Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: family, industrial revolution, Justin E. H. Smith, Lapham's Quarterly, work, Working Arrangement
photo: Douglas Adesco
Family values derive logically from the Industrial Revolution which own values were to procure labour, with transportation to the place of work, with domestic arrangements (and the assumption of the nurture that may give). That may be the only concession to the pre revolution world social networks and entanglements: a dim, all but extinguished sign of what may have existed as a rich set of social realities.
The nuclear family is a recent invention. As an arrangement that, ideally, isolates a man, woman, and a few children within a single, economically autonomous domestic unit, with only casual or symbolic ties to friends and extended family, it does not seem to predate the Industrial Revolution and the rapid urbanization that followed it. Indeed, the expectation that everyone should find a place in such an arrangement appears to be Fordist in origin: the same vision of the future that caused us to believe that everyone might have a place in a system of production, might commute to it in an automobile, and might return home at the end of the day to a freestanding domicile with a family inside.
Working Arrangement, Justin E. H. Smith, Lapham’s Quarterly
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: family, Kurt Vonegut, love, society
We don’t want to go home for Christmas because of the discomfort and fights and recriminations. There’s something wrong with the family and we’d rather be alone. But at the same time we’re lonely and need people to be with.
Anyway, not everyone doesn’t go home for the holidays; some people like their families. I wonder what is the difference between those who get along and those who don’t? It could be fundamentalism – families that are too perfect, led by charismatic or autocratic fathers (or mothers, or siblings), who push the air out, make a hermeticism that is too pure. Children and relations who need less purity – the chance to act out, to be imaginative, to rock the boat, let go the party line – eventually just stay away.
Airlessness may affect every family, but moreso the nuclear family – as the chance to challenge lousy authority increases as the power of a single family head is diluted by more and more aunts and uncles and cousins and sibs. Love is not a closed system, it is ecumenical.
Here is Vonegut’s case for extended arrangements. He says, a man can’t be a whole society to a woman, and they fall apart. A woman needs more, and so do we. This is from Vonegut’s famous commencement address.
No matter what age any of us is now, we are going to be bored and lonely during what remains of our lives.
We are so lonely because we don’t have enough friends and relatives. Human beings are supposed to live in stable, like-minded, extended families of fifty people or more.
Your class spokesperson mourned the collapse of the institution of marriage in this country. Marriage is collapsing because our families are too small. A man cannot be a whole society to a woman, and a woman cannot be a whole society to a man. We try, but it is scarcely surprising that so many of us go to pieces.
So I recommend that everybody here join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. It does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: Aristotle, Charles Taylor, common good, economy, family, the good life, thriving
There is life and good life. ‘Life’ is infrastructural and sustaining (concerned with labour and reproduction); and ‘good life’ is flourishing – the pursuit of justice, the common good, political and moral order. Good life needs life to support it, but to merely live life and to fail to make life good is … not human, says Aristotle via Charles Taylor below.
But consider now the balance or lack thereof of what we think and talk about in our world today. Infrastructural ‘life’ talk and energy (labour and reproduction) nearly eclipses ‘good life’ discourse. The economy, your job, family dominate while … well, when is the last time you heard anyone bring up the common good? Are we living sub human lives?
Some Aristotle via Charles Taylor:
‘Ordinary life’ is a term of art I introduce to designate those aspects of human life concerned with production and reproduction, that is, labour, the making of the things needed for life, and our life as sexual beings, including marriage and the family. When Aristotle spoke of the ends of political association being “life and the good life” (zen kai euzen), this was the range of things he wanted to encompass in the first of these terms; basically they englobe what we need to do to continue and renew life.
For Aristotle the maintenance of these activities was to be distinguished from the pursuit of the good life. They are, of course, necessary to the good life, but they play an infrastructural role in relation to it. You can’t pursue the good life without pursuing life. But an existence dedicated to this latter goal alone is not a fully human one…. The proper life for humans builds on this infrastructure a series of activities which are concerned with the good life: men deliberate about moral excellence, they contemplate the order of things; of supreme importance for politics, they deliberate together about the common good, and decide how to shape and apply the laws.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, pp. 211-12, from Andrew Taggart blog post Sustaining Life is not the Good Life
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: alain de botton, family, love, relationships, twitter
I recommend Alain de Botton’s twitter page. Each tweet is pregnant with insight that no doubt comes from years of reading and writing books, particularly on philosophy and society. I’ve assembled some here in no particular order on the theme of family. Apparently, he’s in the thick of one, and reflecting deeply, which is good news for us. His ideas tend to upset the apple cart of standard beliefs about relationships and love.
Here’s my take on some of the ideas: Love is work, it may not look like it to the casual observer, but relationships that look stable have been worked on. Living in a family is like living in a fish bowl: all foibles on display and assessed. Our children reflect our worst qualities and embarrass us. To love, you have to understand how difficult it was to have been loved by your parent. Real love may come to very few of us. Love loves beauty and degradation, which confuses us. Love isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard work and often ugly.
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: anarchy, climate, climate change, dystopia, family, J. G. Ballard, Johan Hari, Kingdom Come
On one of the sides in the great culture wars there is a strong and growing distrust of the city and its institutions. And a rosy yearning for the – maybe slightly apocryphal – values of church, family, farm, field and personal struggle.
I recently had a rather bleak back and forth in a comments thread in an online newspaper – our own little culture battle. The article was about how family can nurture civility – the context being the attempted assassination of a US Congresswoman. My comment disputed the idea that the nuclear family can be a centrally placed and adequately supportive institution in a large and complex modern state like ours. Society has broad needs that can’t be met by the usually narrow self interest of the family unit. I received a return blast of aggressive family values reactions: to be expected in 21st century America.
One responder claimed that family is natural and all other institutions – the law, the state, the church, school – unnatural and man-made. He said that all institutions derive from family and that to believe in other institutions is to be ‘academic’ which is bad, apparently. He was aggressively challenged, mostly by one other writer, and they battled it out for two or three passes.
It was almost breathtaking to watch his retrenchment from an initial broad vision of the relationship between family and our society to a narrow rumination on whether or not a married man with kids had enough personal resources to merely survive. Nuclear is too small, he decided and his fall back view was ‘groups as small as a dozen families.’ ‘Efficient hunting with found weapons requires several men,’ he advised. In a few hundred words, the measure of a good life dropped from really living to scraping by.
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: family, friends, Joan Bakewell, life, work
Here’s a description of a fulfilling work (and living) from someone who made self aware and intelligent decisions early in life and went on to reap the benefits: focus on life (rather than just career); match what’s out there with what’s in you; surround yourself with family and pleasure, and friends, colleagues, acquaintances; pursue work that includes challenge, pacing, intellectual engagement and a worthy goal. It’s a still point idea in a landscape of ideas that is trecherous, acquisitive and maybe a little hollow.
By now I was beginning to formulate what exactly I wanted from life. Not from a job or even a career. But from life itself. And I discovered that the ingredients actually lay all around. They just needed to be combined in the right formula to meet my own temperament and abilities. They are not obscure and elusive. They are the very things most of us want: a happy family life focused around good relationships; congenial surroundings both at home and at work, that make life pleasant. I am not talking some ambitious make-over nonsense here. Think instead of being able to watch a particular tree round the seasons, coming into bud, flowering, turning to golden leaf and then fronting the winter with stark, dramatic branches. That seems to be a good ambition to have. Then there are friendships; bosom pals for intimacies and advice; working colleagues for sustaining each other with laughter and encouragement; acquaintances met at odd moments, introduced by others, casual encountered at the school gate. All these friendships settle and regroup over the years, some coming to the fore, others lapsing with time. Yes, the encouragement of friendship seems a worthwhile way of spending time. Finally there is the work itself. My own needs are for a variety of tasks within and possibly at the limit of my capabilities, periods of heavy effort interspersed with more reflective times; intellectual engagement with ideas, and a sense of something worthwhile being achieved.
On Not Having A Career, BY JOAN BAKEWELL, the Idler
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: Anne Lamott, family, mothers, mothers day
Guess which culture insisted a young or newly widowed woman be quickly married again: the turn of the century Roman state, or the contemporary fledgling group called Christian? And, of course, the corollary question Is implied: which left her alone? Today we automatically assume Christian because our own Christian groups are conservative and fetishize marriage and family. But the correct answer is the Roman state which put a much higher value on family for many reasons, I’m sure not the least of which was control. The early Christians, however, saw a single woman as being primarily related to God, and her other relationships as distantly secondary.
In her essay on Mother’s day quoted below, Anne Lamott describes elements of the blood ties fetish prevalent in conservative life. The qualities she describes are vicious: selfish, judging, alienating. The worst is the belief that people without children can’t love or know love; that they are somehow less human. And she doesn’t stop there. She describes parents who dehumanize their kids, like a remodeled room in the house, and how if you do this you destroy them.
So if children aren’t toys nor agents of personal fulfillment, what are they? What if parenting is principally about bringing children out the door and properly introducing them to the world? They aren’t schooled in the spare room or the basement; it’s not our knowledge only that will help them, but other, different knowledge too. They are fully ours and fully the world’s.
From the essay Why I Hate Mother’s Day:
Don’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. We talk about “loving one’s child” as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.