Wednesday, August 28, 2002

More on Marriage

Mary take note: I'm talking about society and baby-making again. Have a Zantac.

Tripp's trying to run with a debate that arose from a comment I made for this week's Monday Mission.

My stated position is that since a primary obligation of a society is to perpetuate its population, the incentives for and privileges of marriage exist by and large for that reason - marriage (in its inaugural role as a primarily financial institution) was created to render relatively trouble-free the business of societal perpetuation, by providing a structure of rules and traditions for both the creation of new generations and the orderly transfer of wealth to those generations through inheritance.

Sarah raised the point that marriage has benefit as a social stabilizer, regardless of participants' gender. Other than (again, theoretically) smoothing the turbulent atmosphere around the reproductive business, what stabilizing influence does marriage provide? I don't see it.

Romantic notions re: love, and whether two persons' devotion to one another "deserves recognition" from the society in which it exists need not apply. Love as a significant motivator for (hell, even a factor in) marriage is a fairly modern invention, and I doubt cuts much mustard at the legislative level.

...Which brings me to the question of what exactly marriage is in today's non-theoretical American society. Considering that 50% of American marriages do not perform their stated goals (presuming that divorce constitutes on its face a failure in keeping procreative behavior orderly, and that inheritance can be horrendous among sundered families), it would appear that we have a societal problem, certainly outside of any monetary stimulus our government provides.

Tripp offhandedly raises the question of whether our society's divorce rate should be considered a bad one. If marriage is transforming into something like "going really steady," with attendant party and presents, then perhaps a one-in-two failure rate is indeed to be expected and a healthy thing; it's a simple extension of the dating ritual, after all, and dating is a fleeting and impermanent thing. Considering the raw pain and suffering divorce entails at the personal and familial level (not to mention the universally agreed-upon damage inflicted on children forced to suffer through divorces) leads me to believe this isn't the case.

The sentiment behind Ms. Rodham Clinton's averring that "it takes a village" is the foundation of the rest of Tripp's entry, and I'm afraid that I have to disagree. The most important grounding a child receives occurs when the child is largely pre-verbal, in his/her first three to five years. A village that pressures (through feminist insistence that stay-at-home motherhood is a demeaning or otherwise unworthy choice) or forces (through excessive taxation) utilization of cookie-cutter day-care facilities before the child is a year old is hardly helping in the effort. The best parenting jobs I've witnessed have come from a married mother and father who have stayed married, sacrificed, set their personal agendas aside and otherwise done the best they can to prepare a child before releasing him/her to the predations of the "village."

Tripp also mentions that most wedding ceremonies require witnesses, and abjure the community represented by the witnesses to help safeguard the union. It's Tripp's contention that this makes divorce a failure of the community's as much as that of the couple involved. I only agree with this in the most abstract sense: inasmuch as a society elevates and perpetuates a moral structure painting marriages as disposable, and individual desires more important than marital commitment, then society has in fact failed the couple. But when it comes down to it no amount of community interference, or goodhearted busybodying will keep a husband and wife married that've decided to sunder.

(Between 60 and 80 percent of divorces are initiated by the wife, depending on whom you ask. No, the incidence of adultery among soon-to-be-divorcees isn't appreciably higher on the male side than the female. Since women stereotypically have the market cornered on maintaining a support community for themselves, how precisely is a "village" helping again? No, this isn't woman-bashing. Read it again.)


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