Today’s chat with ChatGPT

The query revolved around unpaid labor. Starting in the 70s, the people who wrote about such things were those who wanted recognition for the value of the work done in families, otherwise referred to as care work. The assumption of the time was that family work was done for families and hence had no commercial value. Although people have always judged how families treat each other and what they do for each other (or don’t do), one was not to put a dollar figure on such things.

It was around this time that the power struggle for command and control of the family became front and center. Which is really too bad. Instead of solving for efficiency, all bared arms for control. Instead of singing duets and pleading for what the other held, ultimatums lead to dissolutions. For decades. Which makes it unsurprising that I have not heard of Virginia Held. Her book written in 1970 sounds promising,  The Public Interest and Individual Interests, but hard to get.

In The Ethics of Care as Normative Guidance: Comment on Gilligan (Journal of Social Philosophy), Held says some interesting things. You can see how she is starting to carve out two spheres, to distinguish between the realm of commerce and that of social support while still holding them under the light of a comprehensive economic system.

Or consider the portrayal of economic man, with its assumptions dominating our market-driven society, that we always and everywhere pursue our own interests and can at best bargain with others to limit the ways in which we do so as we
rationally calculate our utilities. Feminists have shown the distortions in these assumptions: without caregivers acting in ways that contradict them, no infants would ever grow up to be Hobbesian men or rational calculators. In the context of
caring for children, what is sought is mutual well-being, not maximization ofself-interest, and wielding superior power is usually beside the point.

But eventually the ‘should’ words start to show up. They always make me cringe. It’s the point where an author often leaves reality for some preferred world.

Care should not be understood as self-sacrifice. Egoism versus altruism is the wrong way to interpret the issues. Yes, the interests of a given caregiver and care receiver will sometimes conflict, but for the most part we do not pit our own
interests against those of others in this context. We want what will be good for both or all of us together. We want our children and others we care for, and those who care for us, to do well along with ourselves, and for the relations between us
to be good ones. The dominant assumption that the issues being considered are always about the self versus others or the self versus the universal “all others” needs to be revised in this context and then extended.

The work done for families or your associational life or your church is absolutely done out of self-sacrifice. How much of a stake people will invest in their cause is precisely where to look to get a sense of the strength of the ties. It’s a shame that out of a desire for recognition and status the attributes of social efforts were stuffed into the private sphere framework.

Yet, Virginia Held is someone I’ll keep in my index card stack and pursue further.