Friday, November 07, 2003

Thought of the Day: babies and idealism
There's something about holding a newborn baby--not just seeing her picture or watching a Pampers ad, but actually holding a tiny human creature--that makes you less socially idealistic and more personally idealistic. They say anyone who isn't a Democrat at age 20 has no heart and anyone who isn't a Republican at age 40 has no brains, and now I understand that a little bit better. I held my new nephew this week (I'm his only uncle), fit his tiny form into my folded arms, felt his warmth, watched him squirm to get comfortable, considered the alternating traquility and turmoil of his face (depending on his wakefulness and gas). These are the moments in which the Questions of the World, urgent but abstract as a college student, suddenly fade, and the world seems more centered on this person, on your caretaking, and the house you now hope to be a sanctuary you both. You start thinking less about Solving the World's Problems and more about keeping those problems the hell away from this fragile young life. You're less worried about "changing things for the better" than changing diapers. Suddenly the bleeding heart liberal in me started acknowledging the allure of the rhetoric of the right, the get-tough-on-crime and get-government-off-your-back bumper stickers that place isolated survival and individual advancement over utpoian notions of a social, shared public life. You instantly care a little bit less about the inequalities of the education system and the lack of opportunities for the nation's disadvantaged youth than you do about this child's education and opportunities. I could imagine this already, and this was my nephew, not my son. I remember reading a Slate reporter a year or two ago who said that having a child made him borderline misanthropic--presuming the worst about strangers while out in public with his young son, not just protective but nearly paranoid. I'm still 24 and, down deep, fervently idealistic. I'm not saying I endorse all these thoughts. I'm just saying you're more prone to have them go through your head when you hold a baby, and I guess that says something about human nature, not to mention the success of the Republican Party.

Related: Why families are, economically speaking, good for society, from the New Yorker
Previous Thought: Free as a bird in flight?

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