Not so good. Scientism, the attempt to apply the kind of reasoning at work in the natural sciences to the whole of life, has encouraged a technological view of society. There are to be universal systems based on clear and efficient principles which can be applied and managed by experts.
The traditional family fails as a technology. Jim Kalb has explained some of the reasons why:
(a) For a rational technological system to exist, everything has to be transparent and manageable from the point of view of those on top.
(b) Traditional and local institutions - family, religion, nationality, and non-liberal conceptions of personal integrity and dignity
i) Are generally opaque and resistant to outside control. They're recalcitrant.
ii) Aren't oriented toward maximum equal satisfaction of individual preference ...
iii) Aren't based on expert knowledge ...
iv) Recognise distinctions and authorities that aren't required by liberal market and bureaucratic institutions. It follows that they're based on hate and oppression. The family, for instance, is based on distinctions of sex, age and blood ... (see p.8)
Is it possible to find examples of moderns rejecting the family on the grounds outlined above by Jim Kalb? Absolutely.
Leon Trotsky wrote the following in 1932 in defence of the attempts to reform the family in communist Russia:
The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called “family hearth” - that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution ... The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organizations, moving-picture theaters, etc.
Note the terminology at work: "archaic, stuffy and stagnant", a "shut-in petty enterprise". The term "shut-in" corresponds to Kalb's second point, namely that the traditional family is too opaque and resistant to outside control to function well as a technology. The complaint that the family is a "petty enterprise" makes sense if you expect the institutions of society to exist as part of a universal, centralised system managed from the top.
And then there is Tom Flynn. A few years ago he was co-editor of the Secular Humanist Bulletin. In an article titled "Replacing our Last Cottage Industry" he exhorted secular humanists to continue their attack on the family:
Pat Robertson is right - as secular humanists, we are heir to a tradition that is in many ways profoundly anti-family. For more than a hundred years humanists and freethinkers have been either center stage, or cheering from the front row, each time reform blunted the family's ubiquity and power ... humanists and other reformers have dealt the family countless body blows. Some say the family is becoming more inclusive. I say we are subduing the family, not extending it - perhaps setting the stage for its replacement.
Secular humanists should celebrate this achievement, not minimize it, and renew their assaults upon the family. This obsolete and exploitative institution must go.
What does Tom Flynn have against the family? He explains:
... At humanism's core lies enmity toward all things medieval, authoritarian, and obscurantist. As medieval holdovers go, the family is short on obscurantism, but drenched in authoritarianism. It's second only to matrimony in transmitting the idea of women as brood animals. In perpetuating the idea of children as property it has no peer. The family must go.
So secular humanists object to that which is "obscurantist". This seems to relate to Kalb's observation that institutions which are "opaque" aren't well suited for technological systems.
Flynn also objects to the authoritarianism of the family. This was predicted in Kalb's fourth point: the family fails in a technological society because it recognises authorities not required by liberal market and bureaucratic institutions.
Similary, there is Flynn's objection to the place of women and children in the family. Again this is predicted in Kalb's fourth point: the family fails in a technological society because it recognises distinctions of age and sex not required by liberal market and bureaucratic institutions. These distinctions will therefore be understood and explained in a negative sense, as aspects of oppression.
What's most intersting, though, is another of Flynn's objections to the family, the one fitting Kalb's third point: that it isn't administered by a class of experts:
... the family stands in the way of another implicit humanist goal: decoupling ... reproduction from parenting. The birth control explosion of the 60s emancipated much sex from reproduction. Yet even today, few can imagine anyone but themselves raising their kids, as though conception and childbirth imply anything about one's capacity to prepare a child for today's complex world.
The costs of cottage industry
We expect specialists to build our cars, raise our buildings, make our clothing, write our software - the list is endless. Perversely, only society's most precious products - us - are still entrusted to cottage industry. If society is falling apart as conservatives charge, perhaps the blame lies not with "alternative family structures" (more accurately, non-familial households) but simply with parents, single or married, rich or poor, for whom parenting could never be more than a hobby - pursued in naive isolation, abandoned just when one threatens to get good at it. While procreation and parenting remain yoked, most children are doomed to be raised by amateurs ...
The family, our last cottage industry, must go!
Looking Backwards - Issuing A Challenge
In 1888 Edward Bellamy published the utopian novel Looking Backwards, 2000-1887. Bellamy predicted that by the 21st Century capitalism, home, and family would be forgotten. Generations of reformers imbibed Bellamy's vivid images of happy workers who lived in dorms and ate in refectories, of children raised in large cohorts by gifted mentors, and dreamt that this was the shape of things to come. Science-fiction masters like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and others portrayed futures in which the family had been eclipsed by licensed, professionalized alternatives. Many progressives simply assumed that one day, if not too soon, parenting would be a career like any other. Those most capable of it would be trained to mentor armies of children not their own.
Too many secular humanists no longer find such visions compelling.
It's interesting how similar Trotsky's turn of phrase is to Flynn's. Trotsky condemned the family as an archaic petty enterprise; Flynn condemns it as a cottage industry.
There is the same technological impulse at work; instead of a family run as a "hobby" by "amateurs" (i.e. by parents), children would instead by raised by "specialists", by "licensed, professionals" who would transform parenting into a "career".
Note that Flynn isn't satisfied with the degree to which children are already raised by "specialists" (i.e. via schools and pre-school centres). He wants to take the principle further, so that bearing a child would no longer be connected to parenting that child. He wants there to be fewer children and for these children to be raised by "gifted mentors" rather than by their biological parents. He asks:
Can we construct a vision of an individualist future where most sex never leads to conception; where only a fraction of the population reproduces; and where only gifted mentors parent, without regard for whose offspring the children may be?
The most direct response to Flynn's challenge is to state clearly that the family is not a technology and cannot be ordered on the basis of neutral expertise, or centralised management, or bureaucratic or market authority. It is too much an intimate, private institution based on instinct, affection, and natural forms of loyalty and distinction.
Hat tip: for the Flynn article, Pilgrimage to Montsalvat.
See also: The family is not a technology & The revolutionary family heads west