So what's with the Elian Gonzalez case anyway?


In the Best Interest of Elian Gonzalez

©Richard Katz 1998. All rights reserved. If you're not reading this online on a computer screen, stop reading.

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In the Best Interest of Elian Gonzalez


When the fate of Elian Gonzalez was being decided by a Federal Judge, the American petitioners pleaded with the Court to decide the matter "in the child's best interest." The other side -- the Cuban side -- was just asking for the kid to be sent home to his Dad. The Court decided in favor of Juan Gonzalez, Elian's father.


For all you guys engaged in custody battles for your kids, this was the best news in decades -- half a century, maybe.


Let's go back a generation or two. The person who invented the phrase "in the best interest of the child" was Anna Freud. What she had in mind was that the only person who could say with any certainly what is in the "best interest" of any given child on any given day, was a mental health professional. No mere rule of law; not even rule of thumb. We would have rule of shrink. And this, believe it or not, was exactly what has been going down for fifty years.


Ms Freud's pitch was worthy of any con man, discovered or still at large, including Bill Gates himself (Gates is famous for having told IBM "We have what you need"; he promptly went out and bought what he knew IBM needed [DOS], and then he resold it to them, and then he resold it again and again to everybody else). Ms Freud simply said that in matters of child custody, divorce and otherwise, everything should be decided "in the best interest of the child." Now who could argue with that? Everybody went for it. It was a con as masterful as anything before or since. Best Interest was a neatly constructed house of cards: the foundation was Ms Freud (who, far from being a Dr Freud, never even graduated from college) trading on the superintellectual status of her deceased father Sigmund; and building up ever more delicately balanced layers of fabricated data and elaborate theories to arrive at the pinnacle of her beliefs that only psychologists are qualified to recommend the correct custody of children. The eventual incarnation of her beliefs was that a Court-appointed shrink told the Judge what was to be done with the children, and the Judge rubberstamped whatever the shrink came up with.


Ms Freud invented the whole thing during the Great War, when many British kids were deprived of their Dads due to military service or casualty of war. She convinced the British government that these children would be better off in an institution, rather than with their mothers or other family. She let the Moms visit, on occasion; even let them scrub the floors. She observed the kids, and their parents (the Dads visited when they were on military leave), and thus collected sufficient data to fabricate a whole science to back up her Best Interest theory. She popularized her "best interest" maxim in the Fifties; it gained ground right through the Sixties, and really picked up steam in the Seventies and Eighties.


It was quite amusing (that's not really the right word here, but sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying) to hear the matrimonial lawyer for the father intoning sanctimoniously some drivel about the "best interest of the child", trying to get some custodial rights or at least visitation privileges so he could see his kid. Little did the poor schnook know that his lawyer was shooting him in the foot; hell, most of the attorneys weren't even aware of the heavy superstructure that was hoisting them with their own petard. Mothers almost always got custody of the kids; that was Ms Freud's main squeeze.


But let's get back to Elian Gonzalez. Now most of you think that this case, in all its emotionality and complexity, has something to do with immigration, or Cuban-American relations, or some such evanescent political thing-of-the-moment or -the-decade. It doesn't. That's just the waves in the sea; they go this way and that way, and sometimes with great force indeed, like the massive storm that killed Elian's mother in the Caribbean. This is bigger.


This is a great sociological shift. A hundred years ago, we used to subscribe to a family structure with Dad presiding over his wife and brood. Then fifty years ago we went for a Freudian architecture based on the "mind". What you're seeing with Elian's case is that we're not going to do that anymore. I might be wrong. When Family Court opens for business on Monday, the Judge might still be intoning "Best Interest" homilies just as usual, and reciting from his shrink's report-to-the-court (and then sticking the Dad with the shrink's bill.) But I don't think so. The political rhetoric surrounding Elian's case has even now subsided completely. What's left is the big shift to rule of law in custody cases. It was just waiting for a case where there was no Mom (Anna Freud was big on moms; she wasn't a mom herself, being a confirmed bachelor, but part of the con was the primacy of motherhood.) When all was said and done, the whole thing was mostly in the best interest of Anna Freud and her minions (including Janet Reno, who rode to power on Anna's coattails; Reno gained prominence in Florida on fabricated child abuse cases, ever vigilant to prosecute anyone who she could jack up for not being in the child's best interest; it sure backfired on her at Waco, when some enterprising cowboy FBI agents told her, "There's kids in there and David's gonna burn'em alive!" Our Attorney General wasn't nearly as gullible a few years later when it came to deciding what to do with Elian's relatives and their lawyer's glib best interest pitch.) I don't think we're going to be hearing quite so much about "the best interest of the child" in Family Court custody cases from now on. That's what the unwritten sign said at the business end of that G-Man's carbine on the front page of every newpaper in every town in the non-Communist world: It's over.


Richard Katz,

Point Richmond, California

©2000 Richard Katz

Richard Katz = 510-843-3764. Richard wrote a play called "In the Best Interest of Anna Freud"; then he wrote a guidebook to rollerskating trails.



(c) 1998 Richard Katz. FrogOJT Systems, Berkeley, CA. email to Richard Katz

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