Today, I found myself in a position I hadn’t been in since early 2010: I agreed with Nick Clegg. On the proposed tax breaks for married couples, Clegg said the following:
“We can all agree that strong relationships between parents are important, but not agree that the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form.”
I don’t take this to mean that Clegg has suddenly started talking sense. He has just spotted an open goal and managed to kick the ball in vaguely the right direction in a desperate bid to resuscitate his dead party, the political equivalent of slapping a corpse and screaming “PLEASE DON’T DIE ON ME, I LOVE YOU”.
He does have a very good point, though. The state should have no role in meddling with how a family should look. This suggestion has naturally pissed off some of the usual suspects like Cristina Odone and the bafflingly-still-alive Norman Tebbit. As always, when a socially progressive attitude towards families is expressed, they fall back on the favourite language: the language of being under attack.
It happens all the time. The notion of the family being somehow attacked crops up frequently in discussion of marriage equality, the rhetoric surrounding single-parent families, and more broadly in terms of socially progressive legislation. Put simply, they cry out THOSE SCARY HUMMUS-MUNCHERS ARE COMING FOR OUR CHILDREN. In fact, it is nothing of the kind.
The language of the attack on the family implicitly applies the capitalist narrative of scarcity to families. As with money, their line of reasoning goes, there is a finite amount of love in the world, and we’d better not let those scrounging single mothers or gays have any of it, lest there’s none left for anyone else. By their very existence, non-conventional families threaten the social order by apparently hogging some love which could better go to a family with a mummy, a daddy and 2.4 kiddiwinks.
Of course, this line of reasoning is patent gibberish. Love is infinite, and money is a fiction so the narratives fail to hold up in any way imaginable. I pity those who believe that a family with one parent, or four parents or two parents who happen to be of the same sex are in any way a threat to their wellbeing. They are hiding from an imaginary foe, terrified that the rug will come out from under them when that rug is perfectly secure.
Perhaps the fear is where all of this ends, yet I suspect that using the language of an external threat or attack serves a deeper, murkier function. When one is attacked, one has two options: to fight, or to surrender. While an unprovoked attack is generally frowned upon, few except the most peaceful of pacifists will have an issue with self-defence. Pretending that families are under attack therefore legitimises the genuinely coercive tactics that the state is using to regulate family structure. It stops being outright aggression and starts to look like reasonable defence against the phalanx of queers and single mums who are bogarting all the nice things.
There is no attack on the traditional family. If anything, it is quite the other way round: we are being gradually coerced into living in the way that suits the state. It’s so clear, even a Lib Dem can spot it.