The Corner

Just for the Record

Since a lot of readers keep asking me why I’m “letting” Derb’s parent-minimization go unchallenged, I feel compelled to at least restate my continued opposition to Derb’s position. I do not dispute that genes play an important role in personality and all that. And I don’t dispute that peers are important. But his efforts to demonstrate the almost-trivial importance of parents (he began with minimizing father’s only, if memory serves) strike me as unpersuasive. Though it should be noted that Derb now seems to be saying that parents do matter, just not as much as we would like to imagine, which strikes me as a slightly different position than where he started.

 I can’t get bogged down in the weeds again on this, but:

A) I have a half-finished G-File (yes, a G-File) in the works in which Derb appears. I will try to have it up early next week as I’m on semi-vacation and parenting alone makes it hard to get stuff done. Of course, I should just relax about all that since the roughly 100 parental decisions and instructions my wife and I have to make every day are largely meaningless (“No, you can’t eat that.” “Say ‘thank you.’” “Wait until after dinner.” “You have to clean that up.” Etc etc).

B) See this item from Derb’s list:

(3) In any inquiry into human nature, it is always instructive to look at what people do when they are free enough to do as they please. Specifically: How much parenting is done by people who can afford to hire people to do the parenting for them? Answer: Not much (with individual exceptions, of course). Why do you think that wealthy people employ platoons of nannies, and send their kids to boarding schools? The old English aristocracy neglected their kids for a thousand years. Winston Churchill barely knew his parents. He seemed to work out all right.

Huh? So parenting isn’t important, but it takes “platoons of nannies” and expensive schools to do the basic job of two attentive parents can do. And even then the parents must supervise things at some level.

It’s also worth pointing out that in the days of the Old English Aristocracy — quite a far distance from the formative days of humanities evolution on the plains of Africa — social mores were much stronger. In the absense of such of defining cultural norms, it seems to me that the role of parents becomes even more important.

C) In Derb’s last point he says he’s working hard at parenting because in a competitive society any little edge helps. I find this ridiculous on several counts. As I mentioned in one of our earlier spats, but Derb has insisted his daughter learn violin. Music is supposed to be something of greater merit than, say, videogames. But truth be told, playing the violin is probably a bigger waste of time in today’s society (if it doesn’t get you a scholarship) than playing video games, if all that matters is getting ahead in today’s rat race. But, of course, that is not all that matters, not by a longshot. And that is what has been nagging at me all the while about Derb’s position.

On the one hand, he wants to be coldly rational by saying genes determine everything. But at the same time it is surely our genes which tell us — nay scream at us — that parenting matters. We feel it about our own parents and we feel it about our own children. This holds true across generations and civilizations. So our genes are lying to us. But Derb ignores all this and looks at “personality outcomes” and material success as proof of parenting’s minimal importance.

Fine, but not only does this deny the reality we all live and perceive, it relegates the most important things of all to the backburner. Love and happiness. Love matters and feeling loved fosters happiness in most of us. That it doesn’t show up in a neat pie chart or bell curve matters to me not one bit. At the begining of our lives, the love of our parents is valued above all else. At the end of our lives the love of parent for child, and child for parent, matters enormously, but doesn’t show up on any of Derb’s charts.

Of course, I think parents matter in more substantial and material ways than such rmetaphysical considerations. As a conservative I am absolutely flummoxed by the suggestion that parents don’t matter. Everything conservatives believe about culture, values, personal responsibility, social organization and the like hinges on the conviction that parents matter. But at the end of the day, all of those things take a back seat to love.

If that makes me a sap, so be it.

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