Make your own family

Let's say you've read The Primal Shrug and applied its principles to your family. You've gotten your back up and started treating your family as if they were people instead of symbols. You've waved this book over them, refused to let them schnooker you, to make you feel guilty, to badmouth you. You've regarded their tantrums and manipulations with philosophical detachment or disdain. Now they've changed their name, moved away, and left no forwarding address. They'll show you! No more Xmas presents! Perhaps they read The Primal Shrug before you did. You're tempted to sit down and feel abandoned, unloved, ill treated—or to rip The Primal Shrug in half with your teeth. Perhaps you want your family back after all: you're afraid you've Primally Shrugged yourself into orphandom. Short of searching them out and whimpering submissively on their doorstep, what can you do?

First of all, if your family is as bad as that, you're lucky to be rid of them. But suppose that I've exaggerated—just a little. Keep your biological family as close or as distant as necessary, but don't let their existence stop you from making your own family. I'm not talking about making families in the usual way. Everybody's been doing that for centuries and now there are no more parking spaces. There are other ways to make a family than getting married and spawning a brood of future sociopaths. Not all of them involve gathering a group of people together and assigning them traditional family roles, as we did when we were kids playing "house." Some of us continue doing that well into our adulthood, and we ought to give it up. Get yourself some Barbie dolls if you want to play those games.

Let's look at ways of making a family. What is a family, anyway? The dictionary has several definitions for a family, most of which have to do with the traditional arrangement of parents, children, relatives, ancestors, and descendants. Let's not get into all of that. Let's just say that the common theme is that of relationship or similarity: a family can be a group of people to whom we're related (never mind how). Many people have a group of friends with whom they have a strong emotional and incidental affinity, whom they regard as being "like" their family. It would be better to say that they are your family than that they are like your family. The latter sounds as if you're fitting them into a traditional slot, a surrogate for your siblings or parents. Enough of this surrogate business, this constant search for replacement parts for our broken-down ideas of what our lives should be! Saying that they are our family, though, sometimes makes us feel guilty about attending to our friends more than our biological families, especially when our "real" families tend not to get as much attention as we've been taught to believe they're entitled to. Enough of that as well! Make a new thing, something tailored to you and not to the preconceived notions of society. If your poor old mother persists in wailing into a handkerchief with one hand and clutching her bosom with the other, fix her a cup of tea and tell her gently to pack it.

If your attempts to carve out a type of family for yourself make you crazy, you're doing something wrong. Follow these steps to see where you've gone astray:

  1. Consider the option of having a traditional family—you know, the wife or husband and kids, the dogs and cats, the mortgages and orthodontal bills. It works well enough for some people.
  2. Compare the previous suggestion to death on the rack. If the latter seems more enticing, then you know that step one is out.
  3. Try leaving out the kids and keeping the pets—or leaving out the wife and keeping the plants. Don't just look around to see what other people are up to. Look inside, and be guided by what you find there.
  4. Look at the role of other people in your life. You may be content to have a circle of friends for your family, or you may not need to make a family if your biological family fulfills your needs.
  5. See if there are things other than people that sustain your interest in life on a daily basis. A judicious combination of people and things, in varying ratios, may be just the ticket.

You might think that, logically, the sixth step would be to throw out the people and keep the things. In spite of their inherent problems, people can be terrific to have around, and I would never make a blanket recommendation to jettison all people from your life—just the nasty, annoying ones. But, properly considered, people are things too, and don't need to be valued at so high a rate that the prospect of doing without some or most of them seems immoral and misanthropic. That's just another example of societal conditioning—Columbus discovered America, George Washington was the father of our country, virtue is its own reward—people are wonderful. Some are, some aren't. Our ideas about what people ought to be runs afoul of what they are, and we feel like we've been kicked in the stomach. After a lifetime of that—unredeemed by The Primal Shrug and its life-enhancing properties—we reach old age, disappointed and disillusioned, still unable to figure out what's the matter, so ingrained is this inflated value judgment about people.

What options can the well-regulated Primal Shrugger consider? Start with a little absurdity and exaggeration, of course! For instance, take the extreme example of a miser, who lives solely for the accumulation of gold and wealth, and spends his days and nights counting money. Is he necessarily an unhappy soul? Don't bet on it. Money may be his true family, the thing to which he relates best. Leave well enough alone: he might be going around making people miserable instead, and he's probably too tight to buy The Primal Shrug. On the other hand, many people think that kids and pets are great—ideally they're the ones that should be raising them. I relate better to books and music. The next major earthquake will find me buried under mountains of books and music, and I would rather have those piled on top of me than diaper pails and litter boxes. I like to have people around once in awhile, but not all the time.

If you're good at The Primal Shrug, you won't mind that people sometimes look askance at someone who devotes himself to work, to studies, or to hobbies, to the detriment of his social life. They're sure that you're using those things as a screen to camouflage your fear and difficulty in relating to people. Society's concern about your condition would be the only thing preventing you from having a happy, fulfilled life—if you weren't so accomplished at The Primal Shrug. You may just be a little like me, who thinks that there are better things to do than hang around with people and watch them spill party dip down their fronts.

To conclude: exercising the doctrine of absurdity, as I've pointed out before (and will again), is the key to The Primal Shrug. It's also the best preparation for making your own family. Regard the family with irreverence, take it out of its sacred shrine and treat it as just another superfluous custom, like most of the things we do just because everybody else does. That may not endear you to the current tribe of "family values" revivalists, but you're doing it as Primal Shrug therapy, not to win an election. Suppose the whole biological machinery were unnecessary for the continuance of the species. I suspect we'd get a better idea of how people really want to deal with one another. We might still get together to aid each other in the maintenance of life, and to alleviate that most prevalent of human ills, loneliness. But there would be no other reason to be related to anybody. We could blow off rotten people with impunity. Much guilt would be nonexistent. Irksome family obligations would be unheard of—and The Primal Shrug would be a chapter shorter. So what if it's an unrealistic scenario? Pretend that it's true and practice seeing families from new perspectives. You might like it so much that you won't want to read the next section on relationships, for fear of unwittingly creating a family. I hope you do read it, however, because it may be useful if you get tired of those long evenings alone watching the paper peel off the walls.

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