Monday, April 30, 2007

Family Values

Listen to almost any political speech--it'll come up soon--"family values." This became an incessant mantra in the late 20th century, and it’s so far a mainstay of the 21st--all candidates, all parties, every issue, every election. "I'm fighting for families," runs the claim, implying that some evil government somewhere is plotting against the American family. But just what are these "family values”?

The term is vague; no one ever lists "The Family Values." Context isn't helpful either. People throw around this term primarily to mean "those people who think just the way I do," but groups with opposing views also use the term. When not used to justify self-righteous piety, "family values" allows ad hominem attacks on straw man positions. Gay couples, single moms, political parties, education policies, tax cut proposals--all are guilty at one time or another of opposing "family values." The term is also disingenuous; 20% of Americans are single--are they unrepresented? Or are they part of the evil plot to destroy "family values”?

Actually, this context does indicate some meaning for the term. "Family values" seems to mean "it's just that simple." Of course, nothing is ever "just that simple”; social, economic, cultural, historical and several other issues are certainly never "just that simple," so a vague term like "family values" is quite useful for ignoring that reality. Don't worry--everything's fine. Now that's certainly a "family value." But everything isn't fine. There's war and poverty and human rights abuses and starvation and unemployment and difficult ethics questions to answer. But not in the land of "family values."

"Family values," then, means essentially the life of a twelve year old. Parents are all-knowing, life is fun, problems are simple and easily solved, just like on TV where beautiful people interact with each other to address problems always solved in 30 minutes. Everything at twelve has one, easy answer. Teenage confusion and the struggle toward maturity are unimaginable yet. It's good to be twelve. "Family values" is a way to pretend to be twelve again. "Family values" as a return to age twelve fantasy means an escape from responsibility. Don’t worry about anything that happens. Someone else is to blame. Go back to sleep now. You're excused from thinking today--you've got a note from your mom.


No comments: