Polygamy? “Normal”

 

I’ve made the argument recently that we miss something important by viewing gay marriage as a slippery slope to the normalization of polygamy and other misfortunes. We miss the fact that the present and future mainstreaming of an additional range of once-frowned-upon lifestyles comes from a single conceptual root. I suppose gay marriage could serve as a kind of thought experiment in action — if there’s no reason to oppose this arrangement, what arrangement is there reason to oppose? — but watch this promo clip (via Joe Carter) for TLC’s new polygamy-loving show:

This isn’t the consequence of loosening attitudes toward gay marriage at all, right? Something much deeper is at work, right?

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    What’s really interesting to me is that polygamy actually has a long history of social acceptance, being dominant back when babies, children, and people in general died much more commonly than today. Polygamy makes obvious sense in a society living under harsh conditions, but it was rejected as our conditions improved… as it became more feasible to devote one’s life to one spouse and build a family with that person.

    It’s ironic that, of all the possible alternative concepts of marriage, gay marriage precedes polygamy in trying to gain public traction.

    Anyway, I agree that the modern perception that marriage is founded primarily on affection opens the door to any number of marriage concepts.

    Incidentally, it’s a wonder polygamy isn’t more widespread in the modern world, considering all the countries with dwindling populations. I’d be interested in Steyn’s thoughts.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    As I see it, marriage as being essentially a permanent union of one man and one woman is a moral development of Christianity–with its recognition of the equal dignity of women and men.

    Polygamy is an offense against the dignity of women and a degradation of human sexuality.

    But Aaron, count me among those who think that marriage is and should be all about love.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    Since I’ve implied that the modern perception that marriage is founded on affection might be mistaken, I should clarify. I believe affection (emotional love) is rightly a goal of marriage, but it is not a necessary condition for marriage.

    Work is a good analogy. We should hope that every person may find pleasure in his or her job, despite knowing that is unlikely to be the case for many people. But the primary purpose of work is not to enjoy oneself. It is to provide for onself, for one’s family, and to be productive. Many can find work that fits them, so we encourage people to search for pleasing jobs. But it’s not good to confuse that goal with work’s fundamental purpose.

    Likewise, we should hope for every marriage to be a happy marriage and for people to seek such pleasing matches. But we should not confuse that goal with the purpose of marriage: to have children (if possible) or otherwise devote one’s life to adopted family.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    katievs:

    Aaron, count me among those who think that marriage is and should be all about love. · Sep 8 at 6:13am

    Yes, but what is love? Affection is only one element of love, one expression of it. Love may also be learned and expressed through responsible action.

    Though only a cinematic representation, I’ve always thought Fiddler on the Roof addresses this point well. Arranged marriages are fine if the people marrying choose to accept the proposal.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member
    @HumzaAhmad

    Mr. Miller, as a former and still potential candidate for an arranged marriage, I agree with you on multiple levels, foremost being the fact that love should not be the start, beginning and end of marriage. When children and extended families are involved, the value of the family and the futures of the children that will be affected by a divorce far outweigh the value of the parent’s love for one another. Liberal notions of family and child rearing have led to the incorrect notion that children will be just as well off with separated parents.

    On the logic behind polygamy in the past, I’d add that when men were the sole economic providers in society, polygamy allowed disenfranchised women (e.g. widows) to obtain support without having to find a single man to choose them and only them.

    Aaron Miller: Yes, but what is love? · Sep 8 at 6:39am

    Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more…

    Sorry, Night at the Roxbury spontaneously came to mind.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @MelFoil

    I don’t accept that men are the ones getting the better part of the deal in polygamy. I suspect that a lot of women would rather share their “ideal man,” than have to settle for something less. And, it is a cure for the loneliness and drudgery of caring for infants and toddlers while keeping a house in order. The outnumbered man in the picture ends up with the job of chief provider and mediator. That doesn’t sound like much fun.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @AndyHartzell

    It’s fascinating that this series is made for TLC…polygamy, usually denigrated as inherently misogynistic, is being pitched to an audience of women. And it seems that the main selling point is not sex-n-romance but the relationships between the wives.

    Of course there’s a big element of voyeuristic prurience here–most viewers presumably would never go for such an arrangement. But at the same time, the series is speaking to unfulfilled desires–for community, for common purpose, for female friends that won’t drift away.

    Here’s the “something much deeper” that connects “Sister Wives” with gay marriage: both assume that friendship is trivial and ephemeral and marriage is the only halfway solemn bond we have left.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    Humza Ahmad: Mr. Miller, as a former and still potential candidate for an arranged marriage, I agree with you on multiple levels, foremost being the fact that love should not be the start, beginning and end of marriage.

    Honestly, I’m surprised anyone agrees with me. I had friends in high school from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia with arranged marriages. But we lost touch after school, so I have yet to witness an arranged marriage first-hand. I have great respect for the practice, though.

    That’s an interesting point on polygamy.

    By the way, while I don’t object to being called Mr. Miller, everyone here is welcome to just call me Aaron. To me, Ricochet is an informal and friendly setting. I understand if some prefer to be addressed differently, though. Sorry, Mr. Ahmad, if calling you Humza before was awkward.

    Sometimes, I wish Ricochet had a private messaging feature, but we’d probably miss out on some interesting debates that way.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    Aaron, we are wading into deep philosophical waters here, but I can’t help myself. No issue is closer to my heart, or more on my mind.

    I reject entirely and passionately (but in a friendly tone!) as altogether unfitting and wrong-headed the analogy between marriage and work, wherein subjective enjoyment is incidental to the basic aim. This analogy instrumentalizes the spouses; it is inescapably and inexcusably de-personalizing.

    Children are the objective end of marriage, but its theme and meaning is love–not love generally, not just any love, but conjugal love, spousal love, the love between and man and woman. I didn’t marry my husband in order to produce children; I married him because I loved him and wanted to give my life to him, as he wanted to give his life to me. Our children are the super-abundant fruit and gift of that union of love.

    Anything else (arranged marriages included), I claim, is sub-par for human dignity. NOT that I would put arranged marriage on a level with polygamy. I grant freely that it can and does sometimes lead to “true marriage”, i.e. a union of love.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Member
    @Bulldawg

    Trying to juggle more than one woman? I did that in college while young and foolish and well… Polygamy would be awful.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    PS: “Subjective enjoyment” is NOT the essence of conjugal love; self-giving and other-receiving is.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    About Fiddler on the Roof, I love the movie and see it as illustrating my basic point rather than yours, viz. that the long-standing tradition of arranged marriages had to give way in the face of an “awakening sense of selfhood” (as Vat. II, I think, puts it) in the modern world.

    The daughters were not content to have their father choose their husbands; they must choose their own. The second didn’t even ask her father’s permission, only his blessing.

    Almost the heart of personal dignity is the right and responsibility to dispose over your own destiny.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @DavidParsons
    Aaron Miller: I’d be interested in Steyn’s thoughts.

    In fact, Mark Steyn has already spoken forcefully about this issue: “At no time have we had more sexual freedom – while all our other liberties are being whittled away.” I paraphrased that from memory. He takes a very dim view of current trends.

    I oppose gay marriage on principle. The basic assumption at the very root of “traditional marriage” is that the married couple is a breeding unit (i.e., a man & a woman). Having said that, let me add that I fully support “civil unions” with all the attendant legal & financial protections.

    Regardless of how gays themselves feel, the issue of gay marriage is absolutely being used as a “wedge issue” by sexual radicals who are trying to legitimize deviant sex. That includes incest, bestiality, pedophilia, necrophilia & various other disgusting practices you have never even heard of. This is the logical consequence of the benighted Sexual Revolution that began 60 years ago. If unchecked, it will lead to utter social chaos. Do we really want to live in a world where a guy can legally marry all three of his sisters, including the 8-year-old?

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    David, I agree with everything you say above. Only, I would add that unless conservatives come to grips with the kernel of truth at the bottom of the sexual revolution, which is this “awakening sense of self” and the intuitive awareness that, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali put it to Christopher Hitchens, “without sexual freedom there is no self”, we will make no headway against the trend. There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle, no returning to the past. There’s only a re-establing (at a new level) of the links between sexual freedom, morality and human happiness and well-being.

    See John Paul II.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    katievs: About Fiddler on the Roof, I love the movie and see it as illustrating my basic point rather than yours, viz. that the long-standing tradition of arranged marriages had to give way in the face of an “awakening sense of selfhood” (as Vat. II, I think, puts it) in the modern world.

    The daughters were not content to have their father choose their husbands; they must choose their own. The second didn’t even ask her father’s permission, only his blessing.

    Ahh, Katie, I’m glad I waited to respond, because there’s the rub!

    I grew up long after Vatican II and distortions of it, so I watch the abandonment of “Tradition!” in Fiddler on the Roof with sadness (though understanding). Ultimately, our disagreement might be mostly about whether the modern glass is half-empty or half-full. People my age often look into a chaotic world and long for order. People who can remember the world before the 1970s remember unjust restraints and perhaps better respect individual liberty.

    Both order and liberty are essentially good in that they can guide us to love. But it’s difficult finding the proper balance in a broken world.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    Aaron, I share completely your longing for order, and your sadness at the loss of the beautiful, meaningful traditions that held together human communities for centuries. I hate the noise and chaos of the modern world just as you do.

    But it’s not, in my view, a question of whether we judge modernity more bad than good or more good than bad. It’s a question of judging which aspects of it are good and true and worth cherishing and assimilating while we strive for renewal, and which not.

    The “awakening sense of self” that is, as I see it, the central theme of the entire modern period, is a fundamentally great human achievement, though a profoundly disruptive and problematic one. (It is not unlike the emergence of philosophy in Ancient Greece. It destroyed the old pagan, mythological order. It had to.)

    That new sense of selfhood is the impetus behind the American experiment, and free market capitalism, and abolition, and feminism, and (even!) the sexual revolution.

    We have to take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Member
    @DavidParsons
    katievs:Unless conservatives come to grips with the kernel of truth at the bottom of the sexual revolution, which is this “awakening sense of self” and the intuitive awareness that, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali put it to Christopher Hitchens, “without sexual freedom there is no self”, we will make no headway against the trend.

    There has always been a struggle between the sexual behavior of individuals and the limits that society places on such behavior. Currently, the trend is toward total personal freedom. That is not a good thing. The problem is, your “kernel of truth” has grown into a huge, monstrous weed of permissiveness & promiscuity. Do people have the right to seek some degree of sexual fulfillment? Absolutely. But there is a mighty fine line between “sense of self” and pure selfishness. If you indulge in weird, unbridled sex with no self-discipline and no consideration for the sensibilities of society in general, then you have reduced yourself to the level of a mindless, copulating beast. And you hurt your friends & family by making a shameless spectacle of yourself.

    Self-discipline is the very essence of what makes us human.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    David, I’m with you totally in opposing (morally) permissiveness and promiscuity; with you in seeing self-discipline as a virtue essential to human dignity (also to true freedom.)

    The freedom I have in mind when I agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not license to do whatever whenever regardless of consequences; it’s freedom from coercion. It is about each one owning his own sexuality. (Husband’s don’t own their wives; fathers don’t own their daughters.) No one else can decide for me who will be my spouse.

    Nor should human sexuality be instrumentalized or persons objectified in any way.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    katievs:

    The “awakening sense of self” that is, as I see it, the central theme of the entire modern period, is a fundamentally great human achievement, though a profoundly disruptive and problematic one. (It is not unlike the emergence of philosophy in Ancient Greece. It destroyed the old pagan, mythological order. It had to.)

    I agree. A beautiful and pivotal aspect of our modern age is an unparalleled respect for the gift of free will. It’s good that we’re placing a higher value on freedom, even if that freedom is widely abused and idolized.

    But I believe marriage has an essential role which has been received, rather than defined, by humanity. And that role may be to begin a new journey of love, rather than to enrich a love already discovered.

    Love is essentially intimacy; togetherness. Sometimes the desire for intimacy drives one to action that secures it. Sometimes action leads to desire. People should have the option to start from either side of that equation, but marriage is inherently public. It’s not about just two people. It’s about how those two people relate to their families and to the rest of society.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    Katie, at this point, I feel like I’m rambling. Mr. Ahmad seems to have a better perspective, so I hope he will return to comment. I’m single, and always have been, so I’m purely an armchair philosopher when it comes to marriage and romance.

    But please don’t stop commenting.

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    David Parsons

    Self-discipline is the very essence of what makes us human.

    Though I’m not sure I would word it exactly like that, I basically agree. All other beings merely are. Human beings choose to be.

    Thus, it’s not our desires and experiences which ultimately define us. It’s our choices. That applies equally to marriage. Marriage, properly understood, can’t happen to someone. It must be chosen. So an arranged marriage woudn’t be “valid” if imposed on the couple without their consent.

    One may initially experience a love by “falling into” it, but love in the greater sense is an act of will.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    Aaron, I agree with you that marriage has a vital, ineradicable public dimension. It (the institution) puts the personal love between man and woman at the service of the larger community, including the last generation and the next generation.

    And from that point of view, we have another practical argument against polygamy, viz. that it leads almost inexorably to welfare abuse.

    I wonder if “Sister Wives” will deal with that issue at all.

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    katievs:

    I reject entirely and passionately (but in a friendly tone!) as altogether unfitting and wrong-headed the analogy between marriage and work…

    Well, I’ll maybe split the difference between you and Aaron here: the analogy between work and marriage works as well as it does because truly loving another person through and through takes work. Boy, does it take work!

    I grew up in a family where the adults had feelings of love towards each other, but didn’t know how to love very well — that is, they didn’t know how to make another person feel loved. As a result, they made each other miserable and each ended up resenting the other. Even so, out of a sense of duty or whatever, most of these pairs are still married, no matter how miserable it is for them, which takes love of a sort.

    Now that I’m married myself, I can trace a lot of my family’s difficulties to the fact that, though they acknowledged that the practical arrangements of married life takes some work, they failed to acknowledge that love itself also takes work because they’d bought the romantic notion that love happens effortlessly.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @DavidParsons
    Aaron Miller: I believe affection (emotional love) is rightly a goal of marriage, but it is not a necessary condition for marriage.

    I must stand with you, Aaron. The guiding principle for marriage should be compatibility. I quote my hero, Dr. Johnson:

    “I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so [italics mine], if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due consideration of characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter.”The old boy foresaw eHarmony! But the idea is not a new one, by any means. And it’s perfectly logical. The more compatible a couple, the more likely that love & affection will blossom. Conversely, if a husband & wife become less compatible (because their individual lifestyles diverge), it is very likely that the marriage will fail, in spite of the love they felt or still feel for each other.
    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge

    So what I was getting at is, no matter your good intentions, no matter how much love you feel, it truly takes work to ensure that the other person feels your love. It doesn’t just magically happen. (This is yet another permutation of the fundamental conservative message that good intentions are not enough!)

    I believe the Benedictines had a motto “Ora Labora” (prayer is work) or something like that. Well, love is work!

    ————————-

    Oh, I looked it up, “Ora Labora” is the name of a hymn, not the Benedictine motto, which was “Ora Et Labora” — prayer and work instead of the prayer is work of the hymn. Two different bunches of coconuts!

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member
    @DavidParsons
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Even so, out of a sense of duty or whatever, most of these pairs are still married, no matter how miserable it is for them, which takes love of a sort.

    I loved your post. It reminded me of an old Yankee anecdote.

    Up in Maine, an elderly farmer lost his wife. After the funeral, one of the farmer’s friends offered his sympathy.

    “You folks were married for – what? Fifty years?”

    “Yup.”

    “I guess you’re gonna miss her, huh?”

    “Nah. Never did get to like her very much.”

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    David Parsons

    It reminded me of an old Yankee anecdote.

    Up in Maine, an elderly farmer lost his wife. After the funeral, one of the farmer’s friends offered his sympathy.

    “You folks were married for – what? Fifty years?”

    “Yup.”

    “I guess you’re gonna miss her, huh?”

    “Nah. Never did get to like her very much.”

    Yeah, this is definitely how it’s going to be when my dad, a well-meaning but nonetheless extremely difficult and unpleasant man to get along with, finally joins the choir invisible. It will be a tragedy, of course, and we will grieve. But it’ll also be a relief — especially for my mom, who has to put up with him.

    I cannot even begin to comprehend the love that my mom has given my dad. To stick by him through everything, though he treats her with no appreciation, is a love that is, as far as I know, beyond my capabilities. Painful as it sometimes is to witness, and as much as my parents fight, the love my mom manifests in simply standing by my dad is a real-life miracle.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Multiple mothers-in-law. ;-)

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    David, I saw a statistic recently (I have no idea if it’s true) that roughly 10% of new marriages are couples who met online. Perhaps internet matchmaking systems have emerged to fill a vacuum left by fading American traditions.

    It’s interesting that you mention eHarmony — the only site I’ve heard of that begins by arranging matches, rather than simply letting everyone immediately have at each other. As I recall, eHarmony was sued by some gays for offering their services only to straight couples. The gays won the court ruling, and eHarmony had to either include gay couples (and advertise directly to them) or go out of business. Perhaps polygamous couples… umm… harems?… will sue next.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @JimmyCarter

    “I didn’t fall in love…. I stepped in it.”

    If they really want a discussion on the topic, produce a show where a woman marries a multitude of men.

    Or has Jerry Springer already addressed that topic?

    • #30

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