Green Sex: Family, Reproduction, Children, Love, Lust, Power, Strangers…and Social Policy.

Sharon January 25th, 2009

It has been a full two weeks since I finished _Independence Days_, so, of course, I’m thinking about my next book ;-) .   Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a while – I even submitted the proposal a while back, although so far no one has bought it – but I’ve never let details stop me. 

For the moment the working title is “Green Sex” and my goal is to explore the social and policy issues involving family, reproduction, demography, love, sex, passion, and the politices thereof that are likely to arise as energy depletion, climate change and our financial situation reshape our world.  And I’ve been waiting impatiently to have the time to begin exploring these issues here, on the blog, where I work out most of my craziness ;-) .  The good news is that this book and Aaron and my project on narrating the Greater Depression “Far Past Our Father’s Land” are likely to be longer term projects than my previous ones, and the pace will be slower.

In a sense, this book might be described as the one I’ve been waiting to write all my life, although that sounds a little fustian.  But my doctoral dissertation (still unfinished, unlikely to be) was about the ways that demographic issues (in that case, the Black Death) shaped human relationships, and understanding of others.  That is, I spent much of my 20s figuring out how a depleted world (in this case, of humans) shaped the way people loved one another, how they thought of one another, what they dreamed of – and how writers like Shakespeare, Jonson and Milton narrated those relationships.  Despite the shift from past to present, the questions to me remain much the same – how do events transform our most intimate relationships – and how do those transformations reshape our laws, our social policy, even our sense of who we are.

Now part of my desire to work on these issues is sheer intellectual curiosity, but there are other reasons.  Our view of ourselves and the social structures we evolve to respond to events always ends up affecting how we legislate ourselves, and our political future.  In fact, in many cases, it comes to define us.  After all, while in times of crisis there are certainly one issue economic voters, generally speaking, it is our social policies that define us politically - that is, we vote against those who oppose same sex marriage or only for politicians who are anti-abortion.  It is sometimes fashionable to deplore the fact that these issues get so much attention, that they distract us from real and “weighty” issues of economic policy or energy policy. 

I don’t share that view, actually.  I think that while all issues can fall into triviality and self-parody (anyone watched the Fed lately?), that often not only are the issues themselves critical to our self-definition, but they are the only ways we have in the public sphere at getting at the question of who we are, and what we believe in, not just at the superficial level of “I am for or against X thing” but at the deeper level, in which we attempt to figure out how to relate to our fellow human beings.

I was deeply influenced in my training by the philosopher Stanley Cavell, who argues that a particular form of philosophical skepticism lived at the center of many narratives from the Renaissance onwards.  At its root is the Cartesian doubt that others are fully as real as you are.  He tracks this not through explicit doubt that others are physically real, but through human relationships, which constantly struggle with the question of how to treat even the people you love most as though they were truly as vibrantly real as we feel ourselves to be.  

My own feeling is that this abstracted solipsism that Cavell detects is perhaps at the root of most of our present problems -  we find ourselves unable to believe that others are as fully real as we are.  So, for example, that fact that our choices often result in harm to others – fewer resources, a warmer world, actual deaths – becomes something we simply cannot grasp, because faraway others, even our own posterity, literal or figurative, is something we cannot grant full human status.

What does this have to do with sex?  Well, like Cavell, I think that the first questions of how we relate to others actually begin with the questions of how we relate to those we have the most intimate connections to – that is, on some level our relationship to the larger human whole depends on whether we treat those we love skeptically, or whether we are able to find some way to fully recognize them as having different, but equally important human priorities.  That is, to some degree it is in our families, from our partners and spouses, through our acts of love that we come, eventually, to find a way to love the rest of humanity enough to act ethically.

Thus, it is all the territory broadly covered by sex - from our demographics and reproductive acts, to our relationships and intimacies, from our family structures and our family politics that in the end, get us to something we can all live with – if we can get there.

Moreover, and perhaps even more importantly, I don’t think that most people have begun yet, as they sort through the implications of climate change and energy depletion and the Greater Depression, to realize how this is likely to shift our social policies.  How, for example, will we begin dealing with question of reproduction and demography, either directly or indirectly?  How will shifts in our family structure as our aging population loses its retirement savings change the way we think about family?  How has energy changed things for women, and men?  What kind of gender roles and equity are we likely to see?  How will childbearing and rearing change when we have less energy and less wealth?   How will people on the right and left, concered equally with conserverving and preserving what we have navigate political minefields like abortion and gay rights?  How will minority cultures of all kinds fare in the future?  What is the future of marriage, gay and straight?

These are just some of the questions that interest me.  But more than interesting me, I care very much that some kind of analysis of these issues begin, and that conversations begin to arise on these subjects – because the reality of our social, sexual, reproductive and family life cannot but be transformed by our new realities – and having a framework for viewing and thinking about these changes as they happen seems to me essential – lest they be wrested into the agendas of those who would use them cynically.  So far, those who have acknowledged the realities of our economic, ecologic and energy depletion are still at the “this means we need to” – and we do need to do all the things they and we are talking about, with windmills and trains and farms.

But at the same time, we need to think about whither the family – biological and chosen.  Whither our children – what kind of education  and values will be transmitted to them.  Whither the population question – what kind of policies will we consider or adopt, and what will be their implications.  Whither people of faith, whose viewpoints cannot be translated in whole cloth into policy, but whose thinking matters in any democracy.  Whither marriage, as both a social and an economic institution – how will our fragile domestic life fare in harder times.  Whither sex itself – is it possible that there is a truly green sex?  Whither our relationship to love and life?  And whither our relationship to the soon to be 7 billion other people caught in variations on the same mess?

Anyway, you’ll be seeing essays in this vein a lot in the next few months. 

 Ok, more soon!

 Cheers,

Sharon

48 Responses to “Green Sex: Family, Reproduction, Children, Love, Lust, Power, Strangers…and Social Policy.”

  1. mcnamyson 25 Jan 2009 at 11:13 am

    Great post – and something that seems to be coming to the forefront in these challenging times and something to consider as it will have a huge impact in everyones future. Another site posted about decreasing birthrates that are spurring a demographic shift – definitely worth a read –> http://www.financialarmageddon.com/2009/01/report-birth-rates-fall-in-tough-economy-cbs—–the-recession-is-leaving-some-doctors-offices-empty-more-women-are-putti.html

  2. Ceredwynon 25 Jan 2009 at 11:27 am

    Sharon, thank you for writing about all the stuff that keeps rattling around in my head!

    What happens to our feminism when chemical birthcontrol becomes too expensive? There are several techniques to limit fertility but they take time and cooperation from one’s partner and culture.

    For instance, breastfeeding limits fertility in 90% women if they eat a low fat diet (not so good for many American women then). But in many places, social pressures encourage early weaning (less than 2 years).

    Next question is, in the world of scarcity, will our children be as likely to live to adulthood? Also, will maternal deaths during childbirth become common?

    Will marriage return to a state governed more by economics and less by preference?

    Do I need to ask for a dowry for my daughter because I’ll be losing her labor, or do I ask her partner to move in with us? Can I expect that my children will go far far away to find paid work or will they build an extension on my house?

    The questions, both practical and rhetorical just don’t end–good luck with the project!

  3. Greenpaon 25 Jan 2009 at 11:42 am

    LOL!!!!

    See, here’s what flashed into MY head:

    Other husbands have to deal with the occasional disconcertion when, in the middle of lovemaking, the wife will suddenly ask “oh, John, did you leave the lights on in the garage?”

    In YOUR case; I can see your husband having to cope, frequently, right in the middle of interesting activities, with: “Dear, does this represents a Cartesian dichotomy, or more a Proustian dilemma, from your male point of view?”

    I’m looking forward to talking privately with your hubby, some day. :-)

    On a more collegial note- I’ve frequently been rather astonished at how your outlooks, information, even taste in movies an books, coincide with mine. Kinda weird.

    So here’s another one; my own unfinished, and guaranteed never to be, PhD thesis also had to do with – sex.

    In my case is was more an ecological direction, extending observations of clear differential niche utilization by the sexes within species. (In English, the Mama bird, and the Daddy bird, don’t eat the same things; big time.) My contention was/is that this is an almost universal pattern, in fact, in species from rotifers to humans, and does not require sexual dimorphism to be very pronounced. Essentially, males and females function as different ecological species, going to great lengths to NOT compete for resources.

    :-) No wonder you live without a fridge!

  4. Greenpaon 25 Jan 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Oh, and, in case you missed it (easy to do because of the schlocky title) there’s a long feature in the NYT right now:

    http://tinyurl.com/dd6c93

    It looks to me like excellent research- with some truly groundbreaking techniques and results.

    I read the WHOLE thing; not common for me.

  5. Lisa Zon 25 Jan 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Though I’m a liberal for the most part, I’m always uncomfortable with the “zero population growth” folks because number one, I know and feel strongly that each child is a blessing and two, I think it’s mostly a convenient way to lay blame on others evade the real questions of resource use by each of us.

    What does it mean to have less humans on earth? Does that just mean those of us here get more?

    I think the real questions are more about how much does each person use, and how can we lessen that for some and increase it for others, so all can have what they need and maybe just a little of what they want? Way more complicated than just telling someone to stop having babies!

    When I read about peak oil, the economy, pandemics, etc., I often say to my husband, I wish we had more kids than our two! I’m seriously worried that there won’t be enough of us left, and that we are gonna need each other way more than we do now just to live.

  6. Lisa Zon 25 Jan 2009 at 12:38 pm

    meant to say “lay the blame on others AND evade the real…”

  7. Isison 25 Jan 2009 at 1:09 pm

    “What does it mean to have less humans on earth? Does that just mean those of us here get more?”

    Essentially, yes. Those of us here, both human and non-human (we are losing at least 200 species a day, mostly due to human activity and numbers), would get more if the number of humans were lower.

    There are now nearly 10 times more of us on this planet than there were prior to the industrial revolution. Take away fossil fuels, and we’re left with about as much as was available around 1700. (We racked the planet and lost some pre-industrial skills, which translates to less, and we learned some new things, which translates into more than was available back then. But for the purposes of right now, let’s assume the two more or less balance out.)

    So, with the human population being some 10 times larger than it was back then… You tell me: how do you like the idea of doing with 10% of the resources that were available to your pre-industrial ancestors? I can tell you that I don’t like the idea one bit.

  8. squrrlon 25 Jan 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Very glad to see you’ll be talking about this more, as it’s something that interests me a great deal and I’m sure your thoughts will be more coherent and more thoroughly informed than mine. Personally, I’m mostly thinking “wait and see”, since I think that how the coming changes translate to personal and family life like this will depend on specifically what happens and in what order, which is not something most of us are willing to try to predict. And, well, not to put too fine a point on it, how many of us die in an, ahhh, unscheduled fashion. (For example, if a nation is, at a given time, keenly aware of the looming presence of the Four Horsemen, population control is probably not going to be a big feature of the national discourse).

    I, too, have always had a (much more amateur than you) fascination with what effect the Black Death had on the human psyche, and what I’ve mostly learned is that it’s not always what you’d expect and things are very not simple. Not simple, maybe not predictable, but well worth talking about.

  9. R.on 25 Jan 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I’m going to paraphrase Claude Levi-Strauss (or maybe S J Tambiah paraphrasing Claude Levi-Strauss, I don’t remember) and say “sex is good to think and good to prohibit” and add “and good to do.” I would be excited to read this book, although I doubt it could cover every topic that’s interesting or relevant to me about earth-friendly sex.

    I’m a gay man who wasn’t always a man, and it’s a distant possibility that I could become pregnant. For a variety of reasons I’d really prefer not to, and for a variety of reasons I don’t have plans to surgically alter my body. While I’d love a more earth-friendly alternative to condoms, they’re the most practical and safe alternative for me right now.

    Transgender people have a seriously hard time of things right now, and will have a harder time as economic and energy limits make it more difficult to simply change our bodies so that we can live in the world safely in our genders of identity. And yet, since there have been transgender people seemingly since ancient Sumer, it’s unlikely that we’ll simply disappear. And like anyone else we might have valuable contributions to make in this changing world. Gender is related to sex although they’re obviously not the same thing, so maybe this is somewhat off topic. Something is important to me, Sharon, is that you acknowledge not only gay and straight people, but bisexual people and transgender people and intersex people, and kinky and polyamorous practices, in your book. Sex, because of the huge variety of sexual practices and subcultures, is an enormous topic, and I don’t expect anyone to have expertise on all of it, and I don’t expect your book to cover minority sex and gender cultures in detail—but I feel like we’ve been ignored in the sustainability world, and that makes it more difficult for me to engage my fellow queers to get them involved in energy transition. If you’d like some resources to help with those topics I’ve mentioned, I’ll be happy to suggest a few. I even have some that address some of these topics from a Jewish perspective.

  10. Anna Marieon 25 Jan 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Each child is a blessing, and there are lots of blessings out there to adopt who need good homes and caring parents. It may be in the future with scarce resources, we’ll have to temper our biological imperative to reproduce and take care of the people that are already here. If food becomes scarce, the human female doesn’t have enough fat to be fertile anyhow, so nature might take care of it all for us.

  11. Adrienneon 25 Jan 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Sharon,
    I thought that your chapter on population was one of the best and most nuanced discussions I had seen in a long time, and I look forward to seeing an entire book. I had long been planning on emailing you (derailed by small children demanding attention and food) to encourage you to discuss peak oil, etc. will impact women specifically, since most of the changes in women’s status and labor have been dependent on the “energy slaves” of cheap energy.

    One issue that is frequently not discussed in the population limits conversation is what happens when we age. My grandmother is almost 90 and fell two weeks ago. Her shoulder was dislocated, not broken, but she had to move from her independent apartment to the assisted living wing of her building. Even with the nurses there to take care of her, my mother came over every day. She needed help with little things, she needed supervision, she needed support, she needed to be encouraged to eat. What if she didn’t have children? She would have been dependent on friends, or neighbors, or the nurses. All of these people are good and kind and have the best intentions, and it is a lovely thought that there will be _someone_ who will help me when I get old. But the reality is that it is my children who will care for me. Particularly after the Madoff affair, or Enron, or the stock market slump in general, we have seen the instantaneous evaporation of a lifetime of savings. If those people had been depending on their money to give them physical security in old age, it is gone now. What they have left is community, and family.

    Obviously, this is a topic that is far more nuanced than I can explore, but I think that the importance and role of children, even for those of us in middle-class America, is under-rated and over-looked. After all, its the 21st century now–shouldn’t we have evolved beyond that by now?

  12. Barefooton 25 Jan 2009 at 4:52 pm

    “At its root is the Cartesian doubt that others are fully as real as you are. ”

    See, this is why I kick myself for not going to college! I have been struggling to articulate my observation of this very thing. If I would have been a little better educated, I could have saved myself lots of frustration!

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  13. aurorabon 25 Jan 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Sharon wrote: How has energy changed things for women, and men?

    In conjunction with energy, perhaps you might want to look at how energized machinery has changed things for women and men. Even our most vulnerable adults (for example, pregnant women, elderly folks, people with physical handicaps) are physically powerful behind the wheel of a car. Today anyone can be powerful at the controls of a bulldozer, battery-powered drill, chain saw, or machine gun.

    Re sustainable population, Robert J. Sawyer had a novel (to me, at least) approach in his Neanderthal series: Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids.

  14. Lisa Zon 25 Jan 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I asked: What does it mean to have less humans on earth? Does that just mean those of us here get more?

    Isis said: “Essentially, yes. Those of us here, both human and non-human (we are losing at least 200 species a day, mostly due to human activity and numbers), would get more if the number of humans were lower.”

    At first glance, Isis, by the numbers you sound right. But it doesn’t work that way now and it most likely never will, unless we keep the discussion on issues of resource allocation and justice, rather than who’s having more children.

    Those of us having the least children tend to use the most of the earth’s resources. That seems much more selfish to me than women (anywhere) having lots of babies so that the family can have help, security, and the blessings of family around them.

    Where has this Western society that is more dependent on money, government and paid employees (I’m not talking household servants but nursing home aides, etc.) rather than family members to take care of the elderly or the children in daycare, etc.? I’d love to see us get away from using money to care for our people and back to having extended family members do it. I’d love to be taking care of my 90-year old Grandma in my home, but she’s too stubborn to move and my mother would never “allow it”. For her sake, we can hire home health aides and that’s good for now, but is it really as good as if I, her loving granddaughter, was there with her every day? I don’t think it is.

    Someone might say that we can build communities of like-minded individuals to take care of each other, but how often does that really work? Who but family can really be depended on to be there when the going gets really, really rough? It often takes blood ties (and lots of feelings of guilt, duty and obligation) to make that happen.

  15. Claireon 25 Jan 2009 at 6:27 pm

    OK, so it’s time to talk about those, like me, who have chosen to be childless, and what happens to us as we age.

    I can’t not think about this. I’m 51 so there is no chance of my getting pregnant even if my DH hadn’t had a vasectomy before I met him (we met when I was 31 and he was 34). He and I both deliberately chose to be childless, him by the vasectomy and me by marrying him.

    Since we don’t have children ourselves, we have extra time to do volunteer activities and to help his newly-widowed mother. This is to the good. Plus, I have to say, I’m really glad that I won’t have to watch any children or grandchildren suffer during any hard times coming. (This is the flip side to the feeling of being comforted by having children to help you when you are older.)

    On the other hand, who will take care of us, if we need it, when we reach our parents’ ages? My DH’s father died suddenly, at home, last November. His mom is 81 and is fully able to take care of herself, in her own home, only 5 miles from us. She doesn’t drive, so my DH drives her where she needs to go, unless a neighbor or friend does so first. My DH and I long ago agreed that we’d move her in with us if the day comes when she can no longer live by herself. Who will take care of either of us, however, if we need it – are there ways we can build a community that can help us with that? I’d like to see a more nuanced discussion of the childless-by-choice (or chance) issue in your next book, versus that in D & A. I think that if we could figure out how to care for each other as friends, neighbors, or otherwise as we age, maybe more folks would be willing to choose no children if they don’t have a strong desire to have children. Others might prefer to have fewer children, say one or two, if they have assurance of the help they need as they age. That would be one of many things that can help as we transition to a low-energy society.

  16. Isison 25 Jan 2009 at 6:47 pm

    “But it doesn’t work that way now and it most likely never will, unless we keep the discussion on issues of resource allocation and justice, rather than who’s having more children.”

    Resource allocation is an extremely serious problem, and I never meant to suggest otherwise. That doesn’t change the fact that the TOTAL number of humans on this planet must go down, or perhaps more to the point, WILL go down, whether anyone likes it or not. (As evidence for my claim, I again point to the pre-industrial population size, as well as the pre-industrial level of consumption. You’d probably find it difficult to keep body and soul together if you had considerably fewer resources to work with than your pre-industrial ancestors did.) The only question is HOW the number of people on the planet will go down. I personally can’t think of any painless ways to make it so. Simply having fewer babies leads to problems of the sort that you mentioned. But if people continue having as many babies as they are currently having, that pretty much guarantees that our population will be reduced by famine, war, and pestilence.

  17. Isison 25 Jan 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Sharon,

    Like Claire, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about childless people. I personally have no children, and have no intention of changing that, so this is a topic of considerable interest to me.

    Further, I suspect that as we slide down the bell curve, we’ll have fewer babies, even in the absence of reliable contraception. Abortion, after all, is not resource intensive, even though it can be quite dangerous when performed under, shall we say, less than ideal conditions. Still, if a woman is barely able to make ends meet, taking her chances on a not-entirely-safe abortion can look a lot better than going through with pregnancy.

  18. peteon 25 Jan 2009 at 8:05 pm

    This is a really interesting new aspect to your writing here Sharon. Seemed to come out of left field a bit at first, but of course it isn’t really. You take world scale issues (like energy depletion) and turn your attention to small scale effects and adaption (individual, family, community). So first it was food – now you are adding sex and relationships as well. Look forward to this subject developing, especially as you go beyond population and look at the nitty gritty of how we relate to each other.

    I think the issues that Sharron and R raise with regards minority sexualities is interesting. We tend to assume that larger, more “modern” communities are more tollerant of alternatives and minorities, and certainly it is easier for a sub culture to form due to the greater numbers. But are larger communities really more tollerant or just more easilly segregated and ghettoized. I think there is another sense in which smaller communities are much more likely to recognise the mutual dependence of all its citizens and tollerate difference for the benifit of the whole community, and this is strengthened when the community is under stress. But in a larger community (like a city) where members are largely strangers to each other, stress (like economic decline) is more likely to reduce tollerance and increase pressure on minorities. My two cents.

    Pete

  19. The Screaming Sardineon 25 Jan 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Just because you have children doesn’t mean they’ll take care of you in your old age. The children may die, be unable to, or you may have so abused them that they’ll have nothing to do with you.

    I also think that if people have children with the thought that now they’ll have someone to take care of them in their old age is highly selfish and manipulative. In my opinion, those types of parents would make horrid parents who see their children as a means to an end.

    I have never thought of my son as taking care of me in my old age. I don’t view him as a commodity or a tool to manipulate like that.

  20. Fernon 25 Jan 2009 at 9:26 pm

    So, Screaming, how DO you see yourself being cared for in your old age? Just curious about what you have in place for if you become incapacitated. Who has your Durable Power of Attorney (medical, financial, etc)? What will happen if your funds run out and collapse means govt is funding no one in nursing homes?

    The way too nosy Fern

  21. Brad K.on 25 Jan 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Sharon,

    Does your thinking consider the use of children as a means of warfare? In David’s time, and for the ancient Greeks (according to Plato/Aristotle), the state required men to raise sons for the army – for the wars in coming years. Since time immemorial, if you don’t have an army (children from the previous generation), you invite conquest. I don’t see that dynamic changed at all today – an act of birth may not be an act of war, but it is related. Consider also the ancient “assimilation” of a conquered nation – kill the men, rape the women to destroy the enemy’s culture and begin to make the new land a part of your empire. We still see scattered vestiges of this today, mostly in Muslim and Communist conflicts as I recall.

    Another potent force in the family before modern times was feudalism. The notion of pledged, legal devotion to an overlord could place a man’s wife and children under the control and responsibility of a feudal lord, fealty, would violate today’s sensibilities – and overturn the dynamics of marrying, choosing a livelihood, and raising a family.

    Leo Frankowski in his science fiction/alternate history novels beginning with Cross-Time Engineer explores a snapshot of 13th century Poland’s culture and social and economic structure – as his modern-day hero proceeds to overturn history. Sort of a Polish version of Twains’ A Connecticut Yankee in King Aurthur’s Court. With a bit of frolicking added. In the absence of general communication, like David Brin’s Postman (the book, not the lame Kevin Costner movie; different story), lay postmen become immensely powerful means to bring civilization out of chaos. Something to consider, for involving those off the grid in a larger society.

    On observation that Frankowski makes in one of the novels, is that women from France, at the time, were uniformly more beautiful than Polish women. He postulates that Poles were struggling harder to survive, and chose mates based on hardiness of health and character, on ability to defend home and children at need. More “civilized” people (closer to decadence) used aesthetics to discern “more desirable” when picking mates.

    I recall a story of Sarah, Plain and Tall – about a period of mail order brides in the American frontier. When living off the grid, a wife that can successfully breast feed, give birth to healthy babies while maintaining her own health, work at home, garden, and whatever other craft the family undertakes, will be quite desirable, to a man that values such qualities. Women that aspire to social position will be more likely to pair up with the well-to-do, the community leaders – and the wannabes.

    And when you consider population growth and limits, consider that in order to pass your culture, your teachings, and your faith to the next generation – you either have to produce babies, teach children, or both. Otherwise you invite your neighbors to overwhelm you by force, economically, or just to “assimilate” your people. Someone I read used the phrase “genetic suicide”, maybe Frankowski, criticizing how the Church in the Middle Ages siphoned off the best and brightest minds – and bound them to a vow of chastity. The best women, of course, were neglected and disregarded like almost all of the women, and many of the men, then.

    When your chidren’s selection of mate may determine whether you can keep your farm or craft running, when the choice of mate may determine if your grandchildren live to maturity, might you be inclined to exert a bit more influence in picking the mate – arranging the marriage? Perhaps “freedom of choice” and latitude of possibilities is an effect of abundant energy and wealth.

    In your studies, are you considering the issues of class and class mobility? Because blending classes and making movement between classes possible is a fairly modern innovation – one that may well degenerate in tough times. The phrase “better ones self” used to have a much more powerful meaning than today’s “improve one’s income”.

    Ceredwyn – I think the most important factor in achieving the modern advantages of infant survival, is not modern medicine. Much more decisive is modern sanitation. I don’t think we *need* to backslide to the horrible infant mortality of other cultures and times. Septic systems, protecting water sources (underground as well as ponds and streams), house cleaning, bathing – and of course the apple a day (great fiber, less constipation). They didn’t count on doctors for very much, back when that phrase came into use. Plus they now discover Resveratrol in grape seeds – and apple skins. Who knew?

  22. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Green Sex: Family, Reproduction, Children, Love, Lust, Power, S… It has been a full two weeks since I finished _Independence Days_, so, of course, I’m thinking about my next book ;-) . Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a while – I even submitted the proposal a while back, although so far no one has bought it – but I’ve never let details stop me. [...]

  23. Pangolinon 26 Jan 2009 at 1:01 am

    I wrote a long answer to your question but decided that it dragged. Economic disruption and stress will separate currently functional nuclear families into more wasteful single-parent pairs at ever greater rates. Men will find themselves increasingly frustrated and angry because green ideals do not preclude women’s desires for mates more financially successful, and available, than they are. Women will bemoan the lack of “good men.” Good men without stable employment will be lovelorn and turn to prostitutes.

    The remaining cadre of single, well-employed, men will increasingly engage in catch-and-release dating favoring sexual opportunity over avoidable financial and emotional commitments of marriage and fatherhood. “Green job” economics will be favored or opposed by various groups or individuals largely on the ability of any particular proposal to favor their bids for personal economic success.

    Expect outbreaks of anger, rage, depression, addiction and suicide among the men. Women, in turn, will retreat into deep fantasy lives and magical-thinking social groups where immersion in ritual is promoted as a cure-all for real-world problems. Co-operation and compassion will have to be re-learned by people formerly immersed in “free-market” white-wash that labeled the economically disadvantaged as criminal or mentally ill “losers.”

    In short, expect the US to replicate the sexual chaos of post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Hookers! and Junkies! and Drunks!

    Oh My!

  24. Shakeson 26 Jan 2009 at 6:08 am

    “At its root is the Cartesian doubt that others are fully as real as you are. ”

    Having seen this doubt in myself, I considered it to be extreme narcissism. Good to know I am not alone. Your idea of a closer connection with family and loved ones to improve this outlook makes sense.
    Interesting change of topic, keep it coming.
    Shakes

  25. Rebeccaon 26 Jan 2009 at 7:57 am

    I agree with Isis: it is not whether or not population will go down, but how. You simply can not support seven billion people on a depleted planet without fossil fuels. We all ready lose 25,000 people a day to starvation. Do we want to increase that, or lose more to pestilence, plague, and war?
    Re abortion: I expect the ancient herbal methods of abortion will make a comeback. Abortion has been around for at least four thousand years and I would say it ain’t going away anytime soon.
    Brad K: a couple of quibbles. Several people (among them, Juliet Schor) have pointed out that there was more social mobility in feudal times than time. Also, during classical fuedal times the service to the lord was reciprocated by the lord’s responsibilities to those in service.

  26. Kateon 26 Jan 2009 at 8:22 am

    It would be a great book, Sharon, so write it and trust it will happen.

    I too hope you include a chapter on childless people. Take a look at research from the retirement research center at Boston College. Most of us will end our lives single, even if we are in a couple now. And single people have much less in assets than couples, according to the statistics (obviously, lots of exceptions).

    In my own large but not close family, I see a very different outcome for people who do not have adult children. The people without children all lose (sell) their homes and move somewhere else, like a nursing home. The people with adult children stick it out, with a constellation of support.

    I am single and childless and have money, but my sense is the best thing I can do for the outer years is realize there will be a lot of indignity and I will be happier if I can live with it.

  27. Sharonon 26 Jan 2009 at 8:38 am

    Pete, actually this is much more of a return to my old topics than a new subject for me – the article that first got me to attention as a peak oil writer was “Why Peak Oil Is a Women’s Issue” and much of my writing at times has been about population, sex and reproductive issues. Writing two books on food, however, has kept me on a slightly different agenda (although food and sex are pretty heavily interrelated). But let’s just say I’ve missed talking about sex ;-) .

    I appreciate all the suggestions for foci – many of them probably will appear.

    Screaming Sardine, I disagree with you – throughout human history most parents have had children with the understanding that their children would provide them with security in adulthood – I don’t think that a couple of billion human beings can have all been horrible parents. I don’t think it commodifies children to have this traditional reciprocity underlying the relationship – of course, that would be a lousy reason to have children in the absence of any other, but in the mix of complex reasons people have kids, I think security is a fairly normal one. I don’t think I can be excused entirely of it, although for me the perception is less of whether someone will take care of me, than my dawning awareness (not really until after Isaiah was born) that my children represent potential life security for Eli, who probably will always need someone to help take care of him. Perhaps that’s a bad thing – and I certainly wouldn’t have children for just that reason, but I also think that our attempt to erase economic and social obligation from relationships has been problematic as well.

    Sharon

  28. Oggon 26 Jan 2009 at 9:23 am

    God damn, just go get laid! You people are so uptight.

  29. WNC Observeron 26 Jan 2009 at 9:38 am

    Claire & Isis:

    My wife and I are also childless, and at mid-50s are going to remain that way.

    About the “who will care for us when we are old?” question:

    First thought: IMHO, having children with the deliberate thought that you are creating future slaves to care for oneself strikes me as an incredibly selfish thing. Also foolish. What guarantee is there, after all, that they are going to even still be alive by then? Tragedies do happen, after all, and are likely to be more common and frequent in the future.

    Second thought: Our plan is to set up our home to be as energy efficient as possible, to install solar water and space heating, some PVs, and to be able to also heat with wood. We are also working toward being up to 75% self-sufficient in food production. As our bodies secumb to infirmity, I am assuming that there will be no shortage of younger, able-bodied people available that would like to earn some money, or preferably to work for a share of the food produced. We are also planning to convert part of the house into a separate apartment. This could either be rented out, but as we get older the thought is that someone who could provide some in-home care could live there, with free room & board covering part or all of their compensation. Even someone just a decade or so younger than us could work for this arrangement.

    Third thought: Another possibility to consider is adult adoption. We usually think of adoption as something that applies to children. However, it is possible for adults to be adopted. There is historical precedent for this. I could see the arrangement I described above evolving into this, and maybe becoming part of the deal – when the older person(s) finally pass away, the adopted caretaker inherits the property. That could be a very attractive proposition for some people.

  30. Ceredwynon 26 Jan 2009 at 10:26 am

    Brad, you state:

    “important factor in achieving the modern advantages of infant survival, is not modern medicine. Much more decisive is modern sanitation. I don’t think we *need* to backslide to the horrible infant mortality of other cultures and times. Septic systems, protecting water sources (underground as well as ponds and streams), house cleaning, bathing”

    Agree with all of this, BUT what happens when water sources become contaminated through crumbling infrastructure? That lovely running water isn’t free. Septic systems must be periodically pumped out, sewage treatment plants maintained, wells dug etc. Washington DC’s water system for instance is 100years old and needs a complete overhaul.

    What about nutrition? Black women in the US have as high an infant mortality rate as many third world countries and it appears traceable to lack of prenatal care and inadequate nutrition. http://www.acpm.org/Perspectives_InfantMortality.pdf

    What about lack of community based caregivers? Midwives, while making a comeback in this country still have terrible barriers to practice and doctors are not trained to catch babies outside of hospital settings.

    Culturally supported breastfeeding is the best way to ensure infant survival and we have a long way to go there (Check out what Sharon has to say on breastfeeding and hurricane Katrina in D&A).

    Full disclosure here–I’m a home birthing, womens healthcare advocate for the last 20years.

  31. EJon 26 Jan 2009 at 10:26 am

    I agree with screaming and others above that children are no guarantee that you will have some one to care for you. Nor are they obliged to.

    What about a future that includes alternate living arrangements such as polygamy, as well as adult adoption, friends living together etc?

  32. Linnon 26 Jan 2009 at 10:32 am

    You wrote: “That is, to some degree it is in our families, from our partners and spouses, through our acts of love that we come, eventually, to find a way to love the rest of humanity enough to act ethically.”

    And Sharon, what about the rest of CREATION? The billions of sentient beings with whom we share the earth, and without whom all is lost for Everyone and Everything?

    Could you, from your humanistic base of concern, write of these, also? It is not just a question of human survival, but of other species and perhaps of life itself that a future must accommodate.

  33. Lydiaon 26 Jan 2009 at 11:01 am

    This is a great post with great comments.

    I am single middle aged woman and recently took in a single middle aged room mate. I am helping him out.

    Another friend of mine took in an old man in his seventies who was basically living in his van, but could not go it another winter. So now they live together-two men.

    I have one child and do not expect her to take care of me. However if it comes to that, I will of course call on her and it will be appreciated. I did not have her with this thought in mind. Life just isn’t that reductionistic. I know thats not a word, but it should be.

    Now, my only sibling is older and handicap mentally and physically and needs full time nursing care. I tried to take care of him, but it because absolutely impossible for many many reasons. I would have perished had it gone on any longer before I got him state paid care. The question of what happens to hursing homes if they stop being funded? Oh my God I can’t even imagine the mess that would create. Many of the people in the place he lives have no family at all. Zero. Or those that do, are unable to care for them for various reasons. Do they end up on the street? Homeless lying in a storefront doorstoop somewhere? Starve to death or freeze to death.
    These are the “throwaway” people. Those who the Nazi’s wanted to wipe out in their goal of a master race. What becomes of them. IIf it gets bad, these will be the first to be expendible. I don’t think however compassionate we are, and aspire to be, that when faced with our own survial, them people will be left to fend for themselves as cruel and horrible as that thought is.

    A grandmother of ninety which a shoulder problem is a far cry from someone with mental problems in a wheel chair full time who can’t do naything at all for themselves. I shudder the thought of what’s coming.

  34. Lydiaon 26 Jan 2009 at 11:03 am

    Man, I need coffee, my word choice and spelling and typing is awful today! Cofffffeeeee!!!!

  35. NeoLotuson 26 Jan 2009 at 11:15 am

    Sharon,

    I can’t address the specific points you raised in this blog but as I read it the philosophy of Confucius and the teachings of Mencius came to mind as they are all about relationships. Since they lived around 500 BCE and 300 BCE, respectively, the issue of relationships, resources, and humane government policy are of a time before cheap oil. In fact, examining Chinese history with all its ups and downs over the past three millennia, including a period of water and wind powered mass production during the Tang Dynasty (600-900 CE) will provide a great deal of material to understand how developed a culture and civilization can become without oil.

    I humbly submit this simply as a resource for research into the areas you mentioned and how they dealt with them for clues on how we can deal with them without making the same mistakes they did.

  36. Shelleyon 26 Jan 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Sharon, you’ve kicked off a fire storm! Good. This needs to be discussed.

    First let me say…I AM NOT CATHOLIC That said, Folks, Please look into what the Roman Catholic Church says about overpopulation and birth rate and family. Again, I AM NOT CATHOLIC. But I have extensively studies Humanae Vitae and other catholic philosophies regarding this very issue. They have thought all this through very extensively and have a LOT of interesting things to say. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of it, but it has really been an interesting study. It seems the RCChurch has covered a lot of this ground already. Even if you disagree, it would be well worth your time to read a few things. here is the link to Humanae Vitae and if you want more sources, I can get them to you.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

    I have always used natural birth control. It is healthy. It doesn’t contaminate the mother or the enviroment. It doesn’t put the onus for childbirth limitation on the woman only. It doesn’t permanently damage any functioning systems. AND IT IS EASY. It gets to be like brushing your teeth. Habit. You know what’s going on with your body like no other.

    I can hear the howls already. Don’t assume you know that it is difficult or won’t work if you haven’t lived it. IT IS EASY! IT WORKS.

    Also don’t assume the Catholic Church teaches that birth control is bad because they want to control sex and force Catholics to have babies….lots of them….no matter what. That is SO not true. Learn first before thinking you know WHY they say what they do.

    All this fits so closely with what Sharon is studying that it is worth taking the time to consider other voices. They provide the mind with jump off points.

    In a future where medicine may be unavailable, childbirth may be life threatening, and nutrition may be limited….we do not have to return to the stone age of choosing between having sex or getting pregnant. There IS ANOTHER WAY….one that really really works, is easy, doesn’t require tools or electricity or drugs or clean water, and that would be be really logical choice for post-modern men and women to control unwanted pregnancy.

    Incidentally this method is taught in 3rd world countries to women who can’t read and have no access to paper and pen.

    Sorry to go on and on. Also the RCchurch talks about the effects of contraception on relationships between men and women a nd the long term consequenses for family structures and thus societal structures. Again, all this fits with what Sharon is looking into…..

    Check it out.

    email me for more sources
    [email protected]

  37. Ceredwynon 26 Jan 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I totally agree that teaching natural family planning would be the ideal…BUT, it doesn’t work in women under about 20 as well because they have a tendency to hyperovulate (ovulate more than once a month or irregulary)and it doesn’t work well in women who are irregular. Just having a new partner can cause a woman to ovulate randomly. In a married, monogamous woman who already has 1 or more children, it works pretty well (say 80-90%)But in teenage, nulliparous women, its more like 50% or less.

    We’re built to get pregnant as soon as possible in our lives and as soon as our last child is old enough to run after the tribe.

    Regarding breastfeeding as birth control: Fertilitiy is tied into the amount of fat a woman carries because, an ample fat supply means an ample food supply. A breastfeeding woman soon burns off her baby weight if she is eating an indigenous diet. She will not ovulate until she gains a certain amount of weight back (think female runners who experience amenorrhea) because body fat excretes estrogen.

    Interestingly, if you think of indigenous women’s customs around menstruation, they begin to make more sense when you realize tht women are evolutionarily supposed to spend the majority of their adult lives either pregnant or nursing. You get pregnant just after puberty. Nurse your child 3 to 5 years and have another one just when you wean the first without ever having had a period, if you happen to get “caught” the first time you ovulate.

  38. Fernon 26 Jan 2009 at 4:50 pm

    And NFP tends to again become problematic in perimenopause, in part because many of us start having irregular cycles. Or go 8 months without a period and figure we’re done, so don’t use contraceptives.

    There were years when I could use NFP easily. There were years when NFP was totally out of the question for me (barely had time to shower, let alone take temperature first thing in the morning or check for ‘ferning mucus’, ironic enough with my screen names; and throw in a husband with issues) – I’d have had to have gone 15 years without sex to not risk pregnancy. We’d still have been a ‘family’, I suppose – but I’d not have been fully ME.

    There is no one size fits all ANYTHING.

    Fern

  39. teresa from hersheyon 26 Jan 2009 at 6:51 pm

    If you are planning on having non family members take care of you in your old age, keep in mind those fairly routine newspaper stories: old lady bilked by caretakers. A recent McCleans magazine article was about Gordie Howe being bilked by his long time financial handler and he (Gordie) had children who could have been more involved but for various reasons weren’t. This isn’t to say that family members won’t take advantage of you (they do!) but I think you might have a better chance of avoiding the theivery, neglect, and/or abuse.

  40. Lisa Zon 26 Jan 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Just for the record, I certainly didn’t give birth to my two children so they could take care of me in my old age. But I do think there’s a certain, evolutionary reason humans keep having kids, even though it’s expensive and time-consuming and downright the hardest thing we ever do! Besides continuing the species, we not only get love but also some security from our children.

    And, children benefit from having siblings, too. I hope that in my children’s old age they will have each other to love and depend on. This is one of the reasons I worry about having only two in an age of changing conditions. What if something happens to one of them and the other has no sibling? Of course this could happen no matter what, and I’m not taking much action to change it (can’t, husband had a vastectomy–by mutual agreement–a few years ago).

    I am working very hard at creating a loving family so that not only guilt and duty would cause my children to stay part of my and my husband’s life!

  41. The Screaming Sardineon 26 Jan 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Teresa from Hershey -

    You don’t know my family – lol! I’d have better luck with someone I picked off the street! (With the exception of my son, of course).

  42. eddeon 27 Jan 2009 at 6:03 am

    Our little community spontaneously developed “care circles” to help those who needed help in illness & old age. These circles were as large as a couple of dozen people with skills ranging from simply visiting, cooking & cleaning to hands-on health care.

    We also raised money via community events to help offset medical expenses and to repair a failing roof. We regularly attend work parties to help neighbors build/repair homes.

    We have not yet taken on financial responsibility for an individual but that is clearly an area of need. Since we do have a community governance system that responsibly handles community assets, it might make sense to look there to solve this problem.

    This community began with a basic premise of co-operation and, indeed, we have shared work to build individual homes, a community center, staffed a volunteer fire department, help rear children and so forth. We are neither religious nor ideologically based.

    It might make sense for others to connect with like-minded neighbors and friends to create communities within communities to accomplish similar things.

    My wife and I are voluntary non-parents and have found community with unrelated people to be nearly as strong as family. In some cases, stronger. During a bout with cancer we personally experienced the kindness of community.

    edde

  43. Rebeccaon 27 Jan 2009 at 7:55 am

    I think one of the reasons so many people rebel at the thought of their kids taking care of them in their old age (aside from cultural training, that is) is the breakdown of the family we’ve experienced in the modern world. By this I do not mean the disappearance of the so-called ‘traditional’ two-parents and children model, but the deterioration of family ties and the increase in abuse incidence. People are not close to their families any more. Some people don’t so much as speak regularly with their own spouses and children. As for the other issue, I would say that kind of thing is much more prevalent now than in many past cultures and if you are the kind of person who would abuse your children (my parents were, so I understand this better than most) than you deserve to be left alone in your old age.

    But traditionally, parents cared for children as they grew and then the children cared for their parents when they got older. Those without children often relied on other family (or later, on the church). That was the way it worked. Extended families used to be the norm.
    It still works that way in much of the world. Try to tell some people in the ‘developing’ world they shouldn’t have children, or so many children, and they will often ask who will care for them when they get old? That’s one of the reasons they have so many children: to make sure some of them live to adulthood, have children of their own, and at least one of those children will care for them.
    I also remember an interview I read a couple of years ago when I was doing a paper on international adoption. It was with this single man who had adopted a little girl from China (they have since banned single-parent adoptions becuase they’re worried about gay couples adopting). He went on at length about the difference between the way the American authorities treated him and the way the Chinese authorities did. The former treated him like he was a potential pedophile even after he’d been cleared (a very common experience btw) and the latter with respect. One official actually told him “Of course you want to adopt. If you don’t have a child, who will care for you when you grow old?”
    It’s accepted in much of the world.
    I’m not saying that it’s okay to have children for just that reason. Of course not. But it’s a common reason.

  44. Lisa Zon 27 Jan 2009 at 12:36 pm

    “I think one of the reasons so many people rebel at the thought of their kids taking care of them in their old age (aside from cultural training, that is) is the breakdown of the family we’ve experienced in the modern world. By this I do not mean the disappearance of the so-called ‘traditional’ two-parents and children model, but the deterioration of family ties and the increase in abuse incidence. People are not close to their families any more.”

    Rebecca, I think *exactly* the way you do on this issue. While I mostly lean left in my politics, on this issue I’m right in there with the conservatives (not the Repugnicans, the true conservatives!). Where I might differ with them is in thinking that a committed gay couple and their children count just as much for family as a heterosexual couple.

    I also feel very strongly that it’s the loss of the extended family that is the main issue. I have no desire to return to the 1950s version of the nuclear family (well, except right now I like being a homemaker myself while my husband makes the income), but rather to the pre-Industrial version of home-based living where EVERYONE is around and pitching in and raising each other. And I’m not saying everyone should/could live that way, but I wish it was still the backbone of our society.

  45. Jenon 27 Jan 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I actually Am Catholic, but that didn’t influence my birth control method of NFP, I just hated the pill the two times I tried it (one cycle each..ugh) and so choose a non-chemical approach. I have 3 kids, and not only did I PLAN each one of them, but the last 2 I chose the sex! I agree that irregualr cycles can prove to be problematic, but they are other ways to control pg in the NFP method.

    I think the book would be a great idea! I’ve longed to explore “The Second Spouse” idea and how socially and economically this could prove to be beneficial in a post peak world.

  46. Marieon 29 Jan 2009 at 5:44 am

    Sorry, I just have to chime in on NFP:

    For years I had irregular cycles, going months w/o a period…I began charting my temperatures using the NFP method, and what I grew to learn, it actually helps create a running daily document for the woman’s health.

    Had I not learned about NFP and begun charting, I wouldn’t have had the information that my doctor needed to diagnose me with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism (the reason for the low basal body temps…often a sign of an underperforming thyroid) and with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which explained my irregular cycles (I would have cycles 100+ days long).

    Had I gone on the pill instead to “regulate” my cycles and unknowingly treating the symptoms of the underlying problem (thyroid and PCOS) I would not be on the road back to health today.

    NFP can not only be an effective method of birth control (it is NOT the rhythm method) but it empowers the woman to have an understanding of her body and recognize when something is wrong — and demand a doctor that will heed those concerns/signs and work together with the patient.

    (Incidentally, thyroid problems and PCOS are LARGELY underdiagnosed. PCOS can lead to a host of other health problems, namely insulin resistance/diabetes, heart disease, and stroke)

    I recommend “Taking Control of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler for learning more about NFP in general, as it does not have a religious context. However, the Couple To Couple League offers “The Art of Natural Family Planning” and/or has a home study course that some women may find is a little more straightforward to chart. The CCL has a wealth of information on nutrition relating to reproductive health as well. It is still as scientific as the Weschler book, but it shows how that scientific information can be applied in a theological way for those who are religious.

    Love the blog! And I also appreciate the thoughtful discussions your audience has in the comment threads.

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