Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bush: Gay Marriage = Human Sacrifice...Dogs and Cats Living Together...Mass Hysteria

So, Bush is on about the pink peril again. Quoth himself:

"Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society," Bush said in his Saturday radio address. "Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society."

Let's take a quick look at these claims, shall we?

[1] "Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society."

Well, I am inclined to believe that this is true, but I don't know enough social history to be sure. However, ages of experience have also taught us that the commitment of two people to love and serve on another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. So far as I know, we don't have any significant reason to believe that there's something magical about the man-woman combination in this regard. So in order to get an anti-same-sex-marriage conclusion out of this, we'll need additional evidence. In particular, evidence showing that only male-female marriages generate the relevant benefits.

Second, to the extent that this claim forms part of an argument at all, it forms part of an argument against eliminating marriage, not an argument against having more marriages. That is, it's an argument against outlawing male-female marriages, not an argument for outlawing same-sex marriages. The welfare of children is a good, and the stability of society is usually a good, and if marriage promotes those things that's reason to have more marriages. So if Bush really believes the premisses he purports to believe, then he should be pro gay marriage, not anti-.

[2] "Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening its good influence on society."

This is a significant claim which is probably false. Marriage has largely been cut off from its religious roots. Has that weakened its good influence on society? One might say that this has brought about more divorces, but there's reason to believe that more divorces have made women's (and probably men's) lives better (fewer suicides, less depression). But this is a complicated and largely empirical question. Bush's thin assertion here does nothing to establish the truth of the claim.

Actually, marriage can be cut off from its cultural roots without weakening its good influence. In fact, marriage can be made significantly better by cutting it off from its cultural roots. Remember that wives used to be the chattel of their husbands. Severing the link to that bit of the institution's history is crucial to making marriage a just and viable institution.

I'm not really sure what the natural roots of marriage (if any) are, so I can't speak to that. Perhaps humans have some natural inclination to pair-bond, but I'm under the impression that that's controversial. But these appeals to natural inclinations almost never help us answer moral questions. Human males may have a natural inclination to stay with females they impregnate or they may not...but we don't have to wait on the answer to this question in order to know that it's good to have an institution of marriage. And even if males have a natural inclination to stay with females they impregnate, they probably also have a natural inclination to try to impregnate other females at the same time. So if anthropologists discover that that's true does that mean that we should legalize polygamous marriage? Should we encourage married males to screw around on their wives? If conservatives really buy Bush's argument from "natural roots," then they have to answer 'yes' to these questions.

But just because something is natural doesn't make it beneficial, and doesn't make it morally right. So this crude appeal to nature should probably just be ignored.

If a student turned in an argument like this in a paper it'd get an 'F.'


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Postmodernism does seem to lend itself to one very positive thing: political satire.

(and several other from around the same time.)

10:26 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

However, ages of experience have also taught us that the commitment of two people to love and serve on another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. So far as I know, we don't have any significant reason to believe that there's something magical about the man-woman combination in this regard...we'll need additional evidence. In particular, evidence showing that only male-female marriages generate the relevant benefits.

Actually the burden of proof is on those who maintain that all pair bondings are equivalent before they go monkeying with the law to force a change upon society.

If there is no "proof" of the former, there's even less for the latter proposition.

Cynics always win. It's just a question of who's first to the post.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Actually not.

Since there's no reason to think that the sex of the couple matters, the evidence that male-female pairs are good is also evidence--albeit slightly weaker evidence--that pairs *simpliciter* are good.

What the anti-homosexual right has to show is that same-sex parent pairs are BAD.

They haven't done that...and they won't be able to b/c they aren't.

Still, this would be easy enough to do if the anti-homosexual right were really interested in facts.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, I think the burden of proof lies on those who want to overturn what has been an organic evolution of society. I cannot view your proposition as anything but an assertion, and one with which I disagree.

An affirmative argument must be made for change. To zero-based budget every societal convention and to shirk all burden of proof for the contrary is a method I reject.

Neither are "anti-homosexuals" (a pejorative that as usual begs its question) particularly interested in "bashing" gays. Most are willing to live and let live. (There is no groundswell to reverse Lawrence and reinstate sodomy laws.)

They simply and quietly are unconvinced that all sexual pair bonds are essentially the same, nor that there is no deleterious effect on the children being raised by same-sex couples, the children being the prime concern. And they are not willing to make a rhetorical fuss about it, as this issue always descends into ad hominem.

I've read up on everything I can find, pro and con, and in the least do not think the small samples and small number of years involved justify the irrevocable step of effecting social change through law. The "ratcheting effect" applies here.

An affirmative argument must win the day. And may I add that it can be on any level, legal, moral or societal/u tilitarian, but not a messy stew of all and each. They are related but not interchangable concepts.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

If two people want to get married, but one has green hair, do they have to prove that marriages including one green-haired person are beneficial to children?

Playing burden tennis is not going to help here.

Besides, even when there's empirical evidence that same-sex unions are just as good for kids (as there will be), conservatives won't drop their objections at that point.

Which shows that that's not their real objection anyway.

Don't you agree?

4:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I concede that point to a degree. There will be some who will remain opposed for reasons other than utilitarian ones.

But neither is it self-evident that all societal decisions should be left to the social scientists. Neither is it self-evident that social science can unerringly define truth, or "facts." It's a soggy discipline.

But my larger point is that society at large should be in favor of fundamental change. Unless you wish to restrict yourself to legal arguments alone.

Which is why the constitutional arguments are coming up, since the issue of gay marriage is not addressed there, in no small part because gay marriage was unthinkable at the drafting of it.

Since no moral consensus (i.e., of values) exists in American society for instituting gay marriage, the arguments seem to be largely legal.

In all the time I have "known" you, I have no idea of your moral foundations, of how you derive your values, save for a hint of Immanuel Kant. Absent arguing legalities, I have no way of engaging you---you do not, by choice or lack of exposure, speak my moral language and I have no clue as to yours.

I have therefore attempted a neutral ground of political philosophy, that irrevocable change should be accompanied by a reasonable level of certainty, that societies are fragile constructs and change cannot always be reduced to variable A as an independent and fungible quality.

Therefore I cannot even accept your analogies. There are no analogies to this issue, except ones that you have already declared overly pejorative in your original essay.

Hey, I'm doin' my best here. I'm not getting much to work with: All sexualities are essentially the same or at least equivalent, and so we should change society to accomodate that notion.

In the absence of conclusive evidence of the first, I cannot agree to the second. I'm the one coming from uncertainty, not from certainty.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I'm approximately as confused about my views on meta-ethics as you are... So far as I can tell, cultural moral relativism is a id the divine command theory and crude versions of natural law theory, utilitarianism, and Hume. I'm sympathetic to those who say that Aristotle doesn't have a moral theory *per se*, though much of what he says is, of course, sensible and important. Kant's the leading figure in this area IMHO, though I'm not completely sold.

I don't care about legal arguments very much, but, since we don't know who's right about the meta-ethics, we've got to muddle through best as we can.

The anti-SSM arguments parallel the arguments against mixed-race marriages. What they seem to come down to are arguments about what characteristics of human beings are morally relevant. Since it seems fairly clear that having a good will, acting justly, etc. are what matter--and skin color and sexual preference do not--from a moral point of view, it's hard for me to see any even halfway decent arguments for discriminating against good people on the grounds of skin color, sexual preference, etc.

There are really two issues here: does the state have any interest in restricting marriage to male-female couples? and Does the state have any interest in restricting child-care to male-female couples? The answer to the former by itself is rather clearly 'no'. That would be unfair and irrational. What about the second? Well, most of the arguments against allowing same-sex couples to raise children are, *a fortiori*, arguments against allowing single people to raise children. Since I can't believe that anyone really thinks that all children should be taken away from single parents, I dont' see now anyone is going to launch a plausible argument against same-sex couples raising children.

I agree that massive social changes shouldn't be undertaken precipitously without good reason...but this change is very, very minor compared to other changes we've leapt into in the last century, e.g. sucking both parents of most families into the work force and leaving child care to strangers.

You want to worry about somethign along these lines, worry about capitalism and the acquisitive society, sez me.

Still, I don't think you're worrying about nothing here, and I really do think that this is an issue that should be discussed. I hope you'll understand that that's a little hard to do for folks on my side given that much...or most...of the noise coming from folks on your side really is just bigotry rather than principled worries about rapid social change.

Finally, the anti-homosexual stuff isn't really the product of social evolution. Rather it originates in a certain religious view.

Sorry. Just woke up. Hope that's not too cranky and incoherent.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I always understand you, WS, whether you're making any sense or not. :-)

I sympathize with the paucity of arguments against gay marriage that would meet your standards, and certainly thumping Leviticus doesn't bring much to the polity.

But most reasonable folks who aren't down with gay marriage for reasons not dependent on Divine Command aren't interested in entering the savage fray, for reasons given above.

The arguments are out there, should you wish to find them, although I see no way they would move you unless your meta-ethics took a great turn to the right.

Altho it's my honest opinion that many on the modern left are not operating from good will, I give them the benefit of the doubt.

What has been niggling me about Kant's version of the Golden Rule is what does the principled person do when he believes that tolerance will be harmful to the persons involved, or in the least, others? Despite the apparent unsavoriness of some opponents of gay marriage, I give them the benefit of the doubt too, that they're working from good will and not just a desire to spoil everyone's fun.

And so, we have incompatible visions of justice and values. What we next do in the realm of political philosophy, the meeting ground, is the only question you and I are equipped to discuss.

I think in the end, if Europe is any indication, the rest of the West including America will lose their will to preserve any significant mores or conventions. Gay marriage is likely an inevitability.

But I repeat, I cannot accept analogies to hair or skin color any more than you'd accept analogies to cannibalism or bestiality. This is sui generis. Neither do I think that because we have dismantled many conventions over the last 50 years (to our detriment, I think) an argument for dismantling them further is a good one.

But I agree, we shall muddle through somehow.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Just to pick out a couple of interesting things here:

1. Kant doesn't have a version of the Golden Rule. That's a common misconception. Not to be pedantic, but TGR recommends that we treat other people as we WANT to be treated. The first version of the categorical imperative--which is what people usually confuse with TGR--makes no reference to desires at all. It tells us that a maxim can only be permissible if it's universalizable without contradiction.

2. I think you're suggesting that Europe and America have suffered moral decay and more is in the offing. But just the reverse is true. European and American civilization has become far MORE just, esp. in the last 200-odd years, not LESS just. Far from facing moral decay, we've been making progress hand over fist. Remember slavery and the disenfranchisement of women?

3. Re: the skin color biz: I don't want to make any broader analogy, I just mean that if you want to construe the output of our long social experiment narrowly enough to rule out same-sex couples, then you'll probably have to construe it so narrowly as to rule out different-race couples. After all, almost all of our evidence about the utility of marriage is about different-sex, same-race couples. The trick for you guys is to draw a conclusion just broad enough to allow different-race marriage but not broadly enough to allow same-sex marriage. Not impossible, perhaps, but a rather thin line to walk.

It's always good to talk to you about this stuff, incidentally. Informative, thought-provoking, and civil, even if we almost inevitably disagree.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

As always, ditto, as we Limbaugheans like to say.

I might have got the words wrong in 1), but I thought I got the thought out. Perhaps not. I was particularly interested in your take, as you know far more of Kant than I. I was hoping to trade you some Kant for some Thomas. ;-)

(BTW, there was a very interesting discussion [until the nihilist ruined it] of natural law over at my groupblog. I piped in with the Thomism/Aristotle part, the latter of which you've touched on briefly here.)

There is much in what you say on 2). I was speaking more of internal cohesion, but it's unmistakable that justice has been on the rise, although I would put it that oppression has been on the wane. The question is whether the pendulum has swung too far the other way in the classical liberal acknowledgement of the necessity to balance order and liberty, between governance by the state and individual governance, without which no free society can survive.

As for 3), thank you for respecting my disinclination to discuss the actual issue in this forum. Or in hardly any forum. Ted Kennedy called opposition to gay marriage bigotry today, and I'm just not in the mood for that noise.

I understand there is principled exchange between both sides to be gleaned from I've been meaning to get to it myself, although I doubt the conflicting values can be reconciled. Which is why I was interested in your response to 1).

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies."

--Statement by the American Anthropological Association (link)

What most people don't seem to realize is that our current view of marriage - that is, a partnership built on romantic love - is very new. It only dates back to about the time of the Industrial Revolution. For the vast majority of history, marriage was more of a business arrangement than anything. You got married, not because you wanted to, but because you had to.

Women often had little to no say in the process. A woman was the property of first her father then her husband. (Hence the tradition of the father escorting the bride down the aisle during a wedding. It symbolized the exchange of property.) You weren't expected to love your spouse. (My great-grandmother certainly didn't marry my great-grandfather because she loved him. She married him because her parents arranged their union.) The man would provide the finantial end to support the woman, who would in turn provide him with an heir and someone to take care of them in their old age in exchange for an inheritance.

That's what a real "traditional" marriage was in most societies.

There were exceptions, of course. Both the ancient Romans and the Pre-Columbian natives of North America practiced same-sex marriages (SSMs) on a routine basis. Numerous other societies had some sort of recognized union for committed same-sex couples. They weren't considered "marriages", but, as I stated above, a marriage was only about producing heirs, not love. (More reading availible here)

I really could go on and on about the history of marriage and how much it has changed over the years, but it's late and I have to be up early tomorrow. So I'll post links to this and this instead. Just as some food for thought.

And I still have no clue why allowing a same-sex couple to file jointly on their taxes or have hospital visitation rights is such a huge deal. I mean, if SSMs were legalized this instant, what would change? The couples who would get married are already living together... buying houses, sharing chores, raising kids, fighting over the blankets on cold nights. They simply wouldn't be second-class citizens in the eyes of the law.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks for that PiaSharn.

It often seems to me that by "traditional" conservatives mean "in the 1950's". It sometimes seems like they think that the world has always been like the '50's up until, well, 1960, when everything went to hell in a handbasket.

It's also important to remember (and I also made this point) that things have gotten BETTER as we moved away from traditional (or "traditional") conceptions of marriage. Marriages based on love and equality are far superior to those based on necessity and fiat.

The good old days were, no doubt, genuinely good in many ways, but not in all ways, and, I expect, not even in most ways.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you also, PiaSharn. I did try to confirm your assertions on the history of marriage via the internet, but found little support for the proposition that the institution of gay marriages (including the Romans) were anything but anomalies in human history. Sorry.

But that doesn't mean that love as the basis of marriage isn't a newish concept. It is.

I have much work to do on investigating all this, and it's high on my list: but the emancipation of women (almost exclusively in the West) is also a very newish thing.

I think most would agree for whatever reasons that polygamy (pretty much men with many wives, and not polyandry, the other way around) is exploitative and oppressive to women.

Any unbalance of power in relationships is corrosive. Of course men have historically held the power.

So without tripping on Ozzie & Harriet, I think something very exciting and Good has been happening in the male-female marriage equation the last few hundred years.

Where that leaves gay marriage, I dunno. But I mean to say that history provides few clues on where we should go from here.

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is that in Las Vegas, a man and a woman can meet, decide to get married by an Elvis impersonator, and this doesn't endanger the institution, but Harry and Joe, or Linda and Rhoda doing so will send the institution of marriage straight into the compost pile of history.


11:55 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Just wanted to say that this is a heart-warmingly civil and informative discussion.

9:09 AM  

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