“Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.”
- Thomas Sowell
With social norms in the West changing so rapidly in recent years, it’s easy to become desensitized to audacious claims, even ones made in clear defiance of all available evidence.
Yet even today, some public figures manage to take their own moral exhibitionism to such a ludicrous extreme that it is able to stun even the most dispassionate observer with its sheer contempt for facts.
As economist and sociologist Thomas Sowell wrote, “no idea is too ridiculous” if it helps those uttering it to “feel special”.
On Tuesday, one such case of rhetorical absurdity sparked a public outcry in Israel, after a month-old recording featuring comments by a left-wing Israeli Knesset Member came to light.
The video in question is recording of the broadcast of a panel discussion on Australia’s Q&A television program, and features a somewhat lively debate between the Knesset Member, and a conservative (or Liberal, as they’re called Down Under) lawmaker.
Reveling in the Absurd
In one sense, the comments should come as no surprise. The speaker, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, has a long history of backing radical social views so far to the left, that had she been in the US, she would likely find herself on the outermost fringes of the Democratic Party.
Michaeli has in the past advocated both for the abolition of the institution of marriage and the extension of that institution to include homosexual relationships.
During the course of the panel discussion, Michaeli decried the traditional or nuclear family – the “core family” as she called it – blaming it for domestic abuse and insisting that marriage is a vestige of patriarchy which hobbles women economically and leaves them vulnerable to abuse.
Such views have become standard fare in the cultural bubble inhabited by some on the far-left - it is Michaeli’s astounding use of rhetoric to hold her own in a debate with Australian Senator Zed Seselja that is noteworthy.
Equivocation, a form of linguistic prestidigitation whereby one word or phrase is innocuously slipped in even as a wholly different one is being discussed, is a powerful rhetorical tool, one which Michaeli takes full advantage of in her assault on what remains a popular institution – marriage.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
“[Marriage] was created back at the time when we women were commodities, as were children,” said Michaeli in her tirade against marriage, “as were men without property and of other colors. This is not something that we should maintain in a world when we realize that all of us are human beings. It is not about love… love has got nothing to do with this institution.”
“The core family, as we know it, unfortunately, is the least safe place for children,” claimed Michaeli. “Not [just] in Australia, but in the Western world and in traditional societies, even more so. The data speaks about every fifth child that goes through some sort of abuse; either sexual, physical, emotional. And the core family is the place which parental rights…and this total custody that we have in this structure of marriage still gives me domination – complete domination – over their children and, too often, over their women.”
In place of the traditional family, Michaeli suggested society - and the government - encourage a plethora of alternatives.
"A child can have more than two parents, they don't have to be their biological parents. The person who takes responsibility for the child should be obligated to fulfill certain kinds of criteria that the state should decide on."
When Seselja made a feeble effort to rebut Michaeli’s claim, the MK smirked “those are the facts”.
No, Merav, those are not the facts. Those are fallacies.
While arguing against the traditional nuclear or “core” family, Michaeli equivocates, citing statistics pertaining to child abuse generally.
When the debate moderator chimes in, noting that abuse is rarely done by total strangers, Michaeli nods approvingly, as if that validates her claim against the nuclear family.
“The data does show that when it comes to abuse of children, in the clear majority of cases it is someone known to the child or in the family circle. I don’t think you can argue with that.”
What the Data Actually Shows
Are traditional nuclear families, in which the child’s biological mother and father are married to each other really the “least safe place for children”?
What is breathtaking is not so much that Michaeli is wrong, but that she is exactly 180 degrees from the truth, and is nevertheless attempting to prove her point with facts that actually suggest the very opposite.
Growing up in a traditional two-parent family with one's biological parents is the safest arrangement on average. By far. As Michaeli would say, “those are the facts”.
A 2009 macro-study of child abuse in 22 countries does show high levels of sexual abuse – averaging about 19-20% for girls by the age of 18, in line with Michaeli’s “every fifth child” claim (so long as boys are excluded from the calculation). And, in fact, most children are abused by someone they already know – usually someone in their household.
Neither fact, however, does anything to prove Michaeli’s point – and a deeper examination of the facts actually contradict her argument.
According to a 2010 report to Congress produced by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration, of all the living arrangements studied, children were safest when “living with two married biological parents” – in other words, the very traditional “core family” Michaeli decried as the “least safe place for children”.
Children are most likely to be abused if they are living with a single parent who has a cohabiting partner.
These patterns, the report noted, are true regarding every form of abuse studied.
“Children living with their married biological parents universally had the lowest rate, whereas those living with a single parent who had a cohabiting partner in the household had the highest rate in all maltreatment categories.”
The study also showed that abuse rates were increasing for children living with only one of their parents, but decreasing among children living with two parents.
Some opponents of traditional marriage cite figures showing that more children are abused by their biological parents than by other adults living in the same household. This, however, is yet another fallacy, confusing the rate with raw number of occurrences. If there one million family cars in a given city, and ten thousand motorcycles you could have a theoretical annual accident rate of 50% for motorcycles but only 1% for family cars and still have significantly more accidents involving family cars simply because they’re more prevalent.
When broken down by rate of abuse, the distinction between family arrangements becomes even clearer.
Children living with a single parent and that parent’s cohabiting partner are a whopping 20 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than children who are being raised by their married biological parents.
Nor is a lower rate of child abuse the only “benefit” enjoyed by children raised by their married biological parents over children in other family arrangements. A whole host of life outcomes, including suicide rates, employment rates, criminality and rates of imprisonment all correlate with family arrangements, and show significant advantages for children raised by their married biological parents.
Real Life Consequences
There is no shame in being wrong, and were Michaeli merely a private citizen expressing her (uneducated) opinion, her comments could be excused as simply ignorance.
But MK Michaeli is not simply a private citizen sharing her opinion, she is a member of the second largest party in Israel; a party which was a viable challenger to the ruling Likud party and which could have potentially formed a governing coalition, empowering both Michaeli and her agenda.
A popular figure on the far-left, Michaeli could easily retain her seat in the next election cycle, and could in the future enter the government, perhaps even with a cabinet position.
As the issue of child abuse shows, family arrangements and social norms regarding them are not mere academic abstractions. They’re real life issues with serious, sometimes even fatal consequences.
If Michaeli had her way, and the traditional family was dismantled, how many more children would be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused that would not have been had their biological parents been living together married? Based on the statistics cited above, the answer is hundreds of thousands of children in Israel and millions in the US.
As an unmarried woman with no children of her own, Michaeli may not have the personal experience to teach her what most parents intuitively know and what the data proves – that traditional, nuclear families with both biological parents married to each other is the most successful family arrangement, and the safest place to raise children.
With such statistics readily available, however, a person in such a position of power should at the very least take the time to examine what the data says, rather than simply engage in moral preening and indulge in righteous indignation.