Casaubon's Book

Betcha giving head to a movie star betcha gotta llama riding in
Your car betcha u gotta tv built in your jet skis, betcha giving
Head to a movie star betcha gotta llama riding in your car
Betcha u gotta tv built in your jet skis.

Hidee high, lowdy low, get up and go to the show.

Ain’t it funny how the money makes the honey taste like nothing
You can’t have no more? Now we know. Ain’t it funny how the
Money makes the honey taste like nothing you can’t have no
More? Now we know. Ain’t it funny how the money makes to
Honey taste just like nothing – people act like they have but
They’re bluffing now we know that it don’t mean nothing.

I try really hard not to lie to you folks. And that’s not as easy as it sounds – not because I have an instinctive love of falsehood, but because in order not to lie about stuff, you actually have to know what the truth is, and that’s hard sometimes.

After I wrote my last post, I went off to do fun things like build a buck pen (we got baby goats a’comin here and I’m forced to move my planned series on goaty obstetrics to www.sharonastyk.com (aka ye olde blogge), make lunch and dig in the dirt, and I realized that I’d kind of lied to you folks, although without intent.

In my previous post, I said that my relationship with science blogs wasn’t about the money. And I really meant it – except that I then did something (which I can’t tell you about yet) that suddenly proved to me that I was obviously shitting myself. My “It ain’t the money” is about as sincere as Macy Gray’s.

Or rather, it is totally sincere as long as my secret subsidy is intact. Or maybe it isn’t a secret. I’ve been writing a blog for almost six years now, and my work, almost all of it done for free (I’ve received less than 1K in payments from Seed, beginning this past December, and I accepted one ad on my previous website, for which I received one solar oven, for three years plus of advertising, that’s my grand total of blog profit). The reason I can spend that time doing this, the reason I have some measure of freedom in my farm, as discussed previously, the reason I can write books for a publisher that gives advances that add up to about 40 cents an hour of work is that Eric has a real job.

It helps that I grow a majority of our food. It helps that I make money writing and teaching and farming. But we live on my husband’s salary, and have relied on his benefits. And my great worry over the last few years has been that this would suddenly be taken away. We were relieved of one worry this year when Eric’s job security went up a bit (he is by intent not tenured – his primary interest is in science education, which puts him in an odd spot at his MRU). But all of the concerns are not fully relieved. And while I don’t need the money from SEED, and I do actually give it all away, I found myself, confronted with a choice that might make it impossible for me to make money off my blog, in a bit of a panic – and a sudden realization.

You see, I’m really, really fortunate – I can do a lot of bad jobs, which I know, because I’ve done them, but I don’t have to – I get to farm, I get to write. And the reason I don’t have to is because Eric’s salary (which, to be clear, is in the 30s, not exactly endless riches for a family of six, but we are more than content with it) provides us with a stable income and insurance that means I can take the kids to the doctor if I need to. And I don’t usually need to, which is even better – like I said, we’re incredibly fortunate.

But there is a real chance that at some point in the next year or two, the entire support of my family will fall on me – working for the State of New York is not a high security job right now). And if that’s the case, we bang up into the blogger’s dilemma.

The blogger’s dilemma is pretty simple – 90% of all blogs can be run on the social surplus most of us have – in our spare times, out of the goodness of our hearts. The good thing about this is that you can start a blog when you want, quit when you want, take a vacation when you want, and use only the time you want to devote to it.

But sometimes, usually without intention, the blog takes on a life of its own, and you end up with sort of a problem – you need to use your time to make money for things like dinner and taxes. This leaves you with the dull choice of either monetizing the blog – subscription content, fund drives, donations buttons, advertising, product placement, or contracting with someone who will pay you – or reducing output. And since in my case, up to December the total direct economic value of all my blogging was one $200 Global Sun Oven, this does not pay many taxes. That means that if we have to make money, the blog is the first thing to go.

The blog does produce money indirectly, in book sales, but let’s just say my book sales don’t even remotely come close to paying property taxes. As a direct money maker, its a big zero. And the other problem is that blogging is way more fun than writing books – I want to blog, whereas, frankly, I would rather not even finish the book I’m contracted for, much less any other ones. It is also more fun than teaching classes (I like teaching, but blogging is more fun), and while it isn’t more fun than farming, the problem with farming is that I only reach the people in my region farming, whereas by writing, I reach a lot of people.

Which is why I suddenly found myself hestitating at the thought of doing something that would prevent me from ever making money on the blog – because as long as my husband-subsidy holds up, I’m good. In fact, we don’t need me to make much money – we profit more from the money we don’t have to spend and the time together. The problem is that if the carpet gets pulled out from under our feet, that $200 bucks a month, small as it is, looks pretty damned good. And it scared me a little to say “I am going to always blog for free” – because honestly, I’m going to have to make some choices at some point about what I do do for money, even with the subsidy. What I want to do most is blog and farm – and that may not be doable.

I need to be able to support my kids and spouse, to do my share, if the carpet gets pulled out from under him. I can give the money away. I can say I don’t care about it. But that’s only because I have the luxury of not caring. Now I don’t have to always be as fortunate as I am now – I’ve done plenty of jobs I didn’t love to make the groceries, and I’ll do anything I have to to keep my kids fed, including bend and spread for Pepsi, if it came to that. But I admit, I’ve been revelling for a little bit in the fact that for the very first time in my whole life I was mostly doing what I wanted. It is a selfish luxury, but one I’ve delighted in.

And deep down, I’m just as worried about losing that luxury as anyone else – more, I think, because I think it will happen. I know too much, rather than too little, about the state of my state. And while I know we can live on a lot less, I have the ugly suspicion that there’s a solid gap between our best “lot less” and “what Sharon makes.”

So yeah, it is the money. Knowing that is probably good for me, and I don’t think it will be the money that decides my future – again, I may have a price, but it isn’t as cheap as SEED’s. And at least I’m not lying to y’all – or to me. Sometimes the money does make the honey taste like nothing.

Since this morning’s post we’ve lost Questionable Authority, and worst of all, Zuska and Grrl Scientist, two of my favorites, and two of the people I liked here the best. By my count we’re down almost 20 blogs in less than two weeks – about a third or more of the active bloggers.

PZ Myers, who is responsible for 42% of Science Blog’s traffic has called a strike.(Edited to add: this phrasing makes it sounds like it is all PZ Myers idea, or that I don’t approve – I do. I think labor organizing is the best possible way to deal with management, and I’m grateful that Myers, who is more deeply invested than I can ever be in Science Blogs took the role of initiating – because his is the most powerful impact.) And I still don’t know what I want to do. But Mama taught her daughter one thing – you don’t cross a picket line. So this blog will be quiet for a bit. I wish I knew what demands to make – strikes are better with demands. But I’m just sad about my colleagues and about my blogging address, and the only demands I really want to make are for a bunch of Margaritas and a night to sleep it off ;-).

Why doesn’t my food storage have Margarita mix in it?

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 dewey
    July 20, 2010

    I suppose you will get comments bashing you for this, but ignore ‘em – your feelings are all natural and reasonable and you deserve credit for thinking about them seriously.

    Aside from the issue of whether Scienceblogs deserves to be struck, I don’t see why you need to go on strike just because PZ Myers is doing it. Who made him the union boss? I am pretty sure he wouldn’t have suspended his blog on your say-so.

  2. #2 Joseph
    July 20, 2010

    My comment to your last blog entry applies here as well.

    Here http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/20-7

    is a little taste of how bad it is getting.

    And here is the thing. You are prepared for Collapse better than 99 percent of the population, but even you would be hard pressed to make it happen if your husband loses his job (a point I think I have made here before).

    In the intro to your book ANOF, you mention the American Revolution as proof that, yes, we can change things. But the American Revolution did not really succeed because it left firmly in place the *divine right of capital.*

    That is why I hope that the American people will stand up and say, “No more wealth wasted on war. Let us use our collective wealth to prepare for the Peak Everything Age, because to not do so is a crime against humanity and all future generation. We demand it be stopped – now!”

    Personally, I think such a discussion and topic ought to move to the top of people’s conversation priority list. In other words, instead of the endless banal chit chat and small talk, people really ought to stop and start asking each other, “Why do we have to sit here and allow the elites of the corporate state waste our wealth and destroy this country?”

    And if this became the national conversation – and it should – who knows what might happen? At any rate, it’s worth a try, especially for the sake of all those families whose breadwinner has lost their job and do not have the personal financial means of preparing for Collapse.

    As but one example, dont you think it would be nice if people like you could get your property taxes reduced because what you are doing is an example of the vital changes we need to make, i.e. move to local food production, reduce ecological/carbon footprint, etc?

    Well, if you reduced the Pentagon budget by 300 billion a year and taxed the wealthy, there would be a lot of money available to do such things. Now I know people will say, “It will never happen – the elites will never let go of their power and gravy train”, but if 100 million Americans are demanding the county’s priorities be shifted to preparing for the Peak Everything Age, who is to say it isnt possible. Ok, that’s it, I have said my peace, so peace.

  3. #3 Crunchy Chicken
    July 20, 2010

    “Bend and spread”? Is there butter involved with this?

  4. #4 regis
    July 20, 2010

    I feel sick as I see bloggers shut down and move elsewhere. Sb has been my favorite place on the web since discovering it a couple years ago. Perhaps the management will make the changes necessary to keep it afloat. I can only hope.

  5. #5 Zuska
    July 20, 2010

    Your post makes my heart wrench.

    Dewey, one just doesn’t cross a picket line. You just don’t. Maybe PZ wouldn’t have shut his blog down if Sharon asked – or maybe he would have. Who knows. What I do know – and Sharon knows – is you can’t get anywhere without labor solidarity. Can’t afford to be resentful about what you imagine he might have done in a different situation when you are in this situation now.

    Regis: I wish that the management of Seed would pay attention to how readers like you are being affected by all that is going on. And then do something about it.

    To Sharon and all your readers, the addition of this blog to SB is one of the best things that happened here in the past year, and I have benefited immensely from all that you all have shared with the SB community. I thank you all.

  6. #6 Sharon Astyk
    July 20, 2010

    Zuska, that’s incredibly kind of you. And while I have no idea what PZ Myers would do if I’d called for a strike, I’m not particularly less likely to have done it than he is. I believe in labor organizing.

    Joseph, a big part of my preparations is being ready to do whatever it takes to make what I need to feed my kids and keep my home. That *is* the preparation. I’ll dig ditches, flip burgers, whatever. But I’d rather blog ;-).

    I don’t disagree with you about the problem of American Empire, and will go on working to bring it to an end, but I think the goals have to be fairly realistic here, and we are a military keynesian economy. I assume you’ve read Chalmers Johnson, but if you haven’t, you should – understanding the degree to which we are dependent on our military empire suggests to me we are much more likely to see it collapse than dismantled. And even if we shrink it, which I hope we will – it isn’t going to change the fact that most of us have to live in the money economy.

    Sharon

  7. #7 razib
    July 20, 2010

    To Sharon and all your readers, the addition of this blog to SB is one of the best things that happened here in the past year,

    seconded.

  8. #8 WIll
    July 20, 2010

    This meltdown is unbelievable

  9. #9 Kerri in AK
    July 21, 2010

    Sharon – have I told you lately how much I love you? :)

    While I’ve never felt that you had every contingency prepared for, your voice of calm and your strong presence through both your blogs made it seem like you’d persevere just fine through hell and high water. Something, I have to admit, I don’t feel about myself. For you to admit your concerns about your economic future and the uncomfortable choices that may confront you impresses me to no end. Only the truly strong are able to speak of their weaknesses – and still get on with the business of life. At least for me, being given permission to be concerned and scared about the future while doing everything I possibly can to prepare for it is heartening. Thank you!

    Blog or no blog, I’ll still love you!

    Kerri in AK (but currently on assignment in SE England)

  10. #10 tütüne son
    July 21, 2010

    I don’t disagree with you about the problem of American Empire, and will go on working to bring it to an end, but I think the goals have to be fairly realistic here, and we are a military keynesian economy. I assume you’ve read Chalmers Johnson, but if you haven’t, you should – understanding the degree to which we are dependent on our military empire suggests to me we are much more likely to see it collapse than dismantled. And even if we shrink it, which I hope we will – it isn’t going to change the fact that most of us have to live in the money economy.

  11. #11 dewey
    July 21, 2010

    Zuska – Maybe you don’t cross a picket line after a clear majority of current workers have voted to go on strike. That doesn’t mean you need to stop showing up for work because one alpha male at your workplace does so. Did all of the remaining Sciencebloggers vote on whether to strike, or did PZ Myers just call it? I will admit to not being a big fan of Myers or his claque of often mean-spirited followers, but even if he were my favorite blogger, I wouldn’t think that all the rest of you should have to hop when he says frog.

  12. #12 Susan in NJ
    July 21, 2010

    Well, Sharon, I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you my views on picket lines. I just wish you’d decide where you were going to post/not post and do it. You’re messing up my routine – not a bad idea in and of itself.
    Last night our internet was down and my partner had a major freakout(think three year old who can’t find his favorite toy) even though he still had many other electronic toys. Some preparing to do there –
    Susan in NJ (labor lawyer)

  13. #13 The original CW
    July 21, 2010

    Aside from the issue of whether Scienceblogs deserves to be struck, I don’t see why you need to go on strike just because PZ Myers is doing it.

    Aside from the issue of whether the strike is justified? How (and why) exactly would you put that aside? It seems to me that you’re really saying “Well, maybe we should strike but since nasty old PZ said it first then maybe we shouldn’t.” That is a picture perfect demonstration of how we screw ourselves.

  14. #14 darwinsdog
    July 21, 2010

    ScienceBlogs is a toxic environment and the primary culprit for making it so is Myers, altho he isn’t the only one. He very seldom blogs about science; his blog is typically one long hate-filled repetitive rant against supernaturalism and supernaturalists. If 42% of the traffic on ScienceBlogs is in response to his invective, this says a lot about just what a toxic environment SB is.

    Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t my intention to defend or support the supernaturalist worldview or mindset. I’m as much of a naturalist as PZ is, probably moreso as I actually get out in nature & study it, outside the confines of the academic palace. But founding a reputation on little more than hatred towards others of a differing philosophical bent is simply vile. Myers demonstrates how well hatred works for accumulating a following.

    Now SB has lost Grrl Scientist. Her blog, along with this one, brought some elegance & color to the otherwise hostile SB venue. SB is sinking fast, as well it ought to given its overall nastiness. Abandon ship, Sharon. Get while the getting’s good.

  15. #15 dewey
    July 21, 2010

    What darwinsdog said. CW, I am not a Scienceblogger, hence not part of the “we,” and I do not have the inside knowledge to know whether a strike is needed. That can best be determined by a vote of the employees involved. The point isn’t that “nasty old PZ” said it first, but that he acted alone without (AFAIK) soliciting others to join him, much less taking a vote. If most of the workers in my office are happy to keep working, but the one highest-paid guy suddenly stops showing up, does his use of the word “strike” create any duty for the rest of us to quit? Or should we just conclude that this is his personal concern?

  16. #16 d.a.
    July 21, 2010

    Sharon, I totally understand about the ability to farm based on the other spouse’s full-time, off-farm job. I joke about having a “sugar daddy”, but we honestly couldn’t afford to get the orchard started, the chickens and geese fed, the property managed etc. without loans if it weren’t for his outside work. So I continue to work part-time outside the farm, and also try to find other streams of income from current farm produce (eggs, feathers for crafters, etc.) to help the budget.

    We do what we have to do to make a difference for the future – not only for our families, but for our communities as well.

  17. #17 Emily
    July 21, 2010

    I have no problem with you reserving the right to blog for money. Blogging is part of your work as an author. For now, Eric’s job gives you the freedom to volunteer some of your work – same as the cook volunteering at the homeless shelter. You work for free, and you have the benefit of really picking and choosing what to write about, when, and how much.

    But it might come to a point where you can’t afford to volunteer any more. So you’ll blog more like a “day job,” if such an opportunity exists. You’ll play by the rules about when to write and such, and they damn well better hold up their end of the bargain by paying you according to your contract.

    Or you’ll put a PayPal button on your personal blog, or do an annual fund drive a la NPR. And we’ll all understand, because we’ll be doing the same thing and hoping we can tug each others’ bootstraps enough to slow the slide to whatever comes after this economy.

  18. #18 Sharon Astyk
    July 21, 2010

    I’m not supposed to say much about what happens on the backchannel at SB, but let’s just say that Myers didn’t just unilaterally call a strike, and frankly, earlier in the process, I tried to persuade Myers and other high traffic bloggers here to stop posting, so it isn’t like I disagree.

    I don’t like the culture at Pharyngula particularly, and I barely know Myers, but I’m grateful for what he’s doing – a lot of bloggers out there would like to be paid. I wouldn’t mind it myself. It is a much bigger deal for him to stop posting here than for me – I can move back to my old blog, but his traffic would crash most servers, so he can’t easily go anywhere. Exporting his blog, and all its bazillion of comments, wouldn’t be a trip either. So in some ways he’s more powerful than the rest of us, but he’s also more trapped, unless he’s prepared to jump ship forever.

    For me, my personal feelings about the public persona of PZ Myers are one thing, my collegial relationship with PZ Myers the fellow SEED employee is another, and my relationship to someone who has taken the useful role of labor leader is still another. They are not all of a piece, though ;-).

    Sharon

  19. #19 dewey
    July 21, 2010

    Well, I hope it will get resolved appropriately (and that they pay you!).

  20. #20 Gordon
    July 21, 2010

    I would be interested, should you be willing to expose yourself in this way, to understahd why you need the income. Not, I suspect, to pay for a 52″ plasma screen television and a subscription to every HD movie channel in the world. But, for what? And why that?

  21. #21 Apple Jack Creek.
    July 21, 2010

    Sharon, you do what you gotta do. I’m deeply impressed by your courage to first, figure out what your heart is truly telling you is the right thing to do … and then doing it, even when it is uncomfortable.

    May Gleanings Farm always have enough to keep everyone fed, and the tax man content to leave you be.

    Please thank Eric from me, for subsidizing your writing. I, for one, am deeply grateful. :)

  22. #22 Raven
    July 22, 2010

    “But, for what? And why that?”

    Um, I’m guessing it’s to feed, clothe, and get dental care for the four kids, who won’t stop growing out of their jeans just because a parent gets laid off. What does everyone use money for? Good grief.

    Sharon, hang in–I’ll read your stuff wherever you post. You’re the most *useful* blogger I know.

  23. #23 Sharon Astyk
    July 22, 2010

    Raven’s would be the correct answer. We pay for things like dentistry, some groceries (we probably pay a little more than most people on our food bill, even though we grow most of our own, because we buy larger quantities for reserve and also buy almost everything locally and sustainably produced, and therefor pay higher prices), used clothing and shoes (you will not believe how fast they go through shoes ;-). We pay for health insurance through Eric’s job, and if I had to Cobra that, we’d be totally screwed on my income.

    We also pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, and because there’s a creek near the house, flood insurance (mandated). We own one car, and while we have no debt on it, we still pay excise taxes and buy some gas and pay insurance. We plow money back into the farm, and make improvements to the property, including new fencing and buildng repair, drainage, etc… We occasionally have a major fixed expense when something breaks.

    We pay $60 per month for the wireless internet that makes it possible for me to do my job – living where I do this is as cheap as I can get it. Otherwise, I’d have to go back to dial up (which I used until a year and a half ago).

    We pay for certain luxuries for the kids, family and for community building – the kids will attend 1 week of a wonderful summer camp this year that they love. They get swimming lessons. We pay for some supplemental therapies for Eli, who has autism. We also have a lot of guests at our house, and cook for them and entertain them. We are members of a syanagogue and spend several thousand dollars a year on dues and Hebrew School fees for our kids. These last are luxuries, and could be abandoned – but at a personal price. If we went to my income, we would abandon them – and there will probably come a time when we have to. But delaying the day that my kids don’t get to do these things, that we worry about having a crowd to dinner, we give up our space in the Jewish community and the Jewish education among their peers that is important to us – this is not something I’m overly anxious to do.

    That about covers our major expenses. We’re pretty good at living on a small income – and many of these things could be abandoned – but there’s a difference between doing them from need and doing them from choice.

    Sharon

  24. #24 ChristineH
    July 22, 2010

    Sharon, my father would tell you “Make hay when the sun shines”. If hanging onto a blog that pays means being better prepared for what life may throw at you, by all means do it. Just because you don’t need the money now does not make it any less valuable. And please don’t feel like you need to justify your decision with such personal information. Anyone who has ever thought “What would happen if…?” gets it. Blog or no blog, you are allowed your privacy.

  25. #25 Sharon Astyk
    July 22, 2010

    Christine, I don’t mind talking about this stuff – if I did, I’d just say it was private. But I appreciate the sentiment.

    Sharon

  26. #26 dewey
    July 22, 2010

    I’ve noticed recent discussions of how the Jewish community often places large upfront financial burdens on those who want to participate, and some groups are starting to recognize that this needs reform if they want to keep their membership up. It has to be a relatively recent phenomenon – all those folks from the shtetl were POOR and could not possibly have coughed up the equivalent of two months’ income every year to attend the local synagogue. Maybe you can have some direct discussion of the issue with the folks at your synagogue and encourage them to think about how cash-strapped members can continue to be welcomed and contribute.

    Yours is one of the two most useful websites I read regularly, and (in addition to having bought two of your books) I would be willing to donate money to support its continued existence. The problem you face, of course, is that if the website is subscription-only, you lose most potential readers off the bat, and if it is free, even most readers who think the site is worth supporting will feel that it is too much of a hassle to donate. It’s hard to get people to click that button when they don’t HAVE to. Maybe you could have some “special” content (archives beyond a certain point, or educational materials?) just for subscribers, or some other sort of “reward” for participation; but if it involved varying levels of site access, I suppose you’d need a web designer to set it up.

  27. #27 darwinsdog
    July 22, 2010

    Sharon, I was interested in your comment that flood insurance was mandated. My property comes to a right angle across the Rio de la Plata and when I was negotiating my mortgage (since paid off) I was told that because a portion of the property is in the flood plain I would have to purchase flood insurance likewise. Flood insurance would have doubled my homeowner’s policy premiums so of course, I didn’t want to have to buy it. None of the so-called “developments” are in the flood plain except my leach field, which is in the 500 year flood plain but above the 100 year flood plain. (There have been three “100 year floods” on the La Plata since 1993.) What I had to do was procure the flood plain maps at my own expense – I believe that I got them from a private company in Atlanta, Georgia – and submit them along with a letter explaining the situation to the mortgage company. Doing all of this delayed closing by several weeks but I was granted an exception to the flood insurance requirement. If none of your buildings, septic system or well is in the flood plain of your creek, perhaps you could get out of the flood insurance requirement if you are willing to go to all the trouble.

  28. #28 Claire
    July 22, 2010

    Like others, I admire you for your honesty. Do what you need to do – you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that, of course ;-). dewey’s suggestion of having some free and some for-pay content on a website seems like a good one to me, if you can think of a good way to separate such. Your dilemma of how to do what you like best (that is also useful to others) while managing to keep yourself and your family fed and housed is one that many of us share.

    One thing I am curious about is what it is that makes writing a book less enjoyable than blogging for you. I personally think writing a book would be more enjoyable, but that may be because I am pretty introverted. Dialogue in person is all right, but blog dialogue can get mean, maybe because it is anonymous. I find that meanness off-putting, but a more extroverted person might enjoy any and every response. Is it the ongoing dialogue that makes the blog more enjoyable, or something else?

  29. #29 dewey
    July 22, 2010

    The problem with writing a book-length work is that it is months of work during which the light at the end of the tunnel is very dim and far away; and if you are a perfectionist, you have plenty of time to stew over the fact that it isn’t going to come close to your vision of the perfect work on the subject, and that you see no means of remediating that, yet (in some contexts) you have to submit whatever you’ve got sooner or later OR ELSE.

  30. #30 Mal Adapted
    July 22, 2010

    “But, for what? And why that?”

    Um, I’m guessing it’s to feed, clothe, and get dental care for the four kids, who won’t stop growing out of their jeans just because a parent gets laid off. What does everyone use money for? Good grief.

    “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” -Francis Bacon

  31. #31 Gordon
    July 23, 2010

    What, indeed, does everyone use money for. Seems to me important to remember, though, that (on average) more than one third of a metric ton of CO2 is added to the atmosphere for every dollar spent (divide the US CO2 emmissions rate of about 6 trillion metric tons per year by the US GDP of about $15 trillion).

  32. #32 Sharon Astyk
    July 23, 2010

    That’s about right, Gordon, although because our family consciously uses about 15% of the American average of fossil fuels, my dollars are probably a bit less carbon intensive than monst. But that is one of the reasons why we keep our income low – somewhere in the 40s, in the last few years, although much less before.

    Sharon

  33. #33 Gordon
    July 23, 2010

    Thank you Sharon. Because it is also important, I think, to remember that every dollar you earn is a dollar that someone else has spent. So you can pretty well rest assured that for every dollar that passes through your hands, roughly two-thirds of a metric ton of CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere.

  34. #34 darwinsdog
    July 23, 2010

    “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” -Francis Bacon

    We’re all “hostages to fortune.” The only “great enterprise” is the grand panoply of descent with modification, of selection adapting populations to ever changing conditions here on the Ocean Planet. Don’t have kids and you divorce yourself utterly from this “great enterprise,” while thumbing your nose at all your ancestors, not a single one of which failed to reproduce itself, going back four billion years to the dawn of Terran life. Given Bacon’s known personal history perhaps this quote is only to be expected of him, but it’s still a very stupid thing for him to have said, Mal.

  35. #35 dewey
    July 23, 2010

    Gordon – I don’t see how that calculation follows. The reader who sends a dollar to Sharon may have generated about two-thirds of a ton of CO2 via whatever he did to earn it; that can’t be counted against Sharon. Book and blog publishing do generate carbon, so you could ask how much carbon is produced in order to publish a dollar’s worth of Sharon’s works.

    darwinsdog – Even if you think breeding should be everyone’s primary purpose, you should agree that having a family who would suffer for your failure makes many people less willing to take risks in pursuit of other goals. How many Americans live as wage slaves because quitting to pursue an entrepreneurial path would cost their spouse and kids access to health care? And when Bacon speaks of “great enterprises… of mischief,” what that means is that I’ll never fulfill my fantasy of hunting down and killing certain people who richly deserve it, because I know the cat would end up homeless if I was thrown in jail. So the constraints imposed by having loved ones are sometimes good for society.

  36. #36 darwinsdog
    July 23, 2010

    darwinsdog – Even if you think breeding should be everyone’s primary purpose,

    From my perspective the universe appears to be utterly ateleological or devoid of purpose. I’d say instead that breeding is, rather than “should be,” the primary function of every living organism. More primary than sustaining existence, even, as any semelparous species, or any parent that sacrifices itself to a predator in order to save it’s offspring, demonstrates.

    …you should agree that having a family who would suffer for your failure makes many people less willing to take risks in pursuit of other goals.

    How do you define “failure”? The risk of one dying, or becoming disabled or becoming homeless & financially destitute, etc., needn’t be any deterrent to having kids or pursuing goals. Many things can happen to make a family suffer. If that family didn’t exist they wouldn’t suffer, true enough, but they wouldn’t have the opportunity to prosper or be happy, or have families of their own, either. Taking calculated risks can benefit a family just as well as making it suffer. To my mind, the only “failure” in life is failure to pass on one’s genes to the next generation.

  37. #37 darwinsdog
    July 23, 2010

    …for every dollar that passes through your hands, roughly two-thirds of a metric ton of CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere.

    So for every dollar, plant a tree. Sharon stated that her family income is in the $40K range. So plant 40K trees per year. For the young & healthy this isn’t difficult to do. When I planted trees I could routinely plant 2K per day and I think that the most I ever planted in a day was 4,250. Over the course of several seasons I personally planted several hundred thousand trees. Not of of these survived, of course, and I’ve likewise cut down my share of trees, but I figure that whatever I do short of setting a forest on fire, I’ve well offset my carbon footprint. If everyone would do the same perhaps AGW wouldn’t be such a serious issue.

  38. #38 dewey
    July 23, 2010

    Well, I do not feel like I am a failure because I neglected to produce children of my own genetic material so that the next generation of dumb jocks will have someone to kick around. It’s been argued that humans these days evolve culturally as much as genetically, and I am more able to contribute to the evolution of culture because I did not have a houseful of little anchors keeping me from spending too many years in school or accepting a “risky” low-paying job.

  39. #39 Gordon
    July 23, 2010

    dewey…sure, there are quite a few dollars that, in the exchange, don’t represent greenhouse gas emmissions. However, they don’t get included in the GDP. And, by comparison to the number that do get included in the GDP, they aren’t really all that many.

    So, anyway, the dollar that you send to Sharon…where did it come from? Did you earn it by making stuff that required the consumption of resources, transportation, shelf space, disposal? And, now that Sharon has it, is she going to donate it to someone else? Or is she going to spend it on stuff whose manufacture required the consumption of resources, transportation, shelf space, disposal?

    I’m not trying to suggest that Sharon, alone, is responsible for global warming. I’m responsible too, as are you. And, as a rule of thumb, the degree of responsibility can be direcely related to the quantity of dollars one earns and spends.

  40. #40 gen
    July 24, 2010

    Based on your mention of them, I read some of the other Sb bloggers today. I am not sure why PZ Myers has the largest following, since I found him narrow-minded and obnoxious towards those whose politics/beliefs he apparently strongly disagrees with. How can learning and progress take place in such an atmosphere?
    I am sorry that I did not take up reading Grrl Scientist sooner, since I enjoyed what I read of her posts.
    I don’t remember how I even came to follow your blog; that was in the pre-Sb times. My life is so very different than yours. There are things that I do not agree with you on, and many that I do. I am more of a minimalist government-wise, but I totally believe trying for more self-suffiencey, having a garden and living more organically, also havecare for a special needs child, use my GSO, etc. I have 2 of your books. I would still read your blog, even if to do so required a yearly (reasonable :)?) fee. I do feel that I can learn from you, regardless of differences of opinions on some issues. I appreciate you creating an atmosphere on your blog that makes that possible.

  41. #41 Mal Adapted
    July 25, 2010

    Darwinsdog:

    I figure that whatever I do short of setting a forest on fire, I’ve well offset my carbon footprint. If everyone would do the same perhaps AGW wouldn’t be such a serious issue.

    So, is your carbon footprint the only impact you’re concerned about? AGW is only one tragedy of the commons we’re responsible for, after all.

    It may be theoretically possible for the minimal needs of 6 billion (and counting) humans to be met “sustainably” forever, but it will take a great deal more than everyone planting a few trees.

    Conscious attempts to reduce one’s personal footprint are admirable in some sense; but will enough people follow suit? Will even Sharon’s own children live the rest of their lives by her example?

    Even if global society can be restructured to feed, clothe and shelter 9 billion human beings, will there be room for any other species but those immediately useful to us, or that can live in the interstices of a wholly managed biosphere?

    YMMV, but the odds look poor enough than I’m unwilling to buy a stake in the future by having offspring of my own. Hence my blognomen.

  42. #42 Sharon Astykj
    July 25, 2010

    I admit, I don’t buy the idea that anyone should have (biologically or by adoption) children for any reason other than that they love and want children in their lives, and are willing to live with the tradeoffs that entails. Realistically, most of the great acts that Bacon is thinking of are done either by people with no children, people with grown children, or by folks who have a partner or an employee who can take up a buttload of slack while parents attempt great deeds. Frankly, I’m glad that there are people out there who can cultural evolution, who can make great art and do great deeds and make ordinary daily contributions to society that someone bound by children can’t, and I hate to see anyone pressured into having kids, or told that there’s anything strange about them wanting to do other things. So what if everyone who came before them gave birth?

    Sharon

  43. #43 darwinsdog
    July 26, 2010

    Frankly, I’m glad that there are people out there who can cultural evolution, who can make great art and do great deeds and make ordinary daily contributions to society that someone bound by children can’t,

    So having kids precludes someone from making great art or doing great deeds or making ordinary daily contributions to society? Darwin fathered 10 children, Johann Sebastian Bach sired 20, and Gandhi four. How did these guys manage to pull of Baconian “great acts” when “bound” (burdened?) by children?

  44. #44 darwinsdog
    July 26, 2010

    And oh yeah, Hitler was childless.

  45. #45 mpatter
    July 26, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    So having kids precludes someone from making great art or doing great deeds or making ordinary daily contributions to society? Darwin fathered 10 children, Johann Sebastian Bach sired 20, and Gandhi four. How did these guys manage to pull of Baconian “great acts” when “bound” (burdened?) by children?

    They were men who didn’t have to look after them.

  46. #46 mpatter
    July 26, 2010

    also http://xkcd.com/674/

    you’ve had plenty of great-aunts and uncles who didn’t have children. Plenty of their genes got into you, and they probably helped them survive…

  47. #47 darwinsdog
    July 27, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    So having kids precludes someone from making great art or doing great deeds or making ordinary daily contributions to society? Darwin fathered 10 children, Johann Sebastian Bach sired 20, and Gandhi four. How did these guys manage to pull of Baconian “great acts” when “bound” (burdened?) by children?

    They were men who didn’t have to look after them.

    I find the unspoken assumption that motherhood doesn’t qualify as a “great deed” or even, apparently, as “making (an) ordinary daily contribution,” interesting, to say the least.

    And re: #46, yes, mpatter, kin selection is an acknowledged component of individual fitness.

  48. #48 mpatter
    July 27, 2010

    Right, you don’t have to have children yourself to be “fit” in an evolutionary sense – social insects don’t. So if you’re saying in #36 that we’re all just gagging to breed, it’s a bit simplistic. (It’s also contradicted by everyday experience – some people don’t want to or try to have children.)

    Having children could be a great contribution to your family and your community, but it’s not a contribution to culture in the sense Sharon was talking about. But teaching your children a set of good morals is…

  49. #49 darwinsdog
    July 27, 2010

    Right, you don’t have to have children yourself to be “fit” in an evolutionary sense –

    This is correct but one’s child shares half of one’s genes whereas the coefficient of relatedness between first cousins, for instance, is only 1/8. In other words, there is a 1 in 8 chance that at any given locus, first cousins share an allele inherited from a common grandparent. The social hymenoptera are a special case due to haplodiploidy.

    Of course there are people who choose not to have kids. Thank goodness, as there are already far too many people in the world for the biosphere to support sans fossil fuel inputs. However, such people are genetic and evolutionary dead ends, except in the sense of deriving a meager fitness from shared genes in other relatives, as you correctly point out. Such indirect kin derived fitness isn’t very numerically important relative to fitness accruing from children & grandchildren, though.

  50. #50 darwinsdog
    July 27, 2010

    So what if everyone who came before them gave birth?

    So what if one of them hadn’t? That’s what.

  51. #51 Sharon Astyk
    July 27, 2010

    DD, you left off my modifiers – convenient that. The point isn’t that parents can’t do great deeds – although let’s be honest, the statistical number of primary parents (ie, the ones who actually do the day to day parenting) who are able to devote themselves to large scale social change is pretty small in proportion to the population – that’s one of the reasons women don’t match men in the “big historic contributions.” There are primary parents who also do major amounts of cultural work outside their own families, but that’s pretty amazing, and understandably rare. It is no accident that all the folks you mentioned were men with spouses who did primary parenting.

    I do think parenting is a great and important deed – I didn’t say it wasn’t – I spoke of deeds and contributions *that someone bound by parenthood usually can’t make* – and those are real too. Someone caught up in motherhood simply doesn’t have the same amount of time for many kinds of creative and socially valuable work that someone who isn’t does – without making any kind of value judgement on how creative and socially valuable mothering or fathering is.

    Saying that people who are not parents often do things parents can’t, and that has value to society is not a negative value judgement on those who do – you have to do some twisting to get to that. I don’t think that parenthood is less valuable than other kinds of social goods – but I think that society as a whole benefits both from people who have kids and people who don’t, and it is unkind and foolish, IMHO, to try and shame people into having kids.

    So what if one of them hadn’t? Well, I’d be someone different, fathered or mothered or grandparented by someone else – big whoop – very different, but also totally unquantifiable, and not a difference I’d ever notice. There’s no victim here.

    And not everyone cares about their genes – my husband and I do have biological kids, but we also plan to adopt, and had we had any difficulty whatsoever in conceiving, we would have gone straight to adoption. I don’t really give a damn about being a genetic dead end – I’d be a parent, and moral and familial continuity is plenty for me. It happens that I have genetic continuity, because it was easy for me to breed than adopt – but I don’t rate genetic continuity up there with the kind I get by actually *parenting* someone.

    Evolutionary and genetic dead-ending may matter in the long run, but in the long run, we’re all dead. For the purposes of the lives we have now, I don’t think they are equally important to all people, and I don’t think they need to be.

    Sharon

  52. #52 darwinsdog
    July 27, 2010

    Hi Sharon. Thanks for your response to my posts.

    It would be interesting to explore whether or not some negative correlation exists between number of children and contribution to social welfare, however defined. I would guess that no such correlation exists, although it would presumably depend on how one defined such contribution. Personally, I can think of no greater contribution to social well being than parenthood. Without parents, there would be no society after all.

    It is no accident that all the folks you mentioned were men with spouses who did primary parenting.

    In the case I’m most familiar with, that of the Darwins, Charles worked from home, allowing him as much time to interact with (or be “bound” by) the children as Emma had. They hired a nanny to do much of the “primary parenting,” also. So given these circumstances and this reasoning, what was wrong with Emma that she produced no such great work as the “Origin”?

    Perhaps it’s a bit of projection on my part, but it seems that the general thrust of this thread has been to denigrate parenthood relative to other social endeavors. It seems that mothers can’t be expected to perform Baconian great acts because they are tied down by the children and that fathers are free to attempt or accomplish said acts because fatherhood is less demanding than motherhood. I find such attitudes condescending, at the very least.

    ..it is unkind and foolish, IMHO, to try and shame people into having kids.

    It was never my intention to shame anyone into doing or not doing anything. Personally, I would tend to encourage people not to have kids since this would reduce the population overburden that degrades environmental integrity and from which virtually all social & environmental problems stem. Also, my own offspring face less competition for resources or jobs when more people choose to remain childless. Yet, the fact remains, that choosing not to reproduce reduces one’s individual Darwinian fitness to (near) zero (mpatter’s correction re: kin selection given due regard). No other species, and very few individuals of our own, have ever cared one whit for “the good of society” relative to their own good. Selection has not programmed the propensity for doing so into the epigenesis of the CNS structures that generate & process such caring or the behaviors it would engender. It’s perfectly possible for individuals to value overall social well being over & above their personal Darwinian fitness but you must recognize that any genetic contribution to the propensity for doing so dies out along with those individuals’ phenotypes. For this very reason, the propensity for breeding perpetuates itself while that for childlessness rapidly tends towards extinction in the population. These are just facts, Sharon; I attribute no normative or moral connotations to them.

    So what if one of them hadn’t? Well, I’d be someone different…

    No, you wouldn’t be. You never would have existed, rather, and neither would your children. Someone else might exist, fathered or mothered or grandparented by someone else, but that someone wouldn’t be you. You are the unique product of your heredity and biography.

    People are free to care about whatever strikes their fancy, and to not care about whatever doesn’t. Once again, I make no value judgment on what you may or may not care about. Yet the fact remains that differential reproductive success is the only thing selection “cares” or has ever “cared” about (to speak metaphorically). This is just the fact of the matter. If the universe is truly as ateleological (purposeless) as it appears to be, it doesn’t really matter what one values or cares about in life. The decision as to what to care about and what not to is utterly arbitrary. Since selection seems to “care about” individual Darwinian fitness, it is as good a choice for something to care about as anything else is. Better, perhaps, since there is a natural or proximate non-arbitrariness to the choice. But I, personally, don’t really care about what others care or don’t care about. If a person chooses not to care about their own personal Darwinian fitness then by all means, don’t have kids (unless they’re kid goats)! Paz.

  53. #53 Sharon Astyk
    July 27, 2010

    Actually, I’d be an I – a totally different I – “I Sharon” wouldn’t exist, but I wouldn’t give a hoot, since I’d be “I somebody.”

    I think the denigration of parents is your interpellation into this thread – given that I picked parenting over a whole lot of other things, I’m unlikely to denigrate it.

    As for the rest – I don’t disagree with you, I just don’t think it is all that relevant – sure, the propensity for childlessness is not bred into us – and yet, many societies have managed to have a large childless chunk of the population who voluntarily (and sometimes involuntarily) traded the benefits of not having children for the benefits of having them. The monastic tradition in both Buddhism and Christianity are examples, but they aren’t the only ones.

    Moreover, selection doesn’t care, as we both know, and humans are hardly the only example of cases in which society – and the survival of offspring – often benefit from a non-reproductive segment. Coyotes, for example, live in female groups where sisters and daughters often don’t breed – except when the population is threatened. Instead, they sacrifice (if such a laden word can be deemed appropriate) their individual genetic destiny to the genetic destiny of peripherally related offspring.

    The universe may be ateleological, but I’m not – even if my choices of meaning are comparatively arbitrary. And I don’t think they are – after all, there’s some evidence that we select for meaning making, that we select in favor of human cooperation and the ethics that emerge from them. I’m reading _Mothers and Others_ by Hrdy now, which makes the case that those others are more central not just to who we are, but what than you acknowledge. Honestly, I don’t object to a reductionist view of the world, but I think it doesn’t give you much to talk about, since in the long run, we’re all dead ;-).

    Sharon

  54. #54 mpatter
    July 27, 2010

    darwinsdog: For now I’ll assume you’re not a troll, but an honest person with a couple of misconceptions. Human beings are subject to rather unusual selection pressures, and exactly what those pressures are is a big topic. But I hope it’s pretty obvious that many of us, in real life, act in ways which do not maximise our Darwinian fitness. For example, some of us are gay. Do I need to give more subtle examples?

  55. #55 mpatter
    July 27, 2010

    Sharon, I like the elegance of your writing. So much.

  56. #56 mpatter
    July 27, 2010

    But I hope you can forgive me for saying, coyly and through gritted teeth, that some of us are not dualists. To say you’d exist as someone else if your parents hadn’t hooked up, seems to be just saying “My soul has to end up somewhere”.

    Not that it matters, because our parents definitely did hook up and get their groove on.

  57. #57 dewey
    July 28, 2010

    darwinsdog – Emma Darwin – or whichever young lady of the time had potential intellectual talent equal to Charles’ – did not get an equal education and an invitation to serve as naturalist on a voyage of discovery in her youth. I trust you’re aware of historical limitations on women’s opportunities, above and beyond the expectations that they’d breed endless children.

    As for the modern parent, I can assure you that if I had had a few kids before I started grad school – assuming I had still been able to do so – I would have felt it absolutely necessary to study something that offered a guaranteed good income. Genetic engineering, say. I would not have dared to take a job that did not pay enough to provide health insurance for the kids, or that involved work in distant developing countries at some risk. Nor, frankly, would I have had the heart to leave town for extended periods (I wallow in guilt when I have to leave our cat for a month – can you imagine how I would feel about a toddler?). When you claim that it is “denigrating” or “condescending” to admit that parents experience such constraints, you yourself denigrate the emotional priorities of people like me, who – whether we feel highly motivated to breed or not – are unwilling to pursue our own happiness if it could mean deprivation and suffering for whatever loved ones we do have.

  58. #58 darwinsdog
    July 30, 2010

    Actually, I’d be an I – a totally different I – “I Sharon” wouldn’t exist, but I wouldn’t give a hoot, since I’d be “I somebody.”

    mpatter is right: this smacks of dualism. If you are arguing from a dualistic or supernaturalist stance then I have nothing to say. I certainly don’t intend to be a PZ Myers and hate all over you for your belief but there’s no way I can respond to it. It’s outside my library. In fact, it’s outside the library of science & doesn’t belong on a venue titled “ScienceBlogs.”

    I think the denigration of parents is your interpellation into this thread –

    Okay, perhaps so. But when parenting is excluded from the category of Baconian “great deeds (enterprises),” and even from that of “ordinary daily contributions to society” (post #42), perhaps I can be forgiven for my projection.

    Coyotes, for example, live in female groups where sisters and daughters often don’t breed – except when the population is threatened. Instead, they sacrifice … their individual genetic destiny to the genetic destiny of peripherally related offspring.

    Sharon, you sound like a mainstream biologist, circa 1960, here. This is a blatantly group selectionist interpretation, and is incorrect. The coyotes you describe are making no “sacrifice,” and won’t breed no matter how much the population they belong to is “threatened.” They will disperse and establish breeding territories just as soon as the food resources offered by the environment allows. Meanwhile, they are furthering their own fitness by contributing to the survival of closely related (usually sibs [CoR: .5]) pups from a subsequent litter. You really need to read Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966) by George C. Williams. This is the book that killed the group selectionist thinking you have indulged in here, stone dead to the minds of contemporary biologists. You might also want to read William’s 1985 essay “In Defense of Reductionism,” while you’re at it.

    As for the rest – I don’t disagree with you, I just don’t think it is all that relevant –

    You don’t think it’s relevant because you are so immersed in culture – so acculturated that you elevate cultural determinants of behavior to primacy over biological determinants. Where we disagree is over the relative importance of these two determinants. I readily concede that culture is indeed an important determinant of behavior in humans. But to my mind culture is like a thin patina over the thick rock of human biology. Humans have had culture, of a sort, for several hundred thousand years, with hominid precursorial cultures going back perhaps a few million years. This on top of four billion years of biotic evolution. Culture has apparently shaped morphological & physiological evolution very little in humans and the amount it has shaped behavior is debatable. We are biological organisms first & foremost, and secondarily creatures of culture. I am used to seeing cultural determinism exhibited by those educated primarily in the humanities & social sciences, so seeing it exhibited here comes as no surprise.

    mpatter: This thread is dead so I don’t intend to give an explication of human homosexual behavior here; suffice it to say that the genetic propensity for (male, at least) homosexual behavior is maintained in the population via kin selection. The same genes that contribute to homosexual behavior in males apparently contribute to motherhood in their sisters, and the increased reproductive output of said sisters more than compensates for the slightly reduced fecundity of their gay brothers. There is more to it than this, but once again, I don’t want to write an entire essay on the subject in a dying thread.

    dewey: Emma Wedgewood was very well educated, as could be expected of a daughter of one of the wealthiest families in England at the time.

    When you claim that it is “denigrating” or “condescending” to admit that parents experience such constraints, you yourself denigrate the emotional priorities of people like me, who – … – are unwilling to pursue our own happiness if it could mean deprivation and suffering for whatever loved ones we do have.

    Well, I’m sorry if I denigrated your priorities dewey. It’s just that as a dad I never felt “unwilling to pursue (my) own happiness” just because I had kids. I never worried about whatever hypothetical “deprivation and suffering” they might experience if I messed up. In fact, I agreed with Thoreau that children benefit from a certain degree of exposure & adversity, which is probably why I raised them primarily on the Navajo Reservation where they were constantly exposed to racism & abuse. It made them fighters and more than compensated for whatever they were “deprived” of in suburban pop culture, such as TV & fast food.

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