Free market rhetoric vs. family values and freedom
By Roger Bybee
John Gray’s superb False Dawn: The Illusions of Global Capitalism (New Press, 1998), is a continuing source of insights on the multiple crises we are undergoing now. Gray is particularly lucid on the pressures faced by working families in a society where only the market seems to matter, where parents (if lucky enough to have a job) must work longer hours with almost nos social support and much less time with their families than any other advanced society.
The Right’s love of "family values" rhetoric is always a tempting target, because of the gross hypocrisy among conservatives. Think of Sarah Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy and supposed impending wedding being used as a campaign prop; of Newt Gingrich handing his first wife her divorce papers while she lay seriously ill in a hospital bed; or the entire crew of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky witch-hunters having lurid sexual histories outside marriage: Gingrich, Henry Hyde, Bob Livingston, Bob Barr, Dan Burton, and Helen Chenoweth (mainly known for her dread of an invasion of black UN helicopters), who inspired the line that "She is living proof that you can f___ your brains out!" (Note that none of her male GOP colleagues–hardly Einsteins themselves, suffered the same explanation for their intellectual deficiencies).
Yes, it is valuable to point out this hypocrisy so that the Right cannot dominate public discourse with drivel about personal morality instead of serious discussion about the failure of our economic and political institutions to serve the needs of the vast majority.
But Gray has some serious words about the impact of a market-dominated society, coupled with massive incarceration, on American families that deserve our attention:
"At the same time, social order has been propped up by a policy of mass incarceration. No other advanced industrial country, aside from post-communist Russia, uses imprisonment as a means of social control on the scale of the United States [which as Gray notes elsewhere, also serves to separate men–particularly African-American males– from their families]. Free markets, the desolation of families and communities and the use of the sanctions of criminal law as a last course against social collapse go in tandem."