Pursuit of 'self' leads society down a darkened ro

Posted: Mar 14, 2001 12:00 AM
Love and marriage sanctioned by God is the oldest and most fundamental building block of our society. Not only were these institutions etched in stone, they were thought necessary for the maintenance of most capitalistic societies. After all, in societies where the acquisition of wealth is deemed paramount, marital infidelity always carried the threat of fracturing lines of inheritance and thus family holdings. This need to safeguard personal holdings was ingrained into the culture, making a taboo of divorce. Long after these particular historical circumstances began to fade, the social hierarchies that considered women inferior remained. Until recently, women who sought to cultivate a unique identity outside of the household were viewed as subtle destroyers of society. Over the last few decades, much of this has changed. Before 1960, cohabitation between heterosexuals was illegal in most states and considered immoral. Since 1960, it has become the norm for couples. Over that same period, the sexual revolution taught women that their sexuality was not something that necessarily had to be repressed. This era of rampant free-floating information has also helped to break down some of the dark and shrouded taboos regarding sexual relations. Furthermore, the prevalence of women in the workplace not only encouraged women to cultivate unique identities, which extended beyond the household, but imbued them with the confidence and economic wherewithal to leave constraining marriages. Perhaps most importantly, the idea of maintaining slaves came to be universally denounced. No longer enslaved by custom or social roles, women began to view femininity as a gift, rather than a burden. In short, we see in the last few generations a trend toward self-awareness, self-aggrandizement and self-actualization. Men and women alike are expected to move beyond social roles, beyond caste systems. They are taught that they are the instruments of their own empowerment. To subvert your personality to some arbitrary social role is considered unhealthy, a desecration of that great holy ground known as "self." Empowered by technology and the liberalization of our culture, we have begun to place ourselves at the center of the universe. Sadly, such decadence may lead to the fall. According to the National Marriage Project based at Rutgers University, these cultural changes have also undermined traditional marriage. Another study conducted by Rutgers painted an even gloomier picture: Marriage rates have plummeted to a 40-year low, while divorce rates continue to hover just above 50 percent. The major implication: the freedom to casually marry and divorce, has been equated with the broader freedom to be human and pursue one's own whims. I find this as frightening as anything that's happened in our time. Savaging social customs does not change the necessary role that a two-parent home plays in the rearing of our children. It is no accident that 60 percent of our violent inmates came from single-parent households. Plainly, without the unconditional love and discipline provided by two parents, children do not like themselves very much. Lacking the capacity to value themselves, these children lose the ability to empathize with society in general, making the child far more apt to act out their confusion with violent and destructive behavior. Simply, with a two-parent home, a child is more apt to receive a consistent message of unconditional love and discipline. The same cannot be said in single-parent homes where children increasingly come home from school, make their own dinners, choose whether or not to do their homework while watching television and, essentially, watch themselves. The emotional vacuum created in such an environment can ignite a lifetime of confusion. The children act out their confusion with destructive behavior, or outbursts of violence. In reality, these children are begging for their parents and society to discipline them, to demonstrate with certainty that they care. Should the parent fail to notice, children will escalate their destructive behavior until his hurt and pain become deeply ingrained and becomes their only currency of expression. In such a manner, a generation of parents for whom defying social customs was part of the liberating quest to simply be themselves, reared a generation of violent children who have difficulty loving themselves or the world around them.