Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Opposite of Generativity

The President criticizes the "culture of death." This is a cousin of pro-lifers calling their opponents pro-abortion or even pro-death. It has not spawned a full answer, though, in the way that "pro-choice" is the alternative value promoted by the proponents of legal abortion.

Lately Maggie Gallagher and others have been using the phrase "culture of generativity." This phrase has been especially useful in the discussion of the abysmally low birth rates in Europe and Japan.

Which has me wondering: what is the opposite of the culture of generativity?

I think it must be the culture of consumption. This is in line with economist Gary Becker's view that children should be viewed as "consumer durable goods" like washing machines, which adults might choose to own if it gives them utility.

Is that that right opposition? I welcome your comments.


ken mcintyre said...

I believe that the usually reliable Christopher Lasch used the term 'the culture of narcissism' to describe the sensibility to which you refer.

Rebecca Bush said...

Great blog!

Gruntled said...

The culture of narcissism does capture the negative alternative to the culture of generativity -- much better than, say the "culture of death," which President Bush has taken to saying lately. Still, I am trying to think of a more positive way to say it that proponents of the view might adopt themselves, parallel to "pro-choice."

Denis Hancock said...

The "culture of generativity" is a pretty wide topic, in my view. It could be simply having more kids, or it could be a whole package of things that go along with having kids.

The "culture of narcissim" could be a good opposite to the unselfish choices made by parents who might not have been planning a a kid just yet, but have chosen to deal with it.

The "culture of consumption" makes me nervous when applied to children, since it raises some ugly thoughts. Like having a kid to force a recalcitrant boyfriend to move off dead center, or a soldier who gets pregnant to avoid service in a combat zone, or parents who conceive a child for potential genetic benefits.

I know, these are not the general rule, although I suspect the first is more common than the others.

Didn't you have a posting a month or two back about "child-free" parents?

Gruntled said...

Ah, that opens possibilities I had not thought of. The consumption I was thinking of was spending your money on things instead of children.

The child free folks were definitely not parents, and they do have a weird thing about cats.

amba said...

This won't help with finding a positive euphemism for it, but psychologist Erik Erikson said the opposite of generativity was "Stagnation/Self-Absorption":

Erikson refers to generativity as an adult's ability to look outside oneself and care for others. It is a concern for the next generation(s). Generativity is an extension of love (from Stage 6) into the future, but this love is far more mature and unselfish during Stage 7. During Stage 6, intimacy had to be reciprocated. Generativity is a love that is greater than that; it is a love that is given regardless of whether it is reciprocated.

The most obvious example of generativity would be parenting. Erikson suggested that adults need children as much as children need adults and that this stage reflects the innate need to create a living legacy (Erikson & Erikson, 1987). Other generative activities include teaching, mentoring, writing, social activism, producing music or anything that satisfies the need to be needed (Boeree, 1997).

Stagnation is the exact opposite. It is caring for no-one and being self-absorbed.

Hmm. That leads me to think that the advocates of this position would probably call it "self-realization." And they would dignify that as the a spiritual goal, a higher calling than engagement with/ attachment to the mere world. There are a lot of Buddhist wannabes out there who feel that way.

Tom Strong said...

Ugh. This is going to sound rude, but you guys need some help. Almost everything you're coming up with is directly condescending. Which, if I understand the nature of the exercise, is the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish.

Social progressives aren't going to refer to our culture as that of "consumption" (which most of us are against, especially in the conspicuous sense!), let alone "narcissism". Amba's re-framing of narcissism as "self-realization" is somewhat better, but it remains a reframing, and still suggests narcissism.

How's about this, coming from a member of said culture:

the culture of fairness.

Because frankly, if you dig for the core value here, that's what you're going to find - whether the issue is abortion, or euthanasia, or gay marriage. It's about respecting other people's right and ability to make the best choices for themselves.

Also, "the culture of fairness" works because it implies that the "other" culture is unfair. Just like "the culture of generativity" suggests that its opposition is nongenerative, or the "culture of life" suggests that its opposite is anti-life. Those are all indirectly condescending, which is the point... said...
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