Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Cohabitation, Cultural Data Points, and The Line of Best Fit

 

shutterstock_154243622Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day said that a good culture is one that makes it easy to be good and a bad culture is one that makes it easy to be bad. As conservatives, we know that culture does not come from above. Rather, the culture — good or bad — is a composite of all of our little decisions. No one action makes the culture bad or good, but they still move the culture, imperceptibly, in one direction or the other.

An anecdote: Mrs. SoDak and I will have been married 25 years this spring. When we were engaged, I went to rent our first apartment. When I mentioned that we would be getting married at the end of the month but beginning the lease at the start of the month, the landlady straightened up, looked squarely at me, and asked if we would be living together before the wedding day. When I replied that Mrs. SoDak would be living with her parents until the wedding night, she relented, though she still required that I bring in a wedding license to prove that we would in fact be married before she moved in.

These days, she would be sued for housing discrimination but, at the time, it was a completely normal part of the cultural landscape. It was completely reasonable to do as you wished with your private property and it was completely normal to frown on cohabitation. That little incident was just one among many, many examples that encouraged marriage and discouraged cohabitation.

It would have been far easier for her to have looked the other way, taken my money, and not questioned our living situation. Yet she did something that must have been pretty uncomfortable for her. That small action did not have a noticeable effect on the world, but millions of such actions kept culture intact, fidelity encouraged, and family strengthened.

I think of such actions as “cultural data points” that can be used to draw a “line of best fit” on a graph. Even though there were plenty of outliers, the cultural line of best fit of 25 years ago encouraged chastity, marriage, and family. In the past, one had to make a decision to cross the line and cohabitate. Now, one makes a decision to not cohabitate.

There is a data point that has inspired this post. My nephew is looking to move off campus to a house with five other men. They are all 19-20 years old. One of the men wants his 20-year-old girlfriend to share his room with him. No one wants this situation — except for the couple, of course — but no one feels they can object without opening themselves up to the same kind of stigma they’d receive for being an open racist. That is how weak our moral code has become.

My question: How much responsibility do we have to go against the tide in these small little decisions, especially when we are only indirectly cooperating in evil? For my example — to avoid providing this example to his younger siblings, cousins, and the world — my nephew would have to pay more rent or (gasp!) live in the dorms. Fairly steep price to pay when his cooperation with this is pretty indirect.

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    SoDak, do any of the other 4 side with your son? If so, maybe they should encourage the fifth to find a more suitable situation for himself and the girlfriend…

    Also, do any of the religious organizations on/just off campus offer room to affiliated students? Just a couple thoughts…Godspeed! Let us know how this shakes out, will you?

    • #1
    • December 29, 2014, at 12:43 PM PST
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  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Back in the day, “hotel detectives” was a fancy term for what amounted to morals policing; making sure the salesmen didn’t smuggle women into their rooms was all the detecting they did.

    When you got your film processed, the labs vigilantly tried to prevent pictures of bare flesh going out; I am told this sold a lot of Polaroid cameras once they came along.

    Contrary to popular legend, it was not actually illegal for an unmarried woman to buy birth control products, but they made it as embarrassing as possible, discouraging casual use. (There’s a scene in Mary McCarthy’s “The Group”, set around 1935, where a timid woman nervously throws her unused diaphragm into a trash can, anxiously looking in every direction.)

    Contrary to “Mad Men”, most pre-1970 workplaces had strict rules about interoffice romance, even chaste varieties. Philandering didn’t get chuckles and high fives.

    All these things were cultural guardrails that didn’t outright prevent unmarried sex, but certainly discouraged it. I can see the sense of what they tried to do, but I’m a little bit too libertarian to actually want those days to return.

    • #2
    • December 29, 2014, at 12:45 PM PST
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  3. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    I suppose the counter point to the comments is to ask if society actually prevented much immoral behavior or merely hid its occurrence. Is open debauchery preferable to hidden hijinks and the hypocrisy that comes with it?

    • #3
    • December 29, 2014, at 1:17 PM PST
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  4. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    Gary McVey:All these things were cultural guardrails that didn’t outright prevent unmarried sex, but certainly discouraged it. I can see the sense of what they tried to do, but I’m a little bit too libertarian to actually want those days to return.

    There certainly is a tension between maintaining cultural norms and being a nosy neighbor, however, I wouldn’t apply a political term like “libertarian” to this since it was individual private citizens that maintained this code, not governmental organizations. Of course, campus codes and the government also played their role, but I think they merely reinforced what the larger culture wanted.

    That may be an ancillary question to this. Do today’s campus speech codes and gender codes reinforce the larger society’s cultural preferences or do they undermine them?

    • #4
    • December 29, 2014, at 1:25 PM PST
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  5. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    The King Prawn:I suppose the counter point to the comments is to ask if society actually prevented much immoral behavior or merely hid its occurrence. Is open debauchery preferable to hidden hijinks and the hypocrisy that comes with it?

    It is the tribute that vice pays to virtue after all. It is that tribute that actually strengthened the norms even while contradicting them.

    • #5
    • December 29, 2014, at 1:27 PM PST
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  6. Paul Erickson Inactive

    I get your meaning about cultural data points.

    But it seems easy for your nephew to sidestep the whole controversy on very practical grounds. Whether one approves or disapproves of cohabitation, having one woman in the house changes the whole dynamic. It affects the atmosphere for everyone else. It’s not what the other guys signed up for. There’s someone in the house that simply can’t be one-of-the-guys, and that changes standards for dining, decorum, grooming and flatulence.

    Call me an old chauvinist, but that’s how I’d frame the objection.

    • #6
    • December 29, 2014, at 1:31 PM PST
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  7. Mike Hubbard Member
    Mike HubbardJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    SoDakBoy:There is a data point that has inspired this post. My nephew is looking to move off campus to a house with 5 other men. They are all 19-20 years old. Now, one of the men wants his 20 year old girlfriend to share his room with him. No one wants this situation (except for the couple of course) but no one feels like they can object because to object to living with a woman would be like objecting to living with a black man. That is how weak our moral code has become.

    My question (finally!): How much responsibility do we have to go against the tide in these small little decisions, especially when we are only indirectly cooperating in evil? For my example, to avoid providing this example to his younger siblings, cousins, and the world, he would have to pay more rent or (gasp!) live in the dorms. Fairly steep price to pay when his cooperation with this is pretty indirect.

    This is a tricky situation. Some questions that your nephew and his roomies might want to ask: Will this girl be on the lease? What happens if there’s a break up? Do the young couple think they can share a bed if they’re not together? I realize that young people think their relationships will last forever, but we older folk know that all relationships end in either a split or a death.

    • #7
    • December 29, 2014, at 1:43 PM PST
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  8. Probable Cause Inactive

    To add to what Paul said above, when you cohabit with a member of the opposite sex, there are benefits and difficulties. The roommates get to share in all the difficulties but none of the benefits.

    Back to SoDakBoy’s question, a good rule of thumb is “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” What people do in their own house is not my problem. But in my house, we will abide by certain standards.

    However, college roommate situations are always difficult, as there is no “my” house; in this case there’s a house (temporarily) belonging to “six of us.” From a sheer practical standpoint then, I advise being on the same page regarding the big three: drugs, alcohol, and cohabitation.

    • #8
    • December 29, 2014, at 3:24 PM PST
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  9. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher

    The King Prawn:I suppose the counter point to the comments is to ask if society actually prevented much immoral behavior or merely hid its occurrence. Is open debauchery preferable to hidden hijinks and the hypocrisy that comes with it?

    I think you hit the nail on the head, King P. Affairs, cohabiting, drunkenness has always been around, but one just didn’t talk about it openly. Also, I think there was a greater sense of shame in previous culture. Morality and behavior was controlled by the shame of being discovered. Nowadays, people feel that it is their right (along with education, healthcare, and never being offended) to do what they wish without judgement. Wrong!!! One can do what one pleases, but one has to accept the consequences. Perhaps that is the fountainhead: people don’t want there to be consequences to their actions.

    • #9
    • December 29, 2014, at 3:52 PM PST
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  10. MarciN Member

    If I were one of the guys, I’d be worried I’d be accused of sexual assault.

    These are treacherous waters.

    • #10
    • December 29, 2014, at 4:32 PM PST
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  11. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    removed

    • #11
    • December 29, 2014, at 9:28 PM PST
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  12. Son of Spengler Contributor

    I like the metaphor of “outliers” and “best fit”.

    One further aspect of cultural norms is that the next generation tends to take for granted that the norms they grew up with will persist, and they do to some degree. Even though a generation breaks the norms, they keep the ideals of their parents.

    My parents’ generation was taught that the proper expression of sex and love came through marriage. Even though they engaged in premarital sex, they kept the ideals that sex was for love and ultimately love was for marriage. They generally settled into faithful marriages and cohabitation was still “shacking up”. But even as they knew it was wrong individually, collectively they released the premarital genie from its bottle.

    When it came time to teach my generation, they realized that premarital sex was here to stay. But they taught us to avoid casual sex. We strove to marry like our parents, but we normalized cohabitation. The ideal we inherited persisted even if people’s behavior did not match it. Casual sex was common but shameful.

    Today’s college students were taught that casual sex is fun and there are no consequences. One who is a virgin on his or her wedding night is just weird. The normal thing to do is to live together before marriage, especially after getting engaged. But still, there is an ideal that eventually we will find our soulmate, marry, and live happily ever after.

    How long will that ideal last?

    • #12
    • December 29, 2014, at 10:29 PM PST
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  13. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    I’d second others’ advise of making practical objections — Mike’s points about whether she’s on the lease or not, what happens if they have a fight or break-up, etc. — though I realize these are on a different axis than the moral ones you’re raising. For a host of reasons, I wouldn’t want to be the only woman living in a houseful of young men.

    SoDakBoy: How much responsibility do we have to go against the tide in these small little decisions, especially when we are only indirectly cooperating in evil?

    This is a hobbyhorse of mine, but must we use “evil” in this context? Won’t “sinful” suffice?

    • #13
    • December 30, 2014, at 5:41 AM PST
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  14. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    MarciN:If I were one of the guys, I’d be worried I’d be accused of sexual assault.

    These are treacherous waters.

    Yes, these kinds of concerns do not stand up against the eternal optimism of youth.

    • #14
    • December 30, 2014, at 6:28 AM PST
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  15. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:This is a hobbyhorse of mine, but must we use “evil” in this context? Won’t “sinful” suffice?

    I used the word “evil” because “cooperation in evil” is a pretty standard phrase in moral theology. “Cooperation in sinfulness” just doesn’t evoke the same body of thought.

    • #15
    • December 30, 2014, at 6:30 AM PST
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  16. Mike H Coolidge

    SoDakBoy:

    Gary McVey:All these things were cultural guardrails that didn’t outright prevent unmarried sex, but certainly discouraged it. I can see the sense of what they tried to do, but I’m a little bit too libertarian to actually want those days to return.

    There certainly is a tension between maintaining cultural norms and being a nosy neighbor, however, I wouldn’t apply a political term like “libertarian” to this since it was individual private citizens that maintained this code, not governmental organizations.

    A better word (even with it’s current stigma in Conservative circles) would be tolerance. Tolerance of what other people do with themselves and their property. This is totally different than approval. Voice your concerns all you wish, others have to tolerate you as well.

    • #16
    • December 30, 2014, at 6:44 AM PST
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  17. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I’d second others’ advise of making practical objections — Mike’s points about whether she’s on the lease or not, what happens if they have a fight or break-up, etc. — though I realize these are on a different access than the moral ones you’re raising. For a host of reasons, I wouldn’t want to be the only woman living in a houseful of young men.

    Yes, these have all been raised. I don’t think they can be appreciated without any experience. For one thing, I don’t think young people have an appreciation that men and women are really different and cannot be swapped in and out of different social situations without radically altering the situation. This living situation will radically change, not only because of the personality added, but mostly because of the gender of the person being added.

    I think most older adults still understand this, but our generation refuses to “enforce” this understanding on the next generation. Parents (and uncles) can play their part but the rest of society really plays an essential role in those young adult years. In that time, the young adult takes his cues mostly from non-parents. So, when everyone but the parents stop enforcing societal norms, then the S hits the fan.

    • #17
    • December 30, 2014, at 6:44 AM PST
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  18. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    SoDakBoy: I used the word “evil” because “cooperation in evil” is a pretty standard phrase in moral theology. “Cooperation in sinfulness” just doesn’t evoke the same body of thought.

    Right, but I’d say that’s a feature, not a bug, of speaking about it in terms of sin or immorality, rather than evil.

    • #18
    • December 30, 2014, at 7:14 AM PST
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  19. Merina Smith Inactive

    This guy is trying to change the terms of what the rest of them understood they were getting into by trying to share his room with his girlfriend. The other four should stand up to him.

    I really appreciate this post, SDB. I’m always talking about cultural norms and expectations and how dangerously they are changed by such “innovations” as redefining marriage–and am frequently told that my worries are silly. I really like your characterization of culture. Even though it is made up of many discreet interactions, there is in fact an underlying understanding about right and wrong that pervades it and that prompts those actions. You express it very well. I look forward to your participation in discussions on other cultural topics!

    • #19
    • December 30, 2014, at 7:28 AM PST
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  20. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    Merina Smith:

    Thanks for the kind words. I, too, have been told that my concerns are silly. The old trope “How does someone’s gay marriage affect your marriage” only makes sense if we all live as atomized individuals. Even then, it makes no sense because atomized individuals don’t get married. The whole point of marriage is to join with another person AND to be recognized by the public. By doing this, the couple is volunteering to serve as models for the rest of us and we are agreeing that they are worthy of being models.

    • #20
    • December 30, 2014, at 7:51 AM PST
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  21. Profile Photo Member

    Merina Smith: many discreet interactions

    Hopefully, this is so, Merina, but did you want ‘discrete’?

    • #21
    • December 30, 2014, at 8:13 AM PST
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  22. Probable Cause Inactive

    SoDakBoy:My question: How much responsibility do we have to go against the tide in these small little decisions, especially when we are only indirectly cooperating in evil? For my example — to avoid providing this example to his younger siblings, cousins, and the world — he would have to pay more rent or (gasp!) live in the dorms. Fairly steep price to pay when his cooperation with this is pretty indirect.

    I want to take another stab at this.

    We have a great responsibility to go against the tide. Small decisions count. And we should be willing to pay a price.

    Paul gave the high standard in 1 Corinthians chs. 8-10, dealing with food offered to idols. To quote part of it would be a distortion, so I won’t. If anyone is interested, I recommend chewing through the entirety of the three chapters, several times.

    Back to the particular circumstances, here are several points:

    1. Is your nephew responsible for the behavior of his neighbors? No.

    2. Is your nephew responsible for the behavior of his neighbors, when he willingly enters into a contract with them, and he has foreknowledge that they will use the arrangement to engage in continuous sin? Yes.

    3. Is your nephew responsible for the example he sets to his younger siblings, etc.? Yes.

    4. Should your nephew be concerned for how his neighbors’ behavior will affect his behavior? Yes. It’s one thing to tolerate your neighbors across the way. It’s another thing when you’re living in the same house. They will be right in his face, every day. Of sheer necessity, their behavior will become normalized in his mind. That’s a tough way to live, while maintaining one’s own integrity.

    • #22
    • December 30, 2014, at 9:07 AM PST
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  23. Merina Smith Inactive

    Nanda Panjandrum:

    Merina Smith: many discreet interactions

    Hopefully, this is so, Merina, but did you want ‘discrete’?

    Yes. Ha–either I missed the spell check highlight or it didn’t work. I’m usually a good speler.

    • #23
    • December 30, 2014, at 9:42 AM PST
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  24. Profile Photo Member

    Merina Smith: Yes. Ha–either I missed the spell check highlight or it didn’t work.

    Probably Autocorrect; it recognized the *word*, but not the *context*…Dratted thing.

    • #24
    • December 30, 2014, at 9:55 AM PST
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  25. Grendel Member
    GrendelJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gary McVey: All these things were cultural guardrails that didn’t outright prevent unmarried sex, but certainly discouraged it. I can see the sense of what they tried to do, but I’m a little bit too libertarian to actually want those days to return.

    All of the discouraging words were uttered by private citizens–not the government–unwilling to be complicit in immoral and socially damaging activity. Your position is that of a libertine not a libertarian.

    • #25
    • December 30, 2014, at 10:15 AM PST
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  26. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It doesn’t take much to be called a libertine by Grendel, does it?

    • #26
    • December 30, 2014, at 10:29 AM PST
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  27. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    Probable Cause:

    SoDakBoy:My question: How much responsibility do we have to go against the tide in these small little decisions, especially when we are only indirectly cooperating in evil? For my example — to avoid providing this example to his younger siblings, cousins, and the world — he would have to pay more rent or (gasp!) live in the dorms. Fairly steep price to pay when his cooperation with this is pretty indirect.

    I want to take another stab at this.

    We have a great responsibility to go against the tide. Small decisions count. And we should be willing to pay a price.

    Paul gave the high standard in 1 Corinthians chs. 8-10, dealing with food offered to idols. To quote part of it would be a distortion, so I won’t. If anyone is interested, I recommend chewing through the entirety of the three chapters, several times.

    Back to the particular circumstances, here are several points:

    1. Is your nephew responsible for the behavior of his neighbors? No.

    2. Is your nephew responsible for the behavior of his neighbors, when he willingly enters into a contract with them, and he has foreknowledge that they will use the arrangement to engage in continuous sin? Yes.

    3. Is your nephew responsible for the example he sets to his younger siblings, etc.? Yes.

    4. Should your nephew be concerned for how his neighbors’ behavior will affect his behavior? Yes. It’s one thing to tolerate your neighbors across the way. It’s another thing when you’re living in the same house. They will be right in his face, every day. Of sheer necessity, their behavior will become normalized in his mind. That’s a tough way to live, while maintaining one’s own integrity.

    Yes, the older I get the more the effect of scandal impresses me. We really are kidding ourselves if we think we can read about the Kardashians without become slightly more like the Kardashians. Sounds hyperbolic, but it gets harder to deny it everyday.

    • #27
    • December 30, 2014, at 10:43 AM PST
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  28. SoDakBoy Inactive
    SoDakBoy

    A complicating factor of all this is that I think we have gone past the point where my former landlady’s actions would be effective in shaping culture. Now she would be seen as a scold, not a sensible older woman who has a right to determine what publicly happens in her apartment building.

    What I have not figured out is how to have that same influence in today’s climate in which having standards is seen as being intolerant.

    • #28
    • December 30, 2014, at 10:46 AM PST
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  29. Mike H Coolidge

    SoDakBoy:A complicating factor of all this is that I think we have gone past the point where my former landlady’s actions would be effective in shaping culture. Now she would be seen as a scold, not a sensible older woman who has a right to determine what publicly happens in her apartment building.

    What I have not figured out is how to have that same influence in today’s climate in which having standards is seen as being intolerant.

    We could start by not letting the government tell people the criteria they are allowed to use when determining what they do with their property.

    • #29
    • December 30, 2014, at 10:53 AM PST
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  30. Brandon Phelps Inactive

    Grendel: Grendel Gary McVey: All these things were cultural guardrails that didn’t outright prevent unmarried sex, but certainly discouraged it. I can see the sense of what they tried to do, but I’m a little bit too libertarian to actually want those days to return. All of the discouraging words were uttered by private citizens–not the government–unwilling to be complicit in immoral and socially damaging activity.

    Your position is that of a libertine not a libertarian.

    This cannot be repeated enough for the libertarians in the audience. They are often morally confused and mistake government-enforced lax morals as liberty when of course the opposite is true.

    • #30
    • December 30, 2014, at 11:01 AM PST
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