As a teenager, I was secretly disdainful of my peers because they were oblivious to the suffering of others. My family and I were part of a morally superior secret society that cared more about the fate of the world than did our bourgeois, materialistic neighbors. We - whose showplace home could have been in House and Garden - worried about poverty, racism and injustice, while they worried about how to keep up with the Joneses.
But did caring about "social justice" really lead to morally superior behaviour? It doesn't seem to have done so. If you read a column she wrote about her love life in the late 1960s, you get a sense of just how destructive the morals of the era could be. In short, she decided to pursue married men. She writes about her first affair with a married man that:
His wife wasn't real to me--she was just an obstacle.
When that relationship ended, she decided to pursue another married man named Michael:
The only hindrance to our budding romance was his pregnant wife and their young child. His marital status made him a challenge to seduce and I couldn't resist. Michael and I fell madly in love and had a steamy affair. I reveled in his adoration of me. I tried desperately to talk him into leaving his wife, invoking the power of our love. I was a romantic to the core and never questioned that love should always triumph. It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with breaking up his marriage.
When the relationship with Michael ended, she moved onto Larry:
I fell in love with Larry, yet another romantic writer, and moved in with him. After he dumped me a year later--he was tired of me hassling him to get married--I called Michael to see if he wanted to take up where we'd left off. Although he said he still loved me, the answer was a resounding no. It seemed his wife, who was pregnant when we'd met, had found out about us and then committed suicide after the baby was born. She was devastated by his infidelity, and was also undoubtedly stricken by post-partum depression as well, an unknown malady at the time. He now had two small children and felt too massively guilty to have anything to do with me ever again. I was shocked, horrified, but it never really occurred to me to feel guilty about his poor wife--or poor kids-- my ethical development was sorely lacking I'm afraid. To my eternal shame I only felt sorry for myself. No man, no place to live, no job.
It seems that growing up communist and worrying about "poverty, racism and injustice" didn't really create a genuinely morally sensitive woman.
The story gets worse. Erica eventually married a younger, unemployed man who became the primary carer for their adopted daughter. But he left them for another woman when the daughter was seven:
my adopted daughter, who, at age seven wound up in a psychiatric hospital diagnosed with a mood disorder. She felt abandoned both by me, since I was too depressed to be there for her emotionally, and also by her father who left me for another woman. He had been her primary caretaker as well, so that compounded the injury. She cried every night for a year, and then became progressively more angry, destructive, violent and even suicidal. The poor kid--whose birth mom had been an addict--really didn't have the inner emotional resources to deal with divorce.
Erica Manfred did have a moral vision. This, for instance, is what she wrote in 1997:
What remains of the left in today's me-first political climate leaves no room for grand social visions. The younger generation of leftists has splintered into interest groups - each defending its turf with more arrogant political correctness than my die-hard Stalinist parents - without any unifying vision of a just and compassionate society.
Though I long ago dropped the torch, my upbringing has had certain long-term effects. I cannot cross a picket line. I am constitutionally averse to Republicans. I feel guilty every time I miss a demonstration for a good cause. (Lucky for me there aren't too many of those these days.) As with other wishy-washy liberals, my political life consists of voting for the least objectionable candidate.
I still long, though, for a political movement I could wholeheartedly embrace. In my fantasy party we would support the interests of the poor and working classes, not the rich; we would fight for the rights of animals and the environment; we would combat discrimination wherever we found it, and, most important, we would not only tolerate but encourage dissent.
Maybe the next generation.
But it's a moral vision that is deficient. Erica Manfred can spout all the boilerplate she likes about a just and compassionate society or combatting discrimination or encouraging dissent - but none of this "grand social vision" seems to have encompassed creating a workable culture of family life or personal relationships.