Monday 31 December 2012

The Destruction of Marriage

The institution of marriage has been one of the basic building blocks of our society for centuries.

Leaving all religious aspects to one side, for the moment, one can quickly see that the stability afforded by the marriage of one man to one woman for life, and by the normative restriction of sexual intimacy to such relationships, provides essential social cohesion.

Where marriage in this traditional sense is largely observed, the man is required to provide for his wife and family, to restrain his urges to run after other more desirable women, and so on.  The woman is likewise required to remain faithful, to raise the family and so on.  Children are born into a small society that is dedicated to their nourishment and nurture, with a reasonable degree of stability.  The whole structure moderates the tendencies of all involved to behave in ways that are detrimental to each other and to wider society.  It is not easy for either party: both husband and wife will find that it restricts their freedom of action: that is the point of the vows: not least 'for better or for worse...'  However, it is an institution that benefits all, collectively, not something designed to make the couple feel happy... For that reason, marriage has held a privileged position in law and society.

Of course there have always been people who did not behave according to the civilised norms, but they were a minority, and there was much social stigma attached, which meant that they were likely to remain a minority.  The rich and powerful, of course, have often been able to afford to behave disgracefully, in this sphere as in so many others, but it was recognised as disgraceful.

However, for decades now, we have been de-stabilising the institution of marriage.  Some of that has been done with good intentions.  The dreadful consequences of acrimonious divorce led to the easing of divorce laws.  Along with this went a feeling that if the toffs could get away with divorce, why should we not be able to.  As has been observed, the fish rots from the head...  But as so often, hard cases made bad law, and envy is a poor reason for anything; so we have ended up destroying the presumption of permanence as a feature of marriage: witness pre-nuptial agreements.

The introduction, approval, promotion and eventual near-universality of contraception has also caused untold damage to marriage. By breaking the intrinsic connection between sexual love and procreation, we have so corrupted ourselves, collectively, that (for example) material that until very recently would have been rejected as pornographic is screened in our houses on a daily basis; recreational sex is used as titillation in our entertainment and is seen as normative and a 'right' by our young people in their relationships.

In parallel with these phenomena, there has been the huge increase in self-centred materialism.  In the name of equality, and driven at least in part by a fear that their men cannot be relied on to provide for them, women have been educated to be independent financially, and all of us educated to see economic worth as the only significant measure of value, and personal fulfilment as the only criterion of morality. Consider this from the head of the Girls' Schools Association:
"One of the young entrepreneurs, a lady, dared to say that she had probably put her business ahead of her son, and the sharp intake of breath from all of the girls was audible," she said. 
"They were all absolutely shocked, so yes, we are still creating a generation of girls who think that the whole idea of looking after children is really the most important thing, once you have a child." 
The GSA leader said that was an issue for ethical and moral debate - and a very personal decision. 
"But, what's maybe less personal, and maybe more incumbent on us as leaders in girls' schools, is to try and get girls to see that it is a decision, and that there are options, and that it's not wrong, and that's where society needs to come into play as well," she said. 
"It's not wrong to make a particular decision, whatever it is."

It worries me that a senior educator (of all people) should be worried that children recognise the truth that looking after young human beings is more important than being economically active.  It also worries me that she has no sense of absolute values whatsoever, but has bought the lie that all decisions are equally valid.  How does one reach such a position without any serious understanding of philosophy?  Yet, I fear she is typical of a whole caste of leaders - as the current state of our politics also exemplifies.

This is the context within which we have lost touch with what marriage is, and have bought the superficial romantic myth that it is simply a public declaration of love and sexual intimacy between two people, with a degree of commitment (possibly) and a degree of exclusivity (possibly) until one or other of them feels something different.

If that were all that marriage were, then it might be unjust to deny it to any couple, including same-sex couples.  But that is not all that it is.  That is one of the reasons I oppose the current attempts to re-define marriage: not because they are starting us on a path we should not take, but rather because they are a further step on a path we have already gone too far along.

Likewise, we have lost sight of the human meaning of sexual intimacy and divorced it from both marriage and procreation.  The very contraception that promised to liberate women from their biology has had the result of making them presumed to be sexually available for any man who can win their fancy, with no need for him to offer any commitment beyond honeyed words.  Sex is seen at best as an expression of mutual affection, and often simply as the mutual scratching of a biological urge.

If our society is to have any hope of surviving as a civilised society, we need to re-discover the true meaning of marriage and of human sexual intimacy, and along with that the importance (and possibility) of chastity.  We need to re-establish life-long commitment and fidelity as the norm, to remove the concept of recreational sex (including from our entertainment and media) and re-balance society so that it is normative for children to grow up in stable, functional, nuclear families.

Unless we can start to re-educate ourselves and others to see reality in that light, our fight against same sex marriage is both pointless and doomed to failure.


Sitsio said...

Brilliant, thanks. This post is concise, yet contains all the main historical, social and philosophical points of the argument. Well done indeed. I also like that you have placed the currently position squarely in its correct temporal context, i.e. that it is not first step 'on a path that we shouldn't take, but rather because..[it constitutes] a further step on a path we have already gone too far along'

Simon Platt said...

Quite so!