In 2012, Gloria Steinem complained that the Have It All question was a “bullshit” question because no one ever asked that question of men. It’s true. Society doesn’t often ask that question of men, but not because of sexism.
Women ask about having it all because they were told they could have it all…by women like Steinem. The old glossy women’s magazines are full of have-it-all glamour, declaring that women could easily have it all without men. Steinem did not actually coin the “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” quip, but she got the credit for it because it succinctly represented her preaching and the mood of the time. Women didn’t need anything but the old rules and the old men to get out of their way. Each woman was an island unto herself, a self-contained unit of success. Eventually, all of those things we told women back in the 60s to boost their confidence and get them out in the world became the standard by which we now demand singular performance from women.
Check the commentary in many of the lauded feminist pop culture franchises, most recently “Divergent,” “Frozen,” “Maleficent,” etc. Characters get the feminist seal of approval when they are separated from any sort of partnership with men. Having it all doesn’t count unless we are doing it without men.
Men, on the other hand, didn’t have some masculinist movement telling them that they could have it all, much less that they had to do it all on their own. Nor would they have been as receptive if they had. Unlike girls who tend to engage in pretend play in which they are the princess, then the chef, then the teacher or the pupil, all in the space of an afternoon, boys tend to also play games with rules, even if they’ve made them up by consensus. The boy who isn’t fast learns to hit the ball harder or to catch. They train each other in tradeoffs. The rules don’t bend. The boys adapt to the world the way it is. (I host large parties and play dates often. This plays out in my yard, every time.)
Asking women if they can have it all isn’t sexism. It is an aspiration that women who should know better foist upon women who don’t.
Leslie Loftis, “Irony, Thy Name Is Feminism”, The Federalist, 2014-07-28.
July 31, 2015
July 17, 2015
Last week a person named Amy Glass wrote a breathtakingly honest — and breathless — rejection of traditional motherhood:
I hear women talk about how “hard” it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to “manage a household.” They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are “important.”
Women will be equal with men when we stop demanding that it be considered equally important to do housework and real work. They are not equal. Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back.
First, a few small points.
I hear men talk about how hard it is to manage a household and raise kids all the time. (We may not talk about it in terms Glass can recognize, but as a subscriber to the Happy Wife, Happy Life school of marriage, it’s my experience that husbands who don’t recognize and appreciate how hard it is to run a home soon become ex-husbands or miserable husbands.) Glass also may only be hearing what she wants to hear. Or, she may know only asinine men. Who knows? Frankly I don’t care which one is right because I don’t put a lot of stock in what Glass has to say.
Second, this is truly shabby work:
Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back.
Talk about word play! You see the sleight of hand, right? “Doing laundry” is a single, discrete task, a subset of a vast realm of responsibilities that often come with running a household and being a mother. Being a doctor, engineer, or business-builder are total careers or vocations. In other words, it’s a false analogy. Like saying being a chef isn’t as worthwhile as being a truck driver because chefs “cut vegetables.” Every career or calling involves unpleasant or tedious tasks.
Just in case you still don’t get it, another illustration. Raising kids involves taking the barbarian clay of a baby and through the alchemy of love and the application of intellect turning it into an emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy human being and citizen. Meanwhile, doctors put their fingers in old men’s butts. So, to sum up: “Putting fingers in old men’s butts will never be as important as raising children. The word play is holding us back.”
Third (as a reader flagged for me), Glass is not exactly a rigorous thinker. On January 15 she writes:
Every time I hear someone say that feminism is about validating every choice a woman makes I have to fight back vomit.
On January 17 she writes:
The great thing about Feminism is that it means that women can do anything. You can be a working woman or a stay at home mother and both choices are equally valid. There is no “wrong way” to do feminism.
This means that as good feminists, we never judge the choices of other women.
Assuming there isn’t a technical explanation for what’s going on here (a false byline, a prank, or maybe an angry capuchin monkey loose in the IT department) this is the kind of inconsistency that doesn’t invite refutation so much as medication.
Jonah Goldberg, “It’s Still Only Two Cheers for Capitalism”, The Goldberg File, 2014-01-31
June 20, 2015
… the birth of Freyja Mallett, who would have been my sister’s first grandchild (my sister died barely two weeks ago). I’m looking forward to visiting Sammy tomorrow and meeting Freyja for the first time.
June 15, 2015
June 12, 2015
Jason Kuznicki on the deep emotional grasp Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books are still having today:
“Not ‘Harry Potter’!” says Alice, age five. “I want ‘Little House’!”
It’s the age of negotiated bedtime reading. My husband and I oblige, and tonight we read from Little House in the Big Woods, the first installment of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fictionalized autobiography. We take turns reading: Alice reads, then I do, then Scott does. Then Alice reads again. It’s never enough.
What draws her in? A lot of things. The characters are mostly female, young, and strong. Laura herself begins “Little House” at four, an age that wins our daughter’s ready empathy. Not unlike the first volume of “Harry Potter,” Little House in the Big Woods introduces an unknown world; done properly, that’s always exciting. As generations already know, the story is clean and earnest, without affectation or smarm. And it’s told in words that Alice can read all on her own — a great confidence builder.
It’s sometimes hard to fathom, though, just how different Laura’s life was from our own: churning butter, salting meat, boiling down maple syrup… Megan McArdle discussed all this in a recent piece for Bloomberg. The “Little House” books open up a lost world for today’s kids — and for today’s adults:
[A]s an adult… what really strikes you is how incredibly poor these people were. The Ingalls family were in many ways bourgeoisie: educated by the standards of the day, active in community leadership, landowners. And they had nothing.
We’re not just talking a different skill set, then. The skills came of necessity, and of hardships almost wholly unknown today: “Little House” contains the actual sentence, “They had never seen a machine before” — because, well, they hadn’t.
May 31, 2015
In Maclean’s, Brian Bethune talks about the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
On July 4, 1862, Rev. Charles Dodgson, an Oxford lecturer in mathematics better known now as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, rowed up the Thames to a picnic spot. He had with him four of his favourite people: his friend Robinson Duckworth and the three young Liddell girls — Lorina, 13, Edith, 8, and 10-year-old Alice. From the sparse evidence of Carroll’s diary, it was hardly a memorable occasion; perhaps it was the weather that July day: cloudy and damp, with a high of 20° C.
The embellishments began 10 months later — when Carroll went back to the entry and added, “On which occasion, I told them the fairy tale of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which I undertook to write out for Alice” — and didn’t stop for decades. By the time 80-year-old Alice Hargreaves (nee Liddell) was telling the tale on her triumphant visit to New York — the “original Alice” was greeted at the dock by more than 30 reporters — her recollection of a “blazing summer afternoon with heat haze shimmering over the meadows” was already established fact.
It is the perfect creation myth for a singular event in English literature — and yes: historians, recognizing it as such, have pored over the meteorological records. It’s a story that involves Carroll’s crucial place in a continuum stretching from the Victorian era to modernity, encompassing the earlier era’s near-incomprehensible — to modern eyes — concepts of childhood and of sexuality, and the birth of photography. But whatever its particulars, when Carroll finally got his story down on paper 150 years ago and published it under its now familiar title, Wonderland — a shape-shifting tale that is both a love letter to the English language and an extended metaphor for childhood — changed children’s literature forever.
Alice’s sesquicentennial — how Lewis Carroll would have loved that word — will be marked globally by events large and small. She has been published in 7,600 editions in 174 languages, including Tajik and Esperanto; many will be on display in London and New York. The popular ballet will be staged around the world, a marionette theatre in Austria will recreate the story, Vancouver Playhouse promises Alice flamenco, and on and on.
And there will be books, of course, including a catalogue raisonné of Carroll’s 1,000 surviving photographs (out of 3,000 taken). With the notable exception of Canadian writer David Day’s eagerly awaited Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Decoded, out in September, few are liable to be as compulsively readable as Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s The Story of Alice. The latter is informative on what went into the making of Wonderland, from the Victorians’ intense focus on the underground — both literal (the tube) and fantastic (Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth) — to Carroll’s anxiety about rapid change (like the Red Queen, he always thought he had to run faster and faster, just to stay where he was). And it’s brilliant in the way it mirrors Carroll’s own protean nature, offering no overarching theme, except to establish that its subject was not a man to provide two possible meanings for all he did and said, not so long as he could stuff in three or more.
Speaking from Oxford, where he is an English professor at Magdalen College, Douglas-Fairhurst makes it clear that was his aim. “I’m trying to restore a kind of innocence to biography. I don’t have strong opinions about Carroll, a man whose details are fragmentary. There is no one story, or even genre, that can give us all the answers about Alice and him. What we have are the books, masterpieces in their complexity, serious and funny, with a playful surface lying over a desperate yearning for logic and order. For 150 years, Alice has been a blank screen onto which we project all we want to throw at her.”
May 30, 2015
A couple of days spent examining the literature of the New Thought in pedagogy are enough to make the judicious weep. Its aim seems to be to reduce the whole teaching process to a sort of automatic reaction, to discover some master formula that will not only take the place of competence and resourcefulness in the teacher but that will also create an artificial receptivity in the child. The merciless application of this formula (which changes every four days) now seems to be the chief end and aim of pedagogy. Teaching becomes a thing in itself, separable from and superior to the thing taught. Its mastery is a special business, a transcendental art and mystery, to be acquired in the laboratory. A teacher well grounded in this mystery, and hence privy to every detail of the new technic (which changes, of course, with the formula), can teach anything to any child, just as a sound dentist can pull any tooth out of any jaw.
All this, I need not point out, is in sharp contrast to the old theory of teaching. By that theory mere technic was simplified and subordinated. All that it demanded of the teacher told off to teach, say, geography, was that he master the facts in the geography book and provide himself with a stout rattan. Thus equipped, he was ready for a test of his natural pedagogical genius. First he exposed the facts in the book, then he gilded them with whatever appearance of interest and importance he could conjure up, and then he tested the extent of their transference to the minds of his pupils. Those pupils who had ingested them got apples; those who had failed got fanned with the rattan. Followed the second round, and the same test again, with a second noting of results. And then the third, and fourth, and the fifth, and so on until the last and least pupil had been stuffed to his subnormal and perhaps moronic brim.
I was myself grounded in the underlying delusions of what is called knowledge by this austere process, and despite the eloquence of those who support newer ideas, I lean heavily in favor of it, and regret to hear that it is no more. It was crude, it was rough, and it was often not a little cruel, but it at least had two capital advantages over all the systems that have succeeded it. In the first place, its machinery was simple; even the stupidest child could understand it; it hooked up cause and effect with the utmost clarity. And in the second place, it tested the teacher as and how he ought to be tested — that is, for his actual capacity to teach, not for his mere technical virtuosity. There was, in fact, no technic for him to master, and hence none for him to hide behind. He could not conceal a hopeless inability to impart knowledge beneath a correct professional method.
H.L. Mencken, “Education”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
May 29, 2015
Radley Balko reports on the recent release of two former Austin, Texas daycare owners … who’ve been in prison since 1992 on the testimony of a toddler and “expert evidence” from a satanic ritual expert and how the moral panic of the day made it impossible for the courts to see how utterly unlikely the case actually was:
The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.
But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.
That the highest court in Texas still can’t bring itself to declare the couple innocent, in spite of all that we know now, shows just how difficult it can be to undo the damage caused by a moral panic and junk science in the courtroom.
Here’s an observation from the panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories. In this case and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth: These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them. That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.
There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability: Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent. There are other lessons here about how we screen “expert” witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.
But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are still people in prison awaiting exoneration in these cases.
May 20, 2015
At Techdirt, Karl Bode pours some scorn on a deserving demographic:
Like many people, video games have been an integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. From my days visiting Wildcat! BBS systems where I’d play Trade Wars 2000 — to obsessing over the Apple IIe, IIc and IIgs — video games were not only an integral part of my childhood, they actually helped forge an adult career path. Swapping out graphics cards and building new PCs to play Quake 2 led to a job in Manhattan legal IT, which in turn resulted in a life focused on writing about technology. Aside from a few tics, I like to believe I wound up relatively normal, and video games have made my life immeasurably more rewarding.
That background usually forces me into the role of video game evangelist when surrounded by folks that, all too frequently, are engaged in hand wringing over the diabolical moral dangers games purportedly present. At a party recently, some friends expressed muted shock because a colleague’s kid was, instead of being social, playing a game in which he was “herding human beings and keeping them in a barn to eat.” I had to explain (skipping the part about how you’d need a mod to actually eat them) how this behavior wasn’t indicative of a Jeffrey Dahmer in training, he was simply engaged in normal problem solving behavior on the new frontier […]
Despite the fact that Minecraft is simply an amazing evolution of the Lego concept for the modern age, the moral panic surrounding the game never quite seems to abate. The latest case in point is over at the BBC, where the outlet implies it has heard all of the pro-Minecraft arguments before, it’s just choosing to ignore them in order to portray the game as an unpoliced virtual-reality hellscape that’s rotting the brains of children everywhere. While there are some good points embedded within, there are notably more bad ones, like the argument that kids should instead be reading, because reading engages imagination and builds character
April 23, 2015
Since Plato’s Republic, politicians, intellectuals, and priests have been fascinated with the idea of “capturing” children for social-engineering purposes. This is why Robespierre advocated that children be raised by the state. Hitler — who understood as well as any the importance of winning the hearts and minds of youth — once remarked, “When an opponent says ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already … You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community.'” Woodrow Wilson candidly observed that the primary mission of the educator was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Charlotte Perkins Gilman stated it more starkly. “There is no more brilliant hope on earth to-day,” the feminist icon proclaimed, “than this new thought about the child … the recognition of ‘the child,’ children as a class, children as citizens with rights to be guaranteed only by the state; instead of our previous attitude toward them of absolute personal [that is, parental] ownership — the unchecked tyranny … of the private home.”
Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.
April 22, 2015
In a recent Forbes column, Tim Worstall pours scorn on the recent claim that some British children are living in “Victorian conditions”:
There’s a very large difference between arguing that we have Victorian style (for those unacquainted with British practise, this means late 19th century style) poverty in the UK and that we have Victorian style inequality in the UK. That second is at least arguably possible, although untrue, while the first is simply a flat out untruth. There is nothing even remotely akin to 19th century poverty in the UK today. Nor is there, of course, in any of the industrialised nations. The problem stems from people simply not understanding how poor the past was.
The claim is made this morning in The Guardian:
Many children are living in Victorian conditions – it’s an inequality timebomb
That second assertion could be true but is a matter for another day. That first is just wrong.
I was reminded of this by the teaching union NASUWT’s warning this week that there are children in this country living in “Victorian conditions”, turning to charity for regular meals and going without a winter coat.
“Going without a winter coat” might be something we’d like to remedy (and yes, I think we would like to do so) but it’s not a reminder of Victorian levels of poverty, it’s nothing like it at all. It’s necessary to actually understand what Victorian poverty was. Late 19th century Britain had some 25% of the population living at or below the subsistence level. This subsistence level is not a measure of inequality, nor of the lack of winter clothes. It is a measure of gaining enough calories each day in order to prolong life. This is the sort of subsistence level that Malthus and Ricardo were talking about. The sort of level of poverty that the World Bank currently uses as a measure of “absolute poverty”.
This absolute poverty is set at $1.25 per person per day. No, this is not the number that can be spent upon food per person per day. This is the amount that can be spent upon everything per person per day. This covers shelter, clothing, heating, cooking, food, education, pensions, health care, absolutely everything. This number is also inflation adjusted, so we are not talking about $1.25 a day when bread was one cent a gallon loaf. This number is also Purchasing Power Parity adjusted: so we are not talking about lentils costing two cents a tonne in India and £3 a kg in Tesco. We are adjusting for those price differences across geography and time.
Just to note, by these PPP and inflation adjusted numbers, being on the minimum wage in the UK puts you in the top 10% of all income earners in the current world. Being on nothing at all but benefits would put you into the top 20%.
Up to 25% of the population of Britain were that badly off in the late Victorian era: “Actual real starvation to death as a result of poverty was not unknown, even that late, as late as 1890.”
April 18, 2015
In L.A. Weekly, Amy Nicholson looks at a new documentary:
It’s never simple when science suffers a shakeup. The road to the truth is littered with fallen experts who were disgraced when they tried to disprove — or prove — the common wisdom, be it that the earth revolves around the sun or that witches float. Today’s researchers are fighting to restore logic in the debate over vaccinations, global warming, and the increasingly hazy medical condition called Shaken Baby Syndrome, whose adherents accuse, pursue and prosecute an estimated 250 parents, babysitters and other caretakers each year.
Veteran investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith has spent years examining the medical and legal industry that has arisen to promote its belief that vicious baby-shaking by enraged adults has killed thousands of infants, the subject of the new documentary, The Syndrome, researched by Goldsmith and directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith.
“I made a career writing about child abuse,” she says. Her child abuse investigations as a reporter for The Oregonian led to two new laws designed to better protect kids in foster care. Yet, she also sees extreme, unfounded reactions by well-meaning people when children are involved. Says Goldsmith, “When people hear ‘child abuse,’ all thinking just goes into shutdown mode.”
A diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome was supposed to explain mysterious deaths in babies without bone fractures, bumps, bruises or neck injuries. How did they die? A theory arose that babies were under attack by loved ones. For decades, doctors in the U.S., and dozens of other countries were trained to look for three internal symptoms that experts claimed were proof of a powerful shaking assault on a tiny child: brain swelling, blood on the surface of the brain, and blood behind the eyes. Well-meaning doctors were instructed that these symptoms could only occur due to intense shaking — if a parent or babysitter said the child had fallen or suddenly fell ill, that was a lie.
Proponents of the theory grew so powerful in political circles, where elected officials were keen to show they supported helpless children, that laws were passed across the U.S. requiring a doctor who spotted any of the three symptom to alert authorities. Failure to report symptoms, even if a doctor found the parents’ explanation made sense, could result in fines, civil lawsuits, or even jail time.
We’ve been here before. The Syndrome rewinds back to the 1980s when the big public panic on behalf of children was Satanic Ritual Abuse, a Salem-like national frenzy in which prosecutors and juries in big cities and small towns sent daycare employees to jail for years for crimes as implausible as cutting off a gorilla’s finger while at the zoo, then flying the children over Mexico to molest them.
H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.
April 15, 2015
The childless option is “an experiment unprecedented in human history . . . A kind of existential vanguard”
James Lileks on the people who choose not to have kids:
When the New York Times runs a piece by someone explaining why she didn’t have children, runs a feature on authors who have banded together in a book to celebrate child-free lives (Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids), and runs a review of the book a while later, you know it’s a matter that consumes the thoughts of the nation. Well, part of the nation. Okay, a few thousand people on the Upper East side. So it’s a big deal.
Without reading any of the pieces, you can probably guess why people don’t have kids.
- You put it off to pursue a career, and refrigerated your eggs for so long the doctor warned you the baby would look like that Olaf snowman from Frozen.
- You had fertility problems that were your own, or your mate’s li’l swimmers behave like guys who quit halfway into a 10K charity run and find a sports bar to watch the game.
- You are a man who warns every prospective mate, “Baby baby don’t get hooked on me, because you’ll just love them and then you’ll set them free,” in case she didn’t get the message from your customized van with the water-bed and the orange shag.
- You are part of a couple who realized that children simply do not fit into your busy world of travel, concerts, literary salons, and pretending he’s not gay.
- You don’t want ’em. They make messes. Cats’ll do.
Okay? Sure, okay. Not everyone should reproduce, and we should celebrate those who know themselves well and decided to be childless. It’s their choice. We should be sympathetic to those who find themselves childless against their wishes, and pay heed to their observations about how society regards them. We should be a bit suspicious of those whose proclamations on the child-free life have the tiresome characteristics of the Braying Atheist, or those who say they don’t want kids because they’ve seen what it does to other women in Park Slope in Brooklyn. I mean the money they spend on strollers.
But one suspects the book goes a bit too far in exalting the barren-loin option. According to the NYT review, it “concludes with Tim Kreider’s rousing defense of the child-free as ‘an experiment unprecedented in human history … A kind of existential vanguard, forced by our own choices to face the naked question of existence with fewer illusions, or at least fewer consolations, than the rest of humanity, forced to prove ourselves anew every day that extinction does not negate meaning.'”
April 4, 2015
David Warren is hiding from reality at the moment, so he’s reposting some of his older articles, like this one:
… I was parachuted briefly into a Canadian public school, from my earlier life in Asia (and before returning to Asia again). Canadian school came as a shock; quite unlike what I was used to. I had difficulty at first adapting to the sudden disappearance of anything resembling academic standards. Later, parachuted again, I was better prepared for life in the perpetual kindergarten. I found myself in something called a “high school,” with a curriculum that seemed especially designed for children with learning disabilities. Oddly, it considered itself to be an elite high school, which perhaps it was by Canadian standards. I bid my time until age sixteen, when I could legally drop out. For in my humble but unalterable opinion, these public “schools” are great crushers of the human spirit. No responsible parent will allow a child to be exposed to them. Ditto, no aspiring teacher should work in one, even if the alternative is starvation. The administrators should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
So far as I can see the purpose of the Canadian education system, or modern public education in general, is to suppress curiosity and enterprise in children; to cripple them morally, aesthetically, and intellectually; and make them identical on a bed of Procrustes. Hilda Neatby spelt this out in her remarkable survey, So Little for the Mind, published at Toronto in 1953. One must read it to realize that the demonic ideas of John Dewey, the American “philosopher of democratic education,” had already far advanced in Canadian schools by that year; and that as a result, standards once achieved and maintained through the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, had already collapsed. It is a myth they collapsed in the 1960s. Look at the schoolbooks for the Province of Ontario from that earlier period, and compare them with those introduced after the Second World War (we once did this for an article in the Idler magazine). The declination is obvious. The hippie generation was not the cause of this catastrophe. They were instead the effect.
March 30, 2015
Megan McArdle on the reactions to a recent book dealing with traditional and non-traditional families:
Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis has touched off a wave of print and digital commentary. The book chronicles a growing divide between the way affluent kids are raised, in two-parent homes whose parents invest heavily in educating their kids, and the very different, very unstable homes in which poorer kids generally grow up.
Naturally, social conservatives are delighted with this lengthy examination of the problems created by unstable families, even if they are not equally delighted with Putnam’s recommendations (more government programs). Equally naturally, there is pushback from those who see the problem as primarily one of economics and insufficient government spending, as well as from those who argue that there are lots of good ways to raise kids outside the straitjacket of mid-century, middle-class mores.
I have been trying to find a more delicate way to phrase this, but I can’t: This is nonsense. The advantages that two people raising their own biological or jointly adopted children have over “nontraditional” family arrangements are too obvious to need enumeration, but apparently mere obviousness is not enough to forestall contrary arguments, so let me enumerate them anyway.
Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are — in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents — is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent. Children will spend less time with their noncustodial parent, especially if that parent has other offspring. Add in conflict between the parents over money and time, and it can infect relationships with the children. As one researcher told me when I wrote an article on the state of modern marriage, you frequently see fathers investing time and money with the kids whose mother they get along with the best, while the other children struggle along on crumbs.
People often argue that extended families can substitute, but of course, two-parent families also have extended families — two of them — so single-parent families remain at a disadvantage, especially because other members of the extended family are often themselves struggling with the challenges of single parenthood. Extended families just can’t substitute for the benefits of a two-parent family. Government can’t, either; universal preschool is not going to make up for an uninvolved parent, or one stretched too thin to give their kids enough time. Government can sand the rough edges off the economic hardship, of course, but even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home.