Liberals Didn't Kill the Family - Traditionalism Failed
Even though I'm not content with many of the clownish antics of "social justice" activists, I am still a liberal. The problem is that, in liberal circles I find myself acting and feeling like a conservative, and in conservative spaces I find myself feeling like a liberal. The latter is what prompted me to write this. On a FaceBook page associated with a YouTuber I follow, who is not conservative, I saw a conservative meme about how "liberals" are supposedly seeking to destroy the family and Christianity:
I feel like talking about and responding to this meme, because memes are the art of the people, and a medium through which people communicate ideas, which sometimes are serious and important to discuss. In this case, the meme conveys the conservative ideas that the decline of family values and religious traditions in the West.
But what they won't tell you, or admit to themselves, was that our traditional ways of thinking about "family" and traditional religious values were flawed and wrong, in my opinion, not worth saving. Why? I know that people like to cling to their illusion of continuity from past to present. That preserving our ancestors' wishes seems like the right thing to do. That being part of an unbroken tradition from however long ago it was that your branch of Christianity grew is appealing on a deep, emotional level. But there are several things that are inherently flawed about traditional thinking in the West. There are reasons it died, not just because mean old liberals and feminists decided to attack it with mean words on the internet. If those traditional institutions of church and family were so robust, you'd think they'd survive a few lectures from a few crackpot feminist professors. But they're fragile, they can't take criticism well, because their critics have a point and they know it.
So, while I've fought my own battles against sacred feminist dogma before, I think now it's also time to address the fact that doing so doesn't make me a conservative. Never has, never will.
So, here's a list of the biggest flaws I've found in traditionalist American thinking.
1. No Room for Alternative Sexualities
In the traditional conservative way of thinking, men were men, women were women, and men and women were supposed to live together as man and wife and make babies and be completely happy with, or at least pretend to be completely happy with, total monogamous devotion until one partner dies.
The problem is, this viewpoint of human sexuality put it into a very narrow, very limited box that is inherently prone to leaving a lot of people out and feeling unsatisfied. You could say, well it wasn't about feelings of satisfaction, it was about continuing the species. I guess that makes sense, but human life is more precious than animal life because we do more and strive for something higher in life than just animalistic mating. It's interesting to me that people on one hand can believe that God created man for a divine purpose, and then also tell us that that purpose is to do exactly what Adam and Eve did, over and over and over again continuously. But repetition of the same action without feelings involved is what a machine does, not what humans do. If you really believe humans are special, you should believe that that specialness includes our sexuality and the possibility of seeing beyond the restrictive confines of heteronormativity and monogamous-normativity.
Basically, there were a whole lot of people not served by the traditional 1950's idea of what a family was, including but not limited to:
- Gay and lesbian people.
- Bisexual and asexual people.
- People who don't want to get married.
- People who want to live with multiple sexual partners.
- People who want to put their energy into their life's work rather than a partner and children.
- People who want to maximize their own happiness even when it would come at the expense of being married and having children.
- Couples who don't want to have children.
- People who want to have multiple sex partners without settling down.
- Women who want to be breadwinners.
- Men who want to be stay-at-home dads.
- Single parenting.
- Divorce and step-parenting.
And so on. Traditionalism failed because it didn't have an answer for any of these people, which all represent decently-sized minorities in any given population, inevitably. What traditionalism says to the woman who wants a divorce or to the man who thinks he might be gay is, well tough. You have to grin and bear it and try to pretend you fit easily and comfortably into a "one size fits all" lifestyle prescribed to everyone.
Resistance against the traditional family, from within its parameters, then becomes inevitable. That's because they have a biological fundamentalist view of human nature, that says that all humans should derive happiness from the same exact kind of sexual lifestyle, and even if they don't, they should pretend anyway. And that view of human nature is absurd when you critically examine it.
2. Rigid Gender Roles
A funny thing about many so-called "traditionalist" women I see on the internet these days; they're not living a traditional lifestyle at all. 200 years ago, a woman in the United States would get married as a teenager, to a man selected by her parents. She would be expected to perform "wifely duties" on command, in exchange for him paying for her living expenses and supporting children resulting. Children were expected. Many were had, many would die. Women worked at home and would not be seen in public without thick cloth covering them from neck to ankle. No makeup, no frivolities, no speaking out of turn. Life was hard work for both men and women. A woman's job was to have children, and care for them, which would likely cost her her life. This was why schoolteachers had to live like nuns, not only to be a moral example to the children, but because being a wife and mother were then so dangerous and time-consuming. For example, women often died by accidentally lighting themselves on fire with the crude clothes irons that were once used. Women were largely saved from this strict agrarian lifestyle by male inventions that made women's work safer, faster, and easier throughout the early 20th century.
But just as probably few people want to go back to using 19th century style clothes irons, nobody really wants to go back to 10th century gender rules, even people who call themselves conservative. I see a lot of conservative women on the internet. Many are single well into their late 20's or even their 30's and beyond. Many of them wear clothing that would have been considered shocking and scandalous in 1950. Many of them are female breadwinners even when that was seen as the male role traditionally. Many of them do things forbidden years ago, such as have sex outside of marriage, dance suggestively in public, or go out and drink without an escort. It's hypocritical in my book. You are living a liberal, "sinful" lifestyle according to the values of your ancestors, values you claim to be supporting. You can't flout traditional gender norms in your every deed while your words claim to be for them. Or maybe you're just confused, or have no idea how truly restrictive and merciless traditional gender norms were?
Anyway, the point is, just like with alternative sexuality, the traditional family blueprint left no wiggle room for anyone to deviate in their expression of gender. It was just as oppressive and bullshit for men as it was for women, if not more so, because men died more than women did over their adherence to gender norms. What feminism today needs to do is acknowledge that gender traditions and conventions are just as unfair when applied to men as they are when applied to women and people who choose alternative means of describing their gender identity.
And speaking of choosing alternative means to describe one's gender identity, you might think "oh God, these troublesome snowflake types have decided to redefine gender according to ideas made up on Tumblr 5 minutes ago" and yes, that happens sometimes. But what's also going on is that people psychologically inclined to gender-nonconforming have always existed. It's just that now, instead of being marginalized, punished, tortured by parents and peers until they pretended to be someone they didn't feel like inside, or thrown into insane asylums to be locked up for life, they are being respected and treated like human beings. Oh man, the decline of Western civilization right? Treating people who don't conform to our narrow gender roles and definitions and expectations placed on them... like... human... beings. Terrible. Disgraceful.
3. Social Cohesion at the Cost of Othering
Religion, traditionalism, and patriotism, are all touted not because they're based on truth and scientific evidence about human nature, but often they're argued for on the basis of the fact that "religious values", usually Judeo-Christian values in America, are supposedly the basis for social cohesion and order.
But as someone who studied medieval history in depth because I like it and as a fan and aspiring author of fantasy fiction, I have to say that the whole "society + Christianity = magical happy time fun order" doesn't hold water for me as an argument. Christianity at the twilight of the Roman Empire certainly did give people hope during a bleak time. But its spread across the European continent was not the joyful tale of missionaries and miracles you might have been taught as a kid in a Christian school. It was bloody. Kings decided the religious affiliation for their followers, so a king converting meant all of his people were forced to convert, or be killed. A religion that came up out of secret meetings in catacombs became the dominant force on the continent. They did this through warfare and through missionaries persuading kings to convert, commonly involving bribery of said kings with land, power, or promises of military support. Europe was considered more or less fully 'Christianized' around 1000 AD.
What followed included persecutions, some very naughty popes and priests, and religious war after religious war. Fights broke out between Christians and pagans, and between Christians and members of alternative theological sects of Christianity. Throughout the middle ages, theological problems often resulted in massive bloodshed, with the losing side being labeled demonic or heretical. Then, anger was directed at Muslims, when the Crusades were launched so that the Popes could gain more power by seizing lands in Israel. Anger and hostility towards Jews rose as well. Then after the Crusades ended, the Reformation began, and Europe continued to bleed as newly-forming Protestant sects fought the Catholic church for dominance of territories. Europe was solidly a Christian continent for almost a thousand years, and in that time, religion caused all manner of internal political turmoil and instability, as well as some of the grimmer things that happened in history that were caused by man. So the whole idea that Christianity is supposed to give us social cohesion is, to a historian or serious student of history, laughable.
That's not even touching the fact that in the modern day, the states in the United States of America that have the worst crime and poverty are also the most Christian. Or the fact that many countries with greater political instability, corruption, war, and poverty than the U.S. are more religious than us.
Why do I think this is? Well, any social cohesion bought by a religion that is by nature exclusive and intolerant of other forms of religious practice is bought at the expense of demonizing people who fall outside the orthodox way of thinking about and practicing religion. In the 1950's in America, for example, it was very difficult to be an atheist, or to be a member of a religion other than Christianity, or to be personally spiritually fulfilled without going to church regularly. If Christianity gave people a sense of order and unity, it came at the expense of ostracizing, marginalizing, and judging people outside of or opposed to Christianity.
A religiously tolerant and pluralistic society is likely more stable than one that chooses one religion to follow and forces others to recant or leave. That is exactly why our founding fathers included the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We did not want an official state-sanctioned church in this country. We were founded to be a country that would tolerate many diverse differences of religion within its borders, neither supporting nor condemning any of them. This is what gave the United States an edge over Europe in terms of social stability. It was our tolerance of religious diversity, not our strict adherence to any one form of Christian worship over others, that made us a great country.
I don't think traditionalism is declining because of the efforts of men in tutus and tacky beads at Pride parades, or women with spiky dyed hair and face piercings who act like tomboys. I think the real problem is that those people would have still existed and still been themselves even if society was less tolerant, all that would have changed is that those people would be living much less open, much more fearful, much more miserable lives, filled with shame and self-hatred. I think the intolerance and inflexibility that is part of traditionalist philosophies means they can't handle change in a rapidly evolving world.
Society is changing because of technology. People who fall outside the norm are not hidden anymore, they're visible. That's why people feel like they're suddenly being made to see a lot of gender and other nonconforming behaviors on their screens every day. Because, they didn't used to have to hear and see such people. They didn't have to hear and see challenges to their traditional way of life. They didn't have to hear and see and be challenged by people who were different. Now they do, and some are unable to handle it without coming mentally unglued.
Some, are just hypocritical, able to meld with social progress when it benefits them but not when it doesn't. For example, everyone's heard of the conservative dude who's said something like, "I don't know how you could support polygamy, all 5 of my marriages were totally monogamous!" Or less humorously, it's not uncommon to hear in the news stories about vehement pro-family male politicians being caught sleeping with men, sometimes male prostitutes, despite being married to women.
I don't think liberal activism or "the media" or the Jews (who are actually part of a religion that is very socially conservative, if you actually bothered to look into what Judaism actually entails before spouting bullshit about them), or feminism that is to blame in the West's decline in church attendance, faith in God, or traditional marriage. I think the problem is that church and patriotism and traditionalism failed too many people for too long that we finally started to say enough is enough. But nobody handles losing power gracefully.