Having become a poet by profession
who deals with his whole life by extension
I cannot claim to entirely agree
with Andrei Gromyko’s wry boutade
(said to a biographer who thought his a façade)
“My personal life does not interest me.”
And yet, when poeticising, I feel impelled
to try to peer outwards from my navel,
to see not least myself “anthropologically”.
It is fascinating to learn how the innermost
convictions about right and wrong and a host
of different aspects of people’s ideology
are determined by the ways authority,
property, genes, and affective priorities
got divided and passed on in their family,
ethnic group, part of the country,
side of the street. How many hungry—
not to say starving—intellects would happily
have it explained to them why others
can be so intractable if all men are brothers?!
One might even go further and say that,
in the absence of such an explanation,
many a good egg will suffer disorientation,
squander vital energy, fall into the trap
of the enemy within, whom exhaustion fosters:
“the sleep of reason generates monsters.”
Those of us who were born into egalitarian families
in which the principle of equal inheritance
among siblings of either sex has total acceptance
are inclined to consider banalities
the distinctions between brothers and sisters
and older and younger sibs that systems
which favor primogeniture or other divisive
attempts at maintaining property whole
perpetuate in many regions of the globe.
Even households in which wills are decisive
in determining who gets what in the end—
the so-called absolute nuclear type—offend
our sense of justice, our belief in a fair share
of undivided attention and the general endowment,
little matter if some get shortchanged now and then.
Because, when parents do not take care
to make sure none of their children
feels let down at home, they breed in them
at best indifference, at worst resentment:
wherever kids get more or less than deserved
of the home-baked pie, one is forced to observe
the broader social effects of such sentiments.
Also the multifarious forms supremacy takes
(to the dismay of liberals of all makes)
are but projections of an original role model
feared or revered within the home’s walls.
One only need look just down the hall
to find the living antitype of God
the Father, the paternalistic or authoritarian
figurehead of the selfsame household variant.
Freud showed this in The Future of an Illusion,
but the general concept that family ties—
between parents and children, husbands and wives—
lie behind every political and religious effusion
has been a message traveling in a bottle
at least since the days of Confucius and Aristotle:
a theory unusable because still unfalsifiable
since the comparative analysis of pertinent data
from different regions and areas of the planet
was, until only recently, not viable.
Today, instead, it is possible to explain
historical phenomena and events in ways
that, up until yesterday, were unfathomable1.
Take, for example, the communist mindset:
without wishing to aid and abet
in any manner the unpardonable
abuses and crimes carried out in its name,
one must face the fact that the blame
lies as much with the perpetrators
as with the exogamous communal
structure of their families, the secret tribunal
of the unconscious behind the state lore.
Cross-data analysis shows it was not because the Tsar’s
was the weakest link in the chain, the upstart
regime among those of the capitalist countries,
that communism could surface there; rather,
it was because, within Russia, family matters
had grown so complex and caused so many anxieties
that people grabbed at the chance to create
a more universal system, not only to replace
the family, but also to destroy it.
When Lenin pulled the three-card trick in Finland Station,
he claimed the paternity of the new affiliation,
of the centralized confraternity of Soviets
which, if it could not fulfill every promise,
did blow the peasant clan a so-long kiss.
But the destruction of the local kin system
failed to extend to the values that underpinned it:
liberty, once achieved, was seen as anarchy,
a source of anxiety rather than of pleasure;
the one and only party replaced, measure
by measure, every household hierarchy,
its cells reproduced the dense and intolerable
living conditions of yore as closely as possible.
Paternalistic authority was re-established on all levels:
at the base, the secretary of each cell
intervened in the private life of young couples;
at the top, the great patriarchs followed upon
one another like the unerring, ominous tick-tock
of a great historical grandfather clock—
the dynamic, talkative, and violent founding
father; his sadistic successor; the fist-pounding,
shoe-thumping cheerful histrionic
who admitted to the excesses of his predecessor;
and the quintessential senescent, who took the metaphor
of the Russian political family to its natural limit.
Communism was able to sink roots
in every other country2 in which there brewed
the same internecine tensions among relatives
forced to live together under one roof.
It failed to do so, instead, where the incest taboo
is more relaxed and cross- or parallel-cousins
are allowed, if not encouraged, to intermarry,
as is most often the case amongst Arabs
and in the Muslim world on the whole3.
Here the anxiety-producing ritual
par excellence—the celebration of nuptials
with an outsider, whose broader role
remains up for grabs—is viewed as flawed,
as surely leading to conflicts that should not arise.
Here almost all husbands and wives
are also cuzs, their mothers- and fathers-in-law
also aunties and nuncles, their nieces and nephews
also future spouses, perhaps, of their own kids.
Here sis, when she weds, won’t have to go live
among strangers, nor will she risk being abused
or having her girls killed in the cradle so that they
won’t be needing a dowry (like she did!) some day.
Where the fraternal bond surpasses all others
in importance, particularly the paternal tie,
the family stays all-powerful but fathers shy
away from assuming its lead, while brothers
turn instead more towards custom for guidance.
In such a context, the urge to commit parricide
is inoperative and atheism becomes inconceivable.
Marxism-Leninism failed to convert
also nations and peoples4 inclined to prefer
anti-egalitarian and anti-universalistic
political ideologies, which are more in line
with their ethnocentric frame of mind
and specific familial characteristics.
First and foremost among these, an atavistic
conviction in the supreme importance
of making certain the family fortune
gets passed on whole into the hands of only one son,
who is under the obligation of strict obedience
to the authority of his father and of allegiance
to the project of preserving, possibly ad infinitum,
their domestic biological time-capsule:
a neurotic machination if ever there was one!
Women, of course, play a central part
in this psychodrama: they step in as heiresses
pro tempore in case the parent couple fails
to beget a healthy-enough male;
even more importantly, they guarantee
the authenticity of the blood bond within
the ethnicity (mater semper certa est,
pater nunquam), and transmit to progeny
the psychological mechanisms that underlie
respect for authority: hence the extremely strong
behavioral norms which vertical, father-son
structures have been able to pass on for millennia.
It is impossible to escape the urge to smile—
or cry, depending on how one despairs—
when one views the list of peoples who uphold
such authoritarian inequality in the fold,
as it reads like a roster of ethnic nightmares
that one will have heard about in the news
if one hasn’t directly witnessed their feuds.
With but few exceptions, their names
evoke claims to superiority, autonomy,
or neutrality—the elements of a taxonomy
of scorn, or indifference, which is much the same.
Still, the cultural narcissism of these groups
seems intended to keep one amused,
for in itself it is fairly harmless
and—in small doses—picturesque.
For a comprehensive exposition of the new theory, see Todd, Emmanuel, The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1985). ↩
China, Vietnam, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, Albania, central Italy, northern India. ↩
Arab and Berber north Africa, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan. Albania, part of Bosnia, and Kazakhstan, which are Muslim but have an exogamous community family system were instead easily infiltrated by Marxism-Leninism. Also the Malaysian and Indonesian anomic family and the Sudanese and Ethiopian nuclear family allowed the development of various Marxist movements among social groups which were officially Muslim. ↩
Germany, Austria, Sweden, northern Norway, Belgium, Bohemia, Scotland, Ireland, peripheral regions of France, northern Spain, northern Portugal, Francophone Canada, Japan, Korea, Jews, Romany gypsies. ↩