Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fatherless Families And Urban Crime


The doctrine of subsidiarity is easily understood. When you were a little boy or girl and left your room a bit messy, your mother would sometime invade your personal space and, noticing the socks on the floor, say something along these lines: “Hey, do you think I’m your personal maid?”

This was a rhetorical question. Even at that young age, before you were muscled into picking up your own socks, you knew better than to answer rhetorical questions coming from either your mother or father, the uber-enforcer in the family whose brawny word you had long since come to respect. You respected your father’s word because his word to you was his bond with you.

By so instructing you to pick up your own (insert proper adjective here) socks, your mother was paying tribute to the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that in any multiform political unit – such as a federated union of states – the principal actor should be the smallest possible unit affected by laws and regulations: If you could pick up your own socks, you should pick up your own socks. The smallest political unit in a society of competing political units, Aristotle says, is the family: The philosopher’s “Politics” opens with a discussion of the family as a POLITICAL unit. To better understand this politically subordinate structure and the principal of subsidiarity, one might ask the question: Why should Governor Dannel Malloy pick up your socks, even if he wants to be your maid??

What was true in Aristotle’s day is true in our own: The family, such as it is in 21st century America, remains a political unit. That unit among some segments of the population – for instance, black Americans in urban areas – has been decimated. More than decimated, in many instances, what used to be called the “nuclear family” has been aborted in what might be called its formative stage. For reasons most politicians prefer not to discuss, fathers in urban areas have fled fatherhood, leaving behind in their wake fatherless children and mothers many of whom are ill equipped to rein in anarchic boys who join gangs and engage in criminal pursuits.

Virtually every serious study of social pathologies and fatherless families demonstrates a positive correlation between the absence of fathers in homes and children’s cognitive development in school as measured by standardized IQ tests, achievement tests and school performance. The same studies show there are serious differential effects associated with fatherlessness. According to one comprehensive American Psychological Association (APA) study, “financial hardship, high levels of anxiety, and, in particular, low levels of parent–child interaction are causes of poor performance [in school] among children in single-parent families.”

The "Survey of Youth in Custody" conducted in 1987 found that 70% did not grow up with both parents, and figures often cited from a 1994 study of Wisconsin juveniles were “even more stark,” according to a piece in The Atlantic: “Only 13% grew up with their married parents. Here's the conclusion of Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan, the doyenne of researchers about single parenthood: ‘[C]ontrolling for income and all other factors, youths in father-absent families (mother only, mother-stepfather, and relatives/other) still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those from mother-father families."

Other reports indicate that children who live without a biological father in the home compared with their peers living with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents are on average at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse and to engage in criminal behavior.

How then does this growing political unit, the fatherless family, fit in with the federated system operative in the United States? In a federated system – a political organization that includes, families, neighborhoods, helping organizations such as churches and schools, municipal governments, state governments and the federal government – who gets to play the role of the absent father? And more importantly, will any substitute suffice?

In Chicago, the political nursery bed of President Barrack Obama and now the murder capital of the United States, the answer to the question, after fatherlessness has ripened into crime, appears to be lethal gangs, police and the courts. Gangs are criminal enterprises, and even compassionate police, judges and educators, remote and further removed in the architecture of subsidiarity than fathers, are poor substitutes. In the absence of a father in the family, gangs become a support system and the gateway to criminal activity; the police and the courts then are expected to mop up the resulting social dislocations.

There is no indication that “the lords spirituals” in the United States” -- which certainly includes, in descending subsidiary order, actors such as the president, the U.S. Congress, governors, state legislatures, municipal bodies and neighborhood helping organizations – have proposed serious and effective remedies that would reverse a process of social disintegration directly related to fatherless families. Like the police and the courts, politicians seem to be content with bills and measures designed to sponge up the blood on the streets caused in some part by the hapless legislation they have proposed that is, to put it in the most civil of terms, heedless of the real-world consequences of legislative palliatives. 

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