His latest NRO column. Spencer tells me that "I've been mulling writing something like this for a very long time. I think this is reasonably good at expressing what I want to express, but I wouldn't have picked the title and sub-head."
The worldly wise live by the probable and not by the possible. It is possible that you will reform the person you want to marry. But it is not probable.
Don't imagine that you can change a person in any significant way. What you see now in your partner is what you will get from here on out. People don't change. They are what they are. The few exceptions prove the rule. The wise live by rules, not exceptions, by probabilities, not possibilities. "Probability is the very guide to life." (Bishop Butler quoting Cicero, De Natura, 5, 12) It is foolish to gamble with your happiness. We gamble with what is inconsequential, what we can afford to lose. So if there is anything about your potential spouse that is unacceptable, don't foolishly suppose that you will change her. You won't. You must take her as she is, warts and all, as she must take you.
The principle applies not only to marriage but across the board.
"First, if your justification of state involvement in marriage is the production and protection of children, then I think you open yourself to intervention of the state beyond what a limited government conservative should be comfortable with. If protection of marriage by the state for such a goal is the standard, many other activities should be outlawed. Adultery, divorce, pornography are all things that create a poor environment to raise and nurture children, but I don't see us banning said actions."
Conservatives are committed to limited government, and I'm a conservative. It is obvious, I hope, that the state ought not be involved in every form of human association. State involvement in any particular type of human association must therefore be justified. We want as much government as we need, but no more. The state is coercive by its very nature, as it must be if it is to be able to enforce its mandates and exercise its legitimate functions, and is therefore at odds with the liberty and autonomy of citizens. It is not obvious that the government should be in the marriage business at all. The burden is on the state to justify its intervention and regulation. But there is a reason for the state to be involved. The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good. (My use of 'the state' needn't involve an illict hypostatization.) It is this interest that justifies the state's recognition and regulation of marriage as a union of exactly one man and exactly one woman.
If one takes this view, does it follow that adultery, divorce, and pornography should be outlawed? Not at all. Slippery slope arguments are one and all invalid. (Side-issues I won't pursue: (i) Adultery is a legitimate ground for divorce, so divorce cannot be outlawed. (ii) Another freason why divorce ought not be outlawed is that it is often good for offspring.)
Slippery Slope Arguments
But perhaps I should say something about slippery slope arguments. They come up quite often, in the gun debate, for example. "If citizens are allowed to own semi-automatic pistols and rifles, then they must be allowed to own other sorts of weaponry." That is often heard.
There is, however, no logical necessity that if you allow citizens to own semi-automatic rifles, then you must also allow them to own machine guns, grenade launchers, chemical and biological weapons, tactical nukes . . . . At some point a line is drawn. We draw lines all the time. Time was when the voting age was 21. Those were the times when, in the words of Barry McGuire, "You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'." The voting age is now 18. If anyone at the time had argued that reducing the age to 18 would logically necessitate its being reduced to 17, then 16, and then 15, and so on unto the enfranchisement of infants and the prenatal, that would have been dismissed as a silly argument.
If the above anti-gun slippery slope argument were valid, then the following pro-gun argument would be valid: "If the government has the right to ban civilian possession of fully automatic rifles, then it has the right to ban semi-automatic rifles, semi-autos generally, revolvers, single-shot derringers, BB guns, . . . . But it has no right to ban semi-autos, and so on. Ergo, etc.
I have been speaking of the 'logical' slippery slope. Every such argument is invalid. But there is also the 'causal' or 'probabilistic' slippery slope. Some of these have merit, some don't. One must look at the individual cases.
Supposing all semi-auto weapons (pistols, rifles, and shotguns) to be banned, would this 'lead to' or 'pave the way for' the banning of revolvers and handguns generally? 'Lead to' is a vague phrase. It might be taken to mean 'raise the probability of' or 'make it more likely that.' Slippery slope arguments of this sort in some cases have merit. If all semi-auto rifles are banned, then the liberals will be emboldened and will try to take the next step, the banning of semi-auto pistols. The probability of that happening is very high. I would lay serious money on the proposition that Dianne Feinstein of San Bancisco, who refuses to use correct gun terminology, though she knows it, referring to semi-automatic long guns as 'assault rifles,' a phrase at once devoid of definite meaning and emotive, would press to have all semi-autos banned if she could get a ban on semi-auto rifles.
But how high is the probability of the slide in the other direction? Not high at all. In fact very low, closing in on zero. How many conservatives are agitating the right to buy (without special permits and fees) machine guns (fully automatic weapons)? None that I know of. How many conservatives are agitating for the right to keep and bear tactical nukes?
I return to my reader's claim. He said in effect that if the State regulates marriage then we are on a slippery slope toward the regulation and in some cases banning of all sorts of things that are harmful to children. But the argument is invalid if intended as a logical slippery slope (since all such arguments are invalid), and inductively extremely weak if intended as a causal or probabilistic slippery slope. The likelihood of, say, a clamp-down on the deleterious dreck emanating from our mass media outlets is extremely low.
As I see it, the right place to start this debate about marriage, same-sex 'marriage,' and privatization is with the logically prior questions: Is state involvement in marriage justified? and What justifies the state's involvement in marriage? The only good answers are that (i) state involvement is justified, (ii) because of the state's interest in its own perpetuation via the production of children and their development into productive citizens. (There is also, secondarily, the protection of those upon whom the burden of procreation mainly falls, women.) It is the possibility of procreation that justifies the states' recognition and regulation of marriage. But there is no possibility of procreation in same-sex unions. Therefore, same-sex unions do not deserve to be recognized by the state as marriage. This is not to oppose civil unions that make possible the transfer of social security benefits, etc.
I refer to contemporary liberals as LINOs, liberals in name only. Why? See here:
I couldn’t believe it. I was trying to discuss traditional marriage – and the state was trying to stop me.
Incredible, in a 21st-century European country, but true. I was invited to speak at a conference on marriage last summer, to be held at the Law Society in London. The government had just launched a public consultation on changing the law to allow same-sex marriage. The conference was a chance for supporters of traditional marriage to contribute to the debate. [. . .]
A few days before the conference, someone from Christian Concern, the group which had organised the event, rang me in a panic: the Law Society had refused to let us meet on their premises. The theme was “contrary to our diversity policy”, the society explained in an email to the organisers, “espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage”. In other words, the Law Society regarded support for heterosexual union, still the only legal form of marriage in Britain, as discriminatory.
For many years now I have been an occasional reader of your blog, and I greatly appreciate your insight on many subjects, particularly your criticism of the Left. I am, I hate to admit, an aspiring academic who is taking on enormous debt to finish a Ph.D. in sociology of religion, and am immersed in the poisonous Higher Ed world of the SIXHIRB musical litany, but that is another story for another time.
My question concerns choosing a wife: Can the marriage between a non-religious person and a religious person be successful and a happy state of affairs?
I am an incorrigible INFP, and I thought your logical precision and holistic perception as an INTP would aid my thinking process, which is mostly intuition/feeling. You have been married quite awhile, and I respect that greatly. You say that your wife is religious, a practicing Catholic, and that you believe that to be a good thing. I agree, and thus I am in this dilemma.
My Romance Story:
I come from a devout Mexican Catholic family from Texas, with a very religiously devout mother who is never found without a rosary, and I consider myself 'religious' and Catholic, i.e. I go to Mass every Sunday, I pray, I believe, I read the Bible, and so forth. Now, I am certainly not a saint, as the rest of my story will show.
I met, during a study abroad this year, a stunning young woman who works for the United Nations. One night, our date over red wine at a cafe quickly escalated into dozens of nights of passionate, indulgent sex, and then into several trips throughout Europe in which we brought our negligent sexual passion into the creaky beds of many hotels. Sex crazed, we were.
Now that I am back in the States for the holidays, free from the physical presence and temptations of the Woman, the big question of our future is at hand. Should we continue or not?
We have been dating now for five months, and she is wonderful in all things, successful, an excellent conversationalist, and best of all, not a feminist! But, she has no faith, does not go to church, and largely thinks religion is oppressive, and most painfully for me, she does not believe in Christianity. I would also add she is more of an agnostic than a militant atheist, since she believes in some vague afterlife, and respects my religious beliefs.
'Listen to your heart' is what they say, but my heart is confused at the moment, and the damned sex monkey does not help. The Woman is wonderful, but long term speaking, once the infatuation is over through the sobering, cold water of marriage, will religion be the stone upon which we stumble? Will I be happier instead with a practicing Catholic woman? What will my Mexican-Catholic mom say when I bring home a non-believer? She won't like it, that's for sure.
In my opinion, I am skeptical that it will work long term, but she thinks there is no problem. What do you say?
Your question is: Can the marriage between a non-religious person and a religious person be successful and a happy state of affairs? My answer is: Yes it can, but it is not likely. And in a matter as important to one's happiness as marriage, and in a social climate as conducive to marital break-up as ours is, it is foolish to take unnecessary risks. I would say that career and marriage, in that order, are the two most important factors in a person's happiness. You are on track for happiness if you can find some occupation that is personally satisfying and modestly remunerative and a partner with whom you can enjoy an ever-deepening long-term relationship. Religion lies deep in the religious person; for such a person to have a deep relationship with an irrreligious person is unlikely. A wise man gambles only with what he can afford to lose; he does not gamble with matters pertaining to his long-term happiness.
So careful thought is needed. Now the organ of thought is the head, not the heart. And you have heard me say that every man has two heads, a big one and a little one, one for thinking and one for linking. The wise man thinks with his big head. Of course, it would be folly to marry a woman to whom one was not strongly sexually attracted, or a woman for whom one did not feel deep affection. But a worse folly would be allow sex organs and heart to suborn intellect. By all means listen to your heart, but listen to your (big) head first. Given how difficult successful marriage is, one ought to put as much as possible on one's side. Here are some guidelines that you violate at your own risk:
Don't marry outside your race
Don't marry outside your religion
Don't marry outside your social class
Don't marry outside your generational cohort
Don't marry outside your educational level
Don't marry someone whose basic attitudes and values are different about, e.g., money
Don't marry someone with no prospects
Don't marry a needy person or if you are needy. A good marriage is an alliance of strengths
Don't marry to escape your parents
Don't marry young
Don't imagine that you will be able to change your partner in any significant way.
The last point is very important. What you see now in your partner is what you will get from here on out. People don't change. They are what they are. The few exceptions prove the rule. The wise live by rules, not exceptions, by probabilities, not possibilities. "Probability is the very guide to life." (Bishop Butler quoting Cicero, De Natura, 5, 12) As I said, it is foolish to gamble with your happiness. We gamble with what is inconsequential, what we can afford to lose. So if there is anything about your potential spouse that is unacceptable, don't foolishly suppose that you will change her. You won't. You must take her as she is, warts and all, as she must take you.
There is also the business about right and wrong order. Right Order: Finish your schooling; find a job that promises to be satisfying over the long haul and stick with it; eliminate debts and save money; get married after due consultation with both heads, especially the big one; have children.
Wrong Order: Have children; get married; take any job to stay alive; get some schooling to avoid working in a car wash for the rest of your life.
I think it is also important to realize that romantic love, as blissful and intoxicating as it is, is mostly illusory. I wouldn't want to marry a woman I wasn't madly (just the right word) in love with, but I also wouldn't want to marry a woman that I couldn't treasure and admire and value after the romantic transports had worn off, as they most assuredly will. Since you are a Catholic you may be open to the Platonic-Augustinian-Weilian thought that what we really want no woman or man can provide. Our hearts cannot be satisfied by any of our our earthly loves which are but sorry substitutes for the love of the Good.
It is also a test whether the infatuation was something more. If the marriage lasts and deepens, then it was; if not, then it wasn't.
To be infatuated is to be rendered fatuous, silly. Not that infatuation is all bad. A love that doesn't begin with it is not much of a love. The silly love song That's Amore well captures the delights of love's incipience. But fools rush in where wise men never go/But wise men never fall in love/so how are they to know?
The title is mine to the following observation of Paul Brunton (Notebooks, vol. 5, part I, p. 106, #240):
It is true that men who are lonely or young or romantic are likely to marry a young woman with whom propinquity has brought them in touch. In such cases he puts an illusion around the woman to the pressure of desire. When the illusion goes and the facts show themselves he is left alone with the hard lesson of discrimination. The situation can repeat itself with the victim being the woman.
A bit of important wisdom that unfortunately comes too late for too many.
Suppose a florist refuses to provide flowers for a Ku Klux Klan event, or a caterer refuses to cater a neo-Nazi gathering. Suppose the refusal is a principled one grounded in opposition to the respective ideologies. Would you say that the purveyors of the services in question would have the right to refuse service, and that the State would have no right to force the purveyors to provide their services?
Yes you would. Well, it is no different if a florist refuses on grounds of principle to sell flowers to be used in a same-sex ceremony. She has the right to refuse, and the State has no right to compel the florist to violate her conscience.
There is no relevant difference between these cases. Opposition to same-sex marriage is grounded in principle. For some these principles are religious, for others purely philosophical, and for still others a mixture of both.
People had better wake up. Day by day we are losing our liberties to the fascists of the totalitarian Left.
If a person or institution is essentially F, then to criticize it for being F is equivalent to criticizing it for existing. (If x is essentially F, then x cannot exist without being F. If x is F, but not essentially, then x is accidentally F: capable of existing without being F.) Let's test this thought against some examples.
1. Its core doctrines are essential to the Roman Catholic Church; to demand that it abandon one or more of them is to demand that it cease to exist.
2. The rejection of capitalism is essential to communism. Therefore, to demand that a communist embrace capitalism is to demand that he cease to be a communist.
3. The moral legitimacy of killing the other side's combatants in times of war is an essential commitment of the miltary. To demand that the military be pacifistic, that the Marine Corps become the Peace Corps, for example, is to demand that the military cease to exist.
4. If marriage is essentially between one man and one woman, then to demand same-sex marriage is to demand that marriage cease to exist.
I've been a tad harsh on the French in these pages over the years. But they seem to be showing some backbone in resisting Islamization and such destructive items on the leftist agenda as same-sex marriage. More than the PC-whipped Germans to be sure. In any case here is the story:
After the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in France, one mayor is refusing to comply. Jean-Michel Colo of Arcangues rejected an application for marriage from a gay couple in his village. Guy Martineau-Espel and Jean-Michel Martin tried to compromise with the major, taking vows outside the traditional marriage hall. Nevertheless, the Arcangues mayor still refused. “When people close the door at home, they do what they want. For me, marriage is for a woman and man to have children. I am not discriminating as a same-sex couple is sterile. It’s a parody of equality, it’s a big lie,” he reasoned.
Another way to respond to the same-sexers is to concede discrimination but then point out the obvious: not all types of discrimination are bad. The following is a non sequitur: 'Opposition to X is discriminatory' ergo 'Opposition to X is morally unacceptable.' We don't allow the under 16 to drive or the under 18 to vote. That is discriminatory. But for a good reason. There are under 16s and under 18s qualified for the respective activities, but most aren't. The law can't cater to individual cases. Further examples can be multiplied ad libitum. We all discriminate all the time and with perfect justification. Not all discrimination is illegimate.
I lay out part of my case against same-sex 'marriage' in detail in the entries cited below.
'Same-sex' can be added to our list of alienans adjectives when it is used to modify 'marriage.' Same-sex marriage is no more marraige than a decoy duck is a duck, faux marble is marble, or derivative intentionality is intentionality.
Your procreation argument for heterosexual marriage is consistent with polygyny, so if it is sound, it may rule out homosexual marriages, but be of great use to defending polygynists since it maximizes procreation and the perpetuation of the state quantitatively. What is the state's interest in monogamy?
I was afraid my argument could be misinterpreted as promoting increased procreation. But I took no stand on that. My argument does not "maximize procreation." It says nothing about whether there should be more procreation or less. Here is what I wrote: "The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good." Let me break that down paratactically.
We collectively need some offspring; they need to be socialized and instructed in the rudiments of our culture; they need to be protected; they need to be educated to the point where they can function as productive citizens. No one of those coordinate clauses, or their logical conjunction, entails that levels of procreation should be increased, let alone that the state should have a hand in such an increase.
Is my argument logically consistent with countenancing polygyny? I suppose it is as it stands; but that is only because my argument was restricted to only one aspect of this multi-faceted issue. I was just assuming that marriage is dyadic in order to focus on the question of why the state shouuld recognize opposite-sexed dyadic unions but not same-sexed dyadic unions. The issue of the 'adicity' of marital and quasi-marital unions was not on the table. One cannot talk about everything at once.
Why should the state have an interest in monogamy over polygamy (whether polyandry or polygyny)? I have no answer to that at the moment. I have only started thinking hard about these questions recently and I have an open mind on them.
As a conservative, I of course subscribe to the quite general principle that there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things. But I am open to the possibility that the presumption in favor of traditional marriage (dyadic, between humans only, permanent, exclusive, opposite-sexed, open to procreation) can be defeated. For while I am a conservative, I am also a philosopher, and you can't be a philosopher (in the strict sense!) if you simply assume dogmatically this or that.
I should also add that I play for a draw, not for a win. It sufficies to 'neutralize' the liberal-left arguments. All I have to do is show that they are not compelling. I don't have to refute them. There are precious few refutations in philosophy, and none of them pertain to 'hairy' issues like same-sex 'marriage.'
To grant that marriage could be redefined is to capitulate to a postmodernist anti-realism according to which all social structures and institutions are mere human conventions and there is really no such thing as human nature, understood in traditional metaphysical terms. We must insist that marriage is not something that can be defined and redefined as we see fit. Marriage is a divine institution, not a human social construction like chess or money that we invented for our own purposes. There wasn’t a point in time at which humans ‘defined’ marriage in the way that, say, a foot was once defined as 12 inches. Marriage was bestowed upon us, not created by us.
1. It is certainly true that if marriage is a divine institution, as Professor Anderson says, then it has a nature not subject to human definition or redefinition. For if there are natures, then they are what they are whatever we say about them or think about them. They are what they are whether we frame definitions of them or fail to do so, or do so accurately or inaccurately. But that marriage is a divine institution is a premise that won't be granted by many and perhaps most of the participants in the current debate over same-sex marriage. It is therefore futile to use this premise in the current debate. Or as the pugnacious Irishman Bill O'Reilly said the other night, "No Bible-thumping." Defenders of marriage ought to invoke only those premises that secularists could accept, assuming that the goal is either to persuade them that the traditonal concept of marriage ought not be revised, or to show them that traditionalists have a principled stand that does not arise from biogotry or a desire to discriminate unjustly.
Suppose I want to convince you of something. I must use premises that you accept. For if I mount an argument sporting one or more premises that you do not accept, you will point to that premise or those premises and pronounce my argument unsound no matter how rigorous and cogent my reasoning. I am not saying that marriage is not divinely ordained; I am saying that the claim that it is has no place in a discussion in which the goal is to work out an agreement that will be acceptable to a large group of people, including theists and atheists. (Not that I am sanguine that any such agreement is in the offing.)
2. Whether or not marriage is a divine institution, it can have a nature. That is: the question whether marriage has a nature, and the question whether there are natures at all, are logically independent of the question whether God is the ultimate ontological ground of natures. Or at least this is prima facie the case. Jean-Paul Sartre famously maintained that man cannot have a nature because there is no God to give him one; but it is not at all clear that a godless universe must be one bereft of natures. Aristotle believed in natures even though his Prime Mover was neither the creator nor the ontological ground of natures.
3. Let's assume that there is no God, and that therefore marriage is not divinely instituted, but that some things have natures and some things do not. Water, to coin an example, has a nature, and it took natural philosophers a long time to figure out what it is. Chess, by contrast, does not have a nature. It is a tissue of conventions, an invention of man.
4. Does marriage have a nature? If it has a nature, and that nature requires that marriage be between exactly one man and exactly one woman, then there can be no question of redefining 'marriage' so as to include same-sex 'marriages.' If marriage has the nature just specified, then it is impossible that there be such a thing as same-sex marriage. And if same-sex 'marriage' is impossible, then one cannot sensibly be for it or against it. 'I am for same-sex marriage' would then be on a par with 'I am for carnivorous rabbits.'
'Should homosexuals be allowed to marry?' for traditionalists is like 'Should cats be allowed to philosophize?' The nature of cats is such as to rule out their doing any such thing. Similary, on the traditionalist understanding, marriage has a nature, and its nature is such as to rule out tlhe very possibility of same-sex 'marriage.'
5. Any talk of redefining 'marriage' therefore begs the crucial question as to whether or not marriage has a nature. Such talk presupposes that it does not.
6. If the same-sexer goes POMO on us and adopts antirealism across the board, then he opens himself up to a crapstorm of powerful objections. But needn't go that route. If Anderson is suggesting that the same-sexer must, then I disagree with him. The same-sexer need not embrace antirealism along the lines of a Goodmaniacal worldmaking constructivism; he might simply claim that while there are natures, and some things have them, marriage is not one of those things.
7. Can I show that marriage has a nature? Well, there is very little that one can SHOW in philosophy, so let's retreat a bit. Can I make a plausible case that marriage has a nature? Well, man has a nature and certain powers grounded in that nature, one of them being the power to procreate. The powers of human beings are not like the 'powers' of the chess pieces. It is by arbitrary human stipulation that the bishops move along diagonals only, capture in the same way they move, etc. But the power of a man and woman to produce offspring is not a power that derives from arbitrary human stipulation. It is a a power grounded in the nature of human beings.
Now if 'marriage' refers to what has traditionally been called marriage, i.e., to that the definition of which the same-sexer revisionists want to revise so as to include same-sex unions, then 'marriage' refers to a relation between opposite-sexed human animals that is oriented toward procreation. Of course there are social and cultural factors in addition to this natural substratum. There is more to human marriage than animal mating and care of offspring. But if you grant that human beings have a nature and a procreative power grounded in this nature, then it seems you have to grant that 'marriage' refers to a union between opposite-sexed human beings, a union that has a specific nature. If so, then it is senseless to want to revise the definition of 'marriage.' Marriage is what it is; it has a nature, and that's the end of it.
Suppose two 70-year-olds decide to marry. They can do so, and their marriage will be recognized as valid under the law. And this despite the fact that such elderly couples cannot procreate. But in many places the law does not recognize marriage between same-sex couples who also, obviously, cannot procreate. What is the difference between the opposite-sex and same-sex cases? What is the difference that justifies a difference in legal recognition? (Bear in mind that we are discussing legal recognition of marriage; the issue is not so-called civil unions.) Let us assume that both types of union, the opposite-sex and the same-sex, are guided by the following norms: monogamy, permanence, and exclusivity. So, for the space of this discussion, we assume that the infertile heterosexual union and the homosexual union are both monogamous, permanent, exclusive, and non-procreative.
What then is the difference between the two cases that justifies a difference in treatment? If the only difference is that the one type of union is opposite-sex and the other same-sex, then that is a difference but not one that justifies a difference in treatment. To say that the one is opposite-sex and the other same-sex is to tell us what we already know; it is not to justify differential treatment.
Here is a relevant difference. It is biologically impossible that homosexual unions produce offspring. It is biologically possible, and indeed biologically likely, that heterosexual unions produce offspring. That is a very deep difference grounded in a biological fact and not in the law or in anything conventional. This is the underlying fact that both justifies the state's interest in and regulation of marriage, and justifies the state's restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
There are two points here and both need to be discussed.
The first concerns the justification of the state's involvement in marriage in the first place. It is obvious, I hope, that the state ought not be involved in every form of human association. State involvement in any particular type of human association must therefore be justified. We want as much government as we need, but no more. The state is coercive by its very nature, as it must be if it is to be able to enforce its mandates and exercise its legitimate functions, and is therefore at odds with the liberty and autonomy of citizens. It is not obvious that the government should be in the marriage business at all. The burden is on the state to justify its intervention and regulation. But there is a reason for the state to be involved. The state has a legitimate interest in its own perpetuation and maintenance via the production of children, their socializing, their protection, and their transformation into productive citizens who will contribute to the common good. (My use of 'the state' needn't involve an illict hypostatization.) It is this interest that justifies the state's recognition and regulation of marriage as a union of exactly one man and exactly one woman.
I have just specified a reason for state involvement in marriage. But this justification is absent in the case of same-sex couples since they are not and cannot be productive of children. So here we have a reason why the state ought not recognize same-sex marriage. One and the same biological fact both justifies state regulation and recognition of marriage and justifies the restriction of such recognition to opposite-sex couples. The fact, again, is that only heterosexuals can procreate.
Proponents of same-sex 'marriage' will not be satisfied with the foregoing. They will continue to feel that there is something unfair and 'discriminatory,' i.e., unjustly discriminatory, about the state's recognition of the union of infertile heterosexuals as valid marriage but not of homosexual unions. (Obviously, not all discrimination is unjust.) Consider the following argument which is suggested by a recent article by William Saletan entitled Homosexuality as Infertility. Saletan writes, "People who oppose gay marriage can come to accept it as moral, once they understand homosexuality as a kind of infertility."
The issue is not whether same-sex marriage is moral, but whether it ought to be legally recognized as marriage. That quibble aside, Saletan's piece suggests the following argument:
1. Homosexual couples are infertile just like infertile heterosexual couples are infertile: there is no difference in point of infertility. 2. Infertile heterosexual couples are allowed by law to marry. 3. Like cases ought to be treated in a like manner. Therefore 4. Homosexual couples ought to be allowed by law to marry.
One can see why people would be tempted to accept this argument, but it is unsound: the first premise is false.
To show this I will first concede something that perhaps ought not be conceded, namely, that the predicate 'infertile' can be correctly applied to same-sex couples. Justification for this concession would be the proposition that anything not F, even if it cannot be F, is non-F. Thus anything not fertile, even if not possibly fertile, is infertile. So same-sex couples are infertile in the same way that numbers and ball bearings and thoughts are infertile.
But even given this concession, there is an important difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The former are essentially infertile while the opposite-sex infertile couples are only accidentally infertile. What the latter means is that there is nothing in the nature of opposite-sex unions to rule out the possibility of procreation. But in the case of same-sex unions, the very nature of the union rules out the possibility of procreation. So (1) in the argument above is false. Homosexual couples are not infertile in the same way that infertile heterosexual couples are. The former are infertile by their very nature, while the latter are not. This difference is what justifies a difference in treatment.
We must of course treat like cases in a like manner. What I have just shown, however, is that the two cases are not alike.
The point is even more clear if we take the view that 'fertile' and 'infertile' are predicates that can be meaningfully applied only to that whose nature includes the power to procreate. Accordingly, same-sex couples are no more infertile than hammers and nails are dead.
We have two interpretive options, and both supply a difference that justifies a difference in treatment.
Option A. Anything that is not fertile is infertile; hence, same-sex unons are infertile. But they are not infertile in the same way that opposite-sex unions are. Same-sex unions are essentially infertile, infertile by their very nature, while opposite-sex unions, when infertile, are only accidentally infertile. (This is why infertile opposite-sex couples can sometimes become fertile through medical intervention.)
Option B. If x is either fertile or infertile, then x has a nature that includes the power to procreate. Hence same-sex couples are neither fertile not infertile.
On either option, Saletan's "Homosexuality is a kind of infertility" is false. This is also clear from the consideration that a couple is called 'infertile' because one of both of the partners is infertile or impotent. But a union of two homosexuals is in most cases a union of two fertile women or of two potent men. To call a homosexual couple 'infertile' is therefore to use 'infertile' in a different way than the way it is used when we call a heterosexual couple 'infertile.' Homosexual couples are infertile because, to put it bluntly, dildos or fingers in vaginas and penises in anuses do not lead to procreation -- and not because of some defect or abnormality or age-induced impairment in the partners.
I have just shown that the (1)-(4) argument for extending the legal recognition of marriage to same-sex unions is not compelling. Nevertheless, some will still feel that there is something unfair about, say, two opposite-sexed 70-year-olds being allowed to marry when homosexuals are not. It may seem irrelevant that the nature of the opposite-sex union does not rule out procreation in the way the same-sex union does. Why do the 70-year-olds get to have their union recognized as marriage by the state when it cannot be productive of offspring?
At this point I would remind the reader that the law cannot cater to individual cases or even to unusual classes of cases. Consider laws regulating driving age. If the legal driving age is 16, this is unfair to all the 13-16 year-olds who are competent drivers. (E.g., farm boys and girls who learned to operate safely heavy machinery before the age of 16.) If the law were to cater to these cases, the law would become excessively complex and its application and enforcement much more difficult. Practical legislation must issue in demarcations that are clear and easily recognized, and therefore 'unfair' to some.
But a better analogy is voting. One is allowed to vote if one satisfies quite minimal requirements of age, residency, etc. Thus the voting law countenances a situation in which the well-informed and thoughtful votes of mature, successful, and productive members of society are given the same weight as the votes of people who for various reasons have no business in a voting booth. We don't, for example, prevent the senile elderly from voting even though they are living in the past out of touch with the issues of the day and incapable of thinking coherently about them. We don't exclude them or other groups for a very good reason: it would complicate the voting law enormously and in highly contentious ways. (Picture armies of gray panthers with plenty of time on their hands roaming the corridors of Congress armed with pitchforks.) Now there is a certain unfairness in this permissiveness: it is unfair to thoughtful and competent voters that their votes be cancelled out by the votes of the thoughtless and incompetent. But we of the thoughtful and competent tribe must simply 'eat' (i.e., accept) the unfairness as an unavoidable byproduct of workable voting laws.
In the same way, whatever residual unfairness to homosexuals there is in allowing infertile oldsters to marry (after my foregoing arguments have been duly digested) is an unfairness that simply must be accepted if there are to be workable marriage laws.
To sum up. The right place to start this debate is with the logically prior question: What justifies the state's involvement in marriage? The only good answer is that state involvement is justified because of the state's interest in its own perpetuation via the production of children and their development into productive citizens. (There is also, secondarily, the protection of those upon whom the burden of procreation mainly falls, women.) It is the possibility of procreation that justifies the states' recognition and regulation of marriage. But there is no possibility of procreation in same-sex unions. Therefore, same-sex unions do not deserve to be recognized by the state as marriage. This is not to oppose civil unions that make possible the transfer of social security benefits, etc.
The infertility argument for the extension of legal recognition to same-sex unions has been neutralized above.
In the nearly nine years I have been posting my thoughts on this weblog I don't believe I have said anything about so-called same-sex marriage, except for a non-substantive swipe at Matt Salmon a few days ago. There are some entries in my Marriage category, but nothing about same-sex marriage. It is high time for me to get clear about this issue. (The elite readers I attract will have noticed the pun in the preceding sentence: 'marriage' in German is Hochzeit, high time.)
Being a conservative, I advocate limited government. Big government leads to big trouble as we fight endlessly, acrimoniously, and fruitlessly over all sorts of issues that we really ought not be fighting over. As one of my slogans has it, "The bigger the government, the more to fight over." The final clause of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution enshrines the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." So the more the government does things that grieve us, by intruding into our lives and limiting our liberties, the more we will petition, lobby, and generally raise hell with the government and with our political opponents. If you try to tell me how much soda I can buy at a pop, or how capacious my ammo mags must be, or how I must speak to assuage the tender sensitivities of the Pee Cee, or if you try to stop me from home-schooling my kids, or force me to buy health insurance, then you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it. Think of how much time, energy, and money we waste battling our political enemies, working to undo what we take to be their damage, the damage of ObamaCare being a prime example.
So if you want less contention, work for smaller government. The smaller the government, the less to fight over.
Along these lines, one might think it wise to sidestep the acrimony of the marriage debate by simply privatizing marriage. But this would be a mistake. There are certain legitimate functions of government, and regulating marriage is one of them. Here is an argument from an important paper entitled "What is Marriage?" by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson. (I thank Peter Lupu for bringing this article to my attention.)
Although some libertarians propose to “privatize” marriage, treating marriages the way we treat baptisms and bar mitzvahs, supporters of limited government should recognize that marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government. In the absence of a flourishing marriage culture, families often fail to form, or to achieve and maintain stability. As absentee fathers and out-of‐wedlock births become common, a train of social pathologies follows. Naturally, the demand for governmental policing and social services grows. According to a Brookings Institute study, $229 billion in welfare expenditures between 1970 and 1996 can be attributed to the breakdown of the marriage culture and the resulting exacerbation of social ills: teen pregnancy, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and health problems. Sociologists David Popenoe and Alan Wolfe have conducted research on Scandinavian countries that supports the conclusion that as marriage culture declines, state spending rises.
(270, footnotes omitted.)
A very interesting argument the gist of which is that the cause of limited government is best served by keeping in place government regulation of marriage. A libertarian hard-ass might say, well, just let the victims and perpetrators of the social pathologies perish. But of course we won't let that happen. The pressure will be on for more and more government programs to deal with the drug-addicted, the criminally incorrigible, and the terminally unemployable. So, somewhat paradoxically, if you want a government limited to essential functions, there is one function that the government ought to perform, namely, the regulation of marriage.
In an interview aired over the weekend, Rep. Matt J. Salmon (R-Ariz.) told a local news station that his son’s homosexuality has not led him to change his position on gay marriage.
“I don’t support the gay marriage,” the congressman said. But Salmon emphasized that he loved and respected his son and did not consider homosexuality a choice.
“My son is by far one of the most important people in my life. I love him more than I can say,” an emotional Salmon told 3TV. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t have respect, it doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with some of the issues. It just means I haven’t evolved to that stage.”
This is nauseating. First of all, parents naturally love their children, so there is no need to gush like a liberal over how much you love your son. Thank you for 'sharing,' congressman, but politics is about governance and problem-solving , not about squishy, bien-pensant feel-goodism.
And then Salmon tells us that he hasn't "evolved to the stage" of accepting same-sex marriage. In other words, he is apologizing for being a conservative Neanderthal stuck at a lower level of evolutionary development, and hinting at the possibility of his 'evolving' beyond this retarded stage.
With all due respect, congressman, you are a joke. Man up, take your testosterone, and learn how to ARGUE the conservative case on marriage. That means: no Bible-thumping and no bare assertions. And no more gushing about how much you love your son.
What makes for a good marriage? It is not enough to like your spouse. It is not enough to love her. The partners must also admire one another. There has to be some attribute in your spouse that you don't find in yourself (or not in the same measure) and that you aspire to possess or possess more fully. Must I add that we are not talking mainly about physical attributes?
What is admiration?
To love is not to admire. If God exists, he loves us. But he certainly doesn't admire us. For what does he lack? He doesn't aspire to possess any attribute that we have and that he lacks. Closer to the ground, one can easily love a sentient being, whether animal or human, without admiration.
To value is not to admire. Prudence is a valuable attribute; so if you are prudent, I will value you in respect of your prudence; but if I am as prudent as you, then I don't admire you in respect of your prudence. Admiration is for attributes the admirer does not possess, or does not possess in the measure the admired possesses them.
To respect is not to admire. I can and ethically must respect the rights of those who are inferior to me in respect of admirable attributes.
My suggestion, then, is that a necessary though not sufficient condition of a good marriage is that it be a two-membered mutual admiration society.
You are and you marry both a person and a member of a zoological species. And so you must be concerned not only with person-to-person compatibility but with animal-to-animal as well. Can she stand your smell, and you hers?
I just heard Dennis Prager say on his nationally syndicated radio show that travelling together is a good test for marital compatibility. Sage advice.
Long before I had heard of Prager I subjected my bride-to-be to such a test. I got the idea from the delightful 1982 movie The Diner. One of the guys who hung out at the diner tested for marital suitability by administering a football quiz to his fiance. That gave me the idea of taking my future wife on a cross-country trip from Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles, California in my Volkswagen bus. This was not a camper bus, but a stripped-down model, so the amenities were meager-to-nonexistent. I threw a mattress in the back, made some curtains, and hit the road. That was in the summer of '82. The soundtrack from The Diner was one of the tapes we listened to on the way. I recall reading the Stephen King novel Cujo about the dog from hell when my inamorata drove.
We slept mainly at rest stops. I had an old .38 Special with me for protection, which fortunately proved unnecessary. What did we do for showers? I don't think we took any. We cleaned up at the rest stop facilities like true vagabundos and moved on.
One dark and starry night I pulled off Interstate 10 in some desolate stretch of the Mojave desert. Wifey-to-be was scared but it was a memorable moonless star-studded night. We made it to L. A., saw family and friends, then headed up old U. S. 395 along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada to Bishop, Cal, where we visited some more of my people, then north to Reno, Nevada where we hooked up with I-80 and pointed the old bus East.
Dear one took the rigors of that trip 30 years ago like a trouper, and passed the test with flying colors. We got married the following summer and remain happily married 29 summers later.
When I told the story to a feminazi some years back she gave me a hard and disapproving look. She didn't like that I imposed a marital compatibility test upon my lady love. Bitch! So here's another bit of free and friendly advice. Marry an angel, never a bitch. Life's enough of a bitch. You don't need to marry one. Does your belllicosity need an outlet? Fight outside the home. Home should be an oasis of peace and tranquillity.
So once again I agree with Prager. Check her or him out on the road before heading for the altar.
My opinion of Maureen Dodd went up a notch when I read this NYT column in which she quotes a Catholic priest. He proffers good advice about marriage one piece of which is:
Don't marry a problem character thinking you will change him. Excellent advice, Schopenhauerian advice. You will remember his riff on the unalterability of character. It is true as a general rule: people do not change. What you are characterologically at twenty you are for life. If you catch your inamorata lying to you or engaging in any sort of duplicity, know that you have been vouchsafed an insight into an underlying mendacity that will manifest itself time and time again. If one time she racks up a credit card bill that she cannot pay in full at the end of the month, she will do it a thousand times. And so on down the line. Enter into matrimony with such a person if you must, but do it with eyes open and thoughts clear.
My wife has a wide range of virtues and no vices to speak of. But in point of punctuality, she falls down. I am by contrast punctual to a fault. So 29 years ago I tried to change her, to make her punctual like me, but soon realized my folly and changed myself instead. I simply gave up making precise dates with her, rather than courting vexation at her nonshowing at appointed exact times. Instead of: Meet me at the corner of Fifth and Vermouth at the stroke of high noon, this: I'll be at the Sufficient Grounds coffee house from 2 PM on writing and playing chess; fall by when you get a chance.
I also realized that part of her being such a sweet and agreeable person is her not being hung up on precision. And I furthermore bore in mind Plato's point in the Symposium, namely, and to put it in my own way, that a partner should be a complement, not a copy.
As a rule of thumb: You can't change others, but you can change yourself. And you should. A bit more precisely: character is largely invariant but attitude admits of adjustment.
My angelic wife doesn't nag, so I don't have this problem. But you might. She doesn't nag, but she becomes inordinately happy when I do any work around the house. Curiously irrational but delightful nonetheless. Women are unduly attuned to the values of domestic order and cleanliness. Not that these aren't values; but in a sound axiological hierarchy they must be assigned a position well below the values of, say, playing chess and writing philosophy, hiking and biking, acquiring and reading more books, building bookshelves to house them . . . .
1. Chastity 2. Good disposition 3. Beauty ("See a woman before marrying her.") 4. The sum paid by the husband should be moderate 5. She should not be barren 6. Of good stock 7. Not previously married 8. Not too nearly related to her husband.
The importance of #3 is contested, however, by Jimmy Soulinter alia. Otherwise, it is pretty good advice.
Dennis Prager and Michael Medved are my favorite AM band talk jocks. Both intelligent and wise, they raise the level of the general culture unlike toxin-merchants such as Howard Stern who lower it. He's no star in my firmament. Prager and Medved know that they have a moral obligation not to add to the cultural pollution. And they have the intellect and good sense to make a positive contribution. Intellect is important, but wisdom and good judgment are even more important. Rare commodities these, not to be found on the Left with its adolescent querulousness, snarkiness, and the mindless incantation of the SIXHIRB litany: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted. (That particular list from Prager.)
But my topic is marriage.
Prager a while back cited respect and liking as two of the factors most important for a successful marriage. He placed love much lower on the list. Prager's remark struck me as astute. Do you like this person? Can you put up with her morning and night through good times and bad? Do you respect this person? These are important questions to ask before doing something rash. The nature of her endowments fore and aft will no doubt come into consideration, and ought to. But leave that for later in the logical, if not the temporal, order of considerations. A wise man knows which of his heads is for thinking, and which for linking. He thinks with the big one.
Brain, heart, penis/vagina, in that (logical) order. I trust my meaning is clear.
It helps if one can admire one's partner for attributes and skills one does not possess oneself. Marriage is a quest for completion, for the other half with which to make a whole, to cop a riff from Plato's Symposium. In a good marriage, the partners do not compete with one another, they complete one another. One does well to consider whether it is wise to marry someone in the same line of work. Would I want to be married to a female equivalent of myself? I need completion, not duplication. One of me is enough.
Nietzsche somewhere says that marriage is a long conversation. But how would he know? Marriage is better described as a long wordless understanding. It's deeper than words. In any case you will be talked out soon enough. So there had better be something deeper for the relation to rest upon.
There must be both sameness and difference. Sameness for compatibility, difference for complementarity. But here is the hard part: the ways in which the partners are similar must be conducive to their getting along, and the ways in which they are different must also be conducive to their getting along.
Example. Don't marry someone with different views about money. If you are frugal, you would be insane to marry a person who thinks of Nirvana as a charge card with an unlimited line of credit. But if you are sharp about money, you may want to think twice about marrying someone who is also sharp about it, for you may come into conflict on how best to save and invest, spend and lend. The sameness and the difference must be balanced. The partners need to have the same general view about money, but one of the partners should keep the books, leaving the other to perform tasks more suitable for him or her. There will of course be exceptions to this rule of thumb.
Having paid tribute to WD-40, the least I can do is pay tribute, once again, to my wife. She may not be a solvent, but she contributes mightily to my being solvent.
As for marriage, it is a good thing if one enters into it for the right reasons, at the right time, and after due consideration. Bear in mind that every man has two heads. The big one is for thinking, the little one for linking. Understand their offices and respective spheres of operation. To cerebrate with the organ of copulation is Clintonian and not conducive unto happiness. Even in the question of marriage, the big head must be the ruling element.