Friday, September 6, 2013

I do beg your pardon...

=> nucleus N 2 1 NOM S M

nucleus, nuclei N M [XXXCX]

nucleus, inside of a nut, kernel; nut; central part; hard round mass/nodule;

Whitaker's Words v. 1.97Ed

... but how on Earth under Heaven did “nuclear” ever get attached to the word family? How did this combination ever attain any kind of currency as naming some ideal of family life? A cursory glance through google scholar turned up only nonsense; the phrase exists in about three books (none as old as I am).

The poetry of it is all wrong: (healthy) families are not like nuts nor their nutty insides; they are not like small round masses (ballistae, anyone?) or lumps of mineral to be admired or crushed, etc. They are certainly not the chemical atoms, except perhaps in the barest of superficialities: a central lump of stuff tightly bound (the initial marriage) surrounded by a cloud of complementary, lighter, and fluffier stuff (children, I suppose). Such an image of family considers only a single generation: the husband and wife; such an image of family naturally saturates at an equal number of parents and children; such an image of family reduces family life to merely natural attractions and repulsions, makes similar-looking things identical in nature, leaves attachments at the mercy of external environment, radically isolates married couples from eachother except as mediated by their children (except when things go horribly horribly wrong), and is internally sterile.

The West hasn't lost marriage for having lost the nuclear family: “nuclear family” has irradiated Western notions of marriage. Having got tired of the particular wrongness of the nuclear model of the family, we have tried substituting other wrongnesses: totally amorphous families; marriage by "chemistry", where bonds are as changeable as in a test-tube, and if the chemistry is "wrong", you go looking for different reagents; sometimes something more zoological, and so "tiger moms" and "eagle dads". Have we forgotten, somehow, that our children are not eagles, or tigers, or electrons? That we are, ourselves, children?

The modern revolt against marriage isn't really against Christian marriage; it couldn't be, unless modernity had ever encountered a truly Christian marriage. But where it has, it is not in revolt! Rather than try to find another bad metaphor, why not talk again of happy and holy families? Human families are human and familial. Let them be holy, too, and it will be enough.

Jeremiah XXIV


Belfry Bat said...

And then I found "ngrams".

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