“Senior quotes thesociologist Viviana A. Zelizer, who describes today’s children as “economicallyworthless but emotionally priceless.” Senior explains: “Every debate we havehad about the role of parents — whether they should be laissez-faire or interventionist‘Tiger Moms,’ attachment-oriented or partial to the rigors of tough love — canbe traced back to the paring down of mothers’ and fathers’ traditional roles.”
I had to read andrew soloman’s review of senior’s book on parenting in the NYT – somehow, we are talking about one of life’s irresistable topics for a certain class of punter. However, this quote from Zelizer, whose book on household money I liked quite a bit, is a big disappointment – a truism that somehow misses being truthful, even though a sentiment like it is repeated endlessly in the mags and thumbsuckers, as though here, here we had drilled down to the materialist nexus of things. One would think that a sociologist, especially, would not think in terms of a bourgeois individualist ideology that posits a “we” but not a class – a “we” that can talk and talk to itself about how “our” children are economically worthless, because they don’t bring in household income, but how we loves em anyway.
As Zelizer well knows, economic value extends beyond immediate household revenue. Even granting that for most middle class american families today, children don’t bring in revenue (unlike, say, my family experience, where my brothers from the age of nine and myself from the age of eleven were, actually, crucially important to the running of my old man’s ice company – and this was not in the dark ages, but the 1970s) – still, they ride on a demand based economy that can’t do without the demand generated by new generations. A society that can’t physically reproduce itself gets into all kinds of trouble, including economic trouble. One can look at a society like Japan and it jumps into your eyes that there are total effects of population decrease, many of which are certainly economic. The “we” that speaks – in Senior’s book, as described by Solomon, by Solomon, and by the New York Times – is a minority “we”, an upper 20 percent we, plus that part of the middle class with large amounts of cultural capital – mainly academics. It considers itself a we, a space of trends, it considers itself a demographic, it flatters itself with names like the “creatives” – but what it really is is a class, or mostly a subclass, an instrument of capital, and as such finds its conditions hedged in by an implicit act of violence . And its generalizations are hedged in by a systematic avoidance of that fact, a systematic buffering, where the other ‘we’s drop out. Those we’s manufacture things in China. Although actually these wes administer to your desires at the cash register, they sweep the streets and wipe your baby’s ass. China my foot. Solomon does quote some time surveys which, at least, seem to imply a cross class sampling, but mostly this cod sociology is skewered by the paradox it can’t address – on the one hand, an analysis that is based on the individual as the final and appropriate unit of the social whole, and on the other hand, a mysterious collective “we”, which reccognizes that this individual is not, in fact, a social atom at all. There are no social atoms.