Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Birth Control = More Nonmarital Births, Less Control for Women?

In today's Best of the Web, James Taranto addressed a fascinating topic utilizing a statistical point of view, culling a lot of information from an (eye-opening) article by Charles Murray here.

It's really interesting to think how the addition of various factors plays such incredible roles in outcomes. When almost all women would demand the same from a man (promise of marriage in case of pregnancy) before consenting to sexual activity, they had the upper hand on an individual level. But once birth control came into play and that demand was no longer necessary, they actually lost their upper hand - now men could know that they could sleep with anyone without having to worry about a baby or marriage, lowering the standards of commitment in a relationship and compelling women to have sex to keep relationships. And once the standards were lowered and birth control became a woman's choice, then any resulting children were her choice as well - essentially absolving men of responsibility. 

For the specifics, read below...

From Taranto: 
The Food and Drug Administration approved the pill for contraceptive use in 1960. Over the next half-century, the marriage rate declined and the illegitimacy rate skyrocketed, Charles Murray notes in a recent Wall Street Journal essay adapted from his new book: (emphasis added)
In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont [Murray's metaphor for the upper middle class] and Fishtown [the working class] were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10. . . .
In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education--were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.
Taranto links this up with a 1996 study:

Before 1970, the stigma of unwed motherhood was so great that few women were willing to bear children outside of marriage. The only circumstance that would cause women to engage in sexual activity was a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. Men were willing to make (and keep) that promise for they knew that in leaving one woman they would be unlikely to find another who would not make the same demand. Even women who would be willing to bear children out-of-wedlock could demand a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy.
The increased availability of contraception and abortion made shotgun weddings a thing of the past. Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. But women who wanted children, who did not want an abortion for moral or religious reasons, or who were unreliable in their use of contraception found themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations without being able to exact a promise of marriage in case of pregnancy. These women feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners. Sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.
Advances in reproductive technology eroded the custom of shotgun marriage in another way. Before the sexual revolution, women had less freedom, but men were expected to assume responsibility for their welfare. Today women are more free to choose, but men have afforded themselves the comparable option. "If she is not willing to have an abortion or use contraception," the man can reason, "why should I sacrifice myself to get married?" By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Taking Responsibility

I was driving across the Whitestone Bridge last week, and traffic was slowing to a crawl for a moment thanks to some construction work on the Bridge. As my car is stopping, I suddenly get thrust forward then pulled back by my seatbelt as the car behind me thuds right into me. I breathe for a few seconds, then put the car in park, put on the flashers, and sit for about 30 seconds to assess how hard I was hit before moving - then, after determining I'm fine and that the hit was likely at about 20mph or less, I slowly get out of the car and walk toward the back. At first, seeing the lady behind me just sitting in her car is disconcerting - why isn't she getting out? But about a second or two later, after a sigh, she opens her door and comes over.

As I begin surveying the damage - there's clearly something cracked off on the back, but for the most part the car looks like it wasn't hit too badly - the lady says to me "Hey - I'm sorry. My foot slipped off the brake for a second. It was all my fault." While obviously still not thrilled with having been rear-ended, at least I knew that she wasn't going to deny what happened. After another minute or two of looking at the damage and realizing it wasn't too bad, she offered to pay for any damage. I noted that I'd have to take it to my mechanic, and asked for her number, then to be safe had her call me instead from her phone and give me her full name - all of which she acquiesced to, after a moment's hesitation.

A couple of days later, I texted her that I was at the mechanic, and once I found out the cost, I texted her that as well. At first, she didn't reply. After a few hours of waiting, I began getting nervous (though at least the damage was not extensive or expensive) - but then she texted back, sending she would send out the money shortly via Chase's QuickPay system as I'd requested. Okay, great... but then no money came that day, making me wonder once again. The next morning, though, she texted again apologizing for the delay, and sent the funds over, with the following message:
"Again, thank you so much for being cordial... thanks."
I replied simply that I'd received the funds, and more importantly, "Thanks for taking responsibility."

She then replied,
"No problem... when I'm wrong I'm wrong... just glad you were very nice about the whole situation."
To which I finished simply:
"It's easy when the person accepts responsibility. :) Thanks again!"
So much of our lives are dictated by responsibilities. Those who act responsibly are respected, admired, and appreciated. Those who act irresponsibly are disliked, avoided, and shunned. Those who take responsibility for their mistakes are forgiven; those who shirk responsibility are detested.

Why is it that so many parents and kids, siblings, friends, or spouses fight even after one has apologized? Because that apology doesn't come with full responsibility: "I'm sorry for X, but if you/he/she hadn't done Y/but you do Z/I just couldn't ABC..."

It is difficult to get upset, and certainly hard to remain upset, at someone who has taken responsibility for their actions. While certainly in the moment there might still be what to be frustrated with, and the first reaction might still be harsh and angry or hurt or upset, the most important point to keep in mind is that there is nothing more the person could do to undo their error. They've acknowledged their error, they have apologized sincerely, and they are accepting whatever responsibilities they need to to help remedy their mistake. Sadly, this sense of responsibility does not seem as strong in today's times, but perhaps this is an area that can change as time passes.

May we all take proper responsibility for our actions - good or bad.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On The Wisdom Of Old

A number of years ago, I spent three days in California interviewing with an organization which did religious outreach across various college campuses in Southern California. By the end of the three days my wife and I were offered the opportunity to move to Santa Barbara (which we turned down), then spent a number of months discussing options in Los Angeles before eventually we decided to go our separate ways.

As part of the process, I was asked to talk to various college students of all types and stripes. In particular, I remember a fascinating conversation I had with a religious theology major at UCLA about approaches to life, God, religion, etc. One of the most fascinating parts of the conversation was when I argued that it seems odd to automatically assume that a given approach should be given no credibility no matter how long-standing it is. If anything, the more long-standing a point is, the more thought one should give that approach before moving onto others - yes, it can and should be questioned, but to assume that nobody prior to one's self has asked any of these questions shows a certain sense of ego and complete lack of humility, which would seemingly preclude the ability to make proper judgments down the line. Instead, one should first make sure to fully understand where a line of thought started, how it developed throughout time, and how it reached the point it has before passing any judgment on it. What was most amazing about our conversation was that this approach had never once occurred to nor had it been presented to this obviously intelligent, educated student whom I couldn't have been more than a year or two older than, and he was really taken aback by this. 

This has been coming back to me recently as I watch various debates occur on a variety of topics, from politics to Judaism to life in general. Three good specific examples from the past couple weeks are particularly striking: Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox book; the battle waged over forcing religious institutions to pay for birth control; and a pathetic article written which suggested forgetting the Holocaust.

In the latter, the attention-seeking contrariness-driven Beacon, which was dismissed as a YU paper after its last stunt, somehow was still able to get some attention to itself by penning an absolutely horrible piece whining that Jews still use the Holocaust as a reasoning behind being for or against various policies. When I first saw the piece via email, I questioned if anyone was actually reading such drivel, and didn't think it was worth replying to, not even bothering to read a reply someone sent me later at first. But later that night, I decided to read the reply - and it was absolutely fantastic. In particular, this portion struck me as exactly the point: 
[...] Remembering the Holocaust is not only important for its own sake. It is important because memory is education, education is action, and action is necessary: for any people anywhere. The ultimate goal of Holocaust education, of course, is genocide prevention: a promise encapsulated in the rallying mantra of “Never Again,” that which we have at once chanted and yet betrayed repeatedly.
In a world without memory, we will simply lose our imagination to conceptualize peril. [...]
The same point was struck in the responses to the Obama administration's push regarding birth control without an exemption for religious organizations. Judaism is not against birth control, but the First Amendment is crucial to members of all religions regardless of the specifics of a given law. The Orthodox Union (among others) clearly noted this issue in their condemnation of the move - and yet supporters of the Obama administration on this issue believe this issue is something which should be forced upon religious organizations regardless. The Constitution, where freedom of religion was laid out originally in this country, is viewed as an old document written by people hundreds of years ago who didn't have the same social values as our enlightened, tech-driven generation. It is therefore not surprising that people would believe that it is trumped by certain important social values of today - except that however noble the intention, it ignores that the Constitution is not revered by many nor held as the basis of our laws because of its age. It is held in high esteem because of its wisdom - wisdom in how it approached, and most importantly, approaches, the future of this country. The reason there is a strict line between government and religions is so that there can never be a justification given for intruding on the religious freedoms of the people of this country. Once that line is crossed, there is no longer a concept of a religious freedom; there are only activities which the government accepts, and activities which it does not. Religion matters not at all; freedom matters not at all.

Finally, when reading reviews and descriptions of Deborah Feldman's book, in seems that in every aspect of life in one sect of Chassidim [at least among a large group], the approach to questions was simply "we don't ask". In fact, there was a review which I believe quoted one Chassidish woman as musing after a few such comments that "we don't do well with questions". But if we do not ask, we can never understand - and it is clear that Deborah Feldman did not understand much about how and why Judaism approaches life, a too common failing in the Jewish community. We cannot merely speak to traditions as the wisdom of old being passed down; we need to understand it so we can continue to pass it down as wisdom, and not some random archaic set of rules. 

It is too often forgotten today that older approaches to life, law, and even remembering the Holocaust are not simply lists of rules or mantras to be followed blindly. Instead, they are incredibly structured, developed, thought out concepts which are meant to last for centuries, if not all eternity. Our job is to delve into them in order to understand them, and only then begin to determine the appropriate approaches to the issues of our times, utilizing those concepts and the lessons from our histories.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mesila in Baltimore Tonight!

Via SaraK, this is great:
Join Mesila tonight, Monday, Feb. 20th, and gain some hashkafic views as well as some practical starting points for the budgeting process.
The ad: