Monday, April 24, 2006

Family Values

It's always fascinated me how Christian conservatives will rave about what they call "family values" while simultaneously attacking the social structures that seem to actually help families. I can only surmise that these "family values" they talk about are centered more on religious dogma and political narcissism than on practical policy because from my perspective, their campaigns just don't make any sense.

Having raised a family of my own, I have a pretty good idea of what a family needs and in my opinion, the most important thing for a family is time spent together. It seems to me that if parents spent more time with their children instead of relying on TV to baby sit them, then conservative organizations such as the American Family Association wouldn't have to worry so much about fighting "bad" TV programs.

I find the antithesis to American conservatism, the European social model, drastically more family-supportive than the dogmatic values coming out of the Bible Belt, simply because it provides parents with the opportunity to spend more time with their families.

Paul Krugman explains this rather well in his article published by the New York Times last year where he points out the difference in priorities between the French and American social-economic systems. Americans will point out that productivity (GDP) is generally higher in America than it is in much more socialist-leaning France, but much of that is because the French social system allows their workers to spend more time with their families. As Krugman points out its a matter of priority.

This sense of priority seems to be common across the entire European Union and it's slight variations on the social-economic models. In the Nordic model both mothers and fathers are allowed to take an entire year off from work to be with their new born babies and many Scandinavians will alternate where a mother takes off the first year and the father takes the second year providing the child with two years of full-time parenting.* In America, a child will typically get a few weeks and then it's off to day-care unless the mother is willing to loose her job, like my wife did when she had my son.

Even the workweek is shorter in Europe. In France and Italy companies have to pay overtime once the worker reaches 35 hours for the week. Paid holidays are also more abundant in Europe. According to the OECD's ranking in average hours worked, Americans worked an average of 1,976 hours in 2003. German and French workers averaged 400 hours less, a difference of ten weeks. That's 400 hours that can be spent with their families that Americans don't get.*

In the meantime, American conservatism seems completely disinterested in securing family-time while instead focusing their attention on what the entertainment industry puts on TV. This brings up an interesting note about the difference between the European and American approach to family values. Europeans seems less concerned about the cultural aspects of raising children. They seem to operate on the basis that culture and tradition is a family matter and that it's more important to provide families with the opportunity to raise their children however they see fit, whereas Christian conservatives in America seem more obsessed with enforcing their religious morals on others. Let's take a look at the most active champions of so-called "family values" in America...

The American Family Association (www.afa.net) Founded in 1977 by Rev. Donald Wildmon, an ordained United Methodist minister. According to it's own website this organization is focusing primarily on the influence of television and other media on our society.

The American Decency Association (www.americandecency.org) Founded by Bill Johnson, a Christian minister and the former director of the AFA, that is also concerned with media influence and is currently running a campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch for using bare-chested men in their advertising. Lord knows the sight of bare-chested 22-year-old men has utterly destroyed my family. (Rolling my eyes)

The National Legion of Decency Founded in 1933 as the Catholic Legion of Decency, this organization's pledge starts with the following passage... "I condemn all indecent and immoral motion pictures, and those that glorify crime or criminals." This is the organization that spearheaded the censorship attacks on Mae West, who viewed the discussion of sex as a basic human right and was an advocate of gay rights.

The Christian Coalition of America (www.cc.org) Founded by Rev. Pat Robertson in 1988, this organization draws it's aim much closer to national politics and is probably the strongest agent for Christian influence in the government. Their official website suggests that they are concerned with family-values but also makes it clear that it's the Judeo-Christian values, "that made America the greatest country in the world", that they are referring to.

The Christian Voice (www.christianvoiceonline.com) Founded in 1978 as the first "Christian Right" political group in America, this organization is dedicated to advancing "the pro-faith and pro-family agenda" I found it impossible to make any distinction in their literature between faith-based" and "pro-family" which leads me to wonder if they think non-Christian families are void of any values at all. Currently, the Christian Voice is preoccupied with the Marriage Protection Amendment to the US Constitution; maybe that answers my question.

It seems that these groups are obsessed with their religious doctrines, which do seem to be threatened by the increasingly open-minded media and perhaps for them this is a genuine concern, but these ancient religious doctrines seem so limited when applied to the issues that confront the modern family, often leaving very serious issues out of focus. For instance, none of these organizations take a primary interest in alcoholism or domestic violence, both of which have severe and direct impact on families all across America that far surpass the effects of media content. It seems that rather than starting with real problems that confront today's families they start first with religious morals and then make efforts to link what family issues they can to these morals in an effort to justify them.

Outside of these religious groups and their political champions in the government I don't hear any voices in America expressing concern for the health and welfare of the family unit at all. The forces that otherwise drive America seem far more concerned with economic performance, relying on optimistic views of wealth-building to satisfy questions about the well-being of the family.

It seems to me that while pragmatic concerns about the heath and welfare of the family unit actually influence the social-economic structure in Europe, the American social-economic structure tends to strain the family unit in order to increase economic productivity. As Krugman said, it's a matter of priority. Maybe the American priority suits the Christian conservatives, that is if their wish is to use broadcast channels to influence the minds of American children while their parents are away working long hours.

* source - Chapter 6 "The European Social Model" from "The United States of Europe" by T.R.Reid.
 


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Books That I am Reading:


The World Is Flat
A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

Thomas Friedman

In this book Thomas Friedman continues his exploration of globalization and how the playing feild is leveling out.

War on the Middle Class
How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back

Lou Dobbs

This book is pretty much a print version of his TV program. This is what I call good investigative journalism


Books That I've Read Lately:


Catcher in the Rye


J.D.Salinger

My daughter is an avid J.D.Salinger fan and turned me on to this book. I'm glad she did. I read the first half on one airplane trip and finished the next half on the return flight. Salinger's naration is wonderful, his vivid style reminds me of Steinbeck.

Crash Proof
How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse

Peter D. Schiff

I've been reading the writing on the wall for some time now about the comming economic collapse and this book is one of those messages. I highly recomend this book for anyone interested in an easy to understand explanation of what is causing the crises and basic strategy for how to weather the storm.

A Peoples History of the United States: 1492 - Present


Howard Zinn

This book seems to draw a lot of criticism from people who point out that Zinn fails to present the complete picture, but I think that's the point. Zinn is simply filling in the gaps intentionally left by "politically correct" historians and in so doing, he sheds light on some of the real American heros who continue the "politically incorrect" American Revolution to this day. These heros are not the celebrated leaders and soldiers of the American Establishment who took the reins of exploitation from the British Establishment but the working class people who continued to stand up to exploitation regardless of what banner they wave. It's these working class people who continue to fight for liberty and justice and it's these unsung heros that we need to thank for our way of life and we can thank Howard Zinn for pointing them out, especially now that patriotism has somehow come to mean loyalty to a flag rather than to a principal.

Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less


Barry Schwartz

An interesting counter-view to the ever-so-popular notion that our vast array of options improves our culture.

Why I Am A Reagan Conservative


Edited By: Michael K. Deaver

I'm reading this book because I don't consider myself to be conservative. I suppose this is because I've been focused for so long on issues around which conservatives hold positions that I disagree with. But recently I've been looking beyond these issues in search of what I might agree are valid conservative positions and it seems the more I look the less I find, which is alarming to me considering the influence that conservatives have over the policies that effect our lives. Hopefully this book will provide me with some insight.

The Ayn Rand Reader


Ayn Rand: Edited by Gary Hull

I know, I know... what is Ayn Rand doing on this booklist? Answer: I read from as many perspectives as possible. Being a free thinker, I refuse to submit myself to a reading diet. Besides, I want to understand what it is that Ayn Rand fans are raving about and what institutes like ARI are pushing into our education systems.

A Thousand Barrels a Second
The Coming Oil Breakpoint and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependant World

Peter Tertzakian

I've been trying to understand as much as I can about the coming oil crises. The author is Chief Energy Economist of ARC Financial, one of the world's leading private equity firms focused on energy. As far as I can tell so far, his book isn't a crack on politics or doom and gloom but a straightforward analysis of the realities of energy that so many people are ignoring.

TechGnosis
Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information

Erik Davis

I've actually been reading the hardback version of this book, on and off, for long time now. The problem I have with this book is it's depth. Davis presents so many interesting ideas and references that I wind up placing a book mark and taking excursions into related materials. It can take me days to digest what Davis is saying in one sentence. Eventually, I always come back to the book, drawn in my Davis' poetic language of intellect. This book represents a true frontier for my mind.

The Moon Is Down


John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is always an easy read for me. His characters and scenes are so vivid. But this book in particular has the added significance of having had an extraordinary impact as Allied propoganda in Nazi-occupied Europe. Despite Axis efforts to supress it (in Fascist Italy, mere possession of a copy of the book was punishable by death) hundreds of thousands of copies were secretly translated into numerous languages, printed on unnaccounted paper and smuggled across borders. This story, a triumph of ideas in the face of cold steel and brute force, offered hope for the "unconquered" people under foreign occupation and celebrated the unbreakable spirit of free people. I feel like I should be sending copies to Iraqis currently under US occupation, but that could easily be construed as an act of terrorism.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman


John Perkins

I've been able to put two and two together for some time, so nothing in this book astounds me but it does bring the workings of the international banks and corporations as well as the US government out of the speculations of so-called conspiracy theories and into the matter-of-fact narration of one man's career path as an economic hitman.

Collapse:
How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed
Jared Diamond

Facinating book. Jared Diamond's name is what caught my attention as I was killing time at the bookstore at the airport. I was very impressed with his documentary "Guns, Germs and Steel" and figured he would make this study of societal destinies equally interesting. I was 100% correct. I especially enjoyed the chapters on the collapse of the Polynesian societies, realizing the scale-relativity with the evolution of our global society.

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Of course... the third book in my dystopian trilogy.

The United States of Europe:
The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy
T.R.Reid

An excellent perspective on the power that's rising in Europe as we Americans continue to sleep with visions of our own glory in our heads.

Imperial Ambitions:
Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World
Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian

As always, Professor Chomsky presents that calm and collected voice of logic that cuts through all the noisy rhetoric, half-truths, corporate funded media hype and emotionally driven spin sessions. Barsamian's interviews with Chomsky are clear, crisp and sober conversations.

Farenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

Figured I'd continue my journey through "negative-utopia" that I started with 1984. It does seem appropriate given the current state of America from which I found much more connection with Bradbury's vision than I did with Orwell's, especially the way in which the real source of oppression is not the government but the people themselves.

Cuba
A New History

Richard Gott

Just a straight forward history book, but Cuba has a facinating history that reaches back to the days of Columbus and offers everything from pirates to revolutions.

1984
George Orwell

It seemed like a good idea to refresh my memory of a mid-century perspective on where the world is headed. Although I found some relief in knowing that we have not followed the Stalinesque course to the letter, I nevertheless found much of Orwell's larger concepts ringing ever so true in 21st Century America, especially Orwell's concept of continuous war and Big Brother.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
Greg Palast

Easy read... Palast is a circus ring master showing us unbelievable things. Penetrating investigation with a sense of humor.

One Market Under God
Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

Thomas Frank

After reading the Lexus and the Olive Tree, I felt I needed a counter-balance view of globalization and how the liberated capitalism that I see everywhere around me, breaking the chains of regulation, is riding the globalization wave.

20:21 Vision
Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century

Bill Emmott

The author, Economist cheif editor, tends to present very objective and slightly outside views of American economics/politics. I think this renders a more accurate assesment of how we fit in with the rest of the world. The book is a tour of the major forces of the 20th century with emphasis on how they are currently shaping the 21st century.

The Lexus and the Olive Tree


Thomas Freidman

Damned good book! Really opened up my eyes to what globalization is all about. Freidman's style of writing is engaging and his explainations are straightforward. I can see why people regard this book as the essential primer on the subject. I can also see why people think he is "pro-globalization" but I tend to think he's not so much promoting it as just pointing out the inevitability of it. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding globalization.

The Gnostic Gospels


Elain Pagles

I thought it was good. Explains a lot about the gnostic strain of Christain faith.

Consilience


Edward O. Wilson

Facinating. From the moment he starts decribing the Ionian enchantment on the first pages. This book describes the interrelation of seperate bodies of knowledge and how it all comes together.

The History of Money


Jack Weatherford

Human culture is possessed and these are some involving stories about the demon we call money.

Other material of interest:

Origins of the Federal Reserve (PDF) - Murray N. Rothbard

Excellent account of the monetary imperialism that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve.

The Elkhorn Manifesto
R. William Davis

This is an open letter to Americans that provides a historical perspective on the U.S. government's prohibition of Marijuana. Without stating any position on that particular issue, I have nevertheless saved a copy of the letter here because of what I think are some valueable and verifiable references to to what I call the "corporate priority over the better interests of the nation".