Families Matter

Why Societal Origin and Family Structures
Are Important



At the level of family

In unmixed populations, national character is pervasively rooted in families across regional and class lines. In a mixed, immigrant-derived society like ours, the described patterns outlive their formative origins and purposes. They shape perceptions intimate and otherwise, long after families have achieved assimilation. Especially in large urban "ethnic enclaves" persisting national and ethnic traditions may promote or discourage individualistic vs. fusionist tendencies; pack-centered vs. pack-detached, post-industrial vs. peasant based understandings of self and family.

For this reason, behaviors which promote harmony in one family may be more likely to exacerbate dysfunction in another. Monica McGoldrick, one of the few American therapists with a serious approach to ethnic patterns, says of Irish families in America,

"Children in Irish American families are generally raised to be polite, respectable, obedient, and well behaved. Typical familial injunctions would be: ·”What will the neighbors think?" "Don't make a scene"; "That's a sin"; or "You'll go to hell." Children rarely are praised by their parents, and they are not usually fussed over or made the center of attention for fear of spoiling them or giving them a "swelled head" (Barrabee & von Mering, 1953).

When asked by the therapist if she praised her children, one Irish American mother characteristically replied, "Why yes, all the time. Why Kevin here, he's not so bad" (Pearce, 1980). This strict and restrained attitude toward children may be very hard for a therapist from a more permissive or expressive culture to understand, just as it may be difficult for the Irish to understand the strong focus on, and permissiveness toward children, encouraged by many groups in the United States.”

Comparable professional observations shed light on other ethnically based family traditions in the United States. They point to frequently seen patterns and will prove useful points of reference if more generally known and considered by the profession. Further, the fields of family therapy and counseling will benefit from a systematized understanding of how these cultural traditions were economically, politically, and socially formed and how they continue to color the felt, spoken, and behavioral presentations which family practitioners often encounter. Such a study should address the historical, macroeconomic, industrial, and geopolitical patterns implicated in current family life.

Are there rules as Dr. Bowen believed , that apply to the patterns and functions of all families? Yes, of course, but can we distinguish these if we can't delineate the differences between families and their repetitive patterns?

As an example of the reciprocating parallels between family therapy and society functioning we offer the following extended quote from a professional family therapy article written in 1975. (Click here for reference)

Might we see this as a description of the confusion that resides in us when different points on the tribalist – individualist dimension meet in one individual? 

"It is a basic assumption of systems theory that all people want closeness. They want to belong somewhere, to fit in, to be cared about, to be accepted, even with their faults. Two people move toward each other, not realizing that closeness must be worked at, and that it is an inconstant state, here and then gone. Such intensity often leads to fusion followed by distance. One moves toward the other, and the other distances. The closer one gets to loving the other, the greater are his expectations, the desire for completion, the great hope of fulfillment. As closeness increases, fusion becomes more likely. One tends to become the distancer and the other the pursuer. In this fashion, the twosome continues to exist but the distance between them remains fixed.

There are few alternatives. If one is to avoid the nothingness inside self, he must pursue to fill self from others. Otherwise he feels that he would die inside. If one is to protect his space from the intrusions of others, he must distance and live with his loneliness. "

At the level of macroeconomics and "politics"

Europe’s current economic crisis demonstrates the impact of individualistic vs. fusionist thought and behavior at the popular level -- on national and international policy. The capitalist, non-colonialized histories of Northern and Western Europe support strongly individualistic, post-industrial values of restraint, prudence, precision, self-management, trust, and cooperation. They inform popular acceptance of authority and valorization of lawful, predictable and reliable behavior, economic and otherwise. By and large, people pay their taxes and often proudly. They show up for work even when inconvenient and place high value on independently chosen commitments. Trust, reliability prudence, precision and respect for the rules is internalized and not overly dependent on immediate consequences (emotional object constancy).

The Mediterranean and Balkan nations, with their less industrialized histories and centuries of imperial domination by Mongols, Tartars, Magyars, Arabs, Turks, Normans, Moors, Germans, Russians Austrians and others, have tended to preserve a rural, pre-industrial, peasant-based, fusionist attachment to tribal, in-group ideals and practices linked to the culturally defensive behavioral norms mentioned: denial, evasiveness, defiance, bargaining, pack organized violence and deception, etc.

Below is an article by a respected member of the European Central Bank (ECB). He is addressing a macroeconomic crisis of the Eurozone countries. Please note his focus on political and historical factors that he considers relevant to the causes as well as the potential solutions to the probable economic disaster that would follow a Greek exit from the European Union. It is an article devoid of numbers with no strictly economic terms. So far so good. And yet it addresses a purely economic and financial dilemma; the potential bankruptcy of the Greek state in which it will be unable to borrow or issue Treasury bonds and will be removed from the eco-political entity called the European Union.

It is a clear acknowledgement that macroeconomics cannot be considered outside of history, governance and the cultural background. What it does not address is an articulated, theoretically sound framework as to the why's and how's of these connections.

Perhaps this missing link between the historical-cultural and the macroeconomic and political is an understanding of the parallel lines of structure and functioning of family systems within these larger systems. What are the chances that Dr. Stark has taken a course in Family Systems Theory or that in his macroeconomic journeys he would have come across references to "multi-generation transmission process" or "nonlinear reciprocal systemic reinforcement"?

What are the chances that he would use a vocabulary that would facilitate an understanding of the reciprocal and mutually reinforcing family-institution-civic concentric circular patterns of these separate areas of human activity? Although Dr. Stark is clearly aware of the relation of culture to macroeconomics he reveals the inadequacy of current vocabulary and intellectual foundation to specify that connection.

I have underlined key phrases that are mentioned, but have no integration or framework in relating to each other in an organized multi-discipline approach.

FT.com, Feb. 11, 2015

"The historical and cultural differences that divide Europe's union” by Jurgen Stark

"Are the Germans economic-policy illiterates? Do they not recognize the growing political and economic danger for Europe and thus Germany itself? Why, when others suggest a substantial monetary and fiscal boost (printing more euros and bailing out Greece) to the European economy, are they such notorious naysayers? Are the Germans bad Europeans, irresponsibly and treacherously dictating austerity

The truth is that, in contrast to many Eurozone countries, Germany has reliably pursued a prudent economic policy. While others were living beyond their means, Germany avoided excess. These are deep cultural differences and the currency union brings them to light once again.

It is not a matter of one country dictating austerity to another. The political elites of the Eurozone periphery are responsible for having lost access to the financial markets in 2010. Years of mismanagement and failure to observe the rule of law have led to increasing budget deficits and mounting debts. Risk premiums soared. The consequence has been emergency financing programs, which have largely followed the rigorous standards of the International Monetary Fund in the conditions they have imposed on debtor countries.

Mother and Daughter

The Germans are not abdicating their responsibilities as Europeans. Germany, together with France, has been the driving force of integration for decades.

Criticism of Germany also fails to recognize the peculiarities of European integration.

The EU is not a federation (and neither is the Eurozone). We are a long way from reaching that level of integration in Europe. There is therefore no constitutional basis for a higher level of transfer payments to weaker countries. Such payments anyway do not solve economic problems and they lead to moral hazard.

Previous transfer programs, such as funds to pay for infrastructure investment in poorer EU member states, did not always lead to a sustainable improvement in economic performance. Greece, for example, has received EU transfers of 3 to 5 per cent of its gross domestic product for decades, roughly a third of which are paid for by Germany. But much of this money has seeped through the porous edifice of an often corrupt state.

The German economic policy establishment is not out to punish the countries of the eurozone periphery. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to see all eurozone countries create the circumstances for economic growth that is real and sustainable — the kind that generates jobs. This requires solid national finances. It has nothing to do with a zero-deficit fetish. German economists oppose treating the symptoms. They warn against apparent solutions that act like political tranquilizers in the short term but only conceal the true economic challenges.

Calls for additional macroeconomic stimulus ignore the causes of the European malaise. It is vital to remove structural barriers to growth. This includes repairing banks’ balance sheets to unblock credit creation. It is not because of Germany that France is experiencing economic stagnation and Italy has been in recession for three years. The problems are home made. They cannot be eliminated either by the European Central Bank or by fiscal stimulus.

Reforms require political courage and strong leadership. Such reforms are painful. But they are necessary in order to return to a solid growth path. The real deficit is the failure of the political elite in many countries and the lack of credible institutions.

Different economic points of view stem from historical experience and cultural peculiarities. In Germany’s case, two disastrous periods of inflation in the past century (one in 1923, the other after the second world war) have had a profound impact — as have the lessons of the Great Depression, the failure of laissez-faire capitalism and the misuse of fiscal and monetary policy during the Nazi regime.

The result is a social market economy, founded on prudence and a skepticism of state intervention. Keynesian thinking has never played such a large role as in Anglo-Saxon countries. German thinking is founded on “ordo liberalism”, an approach arising from the recognition that markets need rules to be set and enforced by government.

From this perspective the most important principles are the primacy of price stability; the promotion of competition in all markets; the protection of property rights; freedom of contract; and the idea that individuals should bear the risks of their own decisions and the losses of banks should not be borne by the whole of society.

The principle of individual responsibility applies to Europe, too — at least until a political union has been created and democratic control ensured.”

The writer is a former European Central Bank board member

All people are seen as part of a system of concentric circles, which intersect and affect everyone within. Unfortunately this is a minority viewpoint. So, in spite of the tremendous importance economic decisions have in every phase of life, theorists have not successfully integrated government policies with private political, economic, or social decision making. In fact there isn't even a vocabulary to describe these interactive systemic non-linear relationships between individuals, their political, nationalistic, and macroeconomic world.

Political and economic decisions are motivationally part of a system of expanding circles which intersect and reciprocally affect everyone within. Traditional economists have failed to note that what is referred to as "politics" refers to the actions (in a voting democracy) taken by voters who are part of different system forces.

Also, unlike physics or chemistry, human behavior is more accurately described by multi-factorial, circular, rather than linear cause-effect logic.

Instead of connections, they have treated government action as an exogenous variable determined by politico-economic considerations that lie outside a system wide view.

Immediate family circles can reflect common values but as the circles grow larger and larger, values can change or conflict.

These ingrained attitudes shape ongoing resistance to authority imposed from outside the family, tribe, village, or other pack surrogate; they reject externally imposed authority emanating from national and even regional governments, whether democratically elected or not. They reject international governance even more vehemently.

On an economic level, these patterns hinder rather than aid integrated industrial development. Reciprocal, self-perpetuating, non-linear patterns help explain this resistance to change, and sometimes, to socio-economic enhancement. In such societies, people tend not to pay their taxes or respect those who do.

Often out of multigenerational habit they do not identify strongly with national goals and leadership, viewing them as inherently oppressive. They see no point to yielding personal advantage to any outside entity for the sake of a larger, essentially abstract cause, vision, or ideal of citizenship. Whether democratically or tyrannically governed, such societies are more likely to tolerate self-seeking (corruption) at all economic and interpersonal levels.

Economic decision-makers are more likely to rely on improvisation (i.e. currency devaluation) than careful planning and strict self-discipline.

And on the most intimate of all levels, since there is no concept of vigorous individuality, spouses may be selected for each other by the family, local hierarchy, or pack.