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“What Do the Parents Get in Return?” – A Lost Sense of Sacrifice

Every once in a while (actually disturbingly often), when I still lived in the USA, I would see, hear or read of news items which would be just incredible, shocking and dismaying – but in a different manner from that which one might immediately expect (like murders or such). I recall, among a long, unwritten list of such items (which I heard during 15 years as, what is sometimes in the USA called, a “news junkie”), hearing a report on the USA’s National Public Radio of a scientific study which had issued conclusions supporting the thesis that “parental or teacher affection” (defined in the study as something like “hugging”, or “other bodily contact”) and “attention” (defined as a parent, or other adult, talking to a child individually for “at least five minutes a day” (!) – with the television off, and minimal other distractions), were “statistically-significant”, beneficial factors in contributing to the development and maintenance of a child’s self-esteem and psychological well-being in later life. School performance also was found to be enhanced under such conditions. Therefore it was “scientifically indicated” (as scientists say such things) that parents and teachers apply these beneficial factors in a child’s early years.

Now, in the pursuit of such astonishing discoveries, such profoundly novel, enlightening conclusions, hundreds of thousands of dollars from US tax-payers and other institutions, were used to come to these “scientific” results. (I write this with lingering, volcanic irony.) What is interesting to note is that – typical of such scientific studies – the scientists who do such investigations often do not refer at all to any such “unscientific”, or extra-scientific, “evidence” (to support their tests and experimental results) as common sense, customary lore, conventional wisdom, maternal instinct, human love, perennial knowledge, etc. Indeed, often such “objective, value-free, scientific studies” – at times to prove the obvious – make little or no reference at all to any such other sources, as if they were unworthy of scientific mention or consideration. Here “science” presumes that nothing or little is true or obvious, unless it has been “scientifically investigated” and thereby “proven” (and then published in some more or less obscure specialized scientific journal) – i. e., that Life is less than Science. This scientific study, on the beneficial psychological effects of “affection and attention” to children, was one of those studies which “prove” what any half-wit should not even need to reflect upon. I still recall now my astonishment, and outrage – but this is just one example – at hearing on the radio this “serious” “scientific” report, with no hint whatsoever of how obvious such facts were from life to any moderately healthy human soul. I wondered: if “science” must “prove” to us that “affection” (a.k.a. love) and “attention” (a.k.a. family life and human relationship) are proven to have a beneficial influence on children, then what can normal, “unscientific” people be said already to “know” about the world and life, unless and until science “proves” it?

What do the parents get for their “financial sacrifices”?

On January 28, 1997, anyone in Russia could hear on the Voice of America’s short-wave radio broadcast called “Worldwide”, a kindred “scientific” incredibility – this time from a social scientist. An author (though there was no description of the author’s essential, defining point of view, methodology, social attitudes, etc.) had published a new book examining the costs, financial costs – what they called “financial sacrifices” – of raising a child from birth to “maturity” in America (feeding, clothing, schooling, caring for, educating, and so on). (In the USA, “children” often begin their own independent homes and adult, “mature” family life in their early twenties.) It was determined (after adjusting for inflation) that the cost of child-rearing in 1996 amounted to an average of $200,000 per child. And it was, without embarrassment, unhesitatingly asked by the radio program interviewer and author: “And what do the parents get in return?” Indeed, with a single scant reference to parental emotional satisfaction, this question was asked twice. What do the parents get for their “financial sacrifices”? The author complained that the costs of raising children are “private”, whereas – since the children most often leave home (the parents) after such expenses – the “benefits” are “social”; thus the parents often get “little or nothing” (financially) for their efforts. As she described it, the parents “invest” their time and money, and “produce”, to quote the author again, “capital” (the socially-prepared children-become-adults), which is productive for the society, but not necessarily for the parents. So the question is asked: “What do the parents get in return?”

Though, as an American, I never had or found much occasion to learn the intricacies of Marxist social doctrine, I recall, vaguely, some such idea as that in capitalist societies money comes to determine “the relations between man and man” – or something like that. Well, the above analysis of the “financial sacrifices” of parents is typical of a certain, social-scientific mentality and attitude in the USA in which an economic-scientific attitude is applied to anything and everything; in which material values, financial relationships, and the self-centered, isolated, equal individuals are seen as the standards for the social evaluation of the health, justice, fairness, and etc., of the society. (In America’s “pluralism” there are now many “standards” as to what is “good” and “bad” for the individual and society.) It is, in such a (so-called) “social scientists” view, “bad” and unfair that parents make years of “sacrifices” – financial, material, emotional, and otherwise – for children, who come to be a benefit to the society, but not to the parents. (Or so they see it: “what do the parents get in return?”) The children are here seen, in this social analysis, as mere future social producers, workers, and consumers – “capital” – for the social and economic system; the “family” as a mere means for preparing and producing them; and the poor “parents”, as those who, exploited and unfairly-treated, incur only costs but few if any financial benefits.

Now this is all very life-wise, deep and “scientific” of course. Manifestly, as the author (with her petty little cosmology, and even smaller dollars and their evaluation of human life and love) let it be known, this is obviously socially unfair and unjust, a social outrage. There was not the slightest mention, by the author or radio interviewer, of human love, of the meaning and “wealth” in human relationships, of any higher feeling or meaning to life and world – only “financial sacrifice”. One had the sense from this report, that the whole financial and social arrangement of the family was exploitative and unjust to the parents in the USA, according to the real social values of money, material, and equality.

Now such social analysis is, in those certain intellectual, academic and research circles in the USA which bow down to Science and secular solutions, and seem to have lost their common (human) sense and soul, fairly common. (Thank God that there are still many, many parents and families in America who are not so small-minded, pecuniary and “scientific” as this author!) It is, to this writer’s view, a sick “scientific” view of human society, of the human family, of the relationship of parents and children, that treats them all as if they were value-free objects of study, and evaluates them in a purely monetary way. It is good that many Americans ignore such “scientific wisdom”; but on the other hand, such social scientific views of human relationships are broadcast and published, and socially influential, via university education, academic studies, governmental bureaucracies and programs, scientific reports, radio and television programs, etc.

“Financial sacrifice” is here a purely secularized, small-minded, materialistic, selfish, monetary concept; but “sacrifice”[1] itself is a word of Latin origin, deriving from a religious context. It originally was used to describe the activities of priests – holy, sacred (sacra) making (facere – to do) – for their activities at religious rites and rituals, etc. The greatest, most inspiring stories of human history, lore and literature are those where someone has sacrificed himself for another, or for the community. The Crucifixion of Christ is a central image in the Western world of such a sacrifice. Even in modern times there are extraordinary examples. Martin Luther King, Jr., is such an example – his life was a sacrifice for the cause of the black people in the USA, for though he realized since the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 that he would probably so similarly die (as he did in 1968), he continued his work.

There is a profoundly different sense of “sacrifice” between that of this secular social-scientist, who imagined her work to be insightful and corrective as to the human condition in the USA, and the sacrifices based on love of mankind, community, or the love of parents for their children.

I do not think that I need at all to mention to Russians how sacrifice is perhaps the greatest human act of love. But I can say that when you have a secularized society – which is the preponderating, daily shared reality in the USA (different from the variety of “beliefs”) – in which certain portions of the population (mostly certain purely secular intellectuals, and social scientists, who believe in Science, but do not trouble themselves to worry about such unscientific notions as God, divine justice or transcendence) try to understand and correct all of life and world with ideas and activities which exist only in this world, then you can get “scientific studies” which must “prove” the psychological benefits of “love” and “relationship” to children, and conclusions by social scientists who look at the unfair “financial sacrifices” of parents for their “capital” (not even considering love, God, destiny, karma, or any other greater reality and meaning to the human story and life than earthly dollars).

Life, world and mankind are far greater than these small-minded, purely-secular, “scientific” conclusions, social studies and corrections would support one to believe. And it is an indication of social illness in the USA, that the question could be so unhesitatingly asked: “What do the parents get in return?” Thank God not all of America thinks this way, but this is not one of the healthy aspects of American culture and society.


Fist published in the magazine English, #9, March 1997, p. 9.

Notes

1. Sacrifice – via Old French from Latin sacrificium, from sacrificus performing priestly functions of sacrifices, sacra – sacred rites + the root of facere – to do, to perform. The transferred sense of the act of giving up one thing for another is first found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1592). – Barnhardt’s Dictionary of Etymology Back to text