A Case Study in Cultural Transmission

I know some divorced folks whose story is somewhat illustrative of the issues we are interested in at this blog.

J grew up in a WASP family in New England. J's mother died when she was young. Her grandmother taught her some life culture. She had a strained relationship with her step mother, and learned little life culture from her. J was brilliant, so she went to Harvard, became a feminist, and went into a male dominated field. She moved to the Pacific Northwest away from her family and had very little contact with them until she got married.

R grew up in eastern Canada. As far as I know, he was raised reasonably well, though with perhaps not enough masculine guidance as his father was a busy railroad executive. R was adventurous, and struck out on his own away from his family, eventually settling down in the Pacific Northwest.

When they met, R was living in a big house with a bunch of tree planters, set up so that he didn't have to have a real job. A pretty good gig, but rather nontraditional. J was working in a STEM field. They got married and moved in with a more or less explicitly feminist/equalist marriage.

But once they started having kids, instinct took over and they wanted things to be more traditional. J would do housework and raise the kids in her own house, and R would bring in the money. But with the situation they'd gotten themselves into, that was not so easy.

First thing that had to go was all the strangers living in the house. Fair enough, a woman needs her own domain. But this meant that Rs revenue stream was disrupted. We can moralize all we want about how easy that should have been for him, but notice that even getting into that situation is not something that happens if people follow the traditional life scripts. Naturally having to choose between the desires of his wife and his revenue stream put R in a tough situation and lead to some tension.

R then had to get a real job to support the family, but he was stubborn and entrepreneurial, so he decided to live off capital and start a company in the garage. This eventually worked, but while it was still gestating, J was working full time as well as her domestic tasks. This led to resentment on her part, that she was bringing in all this money and doing most of the domestic work while her husband was working on something that may or may not work. They each had their own philosophy of how families ought to work financially, neither of which was based on any experience but their own imaginations and the imaginations of some feminist and libertarian philosophers, both famously disconnected from reality. Of course they didn't see eye to eye about these things. Again unnecessary tension.

As for the kids, they had no idea how to raise them. They'd never been taught. The grandparents were absent or too old to really be involved or give guidance. There was no church community to give advice and moral support. The kids were wild and out of control. I'm not going to blame the parents entirely for that; genetics and the roll of the personality dice plays a large role in these things, but not having experience or guidance of what to do did not help deal with the challenging children.

As a result of all this, the tension got to be too much, and they got a divorce. This is a tragedy. There didn't have to be big lifestyle changes to deal with biological imperatives. There didn't have to be financial and work-division tension. There didn't have to be cluelessness about how to raise kids. All that stuff was the result of lack of a functioning life culture; bad ideology and lack of perspective.

Stuff like this doesn't have to happen. I believe that if J and R had gone through life and into that relationship with a more traditional mindset and more contact with the elders from the outset, they would not have had those challenges. I think they would have been richer, happier, and their children may have even turned out better. Many people in that generation got put in this situation by forces of history and politics that they couldn't be expected to understand or counteract, so blame is not an interesting question. But we can look at cases like this with hindsight and see what we can do for ourselves to avoid these challenges in our own futures.

The moral of the story is not profound or counterintuitive, it is just a reminder to learn from your elders and go through life with a conscious eye to your future and what traditions worked for your ancestors. Seems obvious, but a whole generation in some areas forgot to do this, and suffered for it. In any case, stories like this can remind us of the importance of such things, and give us perspective that will help us out in our lives.