Friday, May 11, 2012

Marriage: It's For the Next Generation

Right now, I'm reading Mrs. Gaskell's Wives and Daughters.  This 19th century novel is about broken families and step-parenting.  Of course, back in those days you didn't have divorce.  But you did have 17-year-old Molly Gibson, who wakes up one day to realize that her widower father is going to remarry.  Just like today's children of divorce, Molly is not happy about this.  In fact she is devastated.

There is a reason that stepmothers get such a bad press and are such a tempting target for novelists.  Once you get beyond the situation of a child being raised by its biological, married parents--or its married adoptive parents--you get to less-than-optimal child-raising conditions, and you get the stuff of drama.

And for all the focus on poor little rich kids, the people that really suffer when being raised by a single parent or parent and step-parent are the children of the lower class.

Just about everything we do these days in the modern welfare state is damaging to children.  We divorce, we have careers that keep us, men and women, away from home.  We dump children in government child custodial facilities.  We marginalize low-income men by making it profitable for women to marry the state rather than the unskilled father of her child.

Then, of course we valorize childlessness, in many different ways.  The cult of creativity, for a start, that goes back at least to the Romantic movement.  Why not create abstract works of art instead of living and breathing children?  It's the modern way of sneering at people who get their hands dirty at work.

The welfare state encourages politicians to buy votes by offering free stuff, and by legislating morality for powerful pressure groups.  Sometimes that is a good thing, when the powerful pressure group is Martin Luther King Jr. and the black civil rights movement helped along by white liberals.  Or it is the worthy goal of decriminalizing homosexual behavior.

But the trouble with political movements--and government bureaucracies--is that they never just get their issue passed and then go home.   The leaders and the activists get a taste for power and influence and search for ways of keeping the movement going.  So the civil rights activists became race hustlers and the gay rights community has gone beyond achieving toleration for gays to the bullying of everyone that doesn't endorse the gay marriage agenda.

Back in the old days of clan and land, young people were married young, before they could object, and they were married in accordance with the clan or family agenda.  The idea for the clans, just like in dynastic royal marriages, was to cement clan alliances in the next generation.  For landowning families the goal was to concentrate family wealth in the oldest son in the next generation.  Otherwise clan power or family wealth would dissipate away.

But the rise of the bourgeoisie changed all that.  The bourgeoisie does not play with political power or sit on land.  It lives by its wits, by trade, by making things, by serving people.  So it changed the rules from arranged marriage to companionate marriage based on the love between man and woman.  But the point of their marriages was still the next generation.  That is the point of marriage.  To protect children and the mothers that love them from the instinct of men to play the field.

The trouble with no-fault divorce, with cohabitation, with gay marriage, and with the polyamory that is probably next on deck, is that the focus is on the needs of sexual adults rather than the next generation.  You'd expect that in the modern era because necessity, the basics of food and shelter and survival, have receded in importance as capitalism has increased income from $2 per day to $100 per day.

When you are poor and you do something stupid at $2 per day, that may be all she wrote.  But to be rich in any society, or middle-income in today's society of $100 per day, allows you the scope to do stupid things and keep doing them for quite a while without getting rubbed out.

In the old days, stupidity in the rich was symbolized by eldest sons getting deep into debt so dad had to mortgage the ancestral estate or even sell it.  Today we see it in the selfishness of the "me" culture.  People do stupid selfish things, and usually, if they are in the upper 20 percent, they can afford it.  Their children may be furiously angry with them, but the children still get educated and live useful lives.  As you go down the batting order things are not so cheerful, and that is what Charles Murray writes about in Coming Apart. But his take is nothing new.  We read back in the 70s that the children of the rich recovered pretty well from their Sixties hippiedom.  It was the children of the no-so-rich that ended up as casualties of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.  We didn't get to read much about the children of the hippies until much later.  They didn't enjoy hippiedom too much.

The liberal "lifestyle" culture is best understood as our modern version of the eldest-son-behaving-badly syndrome.  Only, of course, since the liberals dominate the culture, they represent their selfish culture as creativity or finding your identity, just as they boosted the Sixties counterculture half a century ago.

Liberal writers write benevolently of polyamory, but liberal wives like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards' wife Elizabeth weren't quite as nonchalant about the polyamorousness of their liberal husbands.

The net result of all sexual license is that women get screwed, with disease, with heartache, and with children that never got a childhood or never got to live.  Some day, women will see through the liberal snow job and get clarity on this.  Until then conservatives will be fighting a strategic retreat, and many ordinary people will get chopped up by the sabers of the pursuing cavalry.

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