September 2, 2019

FROM WHO? TO WHAT?:

'The Great Scattering': How Identity Panic Took Root in the Void Once Occupied by Family Life (Mary Eberstadt, 8/27/19, Quillette)

When sociologists first began mapping the post-revolutionary empirical world beginning a little over half a century ago, they looked first, naturally enough, to the terrain that was easiest to see and measure: fatherlessness and its correlates. In his 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, future U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that black poverty was tied fundamentally to the implosion of the black family, and worried over the rate of out-of-wedlock births--which was then around 25 percent, much higher than that of whites. That rate would continue to rise for both whites and blacks during the decades to come, and academics began connecting dots to show what was happening to children and adolescents in the new social order.

In 1997, one of the most eminent social scientists of the twentieth century, James Q. Wilson, summarized many of these findings succinctly in a speech that was later published as an essay. He identified the root of America's fracturing in the dissolution of the family, and described what he called "the two nations" of America. The dividing line between these cleft territories was no longer one of income or social class, he argued. Instead, it had become all about the hearth.

"It is not money," Wilson documented, "but the family that is the foundation of public life. As it has become weaker, every structure built upon that foundation has become weaker." He pointed to the library that social science had been building for decades, filled with books and studies about the correlations between crumbling family structure and various adverse results. Kinship composition, as Wilson's work among others demonstrated, had become more important to positive outcomes than race, income, or one's station at birth.

Absent fathers have been only the most visible and measurable of the new family lacunae. In a landmark 2000 book called Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt, working with sociologist Norval Glenn, reported on a study into the long-term effects of parental breakup into adulthood. She administered a lengthy questionnaire to 1,500 young adults, half of whose parents had split up by the time the children turned fourteen, and documented differences between children of divorce, and those who came from intact families.

At times, the two groups exhibited starkly opposed concepts of identity. For example, children of divorce were almost three times as likely to "strongly agree" with the statement, "I felt like a different person with each of my parents." They were also twice as likely to "strongly agree" with the statement, "I always felt like an adult, even when I was a little kid"--a particularly poignant expression of confusion about the question "Who am I?" Almost two-thirds of the respondents of divorced homes also "agreed" with the following statement, which similarly expresses the division of oneself: "I felt like I had two families."

This is evocative evidence, again, of the unsteady sense of self that many people, adult and child alike, now experience as the givens of life. It expresses the division of one into more than one--of selves torn, as in the book's title, between worlds. And though these researchers limited their study to children of divorce only, their findings would also appear to apply to any home where two parents play a role in a child's life from different locations.

Pop culture weighs in, too. In a 2004 Policy Review essay called Eminem Is Right, I documented how family rupture, family anarchy and family breakup had become the signature themes of Generation-X and Generation-Y pop. If yesterday's rock was the music of abandon, today's is that of abandonment. The odd truth about contemporary teenage music--the characteristic that most separates it from what has gone before--is its compulsive insistence on the damage wrought by broken homes, family dysfunction, checked-out parents, and (especially) absent fathers. Papa Roach, Everclear, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Snoop Doggy Dogg--these and others have their own generational answer to what ails the modern teenager. That answer is: dysfunctional childhood. During the same years in which progressive-minded and politically correct adults have been excoriating Ozzie and Harriet as artifacts of 1950s-style oppression, millions of American teenagers have enshrined a new generation of music idols whose shared signature in song after song is to rage about what not having had a nuclear family had done to them.

In 2004, identity politics was not the omnipresent headline subject it is today. Even so, the effect of family decline on the sense of self already was appearing writ large across popular music. Tupac Shakur rapped about life with a single mother and no male parent, including in his 1993 Papa'z Song, about a boy who has to play catch by himself. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, both towering figures in 1990s rock, were children of divorce, and both referred back to that event repeatedly in their songs and interviews.

Above all, there is the fiery emotional connection that generations of teenagers have found in rap superstar Eminem. It exists not only on account of his extraordinary facility with language, but also, surely, for his signature themes: absent father, inattentive mother, protectiveness toward a sibling, and rage. Eminem is the Greek chorus of family dysfunction. And long before today's brand of identity panics, a lot of young America already was stumbling over how to answer the question "Who am I?" Just listening to what they were driving up the charts proved the point.

All the lonely people, why do they embrace identity politics? (Madeline Fry, September 01, 2019, Washington Examiner)

"Eleanor Rigby" was strangely prescient of an epidemic of loneliness that afflicts our society today. Senior citizens are increasingly isolated, more than one-fifth of millennials say they have no friends, and scientists are even developing a pill for lonely people.

It's significant that The Beatles released Eleanor Rigby in the '60s. Author Mary Eberstadt might call it a case of foreshadowing, for she argues in Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics that the sexual revolution led to a national sense of loneliness and lack of identity .

Her book, released this month, makes the case that the sexual revolution led, surprisingly, to the rise of identity politics.

"Wherever any one of us stands in matters of the 'culture wars' is immaterial here," she writes. "The plain fact is that the relative stability of yesterday's familial identity could not help but answer the question at the heart of identity politics -- Who am I? -- in ways that many men, women, and children can't answer it any more."

In some ways, Primal Screams is a follow-up to Eberstadt's 2012 book, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution. If the sexual revolution led to unexpected problems between men and women, how else has it affected us as a society? Primal Screams answers that question.


Posted by at September 2, 2019 12:00 AM

  

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