The Great Scattering?

First thing I remember was askin’ papa, “Why?”
For there were many things I didn’t know.
And Daddy always smiled; took me by the hand,
Sayin’, “Someday you’ll understand.”

Well, I’m here to tell you now each and ev’ry mother’s son
You better learn it fast; you better learn it young,
‘Cause, “Someday” Never Comes.”

Well, time and tears went by and I collected dust,
For there were many things I didn’t know.
When Daddy went away, he said, “Try to be a man,
And, Someday you’ll understand.” Well, I’m here to tell you now each and ev’ry mother’s son
You better learn it fast; you better learn it young,
‘Cause, “Someday” Never Comes.”

And then, one day in April, I wasn’t even there,
For there were many things I didn’t know.
A son was born to me; Mama held his hand,
Sayin’ “Someday you’ll understand.”

Well, I’m here to tell you now each and ev’ry mother’s son
You better learn it fast; you better learn it young,
‘Cause, “Someday” Never Comes.”

Think it was September, the year I went away,
For there were many things I didn’t know.
And I still see him standing, try’n’ to be a man;
I said, “Someday you’ll understand.”

Well, I’m here to tell you now each and ev’ry mother’s son
You better learn it fast; you better learn it young,
‘Cause, “Someday” Never Comes.”

John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

John Fogerty wrote this song about his parents getting a divorce when he was a child. He could not understand what was happening and why his father was not around to teach him basic things anymore. His father told him to try to be a man, and someday he’d understand.

It’s deliberately open-ended as to whether what young Fogerty would “understand” was why his father was leaving his mother or that he’d eventually learn all the things that a father should be around to teach his son. The line about how as a child he was “collecting dust” to his parents is especially painful.

“I had a son in 1966 and I went away when he was five years old or so and again told him ‘someday’ he would understand everything.” Fogerty wrote. “Really, all kids ask questions like ‘Daddy, when are we going fishing?’ and parents always answer with ‘someday,’ but in reality someday never comes and kids never learn what they’re supposed to learn….” In the song, the father ends up abandoning his son like he himself was abandoned. And so it was with Fogerty in real life.

***

Mary Eberstadt has a fascinating essay in Quilette arguing that the origin of identity politics is in the destruction of the nuclear family (which technically began with the sexual revolution):

Our macro-politics have become a mania about identity because our micropolitics are no longer familial. This, above all, is what happened during the decades in which identity politics went from being a phrase in an obscure quasi-radical document to a way of being that has gone on to transform academia, law, media, culture and government.

Yes, racism, sexism and other forms of cruelty exist, and are always to be deplored and countered. At the same time, the timeline of identity politics suggest another source. Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family. The post-1960s order of sexual consumerism has upended every one of these expectations….

Who am I? is a universal human question. It becomes harder to answer if other basic questions are problematic or out of reach. Who is my brother? Who is my father? Where, if anywhere, are my cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews and the rest of the organic connections through which humanity up until now channeled everyday existence? Every one of the assumptions that our forebears could take for granted is now negotiable.

The panic over identity, in short, is being driven by the fact that the human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exist. 

Eberstadt calls this phenomenon the “Great Scattering.” She makes the case that much of pop culture from the 1970s onward is about young adults searching for their identity outside of their household. She discusses the dilemma of a child growing up in-between households – how their parents and their parents’ new partners treat them differently – and essentially develop two identities because of it.

The loss of the nuclear family means there is no longer a stable sense of self. But people are still social creatures searching for a reliable source of love and belonging. If you are intellectually homeless, this means looking for your identity from a larger group external to the network you were born with. You seek a reprieve for your loneliness by seeing your identity as a constellation of features instead of a constellation of people.

I think I would agree with a lot of what she says in this essay (and one really should read the entire thing), but I often like to ask… Would our society look the way it does now if Mark Zuckerberg were never born? I’m not sure.

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