The War on the Family Enters a New Stage
Welcome to a brave new "national conversation" that proposes not simply to redefine the family, but to eliminate it.
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry recently shocked millions with her brazen TV promo spot urging us to get rid of the idea that kids belong to their parents or to "private" families. She presses us to replace it with a "collective" notion of children: "Kids belong to whole communities."
Clearly, we are entering a new phase in family breakdown. In the earlier phases, leftist policies cultivated unrestrained sexual license, abortion and single parenting. Those policies set the stage for new forms of child poverty as well as heightened social divisions along lines of race, class and sex. Their proponents, however, refrained from openly attacking the family in mass media.
But today Harris-Perry hits us right in the mainstream with what seem to be fighting words, an open declaration of war on families.
When we ponder how we got here, we tend to look in retrospect at Hillary Clinton's softer treatise from 1996, It Takes a Village. But somewhere on the continuum between Clinton and Harris-Perry we ought to focus on one of Harris-Perry's lesser known trailblazers, Sandra Feldman.
As president of the American Federation of Teachers, Feldman (d. 2005) published in 1998 a stealthy little essay entitled "The Childswap Society" which injected into the mainstream -- as never before -- the idea of state-owned children. Her article appeared prominently the Washington Post, New York Times, and other dailies, as one in a series of AFT commentaries run as paid advertisements under the AFT banner "Where We Stand."
In it Feldman seems to have planted seed for debates that pit a collectivist vision of community against the autonomy of the family. "The Childswap Society" has since been used, apparently for years, in various high school and college argumentation curricula.
The essay explores the idea of a lottery in which all children are "swapped" or assigned at random by the state to their caregivers. Feldman claimed it was based on a plot from a science fiction story she read as a youth. It lingered in her conscience as a way to help Americans better understand the problems of child poverty and inequality. She explains:
"One thing the lottery did was to make the whole society very conscientious about how things were arranged for kids. After all, you never knew where your own child would end up after the next lottery, so in a very real sense everyone's child was -- or could be -- yours. As a result children growing up under this system got everything they needed to thrive, both physically and intellectually, and the society itself was harmonious. What if someone wrote a story about what American society in the late 20th century takes for granted in the arrangements for its children? We might not want to admit it, but don't we take for granted that some kids are going to have much better lives than others? Of course."
Feldman then discusses the differences for children: some live in wealthy suburbs versus inner cities; some receive excellent medical treatment versus little or no treatment; some go to well-appointed versus dilapidated school buildings:
"We take for granted, in so many ways, that the children whom the lottery of birth has made the most needy will get the least. 'After all,' we say to ourselves, 'it's up to each family to look after its own. If some parents can't give their children what they need to thrive, that's their problem.'"
Feldman's proposition is stunning in its ignorance, yet we are asked to consider it seriously.
Her argument -- and presumably Harris-Perry's -- is based entirely on the exchange of material goods and services. While suggesting that parents can only be as effective as the material resources they have at their disposal, she completely ignores what children actually need and crave most in order to thrive: knowing and bonding with their parents, loving one-on-one attentiveness, home as safe sanctuary, the gentle cultivation of self-reliance and imagination.
Instead, Feldman pontificates only on rearranging the social order: "We'd start with political figures and their children and grandchildren, with governors and mayors and other leaders. . . . What would happen to our schools and healthcare system . . .?"
The real question ought to be: What would happen to the only real infrastructure a child needs and yearns for, which is a stable home life and bond with parents and family? Because the stability of other infrastructures depend on it.
Collectivists ignore a huge truth: Any child whose mother and father have committed to rearing that child together with a moral compass has already won the "lottery of birth." Those are intangibles that serve to defy poverty. Those intangibles always tend to trump material circumstances because they don't depend upon material wealth for their existence.
The left has long worked to collapse the family. This is a fact we must face. The obliteration of family influences on kids is essential to the collectivist vision of communitarianism espoused by the left.
The family serves as a buffer zone that shields individuals -- particularly children -- from the tentacles of its collectivist vision of centralized state power. Harris-Perry's vision is very likely in line with the agenda of Bill Ayers, founder of the Weather Underground and old colleague of President Obama's. For decades Ayres' career focus has been the transformation of K-12 education, especially early childhood education. His wife Bernadine Dohrn has specialized in family law with a strong focus on children.
Obviously one can't have domestic terrorists touting this stuff in the mainstream. So we have a first lady as the conditioner. Then a teacher's union president, Ms. Feldman, as the trial balloon launcher. And now, a pundit and professor, Ms.Harris-Perry, the jump-starter of our "conversation" on the merits.
In light of Harris-Perry's boldness, it's amusing to read Feldman's minced words at the conclusion of "Childswap":
"Obviously, I'm not suggesting that the United States adopt a childswap system. The idea makes me cringe, and anyway, it's just a fable. But, I like to imagine what would happen if we did."
Well, there is less to imagine now that we're talking about it openly.
Sure it still seems implausible that kids all "belong to" the community. But this is a proposition that will be defended and touted by all the usual suspects in the days ahead. The war against families is a war of attrition.
Perhaps a final verdict will come swiftly after a one-sided "debate" controlled by a centralized media. Celebrities will blitz us with a litany of personal stories, movies, ads, nudges, all headlined by their appointed poster children who will tug at your heartstrings for policies that work towards the extinction of traditional families. Resistance to their memes and policies will get you convicted of bigotry - and probably even baby-killing -- in the court of social media. Dissenters will be smeared as greedy and told they care only for "private" and privileged families, and not for the general welfare of all children. Hollow conservative legislators and pundits will throw in their towels.
Then, when our shock wears off and conditions allow, we may be in for another one of those availability cascades of public opinion very similar to the one that ushered in the inevitability myth of genderless marriage.
Don't let them get away with it.
Stella Morabito has contributed several op-eds on society and culture to the Washington Examiner.