Tag Archive: Marriage

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.


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.