Monday, January 21, 2013

The Family Is Perishing! So What?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the demise of the family.  It is an issue that continues to bother me, especially as demagogues of every political and religious stripe repeatedly invoke it to push through social programs whose positive utility I doubt (even as I see their negative utility clearly in some cases: trying to control the sex lives of your neighbors via legislation causes all kinds of obvious problems, but no clear benefits that I have ever seen).

What are we talking about, in concrete terms, when we invoke the demise of the family?  Many of my friends adopt a position here that looks more or less like this: the population of the First World is dropping precipitately, and we must counteract this by getting married and cranking out more kids, come hell or high water. Assuming that this problem is really a problem and that my procreating wildly would put a dent in it (a rather large assumption), I wonder if it is really good for kids to be born into a society where they exist merely as stop-gaps: "We had you because we need to make sure our genes don't get diluted by weirdos who aren't like us." I am not sure I like this as an approach to procreation. I doubt its utility for the population as a whole (stuff happening in the global community occurs outside of anyone's agenda), and I really doubt its utility for individuals (who might not have the resources for the giant families that God seems to want them to have: do we all have to live like farmers in Bangladesh? is that God's plan? really?).

To me it seems that the family has always been falling apart. Read what prudes wrote about the collapse of morals among the working class in the nineteenth century.  They said all the same kinds of things we hear today about families in the inner city.  Somehow, despite the collapse of the family before I was born, I managed to make it into the world--into a nice family--and do pretty well.  So far, my kids are getting lucky, too, though there are fewer of them: my wife isn't prepared to crank them out the way my mom was (she isn't physically fit for that task, for starters), and I am not rich the way my dad was (for many reasons).  Society now is much different than it was, and no amount of hand-wringing by the Barack Obamas and Rick Santorums of the world is going to change that reality: they can cook up schemes to make me more educated and better housed all day long, but wishing won't make it so.  I know I cannot afford a house, and that paying for more school would be a wasted investment, and I am moving on. Screw the American dream.

I am tired of living in somebody else's world, an old man's world in which you can interview with a company on the spur of the moment, right before you graduate with a BA, and then work there for the next fifty years (the way my grandfather did).  That was great, when it happened.  But life
went on.  History happened.  That world is over, finished and done just like the Roman empire (or the Confederate States of America, or the Soviet Union, or the Mormon state of Deseret).  I am tired of being told that my mission in life is to revive it, no matter what the cost to those I hold near and dear.  I am tired of being expected to sacrifice all I have (and all that my kids will ever have: hello crushing debt!) so that old farts can go to fancy malls and pretend that the Great Depression never happened.  Screw that.  Here's a thought: life is not static.  The family participates in life, ergo families aren't static.  This is even true if we make people immortal (since we're Mormons and we like to think this way). The relationship between Jesus and God the Father is not the same since Jesus got nailed to the cross.  You don't just pick up where you left off and pretend that kind of thing never happened.  Life is about moving on (inherently, necessarily).  I will not relate to my kids the same way I do now in twenty years (assuming we last that long in this world).  I don't relate to my parents the same way now as I did when I was five years old.  If eternity is our destiny, then I expect my post-mortal relationship with my family will go on evolving: after an infinity of years (measured by any standard you like, human or divine: but let's say KST, Kolob Standard Time), my family relationships will have shifted infinitely.  My family will be destroyed and rebuilt all the time, essentially--the same way my body is destroyed and rebuilt regularly.  That is what life is, and if there is such a thing as eternal life I know of no other way to conceive it than as an indefinite progression of what already happens.

Immortality is just mortality with no ending.  Once you see that, these arguments about "the destruction of the family" become ridiculous. Is the family always going to be falling apart?  Then why save it?  I just don't have the energy to get worked up every time another demagogue tells me that I have to give him time and money and votes or my family will implode.  It's like they want me to spend all my time standing in a highway, staring down the oncoming traffic and screaming, "Yikes! I'm going to die!"  Eventually, my hormonal pathways are all exhausted and I embrace the inevitable: "Yikes.  I really am going to die (unless I find something better to do than stand in the highway screaming with these crazy people)." You can only spend so much time scared to death, even when the threat is real. Fear isn't static any more than life is.  It comes and goes, rising and falling in dynamic waves whose very nature is to avoid static equilibrium (in spite of all the bloviating and hand-wringing of priests and politicians since the dawn of history).

Here's a thought.  The next time somebody tells me that the family is dying, I am going to smile and walk away.  Then I am going to find my kids and give them a hug.  I am going to find my wife, and give her a kiss.  And then I am going to spend a tender, thoughtful moment embracing the reality that we won't always be the people we are right now.  How grand!  Just think that everything wrong with us right now will not always be wrong.  Time will pass.  Stuff will happen.  Our problems will move on with it.  We will find new things, new successes and new problems.  We will do our best to meet them, and then life will go on (with or without us: it doesn't really matter; we cannot last longer than we last or do better than our best).  When I do reach the end of my life on earth, I don't want to look back on a history of fear. 

I don't want to spend my whole life running from the mortality of my relationships.  (No matter what they are today, they will change in the coming years.  Always.  Dying and being reborn as something new, unless you kill them dead and embalm them to keep them from evolving.)  I don't want to look back and remember only that I was terribly scared of losing everyone and everything that ever mattered to me.  I want to look back and feel grateful for all the good things I had, good things that came to me as gifts--unexpected, unsought, unearned, but no less sweet for all that.  I want to leave my kids with an appreciation for life's fragile, temporary joys rather than an expectation that these last forever, uninterrupted by any change or sorrow.  I don't know whether life is immortal or not.  But if you know how to take the good with the bad--the sweet with the bitter, the way life mixes things all the time--then you will always be fine.  If you last forever, you will know how to endure eternity without wishing for death.  If one death is the end of you, then you will know how to meet it with joy, having made the most of your experiences.  I have made my peace with my life--with my family and myself and the world around me as it exists right now--so the demagogues have nothing to offer me (no matter what they claim to stand for: I don't care).  If they are really interested in defending my family, then they would do best to leave us all alone; when we need their help, we will come asking for it.

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