned with not at all.

AMDG

We have been in strange financial waters for years. My husband made a large salary for a few years. He has made $0/year also for a few years in a row. This has zig/zagged back and forth since about 2000. We have become a "make hay while the sun shines" type family, making repairs, upgrading broken items etc. during the years he makes money, and living exceptionally close to the vest when he doesn't. We have never had "normal" health insurance, just catastrophic policies, so the stress of medical issues is very real. The insurance companies really rake us over the coals. The years my husband has made no money, obviously we paid no taxes. But the years he did make money put him in a tax bracket that doesn't take into account the debt compiled during the no income years, so we have a very difficult time getting ahead. We put quite a bit of our eggs in our house basket, which has lost a significant portion of its value, so that will be a problem for a long time. Anyway, I could go on, but my point is this. First, we have had babies fairly regularly throughout these years, fat or lean, and while fat is easier, the kids are just as welcome. Second, from the outside our life looks good, but scratch the surface and you'll see the precarious position we are in, and likely will always be in unless his income becomes steady and predictable, which I very much doubt. So I have had to learn trust. Trust that we'll get what we need. Trust to tithe when I know darn well we will need that money soon. Trust to be open to life when I have no idea what is around the next bend. Crisis has come and gone and come again, our children are eternal, and when my life is over, I'll be thinking of them, not $$$.

We have the situation now where my husband makes too much to get my eldest financial aid for college, and not enough for us to actually afford to help him with college. So he's going to the local community college, living in our basement and will work and save. As much as I feel bad about this (because he worked very hard and was accepted into a very good school), I figure he is learning about the real world now, and is trying stay out of as much debt as possible, and this may make more of an adult of him. While I know we are no where near being "poor", we are no where near being "rich", and that is primarily because we have a large family. We day dream sometimes, if we had only the first three, I would have been able to go back to my career, we could have saved up, we would be 2 years away from an empty nest, probably have a savings account. But then we look at the other 6 children (one still inside my very large belly), and think, what are they worth?

Why am I spilling my guts? Because I don't want to be a "them" in an Us v. Them debate about wealthy, poor, barren, fertile, low tax bracket, high tax bracket. I want to be part of my Catholic community, giving, receiving, depending upon, and being asked to help. I don't think dividing up people by any external indicator helps us as a human family. Sigh. I know this is impossible, but I try. I really, really do.

Thank you, Renee.

I'm glad that you mentioned tithing because for us that was a great watershed.

AMDG

Sorry I can't participate more in this--I'm at work.

Looking at the definition Janet posted, I think I really meant covetousness when I spoke of envy earlier. I'm guilty of coveting the $1.5 million dollar house on the bay, but I am not envious of the owner.

I think the "If, for instance..." following part of that definition covers what a lot of us feel about many of the current rich.

No, Janet, I do not envy the rich, as I could not live with myself if I spent money so recklessly while others strive to make ends meet.
If I was not clear, I am angry at injustice, and this economy is deeply unjust and getting worse.

Hear, hear, Renee. There is nothing to be gained by demanding that people prove their cred (poverty, or openness to life, or whatever) before being allowed to speak. I can understand Owen feeling frustrated when he's told to trust in God by people who appear to him to be rich enough not to need God to get by--and those in that situation shouldn't airily hand out advice that is way easier for them to take--but he shouldn't assume that he in fact knows their situation. "Speak softly, for you do not know what battles others are fighting" and all that.

Janet is on the right track here. Our best bet in all things is to take the words of scripture completely to heart. It's hard for most of us to do this, but we must. And that's all the harder when our society as a whole, no longer lives a simple and laborious life.

Maclin, I am definitely under the impression that things are more fiscally precarious for people in the states than here. But still, I do think many Westerners (not pointing to anyone here at all) think that not having an X or Y or Z is somehow indicative of not having enough.

Certainly having decent transport options (at least to get to work) is a necessity.

I just now looked at that FT article that Rob linked to. It's pretty long, and I didn't have time to read the whole thing, but it occurred to me that there has been a fatal one-step-too-far in the minds of many people who ought to know better. They start with a common-sense recognition of the power of incentive and the natural instinct to take care of oneself and one's own. Everybody knows that in general the owner of a house will take better care of it than a renter will. Everybody accepts that a certain level of self-interest in one's work is natural: unless you're exceptionally lucky, you do it because you get paid for it. And the employer pays you because that's in his interest. Nothing wrong with any of that, within obvious reasonable bounds. But then free-market absolutists and others confound that modest principle with avarice, justifying the latter by appeal to the morality of the former: no difference between the guy racking up tens of millions of dollars a year and the guy putting a little aside for a rainy day. It's that abstract mechanizing aspect of modern thinking, a flight from fundamental grounding. A flight from reality, really. The "obvious reasonable grounds" are made to seem arbitrary, and there's no moral framework by which to distinguish the decent from the indecent accumulation of wealth. Differences of degree can become differences of kind, but that's not admitted.

We ought to have a moral environment in which it would generally be considered indecent to make multiple millions per year, especially if the people at the bottom of the organization are barely surviving. Say there's a CEO making $11million, and the company has 10,000 employees. Let the CEO scrape by on a million and divide the rest--that's $1000 each. Not that much money, but enough to make a difference to somebody barely scraping by.

I read somewhere a while back that Ben & Jerry's, before they were bought out, had a rule that the highest-paid employee could not make more than 7 times what the lowest-paid made. I thought that was great. If the top guy made $500,000, which even a CEO ought to be able to survive on, the lowest would make about $70,000. What a different world it would be if that were a general rule.

Anger at those rich who are unjust in their dealings and abusers of power is, of course, righteous indignation and I'm sure we all feel it occasionally.

That is why, like Rob, I am something of a Distributist in my economic thinking. I have no problem with wealthy people if they use their wealth for good. Personally, I am happy being either rich or poor (I have been both, in relative terms) and whether rich or poor, alive or dead, I will worship the Lord. And I'm sure we all feel like that.

Part of the problem may stem from the fact that as a society we have lost the whole notion of the small business owner/farmer and the notion of labouring for six days and resting on the seventh. When we are predominantly employees, under the rule of ungodly men, we have a big problem.

Really, this is all just Belloc's Servile State and the only way out as far as I can tell is for men to study Wisdom and then go out and live it in their working lives.

"I do think many Westerners (not pointing to anyone here at all) think that not having an X or Y or Z is somehow indicative of not having enough."

Absolutely no doubt about that.

From The Turnip re: Humanae Vitae -

Remember, if you can't win them over with charity and sound reason, employ snark.

I was going to let this be, but all these comments suggesting that the only reason anyone would be angry in light of the great and growing economic disparity in this country is envy, or perhaps because they have a skewed idea of things, is pretty annoying. Last year executive wages rose 23%, in a time of economic crisis. Oh, yes, but let us remember, as the Right says, that they contributed so much, so many jobs created.
Uh, right, jobs in India maybe, and those workers are still in poverty.
And no, I am not angry because I think I should have a big screen TV and other luxury items. I always tell my children when they get covetous, looking at the two income two kid families all around us, with their goodies and expensive vacations, that no, we are not poor. Poor people do not have what they need, and we are never lacking food and shelter.
On the other hand, it would be nice to work only 40 hours a week (last year I did not have a day off except Sundays from February to August) and make a decent living. Working long hours and driving cars with 200,000 miles and being stuck in a too-small house with 7 kids, and STILL living from paycheck to paycheck gets old, even if I remember to count my blessings. And I do.
But when I look at the incredible gap that has arisen between rich and poor, and executives and workers, which is only getting worse, with no end in sight, yes, I am angry.

In his book on libertarianism Christopher Ferrara makes a similar point to Mac's about the Catholic CEO of Costco (whose name escapes me) who has limited his salary to $350,000.00, which is 12x that of the median employee.

"We ought to have a moral environment in which it would generally be considered indecent to make multiple millions per year, especially if the people at the bottom of the organization are barely surviving."

Precisely. Yet whenever I bring this subject up with free-market absolutists they automatically assume that I'm in favor of some sort of government caps on CEO salaries, which I'm not. What I am in favor of is voluntary movement toward a moral climate like you mention above. I realize that it's a tall order, but you have to start somewhere.

I very much believe that part of the problem with American capitalism is that it is largely Protestant in origin, and that since Protestantism has little or no concept of asceticism, neither does its economics.


"Yet whenever I bring this subject up with free-market absolutists they automatically assume that I'm in favor of some sort of government caps on CEO salaries, which I'm not."

Free-market absolutists are exactly like leftists in being masters of the false dichotomy. Either you support the status quo and its implicit license for avarice, or you don't believe in private property. Either you support federal spending on this particular social program, or you don't believe in helping the poor. It's extremely frustrating to talk to either one. Which is why I tend not to do it.

Good for Mr. Costco (ignoring the whole question of whether Costco-style big stores are a good thing).

I actually pretty much agree with Daniel's concern about income inequality etc. We probably differ about why it's happening and the possible solutions, in fact I'm pretty sure we do. I think it's extremely complicated, and it isn't just the people at the top--the rot is systemic.

Has anyone ever attempted to calculate how the current income disparity compares to that in times past, say, czarist Russia or pre-Revolutionary France or Victorian England?

Czarist Russia? Pre-Revolutionary France? Victorian England? These are our standards?
Though I suspect that even if they are we are found wanting....

I've wondered that, too. On the face of it I would guess those disparities are much greater. I expect the numbers are available somewhere. But of course the comparison we feel is vs. the post-WW-II period in the U.S. What worries me is that that may have been an anomaly, a product of some pretty unique circumstances, and that we're now settling back toward normal.

It's a funny contradiction that the leftward wing of the culture has sneered at the middle class, but at the same time is outraged by its diminishment.

Actually it isn't the disparity per se that's the problem--the problem is where the bottom lies. If we had a thousand billionaires and the vast majority otherwise were middle-class, it wouldn't be a problem, socially speaking--might be a problem for the billionaires' spiritual health.

I don't really trust a lot of the numbers people throw around, because most who do the throwing are just picking whatever supports their case, but there does seem to be a widespread consensus that the disparity is increasing. It isn't only the truly wealthy--just on the basis of observation it seems to me that there is a bigger gap between the upper middle and lower middle than there used to be. I have this picture in my mind of a doctor's house in the town where I grew up--nicer than most, but not palatial.

But then even the lower middle has a lot more stuff, bigger houses, more cars, etc., than it used to do. People of very modest means take Caribbean cruises.

I don't know...it's very hard to get one's head around all the factors. Women in the work force, for instance.

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