January 2, 2009

Generalities -- Thought for the New Year

Generalities are fine (when accurate) for making general decisions, but less helpful for making decisions on individual cases. One may assert, and it may be true, that "most people arrested for a crime are found guilty" -- but that is no reason simply to stop having trials and assume all persons arrested are guilty. When a generalization has many exceptions, it is proportionately less useful as a tool for discernment and action. As the old saw has it, "It is always wrong to make sweeping generalizations."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fran said...

Sweeping generalizations are often dangerous, like a road enshrouded in fog. It seems like you can see, but then just maybe... you cannot.

Happy New Year to you Tobias. Peace in abundance to you and yours.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Fran.

As you know -- since I see you commented there -- this came out of a discussion at Doorman Priest's Musings concerning an assertion that "the ideal is for a child to be raised by a father and a mother" -- and from this assertion moving on to the conclusion "same-sex marriage should not be recognized." How one gets from A to B is a mystery to me; but of course I also challenge the truth of the initial assertion, which seems to be just that. Why should this model -- the nuclear family that in all of human history has been a dominant form of child-rearing only in a few cultures for essentially short periods of time -- suddenly become an "ideal"?

Then too, even were it ideal, there are no "ideals" in reality -- only actual fathers and mothers, some good some bad -- so the "ideal" is incapable of application in any meaningful way in judging if a given family is "good" or not -- it may be nuclear but abusive. Ultimately form is not content, at least not in any consistent way.

I'll be reflecting on this more in a separate post, but wanted to get this off my mental sideboard...

Erika Baker said...

Generalisations, just like specifics, can make sense or they can be non sequiturs. It really depends on the generalisation.

The one made over at DP's didn't make sense.

But I do sense people's unease over families without a mother and a father. The real issue is that children should have role models from both genders, and sadly, our nuclear family structure means that this responsibility too often falls on the shoulders of the one female and the one male who make up the child's sole environment. When work means that couples have to move away from their immediate families, it is much harder to have the natural contact with grandfathers, uncles etc than it used to be.

I have often been concerned that almost the whole environment a child experiences until the age of secondary school is almost exclusively female. Nursery teachers are women, most doctors are, primary school teachers are women. For those who attend church on Sundays the Sunday school team is almost exclusively female and after school clubs are run largely by women. Fathers, when they work, appear briefly in the evenings and, if they are ideal and involved in the child's upbringing, at weekends.

It is the responsibility of every family to ensure that children have adequate real contact with members of both sexes. In female same sex relationships this is quite difficult at times when the circle of friends is also female dominated.

When my girls were small I was fortunate enough to live in an almost old-fashioned street where you could leave your front door open and kids would be in and out of each other’s houses all the time. Mine spent a lot of time with their godfather next door, a retired man whose own children had yet to produce their first babies. We made sure we had many male friends and the house was usually teeming with adults and children of both sexes. When we moved to another part of the country 7 years ago we worked very hard at re-creating a neighbourhood like that. It’s been relatively easy because I happen to be very outgoing and we moved to a very friendly village. Now the girls are secondary school age where they come into contact with male teachers. My oldest one had prolonged contact with male hospital staff too. But the conditions I brought my girls up in are exceptional, most people do not live in areas where this is possible. When both parents work outside the house it becomes completely elusive.

It used to take a village to raise a child. It still does. Sadly, there are few villages left.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika. It is fascinating, and perhaps instructive, to see how the idolatry of the nuclear family led ironically to its own collapse. The older extended family model provided a much wider support base for children, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, many role models for many roles.

This is one of the difficulties I have with so-called ideals becoming dominant. If any "social experiment" took place in recent history it was the shift to the nuclear family!

June Butler said...

Jumping from generalities to the particular, I'd like to think Grandpère and I make a difference in the lives of our children and our grandchildren. We are blessed in that the farthest we must travel to visit them is 45 minutes.

Especially in the case of my son, who is a single dad, I've been the feminine presence in their lives on his end, for good, I hope.

Indeed! It takes a village to raise a child. In the very dysfunctional nuclear family in which I grew up, we would have sunk under the weight of adversity without the help of the extended family nearby.

Anonymous said...

Children of all genders (by which I mean more than two!) need responsible upbringing by persons of all genders (by which I mean more than two!).

It seems logical to conclude that in MOST cases, one of those persons will be a child's biological mother.

Beyond that, however, we start getting into faith-claims (and/or prejudice).

I have nothing against a child's biological parents pair-bonding and (primarily) raising said child (it worked---I think? *g*---in my bio-parents' raising of me!).

But the whole POINT of Being Human, is that we (the Imago Dei) are MORE than our biology (and for Christians to assert otherwise, demeans our divinely-revealed faith back into a mere fertility cult!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Children of all genders (by which I mean more than two!) need responsible upbringing by persons of all genders (by which I mean more than two!).

JCF: this is the sort of generalization I'm talking about. I'm not sure it stands the test of engagement with reality. That is, I do not see any self-evident (or otherwise evident) truth to this assertion of a "need" for role models based on gender. The whole notion that people become who they are by "modeling" is part of the issue here. Although I think there may be some of that going on at some level, I think it is more true that what children "need" is affection, support, education, nourishment, etc. The source of this need not be tied to biology (the birth parents) nor limited by the gender of caregivers. Human cultures simply display much more variety in childrearing.

Ultimately, to echo your final point, with which I most certainly agree: it is the spirit of upbringing, not the "flesh" of upbringing, that gives life.

IT said...

The more involved adults are in the lives of children, the better for the children. When I was growing up, if a kid got into trouble SOMEONE'S parent would see even if not his own. That communalism is largely gone.

That said, my spouse and I are co-parents to her two children. They also have a fully involved father who shares joint custody with BP; thus I'm kinda a supernumerary parent. (BP's ex is a very wonderful guy). So the idea that gay marriage any more than straight marriage is exclusive in gender is false on the face of it. These people think we live in same-sex ghettoes? Hell, outside BP my closest friends are men....!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The other thing most critics of same-sex parenting miss is that most children in Western cultures (and not a few other world cultures) normally have many caregivers beyond the immediate.

It might be helpful to observe that among the English upper classe, until relatively recently, a young male's caretakers were exclusively female for the first few years of life, and usually didn't include the mother (nannies and governesses instead) and he was then shipped off to the all-male environment of the Public School. Perhaps that explains a good deal.... This is the England that created the Empire, and consequently, the Anglican Communion.

June Butler said...

Perhaps that explains a good deal....

Ouch! And I'm neither English nor male. Thanks for the morning giggle.