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The Big Answer

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Limits: A Search for New Values

a book by Maxine Schnall

(our site's book review)

Schnall attempts to help us search for new values and psychoanalyzes the 60s and 70s in a 1981 book about reasonable limits in our values.

She says Alvin Toffler and Philip Slater justified transience and depersonalization in intimate relationships and assessed fidelity and permanence in marriage as old-fashioned and unrealistic, and she considers such immature, uncommitted patterns of intimacy to be “havens for people with disturbed psychosexual development. . . . it became impossible to tell the healthy ‘liberated’ person from the pathological narcissist.” This characterization of these two authors as liberal tempters seducing the culture into sin bears closer inspection:

Toffler, in his 1970 Future Shock, puts together the future demographics and trends in marriage patterns, the best theories of what makes relationships last or fail, the phenomenon of women working and thereby not being stuck in terrible marriages because of lack of economic opportunities to support themselves, the new sexual liberation and women’s liberation factors, longer lifespans and other data, and he predicts that most people will probably engage in “one ‘conventional’ temporary marriage after another. . . . temporary marriage will be the standard feature, perhaps the dominant feature, of family life in the future.” Creating families without getting married (cohabitation) turns out to be a popular 21st century lifestyle form.

Temporary marriages will be a standard feature, perhaps the dominant feature, of family life in the future, says Toffler
Temporary marriages will be a standard feature, perhaps the dominant feature, of family life in the future, says Toffler

The big change here from before the sexual revolution of the late 60s and thereafter is that average people would have more marriages than before, since lifelong compatibility for 60 or 70 years is statistically unlikely. Three marriages is much more likely, but they’d be serial ones without necessarily the taint of infidelity to diminish or shorten them.

The experimental liberal-minded might indeed try out various relationship arrangements, forego marriage ceremonies at least for awhile, and play with extramarital sex, as Toffler and others have predicted (it would be hard not to predict that after watching where the 60s trends took relationship patterns), but the mainstream would still believe in and practice monogamy, fidelity and family building. Not only that, but the experimental would likely tire of their games and settle down once they matured a little more in a decade or two. This doesn’t sound like a siren luring the culture onto the rocks of marital degeneration to us. It sounds like good systems analysis, trend analysis, interpolation, and futurism—which is exactly what it is.

Slater, for his part, saw steep-gradient nurturance and the cult of individualism as the main culprits responsible for the accelerating divorce and serial marriage trends. But he bemoaned all of this, feeling that people in the U.S. need to rebalance themselves on the individualism-community continuum so that they have the right amount of each. Slater’s villain is disconnectedness and his hero is reconnection.

Spouses often try to have their partners fill every need—putting all their eggs in one basket—so they end up divorcing
Spouses often try to have their partners fill every need—putting all their eggs in one basket—so they end up divorcing

He sees close-knit communities of the past as able to support long-term monogamous relationships because there was enough flat-gradient nurturance to give marriage the extra social supports it needed to make it viable—unlike today where marriage partners naïvely try to have their partners fill every need they have (putting all their eggs in one basket), and scream and fight and eventually divorce when this doesn’t (because it’s impossible) actualize. Again, we see no siren luring us toward the rocks. Slater represents precisely the opposite of this metaphor.

Divorce rate in the US from 1935 to 2010
Divorce rate in the US from 1935 to 2010

He did everything he could in Earthwalk (1974) and The Pursuit of Loneliness (1976) to get people to see the advantages of the ethic of long-term relationships, monogamy, commitment, social connectedness, and flat-gradient nurturance—which has been the norm throughout most of human history and which has always (and would again if we’d go back to it) empowered successful intimacy and marriages and community spirit but was now foolishly being forgotten about.

So why does Schnall make the assertions she does? Alvin and Heidi Toffler have been married since 1950. Does that sound like someone who thinks marriages ought to be one-night stands and commitments are old-fashioned? For what reason would she expect empty-nesters, for example, to stay married if they find out that they have nothing in common once the kids leave—as opposed to finding someone they can be happier with, as the Tofflers see as important? Why is this to be considered “transience” (her interpretation) rather than psychological and intellectual growth that results in two people no longer being compatible so they find a compatible mate (Toffler’s interpretation)?


Answer: It isn’t. In what way did either Toffler or Slater ever “justify depersonalization,” as she claims? Answer: In no way. Apparently Schnall was looking for someone to indict on the charge of contributing to the degeneration of a culture. Boy, did she choose wrongly! These two writers have done more for human understanding and benevolent cultural progress than all the psychoanalytically attuned people (like her) who ever lived, including Freud, whose legacy is two-thirds great ideas and one-third lousy or questionable ones, which means his net positive affect was about one-third of what people usually credit him with. It’s easy to make the mistake of believing that since he had prodigious output and got lots more attention than most other psychological teachers and made the most impact on psychology and Western thought, this means he was the best, the most correct, and the most positive contributor of all times—none of which are true. Alfred Adler, B. F. Skinner, R. D. Laing, Abe Maslow, Carl Rogers, Thomas Gordon, David D. Burns, David Riesman, Gail and Snell Putney, Erich Fromm, Philip Slater, and dozens of others made huge contributions as well and managed to avoid any serious errors.

Schnall does get it right sometimes, in this book: “. . . the self many of us had was still mired in dependency, cursed with feelings of emptiness and insecurity, because few of us had been blessed with the situation that fosters independence in the developing person.”

Schnall decries the Second Wave authoritarianism and conformity of the early and middle 20th century, but also the self-gratification obsession that came after it as a reaction. She commends the substitution of self-fulfillment/self-reliance activities in place of self-indulgence. This happened once self-indulgence turned out not to be satisfying as a lifestyle. But the most mature lifestyles happened only when people chose the lifestyle of engaging in community, friendship and acting for the common good. Only then was there fulfillment.

Schnall commends women who consciously decide not to reproduce when their feelings tell them they don’t like kids
Schnall commends women who consciously decide not to reproduce when their feelings tell them they don’t like kids

Schnall also decries authoritarian discipline and coercion used in place of knowledge, reasoning, and consequences. But she commends women who consciously decide not to reproduce when they don’t feel like they would make good mothers or when their feelings tell them they don’t like kids.

Her book is about seeking new values and finding our inner limits—and “reshaping our cultural standards and institutions to accord with them—for personal fulfillment and survival.” She quotes Toffler as having correctly asserted that with all the accelerating changes occurring, we need to find an integrative mechanism based on commonly accepted values in order to reconstitute the fragmenting social order at the level of values and lifestyles and survive the future shock challenge.(Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.)

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