The Wicked Child Strikes Again
Quoting Grandpa Marx
I was listening to a TED talk the other day by a woman attorney and activist who was complaining about how marriage is privileged by the legal, taxation, and cultural systems. However we choose to create “family,” she argued — mentioning same-sex partnerships, polyamorous relationships, platonic partnerships, and much more — we should all be entitled to the same supports, the same rights, the same opportunities. (I didn’t catch her name, and there are so many TED talks on the subject of “privilege” that I don’t have the time to find out which was hers; I have to get ready for Passover.)
Anyway, I agreed with her, fundamentally — until she began to explain, kind of vaguely, how capitalism was responsible for privileging heterosexual marriage. It’s true, of course, that capitalism did make normative the nuclear family, which was the most economical structure for keeping workers working. But as I listened, two thoughts that I found heretical and revelatory came into my head.
The first was how people who broadly identify as leftist and are oriented towards liberating transformations often do not understand that they are attacking “tradition” and therefore are making a lot of people uncomfortable. Rather than deal with that discomfort, they tend simply to raise the volume of their voices. (The great exception to this was the marriage equality movement, which didn’t try to overturn marriage, but to broaden it to include same-sex couples, as in, Keep the tradition, just count us in.)
In fact, people on the left are staunch preservationists when it comes to indigenous cultures — I mean, to hell with the whales if it’s part of indigenous culture to go out and hunt them, exceptions must be made! The cultures of oppressed peoples must be preserved, as long as they’re not too, too patriarchal or misogynistic— and anyone who says otherwise risks being described as paternalistic or racist. The same people on the left, however, express no respect for people who want to hold fast to the traditions of their own American culture (which is, in part, why those people want to “Make America Great Again”).
This feels to me like a repetition of the spiritual 1970s, in which the same members of the Woodstock Nation who despised fundamentalist Christianity and all of its magical-thinking bullshit were simply enamored of Vedic Hinduism and incapable of recognizing its magical-thinking bullshit.
My second thought was about how people on the left usually invoke a di rigeur criticism of capitalism somewhere along the line — yet they don’t realize that it is capitalism itself that makes their transformational thinking, their critique of tradition, their cultural radicalism, possible. As Grandpa Marx put it in The Communist Manifesto, capitalism creates turmoil, endless turmoil, in which “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life . . .” It is capitalism, the great disruptor, that has produced a society in which nearly a third of households consist of one person; capitalism that has produced a society in which gender identification can be fluid; capitalism that is constantly churning the culture, making waves upon which people like this TED Talk attorney can surf.
So tell me, what do you think of them matzo balls?
ALTE is zooming for Passover on Monday evening. To participate, please get the Zoom code by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.