Science And Morality
by Charles MacFarland
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Chapter 1 |
Chapter 2 |
Chapter 3 |
Chapter 4 |
Chapter 5 |
Chapter 6 |
Chapter 7 |
Chapter 8 |
Chapter 9 |
Chapter 10 |
Chapter 11 |