Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Family Ties

Why do we value family ties more than other ones? Why do family ties receive special treatment? It doesn't seem to make sense. Well, I'm not complaining that the ties do, just it doesn't seem like it should be a given.

I think that it could be compared to nationalism. I wish I could remember some of the arguments for and against nationalism. I know they exist, I wish I was more of a philosopher to be able to derive the arguments I guess.

Anyway, family ties are blood ties, they have no bearing on the nature of the relationship between two people or a unit of people. They have no indication on what the relationship between two people or a unit of people should be.

I think this is exemplified in relationships between adopted children and parents. I doubt that many parties of an adopted relationship would say that their relationships are any less familial or strong. Similarly, I doubt people in non-adoptive relationships would say that parties in adoptive relationships have ties that are any less significant than ties in non-adoptive relationships.

So, the kin relationship is self-defined. It's just what we sort of say it is, or it might as well be. It seems to be morally equivalent to saying somebody is in our family...we can really make family ties whatever we want them to be. Family relationships are really whatever we want them to be, with the exception that we have a narrower set of rules for defining them then we do with most types of relationships.

So, why must "family" come first. Family, an ambiguous term in this sense, as I've tried to demonstrate as self-defined. That is to say, I don't think it's good enough just to say that "family is family" or something along those lines.

So "family" ties seem to at least in a morally non-arbitrary way seem to be weightless ties. Furthermore, they seem to be morally questionable (to even think of ties as family ties) at least if a moral actor thinks that nepotism, favoritism, ethnocentrism, elitism and the like are morally questionable. Indeed, even within families "playing favorites" is scorned upon. Favoritism meaning preference (one way or the other) purely as a result of an arbitrary tie. Say if two people are linked by the color of their jackets or their hometown (even though they might have never met before). Putting "family first" seems to be on the same level.

So, in a way family ties and the preference we give them might not be so morally kosher.

Though, there are probably some exceptions that distinguish family relationships between nationalistic and ethnocentric ones. For one, the "shared history" component of familial relationships are probably legitimate and more genuine. On top of that maybe tribalism is really necessary in the case of families because family ties are a "last resort" sort of relationship so if family ties don't hold, maybe no other ones will. Hopefully that makes it better.

But at the same time, why shouldn't we have moral obligations to be ruthless about our relationships so long as our actions in relationships are moral. Being choosy about relationships, why the hell wouldn't we care deeply about them.

Even if it is immoral, or morally questionable, I'm certainly going to value some relationships over others. I have to. I have to be selfish in that regard. I can't function without meaningful relationships and not only do i think it's necessary to prioritize some relationships over others (of course not in the sense of undercutting some relationships, just in the sense of making sure some relationships get special treatment)

I feel guilty in a way at putting some relationships higher than others. But I've just got to. Family has to come first. Friends have to come first. At least on some things. Maybe not if the world hung in the balance, but maybe so too. It just has to be done. We have all have to be special to someone I think.

The catch though...we have to try so hard that nobody gets left behind. We might not be able to, but we have to try.