Wednesday, May 22, 2002
I happened to be reading Maggie Gallagher on the subject of the dreaded biological clock. Her key sentence: "Here is one of the great ironies of contemporary feminism: Elite young women these days take their cues about how to behave primarily from unmarried (and therefore adolescent) males." And this got me thinking on a subject that I haven't aired in a while: how cultural libertarianism is only good for guys in their 20s.
The decisions we make when we are fairly young in contemporary terms shape how our lives turn out. I chose, in my twenties, to marry a woman many years my senior. (Apologies for talking about me; this is one of those dreaded personal-is-political posts.) I have no regrets about this decision; I married for love, which strikes me as a pretty good reason to get married. But it meant taking the bad end of a gamble about the rest of my life. Odds are, I would never beget children. Since I have always wanted children, that meant odds were I'd be looking to adopt a few years down the road (which my wife and I are now in the process of doing), with all the unique challenges that entails. Again, no regrets; I knew what I was doing, and what the consequences were.
But all these women who spend their twenties either striving after their careers or simply extending their already extended adolescence: do they know what they are doing? My unscientific survey says: they don't. They are completely unaware or determined to deny that biology has anything to say about their destiny. And the culture they grew up in is committed to their remaining in ignorance or denial, until it is too late.
Which brings me back to cultural libertarianism, or the contention that society - not government; society - should never tell us what choices to make. That our lives should be free verse, composed at leisure and without regard for social rules. Thing is, those social rules embody a whole lot of information, information most of us are not going to process if it comes as, say, a cacophany of blogs. And this information is vital because, you see, we have very few years in which to live. Once we make decisions - necessarily on the basis of limited information - they are irrevocable. Our lives move on. And, for some of the most important parts of our lives - whether and whom we will marry, whether and how easily we will have and raise children - our lives move on remarkably quickly.
Those who advocate ripping up the social rule-book are arguing, effectively, that it is better for this crucial information not to be organized, better for each person to have to individually pull it all together, however long it takes. Given enough time, that's probably the right attitude. If we all lived forever, we could afford to make endless mistakes and learn from them, and become more interesting people as a result. But we don't. We need the wisdom of our forebears, embodied in social rules that let us know how life is to be lived, if only because we quite literally don't have time to get that wisdom ourselves before our lives are gone.
I have no children of my own yet, but I have younger relations whom I hope to see happily married and with children some day. I also hope to see them engaged in useful and rewarding careers. I wish I knew how to tell them to find their future wives and husbands, and how to make their careers in ways that accommodate families that ought to be the center of their lives. I wish I knew, but I don't. The rule-book is gone, and "the rules" is no substitute.