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Family Meltdown

Family is the primal unit of society. Men and women have always met and produced off-spring. Successful marriages conserved the energy necessary for human advancement. Maslow identified sex as a basic need. It is packed with motive force. Freud called the driving force that pushes humans into action libidinal energy. Although libidinal energy is associated with sex, it can be redirected for other creative effort. When marriage works, sex needs of both partners are met, without spending energy searching for a mate. Energy savings resulting from successful marriages frees energy to promote other creative activities.

Tribes and clans developed marriage customs and rules to handle the problem of orderly mate selection. It is difficult to imagine families independent of communities. Every culture has customs and rules about marriage, although they vary

considerably. Religion plays a role in the mating process. Despite notable examples of Old Testament polygamy, Christianity strongly endorsed monogamous marriage. The Judeo-Christian heritage played a large role in the development of our beliefs about family. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church actually controlled marriage and divorce. Strong beliefs about family held the system in place.

Modern nation states emerged at the end of the Middle Ages, and wrested control of marriage and divorce from the church. England’s Henry VIII split the Church of England from the Catholic Church just 17 years after Martin Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation in Germany with his 95 Theses. Henry wanted a divorce. Divorces came to be controlled by the State. States assigned the responsibility for divorces to Courts. However, states recognized the importance of family, and placed tough restrictions on divorce.

The idea of falling in love, getting married, and living happily ever afterwards has a rich heritage. In our culture, romantic love attracts potential marriage partners to each other. Other cultures have successfully handled mate selection differently. In our agrarian economy, after “falling in love” and getting married, the couple became an economic unit that operated the farm, or a business in a small town, surrounded by a community and churches that reinforced the requirements of monogamous marriages. The resulting family—father, mother and children—became an economic unit. Strong emotional dependencies was an important part of the development of children.

The romantic love attraction, and expansion of an agrarian economy worked well in the early development of the United States. Arduous farm labor was the best way to put food on the table, and the need for male physical strength supported traditional beliefs about roles of the sexes. Male physical strength remained important during the industrial revolution. Men were good at “working on the railroad, all the live long day.” Public education that sprang up during the industrial revolution did not damage the family system. Most of the population remained on the farm well into the Twentieth Century. But all of that was about to change.

The Great Depression proved that subsistence farming could not feed the growing population. Then World War II and the need for ships, airplanes, bombs, guns, ammunition and supplies transformed the economy. We developed systems of mass production and distribution for all of life’s essentials. We, as an entire society, learned to function corporately. We learned to use the factory method and specialization to effectively produce necessary goods to meet all our needs.

Women left homes and farms for factories and offices. After the War, technology supplanted the industrial revolution. Brains became more important than brawn. Information became the prime commodity. Women dealt with technology as well as men. They stayed in the offices and factories. Men and women spent less time with spouses than with other members of the opposite sex. Romantic love that had worked well in the agrarian economy was disastrous in the offices and factories. The powerful attraction of romantic love was indiscriminant. Movement to jobs in a mobile economy isolated family units and individuals from extended family and intimate communities. Sex became the primary sales tool, and diverted large amounts of energy from other creative effort. Traditional marriage experienced break down. Alabama had disbarred lawyers for “quickie divorces” in the late fifties, but legislated “no fault” divorce in 1969. The State no longer had rules that attempted to preserve marriage. Marriage was merely an agreement between two individuals.

The changes in law did not cause the breakdown. Changes were inevitable. But courts, governmental agencies, and the legal profession were ill-prepared for change, and have not handled it well, as we will explore in future columns.


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