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When I talk about failing institutions I don’t mean institutions of government or, perhaps it would be more accurate these days to say, I don’t just mean government.  Our social institutions are failing us the same way horses are failing us as a transportation option.  

For much of America’s history churches were integral to society.  While in some parts of the country they still are, for a growing segment of the nation church is losing its value as both a personal and social institution.  As science continues to challenge religious mythology many are finding religion and the church hold less meaning in their lives.  

The modern world is also putting pressure on our concept of family, which stems more from a rural pattern of life than its urban counterpart.  So much of our view of marriage and family stem from agrarian roots where a family was important as a source of labor, support and common defense.  The church and family structure played right into our animal instincts to reproduce and give that genetic imperative context.  

There has never been a time in earth’s history where it’s less necessary for human beings to reproduce.  We don’t need children for labor, in fact children in the modern world add to our workload.  We don’t need kids to tend the farm, take care of us when we’re sick or help defend the homestead from invaders.  With breeding no longer a necessity for survival, combined with the easy availability of high quality birth control, for the first time in the history of man having children is completely optional.  While people are likely to continue to find reasons to reproduce, it’s no longer a necessity for the individual or any even any substantive benefit to society.  

Marriage is another institution taking it on the chops in modern society.  Like having children, the institution of marriage is now entirely optional.  Far from being the harbinger of societal decay that the religious right makes it out to be, I see the decline in marriage as a positive sign.  We’ve managed to build a world where individuals are able to thrive and compete strictly on their own drive and merits.  Marriage may be convenient for legal reasons (it was for my wife and I), it may even still be desirable for many and that’s fine.  But marriage has, by and large, outlived its usefulness to society in general, with the possible exception of divorce lawyers.  What marriage is not is the cornerstone of the family, with more than a quarter of kids overall being raised in single-parent households.  

That begs the question of whether our institutions, at least those outside government, are really failing or we’ve just outgrown them?  One question my wife and I frequently field as a childless couple is who is going to take care of us when we get older?  My answer to that is to point out services like Google Express and others that deliver groceries right to your door and services like Uber and Lyft for transportation if we couldn’t drive.  Not that we’d even need those services here, where transportation services for the elderly are already available.  A home healthcare nurse is available for $40 an hour, which is a lot cheaper than college tuition, and the cleaning lady charges $20 an hour.  With all the money we saved not having kids, we’re not going to have any problems affording elder care in our declining years.  I also point out there are thousands of people who have families living in assisted living centers and nursing homes all over the state.  Having a family didn’t help them when they got older; their kids might come and visit once or twice a year.  Counting on family to take care of you when you can older turns out to be a bitter fantasy for many.  

It’s okay to challenge the comfortable institutions we’ve been handed by society and tradition.  It’s okay to shape your beliefs around what you can see and measure rather than hope for the beneficence of a random and sometimes perverse deity.  You don’t have to do things just because your parents did them, you can pick and choose what works for you.  Our institutions aren’t failing, the modern world is just giving us better options.  

Originally posted to The Gay Blade on Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 01:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Quite so. There are no static institutions. (8+ / 0-)

    Institutions always evolve. Marriage and family have always evolved.

    "Family" once meant "tribe", and "marriage" once meant a man owned every last one of his wives.

    But none of this means that people will stop entering into relationships they want solemnized by their community and recognized by law. Nor will families stop being families because the rules of membership change.

    And for that matter, childless couples have been around forever. Having kids who support us in later life isn't an institution, it's a fairly common practice that's nonetheless highly variable and, as you point out, often functionally nonexistent even when kids are present. I'm not even sure it's a statistical norm.

    We'll always be, for the most part, bonding mammals and pack animals. That'll be the norm for a long time to come, and for those who choose otherwise, who cares?

    Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding"

    by Bob Love on Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 01:52:14 PM PDT

  •  As we know, institutions that we regard (4+ / 0-)

    as cultural norms are not at all timeless--current versions are quite recent, in some cases.

    It's tempting to think that the pace of change, in our technology-driven world has increased. However, I think the change is a bit herky-jerky all of the time.

    An institution that some may regard as stale can have freshness breathed into it as some enjoy it in new and more dynamic ways.

    Really these institutions are just mechanisms which allow us to formalize our connection to others. As such they can create tangible advantages, and vastly improve the quality of our lives.

    If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that is not a sign of strength. That is a sign of weakness. President Obama

    by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 02:40:34 PM PDT

  •  As a resident of a metropolitan coastal area, (3+ / 0-)

    I keep on noticing just how many adults of all ages around me are single, and just how few are gunning to get married. It's an interesting shift, all right.

    Supple and turbulent, a ring of men/ Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn...

    by karmsy on Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 04:43:47 PM PDT

  •  Don't be trash talking my horse (7+ / 0-)

    My quarter horse Jesse was the best transportation option available to me a while ago when the roads were impassable for days due to blowing snow.  I had to ride her three miles into town to get to the store, but she was the perfect transportation option for the circumstances.  I rode her bareback, her back was a built-in fanny warmer too.

    •  The veneer of civilization and the support systems (4+ / 0-)

      and infrastructures that we depend upon to live organized lives are very thin and weak.  A national Ebola outbreak, a Carrington event that takes out the power grid, an earthquake on the New Madrid fault.  If you read some of the accounts of life in Sarajevo during the Bosnian wars, you may get an idea of how quickly people will revert to feral behaviors.

      Best to keep a backup survival system in place, just in case, like your horse, a wood burning stove, and a few old fashioned candles for when the electricity craps out.

      And it wouldn't hurt to create a backup system of friends, supporters, and dependants to stand with when hard times come -- heck, some of them could even be family!   The old have always survived by trading their advice to the younger ones for physical help.   And there's nothing wrong with sharing.  

  •  Okay, fine (9+ / 0-)

    The home health nurse is available to YOU for $40 an hour and the cleaning service is available to YOU for $20 per hour. What about the people less well off than you? What about the guy who lost his job at the age of 60 and has not found another? What about the people whose pension plans were destroyed when their companies were plundered by vulture capitalists? Or the people who don't make enough to save? I could go on and on...but what government programs are currently available to them are being eyed by the GOTP as ripe for privatization, and for many of these folks, if they don't have family, they may very well end up on the streets....

    Your post smacks more than a bit of privilege and assumptions.

    Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

    by Jilly W on Sun Jul 27, 2014 at 04:55:58 PM PDT

    •  I was close to my failing parents during their (6+ / 0-)

      later years, and I cherished the time I was able to spend with them.   They had planned and saved, and had good sense, and didn't lack anything, but that actually made them 'targets' for people who wanted to take much of that away.

      I observed that  old age is not so simple that you can simply plan, and pay, and buy your way through it.   It's is increasingly difficult for elders to deal with unethical suppliers,  quack doctors,  and some of the failed institutions you mentioned.    

      Smart savvy people with their wits about them have trouble with identity theft, shoddy tradespeople, dishonest bankers and real estate people, doctors that don't doctor, and churches and charities that are going after big donations with dollar signs in their eyes.   Housekeepers that drink instead of clean, and caretakers that take whatever they can steal from dressers and drawers.  

      The failure of ethical behaviour from congress on down is hurting us all.   It gets up close and personal when you are too slow to dodge it.

    •  not to mention substituting corporations for... (5+ / 0-)

      ... relationships.

      Google delivery?  What Google delivers is what the NSA can only dream of: high-rezz surveillance of the masses who are only too eager to be surveilled in exchange for "convenience" and "entertainment."

      Uber and Lyft?  That's treason against the working class, in this case taxi drivers, but as Uber's biz plan is to replace its drivers with roboto-mobiles, it's going to be Uber's and Lyft's drivers as well.

      This is exactly how our social institutions are breaking down: through the substitution of commodity relations for social relationships.  It's flat-out evil, and the best thing anyone can do is just dig in their heels and refuse to go along, and build up their network of family, friends, and community.

      We got the future back. Uh-oh.

      by G2geek on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 03:50:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Reproduction (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nuclear winter solstice, figbash

    Despite the diarist's doubts as to the readiness of children to visit or make a grocery run, one use for children is the economic support and care of the elderly through taxes and economic productivity. Have you checked on any of the countries with negative birth rates. E.g. in Europe overall, where the negative birthrate steadily raises the median age and will halve the number of workers supporting each retiree from 4 to 2 over the next 35 years?

    •  You Can Start With Countdown (3+ / 0-)

      Alan Weisman in Coundown debunks many of these ideas that declining birthrates are a problem. I recommend the chapter "Shrink and Prosper".

      As he notes:

      Japan's and Germany's economics began recovering from a decade of slump and recession in the years of the new millennium, at the same time their populations began to contract.
      People sometimes talk about how declining birthrates mean fewer workers to support older people. But they forget that it also means fewer children supported by those workers. Children don't work and require their own infrastructure.

      In any case, population shrinkage is inevitable. We are already straining Earth's resources. We need to figure out how to deal with negative birthrates and solve any problems they present.

      But on the whole, fewer people dividing up the resources is a plus for everyone. The benefits, on the whole, outweigh the problems.

      •  3...2...1... (0+ / 0-)

        Germany may be doing OK, but to call Japan 'recovering' is stretching it. In any case, children are supported by working parents on the presumption that there is a cycle that will lead the children to later care for the parents. Stop producing the children and you bring that to s screeching halt, with the elderly left holding the stick.

        Beyond that, I have no reason to think that population shrinkage is inevitable, and virtually every announcement of peak resources I have ever heard during my 60+ years on the planet has been shown to be mistaken. Your analysis presumes a static pie to be divided, whereas the resource pie turns out to have an odd tendency to expand.

        •  I Provided Evidence (0+ / 0-)

          Challenged to provide evidence I provided it.

          I don't think children are a party to the "agreement" that for being born they will support their parents later in life. That's a story made up by parents, and it sounds like a guilt-trip.

          And, no one I know is suggesting we stop producing children to fix the overpopulation crisis. But corporate media is constantly pushing the meme that people can have unlimited numbers of children and that it's better to have a bigger family. That is simply not good public policy, considering the costs an expanded population brings with it.

          Climate change alone will see to it that population shrinks. We'll either do it ourselves or the climate will do it for us. The less painful way is for people to look around and make a smart decision.

          And, a lot of the pie is not expandable. No more arable land is being produced. No more air is likely to be added to the planet any time soon. Much of our food production is based on irrigation. A fair chunk of the food in the U.S. is produced in California, where it is almost all the product of irrigation. We know that irrigation is not sustainable because it eventually saturates the soil with salts. And expansion of land used for food is often at a serious cost to the environment. Look at what's happened to the Amazon (used to be) Forest.

          You sound quite optimistic any and all resource limitations can be constantly resolved. If the world were flat we could probably expand limitlessly. Regrettably, the planet appears to be round.

          •  Evidence? (0+ / 0-)

            No, you provided no evidence. You suggested I get a copy of a book that, according to you, supports your point. This is what we call an "assertion," not evidence.

            Further, you misunderstand the term, "support." Children, as a class, support parents, as a class, in various ways, not least by paying taxes so that Social Security claims are payable, along with Medicare and other programs. And, of course, many have suggested we stop producing children, from Mao and "one child" to the ZPG nuts.

            Yet further: there is no shortage of arable land. Rather (in the USA and Europe), production is so much increased that we now turn arable land in housing developments. This may turn out to be short-sighted. Irrigation schemes are capable of improvement with regard to both mineralization and volume. If economically desirable, they will be so improved. Maybe the Israelis will share their technology.

            So yes, I'm quite optimistic in these regards.

  •  marriage is a civil contract where you agree to (0+ / 0-)

    share rights and responsibilities for all kids and property associated with that partnership. The eye-witnessed papers show the world what you signed up for on purpose.
         I think it's still important because marriage is also a ferris wheel and it's that piece of paper that forces you to work together just when you hit bottom and would like to jump off. And staying on is worth it when you are on the upswing, the heights can be breath-taking, and then you can recognize the gradual decline and prepare for another go-round or for landing on the downside.

    We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

    by nuclear winter solstice on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 06:26:22 AM PDT

  •  Reproduction of no benefit to society? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Perhaps you are expecting a "rise of the machines", to borrow a little Terminatorspeack, but, last I looked, society doesn't exist without members.  Reproducing is the only practical way to keep humanity from extinction, and society with it.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:19:38 AM PDT

    •  At the moment (0+ / 0-)

      there is more of a danger to humanity of over population than under population.

      Republican tax policies have led to financial conditions which have caused Republicans to demand cuts to programs they have always opposed.

      by AppleP on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 05:49:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That is a very different thing from saying there (0+ / 0-)

        is no value to reproduction.

        If all reproduction were to stop today, nearly all of humanity would be gone within 80 years.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 04:08:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It's a Positive Trend (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IowaBiologist, figbash

    I recommend Singled Out by Bella DePaulo for some perspective on how singles are treated. As she points out:

    The wish to live independently for as long as possible is now the normative one.
    I think it always was. People want close, intimate relationships, but at the same time they want their private space. The good news about modern life is that it's possible to have both. Of course, singles are still systematically discriminated against, both in law and the treatment of their peers, but even that attitude is changing. (Despite the efforts of foot-draggers like Rick Santorum.)

    She also reports that people are "making their closest friends a priority in their retirement schemes" and are developing a "friends-helping-friends model for aging" (according to the New York Times).

    Society is adapting to the new reality that people don't need to sacrifice as much of themselves to these institutions. I think that makes for a happier place, and I'm glad to see it.

    Thanks for your though-provoking post!

  •  To each their own (0+ / 0-)

    But replacing human relationships with internet based delivery service is not my idea of living.

    by DAISHI on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 02:56:46 PM PDT

  •  There is still a need for children (0+ / 0-)

    to care for their parents.

    Having taken care of both of mine, with help from other siblings and my wife, then helping her take care of hers, I can say that willing children are needed. Too many institutions warehouse the elderly without dignity, while enough of them outright abuse them. Plenty are full of care workers doing the best they can, with low wages and budgets which support the owners' interest more than the residents, but nothing compares with loving care at home.

    Yes, I know that family can be abusive as well, but like most failings, the media hype can make it seem as though it is more prevalent than it really is.

    The goal of capitalism is to make as much money as possible, for as few people as possible, by any means necessary.

    by laughingRabbit on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:04:59 PM PDT

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