Saturday, May 06, 2006

Same-Simian Relations in Spain

This one is almost beyond parody:
Madrid, April 25, 2006. The Spanish Socialist Party will introduce a bill in the Congress of Deputies calling for "the immediate inclusion of (simians) in the category of persons, and that they be given the moral and legal protection that currently are only enjoyed by human beings." The PSOE's justification is that humans share 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, 97.7% with gorillas, and 96.4% with orangutans.
Fascinating question immediately arise. What is the age of consent for a chimp? Will PETA and ETA join forces for a Great Ape Autonomous Region in northern Spain, since they already speak an unintelligible language?

Most importantly, will apes continue to vote Socialist, or will they be lured away by the conservatives' promise of a reduced tax on bananas?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Effects of China’s One-Child Law

By guest bloggers Alex Plamp and Mary Jo Tewes from the Family Life class.
(Part two of two).

Most young people in China grew up as only children. Two thirds of them report feeling lonely as children, and wishing they had had a brother or sister. Since parents are only allowed to have a single child, all of the family’s resources and emotional investment get funneled into this one child. They are considered, with almost worshipful language, the “sun” of the family. Chinese only children are often described by others as willful and selfish because of this upbringing. When factored in with the fact that this generation is also mostly male, it can be guessed that the effect of this kind of childhood is likely to combine with the general nature of bachelors to trigger ever more destructive behaviors.

Related to the one-child law, divorces in middle-aged couples are increasing greatly in China as well. Divorcees between 30 to 40 years of age account for 46.5 percent of divorces in 2003, up 9.5 percent from 1981 (the article is here). These middle-aged couples are the parents of the present overwhelmingly male generation. I wonder if the divorces are another unexpected effect of the one-child law. Miscarriages, infertility, and the death of a child have been shown to exert considerable stress on marriages generally, so what effect does it have on a couple when they feel pressured into choosing an abortion? The ironic thing is that, though many of these couples paid the ultimate price in order to have a son who could care for them in their old age, that arrangement is now jeopardized by the divorce. Will the son bring both parents into his own house, as is the tradition, to care for two parents who will not speak to each other? Or will he be forced to pay for not just one but two or even three households, in order to maintain peace through separation?

Incidentally, the marriages of the present unbalanced generation are often more stable than those of their parents. Only 6.6 percent of couples younger than 30 got divorced in 2003, which is a big drop from 37 percent 22 years ago (see previous link). The older couples’ marriages are generally troubled by the infidelity of the husband. However, younger married men may have trouble finding a mistress, even if they want to cheat. Because of the shortage of women, men feel lucky to be married at all, and are more likely to value their wives as a blessing.

According to Maggie Scarf’s Intimate Worlds, the most important characteristic of Level 1 families is flexibility. The one-child law keeps families from exercising the natural flexibility that would otherwise allow them to accept female children, and just generally function normally. While the law has kept the country’s population under control, which is good, the effects it has had on individual families have been very detrimental.

What the Chinese need now is to learn to be flexible in reconciling this law with their tradition. The current demographic crisis is a sign that the law and tradition have not been reconciled to each other sufficiently. Both factors must become less rigidly defined in order to coexist without causing too much suffering for the families. Recent additions to the law, such as providing tuition discounts and other incentives for raising girls, and allowing parents in specific communities who are both only children to have two children instead of one, are steps in the right direction toward flexibility. A welfare system would ease the children’s burden of caring for aging parents, and the parents’ worries that if they have a girl they will not be cared for in their old age. In certain situations, a wife’s parents should be allowed to live with their daughter instead of the husband’s parents living with them, if that arrangement is more convenient for that family. Parents of girls should be allowed to feel just as secure about their retirement as parents of boys.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

China’s Surplus Men

By guest bloggers Alex Plamp and Mary Jo Tewes from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two).

A recent post on discussed a CBS news report detailing the immense overpopulation of men currently plaguing China (the post is here; the original CBS story is here). According to the article, an average of 120 boys are born for every 100 girls, and China faces an overhang of 40 million bachelors.

As Dr. Weston stated in class earlier this semester, “An unmarried man is the most dangerous thing in the world, and large groups of them break things.” China's overpopulation of men has already led to dramatic increases in social problems, including a huge, floating population of 140 million migrant workers, as well as higher rates of crime, prostitution, and bride kidnappings. Perhaps most frightening, according to the original blog post, is the fact that societies with surpluses of men have historically engaged in expansionist foreign policies – that is, they invade their neighbors. Overpopulations of men are also a problem in India and most Muslim countries, which could lead to some nasty testosterone-fueled conflicts in the Eastern part of the world in the near future.

For 25 years, China has enforced a rule of one child per family, in order to curb its dangerously high population growth. Given the option of having only one child, families have favored boys overwhelmingly – The news article cites a traditional preference for boys in Asian societies, noting that it is men who usually care for their parents when they get older.

The one-child policy, which is enforced with sterilization and/or mandatory birth control, has decreased China’s potential population by 300 million people, which is not a bad thing in itself. But if families are forced to choose, they are much more likely to choose a boy over a girl, simply because men have a higher chance of success in society – they have more opportunities to earn money and gain power, thus providing security for their families. Therefore, rather than doing away with the one-child rule, China is making attempts to change the anti-female sentiment in the country. The CBS article says “school fees for girls have been reduced, and laws changed so daughters can inherit land,” indicating that the key to equal preference for boys and girls is going to depend on increased opportunities for women’s social, economic, and political advancement in Chinese society. That is, if women are more capable of succeeding on their own and acquiring the resources necessary to take care of their families when they get older, then parents will be much more likely to have girls.

Personally, we think this development is inevitable. Men don’t like to share women, and Chinese men are eventually going to realize that they need many, many more of them around. However, unless the anti-girl sentiment changes overnight, the one-child rule is not going to encourage much change, and it’s probably going to take a substantial amount of time to change the mindset of over a billion people.

In the meantime, here is a suggestion: What if China changed the law so that families had to stop having children after they had one girl and one boy? Naturally this is not a perfect solution – it would not help the overpopulation problem, and might lead to even more abortions (say, for example, a family already has a boy, keeps trying, but keeps having boys?) Still, something must be done to get some more women into China, before all the unmarried men go crazy and kill each other.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Divorce is Not the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

By Ginny Anderson and Rebecca Bush, guest bloggers from the Family Life class
(Part two of two)

In our family life class, we have seen that divorce has far-reaching negative consequences for adults, children, and society as a whole. Why then, do half of all American marriages continue to end in divorce?

During the divorce revolution of the 1970’s, popular theory purported that spouses had a responsibility to themselves and to their children to end a reportedly unhappy marriage. This quickly became conventional wisdom. In discussing her own parents’ 1970’s era divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds, says

“leading experts assured parents that as long as they found happiness their children would be happy too. Some experts even insisted that parents in unhappy marriages had a duty to divorce or they would irrevocably damage their children. More nuanced ideas about happiness—that there are degrees of unhappiness in marriages, that marital happiness can go in cycles, that divorce doesn’t necessarily make adults happy, that children’s natural inclination is not to worry about their parents’ happiness so much as their own—did not have much influence in the early seventies.”
In a 2002 study by the Institute for American Values, family scholars supported these statements. They determined that divorce, just like the illustrious BMW, does not make unhappy couples as happy as they think it will. One finding stated that, “Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married.” Again, we see that there is a discrepancy between the predicted outcome and the actual outcome of an important choice. The lives of divorced spouses, and indeed their entire families, are no more gratifying post-divorce. This brings us to one of the study’s other key findings: “Divorce did not reduce symptoms of depression for unhappily married adults, or raise their self-esteem, or increase their sense of mastery, on average, compared to unhappy spouses who stayed married.” Ultimately, divorced couples reaped none of the benefits that they expected, such as personal satisfaction and self-fulfillment and instead found themselves facing a battery of unexpected negative consequences.

If divorce is not the solution to marital dissatisfaction, what hope then exists for unhappy couples? This is where we return to our earlier discussion on the transitory nature of happiness itself. If happiness is an internal function, subject to frequent highs and lows over the course of one’s life, then we can predict that happiness in marriage will follow this same pattern. The study confirms this hypothesis: “Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.” Furthermore, if the decision to divorce is made in an emotional “hot” state, even a sustained emotional hot state, the couple is unlikely to give heed to all of the potential outcomes, such as economic instability, loneliness, depression, diminished physical health, and emotionally divided children.

For unhappy couples seeking to improve their marriages without suffering the unhappy consequences of a divorce, there are ways to foster lasting feelings of satisfaction. The marital tensions can be waited out, worked through, or worked around. Cliché though it sounds, “time heals all things” can be applied to most marriages, as evidenced by the two-thirds of unhappy couples who reported greater satisfaction after five years. The study calls this the “marital endurance ethic.” The less passive approach, “the marital work ethic,” can be to directly combat the sources of unhappiness through changed behavior. Finally, if happiness appears unattainable within the relationship, it is at least attainable for each individual through meaningful actions and interpersonal relationships, again confirming that lasting happiness is an internal state of mind rather than a result of external conditions.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Chasing Rainbows: The Search for Happiness

By Ginny Anderson and Rebecca Bush, guest bloggers from the Family Life class
(Part one of two)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “happy” as “Having good ‘hap’ or fortune; lucky, fortunate; favoured by lot, position, or other external circumstance.” The underlying assumption of this definition is that the condition of happiness is derived from the fulfillment of outside desires—the next promotion, the better body, the new spouse, the beach vacation, the crème-filled donut. However, we purport that this is an archaic definition for one of humankind’s most fundamental emotions. Happiness is far more ephemeral: it is El Dorado, it is Brigadoon, it is Shangri-la.

In a 2004 New York Times article entitled “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness,” Jon Gertner discusses a study by eminent psychologists and economists on the human ability to predict future happiness. The study concluded that humans often overestimate the intensity of their emotions toward any given event and the duration that they will experience those emotions. There is always a discrepancy between what people predict that they will feel in response to something and what they actually experience. Gertner uses the example of purchasing a new car, saying, “We might believe that a new BMW will make life perfect. But it will almost certainly be less exciting than we anticipated; nor will it excite us for as long as predicted….[This] characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy.” Instead of material gains or fleeting experiences, the study shows that friendships and social interaction are among the few things that give “lasting pleasure.”

According to the study, happiness is a temporary state, much like anger, infatuation, anxiety, or lust. It has far less to do with the good and bad events that occur over the course of one’s life than it does with the human brain’s very cyclical regulation of emotional highs and lows. Decisions made in an emotional “hot” state rather than in a “‘cold’ state of rational calm” do not result in the pleasurable outcome that one envisions at the time, often bringing unforeseen consequences. Thus, it is unwise and even potentially detrimental to make serious life decisions based on transient and anticipated emotions like happiness. It is, therefore, not surprising that in the context of marriage and family life, we find that marital satisfaction is also of a cyclical nature. This has significant implications for the choice to divorce and the future effects thereof.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Gruntled Center in May

My Family Life class has been working hard all term. One of the new skills of the term has been to learn how to read and write blogs. For the rest of this month, you will see the best fruits of their labors.

Starting tomorrow, and running Tuesday through Friday each of the next four weeks, I will be posting the best blogs from my class. Their assignment was to write a two-day post on a family topic of their choosing. They are pretty good, I think. I will let you be the judge.

I will keep my regular Saturday to Monday pattern (and I have a doozy for next Saturday …). See you then.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Need to Balance The Church Headquarters Budget? Fire the Prophets

The Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination, will announce another $9.5 million dollars in cuts to headquarters operations tomorrow. This will be the third or fourth major downsizing (I have lost track) since the reunited church created the Presbyterian Center in Louisville in 1988. It probably won't be the last. The Presbyterian Church loses a small city's worth of members every year. As the base shrinks, the money flowing downstream to HQ dries up, too.

The church's membership losses have not been the main reason that the denominational center faces another budget crisis, though. The money going to local congregations has actually been pretty steady. However, fewer and fewer congregations have been willing to send their per capita tax – ok, it isn't really a tax, but it is a highly suggested voluntary contribution – down the line to the higher judicatories, the more centralized offices of the denomination. And while there are many members who give extra gifts to their own congregations, and even to the presbyteries (regional bodies) that make up the Presbyterian Church, fewer and fewer give directly to the denomination.

I think the main reason that headquarters is being starved for money is that the rank and file don't trust that their gifts will be well spent. Let me be clear here – I have many friends in the Presbyterian Center, and I think HQ does many important jobs for the church. The quiet work of supporting congregations gets few headlines, but is most welcome to those who get helped.

The headlines, though, go to the self-styled prophets who work for the church, who "get out ahead" of the denomination to lead the church into social changes that the prophets know Jesus – or JusticeLove – would want us to do. In my church these change just so happen to always be in a leftist direction. I would have the same objection, though, to rightist prophets working in the central church staff.

Church bureaucrats should not be prophets; prophets should not be church bureaucrats.

As a rule of thumb, I would say that people who tell you that they are prophets, aren't. In the Bible, the kind of official prophets who work for the establishment get shown up by the real prophets who are sent by God.

The church needs prophets, as does society as a whole. That is why God keeps sending them. The place of prophets is outside the house of power, speaking truth. The Presbyterian Center is a house of power. It needs servants who the local congregations can trust. If the church trusted the HQ, the money would flow.