Monday, September 24, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 14

Chapter 14 (pages 189-203): “The Family in Individual Psychology”

How is the character of children shaped by being in a family? Freud’s answers are harrowing, but are they right? Only in part, says Russell, and that part can be minimized. While kids are sexual beings, a mother who has a satisfying sex life “will abstain spontaneously from all improper demands for emotional response from her child [p. 191].” But servant girls, teachers, and others, might also be sources of the arousal of undesirable affections in the young, especially as people in those occupations tend to be “sexually starved [p. 192].” The idea that education of the young should be left to “unhappy spinsters [p. 193]” is mistaken.

Young children above 3 or 4 years of age need the company of other kids, of both genders, besides their siblings. Sibling jealousies can be controlled with strict adherence to equality and eschewing favoritism.

The right sort of parental affection is a wonderful thing for a child. “Children whose mothers do not feel a warm affection for them are apt to be thin and nervous, and not infrequently they become kleptomaniacs [p. 194].” Kids sense that they need protection, and that only a warm affection will guarantee that such protection will be forthcoming. With this assurance, they can be bold in exploring the world.

Parents can see to it that their kids receive “the facts of sex and parenthood in the best possible way. If children learn of sex as a relation between their parents to which they owe their own existence, they learn of it in its best form and in connection with its biological purpose [p. 195].” But the traditional practice leads kids to learn of sex through ribald humor and to think of its pleasures as disgraceful, and these first impressions are hard or impossible to dislodge.

The main alternatives to standard family life are offered by matriarchal societies and “public institutions such as orphan asylums [p. 195].” In a matriarchal society, children would know only their mother, and her children might well have different biological fathers. Given satisfactory economic arrangements, the main shortcoming of such a system is the loss of the connection “of sex with married love and procreation [p. 196].” Further, it is beneficial, especially for boys, to be exposed at a young age to “a masculine as well as feminine outlook on life [p. 196].” But this gain is limited – kids whose fathers have died when the children were young do not seem to turn out any worse. “No doubt the ideal father is better than none, but many fathers are so far from ideal that their non-existence might be a positive advantage to children [p. 197].” (Later, on page 198: “The case for fathers, from the point of view of children’s psychology, is not therefore a very strong one.”)

The effect of different family arrangements depends in part upon what is conventional: kids are mortified by being the odd ones. The children of divorced parents suffer greatly under the present conventions, if the divorce occurs after the children have grown attached to both parents. “I think, therefore, that a society in which fathers have no place would be better for children than one in which divorce is frequent though still regarded as exceptional [p. 197].”

The Platonic suggestion of separating kids from their mothers as well as their fathers has little to recommend it, given the desirability of parental affection.

What is the effect of the family upon a mother’s psychology? Women probably have an instinctual desire for male protection during lactation and pregnancy, though the instinct is sufficiently weak that should the state provide care to mothers and children, much of the desire would dissipate. But women still can benefit from family life with a man, because the sexes can learn a lot from each other, and this learning is spurred by close cooperation in bringing up kids and the intensity of contact in family life. And such contact probably makes them better mothers, too. Nonetheless, female unhappiness in marriage is common, and this can easily overwhelm the possible advantages of family life. The “trivial conclusion”: “happy marriages are good, while unhappy ones are bad [p. 200].”

Many men, particularly in less-civilized communities, have little paternal feeling. But other men have such feelings in a powerful way, and this is what makes men marry – they can have sex easily enough without marriage. Russell claims (p. 201) that it is his impression that men are more likely than women to desire children; their main reason not to want kids is economic, a motive shared by women, but women bear many other burdens in having kids.

Russell says that if men were freed from the responsibilities usually attendant upon fatherhood, that they would rarely become fathers – they want the responsibilities, and will not have kids recklessly without those responsibilities. If women alone controlled (in a legal sense) the lives of kids, the intimacy of male/female relations would be undermined. Russell thinks that the elimination of paternity “would tend to make men’s emotional life trivial and thin, causing in the end a slowly growing boredom and despair, in which procreation would gradually die out…[p. 203].”

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