Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Marriage Market

If we were inclined, we could create a long list of the causes of national and cultural decline.

I would like, again, to highlight one in particular: a failure to think rationally.

What happens to a culture when rational thought becomes prey to emotional overreach? What happens when absurd ideas are taken to be dogma?

Yesterday, I joined Kay Hymowitz in pointing out that the debate about equal pay for equal work rests on a fallacy: namely, the assumption that there is such a thing as equal work.

Zealots and ideologues trot out this fiction, use it to seduce vulnerable young minds, and then try to force the government to create policies that would make it real.

The result is marketplace inefficiency.

Now, let’s examine another intellectual mistake, the one that is being used as the basis for the national debate about the nature of marriage.

If you have any respect for human history and experience you understand that marriage is a mating ritual and social arrangement. Thus, there is no reason to allow members of the same sex to marry each other. There is nothing about it that anyone should take personally. Nevertheless, some people do.

Those who want to institutionalize same-sex marriage have needed to redefine marriage. They have promoted the idea that marriage is the fullest expression of romantic love.  

This means that if Jack and Jim are not allowed to marry and if their love does not survive, then the reason might be that they have been deprived of society's ultimate sanction.

It also assumes that if Jack and Jim cannot express their love by marrying each other, then their love is somehow inferior, or second class, when compared to the love between Jack and Jill.

Same-sex couples have found that the structure of human marriage is offensive to them and discriminatory against them, so they have decided that they need to change the institution.

As it looks now, the American people are so terrified at giving offense and at being slandered as bigots that they have decided that the path of least resistance is to approve of same-sex marriage.

Considering the extent of the nation’s problems, one does understand that it does not make a lot of sense to consume national debate time with a culture war over whether Jim and Jack can file a joint tax return.

Yet, if we look more closely at the notion that marriage is the ultimate expression of human love, and, thus, that a love that does not lead to marriage must necessarily be unfulfilled, we should understand that it is patent nonsense.

Of course, it does happen that two people fall in love and then marry. It does not happen very often, and it does not characterize the vast majority of human marriages. Still, it is possible.

But that does not mean that true love is the only or even a primary condition for marriage.

No sentient individual believes that true love is either a necessary or sufficient reason for marriage.

And no rational individual believes that two people who fall in love can find the ultimate expression of that love in marriage.

In fact, until recently, human beings have known that marriage is actually unfriendly to the expression of romantic love.

For those who care about reality, history shows us that romantic love has usually been limited to adulterous relationships.

Think of the medieval troubadours. At a time when the Lords of the castles were off fighting the Crusades, these teenaged chimneysweeps fell in love with the Ladies who had been left behind.

Did any of them think that the only way they could give full expression to their love was through marriage?

We know very well what they wanted. We know very well what they considered the fullest expression of their love.

Their brains might have been addled by their adolescent hormones, but they were not dumb enough to think that  domesticity was the ultimate expression of true love.

And they were smart enough to understand that when a married couple appeared in public this did not represent the consummation of their romantic love. They did not believe that public displays of affection were the ultimate expression of true love.

Public displays of affection are merely vulgar.

The truth of the matter is that social institutions can never be expressions of personal feeling. No public medium can express private feelings. Intensely personal and uniquely individual feelings will always be compromised by a public medium, whether a social institution or a language.

Last week Robert Frank, Cornell Professor of Economics, wrote an interesting article about the economic considerations that determine the selection of a spouse. In his view it‘s all about the “marriage market.“ Via HookingUpSmart.

Frank explains: “In short, there really is a marriage market in many countries around the world, and economic principles apply to it. In markets with a preponderance of women seeking partners, the terms of trade shift in favor of men. If more men are seeking partners, the reverse is true. Two cases in point are the baby-boom generation in the United States and the current youth cohort in China.”

Of course this offends our romanticism, but we would do better to consider that our romanticism offends our intelligence.

If you look into the considerations that enter into the choice of spouse, you will see that they revolve around the fact that marriage is a mating ritual. As such, it is a social arrangement whose purpose is to provide optimal conditions for producing new members of the society.

If you are trying to find the most fulfilling expression of romantic love, you would do better to keep domesticity and socialization out of the picture.

Until recently, everyone has known this. Now, it has become sacrificed on the altar of liberal dogma.

Marriage is a social alliance between families, not the expression of intimate feelings that exist between autonomous individuals. It should be a rational choice, not an emotional-fueled lark.


Anonymous said...

You are the most rational person I have ever come across. Are there others or do you stand alone? Bravo.

Susan Walsh said...

Thanks for the link Stuart!

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