Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Tolerated in Family Forms

I am reading a pretty good new book, What is Parenthood?, edited by Linda McClain and Daniel Cere.  It consists of paired essays arguing what they call an "integrative" versus a "diversity" model of family life.  The editors are law professors, so the central concern is with family law, but a broad range of disciplines are engaged.

This argument is a version of conservative vs. liberal, with some useful nuance in defining the terms.  Indeed, while Cere is more conservative than McClain, both claim to be moderate versions in the diversity spectrum.

The core of the integrative model is that a married couple raising their own children is the best model of family life for society as a whole.  The diversity model argues that other family arrangements can also be good for society.  The debate over same-sex marriage is a central case in this debate, but not the only one.

In her introductory essay, McClain summarizes the result of a Pew survey on what most Americans feel about the current diversity of family forms.  She says about a third oppose accepting all family forms, a third support accepting all family forms, and a third are tolerant but skeptical.

I am in that last group.  I do think that a married couple raising their own children is the best model for society.  But I also think that many children do not have that option, so in those cases the closest approximation we can manage is a good thing for society to accept and promote. Likewise, I think marriage is better for people who don't want to be alone - which is nearly everyone - so society does well to accept several kinds of marriage.

However, in the Gruntled Center Manifesto that sits on the upper left column of every post on this blog, I argue that a fundamental principle of centrism is the three-part distinction between the Good, the Bad, and the Tolerated. I think the Pew survey, noted above, show exactly the distinction I am talking about.  Extremists try to force us to believe that there are only two choices - theirs, or their enemy's.  But centrists see that most of life offers us some choices that are good, and a separate category of "good enough."

The hard part of maintaining a principled centrism is holding on to the difference between good and good enough, in the face of extremist pressures.

4 comments:

woodhouse said...

Well said...

MMMSecret said...

How do you respond to the criticisms that "tolerance" and calling someone's family "good enough" is both offensive and exclusionary?

Are you at all concerned that by taking this position, you are perhaps harming those who are raised in non-traditional families by perpetuating the idea of the ideal family (which incidentally, is an idea forced upon children — in picture books & other media, classrooms, in adults’ casual conversation and perhaps most harmfully, in churches quite aggressively and at a very early age)?

Frankie said...

MMMSecret,I guess everything is as good as everything else...

Bo in OH said...

I think if marriage is merely a cultural construct with no theological dimension, then it's meaning will fluctuate with the dominant cultural opinions. In a conservative culture, marriage will have a very limited definition. But there is no logical reason to limit marriage to monogamy or to forbid incest or even pedophilia if the majority of society is in agreement, given the premise. Indeed, there is a large portion of American society that sees marriage as a moot point, it's contractual commitments too limiting and exclusionary. I heard a celebrity, when asked about gay marriage, reply "People should be free to love whoever they want to."I think If you remove any commitment from the definition of marriage, you have stretched it to the point of meaninglessness. I agree with you that there should be toleration for "several" types of marriage that may be "good enough" for society - but who draws those boundaries? And on what basis?