Re: Truth, Power, Knowledge (Read)

Somniferum (2453mauri@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Wed, 24 Apr 1996 13:14:46 EST

MOn Sun, 21 Apr 1996 Dwight Read posted "Subject: Truth, Knowledge, Power"
in which he refers to "two articles about families" in the LA Times. In a
later posting he states that he feels these articles somehow exemplify
"what is going on with the breakdown of families...[a] very real our society." He plaintively asks: "is there any extant theory
in anthropology that is applicable to this very real problem? To put it
another way: Is anthropology, as a science, without insight on what are
very real issues in our society, where the issues relate to topics that are
part and parcel of what anthropology has traditionally studied?"

The "very real problem" is mythical/ideological. Why did these articles
elicit Read's what-are-we-going-to-do-about-this response? Because they
have mytho-ideological significance for him. In fact both article were
generated by the particular mythology of "family values" and were published
because they would resonate with an audience attuned to them--in this sense
they proved to be journalistically effective. The first article quoted
people who self consciously defended the moral fiber of day-care in
response to this mytho-ideology: "Dr. Eleanor Macoby of Stanford commented
`There's been this kind of suspicion until now that day care is somehow
contrary to family values. I think we need to recognize that day care is a
family value. It's a part of family life now.'" (To which Read attached
his editorial comment, "I won't comment on the illogicality of that
statement.") The second reference was to a gossipy article about one
family's domestic strife (and possible socio-legal sanctions on the
described behavior), which seems to have moved Mr. Read because of its
mythological redolence as a "real life" sign of something much larger--what
Read called "break down."

Read did not find it necessary to define or explain his particular mytho-
ideological stance, presumably because he felt it to be self evident. I
will therefore assume that by "family values" he means a social order
premised on a mythical, bilineal, neolocal, patriarchal, "nuclear family,"
commonly celebrated in such serials as "Leave it to Beaver," "The Brady
Bunch" and even the radical feminist version portrayed in "The Partridge
Family," popular in the post-war era.

"Family values" is a new reactionary strain of the nuclear family oriented
value system. Built into this later-day mytho-ideology is the idea that
these implicit "traditional" values are under siege from divergent social
factions. Hence article #2, a vibrant example of "just what is wrong with
America today;" internal social strife supposedly caused by evil external
influences (similar to the proliferation of malevolent demons in other
societies experiencing rapid social change or turmoil--first century
Galilee, late Chou China). Article #1 similarly plays into this popular
mythology by attempting to justify a slightly different value system/social
order. Thus we begin to see how the mytho-ideology loosely unified under
the rubric of "family values" seems engineered to elicit certain socio-
political behaviors: it is a model _for_ action, in the Geertzian sense.
Mr. Read's posting can be understood as such action: I suspect he has
internalized the "family values" system, and attendant ramifications of it,
to such a degree that he feels compelled to "do something" or else suffer
cognitive dissonance...or else he is being more wily and simply wants to
see what we make of his behavior...but I doubt it.

The obvious next line of inquiry would be to examine the genealogies of
value systems based on atomized "nuclear" type family structures. There is
a burgeoning literature that traces the emergence of such systems to the
rise of and consolidation of power and authority within centralized, larger
scale (trans kin-group) governing bodies: centralized administrations
strove to shore up their sovereignty by breaking down existing, local, kin
based social authority hierarchies into tractable and powerless small
(usually bilineal) family units that were dependent on central authority

--Marcus Aurin