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The Postmodern Family Clan (macroaffairs.com)
20 points by smashcash 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

Interesting read. I think this idea underestimated the challenges posed by having more adults in a family unit, especially when major decisions are made. Life events like moving to a new city, finding new employment, etc can be very difficult even for two people. Add in a few more and it seems that every major decision is being made by a committee—I imagine this could be very frustrating and problematic.

Jim + Sally create a family clan with Dan + Steve. Amongst them there are 5 children. Dan loses his job and the finances get tight. Steve is supportive of Dan taking a new job, but it is a two hr commute each way. That means that his duties taking the kids to school on tues and thurs will have to be shifted to Sally or Jim (Steve can’t drive due to a vision issue). Both Jim and Sally are already working long days and would prefer for Dan to just keep looking for another job closer to home. Many meetings and many arguments ensue.

In this way, a PMFC just seems to create more entanglement between adults who would otherwise be free to make independent decisions.

Entertainment instantiation of the multi-parent idea... Have you ever watched Futureman (M rated comedy)? In season 2 in a post apocalyptic world family units are composed of 5 parents. Each parent has a role to play.

Your proposal made me think of that family setup. How would a multi parent family unit deal with personal relationships? In the show, every parent was “married” to each other and they collectively engaged intercourse as a group. In reality I bet people would have favorites and that would collapse the parental dynamic.

It would seem that throughout history and across the world, societies with at least a pretense of long term monogamous relationships have survived longer than polyamorous ones.

Never seen it, but I'll check it out!

It also underestimates the difficulty of finding such pairings to begin with. Most people seem to have trouble finding a 1:1 pairing that is long-term stable and desirable. Four adults, as depicted in this story, would presumably require at least twelve long-term stable pairings. That's ... incredibly unlikely. Not impossible, but hardly something I'd expect to become a widespread social trend.

There's a reason this traditionally happens in situations of consanginuity: there are strong per-existing bonds that are considered non-negotiable due to existing social structures.

Looking on the bright side, just imagine how many divorce lawyers could be saved from unemployment!

You still think about a family as if it's a community of individuals. You participate in a community when you have a personal interest that overlaps with the collective interest of the community and you're out once these interests diverge.

A family is a tribe. The support is mutual and unconditional. It's postmodern because to embrace this sense of belonging you need to renounce part of your individuality and indipendence, values that are deemed sacred by modern society.

All of the benefits described by the author's proposed "postmodern family" are already enjoyed by much of the world's population, a large portion of which lives in extended family compounds. From India to the Middle East, and S. America to much Africa, families live together in multigenerational housing.

Indeed, even many Americans lived in this type of arrangement up until the WWII era. And the benefits to this living arrangement are significant: multiple income streams provide resiliency against sudden sickness and death, better living quarters, available childcare instead of having to pay someone outside the family to do so, etc.

Unfortunately, modern Western society has decided that living in multigenerational living arrangements is shameful, and indicates failure.

I support the idea of this author's "postmodern family clan" (although I don't like the name). Particularly for those people who don't have extended family, suffer from abuse from family members, or are estranged from their extended family. However, we should also consider the advantages of the living arrangements enjoyed by much (most?) of the world's population -- the extended, multigenerational family unit.

The likelihood of 6 adult individuals meeting and having sufficient overlap in goals and interests and habits to create a cohesive home is laughable. It's hard enough to do with just 2 financially independent individuals, not to mention navigating relationships when the value of one individual drops relative to the other(s).

> The likelihood of 6 adult individuals meeting and having sufficient overlap in goals and interests and habits to create a cohesive home is laughable.

I disagree. Already, there's a significant movement underway in the US called "co-living", which shares a lot of the features described by the author:


Are there numbers? The trend from what I understand is exactly the opposite. The US has passed 40% of births to unmarried mothers [1], so we're approaching a default family of 1 adult. (Possibly 1 adult present + some percentage of another's earning power, enforced by the courts, but still.)

[1] https://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/~/media/images/...

> The US has passed 40% of births to unmarried mothers [1], so we're approaching a default family of 1 adult.

The parents being unmarried doesn't mean that the father is out of the picture.

Of course, nor does having been married on day one imply that he is still in the picture. But what I described is the trend. And the right order of magnitude.

Oh, I'm not claiming it's a large national movement. I'm sure the numbers are tiny, well under 1%. Also, coliving is confined to urban areas.

The main reason I brought up coliving was as a counterexample to the claim that multi-couple cohabitation could never work. Even though the number of participants is currently quite low, there are thousands of people successfully living like this even in modern America.

That's great until you throw a child into the mix. Or a sick in law who needs care. Or anything more complicated than a clean kitchen and bathroom.

Some coliving housing is even oriented toward families with children and other dependents. Look it up, you'll be surprised.

I'm sure there are some people who can make it work, but my intent was to point out that it seems impossible to make it work for the vast majority. I would be interested in seeing how the normal political issues of a family are worked out between even more "chiefs". In a two person household, this is not too hard, as one person can yield to the other sometimes and vice versa, but I don't see many organizations functioning without some sort of hierarchy system.

Funnily the postmodern family clan looks quite similar to the old fashioned non-nuclear family: The grandfather would have multiple children, which all live in the same household. Each of the marrying sons will bring their wives (and then children) to the main household. The whole family will help each other and the responsibility of children will be shared between everyone.

Where such families existed, they had ties of blood to bind them. The brother who loses his job will be supported by first-degree relatives, not by people he met on Tinder-for-couples. (And even better for stability if his wife is also related to the clan.)

But it's worth knowing that such families were not common everywhere. Nuclear families have certainly been the rule in England for at least 500 years (we have good data) and likely much longer. France is the same, but Russia is different, IIRC.

The increasing rate of generational change makes this more difficult to organize than in the past. One hundred years ago, a granddaughter was basically living the same lifestyle as her grandmother. Today, the two would have less common ground and more likely to be in different political hemispheres.

It says at the end that this "postmodern family clan" is explicitly NOT "An extended or multi-generational family defined by consanguinity".

Well, postmodernism is about reverting the changes that illuminism and capitalism brought to the world and that are not working with society, so I feel it's totally fine to go back to more functioning structures.

I see these types of stories as propaganda aiming to placate younger generations into accepting a lower standard of living than their predecessors. The ones I really get a kick out of are all the Tiny Home shows popping up.

I know, I know, some people really are embracing simplicity and being unencumbered by the responsibilities past generations faced. However, what these types of stories are really saying is; sorry but because of inflation and the ponzi scheme that is our financial system you young folks are just not going to have what your parents and grandparents had so you'd better start embracing things like family cohabitation and tiny homes.

Instead of accepting this drivel I'd really like to see the gen Zers call bullshit and start demanding that they can be plumbers, electricians, nurses etc. AND still have single, detached family dwellings in Palo Alto.

I have similar thoughts every time I see food trucks that are charging full-service restaurant prices for people to stand on the street and eat carbs. There's an argument to be made that it's faster or more convenient than full-service as well as higher quality than conventional fast food and that you're paying for that, but it's also asking consumers to accept less than previous generations expected for their dinner experience, while paying as much or more. I see it as a symptom of the rising cost of running an establishment, instead of a reflection of changing tastes. Some humans are too good at making virtues of inconveniences instead of tackling the source of the inconvenience.

I'm pleasantly surprised whenever I see a Tiny Home that isn't a death-trap with a single exit.

That's not mainstream and won't ever be. It's kinda sensationalism. I thinks such low-effort "ideas" are republished once in 10 years. This maybe happens somewhere, but in general it's just noise. Average household size decreases in the US and in other developed countries. https://www.statista.com/statistics/183648/average-size-of-h... Speaking about "tiny home", it's not a trend as well. Median and Average Square Feet of Floor Area in New Single-Family Houses Completed by Location: https://web.archive.org/web/20190105112830/http://www.census...

Totally agree about these articles.

Note that the trends in the sizes of new homes completed are a little misleading, I think, as they reflect boom suburbs, rather than the occupied stock. Not an expert, but here's an attempt to track the floor area of occupied housing, and it's much closer to flat (US, 20th C): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4532357/figure/...

I would love to live in a tiny house because I don't need much space and it seems like such a waste to pay for a big house to heat and cool. Plus, as someone who bought a house in 2007 right before the recession, I don't really think of a home as an investment. It can be, but the timing can also be risky. So I'd rather have a small house and invest my money elsewhere, and not waste all that energy and money to maintain a big house I don't need.

The problem is I also want to live close to work. So it's all about trying to find that balance of cost, space and proximity that makes it all very difficult.

But the issue just isn't as simple as people "accepting lower standards of living".

There's no need for such a dichotomy.

How about we live simpler lives and yet become wealthier?

And I have no idea why would we want to all live in single detached home when the alternative is to densify and reduce humanity's footprint on nature.

No one is being stopped from asking for $200k+ salaries.

I am one of the people you are talking about and I get everything you are saying.

I realise that baby boomers have inherited all of the resources and have no interest in using it to better future generations. I can call them out on their entitled bullshit and they can call me entitled and lazy, but at the end of the day I need some where to live or I will die from exposure.

When the reality of the situation sets in buying a house without a mortgage thats paying baby boomers to cruise the world is the biggest fuck you I can give them.

This concept really appeals to me, but I’m disappointed the article failed to talk at all about what could go wrong. Another comment here discussed the difficulty in decision making for big life choices, but in addition to that what happens when one of the couples falls out of love and wants to divorce? Suddenly the other couple might be expected to “choose sides” and the messiness of a normal divorce is compounded by semi-related children and communal responsibilities.

It's basically reinventing an LLP business. Operating a home or family has a business aspect to it, and a single spouse is great for providing a backup income, labor, and obviously to help procreate. However, even a single spouse comes at a cost of adding politics to the business, just like adding a business partner would. And the more business partners you add, the more politics you get.

The claim that the changes outlined in the first paragraph are good for the individual and society could use some proof. Either way, the fact that the article speculates about a revolutionary new family concept shows that there are a few unsolved issues.

The ideas proposed in the article seem completely delusional to me. I would consider staying on good terms with a former partner a success, and being cool with their new partner a nice bonus. Moving in with those guys, even shouldering that other dude's unemployment, as the article suggests? An unfair, possibly disrespectful proposal.

Stereotypically, it could be the idea of someone who likes to have both the earning power and stability of the former, and the curious attractiveness of the new parter, conveniently combined in one household?

Fundamentally, the idea of a 'clan' goes contrary to the overarching trend of Individualism, which has brought us so many individual freedoms but dismantled so many formal and informal social constructs. Individualists will not submit to an artificial 'clan' unless forced by massive external pressure. A struggle to survive that has created those social constructs in the first place.

I loved Robert Heinlein's books. Though I disagreed with his philosophies about women, his predictions about the future were amazing.

He predicted something similar to this, and called it S-Groups.

As explained in the article, postmodern family clans have a lot of (financial) benefits over single-couple families. But it would be very sad if financial reasons (such as expensive housing) would be what drives people to live in such clans.

Well, material limitations always determinated societal structures. I don't see why it should be different or more sad now.

"...and they probably met online." That's really gonna need some citation. Given the rise of online dating to cultural acceptance is only within the last decade or so (sorry no source, I'm not a journalist :p), I find it incredibly unlikely that those family units have surpassed offline meets in number so as to make "probably" accurate.

I'm sorry but i just find the idea quite horrifying for the children involved. On paper everything is just daises but I just don't see this turning out well if this were to start becoming a common trend.

Or maybe the human race can transcend the nuclear family, I guess we will find out soon enough.

What kind of problems do you envision?

Everything old is new again

Heinlein speculated about this in the book, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Except they were family corporations that were multi-generational as well.

This is straight out of Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos.

It's as if Lennart Poettering redesigned the family.

Complete with feature creep.

I love this so much.

Does something about this remind you of systemd?

Overall... great way to cover up the lower living standards. What next? 5 parents? 6 parents? In fact, could the entire society be parents together?

Completely idiotic.

They call that a cluster in the NAG :P

is the concept of clan by definition pre-modern?

Together, the couples can purchase a large home...

Yes, of course!

Congratulations, you have invented the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communal_apartment

Cults are good at this.

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