February 19, 2002

Family discussions on politics

A conversation between Sener, Jr. and Mr. Akturk

"What is it gonna be, Sener?"

"What is what gonna be?"

"All this third world war crap that you are pulling."

"What? Don't you believe me? Two weeks after those articles ran, the president asked for the biggest defense budget in 20 years. Don't you see, Mr. Akturk, he is preparing for the third world war. Thank God no one supports his war effort, inside or outside the United States."

"What are you talking about? All the polls testify to the fact that the American public is completely in favor of a war against Iraq. And all the Middle Eastern countries, from Pakistan to Israel, are in favor of a second Gulf War, as well as all of our European allies."

"Wait a second. I think you have a hard time dealing with the facts. First, I think the American public is not in favor of a full-scale war against Iraq. It is true that some suspicious and unreliable polls report that the Americans are in favor of such a war, but even when we are to trust these polls, I still think the people are only in favor of a Somalia-like operation that wouldn't have any impact on their lives. Once it registers with the American public that a war against Iraq will be at least as penetrating as the Vietnam War, then the already questionable public support behind the war effort will immediately disappear."

"That's what you'd like to believe. You're free to believe in what you will, but I simply don't agree."

"And what about the European and Middle Eastern allies?"

"What about them?"

"Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Russia and all the countries in the region — except Israel, of course — have repeatedly stated that they are not in favor of a war against Iraq. Battleships and the marines need some regional bases in order to invade or bomb Iraq, as you might have noticed."

"Well, since you feel confident about the anti-war attitude of the American public and the Middle Eastern countries, you should feel free to indulge in less crucial issues than an immediate third world war, and maybe talk about some of the books you've read recently. Begin with Wilhelm Reich's Sexual Revolution if you will."

"One of the rather interesting arguments that Wilhelm Reich brings up in his book is the claim that there is an 'insoluble contradiction between family and commune.' Family exists insofar as it serves the economic function of taking care of children. If family did not have this function, Reich asserts, it would be impossible to maintain such a frustrating institution as the family."

"Wait a minute. What is so frustrating about family as an institution?"

"According to Reich, family is the source of sexual frustration since it is impossible for one partner to satisfy the sexual desires of a woman or a man. This is especially true of women who suppress their sexuality and save it up for their marriage. They tend to have huge expectations of sexual intercourse with their husband, and no single husband can possibly satisfy these great expectations. As an end result, women end up being neurotics and men end up being unfaithful husbands. This is the outline of Reich's argument. Many of these points were made by Freud as well."

"What does Reich propose as a solution, then?"

"Well, he thinks family is a vestige of an outdated mode of production, and he proposes to reorganize the society along collective lines and thus create a society where the children are taken care of by the community at large. In summary, family structure dissolves and leaves behind men and women living in a commune, shifting partners and having children, who in turn, are taken care of by the commune."

"And do you agree with these crazy hippie ideas?"

"Now don't blame me for coming up with these ideas. This is very famous and respectable psychologist who came up with these ideas. As for myself, you know the huge emphasis I place on the relationship between a mother and her child. If the dissolution of the family structure entails a dissolution or disturbance of the relationship between mothers and their children, I'm against it. If this is not the case, then Reich's proposal falls within the realm of consideration. This is not to say that I would be in favor of it once I consider."

"Stop, stop. I heard you talking about the necessity of forming a new mode of morality and meaning for the people of your generation and beyond. I also heard you sympathize with ideas of social constructivism as expressed by Durkheim."

"My fascination with Durkheim is a fairly recent phenomenon. I always thought of religion as the fundamental non-material aspect of society. Thus I was always in an open conflict with, for example, Marx. I think Marxists tend to explain religion not to understand it but to move it away from sight. That's not a healthy tendency. It doesn't only alienate this otherwise egalitarian movement from the masses that it claims, but also casts serious doubt on its quality as a scientific worldview. Durkheim appears to have harnessed the best of Marx and Weber into a potent explanation. Morality has materialist roots, as Marxists claim, but this does not mean that we don't need morality."

"Good point. Nonetheless you think it is necessary to maintain a neo-Marxist perspective side by side with a Durkheimian/social constructivist one and judge between the two depending on the case in consideration."

"Even more important is to find your own method in approaching issues of social concern. One needs to be completely independent in creating his own way of thinking about the world and life-at-large."

"Some New York-based radical journal attracted your attention to such a degree that you set your browser to its Web page. Which journal was it, may I ask?"

"The Monthly Review (www.monthlyreview.com) is the best leftist journal that I have discovered so far. Super-genius people such as Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, Leo Panitch, and Barbara Epstein write for this journal, which was founded by yet another super-genius, Paul Sweezy. Enough is said, I believe."

"Anything else you'd like to mention before I kick you out of my office?"

"Yes. Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the great transformation that industrial capitalism brought to our lives. It is also essential in understanding the causes of the first and second world wars. As such, one can better diagnose the causes of the third world war as I mentioned."

"Well, prospects of a third world war initiated and ended our discussion then!"

Sener Akturk is a third-year in the College concentrating in international studies and polical science. You can reach him at sakturk@midway.uchicago.edu