Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, June 19, 2006
Well, that was a very enjoyable Father's Day. Brunch with an old friend (actually the fellow who introduced me to my wife, who was also Best Man at our wedding). Then went to a street fair in the neighborhood and watched our son get tossed about on the various silly street fair rides. Then a visit to the Intrepid, which Moses loved (though it is a bit complicated trying to explain World War II to someone not yet four years old). Then back to Brooklyn to my favorite neighborhood sushi restaurant for dinner. All in all, a very good day, marred only by the absence of my own father, who had a wedding to go to.

How did you spend your Father's Day? John Derbyshire and Jonah Goldberg apear to have spent a chunk of theirs arguing over whether fathers matter. To follow the argument, click here, then here, then here, then here.

Rather than take time out of my Father's Day, I prefer to steal time from work. So here's my 2c:

To Derb:

1. Many of the points you raise have to do with *personality.* Do you see a distinction between personality and *character*? I do, and I think the distinction speaks very much to where parents matter. We all have to learn how to make the best use of our (largely genetically-determined) personalities. That means learning how to maximize the value of our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. It seems to me obvious that parents have some influence over this process, if only in that they provide us with closely-observed models to emulate.

2. Specifically, there is lots of data about how divorce negatively impacts both male and female children, even when you control for things like social status, race, and, most important, how happy the couple seems to be. Except in situations of real abuse, it seems to be the case that staying in an unhappy marriage is better for the kids than divorcing. That result strongly suggests that parenting matters in *some* fashion, even if 90% of how it matters is simply by *existing*.

3. Relatedly, there is lots of evidence from both humans and other mammals (e.g. apes, elephants) that the absence of strong male figures - such as fathers - leads to all sorts of problems with male adolescents. Again: the *presence* of a father who behaves like a father seems to matter a lot to successfully socializing the male adolescent. It may not matter much (other than to the quality of the *relationship* you have with your father) whether your father is a very hands-on parents or a more distant figure, but *the fact that he is there* seems to matter a lot.

4. Further relatedly: it's a commonplace that we replicate in our own married lives some of the patterns we observed in our parents' marriages. Have you seen research debunking this commonplace? I've seen research suggesting that one's capacity for happiness in marriage, or even happiness in general, is largely genetic. But I would be very surprised if our ability to adapt effectively to periods of *unhappiness* is entirely - or even largely - genetically determined, or unrelated to parenting. Again, this speaks to the difference between personality and character.

In sum: I think the research you're referring to is a valuable corrective to the cult of parent-ing, but you're overclaiming its significance when you use it to deny the importance of parent-hood.

To Jonah:

1. Take Derb's first point more seriously than you do. Extremism in commitment to the reality principle is no vice, and prudential deference to an illusion is no virtue. The original neo-conservatives stopped being liberals because they were mugged by reality - that is to say: the data contradicted their political pre-conceptions, and they changed their politics. You can reasonably demand that Derb's politics intelligently reflect his views about reality. Maybe he *is* sympathetic to the Progressives. (I don't think so, because I don't think he's a meliorist - unlike the Progressives, Derb isn't really interested in making the world better. Calling him a latter-day Mencken might fit the bill, though.) But demanding the converse - that he tailor his views about reality to suit his politics - is not reasonable.

2. To that end, I don't think it's adequate to simply say, "I don't care" when confronted with unfriendly scientific evidence. If one really wants to defend a particular proposition, one has to actually defend it, and grapple with what the science says that appears to undermine it. If economics seems to say that socialism is the best system for maximizing economic growth, it is not sufficient - politically, to say nothing of intellectually - to say, in effect, "this land is my land/it is not your land/you'd better get off/or I'll blow your head off." Obviously, based on my comments above, I'm with you on the question of whether Derb has over-claimed what the research means, particularly on your point about *measurement*. But the research does mean *something* and figuring out what that something is would seem to be an equal duty to figuring out what it is not, at least for anyone who cares about reality.

3. I don't think the analogy to Derb's review of P.O.D. holds. The RTL position is rooted in specific premises and chains of reasoning from those premises. Derb is skeptical of the non-scientific premises AND of the kinds of chains of moral reasoning. I don't recall Derb questioning the *science* that Ramesh uses. As for the "cold and pitiless dogma" business, the key word, I think, is the last. Derb cheerfully accepts the cold and pitiless nature of *reality.* Indeed, for that very reason he doesn't think we should make things tougher on ourselves by adopting intellectual dogmas of similar stringency. Derb might well say that the cult of parenting, and its attendant anxiety, is another one of these pitiless dogmas, albeit not so cold, to which he objects.

4. I am curious to understand how you ground your "right" to be the "author" of your daughter's "being" - that's pretty strong patriarchal language. (Not that there's anything wrong with that - I just want to understand where it's coming from.) I don't think either Hayek or Locke would go so far. Indeed, Locke's theory has a bit of a hole in it when it comes to justifying the natural family, and he winds up deconstructing it to a considerable degree when he finally gets into it. Are you a closet Filmerite?