The love of self that won't shut up

Are children worth the trouble? For most parents, the answer is a resounding yes. But not so for French writer (and parent) Corinne Maier --author of the newly published book, "No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children." In a week-long series, National Post contributors are weighing her thesis and giving their own takes on parenthood.


A hot new must-read book making the rounds is Frenchwoman Corinne Maier's No Kids: Forty Good Reasons Not To Have Children. Having read her embarrassingly superficial Maclean's interview and perused the jejune list of what constitutes "reasons" for Maier --kids cut into your "fun," kids are "conformists" --I'll pass on actually reading the book. Yet, because it would seem there was both money and celebrity to be gleaned from time Maier might otherwise have idly frittered away in an afternoon nap, I'm tempted to give the idea a whirl myself.

Since wisdom clearly isn't a prerequisite for success in this genre, but a knack for "shocking" hopelessly retrograde traditionalists is, how's this for a book concept: Forty Reasons Women Should Love the Burka (1--No more pesky skin cancer fears! 17 --Size 2 or 14, who's to know, so goodbye dieting! 31 -- You're out of that whole beauty rat race thing! etc.).

Does this parodic riff exaggerate the inanity of Maier's thesis? Just a tad. I wouldn't normally dignify such lifestyle bumf with a column, but it struck me that the hoopla around this silly book falls into a cultural pattern, according to which the media eagerly aggrandize purveyors of utter banality, as long as they are advocating for the abandonment of demonstrably valuable social norms.

The 19th-century Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem commonsensically pointed out what seems obvious to me: "It's no sin to be poor, but it's no great honour either." The problem is, in this age of self-esteem uber alles, in which all must have prizes, being known as "poor" is no longer acceptable to the, er, poor. Or at least not the evolutionary version of poor -- those bent more on their own pleasure than the producing and raising of society's future citizens: you know, the ones paying for Corinne Maier's Parisian nursing-home bed.

Nowadays, our culturally wealthy live and let live: Since the rise of counterculture in the 1960s, we dull normals -- faithful marrieds privileging the natural law and their children's happiness over our own transient self-indulgence -- have for some time eschewed any labelling of alternate lifestyles as sinful. But our cultural poor aren't satisfied to return the favour and let dull normals live their socially productive lives in peace.

Unlike Marxists, the evolutionary poor don't want the wealthy to share their wealth. They just won't stop pestering them to concede that it is as desirable -- what am I saying? more desirable -- to be poor than to be rich, a theory the rich are disinclined to endorse for excellent reasons.

A case in point: In a long feature article in the July/August issue of Atlantic magazine, by regular columnist Sandra Tsing Loh, "Let's Call the Whole thing Off," one of America's top journalists exploits the failure of her own 20-year marriage (two young kids) as a self-esteem-boosting springboard to the argument that traditional marriage is no longer a good thing for anyone: "Isn't the idea of a lifelong marriage obsolete?" (a question she never asked when happily married).

Adducing validation of her thesis in the disintegration of several friends' marriages, as well as a few cherry-picked theorists urging radical family re-engineering, Loh eventually arrives at "some modest proposals" that include: "marriage as a splitting-the-mortgage-arrangement"; or "some sort of French arrangement" with a gourmet cook or handyman for a husband "and the occasional fun-loving boyfriend the kids never see."

Above all, Loh cautions all women to "avoid marriage" and with it the pain that accompanies "something as demonstrably fleeting as love." Deep stuff, eh?

Why couldn't Loh just divorce and shut up about it? Because she felt lousy. Infidelity (hers) and divorce felt like failure. Her self-esteem took a hit. That didn't compute with a lifetime of assurance that self-esteem is an automatic entitlement, rather than the fruit of earned achievement. Fortunately, as an intellectual with a social podium, she knew just how to get it back: Publicly announce that henceforth marriage failure is actually ... success!

Sholem Aleichem would scratch his head in puzzlement at the modern syllogism Maier and Loh represent: All are entitled to self-esteem; Having children cramped my style/my marriage flopped: Eureka! All must stop having children/must not marry!

Non-reproductive sexuality-pride, infidelity-pride (see Chatelaine's July feature, "An affair to remember"), divorce-pride, anti-children pride: In this topsy-turvy politically correct world, the media have glommed onto the mantra that poor is rich, even if it's only the exhibitionistic, the immature, the egotistical and the narcissistic who keep repeating it.