Alasadair MacIntyre in his book Whose Justice Whose Rationality demonstrates using ancient political divisions to illustrate how, when meta-ethical differences between groups arise conversation between those groups is difficult. Well, perhaps “difficult” is putting it mildly. We see this today as it unfolds in conversations between those in different sides of the political aisle. Highly paid commenter Boonton on this blog noted recently that the only good arguments concerning SSM are on the pro-SSM side, there are no arguments and only avoidance of the same seen from the right. My response was that the left side of the aisle perceives it this way because they insist on a “small playground”, only debating this issue in the context of their particular meta-ethical context and refusing to step outside. And yes, by analogy, if you assume flat 2-dimensional Euclidean geometry there is no good way to dispute that the the interior angle of a triangle sum to pi. But all geometries are not 2-d Euclidean, in fact the world we live is not. So what follows will be an attempt to bridge that divide, to give a glimpse to the left the basics of the marriage debate as seen from the right. Be warned however, in crossing this bridge there are always hermenuetical difficulties, when speaking across meta-ethical and foundational divisions the same words can be viewed from different context and what is said can easily be misunderstood. That is to say, bear with me … and this gets a little longer than the usual essay … so the rest is below the fold…
Six or seven hundred years ago, society was very different than today. Charles Taylor in A Secular Age, makes this point dramatically when he cites a Middle ages book on etiquette. Unlike today’s such books, it was necessary to point out and make clear that at no point during a dinner, especially with guests, was it good form to defecate in the dining room during dinner. This needed (apparently) to be pointed out. Over the intervening centuries between then and now, the three main leadership roles in our society, the political leaders, the religious leadership and the academic or learned scholars hammered home better comportment and behavior. Much progress, as we can see by comparison has been made. This effort however was not cheap, did not falter (with recent exceptions), and was persistent and warranted.
The same triad, political, religious, artistic, and scholarly leaders for a far longer time, by a factor of five have been hammering at us unwashed another lesson. For a society to continue it must renew itself through the raising of new children to adulthood. In past ages, the ‘replacement rate’ maintaining a society has been higher than the 2.1-2.3 that we enjoy now (this change is largely due to recent medical advances). Now the raising of children is a daunting task. It requires at least two or more decades of diligent, attentive, considered care. This isn’t to say there are not rewards, but the cost is very high. Convincing couples to cleave together, work together to accomplish this task if not done and done well, will doom a society to extinction. No society will last long in which “good parent” is not high praise. If you think this false, name a counterexample.
Each of these factors of the aforementioned “triad” has contributed to an effective array of mechanisms for helping people make the right decision, in which the term “right” here means the same thing as it did in the context of etiquette. Weddings, social acknowledgement, public recognition of lasting marriages, tax breaks, poems and stories, moral teaching all line up to help convince couples to wed, have children and raise them diligently. There has been no one solution as to how to best accomplish the task of convincing people to have children and raise them well. Heterosexual monogamy as practiced and advocated in the Christian influenced West is one of the most common, but it is not exclusive. What is common to all societies however, is that the raising of children is placed very high on the “must be done right is paramount” list for that culture.
Europe and much of the modern world is suffering from a demographic collapse. Some countries and subcultures have been experiencing for decades now replacement rates close to 1, an exponential collapse. Here in the US, religious, cultural and immigration has kept the replacement rate nearer two, but look at the 20-somethings and 30-somethings of your acquaintance, how many of them are married with children? Or more telling, how many of them are not. But here is a question. That triad of societal leaders, do they have the same force as they once did? Are they still telling us the same message, “get married and raise your children well?” Clearly they are not. In this month our society is deluged with commencement addresses. Read a few … one in a hundred (a thousand) will be telling these kids as they move to independence to get a job, get married, raise kids well.
And no, the conclusion is most definitely not due the European embrace of same sex marriage as being on par with heterosexual ones. That is a symptom not a cause. And this is why I started this where I did. To debate “is calling a same sex union marriage” right or not is to debate in a sandbox, not in the real world. The problem isn’t how/whether we can raise same sex unions on a par with heterosexual ones without “destroying” heterosexual marriage. That frames the debate wrong. The real question at hand is how do we put the task of raising children rightly with the same political, religious, and academic force that it had in past decades back on track. If we fail at that, we will follow Europe into demographic collapse and exponential decline into the past. Parts of Europe already have more 90+ y/olds than those under age 10. We need the vast majority of ordinary individuals to aspire to raise children well in order for society to continue. If we fail at that, whatever we decide on marriage will not matter, for we will be doomed to pass onto the ashes of history as another culture which is remembered in books and by scholars but which has passed away from the world.
What is a fictional narrative, a novel? A novel or fictional narrative at its root is an exercise in world building. With words and story an idealized society is constructed. These stories, setting aside those which are purely meant to entertain, highlight and bring to our attention either what might be wrong with our society and how it functions or perhaps a vision on how it might be improved. Liberals and libertarians supporting same sex marriage in the US are wont to say that there are “no good arguments” against SSM, just bigotry and such. For myself, I have not seen once, anywhere a good narrative account of how you can combine holding same sex marriage in the same regard as heterosexual marriage and at the same time hold the raising of children well as a high cultural imperative in a believable way. Define marriage as a mere mostly temporary contractual alliance between consenting adults … and your raising children well is left where? Show me the novel in which marriage is the thing you think it might be seen in the SSM=HSM world and at the same time raising kids is what children aspire to and then you’ve actually made the argument you think you’ve made outside of that meta-ethical sandbox. Currently from where the right stands, the SSM arguments made by the left sound a lot like more Mr Huxley’s little famous (and alas prophetic) novella. But that, as a reminder, was a dystopia and not a highlighting of problems not construction of where we want to go.