Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stepping into a new familial meme pool


When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other worlds, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.
G. K. Chesterton

In addition to an anxiety engendered by a parental love award on a basis of competitive merit - Margaret Mead points out, the American child is typically limited to the affection of two parents. The very housing condition nowadays forbid the regular presence of numerous relatives and generalized presence of the whole community in the form of adopted 'uncles' and 'aunts'.

So the young American starts life with a tremendous impetus towards success. Hies family, his little slender family, just a couple of parents alone in the world, are the narrow platform on which he stands.

...Success consists not only in winning the approval of parents but in surpassing them. On that premise rests the American way of life, Mead says. We must, in the most signal way, show our superiority to our parents in every department, or we have failed to give meaning to their efforts and our own selves.
In a social and economic sense, success, it would appear, means the virtual rejection of the parents, so that in a symbolic way the child bitten with the success spirit is already an orphan. A Lincoln could stimulate himself with a belief that he was the illegitimate child of an aristocrat, but the child of today, says Mead, nurses the feeling of being only adopted.
Marshall McLuhan,  The Mechanical Bride, 1951.

I've been reading McLuhan this week - his autobiography by Douglas Coupland (of Generation X fame) and his first published book, The Mechanical Bride, published in the same year Harold Innes published The Bias of Communication.. 

These two quotes seemed to resonate with me - a sense of touching the human condition. A sense of my own children and their inevitable experience - how family patterns are more than memetic, but phenotypically embodied in culture.

I think of the hugely popular Pokemon series. The main character Ash Ketchum is about 10 years old. Throughout the whole series their is hardly a mention of his parents and those of his peers who accompany him on his 'walk-about' journey from town to town to engage in battles with various Gym leaders. There seems to be one person in the group who is an older teenager but very few adults make an appearance. This is psychically the situation as kids approach adolescence - peer-group is salient and parental presence is actively as marginalized as they can manage. 

The adventures of the Pokemon kids are screens for the projection of autonomy, and self-assurance in a context of a virtual world. I remember as a child of the baby boom generation - how we ranged throughout our geographic environment in ways that my youngest children and their cohorts have never experienced. But they are digital natives, and their explorations - while not as extensively local as my childhood was, are profoundly more extensive in the real sociality of the virtual worlds. Their autonomy is as seemingly unlimited as those of the Pokemon characters who seem to be free to wander from town to town without fear. They accept that the overarching context is within their capabilities to secure themselves. 

The fairy-tale of Pokemon - is a new family of communities of interest - of epistemic community.