Academic Study: Having a Loving Family is Unfair

By Amelia Hamilton Published on May 16, 2015

It seems obvious that parents should love their children, and that a loving family is something for which we should all strive. I’m not so naive as to suppose that this is always the case, but it should certainly be the goal of our society. Unfortunately, there are those who don’t feel that way. Recently, a piece in ABC Australia posed the question, “Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?” Seriously.

The piece sets out their basic argument: ”The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment.”

So, what is the premise of this study by Swift and Brighouse? Buckle your seatbelts, because it’s a little crazy. “One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem,” they explain, “would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”

Abolish the family? Talk about reducing the case for equality to the absurd. If the blessings of family are unequally enjoyed, they suggest, then perhaps it’s better for everyone to be equally cursed.

The suggestion is especially weird since Swift and Brighouse stipulate that families are good for both parents and children. “It’s the children’s interest in family life that is the most important,’ says Swift. ‘From all we now know, it is in the child’s interest to be parented, and to be parented well. Meanwhile, from the adult point of view it looks as if there is something very valuable in being a parent.”

However, they don’t seem to understand that what is good for the individual is good for society. The piece goes on: “It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality. For this, Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.”

So, the philosophers dug into this so-called inequality and looked for the culprits, those specific behaviors that make some families more loving than others: “The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.”

Through examining these familial relationship goods, they unmasked the enemy: bedtime stories. Yes, you read that correctly. “‘The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,’” they wrote.

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,’ quips Swift.”

So, now we are to accept that parents reading to their children is bad for society? Apparently so.

‘We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families — and that our theory defends — will confer unfair advantage,’ he says.

In case that wasn’t enough, the philosophers take it a step further. They think that we need to completely unravel families for the sake of society.

“‘It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.’”

It get weirder: “‘Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four.'”

This study’s conclusions are completely backward. If having a loving family is an unfair advantage, we should work towards as many kids as possible being part of one, rather than excluding everybody from one. We need family, faith, a community of love to thrive as a society. We need to reach out to those who feel unloved to share love and read to children rather than ask that parents feel guilty for reading to their own.

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