Are we experiencing family breakdown? What does the family mean to us and what function does it fulfil, or has it ceased to fulfil, today? The fourth panel of the Age of Mistrust conference, organised by the magazine Presence, was dedicated to family, tradition and values.
When people are asked what is most important to them in life, they usually answer that it is family. Yet today, society is talking about a crisis of values and family. This was also the case in this panel. Psychiatrist Radkin Honzák began by saying that he personally believes that the family is already “dead”. According to him, the disintegration of the family starts already with the way the state supports single mothers, who assume that a relationship is not the most important thing they expect from a family, and with the way women have improved economically and become independent. The relationship aspect, according to Honzak, crumbles under the economic benefits (a couple doesn’t live together if they don’t get along). “Boyfriend/girlfriend has taken on a different meaning than it did when I was growing up. The only hope I see is the economic crisis, which will hopefully benefit the family financially,” said Radkin Honzak.
Miroslav Petříček, a professor and philosopher at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, agreed with Radkin Honzak that family is definitely no longer the first priority for us. “The family is not the basis of the state nowadays. But more importantly, with the shift in values and the fact that the family is not the primary goal of life, there are shifts that are secondary but no less important. If we talk about the role of the family, one of its important roles has been that it anchors a certain value orientation. The moment the family does not have this function, we find ourselves in a world where value orientations are sought elsewhere. But we don’t have anything to replace this function of the family, we don’t have any other “bearer of value traditions”. And at the same time we have not found any other way to cope with this,” Miroslav Petříček explained.
Sociologist and documentary filmmaker Ivo Bystřičan questioned whether we were experiencing something like the disappearance of the family. “What is a family anyway?” he asked, explaining that after the war we got used to the nuclear family and that this is what tradition is. “But it doesn’t really have any historical reason or antecedent. Nothing is less traditional than the traditional family,” he said. Ivo Bystrichan went on to say that he believes we are currently in a time when the capitalist narrative based on individual performance is suddenly not working. “We have this as a crisis, but he is just the beginning of a reconfiguration.”
The problem, Dr Honzak says, is that the main function of the family is failing, namely the raising of the child. The moment a child lives in a semi-fractured family, he or she no longer receives behavioural patterns from both parents. Such a child then aspires to live alone one day.
The role of parents should be to protect their child from the opacity of the outside world. Is that even possible these days? According to Miroslav Petříček, it is better not to overdo it with child protection. “I don’t think it is healthy to make a sharp distinction between what is at home and what is outside. That is a fatal thing. One of the consequences then can be that I am afraid to go out of the home. Or that I’m not prepared to encounter something different outside than what I’m used to from home. I think this is important for today.”
The topic of social networking also came up in the discussion. How much do they affect the world of today’s teens? Can their parents even understand them when they themselves grew up in a completely different era? Dr. Honzák recited a hilarious one-liner poem on the subject, “Social networks / stole my child.”
Miroslav Petříček pointed out that even social networks are good for something. For example, during the pandemic, thanks to them, children were able to agree on where and when to meet together outside. But even more important, according to Miroslav Petříček, is for children to have a certain self-esteem. Only then will they be able to orient themselves in this world and protect themselves. It is important that they themselves are able to realise which slogans they want or do not want to follow. “We are in a situation where we perceive very clearly that the world is changing. We have to be able to face the unpredictable or not rely on tradition to teach us everything. On the contrary, tradition also binds us. Our task is to find in it what will enable us to cope with the times in which we live,” Miroslav Petříček pointed out.
At the end of the discussion, it was pointed out that in the family we still have a plethora of possibilities of what parents can pass on to their children at this time. Ivo Bystřičan pointed out another undeniably positive aspect: ‘What the modern state has enabled us to do is to get out of relationships that for some reason I don’t want to be in. After all, literature has been full of dilemmas and traumas since the 18th century. People have always met someone new, fallen in love, cheated, lied, cheated, murdered. But I don’t think all of this is a symptom of some kind of demise of civilization or the world as we knew it. It’s something that happens (in certain modifications) over and over again. If we have the option of not going before abortion committees and no one is questioning us before divorce, that’s only a good thing. It gives the children the opportunity to start over with a different parenting relationship and experience something that is far more satisfying.”
Miroslav Petříček concluded the discussion by saying that he thinks that these times will force us, whether we want to or not, not to remain like a flock of sheep and not to rely on the help of the elites (who are not, as Radkin Honzák pointed out earlier). We need to realize that, believe that, and rely on that. Whether thanks to or in spite of social media.” To regain confidence in ourselves – Miroslav Petříček considers this our most important task.
The public breakdown – “media” panel of the Age of Distrust conference
Democracy and Elections – second panel of the Age of Distrust conference
The State and Institutions – first panel of the Age of Distrust conference
published: 20. 12. 2022