I've always thought of myself as a conservative, but now I'd like to embrace the SoCon label. I suspect it is a derisive term, but I want it anyway. Libertarians (had to capitalize it--it's at the beginning of a sentence), you'll be glad to hear that for me, being a SoCon is about freedom, but perhaps a different sort than you espouse.
I like to think that the most important factor behind my political views is raising men and women who are capable of exercising freedom, with its gifts, burdens, responsibilities and pitfalls. I think we all know people for whom freedom has backfired. People who, throughout their lives, find themselves in debt, addicted, in jail and perennially unfree. What, then, is the best way to raise up people who can successfully handle freedom while giving something back to the society that engendered them? And what is it they should give?
Children, of course, are not exactly free individuals. Since they come in such helpless little packages, it is many years before they are able to take care of themselves or make independent decisions. They are however, pre-programmed with personalities, talents, abilities and desires. Parents have an overwhelming task--they have to give children "care and feeding," try to determine where their talents lie, socialize them so that they know how to behave and treat other people well, teach them values and ethics, and somehow get them to the point where they can support themselves. They have to tailor all this to the individual child. And every parent hopes that their children will give them grandchildren and raise them well. Parents want this not just because they want grandchildren, but because they know that having your own children helps turn people into responsible grown-ups.
I've watched a lot of kids grow up, in my own household and others, and I've noticed that almost every child has flaws that could lead them badly astray without a good upbringing. It's wonderful to watch a child with a good family overcome what could have ruined their life if not for wise and steady parents. Not parents who never make mistakes. Every parent makes lots of them. But the mistakes don't matter so much when family life is stable overall.
There's just no doubt in my mind that family life works best when Mom and Dad get some education--high school at least--then get married, welcome children into the home, and set about the job of rearing them while having fun along the way. They eat dinner together, attend lots of sporting events and recitals, go on vacation as a family, and, during good times and bad, have extended family (and hopefully a church community) that gives them support. In short, children do best when they have a life embedded in families and communities that teach ethics and values, give them ample opportunity to discover and develop talents, teach them what it means to be an honorable man or a woman, and show them first-hand how successful families work. Such an upbringing frees children from numerous varieties of baggage, emotional and otherwise. It gives them the greatest chance of being the sort of person that can use freedom wisely and raise similarly responsible children.
In anticipation of an avalanche of criticism, let me just say that I know perfectly well that people can overcome bad family situations, and those who do are to be admired and praised. I also know that kids from good families can go wrong. But overall, outcomes are just better with a solid home life. It is a tragedy that so many lives are diminished or ruined by fatherlessness, parental addiction, and numerous other avoidable problems.
Engendering good, solid families is not a pipe dream for contemporary Americans. I know many such families. But cultural assumptions--and hence education--are not helping these days. In school, kids are taught many things that undermine family life.
-- Increasingly, the tiniest school children are taught that it's just as good if boys marry boys and girls marry girls. Beyond the fact that kids who have a Mommy and a Daddy like it that way and instinctively know that this is a really good thing, kids aren't stupid. They know that boys and boys and girls and girls can't have children. The message is that children are not an important part of marriage. Remember the old schoolyard chant, "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Mary with a baby carriage?" It reinforced some important assumptions, both personal and demographic. In short, that message served the common good.
-- Older children, but not much older, are taught that teenage sex is the norm and that it is fine, even encouraged. The moral part is using a condom. What message does this send about love and fidelity? What sort of emotional and physical baggage do young people get from engaging in hook-up culture? I doubt that it makes them more likely to eventually have strong and stable marriages and families. In fact, it short-circuits the whole pathway to marriage once sustained by dating and courtship.
-- The importance of career is overemphasized to both young men and young women. Work and career are important, of course, but most jobs are mostly mundane and unlikely to survive you. Children and family, on the other hand, do. As an organist, I attend many funerals of people I know and just as many that I don't. Work is almost always mentioned in passing. It's character and family that get the attention when life ends. And yet, I just read an article about how the number of young people who say they want children has fallen by half in the last 20 years. Those who don't want children say they fear children would interfere with their career. This is tragic. For many people, the charm of children escapes them until they have their own. Then they realize that children make life infinitely richer and more meaningful.
I often wonder why our world has become so topsy-turvy, why so many societal messages now encourage irresponsible and selfish behavior that doesn't serve individuals or society well. In part, it's the result of misplaced ideas about freedom. Freedom isn't just doing what you want to do. It's understanding how actions and consequences work and making wise choices that allow you to develop your own talents and give back to family and community. At some point, our nation became so rich and so blessed that we were able to move away from the harshness of actions and consequences, at least for some people.
Consequences are harsh, but they are instructive; they help us grow and learn the necessary lessons of life. They teach us to take care of ourselves. Contemporary society reminds me of the stories about rich Brits I used to watch on PBS. Their wealth and position in society freed them from consequences, and yet they were perpetually unhappy and messed up, but didn't understand why. Remember the story about the baby chick pecking its way out of its shell? The child watching pities it and helps it along by cracking the shell, only to watch the chick consequently die. It was through pecking its way to freedom that the chick gained the strength to live.
So that's why I'm a proud SoCon. Maybe it's not all about the children, but a good part of it is. We think that with all the riches and abundance in America, the children will be fine no matter what adults choose to do. There's ample evidence that this is not so. Good families that teach responsible behavior and allow young people to suffer the consequences of their behavior forge the steel of a strong society, which in turn allows people to be truly free.