Category Archives: People
The line spilling out from CU Boulder’s Mackey Auditorium was a long, slow one. The people waiting in line wondered aloud if the author would be able to sign all of the books of everyone waiting in line. One person said that they overheard one of the security guards say that the author would only sign about 100 books and turn everyone else away. To be fair, it was late. It wasn’t hard to imagine that Richard Dawkins would probably prefer to return to his hotel room, or wherever he was staying while touring the United States, rather than entertain the crowd of fans all night.
As I stood with my copy of his newest book, The Magic Of Reality, the very book that he had just finished giving a presentation on, I kept my hopes up. Just being here meant a lot to me. That man’s work has had a lot of influence on who I am and how I see the world today. It was amazing to have had the pleasure of hearing him speak in the auditorium, where he had the full attention of the audience. He was every bit as intelligent and witty as person as he’s ever been in his books or on film, and with that same dry sense of humor.
There was only one more thing that could have made the evening perfect. All I wanted was a signature. I said to the gentleman ahead of me, “Well, if Mr. Dawkins doesn’t have to hear every single person’s personal atheist story, we might get our signatures.”
The man grinned cheerfully and responded, “Oh, don’t worry. Mine is only about 20 minutes long.” And then he proceeded to tell me about some project he and some other people were working on, atheists tracts fashioned as elaborate satire of the infamous Chick Tracts. Later, an excited woman who had evidently been at the head of the line told the man that she’d had a chance to talk to Mr. Dawkins about their tracts, and Mr. Dawkins like the idea. I was happy for them, although they were strangers. But I was happier still that they, and a group of other people, left the line soon after.
I think that every atheist has a story. For most, it involves escape from the religion that they were brought up in. For such people, de-conversion isn’t always easy. Investigating what you’ve held so deeply to be true, and rejecting your old notions if you could not justify them. To do so means changing who you think you are, how you perceive yourself as a human being, because it means re-defining your identity, to which religion had for so long played a major role. It means admitting that you were wrong. Doing this requires lot of honesty and courage. Being “out” as an atheist requires even more, as it means dealing with the judgments from society, and possibly even being ostracized by family and friends.
Even those who have never had never been part of any religion from which to escape have stories. Nearly everyone has at least heard of religion. And despite how evangelists seem to believe as they knock on my door to deliver me “the good news,” I have heard of Jesus, as has everyone in the US and much of the rest of planet. It’s unlikely that anyone who has never subscribed to religion in their life time has never been proselytized to, directly or indirectly. At such an occasion, the non-believer was in a position to consider religion, even if just long enough to reject it.
What’s more, whether we were always atheists or escaped from atheism, we are affected, as is everyone else on the planet, by religion in some way. All too often, religion impacts scientific advancement, education, domestic laws, and foreign affairs, and never in any positive way. All the more reason to speak up and be heard. Tell politicians who pass laws based on their personal convictions to their myths of choice, “Speak for yourself.”
Every atheist has a story. I think most of us would like to tell them. I had an atheist story that I, of course, would have liked to tell Richard Dawkins. I wondered how fast I would have to speak to be able to tell it in the moment it takes for him to write his name.
Well, it didn’t matter. The late-night book-signing was neither the time nor the place, and I’m sure Mr. Dawkins must be just about sick to death of hearing everyone’s story by now anyway. Heck, he looked like he had just about had it with singing books by the time it was finally my turn (Yes, I made it!) It seems signing books was every bit as tedious as I expected it must be. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have everyone want to tell you their story too. He smiled politely.
I said “Hello, sir.”
He said “Hello,” back. Then he quickly signed by book, returned it to me, and waved the next person forward.
I was happy, absolutely giddy, to have gotten his signature. That was more than enough for me. I believe my exact thoughts at the time were, “HOLY CRAP! Richard Dawkins signed my book! He even smiled at me! He is so awesome! Squee! Forget rock stars, I want autographs from kick-ass biologists! Oh, hi, boyfriend. I totally didn’t forget you were here. OK Maybe I did a little. But isn’t Richard Dawkins great?!” Yes, it seems that I might just be a bit of a fan-girl over a 71-year-old science man. Is that weird?
So I didn’t bore Mr. Dawkins to death and irritate everyone who stood behind me in line by telling my story. Still, I think it’s important for atheists to tell their personal stories, even if we can’t deliver them in the three seconds it takes scientists to scribble their names. The perspective of atheists is a valid, yet tragically overlooked one. Mr. Dawkins himself spends a great deal of time speaking about atheism, and even endorses the Atheist Out Campaign which encourages atheists to come out of the proverbial closet in the same manner as homosexuals. The goal is to foster a visible and vocal atheist community. To speak about being an atheist is an important part of being “out.”
So speak up. Speak out. Be heard. Tell your story. You might just inspire someone else to do the same. Each voice may be small by itself, but together, we can be hard to ignore.
The criticism Melissa Jenna doesn’t want anyone to see.
The article that I am about to quote in full comes from the website MelissaJenna.com and is entitled: Confessions of a Former “Non-Breeder.” Before I even read the article, I noticed something odd in the comments section (I often read the comments first as the discussions on articles related to childfreedom are often more interesting than the article itself.)
What stuck out to me first is how overwhelmingly positive most of the comments were, in support of the author. Ok, that itself isn’t too odd. It’s true that most of the comments that I have received on this blog are positive and in general agreement with me. Mine is a blog that selects its audience and rarely attracts people likely to dissent.
The only criticism came in the form of a single comment which was mostly written in ALL CAPS and carried a few choice insults directed towards the author, but little real meritorious criticism. In an apparent act of graciousness, the author approved the comment (the comments were moderated. I moderate comments here too, but only because I receive a lot of spam,) and, in her response to the comment, made a point of saying that she was allowing it.
“I’m approving this comment, not because I agree with or condone anything it has to say, but because hiding this garbage, or pretending it doesn’t exist, doesn’t help anyone.”
Curiously, despite the response to that particular criticizing comment, Melissa Jenna did not approve and -yes- appears to be hiding the comment that I left after reading the article. When I read the article, I found Jenna to be as self-righteous and judgmental still as she, in her article, laments being prior to breeding. That comment has not yet appeared on her article, despite other comments having been approved in the days in between, of which I was automatically notified via E-mail as I selected “ Notify me of follow-up comments via email” when I submitted my comment (so I know she hasn’t just been away, unaware of comments.) I’m inclined to speculate that Jenna is very selective in what comments are shown on the post, allowing only those that are in agreement with her, or which are so angry in tone as to make her look good anyway. My comment, which fit into neither category, is not shown. So I will show it here.
I won’t get into it too much just yet, as I saved a copy of my comment to her which I will show later down in this post. First, I’d like to show everyone Jenna’s article, copied in full. My response follows below it.
Before I was a mother, pregnancy and childbirth gave me the heebie-jeebies. It just seemed so…gross. The idea of another living-thing living inside of me would literally make me nauseous if I thought for too long about it. I couldn’t help but likening pregnancy to those urban legends about earwigs laying eggs in people’s brains and stuff. (Don’t ask me what was wrong with me, because I haven’t a clue. Not a clue.) And childbirth just seemed so…animalistic. So below the innate dignity of human beings. And I know what many of you are thinking: pregnancy and childbirth are both natural and necessary for the survival of our species. Trust me, I get it now, but for many many years, simply the word “pregnant” made me shudder. (To be honest, I still avoid using the word “pregnant” whenever possible, mostly because we DO use it to describe both animals and people, and that bothers me. So I say “expecting a baby” whenever I can.)
And I already wrote a while ago about how I used to be a self-righteous, judgmental jerk, referring to parents as “breeders” and children as “spawn,” so when I began reading this series on Slate regarding people who are against having children, my interest was piqued. They’ve done a whole series on people who have decided, for a plethora or reasons, to remain childless. There’s one article about a man who was very concerned with his “career mobility,” one on a woman who had hertubes-tied at 26 years old because she was afraid she’d repeat the abuses of her parents, one where a woman called babies “alien parasites,” (me and that girl would have been BFFs back in the day), and one where the writer described a “baby-shower” she attended for a women who was not having a baby, but was releasing her first book. (Yeah, because those two things are SO similar. Does your book wake you up to breastfeed every hour and a half?) I hear so much of my former self in each of the women interviewed for the series: the self-righteousness, the judgement, the fear, the selfishness, the insistence that there “is no such thing as a biological clock,” and the unwillingness (or inability) to value motherhood equally to success in the marketplace. And it makes me so sad for them.
The series of articles makes it very clear that the child-free do not want to be pitied, and that they find my feeling sad for them to be offensive. But here’s the thing: I used to be one of “them,” a self-proclaimed non-breeder. A girl who used to go around proudly telling people that “I love my life too much to have kids.” And now that I’m on the other side, I realize not only how wrong I was, but how immature and completely bone-headed I was being. I was like so many young women, walking around with lower-back tattoos or breast implants: I made a decision that was right for me at the time, without fully understanding the longterm ramifications. Without leaving room for myself to change my mind in the future. I guess the good thing about being a self-righteous non-breeder is that it’s much easier to go back and change your mind than if you’re walking around with a tramp-stamp, or massive barbie-boobs.
The unifying tone that I hear, in each of the articles in the series, is a powerful aversion to wisdom from those who have “been there and done that.” None of the non-breeders interviewed wants to deign to hear anything a former non-breeder like myself would have to say. They effectively plug their ears and “lalalalala I can’t heaaar you” their way through the series, never once really hearing that there are so many women who used to feel just like them. They have the tone of a petulant twelve year old girl, being advised by her mother, that she will, in fact, find love again. (“No I won’t! He was SPECIAL! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME!” I can hear them sobbing, storming out of the room and slamming the door behind them.)
I want to tell the self-righteous non-breeders that I understand that feeling. I mean, honestly, no one wants to feel immature, or that their thoughts aren’t special. But listen: countless women have thought to themselves the very same thoughts you do regarding having children. Most of them, myself included, have found themselves on the other side of the situation, raising a child, and realizing just how wrong they were about the whole thing; motherhood has blessed us with an ability to understand ourselves, and life, in a deeper and more gratifying way than our careers ever could have (not to mention all the other blessings motherhood brings). We know this because we’ve been there, shouting from the rooftops that we’d remain childless forever, and we feel foolish about that whole thing now.
Notice that I am NOT saying that it’s everyone’s “destiny” to have children. If you hate children, I’d rather you don’t. What I am saying is that you need to leave yourself some wiggle-room. You need to keep your mind open to the possibility that you might change your mind one day. Try not to make being a non-breeder so much of your identity, that when your biological clock starts ticking, it ushers in with it an existential crisis. I used to be just like you, and here I am, twenty-eight years old, telling you that having a child was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Just consider that you might not know it all. And don’t go rushing to get any crazy tattoos, either.
(Edited to reflect that one of the articles I originally attributed to a woman was actually written by a man. Oddly enough, I remember telling myself to use gender-neutral language in describing the series, because men do weigh-in, but it look like I forgot that when writing about it. Thanks Laney for the heads-up!)
Should people who choose to be parents give themselves “wiggle room” in case they decide they want to dump their kids? Should they avoid making “parent” too much of their identity? As far as I know, hospitals and the like still accept abandoned children under certain ages. Do you think you might just drop yours off some day? Statistically, those who choose to have children are far more likely to regret it than those who do not, and I see new blogs, websites, and facebook groups every day for such regretful parents. Why don’t you consider that YOU don’t know it all? Having kids is the “tattoo” that you can’t undo. You’re the one leaving yourself no wiggle-room.
There is no such thing as a “biological clock” as you mean it. There is a set timeframe in which a woman is fertile, but there’s no evidence to suggest that biological urge to breed actually changes with it. No, people jump to breed on impulse because they see that they will soon no longer have the option. It’s sort of like when I see a sale on an item I don’t particularly need, but see that it will only be on sale for 24 hours so I jump on it. Those of who actually bother to give the prospect of breeding serious thought well beforehand, however, aren’t affected by an imaginary biological clock. Quit blaming biology myths and own your choices.
I think you’re still very much judgmental, as evidenced by your representation of the Slate articles, none of which I found to be self-righteousness, judgmental, fearful, or selfish in the least. I believe that those accusations are baseless and low. I do agree with what what you said the Slate articles suggest, motherhood is NOT as valuable as career. Not only that, but motherhood doesn’t give anyone some higher understanding of life that is not accessible to non-mothers. Has it occurred to you that you’re biased as a mother and now in a position where you find it advantageous to over-value and exaggerate motherhood (as it strokes your own ego,) and that’s why you lash out with these petty insults whenever other people do not play along with your self-aggrandizing natalsim-worship?
Really, you even attacked a “baby-shower” celebration for a book on the grounds that it doesn’t scream at night. The way I see it, that would make the book MORE deserving of celebration as it’s better on those grounds alone. I’d certainly be more inclined to congratulate someone on writing a book, as that’s a creation of the mind that took much thought an effort. Meanwhile, any rat can breed, it doesn’t take talent or thought (most times, it happens due to an absence of thought.) Writing a book is an accomplishment deserving of praise and attention, and is a gainful contribution to society (unless it’s Twilight.) Breeding is not an accomplishment, and it can be argued that it’s actually detrimental to society when we live in a world that is already dangerously overpopulated, had rapidly depleting resources, and is suffering wide-spread ecological decay. And yet, you don’t hear me criticizing strangers for having baby-showers (although I never attend or contribute myself) do you? No. Check your judgmental attitude.
The truth is, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re just as self-righteous and judgmental as ever. One more thing, you were NEVER childfree. You were only pre-childed. As someone who is actually childfree, I can tell you that those are NOT the same. You may as well pretend that you understand asexuality (look it up,) as there was likely a time in your life where you weren’t interested in sex. Changing your mind is OK, but DON’T pretend you were ever like us. Get off you high horse and don’t even pretend that you understand – you don’t. We actually know what we want with our lives and follow through.
I had a tubal ligation at 22. It was the BEST decision that I have ever made, hands down. I have more “wiggle room” than you. I can still adopt, if I want to (and I can tell you right now that I won’t.) My only effect from my chosen sterility is – NOTHING! Nothing changes. My life is at best, preserved, and at worst, completely unchanged. Can you return your kid if you change your mind about motherhood, just undo the birth and get your life and body back exactly as it was? You’re the one stuck with the long-term ramifications, not me. How would you like it if I told you that I pitied you for your non-undoable “tattoo” that apparently wakes you up more often than you’d like and has long-term ramifications? You might just consider that a tad bit judgemental, wouldn’t you?
Although I admit that my comment response is a tad bit ranty, I think I make some valid points (regardless of whether or not Melissa Jenna agrees.) If it is the case that Melissa Jenna considers my response to be garbage, then I wonder who she thinks is helped by her hiding it?
I recently ran into the old ethical question that pits the life of a pet and the life of a stranger against each-other. I’ve seen the question before, some time ago, and had forgotten all about it until I came across it again just today. Now I can’t seem to get it out of my head.
The ethical question, if you’re unfamiliar with it, takes many forms. Sometimes the set up is that your dog and a stranger are both drowning and you can only save one or the other. Other times, it’s a burning building with the same problem. I even saw one version where you’re approached by a freaking angel who tells you it will kill one or the other and you must choose which will be spared. Many times though, the question just skips the setup (as it’s irrelevant and people always try to use it to dodge the question anyway) and goes right to the dilemma at hand: If one or the other had to die, which would you save?
I’m inclined to think that anyone who would save a human stranger, be it an adult or a baby (as is the case in some versions of the scenario) really shouldn’t be allowed to have a pet. As I say this while having a pet, then you could, I’m sure, guess that I would save my dog.
Most people who choose to save a human will do so with the reasoning that a human, even a stranger, is more important than a dog. I disagree. People are more inclined to favor our own species, but we do so for emotional reasons. All values that we place on other species are entirely subjective. We tend to favor humans simply because we ARE humans. We have a bias in favor of the species that includes ourselves. If a dog could speak to you, it might very well have a contrary opinion, insisting to you that dogs are actually more valuable.
As for subjective values between species, I’ve certainly never seen dogs wage wars or commit genocide, so I find any claim that humans are better to be just a little bit flawed. And with a population of over 7 billion, humans are hardly an endangered species in need of preservation. I can’t find any objective rationale to favor the human over the dog (or cat, or what have you.) I don’t think that any life form is intrinsically more valuable than any other. All values we place, we place based on our own biases and needs. So I’ll put subjective values on species completely out of the way, ignoring that 1. I am human myself and therefore tend to favor humans, often without being conscious of it, 2. personally happen to prefer the company of dogs over that of humans anyway, and 3. acknowledge that the most horrific acts committed on this planet were (and still are) perpetrated by humans, whereas dogs are comparatively innocent as a species.
With cross-species value out of the way, I’m left with what is, to me, the real question: To whom do I owe the greater level of responsibility? If you’re not an animal lover and don’t understand what I mean, replace “your pet” with “your child” (or a child you are babysitting or is otherwise under your care.) When the scenario is your child vs. a stranger, few people would have trouble with the choice at all – they would pick their child. Sure, people would talk about subjective emotions, their bond and attachment with their child (as well as with their pet) and their personal vested interest in the child’s survival, and I don’t doubt that they mean what they say. But the real factor here is, or at least aught to be, responsibility.
This isn’t just a dog vs. a human scenario, it’s specifically my own dog vs. a human stranger. When I took my dog into my home, I was making a contract with her. She became my responsibility. It is therefore my duty to keep her safe and healthy, to love her and care for her, and to protect her and keep her happy. It doesn’t matter one bit that she’s a dog, she’s my responsibility all the same and in a way that no human being, who I do not even know, is, just as a child would be to a parent.
So I say again, anyone who does not save the pet should not have a pet at all as they do not take their responsibility seriously. Ask anyone who works at an animal shelter, and they will tell you that there is, sadly, no shortage of such irresponsible, speciesist people, who get a hold of animals that they then fail to take care of and renege on their responsibilities to.
This question isn’t just some absurd hypothetical, however. I actually have chosen my dog over other people. If you have pets that you take adequate care of, so do you, whether you’re aware of it or not. I’ve had my dog for less than a year, but I’ve spent quite a lot of money on her already. I’m not sure exactly how much money I’ve spent to her benefit, but it has to be on the order of a few thousand dollars by now. When I paid for Molly’s plane ticket, her veterinary care, her food, her toys, her training classes, my pet deposits, and so on, I was spending a great deal of money on a dog that I could have otherwise spent donating to charities that keep the world’s starving fed or could have gone to medical research and treatment or could have helped people pay their rent to stay off the streets.
Of course, I’m not thinking about any of this as I go through the checkout at the pet-store, but that’s still what I, and every other responsible pet-owner, is doing. People who spend money on their children are doing the exact same thing. How much money have you spent on your animal friends or on your kids? Do you feel guilty about it? You shouldn’t. I don’t.
Sure, I have, to a certain degree, a level of responsibility that I owe to every human being on the planet, whether I know them or not. I don’t deny this. However, it’s not the same kind of personal responsibility that I owe to my dog. I do still try to help my fellow human in any way that I can. I have done volunteer work and donate to charities that aid humans. But at the end of the day, if I had to pick between the two, I’d pick my dog over a stranger every time. Morally, it’s the only acceptable course of action that I see.
When I cross the street, even when I’m using a crosswalk and have the right of way, I’m considerate to motorists. If I’m not prepared to cross just yet, I stand away from the street so no cars stop and wait for me. I don’t cross ahead of cars that have been stuck there for a while (which likely have more cars queued behind them,) due to other people crossing before me. When I cross, if I can, I do so at about the same time as other people, to minimize my impact on traffic. And usually, I cross relatively quickly and at least acknowledge the motorist who I delay.
Do you know why I do this? I do this because I realize that the world does not revolve around me. Other people, however, don’t seem to get that.
Yesterday, I had to stop by an electronics store to get something for my car. As I was driving through the parking lot, I passed a theatre in a plaza. Traffic was much slower than normal, and I noticed that there was some kind of even going on in the parking lot, just on the right-hand side of my car. Everyone going from the plaza (on the left) to the event (on the right) liked to cross in onesies and twosies, often not even bothering to use actual crosswalks.
I stopped to let a small group cross. Then, just as I was about to move on, a security guard acting as a crossing guard stepped in front of my car and waited. And waited. On my left was a couple with a stroller, standing at the crosswalk, just barely out of the roadway. They were just standing there, apparently completely oblivious to all the people (there were many cars behind me, one of which actually had the nerve to honk as if I was the problem.) It didn’t even seem to occur to them what inconvenience they were causing for anyone else, or that it could be of any consequence. Of course the world revolved around them and their baby, right?
Eventually, the security/crossing guard gave up and returned to the right side of the roadway, allowing me to move. Just as I began to creep forward, the couple decided to cross, as slowly as they could, making a production of their grand entrance into the event on the other side, which, I imagine they probably thought was in their honor.
Oh, now you want to cross?! Are you sure you haven’t wasted enough of my time yet? There’s still daylight!
If my windows were down, my swearing might just have drowned out the event’s music. I hate having my time wasted, especially by people who don’t even acknowledge that that’s what they’ve done.
A few nights back, at something like 10pm, someone started blaring their horn outside my townhome unit complex. It wasn’t just an occasional beep, he was keeping his hand on the horn for long periods, releasing, doing a few quick honks, and doing it again. The whole time, the sound kept moving. He was circling the block. This went on for something like 10 minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore and ran outside. I caught the guy circling and waved him down. He actually had the nerve to look at me like I was the problem.
I yelled at the asshole (for one thing, I was pissed, but I also wanted to make sure the neighbors heard, for my own safety, ) and asked him just how retarded he was (some people will criticize this as ablest, but in this circumstance, I didn’t much care,) and told him I’d call the cops. He shouted something like “Dunt git yo-sef mest up!” and “Call da cops!” but when I waved my phone, he sped off, leaving the area with another blast of his horn, like a douche. It was dark and I didn’t want to get too close to the car, so I couldn’t get a good description of it let alone a license plate, else I really would have called the cops. He was being an intentional nuisance, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he was drunk too.
The driver was a male, either an older teen or something in the young 20’s, I’d guess, and clearly was not raised right. This is our current generation, ladies and gentlemen. These are the kind of losers today’s “parents” are raising.