Category: Current Issues

Return of Secularization Theory:

A recent article at the Huffington Post by a neurophysiologist predicted that religion would disappear by around 2040 because of the progress of modern technology. He said that his conclusion was based on the hypothesis that religion was coping strategy to deal with existential threats to existence. Since modern science has successfully removed many such threats and seems likely to remove many more relatively soon, there seems no such remaining motivation to be religious and religion will soon cease. Such a hypothesis is a version of secularization theory – a theory that claims religion declines as material progress advances. Decades ago such theories seemed questionable because of contemporary counter examples like the USA being most modern but still most religious of western nations and the resurgence of faith in former Communist countries. But continuing developments have resuscitated such theories, such as the flight of millennials from churches and the progress of same sex marriage. Even Peter Berger has changed his mind back to re-affirming secularization.

Examining the existential threat theory, it clearly has plausibility. If we think of secularization in terms of William James account of “genuine belief options” from his essay “The Will to Believe”, it seems that modernity has made religious faith no longer a forced belief option. If one has to choose between faith in a promise of heaven over a reasonably long and comfortable life provided by modern technology you may think it reasonable to suspend judgment until you get terminal cancer that they don’t have a cure on the horizon for yet. Another thing that modernity may do is no longer make faith a live option due to prima facie incredibility.

But neither of these really holds up as James might have understood it. For the second, the limits of science are just as apparent as its accomplishments. At these limits, the scientist turns to philosophy, often without owning up to it, such as how to reconcile realism about science with the incompatibility of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, what existed before the universe existed, what is the relation between physics and Consciousness, etc. These seem not only unanswered but in principle unanswerable by science. Yet there must be facts a out such things that make philosophy the most rational approach available.

As to the first, no intelligent person qua being intelligent for its own sake would or has been content with modernity’s successes (Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Kant). Suppose one day science finally gives us a machine like the Matrix which holds out the promise of downloading the experience of a long pleasurable prosperous seeming life made to our specifications to whoever wants to be inserted into it. What would you think of one who would volunteer? You still wouldn’t necessarily think their lives worthwhile or that they really had it made. You could still wonder if death is really the end or if there will be or should be an ultimate accounting. From the rational point of view, the choice to believe in some future existing Matrix or believe in another life in another perhaps more real world is still a forced option. What makes the option forced is the demand on the self that goes with rigorous commitment. Even without the dread of existential threat there still is the longing for existential meaning and justice and love, the pursuit of which makes the option still forced.

So genuine belief options do not explain the secularizing influence of modernity by existential dread. The actual explanation has more to do with man’s animal nature than his rational nature. Paul Vitz writes in “Faith of the Fatherless” about Freudian accounts of secularization. According to the doctrine of the Oedipal complex and repressed sexuality, the boy child goes through a phase of sexual attraction toward the mother while perceiving his father as a rival to be killed but his father’s superior strength forces him to be resolved to the situation. But the complex is never resolved. When the boy is big enough to be a credible threat to his father, the Oedipal urges return.

It is possible to combine the Oedipal theory with Freud’s projection theory to form a secularization hypothesis, where God is the cosmic father that imposes his sexual restraints on humanity by morally norming the orders of creation. While life is threatening the threat of God’s judgment is compelling. But when life is brought under human control that sense if divine threat seems more and more remote. As science progresses, fear of God diminishes.

Such an effect can and has been created without science. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, mankind had lost its fear of God before by forming the belief in idol magic, that they could manipulate the lesser deities through ritual and sacrifice that had more direct control over the forces of nature, thus giving them something like access to the control knobs of the universe. As a result, God gave them up to indulge the lusts if their flesh and experience the natural consequences of their behavior.

The presence of existential dread has greater impact on the animal for which reason is only of instrumental value for the survival instinct. Such reason makes the dread “existential” but not really intellectual, where as the search for meaning is truly an intellectual passion. Secularization may be evidence that humans are more animal than spiritual.

However, Vitz gives evidence that inadequate fathering vs adequate fathering is a strong predictor of atheism and theism respectively (for the most part). His evidence includes notable and articulate theists all through the early modern and contemporary period, showing that material prosperity need not quench faith. Compare this with Mary Eberstadt’s new research showing the role dysfunctional families have played in facilitating secularization and visa versa. An effective family is also a shelter from existential dread but not one that inclines to unbelief but rather to faith.

Family love and Fatherly bonding encourage humans to rise above instinct and lust to make choices based on either sufficient evidence or by recognizing genuine belief options where evidence fails to decide a question, to live as rational and transcendental beings. As for the future of religion, one could say with certainty that the natural law expectation all other things being equal religion will disappear by 2040. But this just begs the question of the truth of religion. If God exists, he may preserve a people to Himself for all eternity.


Had an interesting talk with a student on comparing short snippets from Sextus Empiricus and Lorraine Code. We suggested that skepticism is to the individual person what relativism is to society, a reversal of Plato’s republic in one respect. Just as in the individual, the cultivation of suspended judgment through personal inquiry leads to the cessation of perplexity, so the cultivation of relativism through public education leads to social tolerance (apathy). There is an important sense in which we have not fallen all that far from pre-modern thought, except Socratic pre-modern thought.

Society is making an existential leap by gambling that inquiry and education based on it will always be able to maintain or recover the indifferent equilibrium of “tolerance”, in as much proportion to the Socratic leap by gambling that absolute truth is out there and can be discovered. It must calculate the balance of value differently between risk of losing ultimate truth and final happiness by ignoring them and the exquisite unpleasantness of indefinitely prolonged perplexity and the humiliation of the surrender of intellectual self-sufficiency.

But tolerance won on these terms and based itself on the gamble for suspended judgment. If someone tries to argue in behalf of the Socratic spirit, the neo-skeptics will argue that the project of classical foundationalism proved a failure, denying any possibility of finding Truth even if it existed, and that since then science has made the prospect of Big T Truth even less likely. Still, would neo-skeptics consider seriously and sympathetically promoting the study of the grounds that call evolution and materialism into question or even the skeptical commitment to indifference itself. It turns out that commitment to indifference is taking a side after all. Consequently one group that cannot be tolerated are Socratic revivalists.

But Socratic revivalists can tolerate skeptics since, for revivalists, tolerance is not contingent on a belief state but a practical virtue to be cultivated, an accepting of folks you disagree with even though you think you are right and they are wrong. The Socratic raw confidence in the intellect that starts with wonder rather than doubt and takes an innocent until proven guilty policy on the intellect is orthoganal to classical foundationalism which was adopted in the first place to oppose the Socratic approach. Also, the value of obtaining even a shadow of the Truth is so high that is able to compensate for the additional riskiness of the pursuit.

The Socratic approach remains a live option for human beings. But the Neo-skeptic cannot tolerate that Socratic for long and must eventually impose his relativism on all. Thus, even contemporary followers of Socrates may share his fate.

Disturbing Parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy:

I was providentially privileged to see Spielberg’s “Lincoln” just a couple of days before the Supreme Court declared DOMA. Keeping in mind Mr. Douthat’s wise words about the misleading impressions one may form from such a necessarily partial and de-contextualized presentation and also the objections by historians that some of the key suppositions of the picture are historically false, still it is quite striking how up front and overt “Lincoln” was to his cabinet about his subversion of Constitutional process and his lies to congress. While we agree about the importance human rights and approve of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln’s approach presumes absolute confidence in his own moral judgment, zero confidence in constitutional law and the democratic process, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get his desired result by any means necessary however moral or even however utilitarianist. Now we may reasonably agree that a person may find themselves to be justifiably in that sort of position. But certainly the prior probability against that being the case should make us marvel, particularly because we can easily imagine anyone putting such a spin on events to rationalize any oppressive measure. It also disturbs in that one could easily imagine the dizzying self-aggrandizing and narcissistic effect of having such a concept of oneself would provide an overpowering motive for artificially and unnecessarily creating such a scenario.

Apparently, Justice Kennedy found himself in a similar situation as his statement for the majority in ruling against the constitutionality of DOMA. This is apparent from the globalizing and simplistic categories he used. More specifically, it seems to be indicated by his disproportionate emphasis on states rights. It was disproportionate as Justice Scalia points out in his read statement for the dissenting minority because most of Kennedy’s argument focuses on a crypto-appeal to constitutional due process with respect to states but then this gets rejected at the end since lack of precedent for same sex marriage in American tradition and history would permit different treatment of it by the federal government according to constitutional due process.

To further his case, then, Kennedy had to attribute to the states the power to impose a sacred dignity where none had been recognized before. This raises the question whether the purpose of law is to recognize or impose duties. It is usually supposed that it does both differentially, recognizing dignities to secure them and imposing certain stipulations in order to facilitate the former. But on Kennedy’s view of state creation of value of gay marriage, it can only be by stipulation and imposition and not by recognition. If impositions could create dignities, then everything could be a dignity and thus nothing would be. But if the states (as in some but not others) are recognizing a dignity, it must by the presumed dignity of doing whatever you want to do – which would include selling yourself into slavery if you wanted and thus proves to be incoherent.

To avoid these extremes, then it must involve nuanced and qualified dignities and thus is not within the provenience of the judicial branch but rather the legislature. But it’s here where we see zero confidence in the institutions of democracy and instead the imposition of a sovereign Justice to take matters into his own hands. This is especially clear in the rejection of a law passed by constitutional provisions. Neither due process nor federalism provides a basis for it.

So Kennedy shows a strong parallel to Spielberg’s Lincoln – not surprising since the film production has sent clear signals that it still regards sections if the country as not entitled to appreciate the person represented in the film, and thus displaying it’s political preferences overtly.

The real crux is that rather than being seen as an extraordinary political case, it is being seen as the very paradigm if normal politics. The logical conclusion of this is in the reduction to meaninglessness of our democratic institutions and their use as a foil for a political Caesarian elitism that alone holds the right to determine what is and isn’t right for the masses. After all such a public has demonstrated it’s unfitness to rule by refusing to grow up to maturity and instead entertaining their infantile selves with such things as “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings”, and “ET”. (Oops!)

The end of the debate:

It appears yet again that we are supposed to think that the debates over the great philosophical and moral questions have been settled. This article on Virginia campaigns expresses on behalf of Cato a presumptive commitment to contractual relativism. Without my making any surmised about the real quality of the candidates in question – they really may be bigoted and insane – still the arguments given for this are extremely specious and question begging.

That racists, nationalists, and anti-Semites may appeal to the same language (“intrinsic ends”, “natural law”) as objectors to same sex marriage does not show that there is no legitimate applications for natural law theory. One can mistake (even deliberately culpably mistake) the meaning and application of natural law theory, especially since their is more than one interpretation of it (Aquinas, Hobbes, Grisez). That such disagreements are possible strongly supports the intelligibility and prima facie plausibility of the view. Comparisons with Nazis are not sufficient evidence especially given how natural law was used against state powers to protect the rights of South American native peoples against exploitation in the 18th century.

Also, while those cited may certainly show ignorance in formulating and justifying an etiology of homosexuality on a psychoanalytic approach, that project has been taken up by more learned and competent hands as anyone looking at the history of the debate over including homosexuality in the diagnostic manual and at the credentials of the members of NARTH can testify. The psychoanalytic case is as adequate here as anywhere else.

Even if one dumps etiology for the more empirically attested research and therapy approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, we find that they are indifferent to genetic as well as psychodynamic causes and basically place the decision to be a homosexual well within the clients own choice so there is no practical import to being “born homosexual”. Homosexuality remains a moral choice of identity, and may be questioned on moral grounds.

The question is begged on both moral and psychological areas, but the position is still presented as settled true. But such great questions remain aporetic and everyone necessarily has a right to their own opinion, not just in private but also in public.

Psychologically, convictions are efficiently formed as a basis for action in virtue of the individual’s own set of intuitions and plausibility structure. Even the skeptic of any moral prescription except keeping one’s contract has a set of assumptions that she is making a studied effort to conserve through argument and practical reasoning. But all do this with different plausibility structures. While some fail the test of time and change, strongly alternative accounts remain. As such, anyone of them may be rationally held such that no one ought to be socially condemned for holding them. Rather the hope for progress in views lies in preserving the right to express them, as our enlightened Founders concluded.

And contrary to the counter-bombast here from Cato, the position that marriage and family is an institution of natural intrinsic ends that can be characterized as proper functioning is one those views. The defense of marriage is about preserving marriage in that sense while allowing people who disagree to see marriage as a brute social contract to act accordingly.

But just as human rights do not imply a right to join any group you want, just as no one has a right to serve in the military or be a leader of a Moslem Student Group if you are Jewish, homosexuals do not have a right to enter into bonds of traditional marriage. They may form the kinds of institutions or contracts their own views oblige them to.

This kind of pluralism is founded on the presumption that there is greater resolution in the future, it gambles on the possibility of further enlightenment. This leaves all lines of communication open. But skepticism and relativism is necessarily committed in practice to work to support the claim that their is no ultimate truth whatever evidence may suggest otherwise. Thus, it constantly acts efficiently in the supposition that claims to intrinsic ends and such must need be self-preferential fictions and therefore bigotry. But the real bigotry is in the soft prejudice of moral skepticism as we can see here.

SSM and TA

Considering the frustration many defenders of traditional marriage are feeling about the state of play surrounding the debate over same sex marriage, as expressed by the pessimism by Maggie Gallagher for example, it might be useful to brush off an old tool from our cohort’s collective past – namely Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis.

Just a brief non-professional review, Transactional Analysis (TA) was an empirical approach to transactions in a conversational exchange, with the aim of equipping participants with the means to identify and avoid conversations that defeated the aims of one or both participants, which Berne called “games”. It was based on a Humean view of the self and a behaviorist view of conditioning.

For appropriate convenience, TA takes it that each person has at least three states of being, called “ego states”. The first is the ego state which engages with the person’s of what it was like for her development as a child, called the Child ego state (or Child for short). The second is the state that engages with a person’s memories of being raised by parents and other authority figures, called the Parent ego state. Finally, there is the state that engages with the person’s experiences in being a responsible agent, called the Adult ego state. We standardly are in the Adult ego state but may from time to time channel either the Patent or Child states. This can be done from an Adult standpoint that decides or permits it if the occasion is appropriate. But we can also revert to either state because of stress or anxiety or even be in either state chronicly. This indicates a problem in the situation or character of the person. Also, a person could operate in the Adult state to cover for business done in either Parent or Child state. Ego states can either become under-differentiated or blocked out if awareness.

Further, in conversation, one person’s ego states can each individually try to engage with the different ego states of the other person. Which ego states in each person in a single exchange is part of the analysis of the transaction. Standardly, one person’s Adult will try to address the other person’s Adult. “Has the report come in yet?” sometimes though one person’s Child will try to connect with the other person’s Child or Parent. “Let’s go get wasted!” “I can’t remember where I put my file. Can you help me?”. And so on.

On this analysis, there are two types of transactions: Complementary ones engage the same ego states in each person and in each exchange. The Adult to the Adult and back. Crossed transactions however are where one transaction comes from one ego state in one person but the response comes from a different one in another. One example is when the speaker’s Adult asks the listener’s Adult a question but the response comes from the listener’s Child to the speaker’s Parent.

One last bit on this head is that transactions can be ulterior. That is one person can exchange another person using the presentation of an Adult to another Adult while the real purpose is for the Child to speak to the other Child. “I am of the opinion that the Celtics will soundly defeat the Lakers this evening.” this can also happen with other pairings of ego states.

This allows us to characterize the nature of a dysfunctional conversation or “game”. A game is where one person in a conversation is engaging with another in a transaction that is both crossed and ulterior. An example of a game is the one TA users call “Yes But”. Sam approaches Max with a problem. Max offers a suggestion. Sam replies by giving some reason the suggestion is not viable. Max tries again but gets another qualification. Too late does Max realize that Sam really does not want the problem solved but to reaffirm his excuse for not solving the problem. Max thought he was engaging with Sam’s Adult but in reality it was Sam’s Child that was trying to engage with Max’s Parent. It is now up to Max to engage with Sam as a responsible person “Well, what will you do then?” or simply disengage and walk away from the futile game. We can imagine stronger versions of this pattern with higher stakes as well, which brings us back to our topic.

When we listen to the responses given to the arguments against same sex marriage, we discover that a good batch of them really are not arguments but put offs. None of these engage with the debate but instead make unilluminating appeals to relativism and emotionalism or anecdotal evidence. Or they are debate stoppers that make false claims like “the opponent has not shown why we should think he us right” or “has not given evidence for any harmful effect of gay marriage” or “No one understands their gobble-de-gook” and so on. Meanwhile we see the pro-marriage side offering an analysis of the rationality and grounds for the morality of the view, it relation to jurisprudence and the laws of the land and court precedents, evidence from history and social science, as well as biology and medicine. The have also grounded their arguments on humanitarian grounds and even on aesthetic grounds (and even erotic grounds).

When we listen to the debates however it’s clear that the tactic is not to engage with argument but rather to rely on a certain condition that is pervasive in the culture. When critics make appeals to emotion (what does love have to do with reason?) or when they use the tactics of just reading passages from pro-marriage books to highlight their strange sounding nomenclature to turn off listeners, they are counting on a reaction rather than a response.

If we look at a debate as a set of transactions, not just between the debaters but between each debater and the audience, and between factions among the audience, we can see that there is a very large and very intense game of “Yes But”. Call it “Sez You!” or something like that. The game involves emotionally sandbagging the opponent and deflecting his argument.

Of course, this analysis does not fit everything. Many are engaging with the debate with arguments and this included Epicurian, utilitarian, and libertarian arguments. Thus analysis also does not imply that defenders of traditional marriage are above playing games. Nor does this analysis say why this game is being played and why people are counting on crossed transactions to accomplish political purpose in such an undemocratic way.

But having this as a tool of analysis should provide some ready comfort to defenders of traditional marriage. It gives them insight into what’s going on and makes sense of how the situation makes them stressed (and thus decreases that stress). It also helps the audience they are trying to reach. If they also see that what they are doing is an empty game it will tend to make them not want to play along and a real conversation can take place. It will also show how such tactics illegitimately serve one party rather than another and coerce that party to engage more responsibly in order to foster a better image of itself. Finally, it will give proponents of traditional marriage a much brighter and hopeful prospect that comes with the “Aha!” of seeing through the source of their perplexity and how flimsy it is. Is “Sez You” and adequate basis of a social policy?

Oshira and Aliens

National Review considers the likelihood of whether Republicans will add same sex marriage to the platform. It looks inevitable since support for gay marriage has spiked pronouncedly. Those holding out against are among the very old, the very religious and the very uneducated. The GOP is likely to accept gay marriage if implemented according to the principles of federalism, separation of powers, and protection of religious expression such as exemplified by Maryland’s question 6.

What difference education makes may require the specific type of pedagogy. I just saw Nagima Oshima’s “Realm of the Senses” (Japan, 1976) an explicitly erotic but arguably non-pornographic tragic romance based on a true story from 1936 about a couple who had a relationship outside of social customs that became so obsessed sexually that the man was accidentally killed by the woman. The woman was caught by the police with man’s severed genitalia in her possession.

The reason the film is not considered pornography is that, though the sex was very very explicit, it was not presented in a way that made the characters into objects of arousal for the viewer. Instead of objectifying the sexuality, the director shows the characters attending to each other as persons so as to bring out the audiences empathy. The point is to show the humanity of sex without arousing the audience.

Nonetheless the movie focused on the sex and though the couple is not homosexual, the couple’s adventures lead to the breaking of several taboos either openly or by suggestion (such as child molestation, incest, and necrophilia). The film is still never shown in Japan, in spite of it’s having it’s own “pink” culture, because of the implied criticisms of Japanese culture. (I’m getting this from the notes and interviews in the Criterion Collection DvD packet.)

The point is that by empathizing with the couple, you no longer see the occasion to condemn them as obscene, in spite of the taboo breaking. What you see is a couple marginalized by society for wanting to express their sexual love for each other but unable to realize their pure sexual expression and thus led to death. The idea is very similar to western romanticism.

When I see this, I think of Thomas Nagel’s paper on sexual perversion. Without taking a natural law perspective, Nagel still asks what could make sense of sex being perverted unless there was some norm that perversion departs from. The only candidate suggested by him is in the psychology of arousal. To make a longer story shorter, one is aroused by the other person, not just his or her body. More specifically one is aroused by that person’s own state of being aroused and coupling happens when each is aroused by the other’s being aroused by the first. And so on. This is normal sexuality for Nagel. A shoe fetish would thus be a perversion since the “other” could not be aroused. However, many normally offered candidates for perversion such homosexuality, pedophilia, and incest would not count as perverse on this view. But for Nagel sexual normality or perversity is a non-moral distinction. This is also the conclusion of Oshima. Full explicitness proves that there is no “obscenity” in the legal sense. We are supposed to think there is really none in the moral sense also. This is directly in opposition to the biblical view, illustrated by Noah’s curse on Ham for revealing Noah’s nakedness. For Oshima the hidden is the obscene. For the Bible, the revealed is.

Another example comes from Andrea Peyser, conservative columnist for the New York Post. She wrote (from my memory) some years ago about attending her daughter’s lesbian wedding. There was nothing about the ceremony that was explicit to any greater degree than kissing the bride(s). Again, like the film and Nagel’s arguments, the observer is left ambivalent with empathy toward the person’s involved. As a result, according to Peyser, looking at the happiness on her daughter’s face, she no longer saw any point in opposing gay marriage.

So the kind of education that unlearns the taboos against gay marriage is directly related to the emphasis on diversity as a pedagogical goal of education. It is simply by coming to know many gay friends that one becomes ambivalent to gay marriage and thus accepts it.

Yet there remains a civil point to opposing gay marriage even if there is no longer a political point for doing so, even granting the above. Admit that gay love or incest or pedophilia or good old fornication and adultery need not be the sort that objectifies the other, and that erotic love even requires the recognition that the other is a person, an autonomous rational agent that is also a sexual being with an amorphous capacity to experience sexual pleasure. Erotic love then is devotion to pleasure through devotion to the other’s experience and expression of sexual pleasure. It is pleasure in the pleasure of the other which is obtained in the service to the other. This pleasure becomes larger and more secure with the addition of several other others and thus tends to be polyamorous. Erotic love thus us a candidate for one’s telos and as shared teloi are the basis of bonds between people, this can potentially be the source of tight relations and an ethic of sexual care and sexual reciprocity.

However, such a community fails to make sense of all the features of family life and on particular it fails to make sense of having and raising children. It also fails to thus make sense of growing and developing a society beyond the community both geographically and in time. Thus it precludes other important purposes open to persons, many if which are arguably more important than sexual gratification, which fails to measure up to expected utility calculation in many cases. Also sexual gratification is a short term end in itself. The only way one might conceive of fulfilling such a telos is by maximizing the number and quality of orgasms. But it is also true that, due to the dependence on the human busy and it’s energy, sexual gratification is a scarce quantity. Eventually the body loses it’s ability to produce sexual experiences that can compete with it’s earlier experiences. In short, even though sexual gratification is a possible good to rational agents, it is too narrow a good to make the focus of a relationship. You might try to adapt society to accommodate to such an ideal, but the result will look like Logan’s Run or Brave New World.

Like the real life case that is the basis of Oshira’s story, there is currently a case being tried now in the US prosecuting a beautiful young woman for killing her boyfriend. He was a Mormon who led a pure lifestyle until he met this woman who introduced him to “benefits”. But as time went on, anytime he wanted to leave and go back to his former way life, she would up the anti on her sexual favors to more erotic services. Finally, when tried to make decisive break and return to his church, she feared fir the loss of her sexual relationship and killed him. Although she had no prior history of sociopathic behavior, toward the end, her approach to him, became sociopath-like through manipulation and objectification. What may have started as Nagel like case of arousal may have through sexual obsession become more like a classic case of objectification. The exclusive narrowness of erotic love may tend to and logically entail such obsession. (Having no other purpose to make sense of.)

For all these reasons, while there is a kind of reciprocity in erotic love, we cannot will to universalize erotic love as a sole end. In the film, the two adulterers hold a faux marriage in a brothel which clearly has no significance except as symbol of the erotic devotion to one another. But a real marriage supposes a covenant to each other for all time which has a broad scope beyond sexual cherishing. Traditional marriage has the complete well being of each partner, their commonwealth, their children, and their society in view. But we could not will such a thing for the sake of erotic love.

One reply will be that such relationships do not have such a narrow scope, as the phrase “friends with benefits” suggests. As friends or partners we do not just look to the sexual desires of the other but care for the other in toto. But neither erotic love nor friendship is the basis for marriage. We need to have an ethic of care as well as duties to one another anyway and the state has laws and rights that already cover this. Friends can become brothers by trading saki cups without the public recognition. This is because friendship is also a private affair that does not necessarily take society into its scope.

But marriage and family as traditionally conceived and practiced includes caring for the other even when they are no longer loved or befriended. They have to take you back when you come again. Marriage and family have to see if devotion can be rekindled. Free relations of friendship and erotic love are not so obliged. Not can we but we must will to universalize traditional marriage.

It is natural to be ambivalent about another’s happiness at a time and to not want to do anything to harm it. But dedication to erotic love involves a self-deception by looking only to the present moment, not only for those in love but also for ambivalent spectators. We need to ask what it would be like if our devotion at the moment became the norm. Suppose Earth was invaded by a race of genderless aliens that were able to copulate with any and human at any age with perfect sentient recognition of each other’s arousal and do so with perfect intensity on an asymptotically increasing scale in one continuous act. It would mean the end of the human race.

Polyamory and Happiness

The Love that calls for marriage.

I read a piece recently that argued polyamory as being superior to traditional marriage because it tended to result in better character in those participating in it. Traditional marriage breads jealousy and thus hostility and violence. This happens when a spouse has relations outside of marriage. But if this happens in polyamory, this doesn’t happen since the point of polyamory is complete openness to experience sexually with others. In fact, instead of jealousy, the partner feels happiness in the other’s success sexually. Rather than tending to violence, sex with other people tends to happiness in the case of the partner.

The problem with this view is that it overlooks the case where the partner does not have relations with anyone else. In the case of the polyamorous partner, she must be required to be sad for her dedicated partner for not succeeding with others but not only that she must at all times realize that she has no special claim to any of her partners’ affections nor they to hers. Polyamory instills an imperative to be open to providing “benefits” with many partners. She’s not even to be dedicated to certain sets of partners. Polyamory tends to a kind of ubiquity of relations to the point where e en friendship is irrelevant. But a traditional marriage understands that partners are partners because they have been chosen. Not only that but chosen with lifelong dedication. Marriage traditionally conceived is an exclusive covenant and promise. When one says “I do”, one sets a precedent against predictable future discounting and this assures the partner that right now when and while one is right minded and whole hearted one dedicates to their partner for all of life. This is a kind of precious love. Conjugal family creation specifically calls for covenantal love and thus traditional marriage.

Polyamorous arrangements assume no effort will be made to prevent discounting the future and that everyone involved will simply follow the mood at the time. The aim is to avoid sabotaging the heat of the moment and to mitigate the need to sublimate the libido. In polyamorous agreements, persons volunteer to be mere means. This is not as readily seen as it is in the case of slavery or Old Mormon style polygamy where the man is a kind of king and his wives are like his retainers. In polyamory however you have a kind of original position where several people contract to exchange sexual benefits with each other in the future. This is to grant each other property in the other’s bodies but only, though not necessarily exclusively, for pleasure.

So polyamory is only finding a happiness in another’s increased utility, like when a friend wins at Lotto. It’s not violent but also not much since the ends obtained come and go. But the anger that goes with infidelity is righteous indignation and need not be brute violence. On the other hand, there is no sense of dedicated love in polyamory and polyamory would resist and discourage such love by requiring infidelity to justify the lifestyle. Further, polyamory includes no provision for children. It would have to make special provisions if children are had or desired that would either compromise polyamory or compromise children. This could include sterilization or abortion, so polyamory is not necessarily without it’s violence.

The oceanic pleasure of the experience machine of polyamory that constitutes it’s “spirituality” is certainly spiritual in the original paganism of the human race. But in the spirituality of western theism the model of religion is marriage. God’s people are a “chosen people”, his prized possession, the apple of his eye. And he is a “jealous God”. In paganism the people find useful deities, but God says, “You did not choose me. I chose you.” God makes a covenant with his people and they are thus identified with each other. God’s love is unconditional but still exclusive. This is the difference between Eros and Agape.

Here at the me, I an celebrating “French Gay (Touquivillian) Atheist Day”, having a burger with French Gay Atheist Fries and so on. What could drive an Anglophillic Straight Theist to such festivities? It is to honor those gay atheists in France today who are marching with the opponents of the government’s attempt to push gay marriage. Not only this, but their arguments are stunningly perspicuous and compelling moral reasons that put many Americans to shame for there lack of clarity. Such stunning moral perspicacity from such persons runs counter to the narrative about them in Christian circles. One could say that they are deeply beholden in theory and disposition to the excellent social reasoning in their Catholic backgrounds. But this in no way dims their excellent arguments.

Putting various reports together the argument they give can be compellingly and efficiently given.

(1) The rights of the child trump the rights to a child.
(2) Every child has a right to have both it’s mother and father.
(3) Thus the state has a duty to see to it that the child has it’s father and mother.
(4) Gay marriage will not see to it that the child has it’s own father and mother even allowing for adoption.
(5) Thus, the state has no duty to support gay marriage over normal marriage.

I don’t care to consider the whole argument now but I do want to look at parts of it. Clearly the notion of right in the first phrase of (1) and in (2) is that of a natural liberty right prior to state and legislation design. The “right” in the second phrase (1), in cases not involving the children that parents have by birthing them, refers to positive “rights” that are creatures of legislation, such as adopting. Also, (1) and (2) are synthetic a priori moral truths, given the properties of natural rights.

While this last bit will no doubt be challenged, I simply give my best sweeping “consult the literature” arm wave and move on. One interesting implication of natural rights of children is that they illustrate an implication of natural rights, namely that they imply duties not only contemporary with the person but before the person exists. If a person P has a natural right at a time T then others have the duty to secure P’s rights not only at T but prior to T. If children have a natural right to a mother and father we need to secure that right insofar as we have anything to do with that outcome even before the child exists. Every child that is going to exist has the right.

If this is true of the natural right to a mother and father, it is also true of another natural right: the right to life. Children have a right to life that trumps the right to get or not get children. If a a child is going to exist we have the duty to protect that future life. This implies a prima facie duty to protect life from conception. If there is a conceptus there will be a child with a right to life. We can prevent the existence of a child with a right to life by terminating the embryo but this is exactly what is forbidden by the future child’s right to life, the future child whose existence has been rendered disposed to happen by the existence of the conceptus.

Thus (1) is an axiom that makes clear the duties regarding marriage and childbirth, two of the many contended areas of social concerns. No doubt it has bearing of freedom of religious expression but we will leave that as an exercise. But we do owe French Gay Atheist marriage advocates and major debt. Happy French Gay Atheist day.

Hot on the tail of the previous post: Bottom points out that up until The post-WWI period in America, there was a relationship between religion, politics, and economics as spheres of cultural life that provided the common language be means of which all could make sense of and appreciate rival points of view: denominational pluralism, commercial capitalism, and republican federalism. The picture focuses on these as they are in themselves but also jointly as a common culture. See the previous posted article.

As one looks at these components, it’s clear that separately they each apply what Thomas Sowell called “The Constrained View” as opposed to “The Unconstrained View”. So it’s very plausible that the Constrained View is the jointly held perspective that holds it all together and provides the common presupposition to the language. Thus, the abstract idea [constrained/unconstrained] is the key to understanding.

Capitalism is rational given the constrained view given man’s irrevocable selfishness. Socialism is rational given the unconstrained view since with direction human economy is capable of greater perfection. Similarly, republicanism is rational given the constrained view by instituting obstacles of review to curb the self-deceit of government. Statism is rational under the unconstrained view since there is nothing that needs an obstacle to check. Similarly, Protestantism is characterized by it’s belief in the ubiquity of sin in human nature. Further, the need to allow a plurality of denominations allowed for checks and balances between them. This is the constrained view. Modernism was characterized by a therapeutic perfectionistic deism with a similar structure of competent elitism.

To the constrained view, humans are universally characterized as having weakness of will, always preferring the bird in the hand to the two in the bush, in spite of what of what the expected utilities are. It would be difficult to imagine how expected utility calculation would have evolved and how man would have survived this long if not conscience evolved along with it to impose painful penalties over time as the immediate price of doing what experience has taught as inexpedient, thus making moral formation possible. Even then, the goodness thus achieved is fragile as conscience can become numb. Fragility is also a feature of the measures humans take (religion, government, economy) to anticipate and check weakness of will.

But now we have reached scoping were many think science and technology have made all this unnecessary. Humans even as we find them are plastic and it only takes competent social engineering be the best and brightest to shape that clay to an ever more optimal society. We can now transcend our cultural evolution. This is the unconstrained vision. This also includes seeing through conventional morality now that it need not apply to the brave new humans we might develop. The religious function need no longer be based on the arbitrary stories that percolate out of ancient history. Religion is just movement psychology that can be fulfilled by taking up the crusades that the experts pick out to suit the greater purpose of improved social functioning such as global warming, non-smoking, gay marriage, euthanasia, and so on.

But according to the constrained view, this grossly underestimates human weakness and without factoring this in is bound at the end of the day to be an elaborate social self-delusion of the most Machiavellian sort. But if checks and balances remain there’s hope that human will can keep in line with the rest of human nature to promote human happiness for more humans. So one of the most important checks is the lionizing of the sine qua nons of human happiness in the form of a regime of human liberty rights and corresponding perfect duties. This includes the freedom of religious expression.

So in America, the constrained view has finally been displaced from the central position it had in the National Mind and the unconstrained view has become the new center of thought.

Here is Joseph Bottom’s insightful and prophetic study on the death of American Protestantism from 2008. This has ramifications both for American conservative reform and Christian apologetics and domestic missions.