Tuesday, April 6, 2021

I Don't Mean to be Judgmental, But ...

The local newspaper carries the venerable advice column Dear Abby, and the first letter in today's column struck a chord, or a nerve.

DEAR ABBY: I am a senior male. I understand I may have some beliefs that others find old-fashioned. However, I consciously try to be tolerant of others’ feelings and beliefs. That said, my problem is with my younger brother, who is a homosexual. I have always tried to ignore that side of his life and, consequently, we have always had a good relationship. He lives in another state, so we only talk on the telephone.

A couple of months ago while we were talking, the subject of sexuality came up, and I told him I find the fact that he is gay “disgusting.” I know it was a poor choice of words. I merely meant to say that I, myself, am and always have been totally heterosexual. I have never had any sexual interest in members of my own sex. I never meant my comment to be judgmental of my brother or anyone else.

I left several messages apologizing for anything I said that he found objectionable. Now, when I try to contact him, he doesn’t answer my phone calls.

Abby, I miss my brother. I truly love him, and I don’t want to lose all contact with him. If you have any advice for me, please give it to me. I’m desperate and can think of nothing I might be able to do to restore our relationship. — FEELS LIKE A FOOL IN WASHINGTON 

Abby was refreshingly unsympathetic, which is in keeping with the Dear Abby brand.  Her mother, the original Abby, was pro-gay before it was cool, and before her sister "Ann Landers" shed her own old-fashioned views on the matter.  In one famous 1972 column, she slyly told an inquirer who asked how to improve their "once-respectable neighborhood" after a gay couple moved in: "You could move."

My take on today's letter takes a wider view.  Bigots of whatever stripe like to see themselves as merely "old-fashioned," unable to understand why others get indignant when they refer to Negroes as monkeys, to women as whores, to gays as a form of bestiality.  Indeed, another syndicated column in today's paper, by an elderly white man, began by declaring that none of his best friends are black, then explaining that he was just being provocative, but jeez, people have gotten so sensitive about race "in the past couple of years."

For me the key to "Feels Like a Fool in Washington"'s letter was this paragraph:

A couple of months ago while we were talking, the subject of sexuality came up, and I told him I find the fact that he is gay “disgusting.” I know it was a poor choice of words. I merely meant to say that I, myself, am and always have been totally heterosexual. I have never had any sexual interest in members of my own sex. I never meant my comment to be judgmental of my brother or anyone else.
I have no doubt that he had been obnoxious to his brother many times before and that he'd been wanting to use the word "disgusting" for decades, so it's not surprising that it finally popped out.  And though he pretends to be remorseful, he proceeds to try to justify himself: "I merely meant to say..."  Sure he did.  There's no reason why his supposed total heterosexuality requires him to be disgusted by his brother's homosexuality, but again, this is what bigots say when they blurt out something reprehensible.  They merely meant to say that as white people, as men, as Christians, as Americans, as whatever, they naturally loathe those outside their granfalloon.  I remember talking with a young gay man who declared that older gay men should not have sex with anyone at all, not even each other, because it was sick and unnatural and disgusting, they should be kept out of sight: he wasn't being judgmental, he meant them no harm, but he just wasn't attracted to them.  I've heard the same line applied to 'stereotypical' gay men.  But "Feels" never meant the word "disgusting" to "be judgmental."

I also doubt very much that the two had "always had a good relationship."  It's a safe bet that his brother had put up with expressions of this man's bigotry for decades, and finally drew a line.  Even now, "Feels" tries to put it all on his brother: there was nothing really wrong with what he said, but his hypersensitive cancel-culture brother "found it objectionable" anyway.  I wouldn't take his phone calls either.  What Sarah Schulman wrote about a conflicted lesbian student applies here too: "I know that her parents do not love and do not support her.  All they care about are themselves.  They do not see her as real.  And for now, she agrees with them."  The brother may have tried to persuade himself that "Feels" loves and cares about him, but it appears that "Feels" finally persuaded him he was wrong.  "Feels" cares only about himself.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Wills Are Made to Be Broken

The pandemic drags on, with deaths declining and illnesses rising across the US.  My home state of Indiana is now lifting most restrictions, with masks recommended rather than required at the state level; even before the order was lifted, I saw increased numbers of people shopping without masks on.  Municipalities can continue their own control orders, but good luck enforcing them. The county next door wrestled with the problem, and a newspaper story reported that a councilman opposed a mask mandate on the ground that "people don't want to be told what to do."

That's probably true for many, and I initially fumed inwardly because such people think of quarantines and protective gear as something Authority does just to keep them from having fun: they don't take the virus seriously, until they themselves get sick or die.  It isn't, I believe, because the reasons for the restrictions haven't been explained to them, because they have.  I think they react reflexively, like a two-year-old saying "No" automatically and without thought, and it probably helps that most of the time they face no serious penalty for refusing to cooperate -- not even being sent to their rooms with no TV.

Then I happened to reread an older post of mine about boys' and young men's reflexive resistance to rules.  (Large numbers of the older adults we've seen throwing tantrums over having to wear a mask in stores have been women, so it turns out that this reflex isn't exclusively or even mostly male.)  I've noticed before that the same young men who feel oppressed by grownups and their rules also "aspired to join the military or professional sports", which feels odd to me: don't they realize that they'll be forced to conform to far more encompassing chickenshit rules, many of which really are there just to provoke them to disobey, so that they can be slapped down with far more brutality than they ever encountered in school?  It used to be, and still may for all I know, that judges would give boys who kept clashing with the local law a choice between jail and joining the service.  Either way they were going to be beaten, more or less literally, into submission.

(This syndrome wasn't limited to stereotypical bad boys: it was also common among young scientists who chafed at Mom telling them to carry out the garbage or clean their rooms, and retaliated by making stink bombs in the basement. They sought freedom in places like Los Alamos, where they could play with explosives for the fun of it.)

The fantasy was that the process would "make a man out of them," which might be true if "a man" is someone who's been beaten into mindless obedience.  And that's the opposite of what the bold anti-masking brigades claim for themselves.  A similar conflict seems to motivate much of the Trump base: they talk trash about authority, but they also love it, though only as long as Trump tells them what they want to hear.  Maybe that's what they wanted, though, to be taken in hand, their heads shaved, kept in barracks, hemmed in by barbed wire, and forced to comply with a maze of chickenshit regulations?  Maybe all the resistance to masks, distancing, and restrictions on public gatherings was really a cry for help, a plea to be forcibly conscripted into Pandemic Boot Camp for some Tough Love.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Forward Into the Past!

Several books have been published in the past couple of years about straight-identified men, mostly young, who have occasional sex with other men, but don't consider themselves gay or bisexual.  This morning I looked at the Amazon page for one of them, Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity Among Men, by Ritch C. Savin-Williams, published by Harvard University Press in 2017. 

Here's the blurb for Mostly Straight:

Most of us assume that sexuality is fixed: either you’re straight, gay, or bisexual. Yet an increasing number of young men today say that those categories are too rigid. They are, they insist, “mostly straight.” They’re straight, but they feel a slight but enduring romantic or sexual desire for men. To the uninitiated, this may not make sense. How can a man be “mostly” straight? Ritch Savin-Williams introduces us to this new world by bringing us the stories of young men who consider themselves to be mostly straight or sexually fluid. By hearing about their lives, we discover a radically new way of understanding sexual and romantic development that upends what we thought we knew about men.

Today there are more mostly straight young men than there are gay and bisexual young men combined. Based on cutting-edge research, Savin-Williams explores the personal stories of forty young men to help us understand the biological and psychological factors that led them to become mostly straight and the cultural forces that are loosening the sexual bind that many boys and young men experience. These young men tell us how their lives have been influenced by their “drop of gayness,” from their earliest sexual memories and crushes to their sexual behavior as teenagers and their relationships as young adults. Mostly Straight shows us how these young men are forging a new personal identity that confounds both traditional ideas and conventional scientific opinion.
This is wrong on just about every point.  Do "most of us assume that sexuality is fixed"?  Maybe, but it also looks to me like most of us assume that "everybody's a little bit gay," that "sexuality is a continuum," that "Kinsey proved most people are bisexual with just a few exclusively gay or straight at either extreme."  "Sexual fluidity" is a very common buzzword.  At the same time, I concede, many or most people believe that sexual orientation is genetically determined and immutable, and many people refuse to admit even the reality of bisexuality, denouncing bisexuals as closet cases who need to get off the fence and choose a side.  (This last generally comes from people who throw tantrums if they think someone has said that being gay is a choice.)  The human capacity for doublethink is impressive.

Further, the idea of sexual orientation as a spectrum is not new; it's over seventy years old, maybe older, and it's associated with Alfred Kinsey's work on human sexuality.  Certainly it's the conceptual environment in which Savin-Williams and almost everyone studying human sexuality these days grew up.  "How can a man be 'mostly straight'?" the blurb asks rhetorically.  That's easy to answer: a mostly-straight person would map anywhere from 1 to not-quite 3 on Kinsey's continuum, a zero being exclusively heterosexual and three being equally heterosexual and homosexual.  I've noticed that many professionals get the Kinsey scale wrong, which baffles me: it ain't rocket science.

Even before Kinsey came along, sex researchers were aware of the phenomenon Savin-Williams and others are writing about.  When the inversion model reigned supreme, it meant that inverts had to seek partners from the "normal" population.  Many of these partners were younger men, and their sexual orientations had to be "fluid" enough that they could play the insertive role with other males.  It was, I believe, less often noticed that many older men did the same thing, and trade who took the receptive role were an anomaly that had to be ignored.  All this was something of  a stumbling block for conventional ideas of sex and gender, but with enough doublethink all things are possible.  Kinsey provided an alternative conceptual model which most researchers adopted officially without really believing it.  In any case Savin-Williams isn't describing a "cutting-edge" "new world" at all.

"Today there are more mostly straight young men than there are gay and bisexual young men combined."  That's interesting, because it would require a vast research program on the scale of Kinsey's to support this claim, and no such work has been done.  But Kinsey found more "mostly straight" men than gay or bisexual men (depending on how you define "bisexual"), and given how widespread the queer/trade model was before Kinsey, it's likely that it was always so.  So, again, there's nothing new here.

The difference between a "mostly straight" man and a "bisexual" man depends on who's doing the labeling.  The amount or ratio of same-sex to other-sex experience could be the same.  As I said before, much depends on how you define "bisexual."  Many people claim it means a precise 50/50 divide between one's same-sex and other-sex partners, which is probably pretty rare.  One Amazon reviewer said that one experience with a man doesn't make a man bisexual, which is true except in a narrow technical sense.  But Savin-Williams is writing about young men who have sex with other men on an ongoing basis.  If they reject "bisexual" as a label, it isn't necessarily because it's inaccurate.  At most, "mostly straight" is a subset of "bisexual," not a distinct phenomenon.

Savin-Williams specializes in the sexual lives of young men.  Fair enough, but I can testify that sexual fluidity isn't limited to men under 30.  (Thank goodness.)  What might be new is that such men are more willing to talk about their homosexual experience than they used to be.  When I ran the local LGB speakers bureau, we had plenty of bisexual women volunteers, but very few bisexual men.  It certainly wasn't because there weren't men on campus or in town who were having sex with men and women; I suspect the stigma of homosex was still more than most bisexual men could handle.

Reality -- that "buzzing, blooming confusion" William James ascribed to babies' perception, not quite accurately -- doesn't map as neatly as scientists and others want it to.  That's not news, so I'm baffled by their refusal to take it as given.  "Fluidity" isn't a much better concept.  I've sometimes thought that "plasticity" would be better, but probably not.  The real problem isn't the word used but people's attempt to cling to it monogamously, to insist that reality conform to their definition.  It might be that concepts and terms are like walls and fences: they must be checked regularly to make sure they haven't fallen down -- the more people use a word, the more its meaning will drift -- but also that the plants and livestock they contain haven't jumped over to or from the other side.  Nature doesn't respect barriers, physical or conceptual.

I'd be very happy if the stigma attached to homosex were to disappear, so that people wouldn't feel compelled to take a pledge of allegiance to either homo- or heterosexuality because of whom they're dating or having sex with this week.  If it happened, defensive quasi-identities like "mostly straight" or "bicurious" (gag me) would also go by the wayside.  Human beings are language-using animals, though, and I expect that we'd just come up with new ways to describe ourselves badly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


I just read an interesting book, UFO Crash at Roswell: The Making of a Modern Myth by Benson Saler, Charles A. Ziegler, and Charles B. Moore (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997), which tries to trace the development of the myth around a supposed UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The authors try to establish what really happened there, but are more interested in the way the story was modified over time by believers in extra-terrestrial contact, documented through publications and interviews with some of the mythographers.  I want to return to this subject in a future post, but I was strongly affected, and amused, by an excerpt reproduced from a "newsletter" to members of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims for the Paranormal.  It looks more like a fundraising spiel to me, or more likely a subscription pitch for Skeptical Inquirer, CSICOP's magazine:

By repeatedly showing the public a television world where psychics can see the future, where astrologers read the stars to make important personal and business decisions, TV programmers make possible real life nightmares.  How about the scandal in Orange County, California, where treasurer Robert L. Citron allegedly drove the county into bankruptcy -- and used psychics and mail order astrologers to predict interest rates!  How about "financial astrologers" who charge up to $10,000 for one consultation? Need more proof of the harm media-driven credulity can do?  The United States government spent $20 million on a program called Stargate. "Psychics" and "remote-viewers" were paid to use their "powers" to find ships carrying drugs off Florida, spy on nuclear testing in China and the Soviet Union, and look for a kidnapped American general held hostage by terrorists.  Yet today the federal government repeatedly shuts down over budget battles and funding cuts for Medicare, Medicaid, education, and social services.

The overwrought tone here reminds me of mailings I have gotten from other magazines, usually liberal or left-wing in my case, but also of mailings sent out to the faithful by the late Jerry Falwell to warn of the threat from Militant Homosexuals. Rationality is all very well, but it doesn't sell magazines.

I used to read Skeptical Inquirer and found it useful, though I don't recall that I ever subscribed, and I was and remain sympathetic to their goals.  But I noticed that CSICOP had some serious blind spots; I think I remember that they bought into biological determinism, especially where homosexuality was concerned, and I gradually stopped looking through it at the library.  Which doesn't mean I started believing in psychics, astrology, or flying saucers; they just became less of a concern to me.

On UFOs, I'm firmly agnostic.  I don't doubt that people have seen things moving through the sky that have never been identified or explained, but that doesn't mean they necessarily came from outer space.  There has always been considerable ambivalence among scientists about UFOs: they know how great the odds are against these objects being visitors from other planets, but they really want to believe that human beings aren't, as the saying has it, "alone in the universe."  They also want to believe that human beings will someday be able to travel to other solar systems, and colonize other worlds.  The scientists who want to believe these things are not cranks but highly regarded, often media-savvy figures like Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawking.  Astronomy hobbyist magazines try to be responsible, but they know their readers will snap up issues that deal with the possibility of space flight, so they skate close to the edge of fantasy.

What really jumped out at me from the quotation above was its focus on hucksterism, and while I'm dubious about some of the examples it gives, I agree that astrologers and psychics make a lot of money off the credulous.  But they are pikers compared to the respectable institutions of Wall Street, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.  The really destructive economic disasters are not brought about by "financial astrologers" but by the financial speculators, aided by rationalists like Alan Greenspan, who nurture bubbles in the belief that they will never break, or failing that, can be managed to collapse gently with minimal damage.  I always think of Jim Cramer, the CNBC personality who assured his audiences their money was safe right up to the 2008 crash; one would think his failure to see the coming catastrophe would have had consequences, but aside from some brief embarrassment it didn't, and he's still on CNBC.

Aside from finance, there's war.  Astrologers and psychics didn't invade Iraq in 2003, nor did they develop weapons that have killed millions of people.  (Not that they wouldn't if they could, I'm sure.)  Wartime always spurs interest in the paranormal, from protective medals to communication with the spirits of the dead; bogus, no doubt, but what does Science have to offer the bereaved?  And maybe I shouldn't harp on scientific racism, but though it has done a great deal of harm, it's still respectable.  So while yes, I'm concerned about commercial media's exploitation of occult mysteries, I'm even more concerned about the spokesmen for Science with a strong media presence who defend the worst of science along with the best.  CSICOP has rebranded itself as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry; I should see what they're up to these days.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Terminators

I've always neglected local news, to my eternal shame, but reading the newspaper in my hometown may nudge me onto the right path.  Today it featured an article about a bill that has been introduced into the Indiana state legislature to terminate the year-long COVID-19 public health emergency.  There's been some squabbling over who's in control for most of that period, with legislators claiming they'd been shut out of decision-making and Governor Holcomb claiming they'd shown no interest in doing so.

Today's story reported that the resolution would empower the legislature to "terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time and specifies that, if the legislature terminates a state of emergency under the statute, the governor shall issue and executive order or proclamation ending the state of emergency."  That seems fair enough, and the only odd thing to me is that such measures weren't in place already.  I've heard numerous radio reports in the past year of legislators fussing about Holcomb's supposed overreaching, but I wonder why, if they were so upset, it took them so long to come up with this resolution.

There's more, though: 

The general assembly finds that Hoosiers have been living with the realities of COVID-19 since March 2020 and have access to sufficient information to decide what actions should be taken by themselves and their family members. 

The general assembly recommends that Hoosiers be respectful of others and the different levels of personal comfort that Hoosiers have [and] that Hoosiers continue to use caution in their daily activities.

The general assembly finds that vaccinations are now available for law enforcement officer, and other first responders, health care professionals, and Indiana residents who are at least sixty-five years of age.

The general assembly needs to update their resolution: the vaccine age requirement has been lower than sixty-five for weeks now, and was just lowered to forty.  But to be fair, this is presumably the form that was read and referred on March 1.  Holcomb is quoted in the article declaring that it's too soon to lift the emergency, let alone the mask mandate.  The bill hasn't passed, and I suspect it won't.  It's just some legislators throwing a bone to the more rabid of their constituents.

They do talk pretty though, don't they?  Bear in mind this is the same Indiana General Assembly where, just this February, some white Republican members booed and mocked black members during a debate and in the hallways afterward.  But they maintained decorum, they left their robes and hoods at home.

Hoosiers, like the rest of America, have had "access" to information about COVID-19 for many months now, and though most of the people I see are wearing masks when they should, a significant minority don't give a shit about "the different levels of personal comfort that Hoosiers have" and are already jumping the gun.  One sign is that Marshall County, where I live, had achieved the lowest (blue) level of new cases for a couple of weeks, and then slid back a notch to the yellow level.  With spring coming, people are busting out all over, and I don't blame them -- I find I'm increasingly restless with each mild day.

It's because I'm restless and tired of the pandemic that people who refuse to wear masks make me angry. If my county stays in the yellow zone, if the state has to remain under emergency, it'll be because of them.  They think that the mean old governor won't let them have any fun, but it's the virus -- in their terms, it's their God.  If they got their way and the mask mandate were lifted, who would they blame when illnesses and deaths multiplied?  They'd blame the Chinese, probably. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Because You Are Lukewarm, I Will Spew You Out of My Mouth

The local newspaper in my small town manages to publish six days each week, which if I remember right was its frequency fifty-plus years ago, before I moved from the area.  That's not bad, given the difficulties newspapers everywhere are having.  Of course the pages are smaller than they used to be, as with most newspapers nowadays, but most of the content is locally produced and relevant.  I subscribe to the digital edition to support a local business, though I still seem to end up reading a print copy at the public library most of the time.

Last week I noticed a big column printed on a gray background, running from the top to the bottom of the editorial page.  It turned out to be a syndicated thing by Michael J. Hicks, a professor of economics at Ball State University, on the subject of the minimum wage, a timely enough topic.  I started reading.  It was strange.

The minimum wage has been much in the news these days, because of Joe Biden's abandoned promise to raise it to $15.  Professor Hicks began by declaring, "it seems wise to treat the issue a bit differently."

Instead of outlining the positive and negative effects of a particular increase of the minimum wage, I’ll offer the best arguments for and against any minimum wage. In so doing I’ll attempt an ideological Turing test, making the arguments so clearly that a reader cannot discern my personal position. By explaining the best arguments on both sides, I hope to achieve two goals. The first is to make clear the need for compromise. The second is to maximize angry comments from readers. Wish me luck.

And that was what he did: he rehearsed some basic arguments for and against having a minimum wage at all.  It reminded me of the late Alexander Cockburn's satirical piece "The Tedium Twins," which mocked PBS's McNeil-Lehrer Report for its dedication to finding two sides to every question, both of them as near a fantasized middle of the road as possible.  It's true that there are people who'd like to abolish the minimum wage, but they aren't like to get anywhere, and abolition is not on the table right now anyway.  So why bother?  It's like going over the arguments for and against giving women the vote: quite irrelevant except for a few cranks, but it does fill up those column-inches, and Professor Hicks expressed his hope that he'd covered the arguments well.

If I have done so, and you, dear reader, are honest with yourself, you must admit that both the argument for and against hold a great deal of truth. I would go so far as to say that both arguments are essentially true.

The policy environment facing functioning democracies is almost always like the minimum wage debate. Both sides offer argument possessed of both supportive facts and truth. Yet, entirely reasonable, educated and well-meaning people still disagree. It is a hallmark of a liberal democracy that our policy debates are dominated by matters in which compromise is not just possible, but necessary. That is largely because we’ve solved most of those problems where compromise is not possible. 

Well ... no.  If I'm honest with myself, the arguments against the minimum wage were actually quite bad.

The best argument in opposition to a minimum wage is that government should not, and cannot, be in the wage- or price-setting business. Government has no role in a great many high-stakes personal decisions. Government cannot tell us what language to speak, what church to attend, who to marry or with whom to form a family.

No government may tell us adults how much alcohol we may consume, whether or not we can smoke tobacco, nor increasingly whether or not we may freely purchase cannabis or other drugs. Government cannot tell us whether or not we may own a gun or what type of house, automobile or boat we may own. Government isn’t permitted to do these things because free people won’t allow government to do these things.

However, free people will allow government to set and increase a minimum wage: a $15 minimum wage is favored by about two-thirds of likely voters, according to Pew, and other pollsters get similar results.  The comparisons Hicks lists -- what language to speak, which church to attend, who to marry, etc. -- are not similar in kind to a mandated minimum wage anyway.  I don't think it's accurate to claim that this argument is essentially true.  Hicks says it's the best one he knows of, and despite his affectation of impartiality, he can hardly take it seriously.  Instead he spent quite a number of column-inches saying effectively nothing.  I would call that irresponsible: as an educator, his role should be to address live issues rather than evade them.

As for "compromise," well...

As Congress commences a debate on increasing the minimum wage, we should view this as a crucial moment for our Republic. We have just passed through the most significant assault on our Constitution since the Civil War. Our ability to overcome that and prevent it in the future depends in part on how effectively we compromise over legislation. We should view the minimum wage as a good place to start.

The fun part of this sort of rhetoric is that you can advocate pretty much any kind of compromise you like if you get to decide where the extremes are.  Professor Hicks sets his extremes as abolition of the minimum wage and having one; compromise in that case would mean cutting the minimum wage, and I don't think a free people will allow that to happen.  The important point here is that those are not the options Congress will debate.  On Professor Hicks's assumptions, compromise would mean raising it to less than $15, or maybe cutting it, depending on where he imagines the Republican position to be.  That is not going to work either.  I'd like to suppose that as a professor of economics, he's aware that the current figure, $7.25, is a poverty wage that hasn't kept up with either inflation or increased worker productivity, which wage increases are supposed in principle to track. 

But to repeat, compromise depends on where you set the extremes, so let me suggest as one extreme that the minimum wage be abolished, and on the other, that the US impose really confiscatory taxes on the richest Americans, and use the new income to institute a guaranteed universal income for all Americans.  While I'm dreaming, let me add the abolition of all business-endowed chairs of economics at state universities.  We could compromise on, say, a $50 minimum wage.  Our future depends on how effectively we compromise on legislation, so let's get to it.

Friday, March 19, 2021

But I Don't Want to Be Angel Food!

Former presidential candidate and New Age profiteer Marianne Williamson tweeted today: "No we should not run this country like a business, we should run it like a loving and functional family."

That's a nice huggyface kissybear sentiment, but it collapses under the slightest scrutiny.  To begin with, who is "we"?  "We" implies that "this country" is something other than those who run it, though that may be partly a feature of language.

However, a family is a hierarchy.  Running a country like a family means someone would be the husband/Father, another the wife/Mother, others the children, another the dog.  It's not a model for a country to emulate.  Citizens aren't the children or pets of those who run the country.  At least in a family, children eventually grow up and take over their own lives.  What would be the analogy to that in a country run like a family?

Monarchs have often styled themselves the loving parents of their subjects.  The United States rejected that model, even though the founders failed to eliminate all the hierarchies, the ideal was a society of equals.  We're still working out what that means and how to implement it.  The founders were ambivalent about capitalism, recognizing that it constituted a threat to freedom and equality.  But so does modeling a country after a family.

This has also been my response to cultural feminists who wanted to restore matriarchy.  We need to be adults, not children.  We need parents (or adult guardians) when we're children, but parents of either sex shouldn't rule our lives when we grow up.  I don't know if there's a word for a society that's neither patriarchal nor matriarchal; I think we need one.

Many of the commenters under Williamson's tweet, whether they agreed with her or not, assumed that capitalism and paternalist charity were the only two options for running a country.  There are others, democracy or anarchism among them, which don't involve hierarchies.  They're hard to implement, but so is every system.  Williamson cheats by positing a "loving and functional family"; but who will keep the parents loving and functional?  In real families, parents often (usually?) struggle to be adults, balancing the needs of their children with their own fears, insecurities, and limitations, trying to protect the children from knowing what is going on.  In a society, adults should not be protected in that way.  A lack of transparency always leads to problems in the long run anyway: it is not for the citizens' own good to be lied to, and politicians who lie are really concerned with protecting themselves, not their constituents.

At times in the past couple of years, in her role as a political figure, Williamson has said some things that were quite sensible, but she always relapses into the mush-brained New Age platitudes that made her famous.  That's what she's doing here. 

(Williamson is the founder of something called Project Angel Food, a food charity.  The name is unfortunate, reminiscent to me of Damon Knight's sf story "To Serve Man" -- "It's a cookbook!")