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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Orientation of Obligation (Part 1)

I stumbled on an Atlantic article written in the early 1990s discussing the various negative effects of family disruption (to include death of a parent and births out of wedlock, but also any combination of co-habitationàmarriageàdivorceàre-co-habitation/remarriage of one or both biological parentsàpossible subsequent divorces of those parents, and so forth) on the well being of children.

Even then, the author acknowledged that the data could rarely be discussed (or the crisis level of the numbers addressed) because of the simultaneous outcry that such data put undue stress on single mothers doing their best, and that all family structures ought to, in an age of Holy Egalitarianism, be considered equally beneficial.  Today, I’m sure the objections on these grounds are more, not less, adamant.

The author, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, posited:

“There are several reasons why this is so, but the fundamental reason is that at some point in the 1970s Americans changed their minds about the meaning of these disruptive behaviors. What had once been regarded as hostile to children's best interests was now considered essential to adults' happiness…At about the same time, the long-standing taboo against out-of-wedlock childbirth also collapsed. By the mid-1970s three fourths of Americans said that it was not morally wrong for a woman to have a child outside marriage.”
This brings me back to the original quote that had me googling Whitehead to begin with.  I failed to note where I’d seen her quoted (probably on one of the sites in my blogroll) but her observation was that our sense of ethical obligation had shifted; obligation to others had ceded primacy to the now sacred obligation to self.

“Once the social metric shifts from child well-being to adult well-being,” Whitehead continues, “it is hard to see divorce and nonmarital birth in anything but a positive light.”

It’s all about priorities, then.  Aren’t decisions always?

And yet it’s not always a decision, is it?  “To be sure,” the article adds, “not everyone exercises choice in divorce or nonmarital birth. Men leave wives for younger women, teenage girls get pregnant accidentally—yet even these unhappy events reflect the expansion of the boundaries of freedom and choice.”

So for me, that’s where it lies.  The worship of Choice.  It’s a natural extension of the obligation to self-fulfillment.  We seek total control over every area of our lives. 

And so we have new ethical dilemmas, like given that it’s now A-ok to selectively kill off embryos from in vitro fertilization, can we also selectively kill a natural twin in utero?  This is discussed here, as a weighing of natural squeamishness against the ultimate need of the parents to control their comfort level in life.  But no matter the ethical issue, if we know the cultural temperature, we can predict the outcomes.  In a few years, I promise no one will squirm about natural twin pregnancy “reduction” because the equation is formulaic.  Obligation to self yields subordination of the interests of others (so, subordination of child’s well-being to parent’s romantic life, or of child’s life to parent’s projected inability to juggle busyness).

Question: is there any data to support the notion that seeking one’s own interest at any cost actually even leads to satisfaction?  Because my observations suggest just the opposite.  A wish-list grows fangs when paid too much attention.

Perhaps we could simply reframe this whole thing as cultural acceptance of the ancient wish to be God.  Now.  Does anyone know how to RE-stigmatize something?

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