Sunday, April 7, 2013

Touchdown Run

This will make your day. A seven-year old brain cancer victim named Jack Hoffman is a big fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and some members of the team have taken him under their wing. They even had him suit up for their spring red/white game that culminates spring practice and got him on the field for a play. Watch:
You can read more about this wonderful gesture at HotAir. There are some fine young men on that Nebraska team.

The Dream and the Nightmare

Most biologists believe that evolutionary change proceeds gradually over long periods of time, but others hold to a view called punctuated equilibrium in which species enjoy long periods of stasis and stability punctuated by brief periods of rapid evolution.

Evolution, of course, adapts organisms to the environment they're in, and in the struggle for political survival nothing promotes survival like the ability of a politician to adapt his views quickly to conform to a fluid environment. Thus, we've witnessed in the last couple of weeks an astonishing series of rapid punctuations as one politician after another claims to be "evolving" on the issue of same-sex marriage (SSM). Previously firm convictions are willy-nilly mutating, as it were, to adapt them to the prevailing social and political climate and to make their survival more likely.

Ever since President Obama concluded his long, slow "evolution," filled, one imagines, with many agonizing hours of study and meditation, toward favoring SSM (spurred along, perhaps, by Vice-President Biden's awkward admission that it was really the President's position all along), there's been a flurry of similar "evolutions" by politicians of both parties toward the now fashionable view.

I'm not a politician and haven't myself evolved much in a while and don't expect that, short of some profound mutation in my thinking on this issue, I'll evolve much any time soon, and I thought I'd explain why. A recent post on the views of a gay man by the name of Doug Mainwaring who opposes gay marriage elicited a lot of comment from readers who wondered why anyone else should care if two people who love each other marry. There are economic advantages enjoyed by married persons that are denied to same-sex couples and this doesn't seem fair. Nor does it hurt Mainwaring if someone else marries so why should he object?

I think the matter is much deeper than this and that opposition to SSM is not motivated by any animus against gays, as some readers suggested, but rather by a desire to preserve the institution of marriage.

I take it as a given that traditional marriage, though often flawed in practice, is, on balance, a very good thing for society, indeed that it's crucially necessary for a healthy society. I also believe that gay marriage, on the other hand, is very bad for marriage, and is thus very bad for society. Here's why.

Marriage has traditionally been a union of one man and one woman, but as I've been arguing on VP ever since its inception, once we say that the gender of the parties in the union no longer matters we've lost the logical basis for saying that the number of persons in the union matters. Thus, once SSM is permitted there'll be no way that courts and legislatures will be able to deny "marriage" to any combination of persons of any gender (polyamory). Any attempt to limit marriage to two people will be seen as arbitrary and groundless.

Some people reply to this argument with incredulity. They say it's "icky" to think that people would do this, but the "icky" response is naive. People, or at least some of them, will do whatever they can do. Organizations already exist to promote polyamory and once gay marriage becomes legal there'll be a push to legalize group marriage, and the arguments will be exactly the same as though made in the campaign for SSM. If those arguments were sufficiently compelling to cause us to conclude that the definition of marriage should be expanded to include gays how can we not also include polyamorists?

Other people have very unusual relationships with their pets. A woman a few years back had a chimpanzee that she treated almost as though it were human (until she brought a friend over and the chimp ripped the friend's face off). Others leave huge inheritances to their pets. Suppose these people decide they want to actually marry their animals. On what grounds do we insist that marriage be between humans only? Why deny someone who deeply loves his or her chimpanzee the joy of being married to the beast? The point is that once we've crossed the Rubicon of saying that gender doesn't matter we can no longer say that anything matters.

Actor Jeremy Irons raises an interesting question at HuffPo. Spouses, he points out, are able to bequeath their estates to each other when they die without incurring taxes on the inheritance, but if the estate were left to a son or daughter, the offspring is taxed on the gift.

Irons asks, once we've decided that two consenting men can marry each other, what's to prevent a father from marrying his son so that he can leave his estate to his son without the son being burdened by inheritance tax? Irons' question could be extended, for that matter, to either parent and their children of either sex. Laws against incest are in place to prevent in-breeding, but if in-breeding is not a live possibility what reason could we have for denying parents the right to marry their adult children in order to achieve an economic benefit?

The possibilities are doubtless much more extensive than I've outlined here. Clever lawyers will be able to think of all sorts of implications of changing the law to permit SSM. It seems to me that doing so will be enormously disruptive to society and will ramify into every corner of our life and culture, and we'll all be affected by those ramifications whether we're in a traditional marriage or not. Indeed, one consequence will almost certainly be the destruction of marriage as a meaningful institution. When marriage means almost everything it won't mean anything. All of us will be affected because all of us will have to live in a society in which families are pretty much anything people want them to be.

Ever since the 19th century those who promote totalitarian communism, like Karl Marx, and those who write dystopian novels, like George Orwell, have promoted or depicted societies in which marriage ceases to exist and individuals become little more than social atoms, compliant putty in the hands of the state. Once SSM becomes the law of the land we will have, perhaps inadvertently, taken a big step toward making the dream of Marx and the nightmare of Orwell a reality in the 21st century.