Friday, May 8, 2015

Family Devalued

A British philosophy professor, by name of Adam Swift is so worried by social inequality and injustice that he has allowed his mind to consider all manner of strange solutions.

Were it not for the fact that it makes logical sense it would read like an article from The Onion. Some commenters have suggested that Swift must be a descendant of Jonathan Swift, famously the author of a satirical essay called “A Modest Proposal.”

If you believe that we are all equal in every sense of the term—ask yourself who is dumb enough to believe that?— you will be led to analyze the privileges that some children receive and see how many of them you can eliminate.

In other, less philosophical terms, Swift believes that the cure for social inequality and injustice is to dumb down those who have privileges.

It’s a perfectly socialist solution to inequality: instead of helping the underprivileged and disadvantaged to work their way up the economic ladder you try to immiserate the wealthy and make everyone equally unhappy.

One cannot fail to notice that this ideology was roundly repudiated in yesterday’s British parliamentary elections.

In different terms, if your good family life helps your children to be successful you need to feel guilty because other children, deprived of a good family, will not do as well. It’s the logical corollary to the trendy rants about white privilege.

It’s almost as though these thinkers believe that one person’s success is bad because it makes another person feel like a failure. This has an eerie resemblance to the traditional Palestinian complaint against Israel.

Because of it, Palestinian terrorists are far more interested in bringing Israel down than in building Palestine up.

How does Swift address the problem? He begins by considering a recommendation we owe to Plato:

One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.

Swift entertains the idea but rejects it, presumably because it is impractical.

One ought also to notice, if only in passing, that in some American communities the family barely exists anyway. If a woman is bringing up three children she had with three different men, none of whom are around, theirs is anything but a traditional family.

By all indications this new family structure isn’t working out very well.

Swift understands that governments do not yet have the power to dissolve the family and hand children over to the state, so he sets out to look for other ways that parents provide an advantage for their children.

The first he lights on is private school:

Private schooling cannot be justified…. It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.

One would be amused to see Swift try to explain this to parents in Manhattan and Brooklyn, many of whom insist on sending their children to private schools. If they cannot afford the absurdly high price, they move to the suburbs.

These parents might vote Democratic; they might believe the blather about white privilege. But they do not take it out on their children. They believe that they have a sacred obligation to provide the best for their children and they often make great sacrifices to do so.

Unsurprisingly, Swift’s calculus does not factor in a parents' moral obligation to their children.

Swift finds it barely acceptable that parents read their children bedtime stories, even though he admits that such moments provide a greater long term benefit than does private schooling.

One suspects that he is willing to abolish private schools because he believes that the government can easily do so. He must also understand that policing how much or how little parents read to their children is less likely to be accepted.

But he does recommend that parents who read their children bedtime stories or who, given their greater vocabulary and superior education, enjoy teaching their children should feel an occasional twinge of guilt.

It takes someone of a profoundly ideological temperament to degrade and diminish good parenting.

Swift does not seem to consider the possibility that some children might inherit certain aptitudes and dispositions that advantage them in life. He prefers to follow social construct theory and suggests that biological parents do not have an intrinsic right to bring up their children. One suspects that this idiotic notion will not go down very well in most homes.

In Swift’s words:

We think that although in practice it makes sense to parent your biological offspring, that is not the same as saying that in virtue of having produced the child the biological parent has the right to parent….

It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.

For failing to respect women, in particular for the work that they put into bringing children into the world, and for failing to respect the biological link between parents and children, Swift is trying to figure out how he can take children away from their parents.

Swift then goes on to ponder the possibility of having multiple parents of whatever gender bringing up children.

When he crawled out of Plato’s cave, Swift was apparently blinded by the sunlight. He does not quite get that the traditional family unit, the one containing a father and a mother, is what it is because the two people who produced the child have generally been thought to have the greatest vested interest in that child’s upbringing.

Obviously, this is not always the case, but it is mostly the case. When one or both parents cannot fulfill his or her responsibilities, the task is most often passed on to blood relatives.

True enough, belonging to a good family provides certain advantages. Does that not mean that we should raise our expectations for other families, and not try to diminish the good parenting of some parents?

As a corollary, David Brooks lists the advantages that a good family confers. His column is well worth a read.

One should only add, as Steven Pinker does, that Brooks should have put genetic inheritance on his list.


Ares Olympus said...

Yes, it does sound weird to value "fairness" so as Adam Swift seems to.

But behaviorist B.F. Skinner also thought parents and families should be eliminated in favor of communal raising of children by caring professionals.

I think remember part of his logic was that young people had the best chance of healthy sperm and eggs, and presumably we could avoid all the expensive and wasteful fertility treatments. And of course it would mean women could be as equals in careers as men, after they've got the babies properly birthed.

I don't get too upset over such ideas, and it would be interesting to see how such arrangements would work out in practice. Do we really need a single mother and a single father to teach boys and girls to become mature women and men?

Didn't Israel try out some communes for a while? Right, the Kibbitz? Really it sounds very much like what Skinner proposed, maybe he comed from their efforts?
Along with gender equality, the issue of parenting under the communal way of life was a concern. The parental tendency is to view the child as a personal possession and to dominate them. The founding members of the kibbutz agreed that this was not conducive to community life. They also thought it was selfish of parents to want to control their children and that this did not give room for the child to grow as their own person.

To solve these issues the founders created the communal children's houses, where the children would spend most of their time; learning, playing and sleeping. Parents spent 3 to 4 hours a day in the afternoon with their children after work and before dinner. This is actually a lot more quality time for parents to spend with their kids than in other societies.

Collective child rearing was also a way to escape the patriarchal society that the founders came from. Children would not be dependent on their fathers economically, socially, legally or otherwise and this would eliminate the father's authority and uproot the patriarchy.

In Kibbutz life, group pressure to conform is particularly strong. It is a subject of debate within the kibbutz movement as to how successful kibbutz education was in developing the talents of gifted children. Several kibbutz-raised children look back and say that the communal system stifled ambition; others say that bright children were nonetheless encouraged. Bruno Bettelheim had predicted that kibbutz education would yield mediocrity: "[kibbutz children] will not be leaders or philosophers, will not achieve anything in science or art."

However, it has been noted that although kibbutzim comprise only 5% of the Israeli population, surprisingly large numbers of kibbutzniks become teachers, lawyers, doctors, and political leaders.

But whatever we might make of communal raising of children, it looks like it only has a chance if it is "tribally raising", a relatively small cohesive group with widely agreed values and goals.

And it obviously has to be voluntary, so its not going to help with Swift's strange world, or maybe not until we separate ourselves further from biology, and have test-tube babies, and artificial wombs, so the children really would belong to no parents.

That would be scary. We might even imagine such children might not have souls like us real humans, and could be vampires or something. Who knows what such strange creatures might do?

But maybe when humans eventually go to the stars they'll need babies breed for very specific skills, and us "random DNA" people won't make the cut compared to someone who was breed for their life in space?

Maybe they'll become 7' tall martians, unable to stand on 1-earth gravity worlds? So maybe martians won't need families at least.

Yes, philosophers have to be creative to keep their paychecks flowing, solving important problems of a future without limits.

Recruiting Animal said...

My friend was raised on a kibbutz with a children's house.

She said she was lonely at night when a child at a normal home would have been comforted by her parents.

In the end, neither children nor parents liked the arrangement and it does not exist on the kibbutz anymore.

Sam L. said...

Should parents decide not to read to their children because others do not?

Swift seems to think they should. I say those who don't read to their children should be arrested and jailed for child abuse. That sentence makes me sound like a nutcase, doesn't it. I merely attempt to demonstrate absurdity.

The Left's solution is to bring down the rich, and not to raise up the poor.