Thursday, November 22, 2012

About the Kids

     The passage in Maryland and Maine of new laws allowing same-sex marriage (SSM) provides the latest data point in the long, predictable erosion of marriage as a socially useful institution.  This process will continue, along with drug legalization and similar efforts, as long as the Left owns the schools, universities, movies, and the courts.  Another data point, perhaps more alarming, is the erosion of opposition even among religious people.  The following comment appeared at Thinking Christian:

Phil's comment is depressing enough, but worse than that is the level of support he finds on a Christian blog. As a secularist, I had hoped to find more nuanced thinking about SSM among Christians than among my fellow secularists. Sadly, even here the rhetoric of the relativists has made converts.
Tom's original post is beautifully done. The point that easy rhetoric does not always equate to sensible thinking is valid. Having started as a Left-liberal myself, I have arrived at conservative and traditionalist values after a lifetime of experience and reflection. Not that instrumental evaluations are dispositive, but I have seen too many of my contemporaries, whose lives were devoted to free love of all kinds, wind up miserable. The path from noble-sounding endorsements of freedom to hedonistic narcissism is short.
Society’s institutions must take stock of human nature. Usually that means some portion of the population will feel disadvantaged. SSM, which has no precedents in western history, redefines marriage. Under SSM, the new marriage is now wholly about the satisfaction of the partners. (Here I imagine many readers will say, “Of course!”) But, marriage historically has served many more purposes than that. While mutual satisfaction is part of the reason for marriage, far more important is the utility to society of a traditional marriage in raising children. We have taken “pursuit of happiness” to extremes, and now many of us cannot imagine that concepts like obligation or duty have moral value.
Still too long for a bumper sticker: “Marriage--it's about the kids.”

So long as a majority in the country believes in radical individualism, the social fabric will continue to unravel. Thomas Jefferson was, by his own assessment, an Epicurean. When he summed up the trinity of natural rights as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he surely understood the distinction Epicurus had made between a thoughtful happiness and mere hedonism. If his contemporaries ever shared that understanding, too many Americans now have lost it entirely. But hedonism is the child of peace and prosperity. It unfits a people for adversity. Ineluctably, adversity is coming, enormous adversity, and it remains to be seen whether we have sufficient dormant Stoicism to encounter it successfully.  Turning over one more institution, the wheezing, dying institution of marriage, to unenlightened self-interest just makes the Stoic argument all the harder at the very point we need it most.


  1. As I understand it, Stoicism implies Materialism which implies the denial of consciousness. In contrast, individual rights imply the existence of a volitional consciousness. To hold both is to appear to embrace a contradiction.

    1. Welcome, Mr. Alessi. Stoicism is an enormous topic, and I do not pretend to know everything about it. What I do recall, however, is that, yes, the Stoics were materialists (though not in precisely the same sense as the Epicureans), but that nevertheless they firmly believed in consciousness. To us this seems a paradox, but the Stoics were famous for their paradoxes. If you are interested, consult any general survey of the Stoics. I like Arnold's Roman Stoicism, myself, but Sandbach--as less of an apologist than Arnold--is probably more balanced.

      I certainly agree with you that individual rights are not intelligible without volitional consciousness. While human will may not be fully unconstrained, I think it is at least free enough for us to make choices that matter. And, thus, to make a discussion of rights meaningful.