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Science And Morality

by Charles MacFarland
Chapter 7


SCITECH VII: FAMILY VALUES.

A MODERN PUZZLE.

In many areas, the changes in morality demanded by Scitech are obvious. For example, the morality of slavery, which was universally accepted in Agsoc, is now reversed. Slavery is now regarded as immoral, and universal freedom and equality for all humans are the rule.

Similarly for war. We learned in the 20th century that beating up on your neighbours and stealing all their goods is no longer a practical way to make your own country rich and powerful. Accordingly, war is now seen as immoral, which it never really was in Agsoc, where soldiers and warrior kings were glorified. Peaceful negociation is now seen as the ideal, and aggression is the evil.

Similarly for sex. Gradually we're discarding the old Agsoc strictures on sex, such as the double standard for women and the persecution of homosexuals. Sexual morality is heading toward an ideal in which any non-hurtful activity is acceptable, at least between consenting adults.

In the area of the family, however, the changes are not so clear. Scitech has done much to attack the family as a social or moral unit, but it has not yet provided anything to take its place. This is the cause of many social problems today.

The attack of Scitech on the family comes in two areas. The first, as we have already seen, is children. Having children is a much more expensive and complicated business under Scitech than it ever was in the Agsoc or tribal ecotypes. Young adults who blithly engender suddenly find their lives assaulted with a whole host of problems and demands. Indeed, their whole lives are swallowed up by the demands of kids. As the saying goes: these days, you can have kids, or you can do everything else in life.

The other attack of Scitech on the family comes in the area of personal freedom. Scitech has made it possible for most people to live interesting and independent lives. Women as well as men can have worthwhile careers, can own their own homes and cars, can travel to interesting places, and so on. This is great, but it puts a lot of pressure on a relationship.

In Agsoc days, most men were stuck on a farm or in a craft, and rarely left their home area. It was easier for a man to stay with one woman in those days, and the women, of course, were supposed to be totally subservient. Tribal society was just as easy. People rarely left their tribe, and everyone's role was clear within the tribe.

Most modern family problems come from one of these two areas. Relationships are under considerable stress nowadays because both members of the couple consider themselves, quite properly, to be free and independent, and thus they are dragged apart by different jobs, different interests, different friends, different ideas about where and how to live.

Once the family has children, the stress becomes even greater. The couple suddenly finds itself with a lot more work to do, and the financial pressures are enormous.

The Scitech ideal of personal freedom also puts another curious stress on the family because it has changed our ideas of how to raise kids, or rather, left us with all sorts of different ideas. Should kids also be seen as free and independent? What sort of obedience should parents expect, and what sort of guidance should they provide? How, in short, does one go about raising kids properly? Our society has many answers and no real answer.

In the area of the family, Scitech has destroyed the old morality, but has not provided any clear new morality. What answers can we find? At this point perhaps we should go back and see what answers tribal societies and Agsoc provided.

FAMILY HISTORY.

Every tribal society ever studied by anthropologists has had some form of marriage. In this sense marriage and the family have to be seen as natural human institutions.

But marriage in tribal societies takes many forms. Many tribal societies are matriarchal. The important aspects of a child's life, like his or her clan, are determined by his mother, not his father. In the raising of boys, the most important person may be his mother's brother rather than his father. Some tribes are so matriarchal that important decisions are made by women, such as whether to go to war with another tribe.

The seriousness of marriage varies widely too. The people of some tribes mate for life, while in other tribes, divorce may be common. Among the Waranachi, for example, when a man marries a woman he simply moves into her tipi, and when she's tired of him, she can divorce him simply by throwing his possessions out the door.

The most important factor in tribal family life is that in tribes, the raising of children is really a tribal matter. The family is involved, but it is not crucial. The tribe will take care of the children, and see that they are raised properly, no matter what the parents do, or what happens to them.

So in tribal society, the family is not such an important unit. There isn't a lot of pressure on the family, and it doesn't matter much if the family sticks together. Given the difficulty of men and women getting along together, this was a very happy situation. But Agsoc changed everything.

Several factors of Agsoc made the family into the most important social institution. Marriage became vital, and the endurance of marriage was essential. For children, the most important thing in their lives was the family they were born into.

The first factor was the enormous rise in population which came about because Agsoc made food supplies so much more abundant. Cities grew up, as we said in Essay 1, and the nation, not the tribe, became the overall social unit.

In the course of this population explosion the old coherence of the tribe disappeared. Suddenly children without parents were a problem. The tribe was no longer there to take care of them. So it was important that the family unit, the mother and father, stay together. If the parents should die, the extended family had to rally around and take care of the children.

The second factor was that Agsoc was generally patriarchal. Men took over all the important jobs when agriculture came in. Farming was woman's work in its earliest days, when tribes farmed in a small way along river margins and such, but large-scale farming became man's work, probably because it was so demanding. Physical strength is important in clearing a field or pushing a plow.

As we've seen, war became important when Agsoc came in, so soldiering became another important male profession. All the rulers in Agsoc were male, especially the King, who was generally the war leader. Matriarchy disappeared. Political power went to the males, and it was generally inherited.

Inheritance was the third factor which made the family vital in Agsoc. Onwership became important in Agsoc because there were so many things to own: fields, herds, houses, stored foods, furniture, works of art, jewelry, and accumulated wealth of all kinds. Tribes didn't have much of this because they could only own what they could carry around.

In Agsoc there were lots of goods to inherit, as well as political power. Since Agsoc was patriarchal, the goods and power went from fathers to sons. In Agsoc, the most important thing about your life was who your father was, plus other relatives. This persisted right down to the last century, and still persists to the present day in some respects.

The family was therefore vital. The family had to stay together. To be disloyal to a member of your family was the ultimate sin. The people you could turn to, the only ones you could really depend on, were your family.

Furthermore, since inheritance was so important, it was vital for men to know who their children were. The only way for them to be sure about this was for them to demand total "faithfulness" from their wives. Adultery, in Agsoc, became a dreadful sin, for women.

Thus began the whole dreary business of the double standard for women, and the obsessive fixation on virginity before marriage. Women had to be trained to avoid sex, and to permit it only with their husbands. Anything else was too threatening to the laws of patriarchal inheritance.

If women were allowed to have sex before marriage, the result might be a child without a legal father. This was a calamity in Agsoc, for there would be no one to pay for the child (men had all the money), and the child would have no inheritance, which meant no role or station in life. If women were allowed to have sex outside marriage, a father might wind up paying for and giving his station in life to someone else's child. This was the essence of Family Values.

FAMILY VALUES.

Agsoc was around for so long that most people came to accept these conditions as somehow natural for human beings. People forgot that humans lived in the tribal ecotype for nearly all of their biological history.

Sociobiologists, for example, support the idea that women are "naturally" more interested in permanent relationships than men are. They point out that a woman is relatively helpless during pregnancy and while raising small children, and assert that she needed a permanent man around to provide food, protection, etc. Hence women, even today, inherently want "commitment" from a man.

But this is plainly nonsense. In tribal societies the children are cared for by the tribe. It doesn't matter much who their father is. Food is shared by the whole tribe, on a traditional basis. Clothing and shelter are made for everyone by various people, through traditional tribal roles. The tribe itself is the defensive unit that protects children and their mothers. Women have no need of a permanent husband to provide for their children in any way.

Women's need for a husband is really only a factor of Agsoc life, not tribal. If women today have a preference for permanent relationships, this is something they have learned, not something in their genes. Even today it is drummed into women, by magazines and films, that their only happiness is through a permanent relationship, and so the old idea persists. But the sociobiologists are chasing a will o' the wisp.

The Church also preaches Agsoc family ideas as if they were natural. Jesus, despite his advanced ideas about some aspects of morality (such as war), railled frequently against promiscuity and especially against adultery, as well he might, considering how confused his own parentage was. His exact relationship to Joseph is as bewildering as his mother's exact sexual relationships. One thing certain is that Jesus was considered to be the hotshot he was because of Who his father was. That's definitely an Agsoc notion.

Political conservatives -- those who stick to Agsoc notions -- also like to consider Family Values as natural. In America, interestingly enough, such groups often are centred in areas where farming is predominant, like the Middle West and the South. Modern farming is really an aspect of Scitech, with its huge machines and engineered seeds and fertilizers and pesticides, but somehow there's enough of the old spirit of farming in these areas to make the people cling to old values.

For these people, the pattern of life is clear. A young man and woman meet and marry and have children. The marriage is for life, and the children are raised solely by their parents, who provide all their guidance and values. When the children grow up, they go off and do it all again. The family is always the most important factor in their lives.

This pattern ignores the fact that for most of human existence, human existence has been tribal, which means communal. It also ignores the assaults that Scitech's new values, like equality and education and the richness and variety of life, are making on the rather boring world of Family Values.

But what other pattern does Scitech offer? As we said, that's still in the process of evolving -- still not clear.

SCITECH POSSIBILITIES.

One way that we have of handling children in modern times is to send them to school. The school, as we've seen, is a Scitech creation. Children need education in order to function in a Scitech society, and it's a happy extra that the school can also look after them and raise them.

This combination works so well that schooling seems to be expanding in our world. Day-care centres now look after children from very early infancy, and also after school. A modern child may easily spend almost all its time, from morning to night every day, in some sort of school. And then its vacations in other group institutions like camps.

In effect, this is communal child care, much like the tribal ecotype. The parents live mostly in the background of children's lives, as they probably did in tribal times.

The question, of course, is whether children can get along with this alone. Do children need the individual care of their parents? Is there any way parents could be brought into the life of the schools? This has been tried, but hasn't worked out very well, partly because most parents are too busy with jobs.

Schools are also not very attractive to many kids, particularly as the kids get older. This is because schools in our society have another function in addition to their educative function. We can call this their judgmental function: schools are used by our society to sort out the "bright" kids from the others, and thus to decide who's going to get the desirable jobs. This is why schools have to give grades, and, naturally, why many kids hate them.

Communal raising of kids was also attempted in various communes of the 1960's and since. This was in fact one of the big advantages of living in communes: children found it a great environment to grow up in, as many of them, now grown up, will assure you today.

Unfortunately, communes don't work very well in most other ways. People today have very strong ideas of ownership, which we got from Agsoc, and also of individual independence, which we got from Scitech. Communes, which are basically an attempt to return to the tribal ecotype, just don't work very well.

Communal raising of children still keeps appearing, though. Groups of mothers, especially single mothers, will often band together to share child-minding. This is better than nothing, but it's not exactly a Scitech ideal.

Another modern ideal, which is a curious survivor from the Agsoc era, is the Romance ideal. This is the idea that, if a young person can only find the right romantic partner, a whole lifelong world of happiness will magically open up. It's an ideal that provides virtually the sole subject matter for popular music and which is a domineering element in nearly all feature films.

In Agsoc the Romance ideal was used as the foundation for Family Values. Romance was the spark that ignited the marriage and was the glue that held it together for life. The curiously mixed metaphor of that sentence shows why the Romance ideal often didn't work.

In fact, if there were a brand of automobile that failed and led to disaster as often as the Romance ideal does, it would be banned from the roads.

We cling to the Romance ideal for a good reason: sexual magic does in fact provide the most powerful and wonderful experience most of us will ever have. And every once in awhile, with certain lucky couples, the Romance ideal does work, and they stay together happy all their lives. But the Romance ideal also often fails, for the same reason that Family Values don't work: Scitech has arrayed too many forces against it.

The opposite of the Romance ideal might be called the Promiscuity ideal: the notion that the way to be happy is to have lots of different sexual partners as often as possible. Or at least, to have a series of partners for various lengths of time, which we might call the Promiscuity Romance ideal.

The Promiscuity ideal was prominent in the heady days of the sexual revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, and there are still many people who believe in it, especially men. Homosexual clubs vibrate with this ideal sometimes, as do swingers' clubs. But sexually-transmitted diseases have scared this ideal a bit, and large numbers of people who've been raised in broken marriages are repelled by it.

Scitech seems to have left us with a variety of ways to deal with sex and the family. The Family Values pattern has been abandoned by most but not all. The Romance and Promiscuity ideals are scattered here and there. Raising of kids is done in a smorgasboard of ways including schools and communal groups and lone parents and a few rare traditional families.

The future may see a new Scitech ideal arise, but I don't think so. The most compelling characteristic of Scitech is the variety of life that it creates. Sex and the family will go on breaking up into different currents and directions, some of them not so successful perhaps, but others much better than the old Agsoc ways. We can only comfort ourselves the the knowledge that, amidst the uncertainty and occasional disaster, our Scitech future will be always be vibrant and exciting.

 


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