Friday, April 09, 2010

Was Bebel right?

I'm reading Against Liberalism by John Kekes. What is the first argument that Kekes makes against liberalism?

In short, it's this. The basic values of liberalism are designed to foster autonomy. However, human dispositions can be oriented toward both what is good and what is evil. So encouraging autonomy might just as much encourage acts of evil:

in human beings, morally good dispositions coexist with morally evil dispositions. If autonomy is fostered, then both good and evil dispositions are encouraged. (p.24)

Liberals, therefore, need to explain how fostering autonomy can be reconciled with diminishing the prevalence of evil. Kekes discusses a number of liberal strategies; I won't try to summarise these now, as I want to focus on one aspect alone, namely the Socratic option.

Why do humans commit evil actions? Kekes begins with the Socratic explanation:

The philosophically most influential explanation is embedded in the Socratic paradox that no one does evil knowingly. The thought behind the apparently obvious falsehood of this claim is that human agents are normally guided in their actions by what seems good to them. The explanation of evil actions must therefore be either that the agents are ignorant of the good and perform evil actions in the mistaken belief that they are good, or that if they know what the good is and they nevertheless do evil, then it is because accident, coercion, or some incapacity interferes with their pursuit of what seems good to them. (p.28)

Evil exists then because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of choice. This fits in well with the liberal emphasis on autonomy. It means that it is either ignorance which makes people act badly or some sort of external coercion. Therefore, more autonomy, including more "educated" choices, will overcome the problem of evil:

The Socratic explanation ... is most congenial to liberalism. It attributes evil actions to ignorance and proposes as a remedy the improvement of knowledge and the protection of choice from outside interference, which, in liberal language, is but the strengthening of autonomy.

Kekes has some specific criticisms of liberalism for adopting the Socratic explanation. But I want to leave Kekes for a while and turn instead to the writings of a nineteenth century German socialist, August Bebel.

Bebel wrote a feminist book in 1879 called Woman and Socialism. One chapter of this book was devoted to "Woman in the future." So what did Bebel's hopes for women in the future consist of?

He clung to the liberal modernist orthodoxy. He hoped that there would be a society based on individual autonomy - on self-determination and independence - particularly in the sexual sphere.

He wrote of his idealised future society:

Man shall dispose of his own person, provided that the gratification of his impulses is not harmful or detrimental to others. The satisfaction of the sexual impulse is as much the private concern of each individual, as the satisfaction of any other natural impulse. No one is accountable to any one else, and no third person has the right to interfere. What I eat and drink, how I sleep and dress is my private affair, and my private affair also is my intercourse with a person of the opposite sex.

Bebel was an advocate of what was called at the time "free love". It meant that people should sleep with whomever they wanted and that neither morality nor marriage vows ought to limit this. This was a common idea amongst early feminist writers.

One problem with this view is already suggested in Bebel's argument. In order to make sex so casual it has to be reduced in significance to a mere natural appetite like sleeping or eating. It's no longer connected in a special or significant way to love, or psychological bonding or moral feeling.

But that's not the point I wish to draw out. Bebel goes on to argue that only good will result from such autonomy, not evil, because people's intelligence will have been raised by education and because people will be more independent and less subject to compulsion in the new socialist society.

In other words, Bebel turns precisely to the Socratic paradox to explain why autonomy will expand the good and diminish the evil. If people are more independent and more educated then they will follow what is good:

Intelligence and culture, personal independence, – qualities that will become natural, owing to the education and conditions prevailing in the new society, – will prevent persons from committing actions that will prove detrimental to themselves. Men and women of future society will possess far more self-control and a better knowledge of their own natures, than men and women of to-day.

Has he been proven right? Women today are better educated and more independent than in Bebel's time. Has this led to the possession of greater self-control? To beneficial, rather than detrimental, forms of behaviour in human relationships?

There's reason to think not. There's reason to think that the Socratic paradox is wrong. There's reason to think that giving women more autonomy to act as they will has led, as Kekes suggests it would, to some women acting according to their more base dispositions.

It was reported recently, for instance, that the number of newlywed women in Toronto signing up for an adultery website is skyrocketing:

the number of Toronto-area female newlyweds on their site has skyrocketed in the past year. In March 2009, there were 3,184 women who had been married for three years or less actively using the service. A year later, there were 12,442.

The operators of the adultery website have found a "robust" demographic:

They soon realized they had overlooked a robust and active demographic: “These were young women who, from their self-description ... were only married a year or two and seemed to really be questioning the institution, their next step, entering into parenthood, staying with that partner,” Biderman says.

They called it their “newlywed marketplace.”

A relationships expert believes that it is a result of women being more self-determining and following their own path:

“I just think that women are stronger and coming into themselves and following their own path,” says Toronto relationship therapist Nancy Ross.

The website operator also attributes the trend to the growing independence of women:

Biderman thinks female newlyweds are looking for more than a fling — that many of them are sizing up their husbands and questioning whether they really want to start a family with him. And, in a pragmatic move not unlike job hunting, they might even want to line up a new partner before leaving their current one.

“As more and more people get married later and later in life, does it really surprise you that a 30-year-old woman who just got married a year or two ago, but has a very robust career and is very independent, is really going to tolerate the same kind of failed expectations that someone two generations removed from her (did)?” he asks.

One of the women using the site justifies herself as follows:

Susan, now 27, says she loves her husband and does not plan to leave him ... she’s made many friends who understand her, both male and female, and she’s now had four very satisfying affairs.

“I come home smiling after and I’m just fulfilled, which kind of cuts up my resentment toward my husband, because I just feel better — physically, emotionally, everything.”

So we have better educated and more autonomous women. Does this mean, though, that these women are genuinely acting for the good? Their autonomy has in some cases merely unleashed the worst aspects of female hypergamy: of attempting to trade up to higher status men regardless of wedding vows. In other cases it has led them to pursue selfish ends; despite being newly wed they want to continue to take lovers as well as keeping the advantages of having a husband. They are acting not, as Bebel predicted, with greater self-control, but according to the justification of how they feel at a particular moment.

Liberals cannot, therefore, claim that education or knowledge or independence will lead people to act for the good. It is not always coercion or ignorance that leads to detrimental forms of behaviour. The potential to act detrimentally exists within the disposition of individuals. Therefore, if individuals are given the autonomy to act according to their disposition, we can expect to see more of such behaviour, than if individuals are held in some way to a recognised standard.

32 comments:

  1. That is so amazingly awful.

    Although, I can't say that I am surprised. I've known women who saw their engagements as a last chance to sleep around before the wedding. 3 guesses as to how faithful they were after the wedding.

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  2. One problem with the liberal idea of autonomy is that the only way to demonstrate true autonomy is to actually transgress social norms, not merely question them. If one voluntarily chooses to follow a path in keeping with social norms, there is after all no proof of one’s autonomy. Voluntary conformity is indistinguishable from coerced conformity. While in the early stages of liberalism even mild forms of transgression suffice to prove ones independence, as social norms gradually erode, the transgressor, like a junkie, needs correspondingly greater “fixes” of transgression to establish his authenticity. In the end, the “autonomous” turn out to be as much slaves to rebellion against social convention as the orthodox are to social convention itself.

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  3. That's a very good point! I'd never thought of it that way before.

    I think it is true, though. For instance, a female cousin of mine got pregnant by her long-time boyfriend. He wanted to get married, but she kept delaying and delaying. And when I asked her why she said, "If I get married now, then everyone will say it's just because of the baby." So I said, "But it is because of the baby." "Yes, but I don't want everyone to know that. We're supposed to get married for love." "But you do love him." "Yes, but how will people know that if I do it while I am pregnant. You see?"

    We finally convinced her to marry him, but it took a while. Geez.

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  4. "So we have better educated and more autonomous women. Does this mean, though, that these women are genuinely acting for the good? Their autonomy has in some cases merely unleashed the worst aspects of female hypergamy: of attempting to trade up to higher status men regardless of wedding vows. In other cases it has led them to pursue selfish ends; despite being newly wed they want to continue to take lovers as well as keeping the advantages of having a husband. They are acting not, as Bebel predicted, with greater self-control, but according to the justification of how they feel at a particular moment"

    The unleashing of female hypergamy has nothing to do with education. It is a direct consequence of 2 factors - the breakdown of social class structures which limited social interactions and hence choice of marital partners and the Western mythology of romantic love which leads women to believe they can manipulate higher status men to "fall in love with them" and marry them.

    The only way in which the social breakdown of the West can be reversed is by return to the system of arranged marriages in which parents supervised their children's choice of marriage partners and confined them to those of the same socioeconmic class.

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  5. The article about Ashley Madison in Toronto is very unsurprising.

    My own marital therapist when I was getting divorced ~8 years ago told me that (even then) there was a rising tide of female adultery and that it was nearing epidemic proportions, but no-one knew about it because, by and large, women are very, very, very good at keeping their affairs secret unless they *want* their husbands to know (to hurt them or get back at them and so-on). She said she counseled many couples where there was female infidelity and the husband never found out, even through and after the divorce she initiated. That was very eye-opening coming from a professional who deals with troubled couples (and in her case almost all troubled *Christian* couples no less) -- someone who is as well placed as anyone to be up to trends in this area. In the same vein there was also a story recently in The Washington Post about local private detectives who are hired to collect adultery evidence --> one of them told the reporter very frankly that she charges double for collecting evidence on women because women are much, much better at hiding their affairs, and much harder to catch.

    That issue -- how good women are at hiding their infidelities if they want to do so -- is why people think women aren't having affairs to the extent that they actually are. In reality, the adultery rate among married women is sky high. I have been propositioned myself by married women for sex -- both when I was married and after. I declined -- I don't believe in that. But it happens a hell of a lot more than anyone talks about in our cultures.

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  6. If women are so very good at hiding their adultery, what do they do to make it so?

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  7. In the liberal world, evil is good and good is evil; therefore, adultery is "good."

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  8. Anonymous said:

    "despite being newly wed they want to continue to take lovers as well as keeping the advantages of having a husband".

    Novaseker said:

    "there was a rising tide of female adultery and that it was nearing epidemic proportions"

    I don't want to get into a fight but rising adultery rates among women does not mean that they are more likely to do so then men. I would say that men are more likely to commit adultery because they have a higher sex drive. Again saying that men have a higher sex drive, which seems a genuinely recognised truth, is nothing new. Most women I know, regardless of their relationship status, are not straining at the leash to bed guys and are less likely than men to want causal sex.

    I guess we could be in the realms of what promotes sex drive. For instance when I'm outdoors and in the army my sex drive is relatively low. My energies go into work or fighting or whatever and I'm also constantly at the call of the hierarchy which makes you less relaxed. In an urban environment I have more free time, I'm more comfortable, I have more immediate control over my life as well as excess energies and therefore my sex drive is higher. If women are getting more power or autonomy or becoming more aggressive in their lives it probably means that their sex drives, and probably resulting adultery, would increase. That does not mean, however, that women are on par with men.

    Gay men are notorious for sexual behavior, in large part this can be explained by the fact that they're men. The porn industry, which is huge, is predominantly for men. Prostitution, predominantly for men. So women who have a lower sex drive are more likely than men to commit adultery?

    Or do we say that none of those examples mean very much because women may have more practical choices than men, ie every guy is a potential partner so they don't have to look very hard. But again that indicates that men are more highly sexed than women.

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  9. Jaz said:

    "In the liberal world, evil is good and good is evil; therefore, adultery is "good."

    This has a fair degree of truth, because as was said being "transgressive" is considered the ultimate in freedom. Of course people still don't like it when others commit adultery to them.

    On the transgressive front you can see this clearly in modern comedy, where pushing the limits of what is acceptable, “good taste”, is the one staple joke. Often though it does backfire, ie with the recent Chaser or Kyle Sanderson examples (For non Australian readers the Chaser are a bunch of provocateur comedians who do "stunts" in public settings and are quite popular. They recently did one in a child’s cancer ward and there was a colossal public backlash. Kyle Sanderson is a crass radio dj).

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  10. I don't want to get into a fight but rising adultery rates among women does not mean that they are more likely to do so then men.

    Jesse, you're right. And I'm glad you pointed this out.

    The exact figure given for adultery varies a bit from survey to survey. But every survey I've seen has shown men with a higher rate than women.

    For instance, the U.S. National Opinion Research Center report on American Sexual Behaviour in 2004 gave figures for adultery of 20.5 per cent for men and 11.7 per cent for women.

    I chose the example I did not because I wanted to pick on women specifically, nor because I wanted to further depress men in relation to marriage, but because it illustrates so clearly the problem with Bebel's argument.

    Bebel was relying on education and independence to make people choose what was good and right. But women are definitely more educated and more independent now than in Bebel's time. And yet this can be associated, as with the cheating newly wed women, with a failure to choose what is good and right.

    So liberals can't claim that creating increasingly greater levels of autonomy will overcome the problem of the moral choices people make. In some cases the autonomy will actually unleash unwelcome behaviours that had previously been suppressed.

    This may not seem like such a problem for those of us still living a more traditional lifestyle in more traditional suburbs and towns. We are living off the capital of the past.

    But it's a real issue leading to a breakdown in normal patterns of family and communal life in certain parts of the West.

    And more autonomy as an answer is just not going to cut it.

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  11. But do we have more autonomy? Aren't they actually trying to limit the freedoms of the one to protect the autonomy of the other?
    Isn't increasing autonomy limited to women? Isn't it the case that increasing freedom for one person usually comes at the expense of freedom for another?

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  12. I don't think we will ever see reliable statistics on adultery. People lie about it, and women are even more likely to lie about it because of the double standard. So unless I see stats where every subject is under a polygraph test, color me highly skeptical about "volunteered" information concerning adultery.

    Jesse --

    What's happening is that women feel freer to have affairs and have MUCH more access to them than men do.

    A man who wants to have an affair has to work it. And many guys can't pull it off that easily -- not attractive enough to bag a Mistress. They may opt for a hooker, which is also an infidelity of course.

    A woman who wants to have an affair, however, can pretty much always find a partner. You acknowledge this, but then seem to dismiss it at the same time by saying it simply says men are more sexed. I think it's rather obvious men have a higher average libido than women do. But that has nothing at all to do with who can pull off an affair more easily. Women can, and do. And they also hide it better.

    As for the person who asks why/how women hide it better, my own educated guess is that women were selected, in part, on this basis, because cuckolding has always been a secondary mating strategy for females with middling genetic/reproductive fitness. In other words, it would make sense for women to have been selected to be quite good at hiding affairs if cuckolding is an important secondary mating strategy for a not insignificant number of women under some kind of enforced pair bonding regime.

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  13. Isn't it the case that increasing freedom for one person usually comes at the expense of freedom for another?

    Liberals would rather die than admit this. But there's certainly some truth to it. If freedom is autonomy and autonomy is the power to enact my own will, then it becomes a question of who gets the power to enact their own will over others.

    Hence the liberal obsession with power relations. You don't want to be the one, in the liberal universe, on the wrong side of the who/whom equation, as your humanity depends on being the one who has autonomy.

    So liberals do want to compete for autonomy. But they are also often committed in theory to equality. So if you want more autonomy, but don't want to be thought of as taking autonomy from anyone else, you position yourself as oppressed.

    That then gives you the right to take more, as someone who is unjustly deprived.

    You can therefore be a very well-off, upper-middle class woman and still compete for more autonomy on the basis that women as a class are oppressed.

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  14. Alte,

    A bit off topic, but I wanted to say I liked this comment of yours at your blog:

    Most wives and husbands do not understand each other, I think. Even when they “communicate”, nothing important is being said.

    How many women would tell their husbands, “I’m losing respect for you because you let me get away with too much crap. I’m totally turned off by your wimpiness and wish you would put me back in my place so that I can feel safe again.” When hell freezes over.

    Instead she’ll say, “You never do anything around here! It’s like having another child.” So the man washes more dishes and she dislikes him even more.
    It’s like a vicious cycle.


    That's very good. The man might be working hard trying to do what he's been led to believe is the right thing, so he'll be flummoxed when his wife says "You never do anything around here". He'll feel wounded by it. But it's not really a call to do more chores, it's a call to lead in a more masculine way at home.

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  15. Mark said:

    "
    So liberals can't claim that creating increasingly greater levels of autonomy will overcome the problem of the moral choices people make. In some cases the autonomy will actually unleash unwelcome behaviours that had previously been suppressed.

    This may not seem like such a problem for those of us still living a more traditional lifestyle in more traditional suburbs and towns. We are living off the capital of the past. "

    I Totally agree.

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  16. Novaseeker said:

    "As for the person who asks why/how women hide it better, my own educated guess is that women were selected, in part, on this basis, because cuckolding has always been a secondary mating strategy for females with middling genetic/reproductive fitness."

    Your view isn't impossible but it could also be that because guys are more "active", women being a bit more mona lisa like or "passive", they're easier to read emotionally. Also because women are always a little paranoid about affairs from men they can often pick up on the signs very quickly, which usually is a dropping or alteration of their partner's sexual behaviour. Guys can be more happily oblvious in my view. They have their partner down pat and now its time to concentrate on work or whatever.

    Either way as you say its a little theoretical.

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  17. As for the person who asks why/how women hide it better

    I was really more interested in how than why. It's not as if adulterous men are going out of their way to be discovered. The possible explanations I can think of right now are:

    1) Women aren't better at hiding, rather nobody is looking at them (presumption of innocence), or
    2) Women's friends more readily lie for them, or
    3) Women really are better at hiding or not creating evidence, though I can't off the top of my head figure out by what means or methods they accomplish this, or
    4) The standard of evidence by which we presume a woman is committing adultery is higher than for men

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  18. "Bebel was relying on education and independence to make people choose what was good and right. But women are definitely more educated and more independent now than in Bebel's time. And yet this can be associated, as with the cheating newly wed women, with a failure to choose what is good and right."

    What is the actual evidence that women are better educated and more independent than in the past? Western societies produce a small elite of highly educated women in professions such as medicine, engineering, science and law but the vast majority of western women are arguably less educated than in previous generations. There are reports of primary teachers who lack basic literary and numerary skills. The majority of Western people are considerably less well educated than previous generations.

    It is not the elite women in medicine, the sciences and engineering who are cheating and so your theory about well educated women being marital cheats does not appear to be valid.

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  19. I find it interesting to see female engineers listed as "elites". I just felt like a drone in a cubicle, to be honest. I feel much more "elite" now that I am a homemaker and can direct my own day and order my own life as I choose, in agreement with my husband. I'm arguably more autonomous now than before.

    So if you want more autonomy, but don't want to be thought of as taking autonomy from anyone else, you position yourself as oppressed.

    That then gives you the right to take more, as someone who is unjustly deprived.


    Oh, wow. I'd never thought of it that way before. I do have a (black) aunt who got into a political disagreement with my (white) mother once. When she ran out of arguments, she changed the subject by saying, "Well, what I want to know is: Where is my damn 40 acres and a mule? I'm still waiting for that."

    My mother is a German citizen, so the statement didn't even make any sort of sense. And my aunt is very wealthy, but still -- as you note -- claiming victim status. She complains a lot about being oppressed, but she drives a Jag.

    Thanks for reading my blog!

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  20. I don't think it's that women are better at hiding their affairs. Rather, men are often completely oblivious to the subtle changes in their wives' demeanor that would hint at an affair. Women are constantly monitoring their husbands.

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  21. Anonymous,

    The quantity of education that women are exposed to is certainly greater than it was in Bebel's time.

    Prior to the late 1800s, wealthy young women might have been well educated at home by private tutors, and a number of less wealthy girls would have received some education organised privately by local teachers.

    But education (in England at least) didn't become compulsory until 1880. Nor were women's colleges at universities established until the 1870s.

    Compare that to the situation in England today. As I recall, it was recently announced that for the first time the majority of women are going on to tertiary level education.

    As for independence, women are certainly more independent today in the sense that Bebel intended.

    Women have been made more independent of men and of the family (not of the state or employers) by careers, state welfare, paid maternity leave and so on. In fact, women now can choose to go to an IVF clinic, be impregnated and be supported whether by a career of their own, or welfare payments, without ever needing to have any kind of a relationship with a man.

    This was not so easily done in the 1800s. Unmarried or widowed women relied to a much larger degree on the support of their families. It was expected that a woman would marry a man prior to having children and be supported by her husband rather than by the state.

    Most welfare needs, in other words, were supplied by one's own extended family (though there did exist forms of government assistance and private insurance).

    So I believe the basic point I made stands. Bebel believed that education and independence would make people choose the good. We do have higher levels of education and independence now than in Bebel's time. But clearly it hasn't made people choose for the good, as my example of newly wed women acting from "feeling" or from hypergamous instinct showed.

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  22. [I] can direct my own day and order my own life as I choose, in agreement with my husband. I'm arguably more autonomous now than before.

    Alte, good point. Paid work means that your time and energy is beholden to your employer. Also, to keep your job or to advance your position, you have to fit yourself in with what your boss or company wants or believes in.

    A housewife, on the other hand, has a more personalised and intimate setting to work in. It's more within her power to influence the culture of the family life she works within.

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  23. Well....as the single female...

    Mark has summed up the argument already so I'll just share my own real-life story.

    I knew a girl who pulls what I call the "Katherine Hepburn" (Kate came from a notoriously liberal family and had no children with Spencer Tracy.) Kate Hepburn used a very nice man for his money while she pursued acting.

    My female actress friend did and is doing the same thing, except she just lived with the guy instead of getting married to him. She also is into interracial relationships (I'm a racist just deal!) and she has a VERY high libido to the point of vulgarity.

    Anywaysss...so yes...liberalism has freed my friend into showing her true colors. Autonomy has only lead her to hurting a nice guy, being slightly vulgar, and betraying her race. She really needs what I call a "societal bitch slapping" but she won't get it cuz we live in a liberal society.

    As far as Ashley Madison goes....For you Ozzies....on my TV I see the commercial on SciFi all the time and it's a black couple doing it and then the guys fat black wife comes and sits on him and starts spanking him.

    Soo....Judging by the commercial, the website is going after the African American community. Hmm..I wonder why? Hmmm..I just can't figure that one out....My apologies to the innocent non-racist ozzies out there!!!

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  24. Okee dokee sorry for the vulgarity of my own previous post...but I just read more about Ashley Madison on some message boards and it seems like many of the women 'claiming to be married' are more along the lines of professionals if you know what I mean...

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  25. Anonymous said:

    "(I'm a racist just deal!)"

    Don't worry you're off the hook.

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  26. Mark Says
    "So I believe the basic point I made stands. Bebel believed that education and independence would make people choose the good. We do have higher levels of education and independence now than in Bebel's time. But clearly it hasn't made people choose for the good, as my example of newly wed women acting from "feeling" or from hypergamous instinct showed."

    I don't see the connection between education and hypergamy. The latter is a universal phenomenon, the social expression of which is dependent upon opportunities presented in a given society, regardless of education and levels of autonomy. In the 1800s and early 1900s West female hypergamy was restricted by a social class structure which did not permit it and a tradition of marriages in the ruling classes which were effectively arranged by parents largely for social and economic reasons.

    With regard to marriage, most women do not act in the common good and never have done. They seek to get the best deal in terms of securing financial assets and social status for themselves and their future children and often pursue this goal ruthlessly and relentlessly. All women want to marry princes, aristocrats and wealthy business and professional men. Few would turn down the opportunity to do so. Women only settle for less when their ambitions are thwarted by lack of opportunity or social constraints. In traditional societies, female marital and social ambitions are constrained by social hierarchies and marriages which are based upon social and economic interests.

    Many Asian countries and Asian societies in the West have surpassed the West in educational achievement. India produces the highest number and percentage of the world’s professional women. If the theory of education and hypergamy was correct, India would be awash with hypergamy and infidelity. But it is not because the social hierarchy and tradition of arranged marriages between people of equal social and economic status has been preserved thus effectively eliminating female hypergamy and the social disorder which it causes, as well as keeping the divorce rate the lowest in the world.

    In Asian countries one can observe female hypergamy in action as bar girls (neither autonomous nor educated) target Western men for marriage and money. Western men are an easy target due to their idealistic views about women and readiness to cross racial and social barriers in marriage. One can also note that they do not target Asian men in this way and limit themselves to the ones of their own class. Similarly Asian women in the West target white men of higher status but don’t target Asian men in this way as they would be rebuffed.

    The hypergamy prevalent in Western countries is a direct consequence of the idealisation of romantic love as a basis for marriage where love is the basis for selection of a partner regardless of social suitability and a social structure in which racial and class barriers have been weakened if not dissolved. Thus all Western men are fair game for emotional and sexual manipulation and in this process, a high percentage of them are going to be shafted.

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  27. Anonymous said:

    "The hypergamy prevalent in Western countries is a direct consequence of the idealisation of romantic love as a basis for marriage where love is the basis for selection of a partner regardless of social suitability and a social structure in which racial and class barriers have been weakened if not dissolved"

    That's interesting but romantic love existed as a concept in the middle ages if not before and people then still married within their social class.

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  28. I don't see the connection between education and hypergamy.

    Well, there isn't one. Bebel as a liberal hoped that if women were given more autonomy and more independence that they would then choose for the good.

    But it hasn't worked out that way. Women have been given more autonomy and more independence. But for some women that will only mean that they are freer to act to their own and society's detriment.

    For instance, they are freer to ditch the commitments they have made to one man in order to "trade up" to a higher status man.

    As for the substance of your comment, I agree with much of it. However, I don't think that romantic and sexual attraction have to be abandoned as factors when choosing a spouse.

    Even the English upper classes didn't usually formally arrange marriages. Young women would be presented to court when they came of age, there would be a number of "seasons" of balls and social gatherings in which eligible young men and women would mix.

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  29. “But for some women that will only mean that they are freer to act to their own and society's detriment.”
    That indeed is human nature. Humans tend to act in their own interest unless restrained. Traditions have to be enforced on societies for the maintenance of the common good and that always entails some restriction of liberty. However I must say that traditional societies bring greater long term happiness.


    "However, I don't think that romantic and sexual attraction have to be abandoned as factors when choosing a spouse."

    I am not saying that they have to be abandoned but they cannot be used as the basis for family formation and society as they are in the West. The primary considerations have to be social and economic. A society cannot survive if its basic foundations are based on emotions. It is like constructing a building on sand.


    “Even the English upper classes didn't usually formally arrange marriages. Young women would be presented to court when they came of age, there would be a number of "seasons" of balls and social gatherings in which eligible young men and women would mix.”

    But these young men and women had already been preselected as being from the right social backgrounds and their parents were usually all well known to each other. Where families did not know each other, they could very easily find out. The aristocracy is a small closed world. There was no choice of the wrong types being presented at court.

    Parents also had the final authority and veto on marriages and a veto meant the marriage did not go ahead. Many marriages in aristocratic and professional families were formally arranged (and still are) with transfers of assets such as property and cash.

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  30. Anonymous,

    You're right to focus on money, which was the basis for negotiating marriages in the past. Today, however, where economic necessity is far less of a deal for people than its been historically other factors will come to the fore.

    The woman at the bar trying to land a whale probably doesn't work or doesn't work that much and she's trying to get rich or economically secure through marriage. Guys will generally do that far less and will try to get rich through work.

    Once people are generally content with their situation though they won't necessarily try to "trade up" or do so obsessively. A person in a solid profession, male or female will often be happy with a solid or "boring" partner. Work can be stressful and life is so much easier when you return home to normality and order rather than excitement and flux. We've all seen the boring beauracrat or accountant, male or female, with an even more boring partner or spouse. These people choose to live together as much as for personality complementariness as for economic reasons.

    Should they instead marry a high flying businessman or aristocrat, presuming it was possible, they’d probably have to put up with a self obsessed person who was constantly having affairs. Boring would seem a safer and saner bet.

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  31. I would generally agree with Anon in that hypergamy, unless constrained in some way, leads to a kind of a mess because it effectively concentrates female mating in a way that is not socially optimal to say the least.

    I don't think romantic love has to be ditched, but I do agree that the pretense of our current marriage culture to the effect that being in long-term romantic love with one's partner or finding one's lifelong soulmate and so on is the sine qua non of marriage is very harmful to the health of marriages in our society. The expectations bar has been set way, way high, and we're expected to evaluate the merits of our marriages based on our subjective satisfaction with it -- emotionally, sexually and otherwise. Some marriages can work under those criteria, but the vast majority can't. The vast majority of marriages feature ups and downs, and if you're all about "what is in this for me in terms of my emotional satisfaction", you're much more apt to leave during one of the down phases -- and, in fact, an entire culture which is screaming at you that "you deserve better" will downright *encourage* you to leave, so that you can start again.

    Ideally what you would have would be some real brass tacks reason for people to stay together, coupled together with the kind of individual mate selection made within a pre-selected group (along the lines Mark describes for the earlier period English upper class). That way people have relatively good matches, but also some brass tacks involved as well.

    It's not purely coincidental, for example, that the one slice of the demographic in the USA that has very low divorce rates is the dual-educated, dual-professional-income married couple. The divorce rates in this smallish slice are below 20%. People who are in this slice often like to congratulate themselves by saying that they are simply better at marriage, or are more mature and so on, but this is mostly bunk. I live in this demographic and there are plenty of crappy marriages with dissatisfied spouses and adultery is pretty rampant. What makes these couples work out? The brass tacks of the marriage are strong -- that is, the combined lifestyle they can lead is much more appealing than the lifestyle hit they each would take by splitting. So, less than ideal situations are put up with for longer. Flaws and dissatisfactions are overlooked or downplayed, because Plan B is not attractive from the lifestyle perspective, at least not while there are children around. University of Pennsylvania economist Betsey Stevenson (a feminist) has dubbed these marriages "consumption marriages", where the brass tacks that hold the marriage together are no longer the old "division of labor", but rather now the raw combined consumptive power of the two professional level incomes. And certainly not any silly idea that this demographic simply features more soulmate marriages or some bunk like that.

    The reality of marriage is this: unless there is a brass tacks reason for the thing to last, it won't. Those brass tacks can be economic, as in the consumption marriages outlined above. Or they can be social, as in ostracizing divorced people socially. Or they can be religious, in a society where religious prohibitions on divorce matter. And so on. But if you take away religious, social and legal sanctions against divorce, and then also take away the economic brass tacks for most of the demographic, well, you're going to end up with a very unstable marital institution. Because the expectation that the foundation for marriage should be the shared surfing of life's emotional ups and downs is a recipe for high divorce rates, plain and simple.

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  32. Novaseeker said:

    "But if you take away religious, social and legal sanctions against divorce, and then also take away the economic brass tacks for most of the demographic, well, you're going to end up with a very unstable marital institution. Because the expectation that the foundation for marriage should be the shared surfing of life's emotional ups and downs is a recipe for high divorce rates, plain and simple."

    I strongly agree with this. If responsibility is a social evil that takes away from your freedoms, marriage will be on rocky grounds because you need a sense of responsibility to get through the tough times as well as to enhance the good times and encourage trust and happiness. In the absence of responsibility, necessity can fulfill this function and emotional upheaval clearly can’t.

    The "I can do better/must do better” mentality can also encourage people to leave perfectly good marriages and head into real difficulties based on the promises of an ideological mirage. With of course as was stated comes with the state providing a safety net. I think often people will choose this because they feel they "must", ie to keep their “dignity”, or to do what they feel they're supposed to do within the construct of a liberal dominated culture.

    "It's not purely coincidental, for example, that the one slice of the demographic in the USA that has very low divorce rates is the dual-educated, dual-professional-income married couple. The divorce rates in this smallish slice are below 20%... What makes these couples work out? The brass tacks of the marriage are strong -- that is, the combined lifestyle they can lead is much more appealing than the lifestyle hit they each would take by splitting."

    It’s the same in Australia. These are the couples held together by their mortgages, high housing prices and mutual desires for a high consumption lifestyle. Yes the adultery rate amongst both men and women in this liberal group is high.

    If the women of this type are as likely to have it off with a tradie, pool boy, cougar cub (whatever they’re called), or work colleague, which I think she is, I don't think its female hypergamy which explains the activity as opposed to the simple pursuit of sexual activity. This goes along neatly with their other "stimulating" activities, such as the pursuit of money, material goods and "experiences" all of which is exactly the sort of indulgent activity that the aristocratic classes have always engaged in. I think its good old fashioned overstimulation, pursuit of shallow goals, and lack of a sense of responsibility at play here rather than hypergamy. Its fun to live like an aristocrat.

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