Consumer society has put an end to the functional family. We normally think of consumerism as buying stuff we want but don’t need, but it runs deeper than that. The essential promise of consumerism is that all of what is fulfilling or needed in life can be purchased—from happiness to healing, from love to laughter, from raising a child to caring for someone at the end of life. What was once the task of the family and the neighborhood is now outsourced. Aunt Martha is forgetful? Little Arthur is restless? Get them a diagnosis and a prescription. In this simple act, we stop being citizens—we become consumers.
The cost of our transformation into consumers is that the family has lost its capacity to manage the necessities it traditionally provided. We expect the school, coaches, agencies, social workers, probation officers, sitters and day care to raise our children. The family, while romanticized and held as a cultural ideal, has lost its function as the primary place to raise children, sustain health, care for the vulnerable, and ensure economic security.
Read The Good Life? It’s Close to Home by John McKnight & Peter Block at Yes! Magazine.