Tabula Rasa Madness

There's been a bit of discussion I've seen recently about an article on newsweek exerpting "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" by one Judith Warner. Jim Henley has two posts worth reading on it. Start with this one:
[Warner] mistakes "the middle class" for people like her. Warner is an upper-middle class striver and moves in that milieu. What she chronicles and exemplifies is simply American workaholism applied to child-rearing. ... So the ambitious income redistribution that she imagines will solve the problems of women like her and her friends amounts to a bold if imprecisely quantified call for the redistribution of wealth from the upper-class to the upper-middle class. To the barricades, comrades!
True enough, some other good snarking about the article.

There's one point I've not seen anyone bring up, so, I thought I would discuss the article myself.

Warner is among a generation of women raised in feminism, who've accepted the idea that people are "socially constructed": that we are blank slates. Feminist ideology holds that there is no such thing as human nature. The mind may be evolved, but it has no significant natural inclinations. These beliefs are wrong in many ways, but they represents the default ideology of the left, and increasingly (sadly), the right. What are the implications of blank-slatism applied to mothering?

Well, one is, if you love your child, and want that child to succeed, then someone must do something to mold your child into a successful person. It doesn't just happen. There is no such thing as innate tendancy, or even more horrifying, smarts (IQ?!!), drive, etc. These things must be created. And in our private society so decried by Warner, it is clear that the person molding little Johnny Rasa must be the parents, most particularly mom. Warner:
I was a committed mother, eager to do right by my child and well-versed in the child care teachings of the day.

Another thing we are evolved to want is for our kids not just to "succeed", but to "get ahead" - that is, to be more successful than average. Modern women feel that way, naturally (though they don't know why). The desire for your kid to get ahead has an even harsher implication: to the extent that you see other women molding their kids to be a success, you have to mold yours even harder to insure above-averageness. That is, blank slate ideology induces women to enter a competition, one-upping each other on every aspect of "mothering" as they perceive it.
Women from Idaho to Oklahoma City to the suburbs of Boston—in middle and upper middle class enclaves where there was time and money to spend—told me of lives spent shuttling back and forth to more and more absurd-seeming, high-pressured, time-demanding, utterly exhausting kids' activities.

And yes, that is crazy (as Warner perceives, though not why). But I don't see an answer available to her within her ideology. To the extent that people really are blank slates, women are acting rationally when they break themselves making sure their offspring are better than the others.

Well, I suppose I must give her what is due. What you have here is a sort of tragedy of the commons. Even some libertarians accept the idea of using the government to organize "society" to solve problems of externalities. (Though I do not.) Certainly Warner is no libertarian so the idea of using the government to solve her problem is natural to her. If Warner and her co-ideologues could only agree to "not run" the race, they'd probably all be happier. Thus, the nauseating political prescriptions that Jim Henley punctures. As Henley notes, what Warner calls for really wouldn't end the competition:
Warner's desired government subsidies can't solve her real problem, which is ensuring that her children have relatively higher status than the bulk of their generational cohort. You can offer tax-funded ballet classes to every Jacob and Caitlin in the country, but there will still be only one "best" ballet class in a given town. Meritocrat moms will still "need" to get into that class, not the ones for the hoi-polloi.
(my emphasis). People do strive to advance their children; that's an evolved part of us. They did so in ancient Rome, they did so in the Soviet Union, and they do here in America today.

Although it is clear that Warner and her suffering co-affluents do very much want their kids to "get ahead", I think one part of their problem is they don't know why they want this. They see that they are paying a price for it; thus they fear they are irrational. One thing that might help is simply to know that it is natural for them to want to advance their kids. It's an evolved aspect of human nature.

It may also help them to know that in general in primates, females are much social than males. Thus there's a reason why their husbands are not similarly busting their butts molding the kids: hubby just ain't that into it. Knowing this might help these women live more peaceably with their family.

(Indeed, it seems one obvious prescription even from a blank-slate perspective is: just stop wanting little Johnny to get ahead! The fact that you want it means that you were socialized a certain way, and since that is causing you pain, stop it! Take control! And if you can't change yourself, at least you should try not to infest your progeny with the "want success for child" meme. Fight the power!)

But there's another way that the blank-slate ideology is wrong which is much more significant here: that it's flat-out wrong in its understanding of the sources of success. In fact, success in meritocratic free-market America is largely a function of one thing: brains. Heritability of IQ seems to be similar to that of many other human traits (like height) -- high, but nowhere near total. So, the best thing that Warner can do for her kids is to be high-IQ herself - which she probably is; and in any case, she can't change her own intelligence. This was the message of the Bell Curve, the notorious book that was shut out of polite discourse for discussing several such un-PC ideas.

This is the message from science: human beings are animals. Just like other animals, we have inborn desires. Just like other animals we receive a significant proportion of who we are when we are conceived; and much more is determined by the time we are born. Unlike other animals, we can learn and change and move outside our programming. However, worrying about whether your child will succeed is largely irrelevant. He or she will succeed or fail largely on his or her own, regardless of what you do.

Once you know this, you will be freed to be a much "worse" Mom.

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