I thought some about Ross's post and I think what I find most interesting in his,and other responses, is the need to argue that the model of seven kids by four women shouldn't be held up as the ideal.
Most American families in which a single man fathers seven kids by four mothers don't produce engineers, Pixar programmers, and writers for the Atlantic. And that's why norms matter, why institutions matter - and sometimes why stigmas matter as well. Not for the sake of Ta-Nehisi's partner and child - I think things are going to turn out pretty well for the family Coates no matter what - but for the sake of all those people who won't be as lucky in their mate and in their parents.
...there's no way that a family like Ta-Nehisi's ("My Dad has seven kids by four women...") can or should be held up as normative, no matter how well the kids turned out. If they turned out fine -- as they seem to have done -- then they beat the odds. Most kids emerging from that kind of broken family system will not be so lucky.
I appreciate Ross's compliment. But what your seeing here is a slick, if unconscious, changing of the subject. I don't think you'll find me arguing, in any post, that seven kids by four women should be held up as the norm, or as any sort of model. That's the key difference between Ross, other social conservatives and me. I don't believe that my family structure is a solution. Ross Does. I can tell you why I am what I am, to the best of my abilities. But for the actual work of a long-term relationship, for those deep truths that are exchanged between you and yours in the dead of night, I offer no answers. How could I possibly know?
Which isn't to say that I reject norms and standards--it's just that I'm not particularly interested in Ross and Rod's norms and standards. We've all seen the data on marriage, and outcomes. We all know that in the aggregate marriage comes out on top. But this really doesn't help us in this debate, because we don't why. Do married people have better outcomes because of the marriage itself? Or is it that people who are more likely to marry, produce better outcomes? Put differently, I need to see evidence that marriage causes people to raise better kids, as opposed to people who are likely to raise better kids tending to get married. What if we found that atheist, in the aggregate, earned more money, were less likely to commit crimes and more likely to send their kids to college. Should we then stigmatize all believers?