Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Slate has letter and reply about the limits to "filial piety"

Here’s a “lonely heart’s” letter and response by Emily Yoffe on MSN Slate about the moral boundaries of filial responsibility, “A son’s burden: should he support the abused and drug-addicted brother who abused and abandoned him?” link here.

I’ve covered filial responsibility laws (and “filial piety”) on this blog (particularly back in July 2007), and in practically none of the 28 states that have them would an adult child be required to support a parent who had abused or abandoned him or her.

The letter, however, points to the heavy social expectations of family loyalty and solidarity (and the imputed rewards for marital parenthood) in many elements of society, that seem to be beyond the reach of an intellectual examination of the law. Here, the grandparents are offended, and the son reports being pressured to help raise a half-brother to keep him out of foster care. This sort of thing happens in families more often than the media generally reports, except that Hollywood loves the theme. (Remember “Raising Helen”? Remember “One True Thing”?) Note here in the letter and response the discussion of what the young man has to “give up”.

Filial piety is a moral issue that does not relate easily to the idea of choices and consquences and "personal responsibility" in the usual sense. If is more about belonging to a community (or family), and that for some people translates into perceiving society as imposing "unfunded mandate" obligations on persons, almost like male conscription used to be. Ironically, in a world where we try to stop teen pregnancy and couples postpone babies for education and career, the best "defense" against filial responsibility is to have children yourself.  Otherwise "the buck stops with me."

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