On Our Unchosen Attachments…

In some of its many forms, libertarianism has seemed childish to me. If it is not eager confidence in optimistic abstractions it is crude resentment against figures of authority. An article at the website of the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society exemplifies the latter form in its railing against Father’s Day. “The Father as an archetypical figure,” we are told, “Is an image of everything which we children of the Enlightenment should revolt against to the depths of our souls.” Children indeed.

Nobility is not conferred by the mere fact of fatherhood. Countless children and adults endure relationships with cruel, selfish and unstable dads. It wounds people for life. But there is little nuance in this author’s assessment…

Until the day before yesterday the position of the father was to own women, beat children, breaks sons into workers and soldiers, hand daughters over to their husbands as property, and mutilate queer people into shells of self-denial.

For progressives, it can seem, happiness was invented in the year 1960. Before that milestone, father never loved their wives and never helped their kids to flourish but were small-time dictators with sadistic streaks. (Did such writers have grandparents? Were they really that bad?)

Polemic aside, the author’s essential point is that it is irrational and dangerous to value relationships on the sole basis of one’s attachment to them…

…we should never reverence anything merely for the accident of sheer proximate existence or genetic relation. We should never revere anything on the basis of sex or age. We should evaluate all things and all people, particularly those things we were taught were our “own”, by critical reason and searching judgment.

Should relationships be subordinated to “critical reason and searching judgement”? Sometimes, yes, but in all cases? No. They cannot. As children we are incapable of assessing a person on reasonable grounds yet we must rely on those who feed, clothe and comfort us. Love develops through the acts of wisdom and benevolence that most people, I am safe in asserting, have profited from, and weathers the challenges that all of us face. Suggesting, as our author does, that without assessment and conscious affirmation such relationships are inauthentic means dismissing our intuitive faculties. By this I do not mean love will not survive evaluation but that it is inhuman to apply critical judgement to emotional attachments without actual cause. A scalpel is a fine tool, in the right hands, and at the right time, but it should not slice everything open.

The author is acutely sensitive to manifestations of tribalism as, for her, they foster corruption. “The closed doors of the family,” she states, “Invite control and abuse as do all situations of dependency and closed borders”. Yes, it can be true. But when we are dependent, as we have all been as children, it is the absence more than the presence of guardians which is dangerous, and when borders are open any scoundrel might cross them. Does she close her doors at night?

This “forced association” is alleged to have more subtle but no less profound effects…

A shared experience in childhood can nurture deep friendship in ideal cases, but it can just as easily be a numbing memory of forced association with someone with whom one has nothing spiritually in common.

I suspect it is the lack of choice that fuels the resentment of some libertarians. They did not select their parents and dislike the implication that unchosen attachments entail responsibilities. Yet we did not choose our formative experiences. We did not choose our genes. We did not choose to be alive. Existence is determined by free choice to a limited extent and depends on our ability to understand and appreciate that which we have been given; part of which entails attempting to appreciate the people we find ourselves with. Attempting to reach a state of absolute independence is like pulling one’s ego around one’s head like a sack and blundering about in a private darkness.

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