The Nuclear Family and Its Discontents


[In the ‘post-kinship’ era] the nuclear family by itself cannot resist the impingements of modern political and economic institutions: the father, mother, and their children must be surrounded by some intermediate, protective body of persons in order to be safe from unacceptable levels of [institutional] control. In fact, those modern political and economic institutions could not have been created in the first place unless the original protective body of persons, the clan, was broken into its constituent and susceptible parts, its nuclear families. The first civilization, in the Middle East, and all subsequent civilizations elsewhere, were constructed on the break-up of their pre-urban clans. (Bram, Recovery of the West)

The break up of the pre-urban clans by more muscular civilized states not only enabled ready manipulation of individual persons, it accomplished this by institutionalizing a newly crafted social unit – the nuclear family – an isolating entity susceptible to control because it was by its very nature incapable of functioning effectively on its own in a new and strange environment. The nuclear family could not adequately care for the needs of its constituent members without creating exceptional hardship, pressure, and tension within the family unit itself. It could not long resist State intervention, because it could not remain self-sufficient. Obtaining food and shelter, rearing and training the young, maintaining health and general welfare were all challenges that would necessarily lead the increasingly isolated family unit into greater dependence upon anonymous institutional powers, designated specialists, bureaucratic functionaries, and legal restraints.  Fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, would find it difficult to cope with their own needs as well as those of their offspring, lacking the kinds of support traditionally offered in extended familial and broader tribal configurations.  Given new economic realities, the State presented itself as an adequate, if not the only viable, substitute.

Although I am hesitant to reference her, I am reminded again of Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village.  In reality it takes a clan, indeed an entire tribe, to adequately care for the young, and to provide for the daily needs of all members.  I would say Ms. Clinton’s literary attempt, while noteworthy for its boldness, was no more than an imperial sales pitch aimed at justifying further incursion by State powers into the lives of its citizens. Quoting another famous political pitchman – her book may have simply been aimed at refocusing nuclear family ‘hopes’on the power of existing political institutions.

So here is where we find ourselves, in small isolated families, bound together internally to one another and externally to the State by codified rules, sanctified by sacred proscription and prescription, and in many cases backed up by the force of law.  Thou shalt! Thou shalt not! A man must cleave to his wife; a wife must submit to her husband; children must honor and obey their father and mother; you must not covet your neighbor’s wife or commit adultery. Where do such moral strictures come from? Why are they necessary in the first place?  They appear to be cornerstones in the founding of the nuclear family.  Perhaps in a world bereft of genuine kinship, where ordinary egalitarian relations of tribal consanguinity and affinity have been broken down or destroyed, they are necessitated in the interests of creating discrete and manageable family units.  And here is where many of our problems emerge.

Sigmund Freud was certainly accurate, if not prescient, in his analysis of the deep malcontent haunting modern civilized life, including the psychopathology of its principal domestic institution, the nuclear family.

Freud provided perhaps the most serious, if indirect, accusation [of the family] when he described the “happy” nuclear household as the breeding ground of neurosis and sexual perversion.*

Yet Rousseau seems to have anticipated the core of Freud’s objections by almost two centuries when he warned about the overpowering nature of civil society, and the origins of the modern State.

[The Legislator must] so to speak change human nature… weaken man’s constitution to strengthen it; substitute a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence which we all have received from nature.  He must, in a word, take man’s own forces away from him in order to give him forces which are foreign to him and which he cannot use without the help of others. The more the natural forces are dead and annihilated, the greater and more lasting the acquired ones…

Freud, however, speaks as if the nuclear family is a given of human nature – primal and eternal. He does not seem to have critically questioned its centrality, its necessity, nor its role in justifying other civil institutions upon which it depends, institutions moreover, that Freud himself understood as impositional and inimical to our natural inclinations (instincts) and perhaps to healthy processes of psychological development or individual ontogeny.  Of course, at the same time, Frederick Engels was delivering his own armchair analyses in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, which appeared in 1884.

Each and every one of us can recall or readily recognize the signs of stress and distress in our own families either from childhood, those of our friends and confidants, or as adults attempting to raise our own healthy children and realize some meaningful communion within the context of that rather small and isolated nuclear unit.  This might explain why in older cultures – cultures still rooted in traditions of a more ancient past – an extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, as well as other consanguine and affine relations, are always close at hand to help.  It is interesting that in Russia, when a child is introduced even to a “stranger,” that person is addressed as “uncle,” “aunt,” “grandma,” or “grandpa” depending upon his or her age and sex.  Even the unknown doctor at the children’s clinic is referred to as “dyadya” (uncle) while a new teacher at kindergarden is addressed as “tyotya” (aunt).  This seems to hearken back to another time, perhaps long ago, when more traditional tribal or extended clan relations held sway.  According to Paul Shepard, 

Aunts and uncles are essential members of the primal household because they are halfway between parents and others and therefore sometimes in positions of more authority and less conflict than parents. (Coming Home to the Pleistocene, 161)

Furthermore, it has been well-documented that pre-civilized, kinship-era children spent most of their early years not with their biological fathers or even other men, but rather in the company of diverse women (grandmothers, aunts, mothers, cousins, sisters) and other children of diverse ages within the natural environment (see, for example, Mircea Eliade or Paul Shepard).  Several “familiars,” clan or tribal relations would care for the very young while others were engaged in foraging, hunting, or perhaps horticultural activities in the earliest villages.  

I am not suggesting that there were no problems with child-rearing, companionship, or life maintenance issues in the pre-civilized clan or tribe.  But, there were evidently more flexible and forgiving arrangements to assist in development of the young, the well-being of the group, its individual members and their needs. And apparently, there was no fixed epistemological sense of “us” (man-woman-child-triad) against “them” (the rest of the tribe or clan), as we find so prevalent amongst nuclear families today. Remember what Morton Fried wrote in The Evolution of Political Society, that “egalitarian sharing” – and not competition – was what distinguished the earliest members of our genus from those forest-dwelling primate cousins before us.  Sharing of child-rearing responsibilities was no less common than the sharing of meat from the most recent hunt.  

Finally I would argue that just as there was no alpha-male among the earliest communities of our genus, so there was no primal patriarchal “nuclear family” acting as a structural model for the hierarchical State.  As Fried notes:

[This assumption, arising with Aristotle in The Politics]… is based upon a culture-bound view of the family, especially in those versions which assume some form of ‘patria potestas,’ the theoretically uncurbed power of the father.  It has long been clear that in many societies the kinship status of the father is devoid of any of the role content usually associated with ‘pater’. (Evolution of Political Society, 83-84)

Rather, as I have suggested, it is much more likely that emergent and muscular civil hierarchies — prime culprits in the destruction of egalitarian relations among clanspersons — gave rise to the isolated and controllable domesticate household, under the power-relations of a patriarchal male. Competition, accumulation, and stratified social relations quickly followed suit.  It may be here that we find the roots of the many social and interpersonal ills that haunt us today, direct outcomes of pathologies born of our unmitigated immaturity (neoteny) — an immaturity tied to the intrinsic limitations of life in the isolating and isolated nuclear family.  Perhaps it is time for the nuclear household to go the way of our culture of excess, greed, and arrested development. Perhaps it is time to recover the experience of genuine kinship, friendship, and the sacred dance of wildness.  Perhaps the only way to bring the machine of modern civilization to its knees, is to dismantle each and every instance of the nuclear family, one household at a time. Long live tribal memory. Long live the undomesticated soul of Homo sapiens.

76 Responses to The Nuclear Family and Its Discontents

  1. Cliff says:

    The proposition that the \”nuclear family\” is an awkward isolated inflexible unit has its roots clearly within the formation of larger civilized societies. The disconnect from \”Nature\”, from the natural flow seems to follow this same reasoning. I wonder though: Can it be just by each persons birth alone into a structured society that we isolate , differentiate, label, mark/measure existence by time, and put limits on our unlimited consciousness?

    • kulturcritic says:

      Good question, Cliff.

    • Ivy Mike says:

      Perhaps William H. Kötke has some observations that can help answer your question, in the following excerpt:

      Brain lesions are not the only effect of modern birthing methods. The imprints of the birth trauma itself are often severe. The mass institution of modern industrially based medicine, with its vast array of expensive machinery and industrially produced drugs seems to produce results consonant with the quality of civilization itself- mechanicalness, unfeelingness and human alienation. Instead of the warm comfort of the mother, the infant is treated as an object, slapped by a stranger and taken away by another stranger into a nursery where it is put into a crib. It is at this point that civilized people often bond to material objects, namely, the security blanket. Pearce asks, “What is the great learning? What is being built into the very fibers of that mind-brain-body system as the initial experiences of life?” It is that, “Encounters with people are causes of severe, unbroken, unrelenting stress, and that stress finds its only reduction through contact with material objects.”

      The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future
      William H. Kötke

  2. Rick Shur says:

    Brilliant analysis. Jesus says that a family is a group of people who choose each other based on common values (doing the work of the Father), not on the accident of blood. That’s what “I come with a sword” is all about. The larger the group, the bigger the safety cushion!

  3. As Korn & Limp bizkit say, it’s all in the family

    • kulturcritic says:

      I love it when I receive thoughtful and intellectually challenging replies. LOL. Thank you my friend!! See you Sunday. Sandy

    • Ivy Mike says:

      Another couple songs related to the hell of the Nookyuhlar Family, as follows:

      ♪ She sits alone, an empty stare
      A mother’s face she wears
      Where did she go wrong,
      The fight is gone
      Lord help this broken home ♫

      “Mother, Father” by Journey

      ♬ New blood joins this earth
      And quickly he’s subdued
      Through constant pained disgrace
      The young boy learns their rules
      With time the child draws in
      This whipping boy done wrong
      Deprived of all his thoughts
      The young man struggles on and on ♩

      “Unforgiven” by Metallica

  4. Disaffected says:

    Another great one this week Sandy! It’s symptomatic that in the two breadwinner arrangement we have in the west now, that the kids go off to form their own “family arrangements” with their peers almost as soon as they are able, thus heightening the generational rift even further. About the most the parents even expect these days is to remain in text contact throughout the day. At some point you have to ask, “What’s the point?” And in fact, this whole process has been ongoing and accelerating for at least as long as I have been alive (1950’s).

    The theory of Inverted Totalitarianism, which came up yesterday over at Naked Capitalism, might apply as well. The fascist corporate state has been trying to atomize social units for as long as capitalism has been ascendant, all the better to exploit them politically, socially, and especially economically. A divided population is all that much easier to carve up into “tranches” to buy, sell, or otherwise exploit, and the nuclear family was just the first step in that process. As we’re already seeing, the ultimate goal is to pit the individual – every man, woman, and child for themselves – against the massive coercive and oppressive power of the unified fascist state, where the only real “option” is to opt in to a life of blissful – albeit soulless – consumption, or to be shunned and ultimately targeted for elimination. It’s the ultimate expression of W’s infamous post 9-11 ultimatum, “You’re either with or us or against us.”

    • kulturcritic says:

      And a great observation, DA. Bush summed it up!

    • Disaffected says:

      I might add that the price for said “blissful consumption” is of course equally miserable service (if you’re lucky!) to the nameless, faceless, corporate behemoth (“The Beast”). To most now alive in the west this is already self-evident. Suicide by substance abuse anyone and possibly at least go out with a bang? No wonder that’s such a popular diversion these days. I think that’s why AMC’s Breaking Bad (coincidentally, filmed just down the road from me) is enjoying such enormous popularity of late. Art, imitating life, imitating art… A house of mirrors indeed!

      • Malthus says:

        Disaffected says:”I might add that the price for said “blissful consumption” is of course equally miserable service (if you’re lucky!) to the nameless, faceless, corporate behemoth (“The Beast”).” Perfect description. My nightmare is of a rampaging river with 1000 foot 90 degree walls on both sides and we are being swept along and unable to climb out and I look down and it is the corporate “beast” that is the river and it is taking all of us even the ones that want out with it. Its masters are greed, selfishness, and stupidity. And Sandy hope really means hopelessness, just above helplessness. The only place we are safe is in our own heads and that is coming questionable.

  5. The term “nuclear family” is frightening in its stark idea of isolationism from life. It was first used in the US in the 1950’s to describe the number of people that could “survive” a full out nuclear war in the back yard bomb shelters of the time. That being 2 married adults male and female, and 2 pre adolescent children, ideally male and female. The perfect family unit with a male master, and let’s not even get into the ideas of family members inbreeding incestuously to continue the”human race” Thinking that anyone could or want to survive a nuclear war in splendid isolation from all life is just sickening.

  6. Infinitea says:

    Thank you very much for this article. I see this as the destruction of the individual in the pursuit of the individual. A person without a community, without a variety of perspectives and experiences to rely on as we do in a tribal or extended family situation, loses a sense of place and seeks to fill the need for connection with any of a number of addictions.
    We have come so far as to consider a grandparent “a legal stranger” in this insanity that we try to continue to call civilisation. When all extended family members have to consult lawyers for visitation rights to children of divorce, it’s apparent we’ve reached the nadir of the family and the individual.

  7. craig moodie says:

    For what it’s worth. We have a 100 acre farm situated in a valley of the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, South Africa. This valley consists of approx 15 farmsteads all similar in size. Geographiclly the situation allows for ideal ‘commuhity’ type. When we first moved here one year ago, we had grand illusions or should that be delusions that there would be this wonderful farming community, only to realise that we may as well be back in the city in all its isolation.
    It only dawned on me after reading your above article that the majority of our neighbours were previously city folk and therefore cannot shake the ‘nuclear family’ culture’.
    Thanks for the article. I think it puts some clarity on the situation.

  8. Multhus says:

    Sandy you and a lot of writers here would be much better off if we could go back 10,000 years ago. We are always being told that we cannot do that. Why not I ask. To much water under bridge, we can’t adapt, It doesn’t fit with the currant belief system of growth and the financial concepts that actually falls on the numbers of humans on the planet now. Our thinking and concepts are so entrenched in the idea of what evolution is and also who wants to give up their preceived comforts and also the rat race is so much fun. We as a species have worked ourselves into a corner that is impossible to get out of unless some disaster takes care of the mess we have created. Its obvious we are totally incapable to think our way out of the hamster wheel of progress. Lol with that.and the only thing that seems left is go with the flow and over the cliff. Meanwhile we can entertain our self with abstract thoughts even though we know it will not change ones direction at all.

  9. Dean says:

    Wow! Did you just make that up! This something I have never heard of or thought about. Kind of scary! Good post Sandy keep up the good work!

  10. javacat says:

    You’ve plucked a number of deep chords with this post, Sandy.

    Within a generation, the large family gatherings of childhood–my village–diminished as folks had fewer children and more mobility. When folks relocate, they carry the onus to seek out new community, through church, work, or the local Y. As we stretch out the years, external time-and-achievement based endeavors–work and school–dominate, directing us away from ourselves and each other.

    The modern family also carries happy illusions that we are the be-all-and-end-all for each other. These manufactured expectations set us up for disappointment rather than allowing the essential flexibility to grow and change.

    Techno-modern life further stresses. In my house, laptops, iThings and cell phones outnumber people 3 to 1. The once-shared experience of TV is now the solo experience of Netflix streaming. Earbuds further dislocate. Normal conversation interrupts. Somehow I don’t think this is the different drummer Thoreau envisioned.

    In village and home, we are in pieces.

    As we move from the ‘village’ to the nuclear family, we stiffen our boundaries. Discipline a neighbor’s child and risk a parental tirade. Grandparents must sue for visitation rights. The rules of your house do not apply to me. Us and them, again.

    Relationships by government and religious codes are designed to limit. I don’t want to romanticize a life I didn’t lead, but I imagine that in the more communal setting, people spent far less energy hiding from each other. As vibrant beings, we don’t follow these boundaries until they are imposed. Our natural being is far more fluid and embracing than current cultural limits allow, and, if allowed, would create trust and intimacy that support community.

    With a conditioned tendency to retreat, how do we cultivate the village again?

    • kulturcritic says:

      JC – I do not know how to reconstitute the village, because with all those modern, fine-tuned egos running around there, it would be a village full of village idiots… not just one. But, we can look for a change event if and when there is a real threat to the continuing longevity of marriage and the nuclear family. I think therein lies the opportunity for less structured, fractured, and alienated ways of relating to show themselves. sandy

  11. derekthered says:

    “Doctor Doctor what is wrong with me
    This supermarket life is getting long
    What is the heart life of a colour TV
    What is the shelf life of a teenage queen”

    Roger Waters – Amused to Death

    yes indeed, we are probing some deep waters here, may as well dive right in.
    travel back in time to 1827 and life in Robert Brown’s lab.
    yes, the universality of it all, the normal distribution, then along comes the heretic, the non-conformist, which of course would be yours truly.

    i think we are dealing with something indefinable here, total nucleation, the cellular identity, the great equalization; a false zen of all things being equal. the nuclear age, the splitting of the atom, the double helix, this has led to a complete objectification, the breaking down of what it means to be human, and turned us into a mixed bag of biological processes, into a “circulation of events”.
    “the domain of perpetual change, of a relentless actualization, of an incessant succession in real time, from whence this general equivalence, this indifference, this banality which characterizes the degree zero of the event.”
    yes, no history, just a will of the wisp, an “irrlicht”, washed by the nucleotides.

    so, yes, the nuclear family has done it’s damage, now we are all one big happy family, the global village, with the state as the doting parent telling all we children not to fight. meanwhile back at the ranch, the march of science plods relentlessly on, searching for that final solution, the pill to end all magic pills, SOMA? anyone?

  12. Cliff says:

    The Village lies within our perceptions of everyday experience. There are imaginary walls all around us however the walls seem to appear to be impenetrable. Here’s an example:
    Take two people and have them look at a tree. Surprisingly different folks will notice different qualities of that tree. And so it goes with all interrelationships. There are numerous ways to experience the people and world around us. Could it be that we must begin to question our interpretations. Begin to see beyond our self imposed limited views. I think that science has already done lots of work to prove to us that the material world is merely energy. Have we done our homework to fully grasp what this really means?

    • Disaffected says:

      From my perspective, immersed in a community of UBER(!) egg-heads, I think it’s safe to say that the more we know, the less we comprehend. Science has led us to the point that even the stuff that the uber geeks “know” (discover through the scientific method) is so far removed from direct reality that the only the very brightest among them can have any real assurance that any of it is true, and that it has or ever will have any actual applicability to the “real world” that we all know. And even then, most of them never for an instant bother to consider the implications of their discoveries in even the narrowest sense. One who did: J. Robert Oppenheimer . His story, a cautionary tale writ VERY LARGE at the very beginning of the modern nuclear age, has and continues to be largely ignored. His story is OUR STORY; a tale of innocence lost and possibilities ignored. Both of which, unfortunately for all of us, look to be impossible to ever regain at this point.

    • javacat says:

      Ah, like the story of the blind men and the elephant…all perceive a part, but none perceives the whole. Cliff, I’m not even sure most of us can perceive a part of the Village at all. Our sight, our senses have become so clogged with muck or supplied with commercial versions that we don’t always know what a direct perception is. How many can tolerate silence enough to listen within to the quieter senses, intuitions, if you will, that would guide and direct us in more attuned and more subtle ways? And how many of those will trust enough to respond to them?

      But using your example of the tree. I agree that different people will see or focus on different aspects of the thing we call ‘tree’ based on their previous experience, age, and temperament. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it follow that through communication we could assemble a unity from the pieces?

      I agree that there are ‘imaginary walls’ around us and within us, some which we erect ourselves, and some which are presented to us as limits. To dissolve the images of those walls requires a cultivated self-awareness to challenge our own interpretations as well as those we are given. Cultural and social conditioning are very strong and run deep–as you seem to suggest in your first post about just being born into a structured society.

      Science has done much work with the notion of material and energy. Some writings, like the Kybalion, try to explore the idea from a different angle. Though I am trained in science, i tend to side with DA in recognizing that the drive for knowing often overrides understanding and connection.

      Cliff, you’ve clearly thought about these questions. How do you think we get to the place of questioning our interpretations? ~JC

    • kulturcritic says:

      Ahhh! My personal guru has returned> his eternal questions haunting my every step. Welcome, dearest nuclear brother. LOL sandy

  13. javacat says:

    A few thoughts from Susan Sontag on photography & the nuclear family (1977):
    ‘Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself–a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness…As that claustrophobic unit, the nuclear family, was being carved out of a much large family aggregate, photography came along to memorialize, to restate symbolically, the imperiled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life. Those ghostly traces, photographs, supply the token presence of the disperse relatives. A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family–and, often, is all that remains of it.”

    • Infinitea says:

      “A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family–and, often, is all that remains of it.”

      This is so true, so sad and so true.

    • Disaffected says:

      A reminder: the “photograph” has already been completely redefined as well, and with it, to my mind at least, very possibly the family unit as well (chicken or the egg? hmm…). Alas, photographs, memories, and families, even nuclear ones – are they all, in the end, just “SO twentieth century, dude?” Talk about unintended consequences! Or were they intended after all?

      • kulturcritic says:

        DA – I thought all consequences are intended. LOL

      • javacat says:

        Agreed on both points, DA. Photos are always a manipulation–indeed, from my reading of Sontag, I hesitate to pick up a camera again. The digital world, PhotoShop & its ilk undermine our ability to rely on the image as evidence–or perhaps make it more obvious that we cannot.

        I don’t know when the ‘nuclear family’ came into being as a concept and when it was foisted upon us as an ideal. Families that don’t fit the model have been around forever–through death, divorce, adoption, etc. The conscious separation of the discrete family unit may be the more recent development. Intended consequences? I don’t think we planned it for the camera; just another technology that got out ahead of us and was seized upon as something else to sell. For the family…the deliberate is the counting and reckoning (Think census, school funding, etc.) for the sake of government management–which just
        depresses the hell out of me. ~JC

    • kulturcritic says:

      Wonderful quote, JC. Unfortunately, I think the real effect of the camera was to turn up the volume on the nuclear, and bast out any sense of the Other (extended family, tribe, clan or village.)

      • javacat says:

        Family photos disrupt time as well, bringing the past into the present, in ways that may be iconic but not totemic. Photos also conjure nostalgia, a painful longing to return–to what was, to what we wanted it to be.

        • Malthus says:

          I look into the camera and say please remember me, my time is short and all is an illusion anyway. Maybe just maybe someday someone will look at the photo of me and say who was that? What were his goals, and dreams and how did he live his life? Probably not, and I will be thrown into the trash heap of history that never was.

  14. Brutus says:

    Sandy sez: “The break up of the pre-urban clans by more muscular civilized states not only enabled ready manipulation of individual persons, it accomplished this by institutionalizing a newly crafted social unit – the nuclear family – an isolating entity susceptible to control because it was by its very nature incapable of functioning effectively on its own in a new and strange environment … Perhaps in a world bereft of genuine kinship, where ordinary egalitarian relations of tribal consanguinity and affinity have been broken down or destroyed, they are necessitated in the interests of creating discrete and manageable family units. And here is where many of our problems emerge.”

    It’s curious to find you railing against the nuclear family (or more generally, the single-family unit) as the destroyer of superior kin and clan relationships in some kind of conspiratorial scheme to further the interests of the State, the Curriculum, and/or the Corpocracy. I say “curious” because it’s not even clear to me that the model even exists anymore as many of us once knew it, and further, as with other cultural developments, we drifted into it long before it was seized upon by those with agendas, who then packaged and (re)sold the entire notion to us as a desirable form of social self-organization. Moreover, I should reinforce that our problems emerge from a dizzying constellation of factors (which coalesce into formal if abstract institutions that demand our fealty), the nuclear family being only one of many.

    The narrow term “nuclear family” (which Freud certainly never used) may substitute in the American experience for the broader “single-family unit” after it was enshrined in a variety of 1950s-era propaganda that no one at the time recognized as propaganda. I have my doubts this model is representative of how people experienced family life beyond a few decades of the mid-20th century in the U.S. Once the Information/Communications Age fire hose was aimed indiscriminately at everyone, which is obvious now that we’ve all retreated into our personal media bubbles just to manage the flow, even the life of the nuclear family was atomized and the individual ego, in paradoxical irony, became both armored and ultimately returned anonymously to mass society as a mere unit of productivity and consumption (as others have pointed out). We may hew to the notion of the nuclear family and even defend its direct blood connections, but our experience in daycare (primary caregivers), school (secondary caregivers), work, church, and within the peer group all undermine the authority and primacy of the nuclear family, especially when so many young cretins (lacking any kind of manners or self-restraint) openly challenge their parents in constant negotiations to have their egos and demands satisfied, which are of course the same demands as their peers instilled by the media we can no longer tune out.

    For example, the shared culture of rock and roll music (including lyrics) everyone keeps citing with embedded YouTube videos reminds me of the first liberating yet alienating peer group influence most of us discover in early adolescence. We may believe that rock songs are felicitous expressions of our own ideas, but in reality — like almost all ideas — they are free-floating memes we latch onto and subscribe to, which masquerade as our own but of course aren’t. A truly original idea is a rarity. Worst of all, it’s primarily experienced in a media cocoon (earbuds) that coos incessantly to vulnerable young minds that self-expression and freedom are synonymous with breaking familial bonds, which we all slavishly do in the course of forming adult ego armor only to discover the isolation and anonymity of modern life in the media cloud. Some of us attempt to rebuild lost family relationships (if we haven’t move across the country or indeed the globe) or form our own new ones by having children, but few of us really know what it’s like to having the sustained support and context over time of any family unit, even the narrow nuclear family.

    I’m not arguing for anything in particular, and I can infer that you want to subscribe to a kinship model that is lost, perhaps not irretrievably, to American culture, which is fast becoming global culture in all its insidious material embodiments (cars, TVs, electronics, etc.). But you admit you don’t know the magic words to conjure up community, and I aver we will never get there until the fire hose is extinguished, which we can’t ignore though some of us try.

    • kulturcritic says:

      “Its curious to find you railing against the nuclear family (or more generally, the single-family unit) as the destroyer of superior kin and clan relationships in some kind of conspiratorial scheme to further the interests of the State, the Curriculum, and/or the Corpocracy… We may hew to the notion of the nuclear family and even defend its direct blood connections, but our experience in daycare (primary caregivers), school (secondary caregivers), work, church, and within the peer group all undermine the authority and primacy of the nuclear family…”

      Brutus, it seems clear to me that you missed the entire point of the post… but then, it could be chalked up to my own inability to fathom your thinking. In either case, you may want to reread it or give it a rest. your option, sandy

      • Brutus says:

        Well, Sandy, I took both of your suggestions: I reread your post (and my comment) and I gave it a break. However, I still don’t see what part of my thinking/comment is unfathomable. I will understand if you want me to refrain from commenting if what I have to say is bothersome (or some other pejorative descriptor).

        • kulturcritic says:

          Brutus – I do not have time for lengthy debates here. I create 1500 words per week, plus my other writing, teaching at two universities, raising a child. You mis represent me by calling my remarks concerning the break up the the clan as a conspiratorial scheme… I never said anything like that. As well, your comments about the inability of the nuclear family to function, and the necessity of primary, secondary caregivers, work and church, all reinforce my central point about the State’s easy access to managing that isolated family unit. This is why I believe you did not understand or perhaps read it carefully. This is all I have to say,.

    • infinitea says:

      I understand what you’re saying about the nuclear family Brutus. It was already passe when it was taken over by the institutions as a method to further control individual lives. And it has been taken further by reducing the family to the individual because individuals have no chance of having the resources to sustain themselves and are more easily manipulated into accepting cultural icons as family rather than their own flesh and blood.

      As I said earlier, “I see this as the destruction of the individual in the pursuit of the individual. A person without a community, without a variety of perspectives and experiences to rely on as we do in a tribal or extended family situation, loses a sense of place and seeks to fill the need for connection with any of a number of addictions.”

      • Disaffected says:

        Very well said! I agree. More generally, I think this in part also explains our propensity for gangs, militarism (gangs plus), nationalism in general, and team sports. We are all just seeking to belong. Very convenient for those who would seek to arbitrarily divide us into conveniently marketed to groups, especially when those groups can be constantly whimsically redefined.

  15. Jason says:

    Hello Sandy.

    I would like to say that I have been enjoying your blog for a few months now. It is hard to find individuals that are both original and thoughtful while not being sensationalistic or paranoid. While there are times that I have to reread a post a few times because they can be over my head, I do thank you for some very thought provoking posts. While I may not comment much, I just wanted to let you know that I am enjoying your words. Keep it up.

  16. Bruce says:

    In Plato’s Republic, the conversation is derailed by Glaucon with a “city of pigs” argument calling for luxury and not something more-sustainable. It is perhaps ironic that the society Socrates builds (in theory) after this redirection is the exact opposite of a society based on a multitude of isolated nuclear families.

    Or, perhaps in a way, the luxurious society we have built up to today is closer to Socrates’ vision of an overarching state and the image of the nuclear family is the (ironic) illusion that maintains the stability of the authority required by making us believe we are more isolated and independent than we are in fact?

  17. Morocco Bama says:

    Great essay, Sandy, and a belated Happy 9/11 to you and everyone else here.

  18. Ivy Mike says:

    The cleverest poem ever about money.

    • Disaffected says:

      I like it. Such material usually launches me into my customary diatribe about debt-based capitalism being the root of all current evil (which it is), but I guess the even simpler “love of money” must precede even that. Although, I will say that debt-based capitalism is the highest manifestation yet of love of money. Pray that we don’t find yet another, although it’s hard to imagine that happening in any of our lifetimes at least .

  19. Morocco Bama says:

    I think accumulation is the at the root of all that ails us, Disaffected. Money eventually became a tool in the process of acquisition, but Humankind got addicted to accumulation, once it discovered agriculture.

    Sandy, one thing I’ve noticed is that when extended families do try to exist as tribes in this current System, they take on a grotesque and debased form, and can be quite debilitating to the ideal flourishing of a person’s psyche and potential. My wife’s family is a prime example. It is an extended family. They are extremely dysfunctional and co-dependent in this dysfunction, to the point that my wife is practically estranged from them in order to avoid their “Thetans” from attaching to her. The strongest personality in her extended clan, who holds sway over most things, is at the core of the dysfunction. She has a drug addict son who has created such a vortex of destruction that it is likened to a Black Hole….everything that gets too close gets sucked in and destroyed.

    As you mentioned, the System has engendered Nuclear families, but even if what Brutus says is true, it can’t be argued that nuclear families are not now the only thing that fits….well, that and the single individual, which is where this is headed if it doesn’t implode first.

    You know, it’s interesting, because I remember reading the aspirations of young, idealist Communists, and destruction of the family was a magnanimous goal to be attained, and here we are, the Nation of Family Values, and ever so surely, the family has been, and is being, destroyed. It’s been a steady progression of communal destruction. First the tribe is destroyed, then the extended family, and now, I believe, the nuclear family is being dismantled and replaced with the corporation and i-ghosts.

    • Ivy Mike says:

      I find it singular that you mention money/accumulation and addiction together. I often think of agricultural civilization using an addiction model, for the following reasons:

      1. Alcohol is a notable reason civilization started. (Fermentation pottery predates baking by 1500 years or so.
      2. Many of our technologies begin as euphorics and then we become dependent on them, like oil and especially electricity. Then with more intake dysphoria and physical addiction set in. Traffic jams are as fun as a hangover . Take away electricity today, and the patient suffers/dies, just like an alcoholic.
      3. The social dynamics of family enabling, denial etc. can be seen in larger society. “I have my alcohol intake under control / Global warming is under control and we can imbibe fossil fuels up to 2ºC without any problems.”
      4. The earth and her children are being trashed and abused by raging drunk male primates.

      • Morocco Bama says:

        I like that Ivy Mike, very much in line with my thinking. I can see agriculture having perhaps, initially at least, been a stop gap to some form of crisis, potentially an environmental crisis, but instead of discarding it once the crisis passed, because of its addictive qualities, it became a holdover…. a trap, if you will. And here we are, that noose getting ever tighter and tighter with every move we make.

        As Civilization begins to crumble at an ever increasing rate, perhaps it will pen a beautiful ballad such as the following. Yes, we belong to it…..or so it thinks, and it is certainly watching every move we make.

        • Brutus says:

          Yeah, but if not for agriculture and the civilization is eventually spawned, what would all those Star Trek aliens who study planetary cultures be looking at when viewing Earth? Just a bunch of damn, dirty, hairless apes scratching out an existence among the other large mammals. Aren’t things like fireworks, air shows, major league sports, atomic bombs and drone warfare, and the likelihood of global irradiation (triggered when we are no longer around to man the power plants even if we don’t first exchange volleys in last-ditch desperation) so much more interesting to study?

          • kulturcritic says:

            Yes, but of interest for whom?

          • Morocco Bama says:

            Good point, Brutus, and if we’re so lucky as to capture one of those scrutinizing aliens before we go into extinction, I bet it will have something like this to say:

            Gawd….I love that line, and I love that movie… helped form who I am today. I taught my children to say this line, with the same emphatic intonation Chuck does, when they were very young. We still say it to each other to this day for shits and giggles….but man, it feels good to say it, and do it….very cathartic.

          • Ivy Mike says:

            “damn, dirty, hairless apes scratching out an existence”

            Actually, that’s a fairly good description of most humans in agricultural civilization, even today, except for the few meritorious God-blessed über-apes at the top of the pyramidal hierarchy.

            Civilization benefits only a few at the cost of many peoples’ suffering.

            “The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.” ~Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice (1797)

        • Ivy Mike says:

          Trap indeed! It’s the exact word used by Marvin Harris for Chap. 13: The Hydraulic Trap in his book Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Cultures to describe irrigation agriculture’s “despotism.”

          And then Chap. 14 is another trap: The Origin of Capitalism. 😉

          “For two days’ worth of trees, lakes, and clean air, the modern-day executive works five. Nowadays, whole families toil and save for thirty years to gain the privilege of seeing a few square feet of grass outside their window.” (page xi, Introduction)

  20. feelitoff says:

    Well, in the Russian language there’s a riddle for young children – guess the word “7Я”. The answer is the word “family”. In Russian the word ‘family’ (“семья” / sem’ja / ) can be divided into two words: “семь” + “я” (seven + I ). Of course, this word split is no way true as we try to trace its origin. And children are explained that the word СЕМЬЯ / FAMILY consists of these two words and it means that people in the family are like you and alike in general. Reckon I tried it so hard to express my idea.

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