RS Classic: What Kind of World Do I Want to Live In?

>> Saturday, August 7, 2010

Before I delve into the discussions of God and what I think is rational or not, I thought I'd take a trip in the wayback machine to a post I wrote on this same topic (Prop 8) back in November 2008. What do you know, my opinion is the same. You may be seeing that quite frequently. Just goes to show the more things change...

Our new President-elect and the different statewide referendums against gay marriage got me to thinking. Actually, it doesn’t take much; I like thinking. See, I’m like completely colorblind (race-wise) and have been since childhood, in fact, ever as far as I know. Couple reasons for this, not the least of which is the logical way my mind processes things (like why I never smoked. High school friends ask, “Hey, want a smoke?” I respond, with perfect sincerity. “Inhale smoke. On purpose?” - my lack of popularity is probably pretty easy to explain by now.). Why treat any human being different based on something as unimportant as race?

But it occurs to me that there might be some other factors. One of them could be my interest as a youth in science fiction. Think about it. Growing up on Star Trek (the real one) and Heinlein and other science fiction tales, where races of sentient beings extend beyond human, where marriage can be considerably more complex than the standard here, why would someone being dark or tall or oddly hued or mixed race or anything else throw one. Remember, Kirk made it with a green girl. Everything we see in reality is relatively tame by comparison.

It should probably not surprise you, kind reader, that I favor any human being having the right to choose their own life partner. I feel very strongly about a separation of church and state and I’m at a loss as to why people think they have the right to vote away the rights of others. When I’ve discussed this on gather, where I often discuss many of the things I rarely discuss here, I was challenged if we allowed this, what was to stop incest or polygamy?

What indeed? My line is and has always been: consenting adults choosing a lifetime companion hurts no one. Incest has two problems, the genetic one and the fact that, in general, incest involves an adult and a child. I sure as heck don’t condone that, but there are cases where everyone involved is an adult. As for the inbreeding and reinforcement of bad alleles, but steps can be taken to preclude harm. Why, then, must it be precluded automatically if we meet those criteria?

Polygamy/polyandry has a similar problem. The examples we currently see can involve underage girls, pushed by parents, oppressed by men, or situations where one spouse secretly has more than one household. But does it have to be that way? If a group of consenting adults are so close they consider themselves a family, where everyone is cognizant and agreeable to the situation, where’s the harm? The key for me is consenting and adults.

I do read a lot of older and/or classic novels. There’s a tendency to think they’re all clean and filled with regular marriages. Well, not so much. It wasn’t that long ago when first cousins often married and infidelity was considered standard operating procedure.

Then there is science fiction and fantasy. I think back to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein with its polyandries and line and clan marriages. Heinlein was nothing if not unconventional and many books included “marriage contracts” of a limited duration and creative marriages. It didn’t faze me. Star Trek, as mentioned, has half-breeds and all kinds of race interactions, none of which cause me the slightest hiccup. One of my favorite series of books of all time are those in the Liaden series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (which I highly recommend) where matters of race and the mixing of said race are repeatedly a topic, where marriages are nominally contracts and “life-mate” means something special. Other books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen blur the lines frequently. J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) mixes heterosexual and homosexual relationships almost indiscriminately and includes people of all shapes, sizes and proclivities. Actually, the kinds of books I read frequently challenge what’s “normal.” I presume some people like that sense of difference, but, for me, I feel at home. Apparently my “normal” is a little different than many.

Now that I’ve thought about it, it occurs to me, I’m not sure if I’m open-minded because of the books I read or if I read the books I do because I’m open-minded. But I do believe, absolutely, that the world would be a better place if we would stop getting worked up on things that other people do that don’t hurt anyone and could be tolerant of people that might be just a little bit different.


  • The Mother

    "If a group of consenting adults are so close they consider themselves a family, where everyone is cognizant and agreeable to the situation, where’s the harm? The key for me is consenting and adults."

    And herein lies the problem.

    If a woman is brainwashed by religious ideology that has been fed to her since she was two, is she still capable of making a rational and critical decision about her own life?

    What about the women in burkas? They, theoretically, are doing it willingly.

    The women in polygamous marriages in Islamic countries? Are they consenting willingly?

    All of these push my big red button. But...

    If she really IS doing it willingly, rationally, then--good for her.

    The problem lies in what constitutes rationality. Do we have to give everyone a psych exam before they join a polygamous cult? Put them through one of those truth-telling MRIs? (That won't actually work, of course, if they are convinced by religious ideology, because that is self-truth).

    While I agree, in principle, that consenting adults should be allowed to do whatever they like, some part of my brain simply bleeds for those women who THINK THEY ARE.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I understand what you're saying, I really do. The problem is, we can't tell who is getting married because they're brainwashed into it and who genuinely wants to be married that way (and I think we're fooling ourselves if we even think everyone of a particular culture does so because they have no choice).

    But it's not limited to those cultures. In this culture, we're still focused on beauty instead of merit. In this culture, there are still a significant percentage of women who feel they are nothing without male admiration/adoration. There are still significant numbers of the populace (male/female) that think getting pregnant equates with getting married, even if you hate each other.

    There are dozens of perfectly stupid reasons people get married, often fostered by culture and/or growing up environment. Until the culture changes, that will continue to be the case (and it will affect men, too, though, perhaps, not to the same degree).

    But people, when they're adults, get to decide for themselves. With kids, we have some control against protecting them from their bad judgement. As adults, they're entitled to make mistakes and I believe no one has the right to keep them from doing so.

    As soon as we decide we can keep a consenting adult from choosing something based on the notion she doesn't really know what she wants (wow, did that feel Victorian to write), we're every bit as oppressive.

    Best we can do (I think) is try to change our corner of the world of culture and make sure they have alternatives, have the right to leave the marriage if they need to.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Unfortunately, polygamy is most often equated with lascivious men gathering child brides, but I see no reason why it has to be limited to that. I'd be very much surprised if there haven't been quite successful relationship like that - only no one hears about them because they're still taboo.

    It doesn't appeal to me personally; however, I can't say whether that's cultural indoctrination - that monogamy is the ideal - or whether I truly feel that way.

    From a practical standpoint, I can think of many advantages.

  • The Mother

    No, no--I agree with you. I'm just playing devil's advocate here.

    There are lots of successful societies down through history that define families differently than we do. Communal homes and shared sex partners are a very reasonable adaptation. And I will defend to the death any adult woman's choice to engage in any weird, wacky and way out sexual practices that float her boat.

    I'm just pointing out that "consensual" may only mean "societally conditioned." And no, given our current state of technology, we cannot even begin to separate them out.

    And my heart can still bleed for those women who can't tell the difference.

  • Stephanie Barr

    So can mine, The Mother. I bleed for all those who think they have no other options or who are conditioned to think oppression is the natural order of things. And kudos to you for doing your part to encourage people to think.

  • Boris Legradic

    I too, thought for a long time that polygyny should be a personal choice, i.e. legal. But there is some new research by Joseph Heinrich that makes the case for polygyny being harmful for society, see this blogpost on Epiphenom. The jury, of course, is still out - and I haven't read Heinrich's work in detail. Food for thought, I guess.

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