Friday, December 29, 2006

Family Values

...or how the "Golden Age" exaltaion of the nuclear family in postdepression, post war US undermined our social support structure...

I am so sick of hearing about "family values" -- especially as they are misunderstood by the Christian Right Wing. I'm not sure anyone even understands the meaning of the words anymore. I caught a few minutes of Oprah's interview with Senator Obama last night and even he was spouting off about mf family values. (Although in Obama's defense, he said real family values aren't about banning gay marriage or abortion -- they are about parents being able to earn a living wage and children having access to a decent education.)

But here's my problem with people espousing family values...There is way too much emphasis and responsibility placed on the nuclear family, which by virtue of its population (2 adults and children) is far too vulnerable and understaffed to successfully complete the complex business of raising balanced children safely and well. In the Cult of the Nuclear Family, everybody is just one tragedy away from nonexistence. The Nuclear Family is a paragon of social structure that can't function in isolation, but our lip service to it erodes everyone's self esteem and emphasizes the wrong support structure.

(Not to mention that "the nuclear family" implies a heterosexist, homophobic, white structure that really does not seem to apply to the society in which we live.)

The social problems occuring within our complex society (gangs, crime, drugs, poverty) were not created by the destruction of the Nuclear Family Which Has Alway Been the Lynch Pin of Western Civilization. The exaltation and isolation of the nuclear family was an aberration of the Fifties -- the postwar economic boom time in which the white suburban middle class expanded. When that occured, the importance of the extended family was de-emphasized. Once people lost touch with their extended families, they lost an able and ready support network necessary for survival in the world.

In other words -- community. People who love you and help you through drama and tragedy. People who help you raise your kids. As the old African proverb says (and Senator Clinton poularized), it does take a village. Anyone who denies that is dangerously naive and short-sighted.

And I pity your children.

In essence, the nuclear family in its exaltation isolates from other family (community) ties. While this model appeared to function for a brief decade or 2, during the "Golden Age" (the years between the end of WWII and the assasination of President Kennedy) that era was a societal aberration -- not a realistic standard upon which we can structure our nation.

Historically, it was extended family and close-knit community that provided the most viable support. Yes, we need to recapture family values, but those values should emphasize community -- not the fragile nuclear family.

I speak from experience. I am someone who was fortunate enough to be raised within a close-knit extended family (a tribe, really) and to be taught the value of community. Even during my more nomadic moments, I've been able to fall in with a support network that considers itself "family". How else would my son and I have survived so many emergencies?

And I also feel fortunate to occasionally be allowed to reciprocate that support.

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