COMMENT: Living Alone: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families

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Living Alone: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families.

Wednesday, 03 October 2012 By Harriet Fraad, Truthout | Book Review

In this blog post I’d like to comment on Harriet Fraad’s article Living Alone: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families. Fraad’s article is actually a summary article in which she briefly summarizes and reviews three books on the general subject of “going it alone.” Let me begin by saying that Fraad does a great job synthesizing information from all three books in an attempt to explain why going it alone is the new normal. Fraad starts out by making this sobering statement:

Today—for the first time since the census began counting in 1880—more than half of American adults are single. They are tied with childless couples for the distinction of being the most predominant residential type, more numerous than nuclear families with children, multigenerational families, roommate homes or group homes.

Here are the three books that Fraad talks about (all released in 2012):

  • Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg
  • The Outsourced Self by Arlie Russell Hochschild
  • Coming Apart by Charles Murray

In looking over this list I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite books on going it alone: Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam (released in 2000). Clearly this is a topic that will not go away and demands our attention, especially us philanthropists who should be concerned with such trends. Let me cut to the chase and give you Fraad’s reasons for why going it alone as the new normal is on the rise.

  1. Beginning in the 1970s, automation began to rear its ugly head. As one simple example, Fraad states: “Bar codes knocked out millions of  jobs [in the area of taking inventory in the retail industry].”
  2. “Advanced telecommunications,” writes Fraad, “allowed capitalists to outsource US jobs to Third World workers from China, Bangladesh, etc. ….”
  3. “Our compromised unions did not organize to prevent outsourcing,” states Fraad.
  4. Fraad observes, “Financial necessity forced the mass of US women into the labor force.” Sadly, this opened up what authors have called the Pink Collar Ghetto: low paying jobs in areas like health care and the various service industries (“receptionists, secretaries, child care workers, nurses, nurses’ aides—jobs that require emotional labor,” to quote Fraad).
  5. Here’s Fraad’s “bottom line”: “The economic model of the wage-earning male and dependent wife and children was finished.”

On point number five above, I recently read Susan Faludi’s 1999 book Stiffed—The Betrayal of the Modern Man, and Faludi comes to a similar conclusion. Faludi observed these trends even back in the mid to late 1990s. So, yes, the old model has gone away, but it appears that no new model has popped up on the scene to replace it (more on this in a moment). As Fraad points out, feminists were hoping that an egalitarian model would pop up and take hold. Fraad states

New egalitarian models of relationships were present in family therapy ideology and feminism, however they did not and do not dominate the US romantic landscape.

The social and economic conditions of existence that might have supported egalitarian relationships of equal partners were, and are, not in place. There was and is no free universal child care, health care, maternity and paternity leave, family leave, job security or guaranteed vacation time. Women struggle with double shifts of work in both the marketplace and at home.

So, clearly the model that feminists wished to appear to replace the “wage-earning male and dependent wife and children” model never materialized. But are we truly living in a period of time with no cultural cognitive model of any kind, one that might help us understand the going it alone phenomenon? I would say no, there is a model if you know what to look for. What follows is the comment I left to Fraad’s article over at (with a few editorial tweaks for clarity):

— copy of comment —

In her book Stiffed–The Betrayal of the Modern Man, Susan Faludi does a great job talking about male betrayal in myriad settings: the military, shipbuilding, aerospace, professional sports, marketing, manufacturing, and even the pornography industry. What fascinated me was what Faludi pointed to as driving male betrayal in each of these areas: the rise of systems engineering since about the end of WWII. The rise of systems engineering goes along with the rise of automation (which you also point to). Both are held by the rubric known as cybernetics. For a great book on the rise of cybernetics, see Katherine Hayles’ book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. As Hayles talks about, the so-called “axis of evil”—automation, systems engineering, and cybernetics—is about driving us toward being posthuman. Being posthuman is about driving out those things that we typically associate with being human, like emotions, body, love, bonding, transcendence, human nature, sexuality, attachment, care, etc.

Another good book on becoming posthuman is Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future—Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Fukuyama suggests that the move toward being posthuman will not take place overnight in one big tectonic thrust. As a result, we will see red flags or signposts marking this shift. Fukuyama and others (like Ernest Keen, Jeremy Rifkin, Mary Eberstadt, and Finn Bowring) mention the following signposts: feeding kids behavioral drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, feeding adults antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies), “rightifying” kids (e.g., extending adult rights to earlier and earlier stages of child and adolescent development), genetic engineering, all manner of parent substitutes, Viagra (sorry guys), cognitive-behavioral therapy, and a host of cybernetic feedback loops. Obvious examples of cybernetic feedback loops are: iTunes, iPhones,, Google, TiVo, smartphones, the Internet, frequent flyer cards, Facebook, etc. Fukuyama mentions that another big signpost is the move toward what he calls the “androgynous median personality.” As you would expect, a posthuman state would erase the need for gender. This goes along with the idea of reproduction outside of sex. I would, therefore, include “going it alone” as yet another signpost marking the orogenesis that would be the posthuman cultural cognitive model.

Peter Marris in his book The Politics of Uncertainty—Attachment in Private and Public Life, likewise suggests that women entering the workforce have failed to “homeize” the workplace using an egalitarian model. I see this as a lament. I think Marris is lamenting along the lines of, “Sure, we can expect men to fall prey to the onslaught of the automation, systems engineering, and cybernetics axis of evil, but women? … never!” So, it was probably wishful thinking on Marris’ part that women moving into the workplace would be a countervailing force with respect to the march of posthumanism. If Marris were alive today he would probably utter words like, Et tu Feminism?

I know many look at the Internet and social media (what we are using right now) as being a liberating force. And, yes, it does liberate us from being human and, in turn, delivers us to a posthuman state. But is it possible that being posthuman will in fact be a form of enslavement? If this is true then every time we use our smartphone or buy a song on iTunes or update our Facebook page, we are engaging in a self- or human-defeating behavior. According to the information that Jeremy Rifkin presents in his book End of Work, Norbert Wiener (arguably the father of cybernetics) observed way back in the 1950s that “the automatic machine … is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor” (quoting Wiener here from Rifkin’s book). Wiener continues his thought thus: “Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic consequences of slave labor.” All this to say that going it alone could possibly be about going toward a posthuman state and the possible enslavement it could bring. Just a thought … a scary thought, but a thought nonetheless. Honestly, I don’t think neither men nor women could put up an adequate defense against the onslaught of posthumanism. I hope I am wrong.

—end of comment—

So, I agree that the “wage-earning male and dependent wife and children” model is over. And I agree that had the egalitarian model materialized to replace it, today we would probably be in much better shape. But the “bottom line” is this: we are firmly ensconced within the posthuman cultural cognitive model as evidenced by signposts such as rampant psychopharmacology, reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, and cybernetic feedback loops (i.e., Facebook, TiVo, Google, smartphones, etc.). Going it alone is just one more signpost. And it’s the signpost that answers the question asked by insecure attachment: “How do I connect while at the same time avoid the emotional risk that face-to-face interactions inevitably bring?” For more on this theme, see Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together—Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. I’ll let John Bowlby have the last word as I suggest that maybe insecure attachment is the best model or strategy for adapting to an ever-expanding posthuman world. Sadly, once we become fully posthuman, there will be no need for attachment relationships. As Fukuyama puts it in Our Posthuman Future, “[T]he next stage of evolution [may well be] one in which … we will deliberately take charge of our own biological makeup rather than leaving it to the blind forces of natural selection. … [T]he posthuman world could be one that is far more hierarchical and competitive than the one that currently exists, and full of social conflict as a result.”

OK, one more last word. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the rise of capitalism in general for all of this; I would say that capitalism specifically informed by automation, systems engineering, and cybernetics is the real culprit.

What do we do about all of the above (if anything)? Possible answers will have to wait for a future blog post. If you have any solutions, feel free to leave them in a comment. I will mention a book that does offer up some solutions: William Powers’ Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.

OK, now I feel bad because Faad should have the last word. I’ll leave you (really) with this quote by Faad because I think it’s a good summary of where we are right now (my comments in brackets):

Men feel belittled, angry and entitled to more emotional succor to compensate for the financial blows they receive in their work lives. Children are neglected and needy. They demand more time and energy, primarily from their exhausted mothers. Women are deserting men who can no longer provide for their families and yet expect double shifts from their wives. Blue collar marriages blow apart at an unprecedented rate [a point that Faludi also makes in Stiffed].

The people whose marriages last longer are in the privileged and professional sectors—people who can outsource tasks of domestic and personal life to maids, nannies, daycare and after school programs, summer and vacation camps, restaurants, takeout food, professional laundries, etc.

Outsourcing of tasks deprives well-to-do families of intimate family activities [which are the stuff of secure attachment relationships] and leaves the majority, who cannot afford such extensive services, both deprived and wanting [thus driving them to cybernetic feedback loops like Facebook, Twitter, Google,, TiVo, etc.].

Further Reading: The following New York Times Online article talks about how there is a growing wariness over data mining, which is a prime example of cybernetic feedback loops:

Study Finds Broad Wariness Over Online Tracking

Here’s another article, the title of which is self explanatory:

How to stop Apple from tracking your iPhone and iPad usage to serve targeted iAds