Contra Mozilla

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Marriage and the Clash of Worldviews

Another day, another story for the "clash of orthodoxies" file, if that is a fair label (some so-called "orthodoxies" hardly involve right thinking or right belief). This time the item in question comes from Slate via Business Insider, and yes it's a little bit old, but it's been making rounds recently for some reason. It is yet another of those articles in which much of the analysis is correct (albeit slightly distorted), and is basically a good case for not doing what the article urges us to do: in this case, adopt similar attitudes towards marriage (and let's be honest, sex) as the Dutch.

I mean to give some credit where credit is due: the author does identify some real cultural problems in America. One of these really is the fixation on marriage as the be-all end-all. Not everybody is meant to be married: this is a true statement, as the writer of this article notes: "I am not here arguing against marriage, but against marriage as a rite of passage, against the assumption of all little girls that they will one day be married in a white dress on a green lawn." Indeed, marriage is a vocation, and a highly important one. From the standpoint of human society, marriage and parenting are the two most important of all vocations--but yet there are some single vocations which are more important and necessary still (many of which are also in decline in America and more broadly in the West).

The writer, Katie Roiphe, argues that if we adopt a dutch attitude towards marriage, fewer people will care about marriage. She cites this as a good thing, I consider it a very bad thing. To quote from Miss Roiphe:
"What would it mean to end the centuries-long American fixation on traditional family structures? Would we be able to look at families living outside of convention without as much judgment, as much toxic condescension?... 
If we woke up one morning and discovered that in America marriage was suddenly regarded as a choice, a way, a possibility, but not a definite and essential phase of life, think how many people would suddenly be living above board, think of the stress removed, the pressures lifted, the stigmas dissolving... 
Whatever one thinks about the institution, the truth is that marriage is increasingly not the way Americans are living. If one goes strictly by the facts—that the majority of babies born to women under 30 are born to single mothers, or that about 51 percent of American adults are married—one has to admit that marriage can’t be taken for granted, assumed as a rite of passage, a towering symbol of our way of life. But somehow this hasn’t dimmed our solid sense of marriage as the American normal. 
If we suddenly stopped being in thrall to the rigid, old-fashioned ideal of marriage, we could stop worrying about low marriage rates and high divorce rates. We could stop worrying about single mothers and the decline of marriage as an institution, especially in the lower middle class, and the wasteful industry of wedding planning." 
Yes, much of this would probably result from Americans' no longer caring about marriages. The problem is, much of this stuff is actually healthy for a society. The decline of the Traditional family--nucleus one man and one woman wed for life, but also including the earlier decline of the larger extended family--spells much mischief for society. The social stigmas have at times been taken too far--but that they can be taken so far implies that they have a rightful place.

We should as a society discourage adultery, fornication, polyamory, polygamy, and worse forms of sexual degeneracy. We should not encourage women to go become single mothers--or rather, we should acknowledge that this is often the gritty reality (inasmuch as the alternative, abortion, is far worse), but we should not encourage women to actively seek out this "lifestyle." And the high divorce rate should be a cause of concern, even as it is declining (largely as a result of fewer people getting married to begin with).

The creator of XKCD, Randall Munroe, is probably not a conservative, but occasionally he articulates the conservative argument for such customs as "stigmas" and "taboos."

The problem, at the end of the day, is that there are ultimately only two "right" ways to live: faithfully in a marriage, or singly celibate. Any alternative is what was once called "sin," and now has been--as any evil act often is--euphemized as "alternative lifestyles" or "lifestyle choices." A rose by any other name--but these alternative choices are not so much comparable to roses as to the thorns. Ultimately, those who engage in them are hurting themselves, their "partners," and all-too-often, society at large (if only on a small scale).

As an ironic aside, she also writes this line: "We could instead focus on actual relationships, on intimacies, on substance over form." Um, substance = form + matter--perhaps this is the source of so much of her confusion?

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