Saturday, November 17, 2012

Don't get familial with me

Futurist lace-ups by Evan Schultz, ArtKicks.
David Brooks writes:
At some point in recent history people all over the world started acting as if "freedom" meant adults doing whatever they wanted, as long as it didn't hurt anybody.*  Thus, they began refusing to allow their parents to immure them in monastic foundations or marry them off to strangers. More generally, they began to reject any arrangement that might close off their personal options. 
This brave new world brought with it some fairly amazing changes. Society no longer wielded the shotgun that it had used virtually throughout human history, from Austen to Updike, if you will,** to commandeer its young people into mixed-doubles child-rearing teams; and all sorts of bizarre new living formats arose, from single mommitude to Boston marriages and cages aux folles à la provençale, from the strictly single-sex Spartan dorm to the violently heterosexual Negev kibbutz, from the horizontal parental pluralism of polygyny and polyandry to the vertical pluralism of moving back in with grandmamma, it had become an Age of Possibilities. 
And increasingly the family possibilities included the possibility of having no family at all. Nearly 20% of American women in their 40s have never had children, as compared to 10% in 1976, and a Pew Research Center study found that children were 37% less important as a factor in a successful marriage in 2007 than they were were in 1990, while sex was 4% more important, and shared political opinions 9% more important. It is common knowledge that in Washington, D.C., if you want to have a friend you should get a dog. 
Nor is this happening only in America. It is estimated that more than 20% of Italian women born around 1965 will never have children, and I'd guess that by now that one is not likely to go wrong, given that they're turning 60. Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese birth rates are among the lowest in the world. Among middle-aged German men, 48% insist that one can have a happy life without children, three times as many as in their fathers' generation (who were of course famous for their devotion to the KKK of Kinder, Kirche, und Küche***). The world is rapidly turning from dominance by the two-parent family into a cafeteria of options in which you can pick up the main dish of progeny, the starch of housekeeping, and the side salad of some occasional sex in any ridiculous or excessive combination you like with any number of like-minded or complementary partners. 
A deft analysis of this global phenomenon has recently been put together—just last month, in fact—in the Internet pamphlet The Rise of Post-Familialism, by a crack team of researchers under the leadership of noted urban futurist Joel Kotkin of Chapman University, Orange County, California while he was working a holiday gig at the Civil Service College, Singapore.**** Some of the reasons, Kotkin suggests, might be the decline of religion in many people's lives, the decline in fascism (especially in Spain), or the increasing opportunities for women in managerial positions now that they are being admitted to first-class colleges like Harvard, Yale, Radcliffe-Brown, and the Air Force Academy, leaving them clearly less time for violin lessons and lacrosse practice. “In Singapore,” notes demographer Wolfgang Lutz, “women work an average of  fifty-three hours a week. Of course they are not going to have children. They don’t have the time.” 
The situation is Singapore is especially interesting, because being Asians, Singaporeans have always had a fanatical devotion to the two-parent family.***** Nevertheless they now have one of the lowest birth rates in the world, at a rate of 1.15 births per female in 2010, while 37% of the males and 25% of females in the 30-34 age cohort remain single.****** 
These new trends are bound to have enormous repercussions in social life, as inveterate "singlists" concentrate in the dense urban environments where they can hook up for anonymous sexual quickies without leaving their buildings, while breeding pairs continue their traditional spread out into suburbs to raise their free-range organic babies. The former will inevitably vote Democratic and the latter Republican, and it seems likely that we are all on the road to social and biological collapse as the numbers of the former grow and those of the latter shrink. 
But then perhaps the Age of Possibilities is based on a misconception. It may be that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, and what we really need is to be enshrouded, in commitments that, like actual shrouds, we do not freely choose but inherit, commitments to spouse, pets, God, and country. It is through such commitments that we learn to worry about others and about the future, when we will be well and truly enshrouded, and whatever children we have produced will be coping with whatever tax policies they have inherited from us. 
And then who knows? Why does it have to be a two-parent family? Perhaps some of these new forms of commitment will leave their victims feeling just as trapped and desperate; isn't that what really counts?

*As opposed to more traditional definitions like
"Freedom is the power rooted in reason and will to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform some deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. Human freedom… attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1731)
or more concisely
freedom for the Christian is to choose Jesus Christ and to follow His ways. That is what freedom is.
**I, obviously, won't. What Brooks is thinking of is not actually most of human history but merely a kind of Long Victorian Era, when married middle-class women in Europe and North America had as little sexual freedom as single ones—beginning at the moment in Europe and North America when they stopped farming out their babies to wet-nurses, shamed by the polemics of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  and ending when the use of infant formula became respectable. Thanks to chemical birth control single women achieved sexual freedom for the first time in history at around the same time.

***In fact according to Wikipedia the Nazi régime did not use this phrase, associated with Wilhelmine Germany and the loss of World War I. They did however offer rewards for fertility, as of 1933, giving a very substantial loan to the parents of a first child which was forgiven in installments on the births of a second, third, and fourth.

****Here, after giving you the impression that he has mastered all this data in the course of his extensive reading, is where Brooks reveals the source it all came from; not this time slipped into his Kindle by an anxious publisher, because the thing is not exactly published (it exists in 40 pages of  PDF), but perhaps communicated to Brooksie by Fieldstead and Company, the Orange County nonprofit that funded it, which exists to manage the philanthropic programs of the Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. family "as part of a Christian worldview." A humble little corner in the land of wingnut welfare, running for example this:
Orange County Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization that uses Biblical principles in programs such as relationships, finance, and parenting. They accept homeless men, women, and children from any faith and do not require the homeless to participate in religious services to receive services such as food.
Ahmanson himself is a former member of C.J. Rushdoony's Christian Reconstructionist movement who left over such issues as Rushdoony's call for the death penalty for homosexuals, which Ahmanson has never supported; a Touretter whose wife takes care of most of his public communications; a major backer of the anti-Darwinist Discovery Institute; and, since 2008, a member of the Democratic Party (like the Christian Reconstructionists, California Republicans are too right-wing for him). 

Way more complex than a Koch brother, as you see, as well as "moderate" in a half-assed Brooksish way, but we are not talking about cutting-edge research environments here. Chapman has no graduate school and issues mostly business degrees; the Civil Service College includes course offerings like Emails@Work for Support Officers (8 hours), Developing Personal Confidence through Public Speaking (24 hours), and Creating Positive Bodies and Minds in Mid-Life and Beyond for Division 1 & 2 Officers (for Women Only) (16 hours).

*****More accurately known as the three-grandparent family in the ideal case for Chinese or Malay-Muslim families, organized around a patriarch with two wives (even though Muslims are permitted to have up to four wives and there is no explicit limit for Chinese). It was partly doomed when the government banned polygamy, under British influence, and when government housing policy began to plan only for four-person households (plus a maid, for the affluent, but in general a Filipina and hence not a suitable concubine). 

******This crisis is indeed one of the reasons for the establishment of the Singapore Civil Service College: it is hoped that in the more relaxed but nevertheless work-oriented atmosphere of, say, a lecture on familialism by Mr. Kotkin, colleagues will feel emboldened to ask one another out on dates, thus reversing the trend of socializing primarily on line. Undoubtedly the College's course offerings include instruction in dating behavior as well. 
Umberto Boccioni, Futurist Evening, 1910.  From Counterlight's Peculiars.

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