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Beyond economics, there’s still that pesky issue of values. The very institution of nannyhood requires a society with an accepted moral code. In Victorian England, the nanny was not expected to have grown up at or near the same social class as her employers. (The governess was.) Despite her modest background, the nanny was expected to possess and project the ethics, morality, and culture of the upper class. It is this cultural congruency that allows the nanny to achieve quasi-family status and entrance into the intimacy of the employer’s home. For the modern employer, this presents a sticky problem: In an age when there are no collective values, exactly what values do we expect our “nanny” to project?
A “real” nanny should strengthen the cultural continuity in the employer household. Gertrude Himmelfarb in The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values writes of how the poor had a strong incentive to conform to middle class morality even more than even the middle class. Savvy members of the working class understood innately that an expanding economy featuring growing literacy, social mobility, and the availability of consumer goods was facilitated precisely by the dominant values of the society. These values included dedication to family, hard work, thrift, cleanliness, self-reliance, self-respect, neighborliness, and patriotism. Two generations later, Mary Poppins still epitomizes this class paradox, demonstrating more attachment to English tradition and culture than do the Banks parents.
Today’s boomers may pay sporadic lip service to “values” — but “cultural continuity” is simply not an operative concept, much less a priority. While most parents want their children to grow up to be “good people,” they are basically agnostic about what constitutes “good” and what path should be taken to get to that state. For them, the fact that today’s nanny is generally an inappropriate partner in the moral and spiritual upbringing of junior is moot — because secular society does not believe that goodness is learned.
This inability to identify and value a child’s moral growth flies in the face of every other megatrend in child development. Sophisticated, informed parents passionately believe in the importance of pre-natal and early childhood stimulation to promote a host of skills such as music appreciation, reading, math, and foreign language acquisition. But when this concept of “early intervention” enters the non-material realm, parental discomfort sets in. The parent can evaluate breast milk vs. bottle, compare studies, and make a decision. But were some retro nanny to suggest that feeding can be a time for even a newborn to learn obedience, gratitude, and cleanliness, that would be considered at best preposterous and more probably a sinister attempt to prevent the young one from making his own decisions.
Why We Lie
In a profane age, children are the last holy component of our life. Just as we have drained the moral authority from our language terms, we have similarly converted historically spiritual pursuits into sterile, pseudo-meritocratic processes. One by one, the great religious-based colleges that built this country have re-invented themselves as value-free trade schools. Many professions, notably medicine and teaching, have evolved in just one generation from a moral calling into a unionized slot. Marriages are now primarily “partnerships” to continue only as long as the “needs” of both parties are met. Meanwhile, our mainstream churches and synagogues continuously retrofit and de-spiritualize their message so as to not become irrelevant. Somehow, the miracle of children remains, well, a miracle.
Children offer the last best pathway toward fulfilling the profoundly human desire to be like the Creator. By offering unconditional love to a helpless lump of protoplasm, the parent achieves, at least for a moment, a delivery of his soul to somewhere outside his body and outside this world. Few would knowingly give away this gift to a stranger, as apparently the Churchills did for Mrs. Everest.
Most parents, on some level, are surprised then inspired by the redemptive power they have acquired simply as the result of a prior act of presumably pleasurable passion. If only on quiet late nights, holding their children, they understand how foolish and reckless it is to tear up their personal ticket to the infinite simply because kids are often time-consuming and inconvenient. Yet, every day, in each of our lives, this irresistible force toward transcendent meaning meets the immovable object known as modern life. We compromise. We delegate. Sometimes, just to assure ourselves that we appreciate the sanctity of our task, we have to lie to ourselves and to others. We adapt and accept mythology as slavishly as any cargo cult. Our children are the most important aspect of our life, we say — just right now, they happen to be with the “nanny.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online