Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Rotten Apple...

The Dictatorship of Healthy Living

I have been living in a bubble ever since my daughter was born almost two years ago. I do not have time to read the paper or watch the news and a lot of days pass without me even starting up my computer. I admit that I live my life in a state of ignorance-is-bliss, but so far I do not miss much.

Some weeks ago I made the mistake of checking on the state of the world and went online. The headlines that greeted me were horrifying: Tibet was burning, Belgrade was burning and the stock markets were collapsing. It took me about thirty seconds until I had seen enough. My computer shut down and I decided that as long as I did not know about these disasters they simply did not exist.

I am bad about denying and ignoring, and I certainly do know that the world can be a rotten place. Of course I blame politicians and big industries for it. Governments are unpredictable and unreliable. They see threats in every neighboring and far away country and in every foreigner crossing the border for whatever reason. They pass laws that restrict citizens' rights and freedoms under the pretense that it is best for their safety.

If political reforms are tackled they usually sound good when they are first presented but by the time the bill is passed the original idea is barely recognizable because of lively horse-trading behind closed doors, also referred to as compromising. Not that compromising is a bad thing. No relationship will stand without mutual compromise. The difference, however, is that in a relationship the parties involved are not under the influence of big industries or political strategies.

Governments also support any questionable form of science as long as it puts their country up one place in global rankings and as long as it promises to make products better and cheaper. This is why we can never be sure how much toxic and genetically modified food we have in our fridge. In the US, nowadays, about 80% of all grain is GM, a German farmer recently told me. It is hard to check and confirm this figure but even if it is only 50% it is too much. Especially as we do not know yet about the effects GM food might have on us and on our children, nor do we know the effects it will have on the environment. One hint is that the honeybees are already dying. Of course, pro-GM-food lobbyists claim they die from anything but GM plants. Apiarists, however, are convinced the cause lies in the new crops and demand immediate removal of GM plants.

I consider our little family a miniature state built on grassroots democracy. We discuss big decisions and act according to the final vote but in some departments everyone gets to make his or her own choice because not everyone can be a specialist in every field. As I am taking care of our daughter full time I get to decide on most issues concerning her.

I have never been a greenie except for a short excursion into vegetarianism and self-knit sweaters when I was sixteen. This phase wore off soon enough because my self-made clothes looked hideous and I also could not resist my grandma's roast beef. Where the food came from never really mattered to me as long as it was tasty and on my plate when I was hungry.
However, ever since our little daughter started to join us for meals, I have taken very good care that I put as much organic food on the table as possible. You might say that organic products are unnecessarily overpriced and that I am a victim of some clever marketing strategy of the organic food industry. You might further argue that organic food producers are just as profit oriented as everybody else and that their means of cultivation are not any better for the environment than the traditional ones. You may be right and I do not claim that organic food is the panacea for a better future. But I am convinced that even the slightest decrease in pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and whatever else farmers use to make their products more resistant, less fatty and faster growing is an asset for our and my daughter’s future. Buying organic food is a compromise I am more than willing to make. And the best thing is, it is a decision I make on my own, like any other dictator of the home who cares about the well-being of her people. Moreover, as I do it for my daughter it also makes me feel good and it improves the spirit in our little, happy world without wars and terror.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Much Guilt Can a Mother Take?

I've been having one of those soul-destroying days that makes you want to crawl into bed with a cup of tea and an escapist novel. Or else throw things. Neither of which I can do because in the other room is my lovely boy who's been crying and fussy all day long, and he's been like that for several days running. It's the teeth, I know it's the teeth and they hurt and it's awful but I've just had enough of it. He's in his crib right now, crying and whimpering intermittently, and I feel guilty and horrible for just letting him be there--an evil, rotten mother who cares nothing for children at all, who's waspish and mean and selfish, the mother of nightmares.

How come nobody ever talks about these days? How come nobody ever warns you of them?

I'm not the mother of nightmares. I'm a good mother so far, loving and giving and conscientious most of the time. But I am also so tired. Bone tired. Today is one of those days when motherhood feels like living with an abuser, being buffeted by violence so often that you can only, finally, be still inside and take what comes and look forward to escaping into sleep.

Days like this I just want to run away. I want to be free--to be a person, my own human being, again. Why aren't mothers allowed to admit that more often? That we're tired of our own personhood being taken from us, or taken for granted? I am. This isn't a job you can quit or take a vacation from and it sucks up every particle of energy, every moment of the day.

It feels damned unfair that we're not revered and worshipped and paid zillions of dollars (or euros or pounds) for what we do, like movie stars and professional athletes.

How long can I let him cry before psychological damage sets in? How much guilt can I take?

Not enough. It's been about twenty minutes with little abatement. I know he's exhausted, but his teeth hurt and he will neither eat nor sleep. I don't know what to do except either hold him, rock him for ages and ages, or drop him off at a friend's house and run away forever. I know what sounds more appealing right now.

How can infinite love and something akin to hatred exist so seamlessly, side by side in one person so that you can shift from one to the other in the time it takes to blink?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Federalist Paper 1: General Introduction

I've just put my son (2 weeks short of a year old) down for a nap, after changing the nastiest smelling diaper I think he's ever produced. Was it the avocado he didn't like last night? The garlic in the roast chicken? The peaches? What could produce a stench that bad and of that consistency? Maybe it's the super-drool from his teething. It was all mushy and got everywhere and almost required a bath. I use cloth diapers, which means the cover usually catches any excess (good), but that I then have to rinse said cover and throw it in the wash (bad).

I bet Alexander Hamilton never faced a smelly diaper. Bet he never tried to switch gears from helping a baby knock down stacks of blocks for 3 hours to bending his mind to the momentous questions that faced the educated, gentlemanly creators of a brand-new country. You need undivided attention, which meant, I'm sure, that his wife Elizabeth bore the brunt of running their household and caring for their 8 children.

It says a lot about the great men of past ages that they could, in all seriousness, write something like the following when searching for a cook, helpmeet, mother of their children, and showpiece for their drawing room--that is, a wife:

"She must be young—handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) Sensible (a little learning will do) —well bred... chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness); of some good nature—a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagent and an economist)—In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of—I think I have arguments that will safely convert her to mine—As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me—She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better."

That's Alexander Hamilton (quote from Wikipedia) in1779, giving instructions to a friend who is meant to procure him a spouse from South Carolina. Hardly needs mentioning that this "enthusiast in notions of fidelity" later had an affair.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that his language in the Federalist Papers was cogent, persuasive, and intelligent, and to this day thrills both with its idealism and the weight of his argument.

His first Federalist Paper, the General Introduction, breathes the essential yin-and-yang of a democracy:

"[I]t has been reserved to the people of this country ... to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitution on accident and force."

One could argue that recent events prove this question has failed: America has definitively decided that force guided by those wise old guys in the White House is the only way to preserve the country.

This first Paper lays out Publius's notions of moral and ethical rightness in political choices, and hints at the practical aspects of governance that the new country's Constitution had no choice but to consider if it were to succeed. But I am attracted less by Hamilton's introduction to future arguments here than in his philosophical statements as to the movement of human nature and the nature of human governance. So much of his observation can be transported directly to issues confronting governments around the world today, now, over 200 years after they were penned. And it's not that I agree with all of them. But they open up the mind and force one to question one's own ideological assumptions.

"We are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. ... [N]othing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties."

How searingly true.

But what do you think of this:

"[T]he vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-formed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republic, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants."

The danger in this beautifully written paragraph is that Hamilton doesn't seem to have envisioned power-hungry oil barons-come Bible-thumping neoconservative authoritarians. It is so easy for the Cheney-ites of the world to bite off the first section of the paragraph and throw it to the masses who, arguably, seem eager to give up their rights in favor of a specious "security."

I bet Hamilton never had to leave his masterpieces because his kid woke up screaming from a nap, either. That's why this is called Mothers with Brains--we do all the work, from the contemplation to the cuddling.