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The Big Answer

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Family Politics: Love and Power on an Intimate Frontier

a book by Letty C. Pogrebin

(our site's book review)

Like George Lakoff of Moral-Politics fame, she’s liberal but still manages to be very insightful and objective about much of what she discusses. Before the first paragraph is through, Pogrebin’s already made it clear that she knows that her unusually dense family and extended family connections have enriched her life. (Alvin Toffler—of Future Shock fame—and Fritjof Capra—of The Web of Life fame—have said similar things about their upbringings.) She says, “our generation is looking for ways to preserve those [traditional family life] virtues while changing what is unsatisfactory about the family of the past.”

Pogrebin wants to strike a balance between individual and group
Pogrebin wants to strike a balance between individual and group

She wants to strike a balance between individual and group, adventure and security (à la Maslow, of Toward a Psychology of Being fame), and intimacy and autonomy. Note: A better dichotomy than the latter would be independence and dependence, since intimacy and autonomy don’t have quite the appropriate relationship for such a dichotomization. For instance, it is success of the first that empowers success of the second, and vice versa. In other words, the more autonomy one has evolved, the more intimacy can be successful and deep, because—in Maslow-speak—one is in a position to be with a person in a being-cognition mode where the other’s essence is clearly perceived and one can be open to what is, not what one needs to be. So the two words complement more than they contrast, converge more than they diverge.

Pogrebin rightly takes Jeanne Westin (of The Coming Parent Revolution fame) and Christopher Lasch (of The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations fame) to task for their “beating [of] the same dead horses,” meaning a regressive lurch backwards and rightwards to nostalgic conservative heaven and Father Knows Best (if he did, he had a funny way of showing it!).

Pogrebin rightly takes Jeanne Westin and Christopher Lasch to task for beating the same old dead horse of regressive nostalgic conservativism
Pogrebin rightly takes Jeanne Westin and Christopher Lasch to task for beating the same old dead horse of regressive nostalgic conservativism

In Pogrebin's book, she would like to “. . . help women, men, and children reevaluate their treatment of each other and reorganize the ways their families function so that the home becomes a happier place for everyone in it. Very simply, I hope to preserve family life by saving what is best about it and changing what isn’t.”

She looks at the political conservatives and religious fundamentalists warning us about feminism, secular humanism, reproductive freedom, etc. They’re framing it in divisive black-and-white, good-versus-evil terms in which we either return to the glory of the authoritarian family or we’ll have no families at all. But she catches them at their sleight-of-hand games, exposing their double-speak with an eloquent flourish. What these people—almost all men—are fighting for is preserving the dominance of the patriarchy. And they all will, given the opportunity, show why it is our religious, social, patriotic and family duty to help them with this misguided task. This exposé is all very reminiscent of Lakoff’s Moral Politics, Steinem’s Revolution From Within, Eisler’s Sacred Pleasure, and Slater’s A Dream Deferred.

No serious and effective thinker can avoid seeing the way many right-wing males in leadership positions are colluding with this overall patriarchal goal in ways that not only undermine equality and women’s potentials, but perpetuate the authoritarian problem that diminishes life quality for us all. The entire world suffers when authoritarian, punishment-based, threat-based, low-quality-power-based, Second Wave-based, mechanistic-reductionistic-paradigm-based parenting and relationships are constantly and dogmatically propagandized as well as practiced. Wars are germinated from such dogma.

Pogrebin notes that many conservative writers fault the movements for equality and independence for undermining the patriarchy, but she would argue just the opposite: “The traditional patriarchal family is democracy’s ‘original sin’; it is the elemental flaw in an otherwise perfectible political system. When the traditions of the family are allowed to supercede the legally guaranteed rights of individuals, democracy goes sour at its core.” She cites passages from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America that bear her out—democracies don’t need this intermediate male between the state and the women and children; that’s for aristocracies and dictatorships. She says the ultra-right is subverting the American way of life via its so-called “family politics.”

Win-lose, negative power is Second Wave coercion that has authoritarian, patriarchal roots
Win-lose, negative power is Second Wave coercion that has authoritarian, patriarchal roots

She outlines the difference between positive power and negative power—the former is power for and it is empowering and enlightening, while the latter is power over and it is oppressive and coercive. Like the Tofflers, she sees that Third Wave knowledge power is not only higher quality power than First and Second Wave coercion, it also is win-win and builds trust and cooperation, the key to world survival.

She advocates authoritative rather than permissive or authoritarian parenting and democratic rather than autocratic methods: “The democratic parent uses his or her authority—in the sense of knowledge—to introduce information . . .” The autocratic parent uses his or her authority—in the sense of threats and punishments—to introduce fear and guilt and shame. The facts are clear and the jury is in: We know that the democratic method is better, more effective, more humane, kinder, and even more American. It creates competence, good character and values, and social skills. See Discipline That Works.

Pogrebin points out that: “A nonpatriarchal restructuring of community design would reduce the conflict of interests within a family; that is, the woman would not have to stay home to assure that the husband and children can function.” To address this problem, she recommends that families form “. . . two-family cooperatives for adults who can work flexible hours (such as part-timers, self-employed business people or artists, homemakers and students). The four adults split a twelve-hour day into four three-hour duty segments; each gets nine hours off, and all share the households’ laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping and childcare equally.” Her thinking is definitely in the right direction here [but MCs are vastly more effective at solving the problems she is addressing than any such “cooperatives” could ever be. See Why Register for an MC?.].

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

She decodes the current political debate, exposing pro-life as anti-family, while pro-choice is pro-child, pro-woman, and pro-society. (However, a better solution than abortion, eventually, is to radically reduce the need for such an option by the use of MCs.) She sees it as a choice between protecting men’s power over women and childbirth, and protecting children’s rights to be wanted and loved. How can we argue with such good thinking?