It is very clear that the extreme reduction of the family unit is a necessary development in late capitalist economy. The extended family, which functions so well in agrarian-based economies, becomes an anachronism in an economy with a capacity for industrial farming. The situation becomes worse when the extended family is placed in the context of national/global economy; then it actually stops functioning efficiently from the perspective of power vectors, and becomes a detriment to corporate goals. Allowing the extended family to continue offers individuals participating in that institution a social and economic power base which gives them the opportunity to refuse corporate culture. In addition, it creates a social process that has the potential to be more satisfying than participation in consumption processes. Individual loyalty to an institution (i.e., the extended family) that potentially contradicts or negates capitalist imperatives of production and consumption is simply not a possibility that can be allowed to continue. In an effort to eliminate this social possibility, capitalist economy has configured itself to make entrance to or maintenance of middle-class status dependent upon accepting the nuclear family as the model of choice. People are financially rewarded for showing an allegiance to participation in the production and consumption processes, over and above participation in extended family processes.
The process of socializing individuals into nuclear units begins with the education process. Children are immediately taught that “success” in life depends on a division of labor, and on separation from other family members; i.e., the adults work, while the children train in school to enter the workforce. At the end of secondary education, they are fully adjusted to the idea that it is time to leave home to join the workforce, or to attend university. In the US, this process of separation begins almost immediately, because over the past 30 years, production rates have increasingly intensified, while real wages have decreased, thus requiring both parents to work if they want to maintain middle-class status. Children are placed in daycare until it is time for them to attend school. Hence, domestic togetherness in the middle-class family has nearly ceased, and children spend more time with their socializers — education services and mass media — than with “significant others.”
The reward for power vectors in promoting this variety of family structure is twofold: First, since people are generally denied social possibilities outside of rationalized contexts, a profound alienation emerges. The only cures offered by capitalist society for this condition are “satisfaction” through success at work, or through acquisition of consumer goods. Second, the geographic mobility necessary for the efficient deployment of the upper echelons of the workforce is assured. People go where their employers send them without a second thought. Whether individuals are near their family or friends is of secondary importance; maintaining class rank (and more and more, simply to remain employed) is of primary importance.
The nuclear family guarantees both the physical and the ideological replication of the workforce; however, in terms of eugenic development, it offers even more. The nuclear family offers a specific set of concerns that complement voluntary eugenics. Since the middle-class nuclear family is generally small, thereby increasing the chances of total familial erasure, its members express a profound concern for reproduction. The extended family is also just as concerned with familial reproduction; the difference between the two, however, is that while the extended family is content with the quantity reproduced as a safeguard of familial survival, the nuclear family is concerned with the “quality” of reproduction. Quality, in this case, is dictated by capitalist demands. Quality means the extent to which a child will be successful, i.e., will be able to obtain a good job in order to maintain or heighten class rank. What nuclear family parents lose in nonrational association with their child, they gain in rationalized association. They can send the child to good schools. They can provide the child with health care. They can offer the child a safe and secure environment in which to mature. The reason parents want to provide their children with these “advantages” is so the child will give society he/r best economic performance. In this thoroughly rationalized situation, quality of life is equated with economic performance. The perception is that the better the child performs economically in later life, the better s/he will be able to satisfy he/rself within the structures of production and consumption, and the greater the probability that s/he will be upwardly mobile.
Once the structural conditions of the economy of desire and the nuclear family are in place, which in turn lead to equating quality of life (perhaps even social survival) with economic performance by parents obsessed with their own genetic and/or cultural replication, the environment is ripe for voluntary eugenics — a situation which [Frederick] Osborn was certain would come to pass. If parents are offered goods and services which will give their few offspring a greater opportunity for success, would they not purchase them? Osborn thought that they would, and he believed that these goods and services would include services which would genetically engineer the child to insure he/r better economic performance. He predicted that parents would want to participate in the design of their children to help them to adapt economically and socially — eugenic participation would be a sign of benevolence. To be sure, once eugenics is perceived as a means to empower the child and the parent, it loses its monstrous overtones, and becomes another part of everyday life medical procedure. Capitalism will achieve its goals of genetic ideological inscription, while at the same time realizing tremendous profits for providing the service.*
* Critical Art Ensemble, "Eugenics: The Second Wave," Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, Eugenic Consciousness (NY: Autonomedia, 1998) 122-25. I added the link inline above to the Frederick Henry Osborn Papers.