Thursday, August 04, 2005

Family Values

The United States is the promised land of family values, don't you think? The wingnuts in power tell us almost every day how very much they are for family values, which consist of an intense hatred of egalitarian family structures, birth control, employed women and same-sex marriages. Funny how all these values come across as hatred and anger...

While writing this I am watching a busy street somewhere in Europe. It ends in a park, and all day long whole families, dads with children, moms with children, dads with babies and moms with babies walk or bike by on their way to the park. This looks like family values to me, and what has made it possible is the social welfare system of most European countries: long vacations, good parental leave, restrictions on overtime and so on.

These are all things that the wingnuts oppose. They also oppose environmental protection, even though that would keep children healthy, and work safety regulations, even though those could keep the parents of children healthy and alive. They oppose limitations to the amount of overtime firms can demand from workers, even though overtime means that a parent might never be at home when the children are awake. They oppose subsidized daycare, even if this means that the children of the poor are unsupervised during the day. In fact, the wingnuts oppose everything that makes family values more than just talk.

The real definition of the extreme right's family values is that they are corporate values, with some scraps of fundamentalist misogyny thrown in. The true beneficiaries of all this values talk are corporations: workers are viewed as machines which can be operated almost without time limit, and which are serviced, for free, by their family units. When the workers break or become obsolete they are simply discarded. We are not quite there yet, but we are getting closer. No benefits for the poorer workers and unlimited working hours for the better paid ones. No allowance for the fact that workers have families, children and the elderly, that need care. This care should be provided by the stay-at-home women of the wingnut ideal, without pay, training for re-entry into the labor force or retirement benefits. These are not my family values, and I suspect that they are not yours, either.

But we can't afford to have parental leave or vacations or workplace security, some mutter. Well, we can afford a very expensive war in Iraq, and we can afford corporate welfare subsidies to firms such as Haliburton. It is not a question of real budget constraints as much as of a lack of any real intent to make family life easier.

One reason for this lack of real intent is the lone cowboy myth of Americans, the idea that each and every one of us can, alone and without help, manage and thrive; that rules, regulations and governmental funding are wasteful and even harmful. The problem with this myth is that it was never true, the lone cowboys never conquered the west. It was the government with its railway projects and its military that did the conquering, and even today none of us can get from cradle to grave wholly unassisted.

The lone cowboy myth is especially warped when it is applied to families with small children. But it serves its purpose by letting some pretend that their unwillingness to spend money on families is ethically justified.

I wish the liberals and progressives spoke up more about these false family values of the right. I wish they pointed out how our public places are not designed for families, how our jobs are hostile to parents and how the gradual fraying of all safety nets endangers families with children. If they did I might not have to go to Europe to see whole families enjoying themselves everywhere.