I know I have been writing a lot about social norms lately, emphasizing both the strength of societal norms as well as expressing my fears over the direction society has taken, and I apologize if I seem a bit single minded recently. However, thinking about the reason I find myself touching on the topic so often, I realize that, the more I have people explain to me what is considered "normal" today, the more I worry about our culture*.
For example, many find it odd that I have made a conscious decision not to date until my son leaves home, or, at the very least, until he is old enough to deal with it. (And that does not mean when he is 12 or 14. As someone whose parents divorced in my teen years, I know teens deal with divorce, if anything, worse than younger children.) To me, it is makes perfect sense. I do not want to introduce him to someone new, who he may like, or may hate, and then, when it fails to work out, suddenly remove from his life someone to whom he has become attached. To me it seems the right thing to do. After all, I am his father, I have an obligation to him, and thus I should happily do what is right. But many who hear my ideas think it strange, a sort of self-denial. They imagine that somehow not dating is a terrible hardship.
In fact, even my reasons for not dating seem to trouble some. back when I was going through my divorce, and my then wife and I had to go through mediation to decide custody, the mediator was a counselor of some sort. When I mentioned that at that time my whole focus was on raising my son, that everything else was, not just secondary, but off the bottom of the list, she seemed to believe my ideas were unhealthy, that I was focusing too much on my child. As this opinion came from a supposed mental health professional, one nominally expert in proper human behavior, in what society calls normal and abnormal, that troubled me.
And that worry lies at the heart of other stands I have taken that many find puzzling. For example, my reticence to accept our modern views on mental illness. Given that we define mental illness, at least in most cases**, as deviating from societal norms, the fact that the norms to me seem so abnormal makes me reluctant to grant those who enforce those norms, for example, the power of involuntary commitment. To see someone deprived of freedom, stamped permanently with a record for abnormality, based upon societal standards I find confusing at best, contemptible at worst, is a troubling thought, and why I so often make arguments that even other conservatives and libertarians can't comprehend.
But I have written too much already, I only wanted to offer a short explanation of why my thoughts have so often returned to this topic, and why many of my recent essays might seem a bit melancholy. I am not sure why it has been the case, but recently I have spent more time than usual considering the society around me, and in so doing, I am afraid I have found it wanting, and my writing has reflected that. Hopefully, this mood won't last, and I will be back to writing about other things with which my readers disagree, such as the gold standard, or privately owned roadways, and will leave all these somber reflections on society behind, at least for a while.
* What makes this truly troubling is that I was was a relatively free wheeling, almost amoral teen, and even in my late teens and most of my 20s, though dedicated to first communist and then later, and for much longer, Objectivist politics and economics -- before abandoning the cult of Rand for a more well thought out and sound political philosophy -- I was hardly a social traditionalist. I grew up without much of a religious tradition, and even now, though I take religious thought very seriously, I am hardly active in any religious society. (Though I think that may be more due to a rather introverted nature, not comfortable being part of a group, any group.) I am, by most standards, what would once have been dubbed "bohemian", living a rather structure free life, without much of a hint of the rather dull -- if slightly "ethnic" rather than WASPy -- suburban normalcy in which I was raised. However, unlike most who seem to exist this way, I also have always had a strong sense of what is wrong. Even when I was a hard drinking, skirt chasing punk rocker in my teens, for example, I took great pride in never having stolen anything, in always telling the truth -- though at times, I admit I failed to live up to my own standards in that regard; but what teen has not? --, as well as a number of other seemingly obvious ethical codes, though ones which were not well respected among my peers. And that is probably what worries me the most, that even someone who is as far from a traditional social conservative as myself is still too "square" and "stodgy" for today's morality. If I can be seen as a boring champion for outdated values, then I really fear for our culture.
** Mental illness is a far too broad term to really argue about in a meaningful way. Given that many individuals with mental retardation have, thanks to funding issues, been dumped in institutes for the mentally ill, and laymen (and even some doctors) confound organic disorders such as dementia with issues for which we have no physical definition, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and the like, it is very hard to deal with it all as a single topic. It is akin to trying to come up with a single statement about "tumors" or "fever", ignoring that both are more symptoms than diseases, having a multitude of causes. Since mental illness is defined the same way we define alcoholism or hyperactivity, by a set of behaviors, we tend to confound many different things under one heading, and thus discussion can easily be made pointless when two people discuss very different things under a single name. But that is a topic for another essay, and I won't try to write the whole thing here in a footnote.