Liberalism and bewilderment
This is the last of a three-part essay describing Bermuda’s cultural crisis as it moves towards becoming a dysfunctional society
Our adoption of liberal values set the groundwork for the adoption of others and helped to transform our society into a liberal one. Where some behaviours were deemed unacceptable in our recent past, now they are tolerated and perpetuated. And where they were once accepted, now there is negation of those values.
These liberal values create upheaval. These liberal values also promise to expand the paths to the individual’s self-realisation and freedom of expression. They also place the importance of the needs of the individual over that of community. Through our collective acceptance, we have unwittingly become the supporters of values that have significant ramifications for our society.
Liberalism and family upheaval
Our adoption of liberal values has affected the nature of family. The roles of men and women have changed. The increased adoption of liberal values has meant the waning of traditionally moral, Christian ones. There is far less stigma attached to adults having children out of wedlock, but unfortunately, many men, whether wed or not, have succumbed to a gross paternal neglect. Many men — wed or not — unfortunately limit their role to merely financial support.
Even more telling are those fathers who offer neither role model or financial support. But there are fathers who are unwed and may be genuinely interested in and want to have positive input on the development of their child, but find it subject to the whims of sometimes vindictive maternal authority.
Or, in other words, the level of paternal influence is a direct result of the level of sentiment for them expressed by the mother of their child. This situation is further exacerbated when liberal-minded, single mothers, who naturally want to find lasting relationships, locate males as partners.
The natural urge to procreate, coupled with more relaxed views towards sex and having children out of wedlock, works to create a more complex family dynamic. We then may get a situation of transient adult men who pass through households.
At the extreme we have a single-mom household with several of her children living in that same home, each of whom have different fathers. The consequence for the children involved is that these transitional males form a condition of pseudo fathers of varying degrees.
The complexity of this new family dynamic places a huge strain on the effective and consistent passing of values to those children. It places a burden on effective and consistent male role-model socialisation. And, unfortunately, it places this burden largely on the mother.
The broad message to the children involved is that men are peripheral and more or less transient figures. Peripheral fathers are alienated from their offspring. Since boys and girls are raised differently, it becomes extremely important that boys positively interact with their fathers or at the least some positive consistent male figure(s).
If fathers or father role models are absent, then boys will seek their peer group for support and guidance. It is then no wonder that there has been a rise in gangs.
A new development is occurring where parents are allowing children to opt for electronic online socialisation — ie, “gaming” peer groups. This may represent a path towards dysfunction on yet another level.
A solution to the issues raised is to teach young adults how to be good and effective parents, and to support young mothers to help them with the inculcation of civic, functional and positive values for their young.
Liberal values and social contradictions
Our adoption of liberal values also means the negation of traditional ones. Where some behaviours were deemed acceptable in our recent past, now they are negated or deemed archaic. Tradition, however, is always vilified. We have outlawed capital punishment in the form of hanging criminals, but school principals retain the right to impose corporal punishment in the form of hand spanks. It is assumed that principals will exercise appropriate judgment with parental permission, of course. But this presents a cultural contradiction.
So, for example, the act of traditional, child discipline comes into question. Spanking is no longer viewed as Christian correction, but is classified, lumped in the extreme and considered abuse. In the past, just as today, there were situations of child abuse. But spanking your child as an aspect of a traditional discipline was generally practised by our culture and it was dependent on the level of parent sophistication.
Harsh spanking was always considered dysfunctional behaviour or abusive. The result of this liberal versus traditional values conflict is that today’s parents cannot parent the way they were raised, creating a sense of cultural bewilderment.
Today’s parents, robbed of traditional strategies, practise forms of discipline largely based on overt manipulation. But this manipulation is highly dependent on the parents’ level of sophistication and may involve at the low level of sophistication emotional trauma and neglect. And emotional trauma and neglect almost always have long-term negative effects, just as it would for extreme physical abuse.
So the adoption of liberalism undermines tradition and shifts the cultural parameters to shut down traditional aspects instead of widening those parameters to include more diverse strategies.
Am I suggesting households return to the rod and cane? No. I’m highlighting that what’s now enshrined in law has created social contradictions that have not allowed for a smooth, cultural transition.
What we see today is the result of those contradictions. Sensitivity must be shown towards how parents raise their children. Parents should not be left to wade through the gamut of parenting “strategies” on their own. One solution is to teach effective, sophisticated, parenting strategies to parents or prospective parents.
Will the Government need to step in, require and somehow reward parents who attend parenting courses? Ideally before the child is born and throughout the infant years? What are the other solutions?
The overall effect of liberalism is to thwart the formation of a consistent identity. What we get as tradition is that which is prescribed by the capitalist impulse.
Tradition is now characterised and accepted as change and upheaval. Change leads to upheaval, then more change, then more upheaval. Identity formation is on a constant reset and each generation is bewildered by the next.
• Anthony Crichlow has been an educator for 30 years and is keenly interested in the cultural transformations taking place in Bermuda and globally
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