# society

At Aeon, Swedish history professor Lars Trägårdh describes a really interesting framework for understanding power structures, which you can plot on a triangle:

Germany  ╱  ╲  Sweden
Family         Individual
     United States

Each point of the triangle represents a social structure (state, family, individual), and each edge has an example of a country that relies more heavily on the two adjacent power structures.

What does the “family” point represent? To illustrate, the Trägårdh gives the example of going to school in the United States. When the registrar at his university told him that he would need to submit his parents’ income to apply for funding, he was puzzled. This requirement suggested that Trägårdh should rely on his parents for support, even though he was already an adult. It also gave his parents theoretical power over him. If he did rely on them for financial support, they could place demands on him, like telling him what he was allowed to study. As a Swede, this was a completely foreign idea. In Swedish society, the individual is beholden to the collective, but not necessarily to the family.

In the West, we’re very comfortable subsuming the rights of the individual to the family unit — whether in our approach to childcare, divorce, or social support. If we alleviated the pressure on the family unit, maybe individuals would feel more freedom to participate in family life based on joy, rather than expectation.