Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marriage, Family, and Actual Reverence

Why do non-conservatives regard conservatives as such screaming assholes? The reasons vary, but one illustration can be found in this recent instance of thundering, oversimplified castigation from Ben Domenech:

For the most narcissistic among us, the problem is even reaching a point in life where marriage and reproduction are viewed in positive terms. As Kay Hymowitz has pointed out in a recent series of articles in The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, “in 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married; in 2000, only 33 percent and 58 percent were, respectively.” This demographic shift has now pushed the median age of marriage for white males to nearly 28 — if they get married at all — further delaying fatherhood and motherhood.

Hymowitz offers several complex reasons why this is the case. But I say the simplest answer is true: American men today delay the act of reproduction and union because they devalue it. Because technology and culture (today, technology is culture) unite to encourage them to devalue it — to favor distraction over maturity, personal growth over familial growth, and self over society.
A quick reply to this, one with all the analytical heft that its provocation deserves, would be "Oh, boo-hoo, you whiny little turd."

But no, I must aim higher for the sake of this precious, precious blog's ever-high rhetorical and analytical standards. Here goes.

I note the AOL Keyword narcissism and observe that the bearing of lots and lots of children has, from time to time in the history of our species, been a manifestation of it rather than an overcoming of it. Treating vaginas as a clown cars* has, now and then, implicated people in the sort of ill-considered heedlessness that has put Ben Domenech in such a state of fist-shaking outrage. The Octomom's powerful fecundity bespeaks a bottomless reservoir of shortcomings, but a paucity of self-regard and an overdeveloped sense of maturity are surely not among these.

Even if the child-bearing and marriage trends that so worry Domenech mean exactly what he imputes to them -- a devaluing of family life, a celebration of self over society, a repudiation of the Octomom's heroic enactment of conservatism's vision of maturity, whatever -- I do not share his worries. It may well be that Americans in their teens and twenties today do, by and large, fail to see themselves as breeding stock saddled with the task of perpetuating current population trend-lines. It may well be that they are hesitant to enter into family relationships beyond those to which they were born. Free people make free choices.

I would suggest the possibility that young people are aiming for one sustained, carefully timed, thoughtfully managed act of creating a family undertaken relatively late in life because it makes more sense than than crapping out litters and plowing through spouses starting a few seconds after midnight on age-of-consent birthday -- or as it is known in the former Confederate states, "family values." It's better because -- but not only because -- it comes with, or should come with, less whining from conservative moralists about the devaluation of family.

More importantly, this pattern of choices is how people who actually revere family would behave, as distinct from the people who make assholes of themselves by mouthing pieties about family.

(via Conor Friedersdorf)

* The vagina-as-clown-car metaphor comes courtesy the good people at Despair, Inc.

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