The End Result of Materialism

I read a NYT article about the new demographic woes our country is in due to childbearing plummetting even further than its non replacement rate ten years ago. Ten years ago, it was mostly women with higher education who put off having children; now it is all women, though unsurprisingly, rural and small-town women still have the highest birthrates in the country. More on that in a minute. Two of the biggest demographic plunges have occurred in unmarried women and in the daughters of Hispanic immigrants (that latter group used to have the highest birthrate in the nation.)

There is a lot to unpack in the article, though none of it is surprising or new information. I have talked with enough millenials to know all their excuses. They were handed a terrible economy. They can’t buy nice houses. There are few safety nets in the US, such as government care packages, free childcare, and paid maternity/paternity leave (they want both). They will usually bring up Finland, as Finland does have an extensive social welfare system for new parents and was meme-lauded on social media by young wannabe socialists for years. Meme-lauding and its counterpart, meme-shaming, is for people who want to grasp an ideal but who don’t want to be pestered by actual context; another popular one is Iceland and its books-for-Christmas meme. By the way, books are lovely if you have a literate population, which we mostly don’t, but the meme didn’t go into the fact that book-giving increased in popularity because other products were too hard to get during World War II. I won’t go into the egregious non-contextual meme-shaming, such as calling St. Augustine a misogynist, because that’s an entirely different subject that has more to do with our new illiteracy than it does our demographic problems.

The point about Iceland and its books is peripherally relevant, though, because it demonstrates that a culture’s values change when the people are deprived of material goods — generally for the better. This extends to one of the highest values we should be lauding: human life and families. There is probably a way to memify the actual reality, but I’m not the clever sort, so I’ll put it bluntly: the more material safety nets we have, the more we despise life. There is no way to get around the facts. The countries with the highest demographic declines are in the ones with the largest social welfare systems. That includes Finland, by the way. If they are resorting to new baby care packages from the state, instead of good old-fashioned parties where female friends and family members bring gifts to the mother-to-be, it means they are desperate. Their culture will die without a new generation. Even more relevant (to a government), there soon won’t be a workforce big enough to support the system that benefits those at the top. And this is really bad news for countries that might not be as appealing to new immigrants as, say, France.

That is not to mention that new immigrants only temporarily relieve the labor problem in countries where the natives refuse to have children. What happens when these immigrants are inculcated in the anti-life system? Like the daughters of Hispanic immigrants to the US, they also stop having children.

But why is our system so anti-life? Isn’t that the most relevant question? If you take a simple approach and note that the only people in the world who are having children at replacement level or above are poor, rural, or non-western nations, it’s also easy to make a case that western materialism is counterproductive to having children. All those excuses, such as, I can’t afford to buy a house; therefore, I can’t have children are meaningless. That house isn’t going to change where the heart is when the heart is deeply steeped in pursuing goals that can’t possibly bring fulfillment.

In the NYT article (I’m sure you can go find it if you want; I don’t feel like linking it), a female professor of something or other notes that it’s a powerful thing to be able to do what you want in this life. Is it, though? Is it really? Actually, you should read the article because the power that these young women are pretending is fulfillment is to the tune of….wait for it, being dental hygienists or cosmetologists or nurses. They aren’t trying to save the orphans like Mother Therese; they aren’t trying to invent a new life-saving medicine; they aren’t even trying to write a great American novel…which, by the way, I’m in pursuit of while raising my offspring. It’s actually a doable pursuit while raising a family, and it gives you something profound to write about, at the very least. But our young women, on the other hand, want to forgo the most important part of life to clean your teeth. That is what materialism does to the soul. It shrivels it to a prune-like stature.

Really, the most disturbing sign in our demographic problems is that unmarried girls and women are no longer having children. Hang on a minute, am I not a hyper-conservative Christian? Well, yes, but it used to be normal and natural for young men and women to want to have sex. In a moral society, the answer to this is to encourage marriage and to socially shame those who don’t wait. Socially shame…yes, I mean that, but only until they have shown constancy in settling down with a spouse. And then they are accepted into polite society again. But young people are over-sexualized to the point that it’s meaningless to them. It’s just grossness after a while, instead of being something beautiful. It’s not a happy pursuit anymore, where the young couple can’t wait to see each other naked. It’s old news; it’s boring and, besides, the nurse at school slapped a Norplant in the females’ arms starting at age fourteen. There is nothing for them to pursue but materialism. I mean, even the Girl Scout cookie boxes tell them pursuing a career is the most meaningful struggle in life.

Now back to small rural towns having the highest birthrates in the US. It fits with everything I’ve just said. There are few good jobs in small towns. There are few stores to shop at. The real estate market is limited. The schools may not yet be slapping Norplants in teen girls’ arms because they don’t have the resources, or because the Baptist matriarch raises a fuss at the PTA meeting. She might even be on the school board. When you are mired in material limitations, what else are you going to do? You’re going to procreate. I hate to be a downer, but I don’t believe in Mayberry. The rate of childbearing is higher in these communities, but it is still not high enough because of influences like the internet, where videogames, social media, and porn bring materialism right into bedrooms at the touch of the finger all over the country. And many young people can’t resist its call.

So, what is the answer? There is no easy one. When our nation was at the crossroads, we chose the wrong path. Perhaps it was foisted on us while we didn’t complain because materialism feels good. It’s comfortable. It’s not hard. It’s not the grand struggle in life that makes everything worthwhile. The human soul, I suppose, is the answer. Humans can’t live like this, not forever. Their souls will cry out for more. Unfortunately, it will be too late for many.

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A New Word

This is going to be a short tidbit while my really annoying adorable dogs are sleeping at my feet. I came across a word I’d never heard of before in a Father Brown mystery: asseverate. It caught me up short because it looked like a word I should know. It is obviously of Latin derivation; sever or severe appeared to be the root, but in the context a man “asseverated” that he didn’t know something. I couldn’t make sense of those potential Latin roots with the context being used in the story.

When I looked it up, I realized the meaning should have been obvious: to assert with force (hence, “severe” as the root). The word, however, is so rarely used that Merriam-Webster gave as an example the very Chesterton passage I had just read. The word dates to the 17th C, so it isn’t new, just not often chosen.

The Merriam-Webster entry has a story in its entry, about Elmore Leonard reading the word in a Mary McCarthy book. He, too, had to look it up. The interpretation of the Leonard story was to demonstrate that only those who want to show off their vocabulary would use such a word. At least I’m in good company with my ignorance. It seems Ms. McCarthy was perhaps not in bad company when she used the word asseverated instead of the more ordinary said (Chesterton is clearly good company, too); she is simply in a group so small it hardly exists. Whether she was trying to show off is not for me to say. I’ve never actually read McCarthy’s books.

I don’t think it’s bragging to claim I have a vocabulary better than 97% of the population. I could go with 99% because it’s probably true, but that might actually be bragging. In any case, I just added to it, though I doubt I will use it any time soon. I use vocabulary in a fluid sense when I write and speak — whatever comes to mind. That word would be a definite challenge to use in any way that wasn’t artificial and/or didn’t seem to others that I was trying to show off. I care little about the latter, having often said offhand things I found ordinary, to be met with that cult of stupidity smugness of “[eyeroll] I don’t listen to people who use words with more than two syllables.” One time, I casually remarked that syllables has three…do they no longer listen to themselves? I was met with more smug eyerolling.

It’s always good to learn something new, though. What’s life without a few good extra words to pack around?

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Friends, False and True

No, this isn’t about humans. It’s about my new puppy friends and my obsession with relearning Spanish. Against my better judgement, we added two puppies to our pet family. Over the years, we have had many cats and one sweet dog. My husband has been bringing the kittens home for years; firefighters have a reputation for rescuing animals, and sometimes people will leave a box of unwanted baby cats or dogs outside the fire academy or department. That is how we started getting pets, despite my housecleaning meticulousness.

I’m really more of a dog lover than a cat lover, so we eventually rescued a puppy from an Albuquerque shelter and brought her home. She’s now an elderly dog, about eleven or twelve, I think. I can’t remember what year we brought her home, but she is the best dog in the world. She looked into my soul with her puppy eyes, and that was how I knew she belonged with us.

But puppies are a lot of work. I’ve been loath to bring home any new puppy friends. Our poor older dog has had to be satisfied with cats for her animal companions. She was always a lot nicer to them than they were to her. Our most elderly cat died a couple of years ago, and our other cat is living with one of my daughters because she was peculiarly unhealthy living in Roswell. The alley cats had given her fleas, and she was allergic to them. For some reason, fleas don’t proliferate in the desert, and so we had to send her back to our desert-dwelling daughter before the poor patchy creature withered away.

To make a long story short, just having one dog and a large yard with plenty of trees for shade allowed me to give in to my kids’ pleas for puppies. A friend had rescued a pregnant dog, whom the owner didn’t want, and she needed to give up some of the puppies. We brought two home. Since then, my life has been consumed with them, as they are very young. Thankfully, unlike human babies, they can be put out in the yard when they become too trying. They move like a whirlwind through the house, you see. Anyway, it’s been fun, but if you notice, I haven’t posted on here for about as long as we’ve had these pups in our lives. I suppose I should give an explanation for the title of my post: the dogs are true friends, as dogs will always be. They will fill your heart because they will love you like only dogs can. They are true blessings from God!

As I said, I’ve also become somewhat obsessive about relearning all the Spanish I’ve lost over the years. When I graduated from college, I could read and write fluently in Spanish and speak it if forced (I’m not good at speaking in my native tongue; trust me, it’s worse in Spanish). I had to be able to read and write fluently because my degree entailed reading very long novels and writing fifteen-page papers. I still remember when I became a fluent reader; it really was to the point of one day translating slowly as I went, and the next, just reading and understanding.

I’m doing Duolingo because it was recommended to me. Duolingo does deal with grammar, but it’s also good for conversational Spanish, which is what I need. So far, it’s helpful. I also found a copy of El amor en los tiempos del cólera at a thrift store and will test my reading fluency, to see if it’s still there…somewhere. I also started a Finnish course on Duolingo, but it’s not very expansive, and I have no earthly idea why I chose to take it in the first place, except that the Minä in Minäverse is Finnish for “I” — it was meant to denote a narcissistic world. Not the Finnish part — I chose Finnish because it has a pleasant sound and the umlaut looks nice.

My days, then, are full of puppies whom I run after while shouting Spanish phrases at my phone. I don’t yet shout in Finnish, though a friend on Discord posted a video of strong Finnish swear words. Very serious shouting words, those. But that’s a digression. Re Spanish, I decided I needed more than Duolingo, which brought me to the website Real Fast Spanish, where I read a post that piqued my interest, on false English-Spanish cognates. He calls these “false friends,” which is apropos. True cognates make your life easier and they are, consequently, your friends. False ones can lead to embarrassment or confusion.

Obviously, there are many false cognates, and his article doesn’t deal with them all. I found his article fascinating because the words he groups together all have to do with emotions. He gives some theories as to why there are so many false cognates in the world of emotions. I believe it has to do with the intangibility of emotions, as well as the way different cultures approach them. If you are interested in learning Spanish, you should read his handy table. There is one word where the false cognate goes one direction, Spanish to English, and that is gracioso. Gracioso does not mean gracious, as one would expect. It means funny. But the word for gracious is cortés, which has a true English cognate, courteous. Gracious is simply an extension of related to manners of the court.

In between work and caring for puppies, I’ve managed to find a subject that makes me emocionada about life again. Words. Words in Spanish, Finnish, and English. Yes, emocionada is on the list of false cognates. Go see for yourself.

To bring this back around and force two subjects to fit together that don’t at all, the reason I prefer dogs over cats is that they are true friends, while cats are false friends. Is that a cruel thing to say? Cruel, perhaps, but true. Cats will eat your face off after you die; dogs will curl up by your side and get depressed because they want you to run with them again. Dogs really love their humans, and cats are capable of the same love, I suppose, but they will only show it when it suits them. Cats are the false cognates of the animal world. Okay, I admit that was a real stretch. My apologies. I haven’t been sleeping much. Puppies, you know.

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Blessed Books

Some books resonate in the soul more than others. While I was out and about on spring break, I found some old copies of the childhood favorites, My Side of the Mountain and On the Far Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. To this day, I want to live in these books.

There are certain tropes in children’s stories that are endlessly appealing, among which is running away from the world. I’ve never outgrown this desire to get out of Dodge; I’m not much of a rock music listener, but Matchbook Twenty’s I wish the real world would just stop hassling me is endearing and relatable. It makes one consider what the real world is, and if how we live is actually it.

As a child, I gravitated to either running-away or kids-stranded-on-their-own books. The worst of these was Lord of the Flies, as it took a very jaundiced look at human nature. There is a real life story of boys who got stranded together, and I urge you to read about it because it turned out quite a bit differently than William Golding’s novel. But perhaps the truth is I have a utopic vision in my head, and I want to maintain it through my fiction, not destroy it. Or perhaps I’m simply tired of the badness being considered reality, while goodness is an unrealistic ideal that only foolish Christian women buy into with their prairie romances.

To be fair to Christian women everywhere, I’m pretty sure they’re longing for the same thing I am: a trip right out of the annoyances of the modern world. That’s exactly what My Side of the Mountain does. It takes me to my peak fantasy world.

The story is about a twelve-year-old boy, Sam, who runs away from home to his grandpa’s abandoned farm in the Catskills. He doesn’t have the skills to survive on his own, but thankfully, he learns along the way through trial and error, as well as frequent trips to the library in the small village a couple miles from his wilderness home.

The entire plot is Sam learning to survive. This is why I love it. It’s rich in details; it verges on being a how-to manual! Through it all is the harsh combination of beauty and terror living that close to nature brings. Best of all, he lives in a hollowed-out tree. I want his house, his loneliness, his life of books and experimental engineering. When I was growing up, I did a fair amount of survival training and learned to build makeshift shelters and fires, etc. I was equipped with the skills that Sam wasn’t, yet sadly, they haven’t been put much to the test.

For literary quality, On the Far Side of the Mountain is probably a better book. And it is good; make no mistake. On the other hand, Sam is no longer as isolated, as he partners up with a friend to find his sister, who has moved to the wilderness with him (and decides to have an adventure by herself). And he has largely learned to live in nature by this second book, though there is still some engineering that occurs. Some of the magic is lost when the plot isn’t solely Sam against nature (and a few nosy journalists). I recommend all three — yes, there’s a third book that was not available at the thrift store where I found the first two. I’d read all three of them again right now because I want to exist in Sam’s world forever.

Yes, I know I have a family. I love my family. But my two youngest children will grow up and move out soon, and they can visit their parents in my fantasy curmudgeonly mountain treehouse; I’ve thought this through, you see. My husband and I can share a tree. It can start in the hollow trunk and branch out to a treehouse. My husband would love this life. I think. I have yet to have the discussion with him.

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This is more than just Covid exhaustion…

I’m not going to apologize over my focus on politics and Covid lately. It is still the most relevant issue, as it’s being used for overt government control. It is also being used to push a dangerous vaccine that you will have to continue getting year after year, just as you’ve been getting the flu vaccine seasonally. Perhaps I don’t mean you you, but there are plenty of people who get it every year, and this is what will end up happening with the Covid vaccine because Covid is the new flu.

Look at the numbers. Here is a good compilation of them, but they are easy enough to verify on your own. I did. I always do because numbers matter to me. There has been little to no flu this year, and when you go ahead and verify these numbers, you will find noncredible articles with idiotic titles such as “Flu rates have been very low this year. Here’s why.” And then the journalist proceeds to make up some garbage about how well social distancing has worked (just not for Covid) and how yay! we stopped the flu because sooooo many people got their flu jab (because they’re pretending to be British, how cute) and this just happened to be the year when the flu vaccine has an unprecedented 90+% effectiveness rate. I mean, wowie, what a blessing in the year of the Covid pandemic which completely supplanted the flu.

But honestly, I don’t care about the number of infections. Yes, it is relevant that Covid has become the flu, or the flu has become Covid. This alone should have us wondering what is really going on. However, the more important number has been and remains the death rate over the past year. And that is a number you will have a much, much harder time verifying. This is the most relevant number because nobody cares about high a infection rate, if the disease is mild. The common cold has a high infection rate, and few people die from it — elderly people, generally. Yes, it happens. The common cold can lead to heart attacks and/or piggyback infections like pneumonia in susceptible people.

And yet we don’t shut anything down for the common cold. We don’t shut down entertainment, businesses, churches, and holidays for the common cold. Heck, we don’t even shut down restaurants when half the staff is calling in sick with the much more dangerous flu. We just carry on and do what our parents have taught us to do: drink tea and pop vitamin tablets. Our respective governments have convinced us to shut everything down and huddle in our homes because of the supposed high death rate of Covid, not due to its rate of infection.

I live in the U.S., of course, and where do we get our death numbers? From the CDC. The problem is the CDC is usually behind by at least a year when it comes to finalizing death numbers. Where were these up-to-the-day death stats coming from? Well, hospital and coroner reports. Whereas hospitals normally are giant, slow-moving bureaucracies with incompetent people manning their computers, they were suddenly swift and sure and true! The same people who can’t type in a name or address correctly have been retrained by the seriousness of Covid to report that (as of late 2020) there an approximately 10%* excess death rate over the predicted death rate and we know this death rate practically to the day.

That’s a very high death rate. Think about how many people that is. I don’t believe the high number, but I can’t verify it either way. I have anecdotal evidence that I listen and pay attention to, but I can hardly convince others using anecdote s, nor even convince myself. E.g. I have eye-witness accounts that hospitals are doubling numbers. But I also know that people see what they want to see. I know of cases where families insisted their stage-four cancer suffering relatives were put in Covid wards so hospitals could add Covid to the death certificates. But I can’t prove it. Not ultimately.

In the end, I look around me, and I see that few people are taking Covid seriously any longer, and those who thought getting the vaccine would bring things back to normal have already gotten it. The rest won’t unless forced. Why? Well, perhaps this high reported death rate isn’t real to them. Why isn’t it real for them? Perhaps because it isn’t and wasn’t ever real.

But, hey, who am I? I’m just a curious culture watcher who likes numbers and who is very frustrated that I can’t actually verify them. I can only imagine this is how some politicians feel when election results produce a bunch of statistical anomalies, but they can’t challenge the anomalies because the Supreme Court throws out their pleas. An entity operating on a higher plane than they are is controlling the numbers, and what are the little people left to do, but shout at the wind until they get banned from shouting?

This isn’t meant to be depressing. The less I read the news, the less I care about Covid. The closest it has reached me is a daughter who tested positive and has had zero symptoms. I see people operating how they want to, going where they want, doing what they want, and not donning masks. There is only the background worry that as people stop taking it seriously, the “higher entities” will strike back harder.

*What I meant to say here is that the predicted death is expected to increase at a statistical pace at something like 1.6% over the previous year, and according to the data was at closer to 10% higher. Those deaths above the prediction would be considered “excess” deaths.

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