In the poem of Hesiod, Works and Days, we find the famous mythological figure of Pandora, an Eve-like figure who was the first woman created by the gods and endowed with various gifts. From Athena she received practical skills, such as weaving, yet the other gods in their contribution were rather more mischievous. Hermes presented her with “a shameful mind and deceitful nature”, which in the ability for speech saw expression in “lies and crafty words”. Of course, these alone weren’t the qualities which brought “sorrow and mischief to men”, but the opening of the box she was given, which became a perennial metaphor for the evils of unintended consequences.
With this story in mind, it is increasingly evident that the dissemination and canonization of ‘gender’ ideology and the LGBT agenda in academia and culture, predicated on notions of non-judgement and moral relativism, has acted in the same way as Pandora’s box. The policies enacted on behalf of this cultural zeitgeist, ruthlessly enforced by ideologically motivated media executives, powerful public officials and championed by a new breed of ‘charities’ are but a foretaste of the potential tragedies that such a philosophy can wreak on a failing society.
What I aim to do here, through a series of articles, is to explore the roots of the fallacies which have been surreptitiously smuggled into the public discourse by the Pandoras of today, and the manner in which in practical terms, these have materialized in the creation of a mentality which seeks to utterly transform and control the most basic human relationships. This piece is a reflection on the many ways in which appearances betray realities, and how consequences often stray far from initial promises of freedom and liberation.
“A Shameful Mind and a Deceitful Nature”: the family and its critics
The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the state – Article 16, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
I have often been asked as to the reason for my own belief in the importance of the traditional family, by friends and others out of varied motivations ranging from startled curiosity to vehement hostility. In a sense, the difficulty of answering such an inquiry comes from a sense of instinctive conviction, that reasons appear so obvious that mere truisms would suffice. After all, truisms are called so, precisely because they should be obvious, stemming from a reasonable presumption of shared experiential background. Over time however, there is a tangible sense that these aren’t opinions that are commonly shared after all. This is as much a cause of concern as it is an opportunity to present anew the case for an institution that has long been subjected to radical revision, its poor examples magnified, and its positives either looked upon with suspicion or simply ignored.
I began this section by quoting from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which emerged after the most destructive period in human history, namely WWII. This catastrophic period, as it slips further and further into the distant past, beyond living memory, runs the risk of being of being forgotten – but we should wonder, why such an article was included there? For the sake of brevity, we might summarize that once upon a time, many ideas gained prominence which sought to find solutions for perennial problems of our species- war, poverty, injustice, discrepancies of power, and so on. The vital difference in this case however, is that for the first time in history, we had the technological means to turn ideas into realities. The locus of action evolved from mere tinkering around the peripheries of a given society, to being focused on the society as a whole. The entirety of settled society could be molded according to a predetermined model. Needless to say, that didn’t end very well at all.
This perspective on the solutions of social problems has remained with us however, from both poles of the political spectrum; we have a tendency to attribute blame or praise to large impersonal forces, when in reality to a considerable degree the answers may lie closer to home, quite literally. Getting to grips with this however is to open many a can of worms. American author Mary Eberstadt has argued that a great deal of contemporary problems and social dysfunctions can be traced back to the drastic re-evaluation of the role of the family in Western society, what we all know as the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s. But before you rush to the exit doors screaming ‘heresy!’ – bear with me a moment. The evidence marshalled to substantiate these claims is not taken from the usual suspects on the religious right. Indeed, Eberstadt invites us to consider evidence from very unexpected corners, in the social sciences, as well as the progressive media and figures who, on the face of it, appear to be the natural flag-bearers of that same Sexual Revolution.
The Economist George Akerlof submitted a study to the Economic Journal in 1998 titled “Men Without Children”, which offered a significant explanatory principle to the questions of crime and social disorder. In it, Akerlof argued that there is something of a causal relation between the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing as important rites of passage, and the increase of crime and disorder, which clearly aren’t attributable to socio-economic and political conditions that both liberals and conservatives tend to appeal to. Akerlof points out that while liberals might point to loss of jobs, and conservatives might blame the welfare state, when it comes to drug abuse, incarceration, and other social malaises – on the whole, the most important determining factor has been the delay, if not complete abandonment, of these rites of passage. Earlier in 1996, Akerlof also argued along similar lines, on an article called “Why Kids Have Kids”, which appeared on the magazine Slate, where the economist arguably went further into iconoclasm. He saw the 1960’s revolution as a case of “technology shock”; drawing strong links between the unintended consequences of artificial contraception and the new divorce between sexual relations and marriage, issues which played their role in the rise of poverty.
The idea that traditional family structures are positively correlated with better outcomes to individuals and the society at large has also been given more substance by research undertaken more recently. The American anti-poverty think-tank CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy), has published a document in 2003 titled “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?” , which yielded interesting answers pertaining to the question it putatively tried to answer. The documents’ merit can be said to lie in its comparative focus, where a number of different familial scenarios are discussed, and it concludes that, all things being equal, children who grow up with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage do have a tangible advantage over their counterparts, in terms of health, education, behavior and other generally recognizable areas relating to well-being. It’s notable as well that there is a mention of the economic aspect of marriage, and while the relationship between this and one’s financial state isn’t always clear (i.e. whether the association is causal, proportional, or simply accidental in individual cases) there is nevertheless a suggestion that financial stability and marriage do tend to go together.
This particular point was taken up by an article published on The New York Times, of all places, by Jason DeParle in 2012, titled “Two Classes Divided by ‘I Do’”. The piece is dedicated to the untold saga of how changes in family structure can be said to be both influenced by, and contributing to, the trend of growing income inequality. The author marshals his case by employing not only the opinions of social scientists on the matter, but also the experiences of people on the ground, and once again what emerges from this picture is a complex mutual reinforcement of conditions that lead towards a downwards spiral for the most vulnerable. As the author puts it at one point, “Economic woes speed marital decline, as women see fewer “marriageable men.” The opposite also holds true: marital decline compounds economic woes, since it leaves the needy to struggle alone.”
These various studies into the question of marriage and the family, and the impact they have on society shouldn’t strike us as in any way surprising. At the risk of stating the obvious, the family is the “original cell of social life”, it is the association which allows for the individual’s first encounter with the world, it is where one’s crucial formative experiences take shape, where we find role models and peers (in the case of siblings), as well as the most natural and basic source of mutual support systems. Its demise at worst, or fall in popularity at best, can only be said to be undesirable given the fallout that would, and does, ensue.
Given the wealth of scholarly, empirical as well as anecdotal evidence which buttress the claims to the importance of the maintenance of traditional family arrangements, we might wonder why disagreement would exist on this matter. We don’t need to look too far to find these however; it is undeniable that for a long while, there has been a cultural trend towards viewing the family and the institution of marriage as being outdated, inconvenient, oppressive, or something to be minimized, if not done away with altogether. So, who is responsible for such hostility towards the traditional family? What were their motivations? These questions and more will be addressed in the second article of this series. In the next article, we shall take a deeper look into the abyss of the anti-family movement and perhaps even ponder the question ‘Where next for the family?’