Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Orphans and Tribalism

I had always found it odd that Dr. Peter Lucaciu, who founded a Romanian clinic after the Revolution as well as the orphanage where we met our boys, was always so pleased to be able to show our boys off when they came back to visit, with the emphasis See, orphans are not worthless!  They can be someone.  They have importance. He explained to me that this prejudice against orphans was strong in Romanian culture, and I understood it intellectually, but it never seemed quite real to me.  Why should whether you had a bad start in life matter once you have proved yourself a good student, or employee, or husband?

It became more clear to me over the past few years of reading evolutionary biology, and really clicked this week reading van den Berghe's The Ethnic Phenomenon, an early sociobiology book from a Marxist perspective.  (How I came to be reading a marxist sociology textbook from the 1980's is an uninteresting story which I will not trouble you with.)  In most societies, including much of even western Europe, the extended family network is the source of jobs, favors, loans, protection, and in the hardest of times, food and shelter.  You don't want orphans as friends because they can't help you.  They aren't getting ahead in the world, and you certainly don't want them marrying your daughter.  While such unconnected people are not absolutely destined to merely scrape by in those societies, that's the way to bet.  It is even more intense outside of Europe, where tribalism, not nation, rules.

I don't want to imply that nepotism is unknown in America, but it is certainly much weaker here (and the rest of the former British colonies).

This is changing, certainly, as Romanians move into the rest of Europe to get jobs.  In such situations, they may continue to have familial networks for support, but these become attenuated. 


Kitten said...

Views of adoption in various times and cultures are interesting. Although the Old Testament doesn't mention it (that I recall, it's clear that by the time of the New Testament Paul expected his audience to be familiar (and comfortable?) with the idea. Was that due to Roman influence, where it seems to have been pretty common, or independently developed? I haven't looked that far into it. The "doomed to scrape by until Someone stepped in" probably had a lot more emotional impact on Paul's audience than on modern readers, something I hadn't thought of until your post.

Japan also seems to have practiced adoption as a common thing, at least based on historical anime. I don't remamber stories about adoption from any of the other Asian nations of the area, which given a strong similarity between the various cultures makes it particularly interesting.

If any of the other commenters know more, I'd love to be able to fill in some of the many gaps in my knowledge.

Texan99 said...

I guess in the U.S. a strong countervailing cultural assumption is the self-made man: you want to hire that guy, because he's shown that he can thrive without much of a support system. He's not a trust-fund baby. He's survived a trial by fire.

My grandfather was orphaned pretty young. There were no close relatives to take him in. Apparently he moved from farm to farm as a kind of hired hand, even in his very early teens. I have no romantic story to tell of how he overcome the early hardship. He did manage to become productive and raise educated children, but I believe he was a hard, bitter man. One of his sons was an out-and-out sociopath. He was so estranged from his daughter (my mother) that he didn't attend her funeral. We never had any contact with him; he died when I was too young even to wonder why we hadn't met him.

A good friend in San Antonio publishes a blog at http://thisreminds.me, which often focuses on the Russian girl they adopted 6-7 years ago, when she was 5 years old. (They already had three older girls of their own.) Her stories, and yours, AVI, about your Romanians, make it clear to me how adoption is supposed to work: a healthy family takes in children whose family have been stripped away, and it's a miracle for both. It's such a different story from the depressing parade of stepparents drifting from one family to the next as they divorce and remarry. It's not good to be a stepchild or adopted child in a family that's not passionately devoted to you.

You've mentioned the importance of your family culture. It seems to be the same with my friend in San Antonio. Orphaned kids needn't lack that important social network as long as there are adoptive parents like you and her.