Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Alannah Tomkins's "Medical Misadventure"

Alannah Tomkins is a Professor in History at Keele University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Medical Misadventure in an Age of Professionalisation, 1780-1890, and reported the following:
Medical Misadventure is a book about the ways that professionalising doctors disappointed themselves and others in their attempts to become successful practitioners. Page 99 reflects this intention poignantly, as it falls in a chapter about professional disappointment among men who accepted postings in the Indian Medical Service (IMS).

The IMS had the advantage of offering qualified practitioners a reliable salary at a time when the rewards of medicine could be very uncertain. The British profession was heavily overstocked in the first half of the nineteenth century, so a medical degree might be a pathway to poverty rather than to a lucrative career. In this context a guaranteed income in one’s own preferred field of employment might look attractive; but service in India carried penalties too. It demanded an enforced removal from Britain for years at a time. Entitlement to leave might only come after nine or ten years in post, and the ability to take advantage of that entitlement might depend on the doctor’s having saved enough money to afford it. Men had to supply their own servants – an essential lifestyle feature for the British in India – and find that their salary was dependable but meagre in context. Page 99 dwells on these points, and later pages flag additional drawbacks. Frequent changes of posting meant that friendships could be fleeting and unsatisfactory, rivalries with fellow doctors for well-paid work could be intense, and the risk of dying in Asia was relatively high.

These reflections on professionalising medicine are important because, to date, the historical narrative has placed strong emphasis on success and progress rather than failure and disappointment. Doctors might have met every increasing expectation, from within and without the profession, with dignity and competence; however, lots of men suffered temporary setback or permanent curtailment of their careers in the attempt to become the perfect professional. This book tells their stories and urges for a more prominent place for understandable human failure in medicine, both past and present.
Learn more about Medical Misadventure at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 21, 2017

Gil G. Rosenthal's "Mate Choice"

Gil G. Rosenthal is professor of biology and of ecology and evolutionary biology at Texas A&M University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mate Choice: The Evolution of Sexual Decision Making from Microbes to Humans, and reported the following:
An important personal reason for writing this book was that I felt blinkered by focusing so much on my own experimental work on swordtail fish. It was both humbling and richly fulfilling to learn so much about what other people were doing using different experimental systems and theoretical approaches. I was therefore bemused to turn to page 99 and find it all devoted to the story of how people including myself have thought about mate preferences in swordtails over the past thirty years.

On the other hand, I purposefully used the swordtail narrative as a microcosm of the major themes I try to develop in the book. We started off thinking about the crudest possible preference rule – more is better. The scenario that we proposed was that females – implicitly, all females, all the time – preferred males conferring more gross visual stimulation – males that looked bigger. This bigger-is-better bias was ancient and hadn’t changed much for millions of years, since before there were even swordtails around.

The picture we have now of preferences, in swordtails as in other animals from stalk-eyed flies to Bengalese finches, is a vastly richer one, in which genes, environment, and culture interact to shape a rick diversity of desires and choices - among species, from one individual to the next, and even within the same individual at different times and in different contexts. Page 99 is in the introduction to chapter 4, where our understanding of preference mechanisms moves beyond low-level sensory responses and towards the sophisticated integration of complex stimuli using different senses. I go on to describe mate choice as an intricate process, where one’s genetic makeup and experiences can favor different partners before, during, and after mating. The rest of the book uses an understanding of these mechanisms to inform a view of how mate choice arises and evolves, and in turn how mate choice can both build up and erode genetic barriers between species. Finally, I suggest that work on mate-choice evolution in humans might more fruitfully consider the diversity and complexity of sexual choices in our own species.
Learn more about Mate Choice at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Margaret Morganroth Gullette's "Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People"

Margaret Morganroth Gullette is the author of prize-winning books (Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America and Declining to Decline), and of many essays cited as notable in Best American Essays. Gullette named the field of age studies in 1993 and has been expanding its multi-disciplinary range since. Her father briefly ran a nursery and taught her some of the skills she admires.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People, and reported the following:
Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People is arranged to present increasingly grave instances from the array of ageisms that my research uncovered. In each chapter, something fails the test of fairness, equality, or basic humane dealing. Some are glaring neglects in private or public life, grossly hostile speech, abusive images, cruel practices, threats, incitements to self-harm, or violence. In each chapter, suffering is allowed to speak.

Why does a book about the evils of ageism have a chapter with an odd title—“Vert de Gris, Rescuing the Land Lovers”--about small family farmers around the globe? These producers provide food for more billions than the agro-industrial complex I call Big Farma. Seventy percent, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, are women. Without these indispensable people who feed the world, you and I would not starve, but others would. How would the cash-poor eat, if they didn’t feed themselves?

To my mounting astonishment, I also discovered that most of these remarkable, neglected producers are old. In the US, the average age of the farm population is fifty-eight. Principal American farm operators over sixty-five, the hands-on farmers, now outnumber those under thirty-five by more than seven to one. Not a typo, but a statistic about endurance, not generally known. In the UK, the average age is fifty-nine. In Japan, it is sixty-seven. Thank heaven for the old woman, the old man, with the tractor or the hoe. Their situation is a cause for both gratitude and alarm.

Why is this not widely known? Why are their working conditions so harsh? Why don’t their governments assist them? If we care about hunger, food security, soil degradation, land theft, organic farming and environmental regeneration, we owe attention to these women and men in their plights. Justice may be as simple as listening to survivors and naming malefactors.

I want to give these people a little respect, as Walt Whitman did in “I Sing the Body Electric,” when he narrated his attraction to a farmer, a man of “wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person—he was wise also,” and then noted, in passing, that the man was eighty years old. Page 99 shares with readers some of the suffering and losses that make old farmers the stoic heroes of the vulnerable Earth we all depend on.
Within the fierce macro-history of land losses, physical aging seems a lesser factor. Many researchers count sixty as “old” in censuses of farm work. It might be truer to conditions on the ground to put “old” at fifty-five or even fifty, depending on rural life expectancy in a given country. Ill health in later life represents the accumulated effects of life-long deprivations: farming, despite its cardiovascular benefits, is hard on the body. The risk of injuries and death is higher than in other professions. Exhausting labor and repetitive motions take their toll on the musculoskeletal system. The exposure to sun ravages the skin and damages the eyes; exposure to pesticides can cause organ failure. A 2014 report by the FAO and HelpAge International found that 76.8 percent of the elderly small-holders they surveyed suffered from chronic ailments, including hypertension, backache, vision problems, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. Women live longer than men in many developing countries, too. Those who married young and had many children too young are likely to suffer more than men from ill health as they age. One Chinese woman of seventy-three offered a definition: “When one feels too weak to work, one becomes an old person.”

As people lose strength, the need to tend either a garden or a farm can be “acutely depressing and enforce feelings of powerlessness as others may need to be employed to carry out tasks once carried out by oneself with ease.” Frustrations undermine “the long-felt ontological security of ‘home,’ and give rise to the feeling of ‘not being at home.’ ” Past prime working age, some [who can] do leave. [In the United States they may] move closer to their urbanized families to be looked after or to get better access to social and health services and transportation than exist in their isolated and dispersed communities. Others defiantly choose to age in place in overlarge troublesome houses precisely because they can’t face a dismal urban future. They plant seeds in a south-facing window.

Moving away from whatever land they possessed, displaced land lovers find themselves in places where almost everything at ground level is hard-scaping: brick, mortar, concrete, iron. They sit in parks with flowers they can’t touch, grass they are forbidden to walk on, shrubs they could prune better, not a vegetable in sight. Some may like surcease from toil, but to my mind the neatly tended public park fails the public. In cities suffering from disinvestment, residents walk past expensive or substandard grocery stores, toxic dumps, and vacant lots that attract trash, drug dealers, junked cars, and kids with no other place to play. Where are their healing gardens, their fresh vegetables, their aerobic exercise, their chances for chat and longevity?
Page 99 is notable for its intersectional homage, but my favorite pages are the last two of the whole book, “A Declaration of Grievances.” In designer Carolyn Kerchof’s elegant version, a poster of the pages is available free for download.
Learn more about Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People at the Rutgers University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wendy L. Rouse's "Her Own Hero"

Wendy L. Rouse teaches United States History and social science teacher preparation at San Jose State University. Her research interests include childhood, family, and gender history during the Progressive Era.

Rouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women's Self-Defense Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Her Own Hero is a perfect page to sum up the main point of the book. This page includes one of the many images I found through the course of my research and is especially relevant because it was an image just like this one that first inspired me to write this book. In fact, if I could have written the book solely as a series of images, I definitely would have since there were so many great illustrations. Pictures can be much more powerful than words.

The particular image on page 99 shows a woman physically fighting back against an attacker on the street. Dressed in the attire typical of a respectable middle class woman of the early twentieth century, this woman’s actions seem anything but typical. Her Own Hero is the story of women, like her, who defied gender boundaries and stretched the limits of acceptable feminine behavior by learning jiu-jitsu and boxing.

Industrialization and urbanization as well as the expansion of women’s rights in the early twentieth century combined to increasingly draw women out into the public world for school, work, and leisure. Yet, the presence of women in what were viewed as traditionally male spaces generated a great deal of backlash. Mashers (a slang term used to describe men who made unwanted sexual advances toward women) harassed women on the streets, making many women fear for their personal safety. Numerous cases of violent physical attacks and sexual assaults made headlines and generated even more anxiety about women in the public sphere. Law enforcement intervened when willing and able, but most women recognized that the police could not be everywhere at once. When women were told that they should probably just stay at home or wait for a male family member to accompany and protect them, they rejected that idea and determined to empower themselves as their own defenders and to physically assert their right to public space.

Her Own Hero explores the variety of ways that women learned to fight back and the political implications of their new physical empowerment.
Learn more about Her Own Hero at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sharon Sassler & Amanda Jayne Miller's "Cohabitation Nation"

Sharon Sassler is Professor of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Amanda Jayne Miller is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Indianapolis.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships, and reported the following:
From 2003 to 2006 we set out to learn more about an increasingly popular trend among today’s young adults – cohabitation. We interviewed 31 middle class, college educated couples (most of whom worked in professions like architecture, education, business, and health care) and 30 couples we labeled “service class,” who mostly worked in fields like data entry, telemarketing, retail, and food service, and whose education had mostly stopped either a high school degree or some college classes. In the past, these less educated men might have been labeled “working class,” but few worked in blue collar professions. We gathered the stories of their relationships, from when and how they started dating, what precipitated their decision to move in together, to how they shared responsibilities for domestic chores, family planning, and discussions about their futures.

Page 99 of our book is from the chapter, “Family Planning or Failing to Plan?” In it, individuals discuss the prerequisites they believe should be met before they have a child together. While nearly half of our service couples (14) already have a child, often from one partner’s prior relationships, few of our middle class couples are parents. As we open the book to its middle, we read about what the middle class believes should be in place before becoming parents. In general, this meant financial stability, but this was, for them, more than just being able to feed their child an adequate diet.
David, a 30 year old retirement planner, elaborated what financial stability meant to him. “I guess that means to have a certain balance in your bank account, a certain cash flow every month, knowing that you don’t have to rent, you can buy a house, that’s what financially stable means to me.” In light of parenting, he explained that it meant “knowing that you can afford more for the kids, their activities and this and that.” Middle class respondents often mentioned that they wanted to settle into their jobs or climb the corporate ladder prior to embarking on parenthood, or that they wanted their partners to do that. Bree, a 25-year-old accountant, earned more than her partner but wanted to stay home with her children for the first few years of their lives. She explained, “Financially right now everything is really good. I know that he wants to move up in his job, so it would probably be good to wait a couple of years, until he’s really comfortable where he is.” Karen, a 24-year-old graduate student, wanted to defer children to a point in the future where she would be “more established at that point with my career, where I want to be and what I want to be doing and hopefully settled in, you know, where he will have worked for long enough too that we can be in a steady place.” For these respondents, becoming established took time, and therefore childbearing would have to be delayed.
In many ways, the approach to planning children encapsulated the major differences between service and middle class couples on other fronts. As they did with family planning, our middle class respondents were better able to communicate their desires, had time lines for the optimal time for events to occur (such as the appropriate timing to begin discussing engagement and marriage), and were generally amenable to negotiating with partners. Our service class respondents, in contrast, were more often reacting to the imperfect hand they were dealt, and often lacked the ability to articulate a desired life plan, perhaps because they had already been thrown so many curves. Their experiences, therefore, differed dramatically. They moved in together more rapidly, often due to economic exigencies; they experienced unintended pregnancies, even though many were already parents; and their economic situations did not enable them to anticipate enough stability to desire to take the next step in their relationship towards marriage – engagement.
Learn more about Cohabitation Nation at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Niall Kishtainy's "A Little History of Economics"

Niall Kishtainy is a writer, economist and historian, and teaches economic history at LSE.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Little History of Economics, and reported the following:
On page 99 of A Little History of Economics, I present the central idea of The Theory of the Leisure Class, which was written at the end of the nineteenth century by the iconoclastic American economist, Thorstein Veblen. Page 99 is a fragment of the long story of economics, which I lay out over 40 chapters beginning in ancient times and ending in the present. Yet Veblen’s idea concerns a fundamental economic question which runs through much of the book: what governs people’s economic behaviour?

In the late nineteenth century the conventional view began to emerge that people make economic decisions rationally: they accurately weigh up the costs and benefits of buying this car or taking that job and then choose accordingly. Veblen looked at the matter differently. He thought that people decide less on the basis of abstract principles of rationality than on instinct and habit, which are shaped by deep-seated social and cultural conditions. This gave him an unusual perspective on capitalist society, as shown in the following sentences from page 99 of my book:
On the face of it, capitalism looks as if it has nothing at all in common with ancient societies of tribespeople with their rain dances, sacrifices of animals to the gods and gifts of shells to neighbouring villages. Rational people in capitalist societies are engaged in buying, selling and profit-making. But in fact, says Veblen, if you look closely you’ll see primitive customs living on in the modern economy. We buy things not so much to satisfy our own desires as a completely rational person would, but in order to be approved of by others.
Veblen tells us that in early societies people gained prestige by being powerful enough not to have to work; ploughing fields and chopping logs came to be seen as demeaning. The American economy of the Gilded Age was much the same, he said. Rich people lived off interest from their inherited fortunes and didn’t have to do any real work. They achieved social status by showing off their jewellery and fur coats. They were the ‘leisure class’ devoted to socially wasteful ‘conspicuous consumption’.

Although Veblen’s kind of economics is today out of fashion, in recent decades economists began to unpick the idea of ‘rational economic man’ and to base new explanations of economic behaviour on psychological theories. They’ve also become increasingly sensitive to the potentially damaging effects of extreme concentrations of wealth; some argue that today’s high levels are the sign of a second Gilded Age. Page 99 of the book, a mere glimpse at the thought of a now neglected economist, is therefore a window onto two fundamental debates in economics that continue to this day.
Visit Niall Kishtainy's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 11, 2017

Erika Gasser's "Vexed with Devils"

Erika Gasser is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Vexed with Devils: Manhood and Witchcraft in Old and New England, and reported the following:
Vexed with Devils analyzes published cases of demonic possession and witchcraft-possession (when those who suffered the spectral torments associated with demonic possession also named a witch as the cause) in England and New England from approximately 1564 to 1700. It examines the role of gender in published accounts about men and women who performed the symptoms of possession, and analyzes particular cases of men who were accused of witchcraft by possessed accusers or who published possession propaganda. Despite the overwhelming association of witchcraft with women, I argue that manhood was a crucial factor in the articulation of judgment upon both the women and men who were implicated in these incidents.

Page 99 features a long quotation by Cotton Mather, the eminent New England Puritan minister, from the introduction to one of his books in which he expresses his determination to publish his own book alongside those of greater men, in an elegant combination of arrogance and humility: “Go then, my little book, as a Lackey to the more elaborate Essayes of those learned men.” That sentence always makes me smile, because I can’t help but be captivated by Mather’s complexities. He believed that he and his family knew how to order New England as a proper godly colony and dared to hope that he was among God’s predestined Saints, but the Puritan denial of assurance meant that he constantly struggled between an overweening pride and an awareness of his unworthiness. Mather wrote that in 1689, just before the well-known Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, and despite his reaching for modesty the tone broadcasts his confidence. I have found it very interesting to observe how his tone changed over the next few years.

The long quotation speaks to a very specific moment, and so in that sense the first half of the page may not represent the book as a whole, but later on in the page I reiterate one of its central tenets, that “Mather drew upon a tradition of English witchcraft-possession writing, from the controversies of the late sixteenth century to the cases that had emerged across the seventeenth century. Despite fluctuations in the volume of printed cases, and the dramatic political, religious, and social turmoil of the period, claims to interpret preternatural phenomena remained closely implicated in claims to patriarchal authority and order.” I go on to explain that at the cultural level, manhood and womanhood continued to matter for all participants in possession cases in ways that show considerable continuity rather than the decline of credulity we expect and associate with the Enlightenment. In the end, I do think that page 99 gives a kind of encapsulation of the book, with the added bonus of a window into Cotton Mather’s particular struggles.
Learn more about Vexed with Devils at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mitch Kachun's "First Martyr of Liberty"

Mitch Kachun is Professor of History at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is author of Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915 and co-editor of The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride: A Rediscovered African American Novel by Julia C. Collins.

Kachun applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a full-page image: a line drawing from Arthur Huff Fauset’s 1927 book for young readers, For Freedom: A Biographical Story of the Negro. The image shows Attucks giving a speech to a crowd of white Boston colonists. This image and the text from pages 98 and 100 touch on some of the book’s central themes.

We have little evidence about Crispus Attucks. Probably, Attucks was born a slave in Massachusetts around 1723 and was of mixed African and Native American ancestry. He escaped in 1750, then worked as a sailor and dockworker. On March 5, 1770, Attucks was part of a Boston mob harassing British troops. The troops fired and Attucks and four others were killed in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre.

Over the past 250 years, Attucks has often been presented as an American patriot, the first to die for American Independence. However, some have argued that he was either a street thug who got what he deserved or merely an insignificant bystander. Americans continue to debate who Attucks was and how (or if) he should be remembered.

First Martyr of Liberty explores the relationship between Attucks’s actual life and the myths that have grown around him. I examine literature, poetry, drama, music, art, television, histories, textbooks, commemorations, and more to clarify what we actually know about Attucks and to illustrate how Americans go about constructing a shared public understanding of the nation’s past.

The chapter that includes page 99 examines the 1920s and 1930s, a period shaped by the mass migration of blacks into northern cities; the cultural flowering of the Harlem Renaissance; the expanding political activism of the New Negro movement; and the emergence of movies, radio, and other mass media. Page 98 discusses Fauset’s book and several other works that present wild speculations about Attucks as if they were facts. It is extremely unlikely, for example, that Attucks gave public speeches. Page 100 discusses the emergence in the 1920s of a new wave of highly trained black scholars researching and writing black history. This section exemplifies African Americans’ longstanding efforts to incorporate their story into the mainstream narrative of American history, while also demonstrating the problems with trying to create a plausible story about Attucks that can be supported with evidence.

In the 21st century Americans continue to debate Crispus Attucks’s place in the nation’s history. First Martyr of Liberty engages the paradoxes and politics involved with remembering and forgetting and illuminates the contested terrain upon which we construct our understandings of American heroes, American patriotism, the American historical narrative, and the question of who “belongs” as a part of the nation and its story. I hope you’ll give it a look!
Learn more about First Martyr of Liberty at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: First Martyr of Liberty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 7, 2017

Noah Benezra Strote's "Lions and Lambs"

Noah Benezra Strote is associate professor of European history at North Carolina State University. He is a former fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lions and Lambs: Conflict in Weimar and the Creation of Post-Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 throws the reader into a dramatic scene of Lions and Lambs. It is December 1932 in Germany, many are speaking about the possibility of civil war, and the embattled chancellor, Kurt von Schleicher – the last man to serve in that position before Adolf Hitler – is giving an unrealistic speech about unity and mutual respect. Here, as in the entire first half of the book, I present a new interpretation of the historic failure of Germany’s first experiment with liberal democracy known as the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Unlike previous scholars, who have often claimed that the republic collapsed due to political immaturity and economic crisis, I show that democratic institutions in Germany became unworkable because national elites held incompatible visions for the country’s future. With their elected leaders opposed to one another like “lions and lambs,” many opted for the decisiveness of a dictator.

The page is part of a section in which I explain a troubling phenomenon related to the democratic collapse: as German politics became more polarized, why did so many conservative Christians ally with Hitler’s hate-filled Nazi Party, and why did so few speak out against its antisemitic ideology? An unexpected reason, I found, was that in the preceding decades, Christian leaders desperately feared that their religion was losing its age-old influence on key public institutions such as the judiciary and the school system. They chose to cooperate with the Nazis largely because Hitler promised to establish Germany as a “Christian state” and to defeat the left, whom they had come to perceive as enemies.

Page 99 therefore reveals an essential aspect of the history I reconstruct in Lions and Lambs. In the second half of the narrative, which begins on Page 147, the action shifts from the intractability of political conflict to the creation of political consensus after the fall of Nazism. The remainder of the book demonstrates how the very same men and women who had once perceived each other as “enemies” ended up collaborating in the reconstruction of liberal democracy after 1945 in what became the Federal Republic of Germany, otherwise known as West Germany. Both sides of the earlier conflict – in this case conservative Christians and the more secular left – made painful compromises on previously held values as a price for consensus and stability. In this way, the book presents a pre-history of present-day Germany, where, in no small part due to the memory of Nazism, a majority still values compromise and stability above all kinds of political experimentation.
Learn more about Lions and Lambs at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jean Kazez's "The Philosophical Parent"

Jean Kazez teaches philosophy at Southern Methodist University. She is the author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals and The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Philosophical Parent: Asking the Hard Questions about Having and Raising Children, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of chapter seven: “Whose Child is This?” Here’s how the chapter begins:
You’ve decided to have a child, conceived and gestated her, and given birth. Now what? You hold your child, gaze upon her in awe, feed her, kiss her—her, the child you gave birth to. It’s so important that you do all these things with the right child that every baby wears an identification bracelet in the hospital nursery, and mix-ups are regarded as a total fiasco.

Are mix-ups really a fiasco? Most people think so, including the very rare person who is involved in one. Sue McDonald and Marti Miller were both born in Wisconsin in 1951, and raised in the same small town. Mary Miller, who gave birth to Sue, suspected a mix-up when she brought her new baby home from the hospital...
I tell this story, which I heard on a 2008 episode of This American Life, to broach the question why parents have a right to bring home and raise their biological children. The Miller family did a perfectly good job of raising Marti; the McDonald family did a perfectly good job of raising Sue. But everyone was terribly upset when the mix-up came to light. The situation violated the norm that says biological parents ought to know which child is theirs, and should have the prerogative to bring that child home.

But why is that the norm? The prerogative-to-raise part of the question becomes particularly acute in a better-off-elsewhere situation, a situation in which there is one baby, a set of biological parents, and also a much better equipped set of prospective parents. Why is it up to the biological parents, assuming they’re not unfit, whether they raise the child?

As simple and fundamental as the question is, there isn’t agreement among philosophers about the answer. Some think that biological parents don’t actually have special prerogatives—that we assume that they do only out of a sort of “blood bias.” I examine that idea in chapter 8, but in Chapter 7 I present my own position, which centers on the idea that, to their creators, children are “second selves but separate.” The basic idea can be found in Aristotle, but I expand on it and argue that it helps us understand parental prerogatives, including the prerogative to raise the child you’ve brought into the world.
Learn more about The Philosophical Parent at Jean Kazez's website and the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue