Tolstoy on Domestic Bliss

tolstoy-family

Leo Tolstoy with his wife and eight of their 13 children

The first epilogue of War and Peace is itself a long section of narrative, but one that most all other stories lack: what happens after “happily ever after?” Our heroes Pierre and Natasha have survived Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and finally, after over 1000 pages, have married.

But then Tolstoy gives us 16 more chapters about their early years of family life together (along with the lives of their friends and their marriages). In these chapters, Tolstoy unabashedly preaches what he thinks an ideal home life should be. The degree of anti-political correctness here makes me wonder that no sensitive snowflakes have demanded it banned.

Here’s the most instructive of those chapters, chapter 10, with ten headings I’ve added to illustrate Tolstoy’s points, and some highlighting of especially radical (read: old fashioned) ideas.

 

IN PRAISE OF THE PHYSICAL CHANGES IN YOUNG MOTHERS

Natasha had married in the early spring of 1813, and in 1820 already had three daughters besides a son for whom she had longed and whom she was now nursing. She had grown stouter and broader, so that it was difficult to recognize in this robust, motherly woman the slim, lively Natasha of former days. Her features were more defined and had a calm, soft, and serene expression. In her face there was none of the ever-glowing animation that had formerly burned there and constituted its charm. Now her face and body were of all that one saw, and her soul was not visible at all. All that struck the eye was a strong, handsome, and fertile woman. The old fire very rarely kindled in her face now. That happened only when, as was the case that day, her husband returned home, or a sick child was convalescent, or when she and Countess Mary spoke of Prince Andrew (she never mentioned him to her husband, who she imagined was jealous of Prince Andrew’s memory), or on the rare occasions when something happened to induce her to sing, a practice she had quite abandoned since her marriage. At the rare moments when the old fire did kindle in her handsome, fully developed body she was even more attractive than in former days.

 

THE CHOICES YOUNG MOTHERS MAKE WITH THEIR TIME

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Recommended: The Babadook

the-babadook_612x901I enjoy a good horror movie, but I hardly ever see any. I avoid excess in gore, profanity, and nudity: all things in which horror loves to overindulge. Besides that, though, most horror movies just aren’t very good. Is there another genre in which the worthwhile-to-garbage ratio is so high?

So imagine my joy to hear about The Babadook, last year’s Australian indie hit. I recommend it here not only because it passes the tests of my above criteria, but because it’s simply a wonderful film, period.

Start with the lead. On the strength of this performance, she should get a slew of Hollywood offers now. If this film had been made in Hollywood, she’d’ve been up for an Oscar.

Movies are full of struggling single moms, but I’ve never seen one look so legitimately haggard. Plenty of reviews have noted that this is a film about the persistence of grief, and they’re right.

But in our heroine’s beleaguered existence lies more than grief. She’s a nearly all-encompassing conduit of suburban social ills: regret, shame, ostracism, inadequacy…who can’t relate to some aspect of her plight? I’ve never seen the harsher strains of parenthood portrayed so bracingly.

Warning: the rest of this review is sort of spoiler-y…

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Notes and Quotes, June 2014

Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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How Family Dysfunction Hurts Education

Three examples from my experience as a teacher:

1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school.  His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming.  Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.

2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights.  The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.

3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.

Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point?  I wish.  I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.

Family structure and stability are so crucial to success.  That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research.  Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect.  And kids just keep paying the price for it…

 

How the Family Is Changing

When I once asked, “Is there any combination of consenting  adults you *wouldn’t* accept as a marriage?” only one of my more liberal acquaintances really addressed the question with a substantive response.  He said he wouldn’t support legalizing polygamous unions because of the confusion they would create.

He was absolutely right, but this is another example of how social progressives must not have truly examined the likely consequences of changing the definition of marriage, because such a reality will absolutely be the actual result of where our society is going.

I know this because we’re already well on the way.

In 2012, Brazil formalized a three-person union.

Also that year, a bill was introduced in California to allow children to have more than two legal parents.  The bill made it all the way to the governor before being vetoed.  Obviously, such an outcome is inevitable if same-sex marriage is sanctioned.

As the journal Public Discourse noted:

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Social and Political QUOTES: January 2014

 

  • “Fatherless families were also at least partly responsible for a national breakdown in authority and rising levels of crime. My view was backed in 1992 when three influential social scientists with impeccable Left-wing pedigrees produced a damning report.  From their research, they concluded that children in fractured families tend to suffer more ill-health, do less well at school, are more likely to be unemployed, more prone to criminal behaviour and to repeat as adults the same cycle of unstable parenting. But instead of welcoming this analysis as identifying a real problem, the Left turned on the authors, branding them as evil Right-wingers for being ‘against single mothers’.”  Melanie Philips, “Why the Left hates families: MELANIE PHIILLIPS reveals how the selfish sneers of Guardianistas made her see how the Left actively fosters – and revels in – family breakdown…

 

  • “I have been told that being hard on you Millennials will turn you against conservatism, that I should offer you a positive, hopeful message that avoids the touchy problem of your manifest stupidity.  No. There’s no sugar-coating it – your votes for Democrats have ensured that you are the first generation in American history that will fail to exceed what their parents attained. Embracing liberalism was a stupid thing to do, done for the stupidest of reasons, and I will now let you subsidize my affluent lifestyle without a shred of guilt.”  Kurt Schlichter, “Maybe Pain Will Teach You Millenials Not To Vote For Your Own Serfdom

A Plea For Civility About Same-Sex Marriage

The video is a shorter version of this script:

The most common assumption today is that if someone doesn’t agree with changing the definition of marriage to include gay couples, it’s because they’re ignorant and hate gay people.  That’s wrong.  So assuming that someone who disagrees with you must be evil and stupid does not help make the world a better place.  It’s divisive and cruel.  It’s also an ad hominem attack and a straw man argument that should be beneath all of us.  I’m not going to make the case for traditional marriage here.  There’s something basic that needs to be done first.

I want to make five main points today:

First: Society doesn’t work well when we misrepresent people we disagree with.  We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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Kids With Dead Moms

As a follow-up to last week’s bit about sick kids, here’s this: it’s surprising just how many kids out there have lost parents.  In some cases, both.

This last school year, I had three students whose mothers have died.  There may be more; those are just the ones I know of.  Another student had lost his father.  They’re holding up well, all things considered.

Especially in poverty-heavy areas, students are likely to be raised by someone other than a parent.  Grandparents raising kids isn’t uncommon.  About ten years ago, I knew a girl who was being raised by her great-grandparents.  Each of her parents, at different times, had just decided to skip town and go enjoy life.  She wasn’t stable.

Also not uncommon are single moms who can’t handle their sullen, violent sons, and who ship the boys off to live with dad to straighten them out.  It usually seems like too little, too late.

Variations on family failure just find different ways to hurt kids.  I once had a student whose father molested her.  I actually met him at a parent conference once, and never would have guessed it, though I don’t know what the signs would have been.  After he was arrested, she withdrew because of the shame and ended up moving away.

Another year there was a class with a young woman who had been crippled in an attack that also killed her little sister, a tragedy instigated by a drug deal her mom was involved in and which went sour.  That one had a happy ending: she got adopted by a great family who loved her.

 

 

 

The Odyssey on Living Well

From the Robert Fagles translation

 

On family:

“And may the good gods give you all your heart desires:

husband, and house, and lasting harmony too.

No finer, greater gift in the world than that…

when man and woman posses their home, two minds,

two hearts that work as one.  Despair to their enemies,

a joy to all their friends.  Their own best claim to glory.”

Book 6, lines 198-203

On sports:

“It’s fit and proper for you to know your sports.

What greater glory attends a man, while he’s alive,

than what he wins with his racing feet and striving hands?”

Book 8, lines 169-171

Will Liberals Agree to Call These Things Crazy?

I want to ask every progressive in America, especially those now in or seeking political office, to commit to the following ten-point statement:

I will not at any time endorse or participate in any social movement or advocate any legislative change that promotes:

• Legalizing incestuous relationships
• Legalizing polygamous relationships
• Legalizing sexual relationships with, or depictions of, minors under the current age of consent
• Granting animals any new legal rights currently reserved for humans
• Granting governments any new power, outside of taxation, to arbitrarily seize money held in accounts and investments of private citizens
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Family Matters

From a recent edition of NPR’s Talk of the Nation:

When you have very low fertility rates, it may be OK for a while, but over time your population gets older and older. And as your population gets older and older, as I think Stan was pointing out, what you start to see is, if you will, the ecosystem for families begins to weaken.

You have – the schools begin to close down. The kind of restaurants and facilities you have, the tax system has to change in order to support the older people. So there are a lot of things that happen. But fundamentally, it’s not like we can have the population we have now, and that population will be, in terms of age, like it is. It will be very old. You have to start thinking about societies by 2050, where there’ll be more people over 80 than under 15.

And

PATRICE: Well, in my circle of friends, I’m about 24 hours old, and when I talk to a lot of my friends, we – a lot of them don’t seem to be interested in having kids at all. You know, it’s sort of the concept is odd, or they just think oh, well, it’s – kids are expensive, and they’re going to tie me down, I’m not going to be able to have the lifestyle I want, kind of like the guest is saying.

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On Exaltation, Unity, and Heavenly Mother

I recently read this excellent article, which defends the idea that female identity is essential to God’s plan of happiness.  One line in particular struck me as especially relevant for a train of thought that dominates some online discussions: an obsession with parsing speculations about Heavenly Mother.

[T]o assume that absence of mention is the same as absence is a logical fallacy…. it is possible to assert that whenever Elohim is mentioned, as it is in the creation story of Genesis (and by extension, the Pearl of Great Price), we are speaking of God, and “God” means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 132…).  

Quite right.  Those who demand more insight into and some kind of interaction with Heavenly Mother have completely misunderstood the nature of God.  We can already know everything there is to know about her.

We know that exaltation requires a sealed marriage, and we also know that exaltation requires the kind of perfect unity enjoyed by Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.   Continue reading

Strong Families and the Success Cycle

The best quote from the best article about Charles Murray’s new book about the facts regarding faith and family in America:

In addition, he says, the upper class needs to abandon its nonjudgmentalism, start “preaching what it practices,” and stop being afraid to send the rest of America messages such as: People should not be having children out of wedlock. Hard work and religious faith matter. Contrary to the image of the rich conveyed by celebrity news, they are committed to their families and live fairly tame lives, and that’s a big reason why they raise high-achieving children and have money.

 

 

Social Science Research on Pornography

Opposition to pornography has become associated with “prudish right-wing fundamentalists,” but as with many things, the growing body of social science research confirms that this debate should extend far beyond the boundaries of belief.

A recent editorial in National Review about Rick Santorum’s opposition to pornography links to several such important studies.  I’m less interested in Santorum’s desire to combat porn by government muscle than I am in bringing facts to an honest national conversation.  Follow the links if you want some truth:

Likewise, Santorum’s views on pornography are a natural extension of his views on marriage as a public good — a sacred, lifelong bond between man and woman, designed to unify the couple and create children who, in turn, will make faithful, committed spouses one day. Interestingly, Santorum’s position is consistent with a rapidly growing body of social-science research. The older idea of pornography as a harmless rite of passage for boys, and a potential boost for the sex lives of married couples, are being challenged by data which show a potential for real and measurable harm. Studies have revealed a clear connection between regular pornography use and a host of negative consequences, including: sexual deviancy (lower first age of intercourse, obsessive masturbation), belief in the “rape myth” (that women cause rape), and loss of interest in sex. More frequent users of pornography report higher incidences of having sex for money, substance abuse, conduct problems, and having feelings of sexual desire “almost all the time.” Among young adults, pornography use correlates with higher numbers of casual-sex partners and lower relationship satisfaction. Both infidelity and divorce have been linked to the use of pornography. But there is a striking dearth of longitudinal research on the latter relationship. NIH should fund a comprehensive, long-term research project devoted to the impact of pornography use on marriage and the family.

Evaluating the Arguments For and Against Gay Marriage

My attempt at an objective analysis of some popular points:

Pro-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation Anti-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation
“Homosexuality is morally wrong.” WEAK. While people have the right to campaign for laws based on their beliefs, civil laws are not obligated to honor them.  This opinion is actually irrelevant to the issue. “We’re born that way and should be treated equally.” WEAK.  Establishing that something is natural is not the same as showing that it’s good or deserves to be protected.  Further, while fairness is a virtue, equality is not automatically universal, but is dependent on a number of factors—insisting on immediate equality is an attempt to circumvent discussion.
“It would open doors to abuses like polygamy and bestiality.” WEAK.  Even if this actually would be the case, it would be irrelevant.  You can’t ban something because it might lead to something else.  The issue has to be considered only on its own merits. “Banning gay marriage fosters discrimination and harassment.” WEAK.  Like the opposing slippery slope argument to the left, even if this is true, it’s not relevant.  Laws are not based on whether or not they might be interpreted in ways that will lead to positive or negative behavior.  Certainly mistreatment of others is bad, but laws cannot be altered because they might contribute to a more civil citizenry.
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