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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Hard Passage of the Islamic Reformation

The Reformation was a necessary reform in Christianity.  One of its fruits, ultimately, was democracy in the state.  Along the way the English-speaking church and state suffered through the excesses of a Puritan regime.  But the improvement in church and in the state ultimately vindicated even that hard passage.

Islam is going through its Reformation now.  I think ultimately - within a generation or two - this will mean a revitalized Islam, as at peace with democracy, science, and social pluralism as Christianity is now.

To get there, though, they may have to go through a hard passage of some Salafist regimes.

The Arab Spring is a huge advance over the corrupt tyrannies, derived from socialism, which preceded them. 

I am confident that the ultimate result will be a democratic Arabic Islam.

But in the short run - in Egypt, in Syria, in Yemen - the world may see some less corrupt but equally hard regimes of Islamic Puritans.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Many Small Pleasures Make us Happier Than a Few Big Ones

This is one of several bits of wisdom compiled by Sonja Lyubomirsky in Myths of Happiness. 

She applies it to many areas of life, especially to the savoring of experiences and objects.

I think this idea is also helpful in thinking about the relationship between children and happiness.  Raising children can make us unhappy at any given moment. Raising children often deals a major blow to our marital happiness for years.

And yet, and yet.  Raising children is counted by most parents as the most meaningful thing they do in their lives. On reflection, most parents can come up with many precious moments of delight about their children to savor.

The lesson I take from Lyubomirsky's summation of happiness research on this subject: savor the many small pleasures of children while they are happening.  These many small pleasures are they very stuff of a happy life.