Books, Family, Literature, Top Stories

The Decline of the Great American Family Saga

In February, the Atlantic published a much discussed essay by David Brooks entitled “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.” Brooks noted that the conditions that once made nuclear families viable—strong unions, plenty of jobs that paid living wages, inexpensive housing and transportation and education costs, stay-at-home mothers, high numbers of churchgoers—were products of a very brief window of time that only lasted from about 1950 until about 1965. For centuries prior to that, Americans tended to divide themselves into extended families, vast networks of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives, all of whom remained connected to one another by some sort of family enterprise. Here’s how Brooks sums up the extended American family:

In 1800, three-quarters of American workers were farmers. Most of the other quarter worked in small family businesses, like dry-goods stores. People needed a lot of labor to run these enterprises. It was not uncommon for married couples to have seven or eight children. In addition, there might be stray aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as unrelated servants, apprentices, and farmhands…Extended families have two great strengths. The first is resilience. An extended family is one or more families in a supporting web. Your spouse and children come first, but there are also cousins, in-laws, grandparents—a complex web of relationships among, say, seven, 10, or 20 people. If a mother dies, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents are there to step in. If a relationship between a father and a child ruptures, others can fill the breach. Extended families have more people to share the unexpected burdens—when a kid gets sick in the middle of the day or when an adult unexpectedly loses a job.

The nuclear family, on the other hand, is described by Brooks as an intense relationship among only about four people living under one roof, usually a husband, a wife, and their two children. Since the late 1960s, rising rates of divorce and single-parenthood, plummeting birthrates, a decline in churchgoing, and a society that celebrates individuality rather than collective effort, have caused the nuclear family to become ever more scarce in America. Brooks makes a convincing case and offers plenty of examples of how this has altered the American landscape, for both better and worse. One thing he doesn’t examine is how this change has altered American literature, and in particular popular fiction.

I was born in 1958 into what would become a fairly large nuclear family—husband, wife, six children. My parents were married in 1954 and remained married until April of 2019, when my father died. My father, an accountant, was always the breadwinner; my mother was always the homemaker. My mother was a pop fiction junkie and I was my mother’s son. I was raised on the popular fiction of the 1960s and 1970s, and much of that fiction was a celebration of the American extended family. The mid-to-late 20th century was a golden age for the American family saga. Among the best-known of these were titles such as Alex Haley’s 1976 bestseller Roots, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Irwin Shaw’s Rich Man, Poor Man and its sequel, Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and its sequel, Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev and its sequel, and Bloodline by Sidney Sheldon. Other very popular series of American family sagas were John Jakes’s The Kent Family Chronicles, an eight-volume series written to commemorate the American Bicentennial, Howard Fast’s chronicles of the fictional Lavette Family, a series of six books, including such bestsellers as The Immigrants and Second Generation, which followed an immigrant family’s rags-to-riches rise in America, and Lonnie Coleman’s Beulah Land trilogy, which chronicled a slave-owning plantation-dwelling family in the American South.

All of the above titles were written by men, but plenty of women writers were also prominent in the golden age of the American family saga. Belva Plain’s five-book chronicle of the Werner family got off to an auspicious start when Evergreen, the first book in the series, became the sixth bestselling novel of 1978. Cynthia Freeman wrote numerous bestselling family sagas, such as A World Full of Strangers (1975), Portraits (1979), and No Time For Tears (1981). Jacqueline Briskin wrote some highly entertaining family sagas, including her Van Vliet family trilogy, which comprised Rich Friends (1976), Paloverde (1978), and The Onyx (1982). Ruth Beebe Hill’s 1979 bestseller Hanta Yo was a massive single-volume saga depicting the lives of two families of Teton Sioux Indians. Helen Hooven Santmyer’s 1984 bestseller …And Ladies of the Club, which is even more massive than Hanta Yo, is a saga that follows the fates of several small-town Ohio women and their families from 1868 to 1930.

All of the above are American family sagas, but in the mid-20th century plenty of family sagas from other countries also sold well in America. These included Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds (Australia), James Clavell’s so-called Asian Saga, which included such bestsellers as Shogun and Noble House, Vivian Stuart’s 12-volume historical saga The Australians, written under the pseudonym William Stuart Long, R. F. Delderfield’s two-volume saga of the Swann family (God Is an Englishman, Theirs Was the Kingdom) whose titles suggest their geographical setting, and even Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, six massive novels about various families of Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals co-existing in the Upper Paleolithic period in what is now Europe.

But the days when realistic family sagas regularly populated American bestseller lists are long gone. Nowadays most of the multi-volume sagas that hit the bestseller lists take place in fantasy worlds such as those conjured up by George R. R. Martin, J. K. Rowling, and Suzanne Collins. Twenty-first century bestseller lists tend to be glutted with thrillers, fantasies, children’s books, and 50 Shades of Grey. The year 2012 was fairly typical. Here are the 10 bestselling fictions of that year:

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  3. Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James
  4. Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James
  5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney
  8. Fifty Shades trilogy box set by E. L. James
  9. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

There’s not a single 20th century-style American saga in the bunch. The last book of that kind to hit Publishers Weekly’s year-end list of the 10 bestselling fictions was probably Heaven and Hell, the final volume in John Jakes’s North and South trilogy, which charts the fates of the Main and Hazard families (one from South Carolina and one from Pennsylvania) from 1842 until 1883, with an emphasis on the Civil War era. While massive multi-generational American family sagas do still get published, they don’t resonate with the book-buying public the way they did in the middle of the 20th century. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely seems to be related to the fact that American families have changed so drastically over the last half-century, as chronicled by David Brooks in his Atlantic essay.

It was still possible for an American reader of my mother’s generation (born 1932) to see herself as part of a vast genealogical continuum stretching back to the day when the first of her family arrived in America. Americans born in the first three decades of the 20th century were mostly either the children or grandchildren of immigrants, if they weren’t actual immigrants themselves. More importantly, they had much larger families back then, and people were more likely to move away from their hometowns than they are now, so that even if none of your immediate family members had made much of a name for himself in your hometown, you probably had a relative somewhere who was thriving in some enterprise or another. Even if you rarely heard from this person, his (or her) existence allowed you to think of yourself as part of a prominent family.

I didn’t realize it when I was devouring American family sagas in the 1970s and ’80s, but not only was the era of the big sprawling extended American family, like those chronicled in the works of Howard Fast and John Jakes, long past, but its successor, the American nuclear family, was fading into history as well. Today, the American family seems to be a mixed bag of singletons, empty-nesters, blended families, DINKs (double-income, no kids), and POSSLQs (persons of the opposite sex sharing living quarters). It would be impossible to turn the lives of my father, myself, and my stepdaughter Andrea into a cohesive three-generational family saga. Andrea and my father met only once, in 1980, at my wedding, when she was 14 and he was 48. He spent almost his entire life in Portland, Oregon, and my little blended family bounced around among various northern California towns for many years after my wife and I married.

Between 1980 and 2000, my father made only sporadic trips to California. By 1986, Andrea was married and off living with her husband, so she never saw my father again. After 9/11, my father swore off air travel and never visited California again. He was a very successful CPA and a partner in a firm he had helped found. Andrea has run her own very successful notary business for 20 years or more. I, on the other hand, am one of the world’s most insignificant freelance writers. All three of us have had interesting lives, but they don’t connect in the way of good fiction. As much as he might have liked to, my father couldn’t help me in my career, because he had no connections in the publishing world and knew nothing about it. I loved my father and I love my stepdaughter but ours are three discrete lives that never really connected professionally.

Many great family sagas, like Gone With the Wind or Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, revolve around impressive family homes that are passed down from generation to generation. But, except perhaps among America’s one-percenters, that kind of thing doesn’t happen in American families anymore. When my father died, his fairly humble home was sold and the proceeds put into a trust that pays for my mother’s tenancy in a long-term memory-care facility. My stepdaughters are likely to inherit nothing but debts from their mother and me. Other great family sagas, such as God Is an Englishman, revolve around a family business that is handed down from generation to generation. But that doesn’t seem to happen in real life much these days either, at least not among middle-class Americans. I don’t personally know anyone who took over a family business from his parents or who plans to leave one to his children. Other sagas describe families in which the sons (and sometimes the daughters) follow their fathers into some great institution, such as the military, the church, the government, academia, etc. But, in real life, that doesn’t seem to happen as much as it once did.

This isn’t to say that contemporary working- and middle-class Americans don’t help out their grown children any longer. Many of them do. Plenty of twenty- and thirty-something Americans still live at home with their parents. And plenty of older Americans are helping to raise their own grandchildren. But they simply don’t have the wherewithal to pass along real estate or businesses to their offspring that will assure them of a strong financial foundation. A lot of those fifty-something parents with twenty-something children still at home are now also looking after (and often financially supporting) their eighty-something parents, a development that makes things even more financially precarious for American families. These arrangements, usually born of necessity, are not generally the stuff of great literary sagas. If they are the stuff of any literary genre at all, it’s the Wal-Mart realism of working-class writers like Raymond Carver, Larry Brown, Bobbie Ann Mason, and their literary offspring, most of whom write short stories rather than novels.

As Brooks notes in his essay, today’s Americans tend to gravitate towards families of choice rather than families of blood relations. This is certainly true of me. I have kept a diary for years but it contains almost no mention of any of my blood relatives. The main characters in my diary are me, my wife, and our friends. Family members, other than my wife, are all bit players in my diaries. I have five living siblings. I love them and am on good terms with all of them, but I rarely see any of them. I’m sure my diaries contain more mentions of my cats than of my brothers and sisters and parents. And as for my cousins, well, I haven’t had any meaningful interaction with any of them since I was a teenager. Several of them have died, but I didn’t hear about any of these deaths until months later. I know more about the lives of my pub-trivia teammates than I do about the lives of most of my blood relations. And I don’t think I’m alone in this respect.

As a young man, I loved reading multi-generational family sagas. I figured that by the time I was 60 I’d be able to look back on my life and see it as just one part of a vast family epic, a continuous story that took in the lives of my parents and my grandparents as well as my own offspring, a long line of people bound by blood and marriage and perhaps some shared family enterprise. Now I am 61, and I don’t really feel as though I am a part of some vast genetic continuum. Like a lot of working-class Americans, my wife and I have had to hustle just to keep our mortgage paid and some sort of health insurance coverage going. We are fortunate that neither my parents nor my wife’s two grown daughters have ever needed our financial assistance, because we certainly wouldn’t have been much help to them.

David Brooks explains how this happened. The constellation of forces that had briefly shored up the nuclear family began to fall away, and the sheltered family of the 1950s was supplanted by the stressed family of every decade since. Some of the strains were economic. Starting in the mid-Seventies, young men’s wages declined, putting pressure on working-class families in particular. I currently work for “the richest man in modern history,” according to Forbes. I’m grateful for my part-time job at an Amazon warehouse. I enjoy the work and I need the money. But it’s not the kind of unionized job that provided stability and benefits and a healthy pension to many a head of household during the brief heyday of the American nuclear family. It’s a nice gig that, combined with various other gigs that my wife and I juggle, keeps us afloat these days.

This isn’t exactly how I envisioned my seventh decade of life would play out. But it’s not as if my wife and I didn’t try to establish successful family enterprises. For a couple of years in the 1980s we ran our own freelance title-search business. Oil and gas companies, loan companies, and others would hire us to provide them with a basic title report on a given piece of land. Every weekday we’d visit county courthouses all over northern California searching title records and compiling reports that provided details about each piece of property: legal description, property tax info, vested ownership, ownership of the mineral rights, easements, liens, and other encumbrances. We hoped to build the business enough that we’d eventually be able to stay at home and send others out into the field to do the title searches, but that never happened. Later, for about five years, we operated our own antiques business out of an antiques co-op in Sacramento. That, too, we hoped to grow into a much larger operation, but we opened for business in the midst of the Great Recession and after half a decade or so we were forced to throw in the towel. Both my wife and I have written novels, but neither of us ever had any success publishing them. And so now, when many others our age are preparing for retirement, we’re still out there hustling in the gig economy.

I’m not complaining about any of this. My wife and I are happy and, by and large, we’ve had a fascinating life together. But the inability of people like us to get ahead financially, leaves us somewhat cut off from our families. We’ve had to forego attending various reunions and weddings and Thanksgiving gatherings just because we couldn’t afford the time off or the travel costs. And I suspect we’re not alone in this respect, either. Fortunately, modern technology allows us to still keep in touch with distant relatives without having to travel all over the country. But texts and emails are not the stuff of great family sagas. Our story has been a good one, which I’ve documented in dozens of personal essays published in places such as the New York Times’ Modern Love column and elsewhere. My father’s life was a pretty interesting one also. And so too is my stepdaughter Andrea’s. But they are three different standalone stories.

These days American family stories tend to be about small discrete households rather than vast sprawling networks of blood relatives who are constantly weaving in and out of each other’s orbits, wrestling for control of family assets, building businesses together, purchasing family vacation homes together, uniting against hostile outsiders, hiring each other’s children, and all the other activities that used to characterize stories about the rags-to-riches rise of an extended American family. I’m okay with that. But the American bestseller lists of the 21st century seem to be much poorer for it. Today, they consist mainly of legal thrillers, fantasy epics, and the 32nd installment of some name-brand author’s crime-novel franchise. I’m old enough to remember when the multigenerational American family saga was still a publishing-industry powerhouse. Now it is rapidly going the way of the American nuclear family itself.

 

Kevin Mims is a freelance writer living in Sacramento, CA. His work has appeared in numerous venues including the New York Times, National Public Radio’s Morning EditionSalon, and many others. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinMims16

Comments

  1. Brooks is still (incredibly) used as a “token conservative” despite not only disagreeing with everything that’s actually conservative, but also demonstrating that he doesn’t remotely understand it. He imagines that anyone who lionizes the nuclear family lionizes only the nuclear family, to the exclusion of the extended family.

    This, of course, is ludicrous to anyone who actually cares about nuclear families.

    The extended family as a concept is an extension of the nuclear family, and has at its core a number of nucleuses. The notion that the nuclear family had one brief heyday is ludicrous; the concept being advocated has existed for thousands of years and until recently.

  2. Good article. A very human story. But on a more practical note, the link between fathers and social cohesion is now well-established. This short summary provides a number of reference sources:

    http://marripedia.org/effects_of_fatherless_families_on_crime_rates#fnt__1

    This YouTube talk by Dr Raj Chetty must be my most commonly linked item:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29sdtqClrGA

    It details the correlation between the percentage of productive fathers in a neighbourhood, and the chances of upward social mobility from the bottom 20% of the income spectrum to the top 20%.

    But the question we really need to ask, is do we really want to create the need for a significant support system of admirable male surrogacy programs and remedial mentoring, when for thousands of years fathers in the home and the community have worked to initiate boys into adult responsibility, at no added cost to society? For sure, strict low-level discipline (such as detentions) in schools can influence behaviour, causing fewer kids to fall through the cracks and has much to recommend it, especially given the academic results achieved by schools like the Michaela Community School in London. Indeed, other than pursuing a traditional teaching model, their system is remarkably similar to Success Academy in New York, particularly with regard to parental support of the educational process:

    The one difference being that they engage parental support at a later stage.

    In the UK, we are waking up to the fact that austerity has not only systemically reduced policing levels to below requirements, but also that vital community resources ideally-suited to diversion and mentoring have gone through a harsh process of winnowing and defunding. In the UK, the disintegration of the nuclear family and increase in father-absence is not so advanced as in the US, but we too are seeing the need for increased structural costs, when the family breaks down.

    A few months, a number of News Outlets criticised national newspapers for running stories blaming the knife crime epidemic on an absence of fathers. But only hours ago, both the Daily Mail and The Times ran stories quoting a Police Chief on the subject:

    Of course, it doesn’t help when one points out a consistently observed sociological trend, which defies borders and circumstance with it’s persistence, only to have a slew of upper middle-class single mothers coming out of the woodwork remonstrating that their own personally heroic and singularly unlikely circumstances have led to well-adjusted and socially responsible boys. This ignores the basic fact that one of the most important role a father can play is as a social enforcer- dads are perhaps the single best deterrent against the grooming effects of gang elders in poor, high-crime, urban communities.

  3. Nice article.

    He imagines that anyone who lionizes the nuclear family lionizes only the nuclear family, to the exclusion of the extended family

    For me this was a useful reminder of how different family life is today than even a couple of decades ago. Im a big believer in the family, and find more joy as a father than anything else, but his article did remind me of a recent chance I had to catch up with one my cousins. She told me that she lives within a quarter mile of her entire family and they see each other all the time (all married with kids). As a kid growing up (mind you I am still in my thirties), I saw my cousins at least once a week very much like my cousins kids do today (and our thanksgivings, etc, mirrored the one describes by brooks). It made me realize how I wish I could say the same for my kids but sadly we are spread across the states as we have each gone looking for our own success (and our family has certainly found more success than my cousins family, but in contrast are lucky to see each other once a year and our kids are not that close to each other).

    Which is to say that I thought he had some good points.

  4. My favorite part of this essay was the author’s description of his personal family saga. He loves his five siblings, is on good terms with each, and yet rarely sees them. That is a shame. There is something tragic in this. Somewhere out there there must be a good fiction work on this theme. There should be. Heck, should be its own genre. I wonder if his being on good terms with them is a consequence of his seeing them rarely. This should be his next essay.

  5. “But the question we really need to ask, is do we really want to create the need for a significant support system of admirable male surrogacy programs and remedial mentoring, when for thousands of years fathers in the home and the community have worked to initiate boys into adult responsibility, at no added cost to society?”
    Step 1: Abolish the notion that masculinity is toxic. Masculinity is not toxic. Boorish behavior is unacceptable as the most ardent practitioners of masculinity will attest.

  6. I have, over the years, come across a handful of Italian Americans who still live in the same town, or the next town over, to their large extended families of aunts, uncles and cousins.

    Some of them I see as tragic figures. They hate urban New Jersey. Living there is destroying their souls. They would give almost anything to be able to leave, to relocate to another part of the country, to create a new life in a place that is not killing them with urban decay and depression.

    But their spouses refuse to leave their extended families. These unhappy individuals could leave, but they would have to leave their children behind along with the spouses and the cousins.

    And so they feel trapped. They are trapped. Tied to extended families that have tied them to a place they now dread.

    This is the dark side, one of them, of extended families.

  7. Interesting article by Kevin. Sorry to hear that so much of his extended family has become disconnected.

    My own anecdata suggests that extended family networks remain stronger among recent immigrants (South Asians, Latinos). To a lesser extent among Irish, Italians, Greeks. And ironically even among my fellow blacks, despite the epidemic of absentee father’s. Black family reunions are very common and some even make a business of organizing them.

    Kevin didn’t discuss race/ethnicity but I think it may be salient.

  8. I enjoy Kevin Mims work, but in this case, he is looking in the wrong place for the nuclear family. He needs to read less David Brooks and more C.K Murray, Chris Arnade, Thomas Frank, Michael Lind, and J.D Vance. David Brooks and his fellow “Bobos in Paradise” are “WEIRD”. This an acronym created by Jon Haidt, to describe people who are western, educated industrialized, rich and Democrat. Everyone in David Brooks’ world is WEIRD. Because that is who he knows, that is who he writes about. But not everyone in America is WEIRD. For those who live in flyover country, in the small towns never visited by Brooks, and to some extent in poorer urban areas, the nuclear family is the glue that holds their world together. Grandma takes care of the children while mom is working – not the nannie from Guatemala.

    The impact of family, pro and con has a very important influence on who these people are. Those of us who are WEIRD, and I include myself,(except for the Democrat part) describe ourselves by what we do. I describe myself as a geoscientist and a business owner. For me, what I do and what I am are synonymous. But those who are not WEIRD describe themselves by who they are. Who they are includes their family. One question that is always asked by those who are WEIRD is why don’t people go where the jobs are? Why don’t coal miners in West Virginia go to California to learn how to install solar panels? We WEIRD are usually quite mobile. I left for college at age 17 and except for summer breaks during school, never lived in my home town again. But those who stay almost always cite family ties and family responsibilities as the reason for not moving. Someone has to check in on Grandpa.

    In addition to the above reading list, I further suggest Kevin, that you do some original research. Talk to your fellow Amazon employees. Ask them what keeps them in their hometown and ask them about their relationships with their families. You will find that their answers are far more complex and nuanced than is the case for Brook’s fellow Bobos. Then write another article. I look forward to reading it

  9. I have just been told/suggested at by Quillette that I group quote in a single reply. Probably a good idea and will do so in future.

    The people on this forum tend to be here because they are not populated by crazy name calling dolts who add nothing to the conversation. You are welcome to be here. If most people disagree with you so what?

    I will agree with you that the Calvin tradition was “dismal” without even making you define that term. I wonder if you will agree that the puritanical dogma that once dominated the thinking of the right is now the domain of the left? At least as it manifests in SJW circles? And among the far-left feminists. In my opinion, the diversity, inclusion and equity (DIE) ideology is a death cult. I see it as and ideology of conformity, exclusion, injustice, racism, sexism and is sclerotic.

    I will not ask you to prove that in the approximately one hundred thousand years of prehistory, that the primary social group was not the tribe and the extended family. And it very likely had a strong male leading the group. I will state that I can’t prove the opposite, but the social structures of our closest primate relatives are very akin to that. If civilization ever decayed to the point where violence and danger were ever-present, I imagine we would find out.

    As to whether there was strong pair bonding, that is a more open question. I imagine there was some variation. “Forced” monogamy tends to be a better model for the stability of an established civilization, I would think. Polygamy may well be a better model for societies under stress as it makes the males more expendable and constant warfare certainly needs those.

    I know there were societies that were led by women. So that model existed and achieved some success. Yay human adaptability. But that model did not achieve dominance.

  10. There is no National Baby Association. There never has been. There is absolutely no documentation for your statement about Oppenheimer. The line came from a play in Canada in 1991. It was subsequently picked up as Gospel by credulous academic women’s study professors. You might get more respect if you documented your references more thoroughly.

    Many on this forum disagree with you.That neither makes you a troll nor a victim. Personally l I like that fact that those on the left post here. But that does not mean I agree with you or that I will post comments that are sympathetic to your views. Expect me to disagree.

  11. In 2015, 77% of Black babies were born to unmarried mothers – that has declined a bit recently, to the mid-seventies or slightly lower. That was followed closely by Native Americans, then Latino Americans, and Asian as the least non-marital birthrates. Non-Latino whites came in at 30%.
    Blacks have a 30% hike on the rest of us in divorce rates, the number of black married fathers in jail is double the Latino rate and triple the white rate.
    It seems the rise in fatherless black families is negative feedback into the rise of black males in jails.
    And yet affirmative action fails to motivate.

    There are increasing numbers of males who find themselves at thirty years old in an ‘arrested development’, an infantile state of uselessness, having failed to mature to personal and societal needs – filling their days with nihilism and online game mentality, the cage sports and a tinder app. I know! I’m generalizing but I am not far off…but it seems “The Twelve Rules for Life” is showing young males as ardent readers and needing fathers as the sales of that book have soared despite pussy hats, pronouns and persnickety feminists.

    This self-centred new male is both a useless thing that has no direction or ambitions, fueled by his wake and bake idealogy of individualism misunderstood, he will not help anything, primarily himself. He is jaded to marriage and the waters are tainted for any happiness with his perpetual need for attention and a lack of self-sacrifice for something greater, even other than himself. But he knows he is wrong and he graves something greater, but can’t seem to gain any footing…

    When PC culture tears at the very fabric of civilization, when virtue-signalling identity politics rules the culture when we celebrate pornography as an art form. Vulgar guttural street language as music, and celebrity as art and graffiti on a wall as equal to the Sistine chapel, as, almost ambition to be held as moral. Then this is what we get. Then there are going to be millions and millions who fall through those cracks in that society.

    We are not postmen anymore, postmen is a reggae/hip hop band from the Nederlands (whatever that means) we are not boy scouts, but scout persons… it’s not a manhole it’s an access hatch…in fact, there is no man or woman as sex is ambiguous and can be chosen. Appointed upon one birth. All this and more tears at the archetype of father.

    The ‘me generation’ has evolved into the millennial state of the ‘generation of me’, a culture of narcissism, of hedonistic egoism and personality disorder. Polyamory is rising as I speak this, homosexuality is also on the rise, a new generation of confused genders and trans-sexual dysmorphic humans is subverting what once was.

    The whole idea of the father is being dissolved into some rubicon of male responsibility. Is that my job description? rather than being and knowing what that word means. Many are above and beyond all this, generally, individualism is confused as being whatever one wants to do…

    It is strange how feminism and the toxic male seem to start immediately as soon as cave living ceased, guns, law and jails took rise as normal daily living.
    We now witness the selling of virginity online, and abortion as a choice in life.

    It makes complete sense to me.

  12. What tends to be lacking in articles like this one is any overview of the nature and mechanisms of the system that runs our economy and shapes our social and cultural life.

    It is not that elements of these things are entirely lacking, but they do lack systemic consciousness and thus devolve onto proximate causes that lack emblematic association with a larger causation. It is as if after Marxism, everyone gave up. It became uncool to talk about ‘Capitalism’ as a driver for the features of life that have built themselves around consumer driven societies.

    Analysis narrowed into Corporate Ascendancy Tweedle Dee and Humanist Ascendancy Tweedle Dum tribalisms and intra regime blame shifting, while the larger regime matrix disappeared off the radar altogether.

    Mims details the changes inside the machinery of America that has rendered the family saga redundant and made stable familial association much more difficult and hazardous. He gives us the hows but he does not explain the whys.

    These emerged out of a fundamental step change, as the temporary expedient of the forced draft total war mobilization production template run by military machines was transformed into permanent total mobilization for indulgent and fantasy driven production wars run by marketing and sales machines…

    Ordinary socially disciplined, restrained and rationed needs and wants were no longer enough to carry on wartime production levels, but all out deregulation and disinhbition of the social, economic and social systems would…converting soldiers and war industry workers into market disciplined twenty-four seven production warriors and shop troops.

    Social infrastructure can withstand temporary withdrawal of resources for a war effort, but not permanently. In the same way environments can withstand a pummeling for a while and can recover later, but not permanent pummeling.

    Indulgence seems initially benign, but it eventually wrecks rules based behaviour and compounds the destruction caused by permanent mobilization for production warfare.

    And fantasy driven production creates fantasy driven populations who over time, gradually lose touch with reality and even their most basic biological roots, as even sex degenerates into fantasies and delusions of sexuality…and human character degrades into adolescent narcissism… further degrading whatever social infrastructure is left.

    The roll out of Indulgence Capitalism started to get really serious in the '60s and three generations later we have a culture of insidious somnambulism, as if we had all been stung and temporarily paralysed by a jewel wasp that has then injected venom straight into the part of the brain that controls the escape reflex, then bitten off our guidance sensors, led us unresisting to its lair where it has laid its eggs into us, that existentially eat us out and until all that is left are ghosts.

    You can have too much analysis I say, because the picture isn’t terribly attractive and perhaps we are all better off not knowing…Ho hum…

    But what it would do is reveal, at least to some extent, why our social life seems to be disintegrating into ungovernable chaos across the board, from the social welfare sector at one end to the space cadets running our financial institutions at the other. Honest modern 'family’s sagas are not going to be a whole lot of fun to read.

    And fixing this is going to be as entertaining as drinking battery acid, and won’t make very attractive reading either.

  13. Or maybe it’s just that people got bored with family sagas. The lower-middlebrows have slouched off to pastures new, because, let’s face it, they have so much more to entertain them now.

    There is some pith to your analysis which I would sum up as ginkgo a longer version of PJ O’Rourke’s summation of the human condition these days: slouching to Gomorrah.

    There is no overarching social or economic system. There is material prosperity and moral degeneracy, plenty and spiritual poverty.

    Many a person quote Warhol’s trite little saying about everyone being famous for 15 minutes, but miss WS Gilbert’s far more prescient line “if everybody’s somebody, then no one’s anybody”. It is that broad based narcissism that has hacked away at the customs and institutions that kept society together.

    Our left wing Puritan friends are trying to reshape the mores, manners and hierarchies so as to create a new moral environment where pearl clutching can flourish. But unlike the Victorians I fear our modern puritans are poor specimens who are neither spiritually or morally able enough to bring about any form of regeneration. That is because the new left are first and foremost oikophobes, whereas the Victorians loved their country.

  14. I agree. Today’s puritans are truly gifted at pointing out what’s wrong with the world, and everyone in it, (other than themselves). Yet beyond appealing for help from their imaginary village there doesn’t seem to be much interest in fixing anything.

    Brings to mind:

    “Hard times create strong men.
    Strong men create good times.
    Good times create weak men.
    And weak men create hard times.”

  15. Okay I’m micro-aggressed…I’m Canadian eh, and I have an uncle Bob. He’s younger than me, and happens – if I may tell you Peter, to be my favorite uncle Bob…he wants me to call him Uncle Robert. I take him to the park and the zoo to see the penguins, and a movie sometimes if he’s a good boy and did his chores. Smart little fella, he’s almost in grade 6, and I’m 66…everybody thinks Robert is my grandson. People’s eyes roll when I say " Nah… Robert’s my uncle."

Continue the discussion in Quillette Circle

63 more replies

Participants