Things I Just Don't Understand

December 23, 2010 - 6:52 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
Comments Off

Y’all understand that, broadly speaking, I am a fan of marriage. I am so much a fan I think it should be available to anyone who wants to sign up for the long-haul hard work, since if I were to speak of “benefiting the institution of marriage” (something I have already argued is nonsensical anyway), the best way I could think of would be to extend it to as many people who really value it as possible. They can’t possibly fuck up any worse than the rest of us.

This is not, however, a post about gay marriage (or for that matter polyamorous marriage). It’s a post about a certain strain of comment I see when reading posts about marriage in general and its little corner of the culture-war minefield, the person who thinks that not only has the sexual revolution eroded marriage as an institution, but that we should be actively socially engineering to make sure that divorce, single parenthood, and other non-marriage options are as difficult and painful as possible so more people stay married. The idea that it’s actively bad that we don’t ostracize people who divorce or are otherwise noncompliant.

Fucking really?? I get the general idea that kids, for example, are better off broadly speaking with two parents*, but that doesn’t mean that every single kid would be better off with the two people who contributed each half of his chromosome set under the same roof, or necessarily even one of them. Boys in particular are better off with a father: okay, I get that too- but an individual At Risk Boy isn’t necessarily going to be any better off if he has his dad living with him. If the behavior his father is modeling for him is not well-adjusted manhood but abuse, contempt for others, and criminality, that would make his situation and his likelihood of eventually following the same socially destructive path worse, not better. Likewise, yes, some people get feckless divorces because they’ve reached some age where they imagined they’d automatically be awesome and the reality doesn’t match and they don’t want to put in effort- but lots of people get divorces because they made a catastrophically poor choice while young, because they do nothing but fight all the damn time and everyone is depressed and miserable and angry, because their spouse turned out to be a sociopath or a parasite, or because their spouse is actually dangerous and they need to flee before someone dies or is crippled.

If we do everything we can to coerce people to stay together, someone, somewhere might theoretically react to it by becoming a better person, putting serious work into their relationship and saving their family as a happy, healthy unit, but the odds are pretty fucking dismal on that compared to the likelihood that they’ll be spiteful, passive-aggressive, resentful, and unfaithful. Have any of these people ever seen- or worse yet, been a child within- a marriage where the two spouses are hell bent for leather not to give in and divorce- but are emotionally abusive, miserable and making everyone else around them miserable, and generally spending out all that time inflicting as much pain on each other as humanly possible? Is this really the preferable alternative to divorce just because “it’s a family and the family is the building block of society”? Family may be the building block of society, but it can also be another word for “hell”, as well as a place where children learn all the wrong things about how adults treat loved ones.

The other thing I don’t understand is why such people generally speak of marriage as though it were invented in 1950 and the Donna Reed show were an accurate mirror of the Institution of Marriage, as it has always been across the planet until the sexual revolution came along. Marriage has taken multiple different forms across the planet, with the only common feature being that it’s where reproduction mostly takes place- but not even exclusively, it’s just where children who are legally acknowledged to be the parents’ legal heir happen. By far the most *common* model of marriage in history and across the world is an economic and civil arrangement that guarantees the smooth transfer of resources, property, and family status across the generations; the people involved in the marriage are not required to even like each other, let alone love each other. That’s one of Rousseau’s wacky inventions, it just happened to be the one that actually caught on in Western countries. In such a model of marriage, depending on the culture, either both spouses or just the men are flat out *expected* to be getting emotional and sexual satisfaction elsewhere.

If we were to use legal and social pressure to force people to get and stay married as was once done, what we’re likely to get is more likely to resemble that- the true “traditional” marriage- than it is a nation of happily married people in loving and responsible relationships. We’re also likely to get the other thing such societies had- a steady and outcast supply of bastards. I suppose it’s much easier to count a society in which “everyone is in a building block” as a greater success if the people who aren’t- the bastards and their mothers, as both the bastards’ fathers and the cuckolds raising children not their own are invisible- aren’t counted at all.

I honestly can’t tell if the people advocating for such think this is worth the price in order to have more cosmetically acceptable families, think that social pressure will succeed in this case where it has failed in basically all other forms of sexual correctness as well as substance abuse and a host of other vices, or just really want a spouse who can’t leave them without enormous cost to themselves.

*I actually suspect a more truthful version of this statement is “children are best off raised by two well-adjusted people who thought marriage and parenthood through and have good relationship skills in general”.

No Responses to “Things I Just Don't Understand”

  1. Old NFO Says:

    I believe the ‘ideal’ is two parent homes for children; but the sexual revolution, two working parents and the advent of TV, Internet, Cell phones and video games has pretty much ameliorated the ideal…

  2. LabRat Says:

    I’m not so sure about how ideal they actually were as opposed to in our imaginations, since I believe human nature is fairly immutable and that means the Donna Reed generation contained plenty of the abusive, the passive-aggressive, those that felt they were only there because they had to be, and so on…

    The most damning argument I can come up with against their parenting is that they produced the Boomers.

  3. Silverevilchao Says:

    “I believe the ‘ideal’ is two parent homes for children; but the sexual revolution, two working parents and the advent of TV, Internet, Cell phones and video games has pretty much ameliorated the ideal…”

    Nevermind things that existed long before that, like wars and the military. I’m pretty sure it was my dad being sent to Turkmenistan that had me being raised by my mom for a decent amount of my pre-Vegas childhood, not the eeeeevil Sega Genesis or computers.

  4. Terry Says:

    What about the opposite?

    Make it quite easy to divorce but harder to get married. In other words, set things up so that the new couple gets to know, understand and be sure that marriage is actually what they want to start but if things really can’t work, getting out is easy.

    I would imagine that folks who spend the time to learn and work at marriage before the rings are put on are less likely to drop the whole thing when the going gets tough. Odds are then that the folks wo get actually divorced do so because of real bad problems.

    Just thinking out loud though, I wouldn’t even know how to implement any of it.

    Btw, just celebrated our 23 years marriage anniversary last week. Tough times, good times, we’re still here.

  5. Old NFO Says:

    Labrat, good point, there were plenty of bad marriages, etc… Silver, no question that there were and are many other factors, but I was talking more about kids… We didn’t have a TV until I was seven, and we either read or played outside and were forced to use our imaginations, not be ‘fed’ a diet of crap via TV and other media.

  6. Tam Says:

    The Earth is degenerating today. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer obey their parents, every man wants to write a book, and it is evident that the end of the world is fast approaching.

  7. Christina LMT Says:

    My maternal grandparents were the perfect example of this. A more miserable married couple you’ve never met, yet they stayed together until the bitter (BITTER) end. They were so bad that my mother BEGGED them to get a divorce when she was a teenager, this would have been in the mid-Fifties, to no avail. So she also turned into a miserable, bitter person. Ugh.

  8. matt Says:

    Honestly i still think a lot of it is a problem of definition, or maybe i should say expectation…with a bit of “weighted” word throughon in. Specifically there’s still a big divide between the secular and religious meanings of the word. I mean is it about a legal contract that ether set’s up or at least’s simplifies lot’s of complicated c*ap about inheritance and right’s/responsibilities in regard to each other as well as any progeny. OR is it a binding religious right/rite (it self with a number of connotations depending on the religion in question) that also dose all that other stuff….mind the two may not actually agree on what those right’s and responsibilities are. Frankly I wouldn’t mind seeing the two actually more infatecly split off.

    1.You go to the designated government entity and inter into a binding legal contract (ie civil union) it has defined requirements, right’s and responsibility’s associated with it …..and has nothing to do what so ever with any religion. go to your religious authority of affiliation which has it’s own set of requirements, right’s and responsibility’s and have your union enacted acrodeinlay but it has no effect on your legal status as regecnized by the government.

    You do one or the other you do both what ever.

    that’s a pretty good point about making marriage harder to inter. Something like the RC church dose it were “marriage” formation* is a part of the deal.

    *in short classes in what it means to take that steep including instructions of the responsibilities and what not

  9. Will Brown Says:

    Labrat said (or quoted): … just because “it’s a family and the family is the building block of society”?

    This is a mis-statement of marital genesis, I think, at least from the “institution” aspect if not so much the personal relationship. Marriage, in particular the historical model of “arranged” marriage, is a mechanism arising from the tribal structure. As Labrat undoubtedly well knows, the primary intent was (and still sorta is – ask any divorce lawyer what the sticking points of most divorces involve) to reduce tribal disunity by assuring continuity of control of and sustenance from possessions of each tribe’s member family.

    A more accurate descriptive of marriage might be: family is the cement binding the tribal building blocks of marriage together. Doesn’t really fit the Western Civ-derived libertarian/classic liberal individualist model very well though. To my mind, this last point is just another example of the process of creative destruction that technologic advancement requires of any society (as classical strategy teaches).

  10. LabRat Says:

    Quoted, yes. A particular person used the phrase but I’ve seen the same basic argument used to make the same point of “why we should do everything we can to force people into playing happy families regardless of the reality on the ground”.

    It’s another of the “history began in the year 1945″ school.

  11. Geodkyt Says:

    And no one notices Tam laying oiut the 2000 year old quote. . . (Cicero? I don’t want to cheat by flipping over to Rumorpedia.)

    I’m sort of in Matt’s camp. I would happily trade in our marriage license for a “civil union license” that covered the secular governmental recognition, and keep the religious “marriage certificate” that we got from the God Squad via our local Sky Pilot.

    I suspect this would take the most of the heat out of the whole gay marriage argument. Civil Unions between any two consenting sovereign adults to document intestate inheiritance, “nearest relative” status, etc. (Want to have a “civil union” with your roommate, or even your spinster sibling, even though you have no sexual relationship, just to cement joint property rights? Cool.)

    Meanwhile, the whole “marriage” thing is left as a religious issue. (Your church recognizes same-sex marriage? Cool. If I don’t like it, well, there is a church just down the street that doesn’t recognize it either. Want to “marry” a dead person? Find a church that reconizes it — and don’t laugh, its been done.)

    For convenience, I would continue to allow registered clerics to process the finialized “civil union” documentation, just as they now officiate at governmentally recognized marriages now. The only restriction on them would be that the “civil union” paperwork could only be filed for relationships the civil authorities recognize. Basically, every God Jockey becomes a Las Vegas wedding chapel, as silly, traditional, or stuffy as the customer wants.

    Let dissolution of the civil union be a secular matter, handled the same for any civil union, regardless of the sexes of the partners, and let divorce be handled as a purely religious function.

    Bigamy then becomes meaningless, other than the concept that a civil union would only be recognized between two people not already in civil unions with anyone else. You’re a fundamentalist Mormon who wants multiple wives? You want to have a Heinlein-style plural marriage? Whatever. Only one spouse may be your civil partner, but you can be married to as many consenting adults (we’re assuming a sexual componant to these marriages, after all) as will have you.

  12. Justthisguy Says:

    Labrat, you are not a normal woman, at least not the kind of normal woman complained about by some of the guys who comment at Dr. Helen’s blog. Some of those guys are right exercised and angry about their ex-wives.

    Don’t get me wrong, here. One of the things I love about you, is that you are not a normal woman.

  13. Mousie762 Says:

    Another vote for government doing only civil unions, not marriages.

  14. Holly Says:

    If external incentives are making the difference between marriage and staying single, or between marriage and divorce, marriage probably isn’t a good idea. The only necessary reward for creating a happy family is… a happy family.

  15. Tam Says:


    …not the kind of normal woman complained about by some of the guys who comment at Dr. Helen’s blog.

    Consider, for a moment, that Helen’s legion of muttering misogynists are not normal guys.

    When I read the comments sections over there, I am constantly reminded of the line from Say Anything:

    “I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you’re here at like the Gas ‘n’ Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?”
    “By choice, man!”

  16. LabRat Says:

    Heh. While I cheerfully agree I’m not particularly on the hump of the bell curve in many respects, I also agree with Tam- those dudes are not themselves all that representative. They mostly make me feel sad, but at the same time I am really not buying that every single problem in their lives personally and the free world in general is owing to the fundamental nature of women as hateful parasitical lunatics who enjoy nothing more in life than divorces.

    I think normal men and women are about equally well-meaning, confused, eager to advantage themselves potentially at another’s expense, vengeful and forgiving, etc., and that we have probably been such since H. sap sap first walked out of the African desert.

  17. Kristopher Says:

    Tam: wasn’t that carved into an ancient temple somewhere?

    Labrat: I think what is important is that at least one parent take responsibility for making sure the kids involved grow up to be civilized.

    In the US, the traditional method is for one parent to work, and the other to do the rearing. Other cultures handle this their own way, of course.

    Example: Pacific Islanders put a maternal-side uncle in charge of rearing sons. You can’t prove who the boy’s father really is, but the mother and her siblings are a 100% certainty. Fathers aren’t considered the primary caregiver, are barely tolerated guests of the mother’s family, and are considered to tend to too much leniency to raise boys.

  18. Tam Says:

    Geodkyt & Kristopher,

    That quote has been attributed to everyone and everything from a Mesopotamian clay tablet to half every Greek philosopher who ever lived. It’s probably entirely apocryphal, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t plenty truthy. ;)

  19. Tatyana Says:

    Tam took the words out of my mouth (after I read Justthisguy’s remark re: normalcy)

    I don’t read Dr. Helen, but couple of threads @Neo can make one doubtful of what constitutes normalcy in men…

  20. LabRat Says:

    You too, huh? I read Neo much more regularly than Helen, but she has a certain slice of long-established commentariat who seem to sincerely believe the problem is that men don’t have enough control over women anymore. I had to ask one of them to either rein it in or depart my comment box here awhile ago.

  21. Matt G Says:

    I admire y’all for your solid thinking and your decisions regarding whether or not to reproduce. I do. But I weep just a bit for our species, that you and StingRay won’t contribute your DNA and childrearing to our gene pool.

    My daughter’s best friend Has Two Mommies (who refer to the biological “father” as the “donor.”). This kid is very, very well adjusted. (Well, obviously. Raise your hand if you think Matt G is letting his kid take up best friendships with ne’er-do-wells. Yeah– no.)

    50% of all Legal marriages today end in divorce. My parents’ marriage was one. I adapted; my brotherdid not, completely. Instability in a child’s formative years is to be avoided. But we say nothing about army brats, or the children of other parents who move about. I was lucky in that my parents had mutual respect even through divorce, and both agreed to make childrearing their priority. That’s an important decision for a parent to make, whatever their situation. If you can’t or don’t want to do it, don’t have children.

    But if your friends are telling you that your genes are valuable, consider donating them. I’m just sayin’.

  22. Tatyana Says:

    LabRat – glad to learn I’m not the only one who noticed

    One of those fanatics had followed me as well – and came completely unhinged when I blacklisted him @my blog.

  23. LabRat Says:

    Matt- you’re not the only one. If it makes you feel any better I am still younger than my mother and either of my grandmothers when they chose to; we drag our feet even when we started out with the intent.

    Tatyana: I was going to ask if it was the same one (mine is best known for being unable to express an opinion within a character limit), but I see it was not…

  24. David Says:

    Perhaps a slightly more radical approach is due: delete all governmental involvement in relationships that haven’t produced children.

    No more marriage, civil unions, common law, or licenses, stand down the marriage commissioners, and let magistrates get on with doing something useful. With luck, put a few tens of thousands of divorce lawyers out of business.

    Let people solemnify their relationships in whatever manner they please, with however many other consenting adults wish to get involved.

    Institute or strengthen laws to ensure that the fruit of any union, from a ten-year cohabitation to a one night stand, is the joint responsibility of both parents, unless adopted or aborted – the latter absolutely being the mother’s sole call.

    Can’t see anything other than ensuring care of children, as far as modern “marriage,” that deserves the interest of the state.

  25. matt Says:

    Speaking realistically one thing that would have to change and change drastically before any of that happened is all the existing legal ramifications of joining identy’s. Also come to think about it a lot of people will howl about it being strictly biological based as far as parentage goes, and then there’s the hole adoption angle as well.. Frankly it’s why I’m not holding my breath for the bureaucracy to get out of the marriage business (same problem with the idea of a flat tax for that matter)


    “aborted – the latter absolutely being the mother’s sole call.”


    I mean were talking about a strictly and regrisley enforced legal precedent that your respondabale for any life you happen to create wither intently or while just going about your dally “business”(a sentiment I’m personally TOTALLY in agreement with). Were in you are locked in to a huge amount of responsibility representing a lot of time, effort and $$ if not indefinitely than at lest for 18 years (assuming the kid isn’t crippled in some way during that time). Why should only one member of the responble party’s have the ability to just opt-out ?

  26. David Says:


    And I’m not holding my breath, either. Just day-dreaming.

    If nothing else, the Assorted Bloodsuckers of America… err… the American Bar Association would likely lobby til the sound bites wore out, and sue up a storm, lest some thousands of their members become irrelevant.

    To your question…

    Because that particular opt-out involves an invasive and emotionally traumatic surgery. Leaving that option as something only the mother can decide on is far less… messy… than the notion of forced abortions.

  27. matt Says:

    hmm I’m a little regretful i started this (frankly i’m positive we are dramatically opposed on the actual subject of abortion) but with a dew since of caution….

    I’m not actually talking about op-out being sonymus with termination. In other words no forced abortions just a short space of time were it is legally possible to resign your right’s AND responsibilities. If it’s the father then he’s just gone nothing to do with anything legally the kid’s a total stranger to him (legally has a mother but no father). If it’s the mother than she can give the kid up for adoption (assuming both parents have disavowed), rescind her rights/responsibly (kid has father but no legal mother) or off course termination. Now this last i would say it would agine have to be a case of BOTH parents rescinding but i can see how that can get into a separate argument…..which is always fun :)

  28. David Says:

    Ah. Gotcha – I was referring strictly to abortion as being solely the woman’s option.

    Interesting concept – still, not sure if it would, or could, work.