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The Trouble with Families

The nuclear Family is a relatively new institution that is particular to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Before then generations of families lived together and formed various kinds of mini-societies within their homes.
After World War II the economies of the developed world boomed and standards of living rose, allowing young couples to live independently from their extended families. Now, the nuclear family is the norm, indeed the ideal. It is seen as the foundation of society.
Religious institutions have always been very pro-family. After all, where would their finances come from if there were no new generations of wedlock born worshippers to support them?
Political parties have a similar interest in procreation but in the last two decades their rhetoric regarding the family unit has elevated it to a social state above all others.
The family has become the only social lifestyle recognized by political parties. Policies are touted and couched in terms of how they will benefit “your family”. Opposing candidates criticise each other with how their policy will harm “your family”. This is despite the fast growing demographic of households containing a single occupants.
People who do not live within society’s norms and ideals have always been regarded with suspicion. Previously, unless very wealthy, men who did not find marriage to be an agreeable lifestyle choice could join the army or the clergy. Women had the choice of the convent or living with relatives. These were seen as somewhat pitiable lifestyles and thankfully, we now have far more options for the un-partnered.
However, there still remains a sense of mistrust of those who live outside the family unit. Politics simply puts them in the too hard basket and ignores them. Culture, on the other hand, has plenty of condescending and insulting treatments for them.
Men are portrayed either as heartless playboys or lonely losers. The latter tend to be good at on line games and dress badly. Both characters can be redeemed by the love of a good woman and the implied resultant family. An example of the former is the character of Barney Stimpson in How I met Your Mother. His treatment of women bordered on sociopathy but he was redeemed in the final episode when he had a daughter to whom he pledged his undying love and adoration.
The portrayals of women are similar though a little more brutal. You have the cold career woman, too busy to make room for the simple joys of love and children. If not her, then you can pick from the plain (cue makeover), unlucky, needy and crazy, or worst of all, the whore, sometimes with a heart of gold, but not necessarily. Once again, she can only be rescued from her sub-standard life by romantic love.
In short, the single and childless are seen as somehow lacking and are marginalized as a result. Who would blame anyone for rejecting these stereotypes and opting for a family?
Your family is your salvation. It is also your foremost love and your foremost responsibility. You must protect it at all costs. This is where things can go wrong because if your family come first then society as a whole is a lower priority.
The political climate which focuses so intensely on families gives them a license to be selfish. The lure of tax cuts and bonuses for “your family” has bought a society that leaves the vulnerable to fend for themselves.
Social welfare payments have had their budgets slashed in the last two decades, leaving the recipients living well below the poverty line. The tax cuts given to families have done little to improve their lifestyle. Indeed the resulting rise in homelessness has diminished the quality of life for all of us.
Public health and education institutions have been sold off and run down while the private models of these have been bolstered using public money. This has been done in the name of giving “your family” more choice. After all, you want the best health care and education for your family, don’t you? Never mind about the people next door or in the next town. Your family is the one that counts.
When it comes to immigration the government lead us to believe that we need protection from foreigners. Desperate people seeking refuge in our country are to be regarded as a threat to “your family”. They might be terrorists, they will take our jobs or drain the public purse by using our social services. In short, they will hurt your family.
There is another dark side to the exultation of family. It can encourage people to stay in relationships which have become dangerous. Domestic violence and abuse is a terrifying and miserable situation for both the abused and the abuser. It is a deeply entrenched problem in many societies. In Australia one woman is murdered each week by a current or former romantic partner. Children are murdered by parents in troubled relationships, sometimes for revenge, sometimes by a parent who is unable to imagine a life of safety and peace for them beyond their current domestic situation. Men are also victims of abuse, both physical and psychological. Unfortunately the statistics are blurry around this. The constant stressing of the importance of family only adds another bar to the cage which is an abusive relationship.
And now let us address the elephant in the room; over-population. Our planet is being crushed by the weight of human beings and our waste and yet no politician will touch this subject for fear of being branded “anti-family’. In fact we have policies such as tax breaks which actively encourage people to have children.
Both politicians and business encourage us to consume more in the way of goods and services, to help grow the economy because it will be good for “your family” and good for the economy (which is also good for your family).
More children mean more pollution of our air and waterways, more clearing of land for agriculture and housing. Ironically the catch cry of so many who want to save the natural environment use future generations’ benefits as a motivation and see those who haven’t had children as being less caring of the future.
It is time to stop revering the family and include all of the population in how we care for the world we share. It is also time to work on reducing population and caring for the planet we live on for its own wondrous sake, not for the amusement and profit of future humans.



This post first appeared on Single Serve-Cooking For One, please read the originial post: here

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The Trouble with Families

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