In Praise of Finger-Wagging

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57 Responses

  1. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    Tell me I read the above on the LOOG!
    Bravo, well done…keep up the good work!Report

  2. Avatar Aaron says:

    I can understand where the “decline in marriage” comes from as people are getting married less, and divorced more often. But I question the “decline in monogamy”… before the sexual revolution and women’s liberation, how much was infidelity hidden from public sight? In other words, did married women (or men) know that their spouse was cheating on them, but did not get divorced because that was socially unacceptable? How much did the media not intrude into the private lives of prominent figures such as politicians even though they most certainly were cheating on their wives?

    This is not to suggest that monogamy as a social norm isn’t valuable, since it certainly is helpful for maintaining stable relationships especially when children are involved. However, I wonder in what ways it could be possible to encourage monogamy socially without also creating social pressure to conceal infidelity.

    Another valid point might be whether monogamy is the only valid social institution for encouraging stable relationships. Since marital infidelity is one of the oldest stories in the books, could there be alternative relationship agreements between partners that allow for “infidelity” while maintaining a core relationship? Obviously marriage is more than just a sexual relationship, but also a romantic, economic, and personal relationship. Otherwise, we might as well just call married couples long-term **** buddies. One need not look far into history or other cultures to see all sorts of varied interpersonal relationships between partners (sometimes even more than two!). Are we limiting ourselves or setting ourselves with unreasonable expectations about relationships by trying to make everyone fit into a certain mold (monogamy) when another model for a relationship could work better at maintaining stable relationships with others? Note that I’m not necessarily advocating for such alternative relationships, but I think it’s good food for thought whenever we consider interpersonal relationships.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

      @Aaron, when you say “Are we limiting ourselves or setting ourselves with unreasonable expectations about relationships by trying to make everyone fit into a certain mold (monogamy) when another model for a relationship could work better at maintaining stable relationships with others?”, are there any historical examples you could point to?

      When I think of the handful of, ahem, “non-traditional” relationships among people that I know (e.g., the “polyamorous” ones), I know of more catastrophic failures (i.e., “I never want to hear that person’s name ever again!”) among those relationships than among the divorced folks I know (who can, at least, be congenial enough to hand off the kids for weekends or whathaveyou).

      Note: My experiences are my experiences and could very well be outliers.Report

      • Avatar Josh in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, I would submit that before the Wright brothers came along, there were no historical examples of successful manned flight one could point to, and many catastrophic failures. I would also submit that given the general level of sexual maturity in our culture (i.e., NOT HIGH) and generally in cultures throughout history, that’s not really surprising. But sexual maturity is actually one place I think we’re markedly improving.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Josh says:

          @Josh, manned flight is an engineering problem. We knew that manned flight was possible back in the days of Icarus… we just had to hammer out the particulars.

          When it comes to improvements upon the current system, I’d like to see some of the sketches about what this analogue to a working flying machine might entail.

          Would it have wings?Report

          • Avatar Josh in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird: No, we didn’t know manned flight was possible until we saw evidence that it was possible; we hypothesized.

            But anyway, although there are differences between fairly straightforward engineering problems and changing social attitudes, it’s abundantly clear that social attitudes have changed over time (particularly in regard to sex and relationships), and that deeply ingrained earlier attitudes and practices have eroded. I see a lot of advantages to two-person monogamous marriage (that’s why I’m in one!), and I imagine it’ll be the norm for some time; but the fact that other types of relationships haven’t become popular is sure no indicator that they won’t or shouldn’t.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Josh says:

              @Josh, well, my worry is that if one of the fundamental premises is that people just need to be more enlightened (as is the case for the vast majority of theoretical substitutions for the institution that I’ve encountered), we’re more likely to end up with something like, say, the USSR than, say, Finland.Report

              • Avatar Josh in reply to Jaybird says:

                @Jaybird: I think I get what you mean, but I’m not sure. For other kinds of marriage to work, I don’t think people just need to be more “enlightened,” in the sense of being open to new ideas and willing to throw away the old; I do think they would have to be more enlightened in the sense of recognizing that new types of relationships may offer new types of benefits, but would concomitantly involve new challenges too.Report

          • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, Perhaps the four minute mile would be a better example.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, My relationships are 15 and 10 years old with little or no drama. To the extent that we know each other at all from this forum, you can add that to your tallies.Report

      • Avatar Aaron in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, Little late to replying, but hopefully the discussion hasn’t died down to much.

        If I can pull back into the dusty shelves in my brain where store what I learned in undergraduate cultural anthropology, I believe a tribe in some part of Indonesia (please forgive my poor memory on this) allows men and women to pursue sexual relationships as they please, and any child born out of those relationships is raised by the mother’s brother and the mother rather than the biological father. In that case, the relationship between the mother’s brother and the mother provides the necessary stability to raise a child without a sexual relationship between the two. In our own culture, you often see something similar where especially with inner city children (I have seen this over and over) being raised by their grandparents or some other family member who is more stable than the biological parents. I digress a little bit, but my point in the original comment wasn’t to suggest polyamory necessarily, but that there are many different ways to arrange our sexual, romantic, personal, and economic relationships for raising children, building communities, and so on. And as such, by placing too much emphasis on sexually monogamous marriages between a man and a woman as many social conservatives do and not-so-social conservatives do, are we missing out on other important relationships that help create stable communities, cities, and countries? Because many (but not all!) people have a tendency towards infidelity, is a monogamous marriage really where we want to form the basis of our communities?

        Although I didn’t necessarily mean to suggest polyamory, I am involved in a polyamorous relationship with three other men. (*gasp* it’s a gay love trapezoid!) I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a model for almost anyone to use, though. The details are complicated (fancy that!) but while economically we all share resources, we have many of the same friends, and we often attend family occasions together, sexually it is essentially two monogamous couples (weird, I know). My experiences with this may have guided my earlier thoughts on this, but I feel there are many dimensions to a relationship, not just sexual. In some sense, we’re like a family… a really bizarre and strange family. (It’ll definitely make an interesting memoir for sure) This has been quite long-winded, but the point I’m trying to make is that by focusing so much on the sexual aspect of marriage (monogamy) and deriding people for it, are we over-emphasizing the sexual to the neglect of other equally (and perhaps more) important parts of a marriage/partnership/whatever?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Aaron says:

          @Aaron, sorry took so long…

          As for the tribe, would you say that that “works”? I mean, does that particular tribe do better than neighboring tribes? Are there more immigrants than emigrants? (And what happens if there are a string of girls born to a particular parent?)

          As for what happens in the inner city… well, one has to put this delicately: One suspects that it works for the inner city primarily because children are resilient rather than because, as models go, it’s particularly likely to result in flourishing.

          I digress a little bit, but my point in the original comment wasn’t to suggest polyamory necessarily, but that there are many different ways to arrange our sexual, romantic, personal, and economic relationships for raising children, building communities, and so on.

          Oh, indeed! But, being fairly conservative, I have to ask “are those ways better than this one?”

          I am a huge fan of people forging their own ways through this veil of tears, mind. If what works for you works for you, then have at it. It’s a lonely world and if two (or four) people can find each other, god bless them.

          But, it seems to me, that it has been demonstrated that one can do a lot worse than monogamous LTRs… because there are soooo many relationships that seem to go out of their way to do so.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Aaron says:

      @Aaron,

      I can understand where the “decline in marriage” comes from as people are getting married less, and divorced more often.

      This is at best only partially so. People are getting married later, which means they spend less time married, and thus there are more unmarried people around. The rates of people who ever get married are much harder to study, at least if you want current numbers.

      Meanwhile, the divorce rate peaked around 1980 and has been steadily declining ever since.

      I speculate that there’s a strong need to believe that divorce rates are high and rising. After all, we need to have something to blame on the homosexuals.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki, I dunno… they seem to be co-habitating and having “starter” marriages at the same rates that folks used to just get married at the JoP.

        When I point out to folks just a few years younger than I that Maribou and I did not co-habitate before our marriage, they tend to express surprise.Report

      • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,
        I don’t think it’s too hard to see how gay marriage only becomes thinkable in a society that has undergone a sexual revolution. Someone like Elizabeth Anscombe sketches how attitudes toward homosexuality are bundled in with the rise of contraception and all the other changes that entailed.

        Now, just because some things are bundled together doesn’t mean that the good can’t be separated from the bad. Most here would be inclined to see gay marriage as better than, say, the rise of divorce. But others might celebrate the weakening of marriage and see the gay-marriage movement as quaintly confused.

        Jason’s right to point that a lot of marriage indicators are improving, but this observation totally obscures the fact that we have seen an entrenching of two marriage cultures. One group, mostly white and college-educated, delays marriage (though the age of first live-in partnering has remained quite stable) but enjoys stable unions.

        The poor, especially African-Americans, suffer from much higher rates of divorce and of out-of-wedlock childbirth. It’s really not worth talking about overarching marriage trends. Marriage has become a matter of class.Report

    • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Aaron says:

      Great comment, Aaron. One small point: I don’t see a huge problem in social pressure to conceal monogamy. The silent tolerance of private vice does a lot less harm, I think, than a mass abandonment of public morals.Report

      • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

        @Matthew Schmitz, I meant to write “social pressure to conceal infidelity.” Though social pressure to conceal monogamy isn’t too harmful either.

        I am reminded of my great aunt and uncle, who were married secretly (and had secret conjugal visits) because my aunt, as a country-school teacher in rural Nebraska, would have been forced to quit her job if her marriage became known.Report

  3. Avatar Freddie says:

    If Tiger Woods coverage creeps into one more piece of media I enjoy, I’m gonna slit my wrists.Report

  4. Avatar Josh says:

    Maybe someone has covered this already, but I don’t quite see why monogamous marriage ought to be the salient issue here. Morally speaking, the point is that Tiger Woods broke a promise. It shouldn’t really matter whether he cheated on his one-and-only wife, or on his multiple partners in some form of exclusive polyamory. Should it?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Josh says:

      @Josh, morally? Of course not. That’s between him, anyone with whom he contracted, and (assuming that there is a) God.

      On a more pragmatic level, there is the whole “role model” thing touched upon. Whether or not human beings are “wired” for monogamy or serial monogamy or public monogamy/private adultery, society, it is said, benefits from stable marriages.

      Tiger’s sin, in this case, is that he was indiscreet in his immorality. I tend to see this particular finger-wagging as a lecture against indiscretion rather than immorality.Report

      • Avatar Josh in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird: Actually, I think society just benefits from kept promises in general. So, yes, it benefits from stable marriages as a form of kept promise, because there happen to be many such promises made; but I don’t see that there’s anything inherent in two-person marriage that makes it a more important type of promise to keep. If polyamory were the norm and people promised to be faithful to their partners and take care of their kids, I think society would be just as secure when those promises were kept, and suffer just as much when they weren’t. (Although arguably, it might suffer less: Like, if a kid has three parents and one leaves, he or she is probably better off than a kid who starts with two parents and has one leave.)

        Regarding role models and pragmatism, pragmatically speaking, I think it’s best not to be too invested in one’s role models. Or to pick fictional ones, because Jean-Luc Picard is almost certainly not going to let you down.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Josh says:

          @Josh, people capable of picking and choosing role models arguably need none.Report

        • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Josh says:

          @Josh, I heartily agree with your point about the great Jean-Luc Picard. Just not on anything else.Report

            • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Josh says:

              Sure. I actually do agree to some extent with your belief that we humans, or at least our behaviors, can be transformed. The introduction of the pill is nothing if not a technological feat, and it is, I suppose, a singular success of social engineering.

              What I oppose is the temptation that this acknowledgment presents. We may be tricked into believing that every fact of human biology and psychology is alterable in theory and can be altered in fact. I think it’s a red herring to invoke polyamory (which I understand as a democratic, non-oppressive polygamy) just given the way that we humans work. In conclusion, I’ll say that particularities matter, and that the particular promise of marriage is important in ways that other promises aren’t.Report

              • Avatar Josh in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                @Matthew Schmitz: Well, with all due respect, I guess that’s sort of an elaboration? I mean, you wrote more words. But if I ask, “Why is marriage a more important promise?” then for you to say, “The particular promise of marriage is important in ways that other promises aren’t”—well, that’s not an answer, man.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                @Matthew Schmitz, I would argue with the notion that “marriage” has an inherent content. The content of a Southern Baptist marriage from Georgia is going to differ from a Mormon from Utah, a Muslim from Kabul, Pagans in Portland, and just about any French couple.Report

              • Avatar Matthew Schmitz in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                Sorry, Josh, I didn’t mean to filibuster. You said:

                If polyamory were the norm and people promised to be faithful to their partners and take care of their kids, I think society would be just as secure when those promises were kept, and suffer just as much when they weren’t.”

                I don’t think this hypothetical is wrong. How could it be? My problem is with its total unreality. Anyone who understands the nature of human biology, psychology, and social interaction will recognize that polygamy only works when it is an Old Testament-style relationship of male rule (which may be benevolent or tyrannical) and female subjection.

                Of course, I would be delighted to be proven wrong by a reliable report of a society made up of matriarchical, polygamist Amazonians. In fact, I think such a society is, if anything, more likely than one where we have stable, equitable polyamory.

                If I’m right, and polyamory just doesn’t work, what’s the point of raising it as a hypothetical? If we’re going to discuss social institutions, let’s take account of the reality of who inhabits them.

                This, I hope, gets me within striking distance of my main point. Marriage is more important than other promises because (nonexhaustively): it aspires to permanence and exclusivity, it involves children and families, and so many people enter into it.

                These points are so simple that it seems impossible to not belabor them. My point is that marriage is different, for a host of quotidian reasons.

                All that said, I do have some grounds for agreement with your point about how marriage is only one of the promises people make to each other.It’s true that the marriage vow draws on and helps to replenish a store of social (one could say, though only somewhat confusingly, moral) capital that is relied on for the making of business deals, and the playing of ball games. That’s a good point.Report

              • Avatar Josh in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                @Matthew Schmitz: That’s all fair. I will tentatively agree that marriage is more important than your average promise, and I understand your not previously spelling out all the quotidian reasons why.

                And I see why, given all that, polyamory is a red herring here. I don’t agree that polyamory necessarily only works when it is an Old Testament-style relationship—just that we have not, to date, seen it work on a mainstream scale in any other style of relationship, which is yeah kinda nitpicky but nitpicking is important—but yeah, the workability of polyamory isn’t really relevant to the question of marriage’s important relative to other promises.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                Josh, the red herring is my fault. I was going off the top of my head for “other models” and that was the first one to come to mind. If there are other other models that could very well work, I’d love to see a blueprint.

                As it stands, the only options that I’m seeing are the following:

                Monogamy.
                Serial monogamy.
                Public monogamy with private affairs for one partner.
                Public monogamy with private affairs for both partners.
                Polyamory with multiple partners for one partner.
                Polyamory with multiple partners for both/many partners.
                Polyfidelity.
                Some wacky combination of polyfidelity and polyamory depending on the member of the group.

                As sweeping generalizations go, I’d feel safe making the sweeping generalization that the other models available to monogamy involve polyamory. (Thinking on it now, I suppose I could have added another toggle dealing with emotional affairs…)

                If there is another “other model”, I can’t think of it.

                Anyway, that’s why that red herring got slapped around.Report

              • Jaybird, about that list, I’m perhaps too sheltered to know for sure what polyamory is, but I thought that was someone who had emotionally and sexually intimate relationships with more than one partner, and polyfidelity was when they made a go at a group marriage or group relationship. I don’t know many people who have tried either one and made it work. Maybe Tilda Swinton. But I have known a few couples that were committed emotionally, but occasionally “played” with a third or fourth and seemed to handle it fine. My understanding was it involved nothing emotional though. So is that still called “polyamory”, or something else? ‘Outsourcing’?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                Rufus, every time I find myself in these conversations, I am reminded of exactly how square I am.Report

              • For me, it was just a matter of having roommates who were less square than I am.Report

              • Avatar Cascadian in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

                I believe the technical term for physical play with no emotional attachment is “swinger”.Report

              • @Matthew Schmitz,

                The only reason why you can view your own relationship and sexual matters as ones ordained by both biology and psychology is because you inhabit the mainstream of sexual and relationship structures.

                To wit, “Anyone who understands the nature of human biology, psychology, and social interaction will recognize that polygamy only works when it is an Old Testament-style relationship of male rule (which may be benevolent or tyrannical) and female subjection. ”

                Uh, what? Have you completely ignored the many successful polyamorous micro societies that have evolved right here in the Western world? For the love of Christ, not twenty comments above us is the report of someone who’s in what seems to be a pretty successful quadrilateral arrangement. There are plenty of examples out there if you look for them.

                We don’t have any examples of society-wide egalitarian polyamory because we don’t have many examples of society-wide egalitarianism, and the few that have allowed for the liberation of women and the full humanity of homosexuals have incidentally derived from a monogamous tradition.

                More importantly, we need not decide on a societal level between polyamory and monogamy. In the same way a pluralistic society will allow for many ways flourishing spiritually and religious, it will also allow for many ways of flourishing in regards to sexuality and relationships. Asking which one is best for society is missing the point- the point is to empower individuals to figure out what works best for them and those whom they care about.Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    “But the decline of marriage and monogamy, and the related rise of inequality, suggests that we need to use private associations and public institutions as mild means of encouraging virtue. This is especially true, I think, if you oppose more stringent forms of morality legislation.”

    1. This is sort of what I was saying about authority and power. Namely, that if you have strong sources of the former (priests, parents, teachers, etc.), people are less likely to call for more of the later (laws, laws, laws, and cops).

    2. Having lived for quite some time in those low-income neighborhoods, I think what often strikes me as “hypocritical” (maybe something else actually) about social conservatives is that they will point fingers at cultural pathologies like the decline of marriage, and rightfully so, while not having a lot to say about any other sources of inequality. So, a kid in the low-income inner city grows up with significantly curtailed access to educational, nutritional, medical, employment, housing, and security resources, but the salient facts for understanding their situation are cultural pathologies. Because there you can most easily blame the poor for their situation, and after all, inequality is always the fault of the individual, and never of the society.

    Of course, my problem with liberals is that they do exactly the reverse: crime and the decline of the family supposedly have no effect on one’s life compared to social inequality. Cultural pathologies are simply a matter of choice and who can say what works for other people? The problem, of course, is that most of us have experiences that contradict this attitude. Personally, it would have been better for my adolescence if my parents stayed together, even if that meant they weren’t as self-actualized.

    But this brings us back to the first point- you need traditions and cultural authority so people have at least some idea of how to structure their lives and don’t make momentary whims the measure of life.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F., “Because there you can most easily blame the poor for their situation, and after all, inequality is always the fault of the individual, and never of the society.”

      And, yes, I understand that the immediate response will be that I’m calling for state intervention, or socialism, or whatever. I’m not.

      Nevertheless, I’ve lived in parts of the United States in which every other townhouse was boarded up and filled with rats, the nearest grocery store was forty miles away, the schools didn’t have books or computers, trash pickup was erratic, and you couldn’t leave your apartment, most of which should probably have been condemned anyway, after dusk for fear of getting shot. I think the problem people have with “social conservatives” is the feeling that they look at that sort of situation and say, “We need to something about the music.” It rings a bit hollow.Report

    • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F., Your point, and Matt’s, that “if you have strong sources of the former (priests, parents, teachers, etc.), people are less likely to call for more of the later (laws, laws, laws, and cops)” is a really important one. It reminds me a bit of Arendt’s often-overlooked work “On Violence,” in which she distinguishes between violence and power. By “power” she means something like what you mean by “authority.” It’s worth noting, though, that the absence of authority does not leave us only with the unmediated violence of the state, as the typical social conservative line goes. Foucault identifies vast and unknown structures of control that have nothing to do with authority or cops.Report

    • Avatar Andy Smith in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F.,

      Frugal spending habits matter especially in parts of society where they are weakest. In many low income neighborhoods, people spend a disproportionate amount of their income on alcohol, electronics and lottery tickets. This increases the chances that they’ll remain low-income. Contributing to the weakness of frugal spending habits in many of these neighborhoods is an ethos of get rich by any means, including robbery, drug dealing and various scams. Elin’s particular form of spending—apparently featuring a disproportionate number of extra articles of clothing, jewelry, trips abroad—isn’t exactly a declaration of war on this ethos.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Andy Smith says:

        @Andy Smith, Yeah, I certainly agree that buying a lot of lottery tickets and alcohol can have pretty negative effects if you’re living below the poverty line, and the same goes for the get-rick-quick mentality, gold-digging, or cheating on your spouse. That’s what I meant about liberals having a blind spot when it comes to cultural pathologies. Those bad choices affect you very negatively, particularly when you’re poor and therefore have less of a margin of error than someone in the suburbs. No doubt.

        Still, I think the blind spot for conservatives is someone like my father who is like the ideal conservative image of of the working poor: he does hard labor 60 hours a week, gets up at 5:00 and works until evening, is frugal, honest, votes Republican and reads his Bible every day; and conversely doesn’t smoke, rarely drinks, has never taken drugs, accepted welfare, beaten his kids, or bought a lottery ticket. Nevertheless, he’s been working 60 hours a week for the last forty years and has almost nothing to show for it. In fact, he his situation has gotten a lot worse in the last few decades because the cost of his health insurance has doubled, his rent has increased, etc., while his income has actually decreased. When we were kids, he worked at the poverty line, and now he’s below it. All I’m saying is that I’ve known a lot of people like my father, so conservative claims about how bad choices and the ethos of the crime keep the poor trapped in the cycle of poverty ring a bit hollow. I mean, of course they do, but so does being born poor in a country with almost no real social mobility.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus says:

    Aaron,
    In my readings about marriages in history, the main thing seems to have been that people simply did not divorce. Of course, it wasn’t at all uncommon for a husband to be say 30 years older than his bride. Which meant that you had a lot of women who were widows at a fairly young age. Marriage might have been a shorter commitment! Also, there’s a lot of folk tales about cuckolds, which makes sense when the wife is 18 and the husband is 52! Lastly, you’ll sometimes read about married couples who seemed to have agreements. For instance, I read about a New England couple in the 1700s who had a young male family friend who lived with them. It just wasn’t ever commented on that the friend slept in the same room the wife and the husband lived in different quarters altogether.

    Of course, there might have been a lot less cheating overall because people didn’t exactly marry for romantic reasons and so might not have expected romantic happiness like we do.Report

  7. Avatar North says:

    As a supporter of SSM I generally agree with the sentiment here. It does remind me of the line of arguement that Sullivan often goes on about; that the efforts by gays to obtain same sex marriage is a fundamentally conservative impulse. They’re attempting to buy into an existing institution.Report

  8. Avatar Andy Smith says:

    Why is it that when men (yes, and sometimes women, but it doesn’t change the point) follow their natural biological urge to have sex with multiple partners, that is considered morally depraved; but when women follow their natural biological urge to spend far more money than they need for a decent standard of living, they get a free pass? Tiger, like many rich men, married Elin because he craved her body. Elin, like many gorgeous women, married Tiger because she craved his money. Both types of desires are reasonable in moderation. People need to reproduce, and they need to ensure the security of their offspring. In this case, and in so many others, the desires ran wild on both sides, but no one calls Elin on her lavish lifestyle, though arguably that has far more serious social consequences than Tiger’s mistresses have. Most wars are rooted in economics, and all economics is rooted in desires for material wealth.

    People “cheat” in marriage for the same reason they take drugs—you can’t legislate strong biological desires out of existence. Let’s remember that marriage is not a reasonable compromise between the needs of some to have multiple partners, and the needs of others to have a stable relationship. It is a 100% sellout to the latter position. Of course it doesn’t work without a lot of fudging. Far from decrying adultery, we should recognize that it is essential to the institution of marriage. As long as people can have sex outside of marriage, they will be willing to marry for the other benefits it offers. If it were impossible to do this—for example, if all the people who are so dead against adultery got serious about it, and passed laws against it with very serious consequences—a great many people simply would not get married. We all know this, but a lot of people simply don’t want to admit it.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Andy Smith says:

      @Andy Smith,

      Tiger, like many rich men, married Elin because he craved her body. Elin, like many gorgeous women, married Tiger because she craved his money.

      Assumes facts not in evidence. She may have married him because he was famous. She may have married him because she genuinely liked him and had reason to believe (based on his reputation) that he was a really good guy. We really don’t know.

      Let’s remember that marriage is not a reasonable compromise between the needs of some to have multiple partners, and the needs of others to have a stable relationship.

      This assumes that the need for multiple partners is in fact the ends. The ends, to the extent that we are going to fixate on evo-psych, is to reproduce. The ticket to reproduction is marriage. They reproduced.

      To the extent that there is an inequality, it’s because women can make money on their own but men cannot reproduce on their own. That allows women to set rules. For guys like Tiger Woods, who have considerable sexual access to women, it’s something of a sacrifice. But guys a little further down the line benefit. With the exception of a select few, polygamy is a bad deal for men.

      As long as people can have sex outside of marriage, they will be willing to marry for the other benefits it offers.

      Most men don’t marry with the idea that they will still be able to have sex outside of that marriage. It happens, of course, but it’s not the intent.

      And besides all this, Tiger Woods made the implicit vow not to have sex outside of marriage. Had he gone the George Clooney route, nobody would care. You want to make accepted infidelity a precondition of marriage, go for it. For most men, though, that would mean not getting married. So we have to make that vow. And we have to accept being called on it if we break it.Report

      • Avatar Andy Smith in reply to Trumwill says:

        Trumwill: Assumes facts not in evidence. She may have married him because he was famous. She may have married him because she genuinely liked him and had reason to believe (based on his reputation) that he was a really good guy. We really don’t know.

        Yeah, right. If Tiger were poor and Elin were plain, it still would have been love at first sight. It just happened by sheer coincidence that Elin fell for a very rich man and Tiger fell for a very attractive woman.Of course it could have been another rich man or another attractive woman, but the reasons are obvious.

        “This assumes that the need for multiple partners is in fact the ends. The ends, to the extent that we are going to fixate on evo-psych, is to reproduce. The ticket to reproduction is marriage. They reproduced.”

        No it doesn’t. It simply assumes that the need for multiple partners exists, and that society has to deal with, in one way or another, biological drives that exist.Society could have designed marriage with this need in mind; it didn’t. Therefore, reality takes over and ensures that the need will be fulfilled.

        “With the exception of a select few, polygamy is a bad deal for men.”

        Then why is adultery so common? A lot of men seem to find it a good deal. Btw, I’m not arguing for polygamy, legalized marriage to multiple partners. I’m arguing that multiple partners is a fact of life that monogamy ignores. There are ways other than polygamy to recognize it. But I’m not even arguing that we should change the rules of marriage to recognize adultery explicitly. Maybe that wouldn’t work. All I’m saying is that adultery is a fact of life, it can’t be suppressed

        “Most men don’t marry with the idea that they will still be able to have sex outside of that marriage. It happens, of course, but it’s not the intent.”

        You know this for a fact? Again, though, you’re not addressing the issue. It’s irrelevant what idea men have when they marry. My point was that if there were very serious legal consequences for adultery, many people would think twice before getting married. They may not be thinking about adultery when they get married now, but if there were serious laws against it, many would think about it very carefully.

        “And besides all this, Tiger Woods made the implicit vow not to have sex outside of marriage. Had he gone the George Clooney route, nobody would care. You want to make accepted infidelity a precondition of marriage, go for it. For most men, though, that would mean not getting married. So we have to make that vow. And we have to accept being called on it if we break it.”

        I’m not trying to defend Tiger. I just see some hypocrisy here. To put it in really basic terms, there are two fundamental drives at issue, growth and self-maintenance. The drive to propagate the species, to expand its numbers, and the drive to nurture the already existing members. They frequently compete in nature. For example, when a male lion mates with a new female, it may kill all the cubs sired by another male. And they certainly compete in human society. The passage quoted in the beginning of this thread refers to such competition. Indiscriminate sexual contacts by fathers weaken the social community. It’s obviously a matter of balance. Without sexual drive, there would be no reproduction. Too much, and the offspring of reproduction don’t get adequate care.
        What I’m arguing for here is recognizing that the drive for maintenance, for nurturing, for security, has just as much potential to destabilize society as the drive for reproduction. Taken to an extreme—an insatiable desire for material possessions—we see the roots of imperialism, resource scarcity, pollution, global warming, and many other problematic consequences of the Western lifestyle. If Tiger’s philandering sends the wrong message to others, so does Elin’s wanton spending (a poorer woman in her circumstances might have gone out to eat, to a parlor, a movie, or whatever; Elin consoled herself by buying another house). It is flat-out impossible for all of the seven billion or so people on earth to share the lifestyle of the Woods, and I think it’s very dangerous to encourage people to believe that living in this manner is healthy. If people are going to come down on Tiger for gorging himself on bimbos, they ought to be consistent and come down equally hard on Elin for gorging herself on mansions, boats, private aircraft, and all the other perks of the wealthy. Or to put it the other way around, those who want to defend the individual’s right to have such possessions should, to be consistent, also defend the individual’s right to have as many mistresses or paramours as he or she can support. If the major argument Wright has against what Tiger did is a social one, it applies equally to Elin.Report

  9. I prefer the clarity of being told what I can’t do on pain of prosecution, because the state will always have the power to do some that (and in a democracy I have my share of say over what those laws will be), in exchange for an absence of other private citizens claiming to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do just because they think they’re right and have a greater quantity of supposed moral “authority” than I do. But then I am a degenerate social libertine and lover of state violence, so perhaps my view is some what wide of average.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Going through the list of stuff that I was able to come up (with Rufus’s additions), I’ve come to the conclusion that there are sweeping generalizations that one can make about the various types of relationships.

    1) Relationships where everybody in the relationship is seen as an equal partner.

    2) Relationships where not everybody in the relationship is seen as an equal partner.

    So 2 covers the traditional model where the man is the owner of the woman in a monogamous relationship and it covers the non-traditional model where monogamous/polyamorous couples/triples have people shipped in for a weekend to be shipped back out Monday morning.

    1 allows for a healthy monogamy and a healthy polyfidelity and perhaps even a healthy polyamory. (If the relationship allows pretty much everybody involved to flourish, then that’s what I mean by “healthy”)

    Tiger’s situation was not really one that struck me as healthy. These were not, ahem, human interactions that resulted in everybody flourishing afterwards. The comparison to Charles and Camilla is an apt one… as dorky and ham-handed as those two were/are, one could see a spark of desire for the other to flourish in their relationship that wasn’t there in the Charles/Diana arranged marriage. My own take was how sad everybody seemed to be that this was the way the world was.

    When it comes to Tiger, that seemed to be little more than insatiable appetites finding mutual buffets. It had nothing to do with the personhood or flourishing of the other… just appetites.

    Now I don’t tell other people how to live. Not my style. But I will say that if you find yourself in an appetite-only kinda situation, it’s likely to all end in tears.Report

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