What Inspires Political Activity?
A recent iteration of First Things‘ “While We’re at It” feature mentioned the Wall Street Journal lament of feminist Erica Jong that breeding and raising children is a fad that just won’t die. From the lament:
Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness.
The intellectual problems that Jong evinces are plentiful. (Why, for one, should we criticize celebrities for adopting third-world children in addition to having their own, even as we point to “abandoned children” as a standing problem?) Much of what she writes can be dismissed on purely ideological grounds; that is, if the reader doesn’t share the ideology, the points are without sense.
However, the First Things blurb is a little unfair, in that Jong’s initial statements of ideological gunk are really just a foundation on which she builds more interesting walls, some of which are certainly reasonable, even insightful:
What is so troubling about these theories of parenting—both pre- and postnatal—is that they seem like attempts to exert control in a world that is increasingly out of control. We can’t get rid of the carcinogens in the environment, but we can make sure that our kids arrive at school each day with a reusable lunch bag full of produce from the farmers’ market. We can’t do anything about loose nukes falling into the hands of terrorists, but we can make sure that our progeny’s every waking hour is tightly scheduled with edifying activities.
Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child’s home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.
In her attempt to connect these dots, Jong joins strange principles that jar discordantly with reality:
… although attachment parenting comes with an exquisite progressive pedigree, it is a perfect tool for the political right. It certainly serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don’t have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit. What exhausted, overworked parent has time to protest under such conditions?
If there’s a conservative who has advocated “attachment parenting” — which entails parents’ effectively binding themselves to their children — I haven’t read his or her work. And, moreover, if there’s a politically active right-winger who wants to divert devoted parents from the political fight, he or she has wisely learned to keep that counter-intuitive intention quiet.
Perhaps her imagination doesn’t reach that far, but Jong need only have brought to mind the conservative’s vision of an ideal family… even a cliché version of that vision: One parent able to stay home with the children, neighborhoods full of such nuclear, one-income households and churches full of such families. After all, the kids don’t need such close watching when there are parents watching from nearly every house on the block.
And I can’t help but wonder, too, what the motivation for political activism is supposed to be (apart from dedicated advocacy for the Special Interest of Me) when children aren’t part of the equation.