Our Sociable Sociality, #2–They Fuck You Up: Families and Sociality.

By Robert Hanna

***

I. Introduction: How to Go Beyond The Mind-Body Politic

II. They Fuck You Up: Families and Sociality

III. There Is No Love: Intimacy and Sociality

IV. Lonely Are the Brave and the Millennials: Friendships and Sociality

V. “Louis, I Think This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship”: Camaraderie-&-Solidarity, Identity, and Utility

VI. Conclusion: Our Sociable Sociality, Hammers, and Blue Guitars

***

The first installment contains section I.

And this installment contains section 2.

But can you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete essay HERE.

***

II. They Fuck You Up: Families and Sociality

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.[ii]

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.[ii]

12. In this section, I want to focus specifically on family relationships, and say something about their characteristic phenomenology and their normative structures, as encoded in certain inherent guiding principles.

In this connection, my basic claim is

that all healthy, sane rational human animals need families, insofar as families inherently provide a special set of care-relationships that intimates, close friends, our wider circle of friends, comrades, people who share identity-attributes with us, and people with whom we have instrumental relationships of various kinds, do not inherently provide — although there might also of course be contingent overlaps between family members and people falling under one or more of the other six types of social relationships.

More specifically, families inherently provide

either (i) asymmetrical, one-way dependent, care-relationships between people who are care-receivers (e.g., young or older children, aged or infirm parents or grandparents, life-partners in need of help and support, siblings in need of help and support, etc.) and other people who are care-givers (e.g., parents of young or older children, adult children or grandchildren of aged or infirm parents or grandparents, younger or healthier family memers, life-partners providing help and support for their corresponding ailing, infirm, or otherwise troubled life-partners, siblings providing help and support for their ailing, infirm, or otherwise troubled siblings, etc.),

or (ii) symmetrical, two-way dependent (aka, “co-dependent,” aka “complementary”), care-relationships between care-partners who reciprocally provide help and support for one another.

Otherwise and more simply put, families are groups of people who look after one another and who look out for one another.

13. It’s crucial to remember in this connection that there are going to be natural variations in degrees and scope of the various modes of sociality, not just across people, but also across different contexts, by which I mean especially spatial and/or temporal contexts.

So at different times in one’s life, different modes of sociality with respect to family relationships can be, and usually are, more or less salient.

Obviously, e.g., one and the same person can be an asymmetrical care-receiver when they’re young, and then when they’re older, an asymmetrical care-giver for their own children or aged parents, and also a symmetrical care-partner with their life-partner.

And as another obvious example, contemporary “millennials” without children or before they have children, are very often highly focused on intimates, friends, or comrades, whereas if and after they have children, they’re by contrast highly focused on family relationships, and (perhaps even much) less focused on intimacy, friends, and/or comrades.

14. It’s equally crucial to remember in this connection that because the seven types of sociality are defined in terms of human needs, and because the characteristic phenomenologies and guiding principles or normative structures of the seven types are aimed at the satisfaction of those human needs, then either pathological cases, or morally impermissible, bad, and wrong cases, are always possible.

And in the case of family relationships, those possibilities are vividly captured by the famous lines from Tolstoy and Larkin I’ve quoted as the epigraphs for this section.

Of course, it’s also not strictly true that every happy family is the same: on the contrary, happy families actually come in many different shapes and sizes.

And strictly speaking, not all mums and/or dads fuck you up: on the contrary, many mums and/or dads actually help you to become and be a good and happy person.

Still, even granting those qualifications, Tolstoy and Larkin are indeed onto some things of great personal and collective importance about our “human, all-too-human” lives and the rational human condition.

15. Although, as a matter of actual fact, families very often, or even in a large majority of cases, have a salient biological-kinship component — e.g., grandparents-parents-children, siblings of the same parents, or anyhow siblings who all share one or another parent, etc. — that other kinds of social relationships don’t always or even often have, nevertheless biological-kinship relations are by no means a strictly necessary condition of (our need for) families in the “proper sense” that I’m describing.

Family relationships in the proper sense are personal or interpersonal principle-governed commitments to care-relationships, and not biological-kinship relations.

So if someone contingently happens to bear a close biological-kinship relationship to someone else, but they have little or nothing otherwise in common, and/or simply don’t get along, or even like each other, or for any other reason there’s simply no question of any personal or interpersonal principle-governed commitment to a care-relationship between them, then there’s certainly no good reason whatsoever for them to regard each other as members of the same family in the proper sense.

16. Nevertheless, it’s also the case that as a matter of actual fact, families very often, or even in a large majority of cases, have a biological-kinship component.

Moreover, many or perhaps even most people, even if they do self-consciously know that biological-kinship relations are by no means a strictly necessary condition of (our need for) families — because they do self-consciously know (of) people who are, or because even themselves have, step-parents, step-siblings, adopted children, etc. — also accept the widespread, and perhaps even hegemonic ideological, moralistic normative belief that families ought to be based on biological-kinship relations.

This belief is captured by common sayings like “blood is thicker than water,” and so-on.

17. So it would be a big mistake for political philosophers of mind who are studying our sociable sociality simply to ignore the actual matter of fact that families very often, or even in a large majority of cases, have a strong biological component, especially in relation to the widespread and perhaps even hegemonic ideological, moralistic normative belief that’s glommed on top of that actual matter of fact, to the effect that families ought to be based on biological-kinship relations.

Many people’s lives actually are, or at least easily could be, significantly harmed psychologically and/or physically by the serious fallacy of confusing families in the proper sense with biological-kinship relations, e.g., if they remain in abusive or other oppressive pseudo-family relationships just because they’re based on biological-kinship relations; or if they experience crippling feelings of guilt and self-loathing, or stigmatizing social criticism from others, about not being in a proper family relationship with certain other people just because they bear close biological-kinship relations to them.

And of course the same thing goes, mutatis mutandis, for merely legal-kinship relations like adoption, the marriage, divorce, or re-marriage of one’s parents, etc.: so it’s an equally serious fallacy to confuse families in the proper sense with legal- kinship relations.

18. Therefore — among many other important things in the theory of our sociable sociality — it is extremely important for political philosophers of mind to point out the serious fallacies in such ways of thinking, and thereby help people liberate themselves and others from widespread and perhaps even hegemonic ideological, moralistic normative beliefs about families and kinship-biology on the one hand, and about families and kinship-laws on the other.

NOTES

[i] L. Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 1.

[ii] P. Larkin, “This Be the Verse,” in P. Larkin, Collected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2001), p. 180.

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