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This is going to be unformed. I apologize. People say that… - Silicon Rose [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Silicon Rose

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[May. 13th, 2007|10:06 am]
Silicon Rose
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

This is going to be unformed. I apologize.

People say that extending the concept of marriage to couples that consist of two women or two men instead of a man and a woman will destroy the concept. To some degree, I have to admit that they're right. Note that I don't believe that this should prevent homosexual unions from being granted the same rights and privileges as a married couple -- two people who've declared that they want to spend their life together should be able to declare that to society at large and be treated accordingly. The thing is, the definition of marriage has been changing for at least a century, if not longer, but there has been nothing that has clearly attacked the fundamental assumptions behind the definition outside of the idea of homosexual unions.

Marriage is defined religiously as the union of a man and a woman, in which God now smiles on sexual intercourse between them. It's the creation of a new family. It ties into "be fruitful and multiply." Years and years ago, getting married meant having children. There were no reliable means of preventing conception; abortions, while technically possible, usually involved brutal methods such as trying to induce a miscarriage by beating on the mother's stomach. A couple could not reasonably decide "we're not going to have children," unless they gave up sex.

The foundation of marriage, the creation of children, has already been destroyed since the discovery of reliable, available contraception. That's part of the problem, and why the debate is so messy. Marriage was never clearly defined. It had a meaning that was predicated on the culture. The culture has changed, and those changes have already destroyed the meaning of marriage. We're arguing over a word that has no definition.

This question is personally significant, though I didn't have to parade through the streets to get permission to marry. genedefect and I may never have children. While the naive definition of marriage, a man and a woman, allows us to marry, you would probably find that most "marriage is a man and a woman" crusaders also believe in "contraception is evil." Marriage is about having sex. Having sex naturally leads to children. Anything that prevents that natural progression is wrong. That includes both artificial methods of preventing it (contraception), and changing the predicates so that it doesn't follow (same gendered couples).

I honestly don't know what marriage should mean. I have this nebulous feeling that there is a benefit to society in constructing stable pairs, which should be recognized by granting privileges to these stable pairs, but I don't have any proof for it.

Anyways, to transition to something completely different: one of the major problems I have in dealing with the world is that I can't figure out the rules any more. The progression of science and technology has destroyed a lot of them. That's a major reason why we have these wars over abortion, marriage, gender, emotion -- everything. What is death? What is life? We used to be able to wend our way through these questions based on a hazy understanding gleaned from how the world worked. If your heart stopped, you were dead. There were exceptions, but not so frequent that they demanded a change in the definition. It was good enough. Now, your heart stopping may be just a transient condition. If you're brought back with a set of paddles and some creatively applied electrocution, were you ever really dead?

The rules have changed, and along with them, so have the meanings of the words. We're no longer talking about the same things.
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-05-13 06:32 pm (UTC)

Apologies for also being pretty unformed...

I think you're looking at things from an explicitly Christian viewpoint here. In Judaism, for example, having children is not the purpose of sex, it's a purpose of sex. A Jewish married couple can have sex without producing all they want, and it's cool, because one of the purposes of sex in Judaism is to express and deepen the romantic ties that are a virtue in and of themselves, as well as a means to producing children.

Further, although religions vary wildly, every culture on Earth practices some variant of marriage. In some, marriage is between one man and one woman. In others, it is between one man and as many women as he cares to marry. In still others, such as certain subcultures emerging in 1960s America, it is between as many men and women as care to marry one another.

People like pair-bonding. Almost everyone feels an urge to find peers with the right set of qualities to form romantic attachments. Which peers, and what methods are used to find them, vary with the culture and the individual.

Evolutionarily speaking, that urge arises from the fact that our offspring are pathetically helpless and take a ridiculously long time to reach full size, and therefore one parent is hard-pressed to handle them. So, the parents are given a powerful incentive to stick with each other and their offspring. However, this drive has become independent from the creation of offspring. As you say, people who have no desire to reproduce still pair-bond. Even people who have little or no sex drive often feel a desire to form asexual romantic attachments!

In short, marriage means different things in different cultures. The question is not what marriage meant yesterday, but what do we want it to mean tomorrow? Fifty years ago, in many parts of this country, interracial marriage was illegal. Part of the definition of marriage was that it was between whites and whites or blacks and blacks, never blacks and whites. That changed, and people who were young at the time, or born after the change, often have no idea it occurred at all! The same thing could happen for gay marriage, if we decided we wanted it to. Personally, I do.

As for being unable to figure out the rules: You've hit on basically the sole obsession of most art for the past hundred years. Modern art (in the broadest sense, including things like music and writing) is obsessed with proving that the rules no longer apply. Postmodern art is obsessed with changing the rules around on a whim, to prove how arbitrary they are.

And that is where the answer lies, as far as I'm concerned: in postmodernism. We made the rules, and we can change them to whatever we want. So... what do you want the rules to be?
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2007-05-13 09:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Apologies for also being pretty unformed...

So, my mother would disagree with you about marriage in Judaism not being around children, but I'm not informed enough on the issue to really comment.

As for whites and blacks, I thought that the main reason why it was illegal was because blacks were seen as less than human, so it fell under bestiality. Again, that's just a vague impression. You're right; I can't even think of black people that way. It's completely alien to the way I was brought up.

Honestly, I don't know what rules I want. I definitely don't think that two people who love each other should be prevented from marrying, and if there's a non-pair group that forms a grouping, hey, whatever. What does it matter to me? However, I'm not sure whether they should get tax breaks and special consideration from the government. I think the only ethical way to look at that question is whether society gets a reward from pairs or n-groups forming. If so, then it may make sense to reward that behavior in turn, to encourage it. But what if the benefit that society has is from the production of children? In that case, a pair or n-group that forms without children or the intent to produce children shouldn't be rewarded.

Life and death is even more of a problem: abortion is the most obvious question here. I know you have a perspective on abortion that's does not depend on life and death (whether the child is alive or dead, it is a parasite on the mother and as such she should have the right to terminate that relationship -- right?), but those definitions are still important to the public discourse on the subject.

I don't have answers. I can fiddle with them all I like, but it's like designing a world for a story: it works great until you realize the ramifications are self-contradicting. And when you're trying to implement changes in the real world, the consequences aren't a bunch of critics lamenting your attention to detail. They may be the suffering of real people.
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-05-14 02:08 am (UTC)

Re: Apologies for also being pretty unformed...

Your mother would be wrong, as in fact would anyone else who argues that marriage is about children, but doesn't demand that sterile people be barred from marrying. There is simply no way around that conclusion, if you grant the premise; as the conclusion is repugnant, we must therefore abandon the premise.

I'm not sure what the rationale is for giving tax breaks to married couples. One thing I do encounter on a regular basis at work is the concept of spousal rights -- if your husband were killed, in the absence of a will indicating otherwise, his property would become yours and vice versa. This is not because of any benefit to society from your marriage, but simply because it has to go to someone, and there is a presumption that married couples generally behave as economic units.

Now, if a person in a lifelong same-sex relationship dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will often have to go to court if they want to ensure they inherit their deceased partner's property. Other relatives of the deceased person can challenge the inheritance, even though the people in the same-sex relationship behaved in every way like a married couple, because that legal presumption doesn't exist.

Why? It's a stupid, arbitrary distinction that does nothing but cause problems. Thanks to laws blocking my employer from recognizing legal gay marriages and civil unions, we have to have duplicate versions of a bunch of forms that say "non-spousal beneficiary" instead of "spouse". It's simply dumb.

There is a single core attitude behind my views on abortion and gay marriage: Anything with the necessary apparatus for speech and abstract thought is a person. All people have the exact same rights; nothing else has any rights whatsoever, and its treatment should be based entirely upon expediency. The end, next problem.

A less extreme way to put it would be "You should treat people the same unless you have a compelling reason not to." Is there a compelling reason not to allow same-sex couples to get married? I've never been able to find one. The only reasons I've ever seen anyone give are "The god our Constitution explicitly excludes as an acceptable rationale for laws says it's bad," and "It makes me vaguely uncomfortable."
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-05-14 03:27 am (UTC)

Re: Apologies for also being pretty unformed...

and if there's a non-pair group that forms a grouping, hey, whatever. What does it matter to me? However, I'm not sure whether they should get tax breaks and special consideration from the government.

If tax breaks and special consideration help that poly group stay stable, and make it last as long as a conventional marriage, where's the problem, other than the fact that the current order just got kicked between wind and water?

The consequences can also be the creation of something new, and beautiful, and wonderfully weird.
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[User Picture]From: ketsugami
2007-05-13 07:20 pm (UTC)
Conviently stolen from someone else's post this morning:

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."
- Mark Twain
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-05-14 03:24 am (UTC)
I think that part of the issue of marriage is implicit ownership: My wife, my husband, my child. People are not property.

The culture has changed, and those changes have already destroyed the meaning of marriage.

This is akin to one of those anti-same-sex marriage arguments that always burns my registers. Gays can't marry, but Britney Spears can get hitched for a bit over a calendar day, but that's more meaningful?

Also, where does that leave those of us who might not be able to have children of our own?

As for your commentary on resuscitation, I'd like to throw my two cents into the hat: If you're brought back, yes, you were dead. Few things in this universe are as binary as life and death. That doesn't mean that the switch can't be frobbed from one to the other.
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[User Picture]From: dragonoflife
2007-05-14 05:37 am (UTC)
Is "death" a negative state of that switch, or the condition of being permanently unable to move that switch out of that negative state?
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-05-14 02:53 pm (UTC)
It's the position of the switch in which you no longer have (admittedly) a very useful tool to operate and get around in.
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-05-14 01:35 pm (UTC)
Agreed with dragon, mostly: if you can be brought back, you're not yet dead. The question, of course, lies in the definition of "you": are you still you if your metabolic processes continue but you are permanently incapable of cognition or sensation?

Life and death isn't as binary as you think. For example, many individual cells can remain alive for weeks after you're dead and buried, especially skin and hair cells. This is why corpses' hair and nails often continue to grow after death.
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[User Picture]From: dragonoflife
2007-05-14 02:33 pm (UTC)
Well, not quite...

But I'd argue that both "living/dead" and "inability to restore life" are valid ways of looking at the question of death. The problem is that they're two dramatically different concepts tied up in one word.
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-05-14 03:01 pm (UTC)
Bodies can sometimes be brought back, if it's young, healthy, and the crash team is any good. The success rate for resuscitation is actually pretty low, around 30% I've heard.

It is my educated guess, spiced with UPG that if the body's metabolic processes continue for some reason but there is no controlling intelligence, then the body is not 'you'. It's very much like locking yourself out of a running car.

Something that I've always wondered about: The philosophical implications of the HeLa cell line.
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2007-05-14 02:43 pm (UTC)
Be careful. I'm saying that marriage is already dead, it's just that the question of same-sex marriage has poked through the 'living' outer skin and into the rot underneath. Same-sex and poly and everything, I don't think any of it is wrong. I think that any rights granted to one sort of pairing should be granted to another UNLESS the rights are granted predicated on some other basis (such as existance of children), in which case a same-sex couple should be able to adopt or use artificial insemination and get the exact same benefits.

I don't believe in discrimination. Period. I'm a little waffly on whether or not the government should be encouraging behaviors at all, but given the child crisis in Japan, I see that it might be beneficial for them to do so. But there are ways for everyone to contribute to improve that situation, and it shouldn't be a basis for discrimination.

In other words, if that is their intent, the government should be giving benefits to anyone that is raising a child, whether they're single, heterosexually-paired, homosexually-paired, or poly.

I do worry that if the government stepped into that business, that people may see money or benefits on the line and start exploiting children as a means to get it, which is why I'm on the fence about the government encouraging behaviors in the first place.
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[User Picture]From: tlttlotd
2007-05-14 03:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you for clarifying your stance... you did say that it was unformed, and I was leaning toward a reactionary response to your words.

People already do exploit children to rake money out of the aid system. There are some people on welfare who trade kids from house to house when the case worker comes around to check on everyone. More kids means more money in aid for the year.
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[User Picture]From: dragonoflife
2007-05-14 03:24 pm (UTC)
A topic-derailing question: Define behaviors?
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[User Picture]From: froborr
2007-05-14 05:34 pm (UTC)
Do you have any English-language resources on the Japanese child crisis? I've heard you mention it before, know nothing about it, and I'm curious to learn more.
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