Sunday, January 02, 2011

What is driving the marriage debate?

What kinds of ideas are driving the debate on marriage and family?

Consider the recent feature article penned by Deirdre Macken for the Australian Financial Review, a respectable paper read by the wealthy commercial classes. ("All kinds of families are gathering," AFR, 23-28/12/2010)

Macken begins with the issue of gay marriage. Should the definition of marriage and family include gay spouses? This is how Macken thinks through the issue:

The debate over gay marriage that occupied the last months of the year was not just a battle for the rights of gay couples. It was a battle over family. For gay couples, it was the right to be accepted as equals around the Christmas table. For social conservatives, it was a battle to keep family tight and traditional. For most people, it was a reflection of the idea that family is an endlessly creative social project.

Can you see where this is heading? Macken is going to apply liberal autonomy theory to this issue. That’s the idea that what matters is being able to self-define our existence. By the logic of this theory, the traditional family will be looked on negatively as being “restrictive,” as it has a fixed and stable character that we don’t invent for ourselves. On the other hand, the idea of gay spouses will seem appealing, regardless of what we might think of gay spouses, because it breaks down a stable definition of family life. It contributes to the idea of family as “an endlessly creative social project”.

Gay marriage, in other words, becomes useful as a kind of battering ram to “modernise” (i.e. liberalise) the family.

Now, conservatives often argue against gay marriage on the grounds that it undermines any stable definition of marriage and family. But that won’t cut any ice with liberals, since that is exactly what liberals are aiming at. Macken makes it very clear in her article that what matters for her is to replace a “restrictive” conservative definition of marriage with an open-ended one.

So she approvingly quotes the executive director of Family Relationship Services Australia, Sam Page, in this loose definition of family:

The definition I like now is whoever you share your toothpaste with, that’s your family.

And she chooses as well to include this argument in support of gay marriage made by Sharon Dane, a researcher in social psychology at the University of Queensland:

It is a fight for family because it [gay marriage] will change family. Some people have said, why enter such a paternalistic, rigid institution like marriage but by entering it they are taking marriage away from that patriarchal control and effectively modernising the family.

Macken also chooses to end her article with a quote from Dane. Note again the ideological bias: gay marriage is welcomed not because of what it is but because it is seen to help the cause of liberal autonomy by breaking down the “restrictive” traditional family:

Law [a gay activist] jokes that families are better behaved at Christmas if they are forced to mix with others … some experts believe that what works for the individual family also works for the national family.

That is, they say that extending the social boundaries of family also makes for a civilising influence on an institution that has traditionally been seen as rigid.

Says Dane: “If institutions don’t keep evolving then fewer people will do it but marriage is evolving. More people want to be part of it because it’s seen as a celebration, it’s not seen as a restriction and, even though the institution is changing, it’s also becoming stronger because of that.”

A typical liberal flourish there at the end. Marriage has been reduced to nothing more than a “celebration” (what’s that supposed to mean when the baby is crying at 3am?) but not to worry, it will become “stronger because of that,” i.e. we’re supposed to believe that nothing at all has been lost by making marriage anything you want it to be.

And what about divorce? If the aim is to break down the “rigid” traditional family, in favour of choosing family arrangements for ourselves, then divorce won’t seem to be such a bad thing. It adds another realm of choice, another realm of complexity, more possible permutations and combinations of family arrangements.

And so Macken turns to another liberal family expert for the right quote:

A family law specialist, Caroline Counsel, agrees that “separation does not destroy family, it just means that parents are geographically located in different areas … Counsel specialises in collaborative practice, where couples are encouraged to agree on how the post-marriage family should operate. These agreements are often broader and more creative than ones that go through the courts…

“The courts haven’t led on this, they have been followers but there is scope for them to become leaders because it’s evident that families can be anything they choose to be.

Pure, undiluted, liberal autonomy theory. Divorce here is treated as a creative process of self-definition, that rearranges family rather than harming it.

Who might object? Macken goes on to give an example of a clash between the old and the new:

However, it’s not evident to everyone that families can be anything they choose to be. In the battle between supporters of the traditional family and supporters of a modernised family, one of the more interesting stoushes happened at the annual conference of Family Relationship Services Australia in November.

In brief, FRS decided to have as their keynote speaker a gay activist, Benjamin Law. After his speech he was approached by Margaret Andrews, the wife of conservative politician Kevin Andrews. She told Law that he shouldn’t come to conferences on family and attack traditional families like hers.

Macken is on the opposite side of the fence to me, but she does intelligently lay out what the key issues are. The core concern of liberals like her is not what homosexual marriage might mean in itself. It’s that homosexual marriage (and divorce) fits in with the “modernisation” of family, by which she means the open-ended definition of family to mean anything we want it to mean.

As I mentioned earlier, the result is that we can’t as conservatives simply complain that liberals are redefining marriage so loosely that it can mean anything. That’s exactly the point for liberals. It’s better if we go a step further and criticise the liberal project of making autonomy the prime directive of modern life.

We can also pick up liberals on their claim that nothing will be harmed in the process, that you can have all the goods of traditional family life at the same time that you redefine family to mean anything at all.

It's not difficult to criticise liberals for this. Isn’t it the case, for instance, that the high divorce rate is discouraging young people from committing to marriage? And isn’t it true that young men are questioning the value of marriage, when the role and the rights of men in marriage are so poorly defined and defended?

The irony is that if you make marriage and family a free-for-all, in the cause of autonomous choice, you aren’t likely to give people what they really want or need.

Liberals like Macken want this autonomy, but they don’t want to admit that there might be losses involved. So they make trite claims that family can only be strengthened by making the definition of family almost meaningless (“whoever you share a toothbrush with”).

23 comments:

  1. "The irony is that if you make marriage and family a free-for-all, in the cause of autonomous choice, you aren’t likely to give people what they really want or need."

    This is the key point.

    When you (talking about/to left-liberals here) make an idol out of the self, out of self-actualization, a relationship like marriage which depends on serving the needs of another is bound to fail...because the needs of another are bound to come in conflict with the needs of the self. Guess which gives first in the left-liberal self-focused world...the needs of the self, or the needs of the other?

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  2. Elusive Wapiti wrote,

    "When you (talking about/to left-liberals here) make an idol out of the self..."

    Excellent expansion on his point, EW. And why limit it to left-liberals?

    Do most of us really understand, even us conservatives, what "idolatry" means?

    It means patterning your life after anyone or anything other than God, Himself.

    You said that liberals put themselves before others. And that's true. But isn't it funny how they'd say the exact opposite about themselves? Wouldn't they say that the entire point of "expanding" marriage beyond its breaking point is to serve the "marginalized" and the "excluded", i.e. others?

    And yet, you're right: whatever they intended, what they actually do is serve themselves.

    It just isn't possible to serve anyone or anything except God Himself and not end up serving yourself.

    And idolatry always wrecks things.

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  3. The idea is that unlimited choice is in and of itself a good thing. That there is such a thing as a bad choice, and that bad choices when it comes to family will cause harm to innocent third parties, is evidently of no concern to the left.

    Note how the issue of a broken home is papered over with "parents continue to be parents, just in different geographical locations", as if tearing children's lives apart is of no moment. So the question for the left on this is: how much pain, emotional turmoil and suffering are you willing to cause children in order to enjoy your own, selfish pleasure?


    Another issue that this points to: where does the "alternative family" boundary exist? Are we to accept polygamy/polyandry? Group marriage? If "marriage" is some transient, passing alliance of the moment, then who has the duty of actually being there for children on a daily basis?

    This is, as Richardson noted, the left/liberal autonomy theory writ onto yet another page; "family" means whatever one or more adults defines it to mean at any given moment.

    What it means in practicality is another step down on the staircase to nihilism and barbarity. Because every generation of children raised in such a chaotic environment will be less civilized than the one before it, and thus less able to actually keep the wheels turning.

    One thing I've noted for years about liberal/leftists, they assume that no matter what damage they do to society, it will keep on functioning regardless. The catastrophic fallout from unilateral divorce should have been a warning to them == but apparently leftists never learn from any of their mistakes.

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  4. Elizabeth says,

    "Do most of us really understand, even us conservatives, what "idolatry" means?"

    It means the worship of a "thing", that we have created with our own hands.

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  5. One day, just one day, it might occur to the geniuses at QUADRANT, IPA REVIEW, and the country's other faux-conservative outfits that the battle against homosexualism (and homosexualism is what the whole "gay marriage" shebang means) will demand from us at least as much tenacity, courage, endurance, readiness to dump cowards in our midst, and sheer ruthlessness as the battle against communism did last century.

    But with "friends" like Windschuttle, Bolt, Blair, Janet ("You Say I'm A Plagiarist Like It's A Bad Thing") Albrechtsen, anyone surnamed Colebatch, etc., etc., traditionalists hardly need enemies.

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  6. You've once again provided a fascinating collection of liberal locutions. I particularly enjoyed Sam Page's description of the toothpaste definition of family as "the one I like right now." That's liberal linguistics in a nutshell, isn't it?

    If collective dental hygiene is, today, the definitive function of a family, why not, tomorrow, collective respiration? Then all who share the same atmosphere will be a members of one family, the family of man (as they used to say).

    As Robert Nisbet argued, destruction of intermediate institutions--most especially families--is a central purpose of liberalism.

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  7. Separate and segregate. This may be more easy in the USA since they are facing an economic collapse soon and will be heading towards another great depression but try it in Australia too. I'm asking for every traditional conservative Christian group in Australia to start campgaing this in Australia. Create your own private traditional marriage institution. Separate and segregate. Marriage is too broke to repair itself. It's too late now.

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  8. Only subscribers can get access to the article, so I have not read it. But I am curious - does she address the issue of what is best for children? Is an "endlessly creative social project" best for children? The purpose of a family is to provide an environment that is best for raising children. Any crazy changes that do not promote this should be utterly rejected. No, you won't have maximum autonomy or choice when you approach the family this way, but not having total autonomy or choice is part of being an adult and the price you pay for having and raising children.

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  9. "The irony is that if you make marriage and family a free-for-all ... you aren’t likely to give people what they really want or need."

    Western populations have been conditioned to expect novelty and when norms are not changing apace, people think something is amiss. The "boomer culture" dominates today. Still, I don't think society can be "given" social prescriptions by radical leftist thinkers or other elites.

    What traditionalists seek to preserve and restore is already ours. The progress the opposition has made is what we have allowed them to make.

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  10. JM Smith wrote:

    I particularly enjoyed Sam Page's description of the toothpaste definition of family as "the one I like right now."

    Yes, I missed this myself. Not only did she go for a radically open-ended definition of family (whoever you choose to share your toothpaste with), she threw open even this definition by making it the "one I like right now" - as if family is the kind of thing you might redefine several times a year on a personal whim.

    Anon wrote:

    But I am curious - does she address the issue of what is best for children? Is an "endlessly creative social project" best for children?

    She seems to think that liberal principles can be applied to divorce to make the outcome good for children.

    She thinks there is an old form of divorce that was rigid, court-based and that did not allow for creative, flexible, negotiated autonomous choice. This broke up the family.

    But the new form of divorce doesn't break up the family, it just geographically separates it. It is a form of divorce which is negotiated and collaborative and is based on the idea of parents maintaining their own post-divorce relationship in order to continue to parent as they did before.

    So the answer is that she does address the issue of what's best for the children but only by supposing that you can have a liberal form of divorce which maintains the family unit whilst still contributing positively to the modern family project by undermining the traditional family and creating in its place more complex, negotiated family arrangements.

    It's a messy position to take and one that supposes that children wouldn't ideally like their parents to remain together in the same house, rather than repartnering with others and living elsewhere.

    It also takes the rather optimistic view that "collaborative divorce" will stop the problem of relationship breakdown between divorcing parents (i.e. that there won't be parents who lose contact with their children or who are hostile to each other post divorce).

    It's a strange position too as it recognises that children need their parents to have an ongoing relationship centred on the care of their children, whilst at the same time celebrating the demise of the traditional family.

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  11. Mark Richardson:

    It's a strange position too as it recognises that children need their parents to have an ongoing relationship centred on the care of their children, whilst at the same time celebrating the demise of the traditional family.

    Not really all that strange. She wants to have her cake and eat it, too. She wants to pretend that endlessly changing the family cannot possibly have any bad effects, and she's sufficiently brainwashed by leftism to celebrate the demise of that evil, horrid, patriarchal nuclear family. The only saving grace I see for her is that there's some corner of her mind concerned about children of divorcing parents.

    Unhappily, the authoress seems to have a tremendous emotional investment in leftism, so no matter how dreadful the facts on the ground for children really are, she will never admit that she was wrong, in my opinion.


    PS: To Elusive Wapiti, you know as well as I do that the needs of the self are fully and totally paramount to the left. One of the things I do agree with Mark Richardson about is that "autonomy" is the be-all and end-all to a lot of leftists, no matter where it leads or what the cost.

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  12. But the new form of divorce doesn't break up the family, it just geographically separates it.

    What a load of shit! That is a distinction without a difference.

    It is a form of divorce which is negotiated and collaborative

    Yeah, right. Tell that to all those guys who blow their brains out because they are denied access to their children. As a man, you will "negotiate" your divorce from a position of total inferiority. The state and the lawyers will collaborate to see to it that you get screwed.

    and is based on the idea of parents maintaining their own post-divorce relationship in order to continue to parent as they did before.

    And how does that work out in practice? It doesn't. This "idea" is just another insane liberal delusion.

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  13. Mr. Oz,

    It was heterosexuals who screwed up marriage via rampant divorce. Until conservatives DO something about easy divorce and restore the sanctity of marriage, this will continue.

    MarkyMark

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  14. Until conservatives DO something about easy divorce and restore the sanctity of marriage, this will continue.

    Agreed.

    There certainly do exist conservative groups which are active on this issue.

    I'm thinking, for instance, of the Endeavour Forum here in Australia or the Eagle Forum in the US. I know, for instance, that the Endeavour Forum organises to lobby delegates at UN conferences on the family and that it publishes papers to be submitted to hearings on proposed government legislation here. It also holds public meetings and publishes a regular newsletter.

    (There's also a conservative political party here in Australia called the DLP which has quite a good program on family issues.)

    This kind of activism has had some victories. In America, Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum played a prominent role in defeating feminist attempts to amend the constitution. Here in Australia conservatives within the Liberal Party managed to get custody laws reviewed so that there was a greater emphasis on shared custody.

    Nonetheless, feminist legislation has held sway. Why?

    Part of the reason is that social conservatives have been duped within the political system. In most countries there is a left-liberal party (e.g. the Democrats, the Australian Labor Party) and a right-liberal party (the Republicans, the Australian Liberal Party).

    At election time, the right-liberal party will court the social conservative vote and make all sorts of encouraging noises. But it never intends to carry through much of the social conservative program, as it is fundamentally oriented to a different kind of politics, one based on free market economics and a classical liberal social policy.

    So year after year social conservatives end up feeling disappointed.

    Somehow we have to break the cycle, so that those who support social conservatism don't have their energies uselessly diverted.

    Social conservatives need, as a first step, greater political clarity. If they are to work within the major parties, they need to clearly distinguish themselves from the dominant liberal part of those parties.

    If they are to work outside, they need to know that they can't passively rely on promises from the mainstream "conservative" parties, at least not as they stand.

    MarkyMark, I've done activist work myself. I've had letters published in the mainstream papers here, I've distributed literally thousands of copies of publications on campus, and of course I've published hundreds of articles and had them read by hundreds of thousands of readers.

    But the traditionalist movement is only just now really starting to develop. There are some good signs for us, but we're not in a place yet to effectively challenge the political class.

    I want to make something more than a token effort. I want to influence a part of the political class so that the challenge is more effective and more enduring.

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  15. ''Social conservatives need, as a first step, greater political clarity. If they are to work within the major parties, they need to clearly distinguish themselves from the dominant liberal part of those parties.

    If they are to work outside, they need to know that they can't passively rely on promises from the mainstream "conservative" parties, at least not as they stand.''

    Agreed.

    ''But the traditionalist movement is only just now really starting to develop. There are some good signs for us, but we're not in a place yet to effectively challenge the political class.''

    Pretty much.

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  16. For evidence (if further evidence were needed) that modern homosexualism - and sexual revolutionism in general - is simply communism by other means, and was largely the invention of Hungarian Marxist Jew Georg Lukacs as disseminated afterwards by the Frankfurt School (T. W. Adorno, Wilhelm Reich etc), the following essay is useful:

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2005_docs/PC1.pdf

    Patrick Buchanan, in his book The Death of the West, is another writer who has has treated the genealogy of PC, as has veteran Congressman Ron Paul:

    http://www.dailypaul.com/node/140968

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  17. There are, miraculously, certain countries where all divorce continues to be forbidden, and in others divorce was forbidden until very recently.

    In Malta, Andorra, Vatican City (of course), and Sark (the last-named in the Channel Islands), divorce is still outlawed. The Philippines still bans it except for certain Muslim marriages. Argentina banned it till the 1980s, Ireland till the 1990s, Chile till as recently as 2004.

    Why is the Endeavour Forum not demanding that divorce be outlawed here, since if it did that, it would cut the ground from under the feet of both perverts and heterosexual debauchees? Well, one reason is that a willingness to do this would require the Forum being something more than a Liberal Party front.

    And why have so many Catholic parishes in Australia, when not simply acting as recruiting grounds for The Higher Sodomy, turned themselves into annulment-issuing machines?

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  18. I may be wrong here Mark...

    Is Deidre Macken white? I found a photo of a Non-white Deirdre Macken...

    See if the person is non-white then she doesn't have Christian values and Christian values run through the blood of white Europeans. Therefore, being non-white of course she would not be on our side.

    That being said...Excellent Post and Elusive Wapiti really great comment...selfishness is key (haven't read the other comments)

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  19. She's an Anglo-Australian liberal. You can see a photo of her if you scroll down here.

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  20. to be so insanely ignorant the author almost HAS to be from the middle class anglo-celtic liberal left.

    What Americans would refer to as a SWPL.

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  21. This website has something on SWPL --- http://stuffblackpeopledontlike.blogspot.com/2010/11/swpl-whites-march-on-dc-with-jon.html

    It also calls them DWL.

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  22. Yes, the SWPL term is used often at US sites. For those who don't already know, the term derives from a website "Stuff white people like". This website does a good job describing the cultural habits of trendy white liberals.

    I like the use of the term. It turns the tables on white liberals. It shows how superficially conformist they really are, so much so that they can be predictably categorised in their behaviour. It helps to puncture the status seeking behaviours of trendy white liberals.

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  23. Another example of the sheer insanity of liberal society --- http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/018359.html

    Banning the words ''Father'' and ''Mother'' because it's 'regressive' and discriminatory.

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