America’s families are broken. Dreams won’t build new ones.

by Fabius Maximus

Summary: The last in this series shows the core engine of the family as it was, how it broke, and why we will find it difficult to fix. The clock is running down on us – while we run in circles, loudly.

Domesticating a wild beast is not easy.

Bronco Busting a Horse - Dreamstime-93190806
Photo 93190806 © Michael Turner – Dreamstime.

Western civilization was built on a system of highly polarized gender roles, each of which evolved over time but always remained quite different. In 20th century America, one of women’s traditional roles was to domesticate young men. That is, attract him into marriage and harness him in the “rat race.” This project was a frequent subject of books and films. For example, John Wayne’s films often portrayed him as a wild mustang hunted and seduced by women into marriage, as in Angel and the BadmanTall in the Saddle, and Hatari! Of course, it was good for him, necessary for society, and patriarchy was his reward.  It worked more or less well for everyone.

Woman on Horse. Flickr - Anna Psareva.
By Anna Psareva on Flickr.

A few films looked at this from the perspective of a man unwilling to join the rat race. Inside each of us is a thousand versions of our self, packed in like a clown car at the circus. Society functions only if they remain packed in the car, with the stable hard-working family man in the driver’s seat. The 1965 film A Thousand Clowns shows the life of Murry (Jason Robards) after the clown car door pops open and all his selves roll out onto the street. He can no longer function as a cog. He is no longer “fit for use”. He and his adopted son enjoy a few months living outside the borders. Both are re-introduced to reality by agents of Child Protective Services. One is a coldly competent but somewhat comic social worker, played with multi-layered depth by William Daniels. The other is the beautiful Barbara Harris giving a brilliant portrayal of a warm, insightful psychologist unsuited for the necessarily brutal bureaucratic machine she belongs to. She coaxes Murray back into the rat race – the price he pays to keep his son and get her – while she becomes a wife and mother.

The trailer does not do it justice. It is often comedic and sometimes painful to watch. The film is pure thoughtcrime. I doubt you will see it on your streaming service.

Closing of the American Mind
Available at Amazon.

That was then. This is now.

Our social engineers have demolished the foundations of the American family, confident that their ideology provided the design for a new and superior system – without the need for gradual reforms, let alone experimentation. Allan Bloom long ago predicted the result in his great work, The Closing of the American Mind (1987).

“Of necessity, therefore, it was understood to be the woman’s job to get and hold the man by her charms and wiles because, by nature, nothing else would induce him to give up his freedom in favor of the heavy duties of family. But women no longer wish to do this, and they, with justice, consider it unfair according to the principles governing us. …

“The old moral order, however imperfect it may have been, at least moved toward the virtues by way of the passions. If men were self-concerned, that order tried to expand the scope of self-concern to include others, rather than commanding men to cease being concerned with themselves. To attempt the latter is both tyrannical and ineffective. A true political or social order requires the soul to be like a Gothic cathedral, with selfish stresses and strains helping to hold it up. Abstract moralism condemns certain keystones, removes them, and then blames both the nature of the stones and the structure when it collapses. …

“In family questions, inasmuch as men were understood to be so strongly motivated by property, an older wisdom tried to attach concern for the family to that motive: the man was allowed and encouraged to regard his family as his property, so he would care for the former as he would instinctively care for the latter. This was effective, although it obviously had disadvantages from the point of view of justice.

“{The current rebuilding of the family} must fail because in an age of individualism, persons of either sex cannot be forced to be public-spirited, particularly by those who are becoming less so. What is wanted is an antidote to natural selfishness, but wishes do not give birth to horses, however much abstract moralism may demand them.

“When wives and children come to the husband and father and say, ‘We are not your property; we are ends in ourselves and demand to be treated as such,’ {we must be} impressed. But the difficulty comes when wives and children further demand that the man continue to care for them as before, just when they are giving an example of caring for themselves. They object to the father’s flawed motive and ask that it be miraculously replaced by a pure one, of which they wish to make use for their own ends. The father will almost inevitably constrict his quest for property, cease being a father and become a mere man again, rather than turning into a providential God, as others ask him to be. …

“I am not arguing here that the old family arrangements were good or that we should or could go back to them. I am only insisting that we not cloud our vision to such an extent that we believe that there are viable substitutes for them just because we want or need them. …All our reforms have helped strip the teeth of our gears, which can therefore no longer mesh. They spin idly, side by side, unable to set the social machine in motion. It is at this exercise in futility that young people must look when thinking about their future.”

Northern Europe (socially stable and homogenous, prosperous) has moved to a post-marriage society. Perhaps we can too. Many Americans are experimenting with new family systems. Our upper classes, especially the rich elites of Hollywood, are using the unlimited power of money (their incomes or giant divorce settlements) to try various forms of single motherhood (with a varying cast of men flowing through the home). Our underclass is replicating the experiment, but with less money (welfare and low-pay jobs). The latter has already proved a disaster, helping turn stable poor areas like Harlem and Watts into high-crime ghettos. Time will tell how the experiments of the rich on their children will turn out.

Our future

The old system lies in ruins. We coast due to people’s residual belief in blasted values and unawareness that everything has changed. We are like characters in Looney Toon cartoons, running off a cliff into the air. Eventually we will look at the void below us, and fall. It is already happening, slowly, in the lives of our young. We must build a new foundation for the family while the old one tumbles down around us. I fear it won’t be a time conducive to rational thought by cool considerate men and women. Rather ideologues and demagogues will spew forth new (often toxic) ideas for panicked crowds to adopt. I fear that our children will pay a big price for the Boomers’ social science experiments on them.

 

 

 

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