REALITYCHEX

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Irresponsibility — David Brooks

November 16, 2012   ·   19 Comments

Source: NYTX

post-familialism

By Marie Burns:

The past ten days have been exceptionally news-heavy in the U.S. First, the election of course, which drove some of the other news, like the negotiations over the falsely-named “fiscal cliff,” then the Petraeus affair with its ever-expanding sideshows, which has morphed into – among other things – the unraveling (again) of Senator Grumpy McCain, who brings to mind that other aggrieved also-ran Mitt Romney, this week doubling down on his “47 percent moocher” school of sociology by explaining away his election loss as the result of President Obama’s “gifts” to special-interest moochers – not to be confused with his running mate Paul Ryan’s explanation that too many urban (read, black) moochers voted (despite the best efforts of Republicans to frighten them into staying home). That’s just on the domestic front. There have been regime changes of sorts in both China and Japan, Europe has slid back into recession, the Syrian civil war goes on and a new series of skirmishes has shattered the fragile detente in Israel-Palestine. Any or all of these international crises might have repercussions here.

So with all this dramatic news in the mix, we find David Brooks using his New York Times real estate to advocate for traditional family values. Perhaps the Petraeus affair has unsettled the Family Brooks. Or, just as likely, Brooks received a copy of The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity’s Future? by Joel Kotkin and others. Channeling Kotkin, et al., Brooks tells us people the world over are rejecting the traditional nuclear family in favor of other arrangements or no arrangement at all. According to Brooks, Kotkin and his fellow scholars posit a number of theories as to why this is happening. If one is to rely on Brooks’ reading, it appears none of these geniuses noticed it might be women who are most responsible for the new paradigm. I don’t know if the scholars forgot about women or if Brooks did. What is pretty clear is that Brooks goes out of his way to ignore the role of women here.

Brooks notes that the political consequence of the changing demographic is bad for Republicans:

Politically, married people in America are more likely to vote Republican; Mitt Romney easily won among married voters, including married women. Democrats, meanwhile, have done a much better job relating to single people. President Obama crushed Romney among singles, 62 percent to 35 percent. The 2012 election results illustrate the gradual transition we are making from one sort of demography (the current Republican coalition) toward another sort of demography (the Democratic coalition). The rise of post-familialism is a piece of that shift.

Notice how Brooks does not mention the demographic we’ve heard most about: that fully two-thirds of single women voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney. So Romney-fail is one reason Brooks is not comfortable with the single ladies thing. But it’s worse than that, in Brooks’ view. Brooks sees the paradigmatic shift to non-traditional life choices as indicative of irresponsibility or hedonism. Or something like that. He warns us not to be seduced by the freedom to make choices:

People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice – commitments to family, God, craft and country. The surest way people bind themselves is through the family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind. Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility, including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like…. The problem is … people who go through adulthood perpetually trying to keep their options open.

Strangely, it does not occur to Brooks that single people, just like married people, are choosing to make commitments – they are just not gorging themselves on the full menu of commitments David Brooks recommends.

The suggestion that single people are selfish, self-centered and anti-social is offensive. The implication that single people are less “worthy” than married people is even more offensive. And make no mistake, that is exactly what David Brooks is saying here. Moreover, what he wants to say is that single women are making selfish choices that are destroying the fabric of society. He has written in the past that women – now that they often have better jobs with equal or better pay – are rejecting traditional family arrangements. He just can’t say so in the context of scolding wrongdoers — as he does here. As unpopular as Brooks is among New York Times readers, blaming women for the decline of the nation might be a bridge too far.

As for singles being anti-social, on the whole, it seems likely that singles are more sociable than married people. For one thing, singles often have more leisure time than people who are married with children. But the clock isn’t the only determiner: the U.S. spent the decades after World War II building the most insular, self-centered physical infrastructure in the world. It’s called Suburbia – the place where every man is king of his castle, ruler of his teeny, tiny domain. Sure, to make up for it, those with larger castles also enjoy a layer of socializing infrastructure: the country club, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. The utility of these “social” organizations, however, was and is often just a vehicle for making business contacts. The same is true of churches. Brooks describes a connection to a religious institution as a “commitment to God.” I lived in a large Midwestern City where all the local movers and shakers attended the same downtown church. “That,” I was told, “is where the deal are done.” I’m sure all those churchgoers were exceedingly pious. God – and their membership in the Methodist Church – had been good to them. Brooks himself belongs to a Torah study group that includes David Gregory of NBC News, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Far be it from me to question anyone’s commitment to God, but – coincidentally, I’m sure – God sure is good at networking.

Unlike Suburbia, urban settings – where Democratic voters are more apt to live – are particularly conducive to sociability. Single people gravitate to cities specifically because they want to socialize. They aren’t interested in hiding in their own little gated communities behind their own little picket fences.

Do we really have to be “induced to care about others,” as Brooks suggests? I don’t see how a spouse is preternaturally better than parents, teachers and other role models in making a person a more caring member of society. Again, a spouse is necessarily more demanding of one’s time than are most other people: if anything, the presence of a spouse can mean a person doesn’t have time to volunteer his time to charitable or social causes. The same goes for children. We may be wired to care for our own children, but that narrow love does not necessarily translate to “good citizenship.” Indeed, during the months leading up to the election, Brooks’ pundit pals incessantly told us that undecided voters were undecided because their families kept them too busy to think about their civic responsibilities.

Brooks claims that being part of a traditional family causes people to “devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind.” I am sure there are millions of parents who care about the future of the earth, and maybe for some, thinking of their own children is the impetus for that concern. But there’s a good chance many of those parents’ ideals aren’t as egocentric as Brooks suggests. My own parents, for instance, didn’t take an active interest in environmental politics until their children were grown and they had time to devote to other concerns. I don’t recall once, in all of our discussions about their activism, that either said, “We’re doing it for our grandkids.” They were doing it for everybody’s grandkids. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t selfish. Brooks might argue that my parents’ social awareness was the result of their commitment to one another, that their marriage taught them to commit not just to each other and their children but to the wider world. That could be. But it doesn’t explain the substantial percentage of single people who were active in the organizations to which my parents belonged.

David Brooks has made his own choices. He seems to think his choices are inherently better than other people’s choices. Maybe for Brooks, they are. But it is the height of hubris to try to impose one’s own personal choices on everybody else. I’m not knocking marriage. It is a choice I’ve made, well, more than once. I’m not knocking other types of commitments, either: “God, craft and country,” as Brooks calls them. What I am knocking is the notion that one size fits all, or that one set of “values” – specifically, “traditional family values” – are superior to other values.

Let me end on one more personal note. I had three great aunts – sisters who remained single and lived together all their lives. They were deeply religious Roman Catholics. I sort of thought of them as nuns. The two older sisters were twins. Their father died when the twins were in high school, and they had to get jobs to support their family, including their youngest sibling, Elizabeth. The twins did so for at least a decade, even to the point of supporting Elizabeth while she took a secretarial course after she completed high school. Elizabeth put her education to good use and became an executive in a major company at a time when women were rarely seen on the top floor. Although the twins continued to work until they reached retirement age, Elizabeth was the major family breadwinner. One of the twins did most of the cooking, but she broke her hip when she was in her late 80s, so Elizabeth went to cooking school “with the brides,” she said, and learned to cook for the three of them.

When she was in her 90s, Elizabeth said something offhand to me about a boyfriend she had had. I was shocked. I told her I didn’t know she had ever dated. “Oh, yes,” she said, “I had my chances. One man who I liked a great deal asked me to marry him.”

“What happened there?” I asked. “I wanted to marry him,” she said. “But I thought about my sisters. When they were young, they gave up their own ‘chances’ to take care of me. So I thought I had a duty to take care of them when I was able. I told my suitor I couldn’t marry him.”

So. David Brooks, don’t tell me “our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility.” Traditional nuclear families have nothing on my maiden aunts.

Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com

 

 

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Readers Comments (19)

  1. Rich says:

    Your Aunts can’t be scolded so they serve no useful purpose for Brooks.

     Reply
  2. PD Pepe says:

    “… the U.S. spent the decades after World War II building the most insular, self-centered physical infrastructure in the world.”

    We can thank William J. Levitt for this with his mass production of houses. The move from cities to suburbs changed the very nature of American society. It also temporarily interrupted the progress women had been making in the work place, leaving them, at least for awhile, isolated in a world of other mothers, children and station wagons. We women have been breaking away ever since, something Brooks and his ilk are uneasy about––wayward women can be dangerous, I guess. Here’s to Marie’s generous aunts and single babes to boot!

    Oh, and by the way––in those ticky-tacky Levitt rows unions were not allowed nor were blacks.

     Reply
  3. Your views often reflect my own, and I’m grateful to you for being such a keen and articulate watchdog.

     Reply
  4. Maxwell's Demon says:

    It is ultimately ironic that the values Brooks espouses of community commitment with an eye toward the future are much better served by Obama, the Democrats and their supporters. After all what is aptly named Social Security but a contract with the younger to the older believing that in their dotage they will receive the same benefits? what is the ACA but a commitment to promote the health and well being of the community? Addressing Global Warming, Pell grants, infrastructure investments all speak to the vibrancy and even survivability of future generations.

    The republicans offer tax cuts and the “tough love” of the free market, in other words every one for him/herself. The one area where they look to the benefit of future generations is their desire to eliminate the estate tax, a focus that seems a bit narrow in its scope vis a vis the next generation. Except, of course, that we used to see it all the time as the Divine Right of Succession, something the Founders, whom the right claims to revere, rejected rather forcefully a few centuries back.

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  5. Whyte Owen says:

    Am I the only one who found this sentence so pernicious?

    “This cultural shift is bound to have huge consequences. Globally, countries that remain fertile, like the U.S., will do fine while countries that don’t, like Japan, will decline. ”

    We have already overpopulated the planet to the breaking point, evidenced by rampant ongoing destruction of our land and seas, of which global climate change is but one among many symptoms. And he thinks fertility is our future?

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  6. marieburns says:

    @Whtye Owen: couldn’t agree more. Brooks is right, of course, that if the U.S. population remains static, with a low birth rate, the economy will be less robust. Of course there’s an easy way to combat that, and it doesn’t require Americans to behave like rabbits. We can increase our “domestic market” by inviting in more immigrants. This is the way the U.S. has always done it. Ultimately, we should be happy with a somewhat smaller, older demographic. After all, we want people to live long and well, and the shame is that Americans, — especially minority Americans — have a lower life expectancy than people of other developed nations.

    The impetus for Brooks’ call for “fertility-friendly” policies comes from right-wing “intellectuals,” principally Ramesh Ponnuru & Yuri Levin, who propose that we modify the tax code to encourage middle-class families to have lots o’children. (The tax code already is bent that way.) The Catholic Church hierarchy, Brothers Rick Santorum & Ross Douthat, et al., think that’s a swell idea. I don’t. Here’s one pdf from the righty-right wing Heartland Institute on “how the tax code discriminates against the traditional family”: http://heartland.org/sites/all/modules/custom/heartland_migration/files/pdfs/12046.pdf

    The is the right’s way of cutting taxes and discouraging immigration at the same time. Expect to see a lot more of this kind of nonsense if Congress really gets into reforming the tax code. I don’t think Democrats will know what hit them, and I do think they will get sucked into this cleverly-framed argument for fear of being labeled the party that hates families and small children.

    Thanks for contributing.

    Marie

     Reply
  7. Bob says:

    “What I am knocking is the notion that one size fits all, or that one set of “values” – specifically, “traditional family values” – are superior to other values.” You seem to be advocating some version of moral relativism–a kind I think even your Catholic Aunts would repudiate. Even using the modernist term “values”, which is subjectivist, obscures the real issue: objective moral truths. A moral community has to have some significant constraints on human activity. Brooks is absolutely correct that “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want.” Nowadays, many people like to think that they know best, as if they are the ultimate arbiter, not God. This is a secular age now, and many no longer care about God and traditional morality. Having waited a significant time to get married and have a child, I can say that marriage helps perfect a person and the family members in a way single life cannot. If we continue to lose the traditional family structure, I believe, we will continue to suffer and decline.

     Reply
  8. marieburns says:

    @Bob: Thanks for writing. I respectfully disagree. I can tell you without qualification that no sort of god ever figures into my own thinking about right-and-wrong — or about anything else. Nonetheless, I would describe myself as a moral & ethical person; in fact, sometimes overly moral. I kinda have to watch it, because I am painfully aware that the majority of people have standards that are not as strict as mine.

    I know the tradition nuclear family has worked well for millions & billions of people. I’m fond of it myself. But there is nothing even remotely immoral about choosing a different structure for oneself, so long as that structure fits within some generally-acknowledged code of ethics. I always find that, when whittled down to basics, the Golden Rule — in one iteration or another — works well. Most people intrinsically understand it; those who violate it in spectacular ways are the reason we have government in the first place.

    It is one thing to “believe,” as you say, in a specific social compact, but it isn’t too useful if you can’t provide some empirical evidence to back up your belief. I cannot see any causal connection between “losing the traditional family structure” and “suffer and decline.” The notion that single people don’t have morals, don’t go to work or don’t contribute to society in other ways — just as much as married people do — is probably insupportable, or at best, supported only by faulty research which starts by assuming or relying on a societal norm.

    Just because some particular set of values appeals to you or me doesn’t mean we should impose our confining set of rules on others. See Golden Rule.

    Marie

     Reply
  9. Bob says:

    Marie, You wrote “But there is nothing even remotely immoral about choosing a different structure for oneself, so long as that structure fits within some generally-acknowledged code of ethics.” If that’s your position, then you actually agree with Brooks that people having maximum personal freedom to do what they want is not good. That is, you do want constraints on human activity. Specifically, you only want to allow family structures that “[fit] within some generally-acknowledged code of ethics.” However, this leads to some serious problems for your position. First, there is no generally-acknowledged code of ethics. Even among professional philosophers there are bitter disputes among utilitarians and neo-Kantians. To the extent that they disagree on the answers to specific moral questions (and they do disagree) they both cannot have the truth. Assuming there is one set of logically consistent and objectively true moral principles, then family arrangements that violate those principles would be objectively bad even if many persons in the culture do not recognize this. The problem with the Western Culture is that it needs to do some philosophical soul-searching and try to discover the truth about these issues. For example if you want to defend the objective truth of the golden rule then please give a philosohical argument for it’s objective truth. You seem to appeal to the modern sciences (such as biology and physics), but they are methodologically incapable of deciding moral issues (they can tell you how physical reality is, but not how it should be). Unfortunately, it seems most people in our age don’t care about a search for the truth. Instead, they want what they want because they want it and that is that. This is a civilization in decline no matter how you stack it up. According to the CDC 40.8% of children were born out of wedlock in 2010. That is bad both for the children in question and the civilization. If we do nothing and it keeps rising, things will get worse for society, no matter how much some people will try to spin it.

     Reply
  10. marieburns says:

    @Bob. Oh, please. There are no absolutes. Anyone who argues from absolutely surely knows he has a weak argument.

    To say I agree with Brooks’ remark about “maximal personal freedom” is just silly. Brooks doesn’t mean that “people all over the world” think murderers & marauders should be allowed to do their thing because, hey, “people all over the world” are totally into “maximal personal freedom.” He means “people all over the world” are living in non-nuclear families more often now that they used to. That’s what Brooks — and you — think is bad.

    You claim that children being born out of wedlock is “bad for children and civilization.” But that is the expression of a very crimped view of civilization. In many cultures, including in American subcultures, extended families do most of the child-rearing. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it was quite commonplace in “the good old days” conservatives look back on so fondly.

    Moreover, if you don’t think this works, I give you Exhibit A: Barack Obama. He was reared by a single mother with aid from her extended family. Worked out right well, as we say in the South.

    In fact, the Cult of Suburbia has done much to undermine a fine way of socializing children. By insulating nuclear families — by physically separating them from their extended families — Suburbia has played its part in the degradation of a very viable, age-old method of child-rearing (and a generally desirable way of life). A two-parent family is one good way to rear children; it is not the only good way.

    And procreation itself, BTW, is a life choice that one should make cautiously. As commenter Whyte Owen (above) wrote, we’re doing too much overpopulating now.

    Seriously, Bob. Broaden your horizons. “Different” is not a synonym for “bad.”

    Marie

     Reply
  11. Bob says:

    Marie, saying “There are no absolutes” is an absolute statement. So, your position is contradictory and therefore self-refuting. I was hoping we could at least agree that it would be better for the amount of children born out of wedlock to decrease (instead of increasing). But, alas, we disagree even on that point. I suspect you have a postmodern view of human nature (that is, it does not exist), whereas I have a more Aristotelian view of human nature (there is a telos and a hierarchy of goods). If so, our world-views are irreconcilable. It’s not a problem about “broadening” one’s horizons. It’s about whether or not there are objective truths about morality and human nature. In many ways, this country polarized along these lines.
    Be Well, Bob

     Reply
  12. Kate Madison says:

    @Bob-

    Oh, I get it–you are one of those “God” people who think there is a grand plan for humanity, and for each “soul.” At least I infer that from your comments. Unlike you, I do not believe in a God who knows what the best way is for us to live our insignificant little lives. Nor do I care that there is a “telos and a hierarchy of goods.” So….I think human beings must realize that we are our brothers’ keepers, and try (as best we can) to live by that good old Golden Rule. Doesn’t take Aristotelian philosophy to come to that conclusion.

    I am curious how you seem so sure that marriage makes one a better person. As a former family therapist, I can tell you that I saw married people who made each other (and their children) completely miserable. They often ended up happier and more creative people when they left dead-end marriages. And many never married again, but have had satisfying and productive lives. Is this truth objective enough for you?

    I think you need to get out of your Brooksian thinking mind and learn to see life as it really is. Being born in or out of wedlock is truly not an issue when you are able to confront the bigger picture. Having enough to eat, a bed of some sort to sleep in, and a “good enough” parent is so much more important.

     Reply
  13. Akhilleus says:

    Bob, it seems that you are the one who is somewhat confused here. First, I didn’t see any point at which Marie comes close to substituting science for morality. I think this is you draping some of the standard reactionary complaints about the modern world over her argument.

    Your insistence on the idea that people who, as Brooks claims, seek maximal personal freedom to do whatever they want is inconsistent with your own claim to respect for objective truth. We all have stops on our freedoms. The very idea that there are people out there running wild, free spirits doing whatever it is that comes into their heads and thereby jeopardizing humanity is a pure canard. The number of people out there even attempting that must be statistically negligible. So just what is that argument all about? This is Brooks (and perhaps you) taking people to task for not abiding by a specific personal code and ginning it up with outrageous declarations and false choices, ie, it’s either my way, or the death of civilization. Certainly with Brooks, if people don’t go along with his version of how the world works, they are by definition, at the very least, immoral. Or hippies. Or both. With Brooks it’s mostly hippies.

    You also state that Marie needs to give evidence to support her position. So do you. You first claim that there is no generally acknowledged code of ethics but your argument continues to propose that that is not the case. You then go on to suggest that people are not interested in a search for the truth and simply want what they want when they want it. Seriously? Evidence please. What people? Who? On the one hand you demand philosophical rigor from Marie then you throw up a puerile argument like “they all do it.”

    How do you know that truth is not valued or is not a goal for many people? You’ve interviewed these people? Or is this a gut feeling?

    The search for a personal moral core is just that: personal. There are many roads to that place, and as you say, many people who have done this for a living (you mention Kant and Aristotle, eg) do not agree on the correct paths to morality. Some agree on what morality should be, or how it needs to be considered, but then disagree on how that knowledge should be applied. Brooks does not abide this sort of thinking. It seems you might not either. Your reference to a “telos” often indicates a teleological belief system, and possibly a deterministic philosophy, both of which have attracted fierce criticisms from thinkers who are not, by the way, amoral. The world is a complex place with many paths to fulfillment and personal morality. Even Kant, who could be stringently hortative in his approach to morality recognized the difficulties of straightening out the “crooked timber of humanity”.

    Could people be more assiduous about aligning their lives along some moral path? Sure. But this has always been the case. The historical waxing and waning of civilizations depends on many things. A general sense of the good has always been part of it. But I think the re-election of the president indicates that there are quite a few people out there who are concerned with exactly that so I don’t think obituaries for civilization are called for just yet.

    So here’s the deal. If you demand philosophical rigor, you need to provide it yourself. Marie provides at least anecdotal evidence for her argument. You don’t even go that far.

    Otherwise your argument is just not persuasive.

     Reply
  14. Patrick says:

    Ms. Burns criticizes Mr. Brooks – and by extensioN Mr Kotkin and his research conclusions – but she appears to offer no altmative solutions to the identified problems. Maybe she doesn’t see a rapidly dropping birth rate, dissolution of the family structure, and resulting negative long-term economic impacts as problems that need solving. But if she does, I’d like to hear her ideas for solving them.

    For my part, it seems self-evident that any moral value system that puts other people ahead of one’s self is superior to a value system based on narcissistic pursuit of one’s own selfish desires.

    Since good parenting (and caring for siblings, elderly parents, and other family members) requires making a thousand selfless decisions a day, we would want to encourage the practice, not discourage it.

    Brooks seems to be arguing not for less personal choice but for more correct personal choices – selfless, mature, transcendant choices. The realities of living in a large family (like Ms. Burns’ and her 3 great aunts) or parenting children seem to force people to, frankly, grow up and accept that the universe does not revolve around them.

    How can anyone argue against a timeless social institution like the traditional family and it’s critical role in helping to form selfless, altruistic, charitable people?

     Reply
    • Marie Burns says:

      @Patrick: “How can anyone argue against a timeless social institution like the traditional family and it’s critical role in helping to form selfless, altruistic, charitable people?”

      Who, exactly, is arguing against the traditional family?

      Marie Burns

       Reply
  15. Patrick says:

    @MarieBurns: “Who, exactly, is arguing against the traditional family?”

    The discussion in Kotkin and Brooks was about a growing societal trend away from traditional family structures and the harmful effects that trend can have on our country.  I read nothing in your article that was overtly supportive of traditional family as a solution to this problem.  On the contrary, you go into a long, cynical explanation of how flawed traditional families are.

    You declare that married couples are less social and traditional family neighborhoods are more insular.  You state that suburban social structures are nothing more than hubs for business networking.  You disparage parental love as ‘narrow’.  

    Of course, you acknowledged that traditional family structure might be right for some people, but not all.  First, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.  Second, it’s more like a liberal, relativists reflex.  And third, it states the obvious.  

    There will always be exceptional people who raise wonderful children as a single parents, or gay couples who are better parents than straight couples.  I’m sure there are childless couples who give more to the world as two than they could as a family of four.  And I personally know singles who live decent, moral lives and contribute greatly to their friends, families, and communities. 

    But the point of Kotkin’s research is that when these lifestyle choices become more and more prevalent, society begins to change in negative ways.  The individuals making these lifestyle choices are making them because they are “right for them”.  But in the aggregate, the choices, multiplied across millions of people over a relatively short period of time, can have deleterious effects on our culture, economy, and future.  

    Maybe I own an SUV because it’s “right for me”.   Maybe I own a gun because it’s “right for me”.  Maybe I drink 64oz sodas because it’s “right for me”. 

    Wouldn’t you agree that at some point, if millions of other people are making these same choices, it can have negative consequences for everyone else?

    I would never argue that these alternative family choices should be outlawed, but people need to make informed choices.  If good scientific research indicates that traditional families are better in some way, then that research needs to be shared with the public and taught in schools.  Our society should endorse, support, and advocate for traditional families.  Or popular culture should portray traditional families as positively as possible, instead of ridiculing them or marginalizing them in TV, movies, and books.  

    Cosby understood this, helped change many African American lives for the better, and possibly helped get Obama elected: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/08/arts/television/08cosb.html?_r=0

    Cheers.

     Reply
  16. marieburns says:

    @Patrick: you & Brooks both exhibit a judgmental attitude about family structure, suggesting that one way is the best way, even if that way doesn’t work for everyone. Both of you are concerned that too few people will choose “the best way,” & that many will make a “bad” decision to eschew the traditional family.

    To that end, you accuse me of doing exactly what you’re doing: passing judgment. Ergo, you claim that I “disparage” parental love by calling it “narrow.” No, if you love one person & one person only (your child), then you have a narrower collection of loved ones than if you love 100 people or 1,000 or “humankind.” That’s isn’t “disparaging” or judgmental; that is arithmetic.

    People decide to establish traditional families for many reasons. You & Brooks suggest they should do so for the good of society; I say that if people choose to live in situations that make them & their loved ones happy, that will ultimately accrue to the good of society.

    Neither you nor I is arguing that everyone should fit into a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter, but you & Brooks are comfortable urging people to squeeze into “the best mold” even if they’re not sure they will fit; I would only encourage them to consider that particular mold as one of many choices. For some reason, you think more people should make the choice you made, suggesting you’re a walking, talking model of rectitude. That is, you’re being judgmental, claiming your choices are superior to the choices other people make. I would say that the traditional family mold is not superior to some of the other molds people might find better suit them.

    And, BTW, the same person is quite apt to choose more than one mold at different times in his life; not immediately choosing the commitment implied in a traditional marriage does not preclude making that choice later in life.

    What you’re suggesting is that single parenthood and cohabitation are bad for society — like gas-guzzlers, guns & cola. That’s a pretty harsh judgment on a lot of very nice people, most of whom probably don’t disparage you for your choice.

    Marie

     Reply
  17. Patrick says:

    I think if the data reflect that traditional families provide superior results, then we as a society should promote them. I also said that other lifestyles can be well-executed by good people, but these are more the exception than the rule.

    Single motherhood, for example, is well proven to produce inferior social results (drop out rates, poverty, teen pregnancy). It is often caused by men who abandon their responsibilities. What’s wrong with passing judgement on those men and shaming their actions?

    I do indeed believe that some lifestyles and cultural practices a superior to others in real, measurable ways.

    I believe a smoker lives an inferior lifestyle in terms of health, both for himself and anyone who is subject to his constant smoking.

    I believe a pornographer lives a morally inferior lifestyle, as his product debases and objectifies women and commoditizes human sexuality.

    I believe the frivolous shopper who’s credit card that exceeds their annual income is living an inferior lifestyle in financial terms. Such debts are rarely paid off and often impact the families of the over-spender.

    I believe the man who beds women without regard for the consequences, including the children he might leave behind, is morally inferior, and should not be glorified in our culture as a ‘player’.

    These judgements are not arbitrary. They are based on experienced observation, available research, and sound reasoning. If similar fact-based conclusions support the societal advantages of promoting traditional family structures, then I think society should invest there in the form of increased awareness, support, and advocacy.

    If there’s something wrong with this approach, I’m just not seeing it.

     Reply
  18. Whyte Owen says:

    Patrick, like many, including Brooks, conflates correlation and cause. Anecdotal examples: my oldest best friends were raised by single mothers who gave them as much quality of care as my own conventional (married) parents. They are retired after successful careers in music, business and academia. Other acquaintances were raised by married but dysfunctional parents and ended badly; there are plenty of meth labs run by parents with babes in arms. The correlation of single parenthood with dysfunction reflects the excess population of the cohort by single parents who would have been just as dysfunctional if they had remained connected to the other parent. We would be well served to understand and treat the source of parental dysfunction, but are not served by generalization of models.

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