The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake


#1

Fantastic article by David Brooks.

Some great quotes:

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

I also appreciated this summary of the 1950s-1960s era that so many continue to long for:

In short, the period from 1950 to 1965 demonstrated that a stable society can be built around nuclear families—so long as women are relegated to the household, nuclear families are so intertwined that they are basically extended families by another name, and every economic and sociological condition in society is working together to support the institution.

And then, this pitch-perfect summary of how our concept of marriage has evolved from Amber, to Orange, to Green stages:

A study of women’s magazines by the sociologists Francesca Cancian and Steven L. Gordon found that from 1900 to 1979, themes of putting family before self dominated in the 1950s: “Love means self-sacrifice and compromise.” In the 1960s and ’70s, putting self before family was prominent: “Love means self-expression and individuality.” Men absorbed these cultural themes, too. The master trend in Baby Boomer culture generally was liberation—“Free Bird,” “Born to Run,” “Ramblin’ Man.”

Eli Finkel, a psychologist and marriage scholar at Northwestern University, has argued that since the 1960s, the dominant family culture has been the “self-expressive marriage.” “Americans,” he has written, “now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth.” Marriage, according to the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, “is no longer primarily about childbearing and childrearing. Now marriage is primarily about adult fulfillment.”

And then his fairly devastating summary of Part 1, which I think most of us would likely at least partially agree with, and which points to yet another critical Teal-stage life condition:

In other words, while social conservatives have a philosophy of family life they can’t operationalize, because it no longer is relevant, progressives have no philosophy of family life at all, because they don’t want to seem judgmental. The sexual revolution has come and gone, and it’s left us with no governing norms of family life, no guiding values, no articulated ideals. On this most central issue, our shared culture often has nothing relevant to say—and so for decades things have been falling apart.

Once again, I think the way out is not back, but through. At integral stages we begin to put this value stack together into a more cohesive whole — self-sacrifice, self-expression, self-discovery — while also adding distinctively integral values of self-transformation and self-transcendence. Marriage and family become truly full spectrum, rather than a narrow range of frequencies.

Which is one of the reasons why, in so many ways, I consider the integral community itself to be my own extended family.


#2

Here is another quote from the article. Lots of interesting analysis but would question the summary headline choice.
“If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.”

Setting aside the Marxist punchline (and incendiary lingo: - privilege, liberated rich, ravaged poor ) and “conclusions” it’s a great summary. Thanks for sharing.

I used to subscribe and had The Atlantic in the coffee table until a couple months in I realized, yes every article has superbly articulated with deep Left or Marxist fixation. World’s best used car salesmen, selling used Bentley’s to New Yorkers if you will.
The Nuclear vs Everything Else Family is a somewhat contrived duality.

What’s the primary driver of destruction of big interconnected families? My pre-coffee guestimation is mobility for “rich” - Mom gets a job at the startup in Boulder, Dad lands his dream job in Palo Alto. And for the “poor” it’s single parent - single income households doing the “ravaging” Very very different causes with extremely different outcomes.

To circle back on what’s spawned this thread, should the Governemnt just put this Archaic concept out of its misery for those that still hold it or can maintain it? Perhaps the Experts along with government administrators should redefine what “family” looks like, what it should be? Perhaps the government should mandate exactly what the “ideal” family is and install an Apparatchik to administer for us?

Or should Government foster/enable parents and extended families to develop their own nuclear and interconnected families for the good of their own children?


#3

Excellent article. @FermentedAgave Did you read the whole thing? I can’t imagine that with a close reading of the entire article that anyone would jump to the conclusions or ask the rhetorical questions you have.


#4

Fair points. I had to go back a read it, beyond the excerpts posted there.
Yes, I was referring to the hilarious random fast forward to Corey and Dr Keith’s discussion that landed on “extractive capitalism” and “manipulative Orange oligarchy”.
The article is very well written.


#5

The thing about the World War and Cold War eras is that they were highly authoritarian, not merely patriarchal. The post-traditional nuclear family and the entire society had oppressively enforced social norms and social order because it was weak and unstable. I watched a video with interviews of the Silents and Boomers who grew up during that era only to rebel later on. Their childhoods weren’t always the happiest with the endless expectations and demands, rules and punishments.

The nuclear family was inevitably authoritarian because it was expected to carry the entire load of what once was maintained through kinship and community. There was no way it could have succeeded long term. The problem is, as noted, the extended family and multigenerational household had mostly been destroyed; and yet there was nothing worthy to replace it. So, the following generations simply sought to escape the authoritarianism without anything better in mind.


#6

Me too :slight_smile: I’ve had a hard time connecting with the Integral community in person thus far though.


#7

Might try Meetup, or even starting a Meetup.


#8

Indeed, yes.
It’s unrealistic to expect pre-existing integral communities (no caps) to exist in every community, and even moreso for them to actually also be connected to the Integral Life Community (with caps).

One typically either has to find a preexisting group of people who are mostly integral but may know nothing about Ken Wilbur, or create it onself usint tools such as meetup.

Most such groups though as I’ve found on meetup, for example have one of the following orientations:

  • Making money
  • Having fun (from dancing to eating out to hiking to bar hopping)
  • Identification (shared experience for example of LGBTQ, ethnicity, gender, etc)
  • Waking up (meditation, religious, psychedelic, etc.)

Of course there may be regional variations. These are what I predominantly see in my community.

It will generally be easier for people to “get” the purpose of a group if it’s scope is narrowed to one of these. I think coming together to “be integral together” won’t attract a lot of people and will just attract one or two people to talk about Ken Wilbur, lol.