The family gap: Beneath the mask of American discontent

Such forged familial identities may be rewarding to consumerist adults. But their appeal to the most vulnerable members of society (children, say) seems problematic. The notion that boys or girls thrive around males to whom they are not biologically related is overruled by generations of social science about the risks of just that. Beyond such empirical cautions lie matters of the heart. What child, given the choice, would prefer a ‘chosen family’ to his very own?

‘Chosen families’, like street gangs and other identitarian bands, are mothered by the necessity of human nature: if families cannot exist, their simulacra must be invented. That’s why substitutes for kin have proliferated in the decades since the sexual revolution took off. All are part of the ongoing, post-1960s transfer of social capital, according to which more and more of it accrues to the strongest members of society, leaving the weakest even more vulnerable than before.

This brings us to the grittiest truth not only of 2020, but of the future it foretells. Much of America now roams the nation and the internet in search of family substitutes: street gangs, ‘chosens’, identitarian groups, BLM and toxic ideologies. And none of these alternatives is remotely up to the job done by the functioning real thing — or even the semi-functioning real thing. The new American ‘haves’ are those who have managed, through luck or hard work or both, to maintain vigorous family ties despite it all. The new have-nots are those who suffer from these primal losses, and who latch with increasing desperation on to collective, victim-centered ‘identities’.