I still intend a more systematic treatment on the issues raised by the SSM phenomenon – by which I do not mean “new reasons to attack SSM” – but for the moment I’ll just re-produce another comment at OT, this one at the end of (or as latest as of ca. 1022 PDT 2015.05.08 statement in,) a discussion that took a familiar course: Discussants assigning views to the disagreeable commenter that the disagreeable commenter has not offered, and in the process, in the view of the disagreeable commenter, lending support to the point that the disagreeable commenter meant to make, but which seems to remain largely unheard.
Jaybird: If someone argues “The institution has always been like this” and I, in response, argue “Not in my experience. Not in the experience of my peers either. Our experience is that the institution was completely different than that”, then I will have to have explained to me why I should pay more deference to this thing that I’ve never seen than this thing that I have directly experienced.
That might be an issue for someone who is trying to persuade you to “pay more deference to this thing,” but I’m not trying to persuade you to pay more deference to anything. I also have my doubts that you and I are speaking about the same things, even when we marginally narrow the definition of “marriage” by referring to the “institution.” I am cognizant of the fact that you do not pay deference (or, perhaps, that you do not recognize the ways that you still do defer to the institution in its second-natural manifestations), I am acknowledging that the view is representative in its way, and I am suggesting that it tends to reinforce, not contradict, Shafer’s stronger point or the general justification for Shafer’s argument, which, in my view, goes well beyond the political focus on SSM. [1 ]
The problem with Shafer’s argument, and with his politicization of it, is that he identifies a long-term trend, pointing to an alteration in the human concept or self-concept, with what would be only its latest manifestation in law and politics. It was Dostoevsky who suggested, via the Man from Underground, 150 years ago, that soon we would “contrive to be born of an idea” rather than of parents of flesh and blood. As for when that moment occurred, it might have occurred before the Man from Underground. In your view of marriage (which I think you exaggerate or simplify for effect) as an institution for the protection of mutual masturbatory exclusivity – or perhaps Burt would say exclusivity in “sexplay” – you point to the early 1960s, with the advent of reliable birth control as the key moment when the detachment from a biological-procreative concept of marriage took place. Others would point to easy divorce and abortion on demand, alongside social-economic changes in the composition of the work force under mid-20th century conditions. Others would point to the substantial eradication of childbirth mortality and reduction of medical complications of childbirth, both for infants and mothers, once a leading cause of death and debilitation overall and all the more for young, otherwise healthy women. Others would point to consumer-technological advances of different types freeing those traditionally designated to perform “domestic labor” to other tasks (or to no tasks at all). Still others would point to the exponential increase in the sheer numbers of living human beings: No one can say that a specific number of living human beings at any time is the correct number, or a better number than any other number, but an approximate tripling since the point of inflection reached in the middle of the last century at least puts in doubt the placement of going forth and multiplying at or near the top of the human agenda – a major problem, but also an opportunity, for religious traditions in which it remains there.
Taken from one point of view, the above would represent tremendous human progress, a set of advances whose attractiveness only very few of us are even minimally inclined, must less able, to resist. Yet just as all of those technological advances also facilitate the extinction of species and cultures, the manufacture and deployment of omnicidal weapons, and the potential catastrophic destabilization of the environment, the alteration of the human concept, the pure transactionalization of human relations, the conversion of a web of affiliations organized by blood ties across the generations into a system of human atoms exposed to a massified state may also produce unique dangers or even the worst dangers.
I am hardly the first to point this out, but I don’t happen to think that same sex marriage is in any sense a major source of danger in itself. I think it might even reasonably be viewed as a resource, under the right conditions. I think that many of the people involved in one way or another in that movement or supporting it are our best people or typical of the best in us, and that goes for some of the people with whom I regularly disagree about the subject, but I think that even our best people are as subject to those larger, two-sided trends, and that the tendency of the movement, in the arguments and attitudes of its supporters, reflects that fact.