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Friday, June 5, 2015

Family Values– Despite ‘Diversity’ They Haven’t Changed At All

“Family values” has become a code word for a nuclear family, moral rectitude, a respect for God, religion, and community; and adherence to the traditional principles enshrined in the Ten Commandments and adopted by every civilization since ancient Greece - respect, discipline, honor, courage, compassion, and decency.


       Aristotle, www.metaphysical-master-minds.com

Most older Americans think immediately of Norman Rockwell or Thornton Wilder.  Grover’s Corners, the fictional setting for Our Town, is plain and unpretentious. All residents are Protestant, middle class, and settled.  Adult children are expected to follow in the trades and professions of their parents, to settle down not far from home, and to raise children in the same way that they were. 

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A walk down Main Street is like that of many other small towns of the Midwest.  The butcher, baker, and druggist share the block with City Hall, a funeral parlor, and a Methodist church.  Townsfolk tip their hats as they walk by. Neighbors look out for children going to school, offer a helping hand to the elderly as they board the bus, and do not hesitate to warn rambunctious teenagers off the flower beds and newly-seeded lawns.

No town could be as perfect as Grover’s Corners; and at best most adhere only partially to its ideals. Each family in the small town of New Brighton exhibited one particular telling trait.  The Joneses, for example, were the most considerate and helpful of neighbors, but Harry Jones had a drinking problem. The Fenwicks volunteered at the local playground, gave generously to the March of Dimes and the Methodist church, but were unfaithful to each other. John Fenwick was as abstemious, honest, and punctilious as any chartered accounted could be. Yet he checked his honesty at the door when he went home after his Wednesday dalliances.  His wife was no different and took great care to camouflage her infidelities to spare her husband and her children from the sure-to-be unsettling truth.

Margaret Dobbins was quietly depressed, morosely so, had considered suicide many times; but upheld her end of the marriage bargain. “Until death do us part” meant God’s will and a natural end to life, not an abruptly selfish act of extreme self-denial.  The Carvers battled each other tooth and nail, but did it in private.  They were models of grace and social probity in public, were on everyone’s Christmas party list, were the centers of social life at the Country Club; but when the doors were locked, the shutters closed, and the windows shut, they savaged each other like animals.

In other words, New Brighton was collectively a Grover’s Corner, a rich quilt of good behavior and propriety; but individually most families fell far short of the norm. However the ideal not the reality was what provided the integrity to the town.  Without it New Brighton might well have descended into a social and moral anarchy found only in the worst neighborhoods of Hartford.  Every family if queried would quickly subscribe to the entire package of family values even though they practiced only a tenth of what it contained.

Edward Albee hated families, yet he understood that they were the crucible of maturity. He could not imagine a society without the polarity of husband and wives, mothers and fathers.  Without their dynamic tension – unfulfilled expectations, jealousies, envy, and resentment – no one would ever make it out of emotional adolescence.  George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf flay each other to the bone – “to the marrow”, says George – in order to rid each other of the pretense and posturing that has kept any intimacy from their marriage.

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There would be no Hamlet without his mother Gertrude and the incestuous desires he had for her.  There would be no Coriolanus, a military genius and political leader who acted only to please his mother, Volumnia.  There would be no tragedy of the young Arthur without the she-bear protectiveness of his mother, Constance. 

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The values of moral rectitude, compassion, and respect are forgotten in the life-and-death struggles at court.  Richard III makes a mockery of family in his bloody ascent to the throne. Cymbeline, Troilus, Posthumus, and Othello, all brought up in a culture of honor and respect, jettison these inconvenient values once jealousy has infected them.

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       Antonio Munoz Degrain, www.en.wikipedia.com

Today in America family values are under siege, but mistakenly so.  Progressives criticize the heterosexual, monogamous family as archaic and useless.  The traditional family, they say, is a patriarchal vestige designed to subjugate women; and its autocracy and rigid definition of marriage has excluded sexual orientations that have long been overlooked and marginalized.  Yet the most promiscuous of all social sub-groups – male homosexuals – are lining up for marriage licenses, willingly jettisoning their libertine and liberated lifestyle for one of bourgeois routine.  They subscribe to family values after all.

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The number of professional single mothers has increased dramatically in recent years; and they loudly defend their choice of sexual independence.  Yet these women do double duty.  They may have decided to live without a husband, but they have not rejected the principle of a two-parent household.  In other words, they act as both mother and father – kind and caring mother and disciplinarian father; homemaking mother and out-in-the-world bread-earner.

Census data confirms the increase in religious ‘Nones’, men and women who profess no particular religious belief; yet the principles of religion as foundational to marriage and family are no less present.  Americans may no longer espouse traditional beliefs in Jesus Christ and the parousia; but they still demand respect from their children, honesty between spouses, and right living in the community.  Atheists are perhaps the most moral of all ‘religions’. They may have rejected God, but are at pains to show that they cannot live without his precepts and guidance.

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In other words, family values are alive and well but observable in new configurations.  A family may consist of two lesbians and their artificially inseminated children; but they demand the same integrity and respect as heterosexual couples.  Minority families which escape the anti-social, dysfunctional neighborhoods of the inner cities for ‘a better life’ are in fact seeking refuge in neighborhoods were middle class, family values are the rule. Without at least the moral construct of Christian ideals, neither family nor community can survive.

The current focus on ‘diversity’ is only a temporary and superficial one. Families may no longer be white and straight, but colored in all complexions and related in gender ways unthinkable to earlier generations.  What counts is not the race, gender, and ethnicity of these families; but their adherence to those values which have been at the foundation of every successful civilization since ancient Greece, Persepolis, and dynastic China.

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             Medes, www.web.mit.edu

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