In today's column, David Brooks says a few reasonable things about the societal changes that have lowered the percentage of "traditional" households in America (heterosexual marriage, kids, regular church attendance) -- although he says them in his own peculiar way:
The surest way people bind themselves is through the family.... Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility, including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like."Emerging commitment devices"? Sounds like a Mitt Romney euphemism for battery-operated gizmos he and Ann keep under the bed.
But the two-parent family is obviously not the only way people bind themselves. We are inevitably entering a world in which more people search for different ways to attach. Before jumping to the conclusion that the world is going to hell, it's probably a good idea to investigate these emerging commitment devices.
Seriously, though, I'm glad Brooks seems more or less accepting of parenthood in "non-traditional" households. And I'm glad he favors generous family leave policies.
But he's still not comfortable with people who don't settle down, marry, pick a parish, and breed, breed, breed:
At some point over the past generation, people around the world entered what you might call the age of possibility. They became intolerant of any arrangement that might close off their personal options....I've quoted passages from throughout the column, and you can see what truly horrifies Brooks: the fact that people might not wed or breed because they like having -- gasp! -- options. "Personal options"! "Lifestyle options"! How dare they pursue these! It's not behavior suitable for an adult!
Why is this happening? ... People are less religious. People in many parts of the world are more pessimistic and feeling greater economic stress. Global capitalism also seems to be playing a role, especially, it seems, in Asia.
Many people are committed to their professional development and fear that if they don't put in many hours at work they will fall behind or close off lifestyle options....
The problem is not necessarily a changing family structure. It's people who go through adulthood perpetually trying to keep their options open.
Except that the party Brooks supports, the GOP, keeps telling us that freedom is the most important thing of all, and that wanting to be successful and rich is the highest human calling -- what is that other than the pursuit of "lifestyle options"? When the Alex P. Keatonism of the Reagan/post-Reagan era -- which still hasn't ended -- leads politicians of both parties to say that society is functioning well when it creates more and more millionaires, then people pursuing materialistic "lifestyle options" are just being good, upstanding citizens, right?
Brooks does invoke "global capitalism" as a reason people might sacrifice marriage and family and immerse themselves in work. He implies that this is a Foxcomm thing, seen more in Asia than in America. Well, conditions are much harsher in Asia, but capitalism drives people to work long, lonely hours here, too. I know a lot of people, most of them childless, who burn the midnight oil for less-than-exorbitant pay in Manhattan offices, just because tight, inflexible deadlines and inadequate staffing are part of the corporate culture here in America. That's how you keep your job. There aren't many other options.
Brooks has a pretty soft life -- as far as I know, he's never had that sort of grind-it-out dead-end desk job. So he has no idea that the "options" people cling to as they work hard and breed less can be quite limited.