Monday, June 11, 2012

The Family in a Specialized Culture

Frederick Cotman; "One of the Family"
"Do not be bullied out of your common sense by the specialist; two to one, he is a pedant."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

It seems pretty evident that the family is essentially counter-cultural in today's society.  This claim, if true, does not bode well for our culture, given that the family is the microcosm of society.  We all know what happens when a body's cells are in conflict with the body as a whole.

Here is just one example of this conflict on a basic level:

Engine problems? Call the auto specialist!
"Leave it to the experts" is a common mantra these days.  Images of a man desperately attempting to check a wild spray of water from the plumbing as the wife calls the plumber with a smile on her lips  come to mind. If something needs to be fixed, you take it to a specialist.  The car is taken to the auto shop, you call the plumber for the pipes, electricians deal with wiring, accountants with your money, lawyers with your legality, H&R Block with your taxes,  and the doctor with your well-being (usually universally). You send your children to public school for just the same reason.  If a criminal attacks you, call the police.

It is dangerous to try to do things that you are not "qualified" to do.  If you don't have a license or certificate, it is commonly thought that you cannot possibly do something in a safe and legitimate manner.  This is a very common attitude. Any other is thought to be purely irresponsible.  And indeed, should you trespass into the realm of specialties (everything is a specialty) for which you do not have some sort of license you are likely to be prosecuted or at least sued.

Complicated budgeting problems? Call the finance specialist!
But what is left to the father or mother of a family?  They don't have any legitimate expertise (or, therefore, soveregnty), over their finances, children, homes, and even their own persons (think self defense).  They cannot be anything more than facilitators in allowing a constellation of specialists help generate more strong individuals (not too many, mind you). These strong individuals can go on to be contributing (specialized) members of society. Of course, more often than not, permits, licenses, diplomas and certificates do not mean a thing about their recipient.  For a small fee, you can get many certificates for a variety of specialties.

Colicky newborn? Call the baby specialist!
What's really strange is that even parents are, in a certain way, expected to be specialists in their field. When we lived overseas in a college town without many married friends, we raised our daughter the way we thought was best, without the help or opinions of "specialists." Coincidentally, our parenting "style" included all of the fundamental elements of "attachment parenting" (now made even more famous by the recent article in the "Times"), including nursing "on demand" (what a horrible way to put it), and carrying our daughter in a sling. When we found ourselves in parenting circles, we were surprised and baffled to hear comments like, "Oh, so you like the Sears method," and "Ahhhh, the AP approach!" We scratched our heads and wondered why our parenting habits were associated with department stores and writing styles. We had no idea who Dr. Sears was, but as parents, it was assumed that we "specialized" in one parenting style or another, just like all helpless parents who need experts to tell them how to raise their children. Funnily enough, these styles themselves are often developed by parenting specialists with all the papers to prove their authority, from Dr. Sears to Dr. Ferber.

Trying to shed a few? Call a fitness specialist!
Society has always had (and needed) doctors, midwives, farmers, carpenters...But are these people only permitted to dwell in the confined sphere of their studies' focus?  And are we not also able to consider our health, make decisions about health without necessarily consulting or obeying our doctor?  Do we experience life in such a compartmentalized fashion?  Specialized movements are unhealthy and bad for the human person, a carpal tunnel syndrome of the soul.  Doctors should read philosophy.  Philosophers should study biology.  They don't need to get degrees in these other fields.  They need to study them to be more truly human and live a more authentically human life, to therefore be better doctors and philosophers.  We assume that our experts will be more knowledgeable if they focus only in one area.  But stepping back, how could this be?  Life is a whole.  Besides, a piece of paper is often easy to get, but it doesn't always ensure authority.

Don'y buy that beer until you've consulted a beer specialist!!
So why are these pieces of paper so important to society?  Often enough they have nothing to do with a deep and essential knowledge, a level of experience, an authentic wisdom or a superlative insight.  It's about protection.  They are paper shields for an overly developed, grotesque, overripe legal system.

The authentic family cannot function in such a system.  If it is fulfilling its function, it naturally resists it.

Why?  Because the family is a Whole, a Microcosm. We cannot be relegated to being secretaries for our families and our selves.

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