Things To Act
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Equal Opportunity Bashing--NYT Again
While others do a better job pointing out the silliness of the NYT, occasionally my annoyance boils over [only three weeks until I don't have to read it for work anymore].
One of today's front page headlines is a particularly striking example of bias: Setback Is Dealt to Gay Marriage. Not "MA Legislature Approves Anti-SSM Amendment," and not even "MA Legislature Approves Civil Union Amendment." The assumption is that all Right Thinking People will of course view this news event primarily as a setback for The Cause. It's similar to the Scalia headline a couple of weeks ago, something along the lines of 'Scalia Refusing to Recuse Himself,' instead of 'Scalia Denies Sierra Club Recusal Motion,' or something similarly neutral. The Times' implicit assumptions about the status quo, about how neutral people see these stories, and about objectivity seem to leave much to be desired.
And speaking of bias, an article buried in the national news section (but not labeled 'news analysis,' though it's pretty obvious it's not objective reporting of actual news) is also striking: Fine Art of Debating a Point Without Getting to the Point.
The article starts off with a groundbreaking observation: "The arguments being used as Congress considers the amendment are typical of the way lawmakers often confront intensely emotional and potentially divisive subjects: they try to find more socially and politically acceptable ways to frame the issue." Gosh, why didn't anybody notice that before? Of course, Hulse doesn't seem to grasp the concept completely, since in the previous paragraph he claims that "it sometimes seems the debate is about everything except whether the government should recognize the marriage of two people of the same sex." Framing is a way to look at a concept. It has to bear some resemblance to reality to work (ie "this debate is about maintaining the sacred free coinage of silver at 16:1" probably wouldn't fly), but is a legitimate tactic to give context and long-term implications to a proposal. The Times itself certainly engages in framing all the time--implying that a particular Bush policy is part of a 'retrenchment' on the environment or whatnot. It's both silly and hypocritical to try to take broader implications off the table in re SSM. Framing is important precisely because 'the point' is neither given from on high nor obvious in any political situation.
But the article gets better. After the token quotes from various people, Hulse moves smoothly to 'historical context' [dare I say framing?], and goes off on the rhetoric used by opponents of civil rights legislation. The subtext is fairly clear--'Republicans who dodge the marriage issue today are just like Southerners who dodged the racism issue with states' rights rhetoric.' The linkage is very clever, if slimy--from abortion (an issue in which conservatives don't like the status quo, and constantly try to reframe the issue for voters), to civil rights (with a token Democrat who used lofty rhetoric to conceal racist motives), to 'conservative backers of the amendment' (note the implicit automatic linkage with racism) who are portrayed as betraying their federalist principles (what could explain this inconsistency? "Surely not disguised hatred of homosexuals," the eager Times reader thinks), to "Musgrave and other say they take offense at the very suggestion that they are discriminatory." Well of course, given that discrimination is widely frowned upon today. But it's customary to have some grounds for the accusation before treating the denial as news. "The New York Times' editors say they take offense at the very suggestion that they oppose democracy" is a silly statement to make in a news article without some compelling evidence that we have reason to believe that they do (a separate discussion, to be sure, but my accusing them of it is hardly news in and of itself).
What's supremely ironic, of course, is that opponents of the various amendments are the ones trying to have it both ways with dissembling rhetoric. If one wants examples of hypocritical political calculation, 'While I of course support marriage as an institution between men and women, I feel that this amendment is a particularly bad idea" comes a lot closer to "While I of course oppose racism, I feel that this [civil rights] legislation unfairly tramples states' rights" than anything proponents of the various amendments have said.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
BYU announces new GE requirements.
"Significant changes made to GE program, beginning Fall 2004:
- Students may "double-count" select courses to fulfill two core requirements.
- New Global and Cultural Awareness class requirement.
- New classes created to fulfill Wellness and Math requirements: Math 102 and PE 105.
- Stronger emphasis on oral communication in Advanced Writing requirement."
It mostly sounds trivial, though I do wonder what they mean by "Global and Cultural Awareness," and think that while increased work on oral communication is probably good, it's less good if at comes at the expense of some of the emphasis on writing. My impression right now is that students, on average, both enter and leave the university with depressingly inadequate writing skills.
Friday, March 26, 2004
Heretical Musings on the Pledge of Allegiance
Jacob Levy, of the Volokh Conspiracy, has interesting thoughts on the Pledge. I think he captures well some of my feelings on the matter.
"It was never a neutral statement of the patriotic values everyone ostensibly shared; it was a deeply partisan account of what those values were." and "If the words spoken meant what they said, then they shouldn't be expected of children, and shouldn't have to be repeated over and over again. If they don't mean what they say, then they degrade language and the sense of solemnity that should accompany the swearing of loyalty oaths. If the words are serious, then they're inappropriate for the context (and 'under God' is a violation of the Establishment Clause). If the words are not serious-- and they're not, anymore-- if they're just mindless blather, then they demean something that shouldn't be demeaned."
His thoughts about switching to a loyalty/citizenship oath upon reaching adulthood/assuming the franchise also have interesting implications.
Invoking an Anti-First Amendment Legacy to 'Defend' 'Marriage'
It seems I constantly feel like those rushing to defend positions similar to mine often do more harm than good, particularly in the case of marriage. Now The Weekly Standard prints a Maggie Gallagher piece invoking the legacy of Edmunds-Tucker to justify an anti-SSM position. Not bright. Highlights include:
"How long is it before some Islamic leader gets the message that America is not serious about enforcing its marriage norms?"
About negative 40 years?
More fundamentally, "leaving it to the states" will advance the process of educating the American people in the idea that there is nothing special or important about marriage as we have always defined it--about preferring husbands and wives who can become fathers and mothers. It will further the process of persuading Americans that we don't need a shared marriage culture.
The problem with this argument is that we have already lost the 'shared marriage culture.' Trying to reenshrine it in law by force thus strikes many people, even among those who mourn the loss of the shared culture, as a staggeringly bad idea. Laws rarely change hearts and minds--people, and social institutions, do. As long as anti-SSM advocates try to portray the issue as preserving the status quo, their arguments will fail, because the status quo is not some mythical 'shared marriage culture,' but a much messier, more complex, situation.
Once Gallagher gets to LDS-related issues, though, her argument goes from vacuous to either incoherent or offensive.
"The lengths to which Congress went strike us now as extreme. But without decisive federal intervention, America today would have polygamy in some states and not in others."
Sorry, but a preemptive non-apology doesn't get you off the hook that easily. If the lengths Congress went to were "extreme," then we shouldn't be celebrating them. And if a national definition of marriage is so important to you that you're willing to throw the Constitution out the window to get it, then you should be willing to say so. This disingenuity is distressing--it's somewhat akin to saying 'while shooting abortion doctors is extreme, it does help curtail the practice,' or 'while suicide bombers are extreme, they do call attention to fundamental injustices...' Such moral reasoning disqualifies one from being taken seriously. If the means were unjustifiable, don't pass over the injustice in celebrating the ends. And if you think the means were justifiable, don't be surprised if decent people decline to support your cause.
"In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act criminalizing bigamy. Under that law, no married person could "marry any other person, whether single or married, in a Territory of the United States," under penalty of a $500 fine or five years in prison. In 1874, responding to the difficulty of getting convictions in regions where people supported polygamy, Congress passed the Poland Act, transferring plural marriage cases from Mormon-controlled probate courts to the federal system. In 1882, Congress passed the Edmunds Act, which vacated the government in the Utah territory, created a five-man commission to oversee elections, and forbade any polygamist, past or present, to vote. By 1887, half the prison population in Utah territory were people charged with polygamy. That year, Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which, partly to facilitate polygamy convictions, allowed wives to testify against husbands in court. By 1890, the Church of the Latter Day Saints threw in the towel, advising its members "to refrain from contracting any marriages forbidden by the law of the land.""
Glossed over in this charming history is the ex post facto nature of the laws passed, the unconstitutional seizure of private property, the mass disenfranchisement of innocent citizens, and the deliberate attempts to 'disestablish' religion and criminalize belief (not just action). And pious appeals to the Supreme Court don't help--within a decade of Reynolds, the Court handed down Plessy. Fundamentally, if you approvingly invoke the legacy of those who put my elderly great-great-grandfather in prison for refusing to divorce his wife and abandon his children, you've blown your chance to earn my respect.
Oh, and memo to all non-LDS writers. If you can't even do enough homework to get the name of the Church right, you demonstrate either appalling incompetence or appalling lack of respect--neither one of which will get you very far.
Leaving the definition of marriage to the states will amount to a repudiation of Congress's judgment in the 19th century that polygamous marriage is unacceptable in our national, common culture.
Sounds like a convincing argument to me to do it. Regardless of what you think of polygamy now, "Congress's judgment in the 19th century" was shameful.
Also weighing in on this article are Nate Oman and the Volokh Conspiracy.
The DU Investigates BYUSA
Strangely, the series of articles hasn't been too off-puttingly bad so far. Of course, since it's the DU, there's no particular reason to trust the reporting, but what the heck.
This article reports that BYUSA is considering adding a VP position for city relations. "If the proposal passes, the liaison will work with the city council on issues like parking south of BYU campus, zoning, booting and house party permits." It's not that I think that any of those issues are unsolvable without student input, but I tend to think that if we're going to pretend to have a student government, we might as well give it actual work to do, and I can think of bigger wastes of time than keeping students and the city informed about each others' activities.
Speaking of uselessness, according to this article, most people in BYUSA feel powerless, except for those deep enough in denial to think that further protestation will help. "she made up a long list on yellow butcher paper to remind them of all their accomplishments. The list includes items like: "BYU Bookstore censorship -- anti-Mormon material removed," "SAC retreat -- unity" and "research on credit/debit cards in Cougareat." " Good thing we've got SAC, or the Bookstore might go uncensored!
This article, though it serves as an example of how bad DU 'journalism' gets, actually contains some potentially useful information. "In fact, while each BYUSA sponsored club is required to do a service project, most of the student community service involvement is handled by the Student Center for Service and Learning [formerly the Jacobsen Center]." In other words, BYUSA doesn't actually coordinate pure service.
"Instead, BYUSA focuses itself in four areas, Campus Activities [most of what students see as BYUSA: Battle of the Bands, Spring Fling, the Unforum, etc.], Public Relations [press releases, retreats and in-house relations], Clubs, and SAC [the Student Advisory Council and other forums for student concerns]."
Campus activities: nice, if you like that sort of thing, I suppose, though hardly central to the mission of the university. I'm not sure why we need elections to 'legitimize' the authority of the self-appointed people who like to organize this sort of thing, particularly since a significant portion of the student body is indifferent to each of the listed activities.
Public Relations: Er, since when have retreats and in-house relations been part of service, anyway? Evidently, the student "service" organization spends one of its four missions purely on itself.
Clubs: Again, not sure why we need elections to handle administering official clubs, particularly given the bad job they do of it. More below.
SAC: The article above doesn't give a terribly flattering picture, though I suppose this is one of the least objectionable parts.
The common theme seems to be that none of BYUSA's four areas of focus are actually the sorts of things that elected student governments are needed to do. In fact, I suspect that most of these activities would either thrive just fine absent the bureaucracy of BYUSA, or would be done more efficiently if the administration assigned/appointed students to manage them, rather than relying on farcial elections.
These two articles explore the "Clubs" dimension. The gist is that most clubs the DU talked to seem to hate BYUSA, because of silly bureaucratic nonsense and outright stupidity (such as clubs being rejected for being "too scholarly" or "too progressive"). I can almost understand this mindset, as I suspect that it stems from BYU's image-consciousness. I can accept that BYU wants to be seen as politically neutral, culturally conservative, peacefully noncompetitive (except in NCAA sports, which is a separate rant), and not too greedy for student money (except during CTG week, see rants below). I just think that this desire may be taken too far, as I think that valuable educational and social benefits might come from clubs that organize students who want to be politically or socially active, or compete in nonsports endeavors. If some students have weird and/or embarrassing ideas, not allowing them to organize won't change that, while allowing them to organize might expose their foolishness and prevent others from making the same mistakes. And if we really don't trust students to be able to resist solicitations of cash-strapped clubs if they can't afford them (except during carefully approved fundraising windows), our educational problems go far deeper than I thought. I think the problem may be that BYU sees any club organized on campus as officially representing the un
Children and the State
The NYTimes ran an interesting article on Wednesday. Since it requires registration, I'll shamelessly excerpt the interesting bits:
"But for gays and lesbians, the legal landscape surrounding such breakups is often uncertain or uncharted. Laws, ill fitting and varying by state, were not written to anticipate same-sex situations, and judges often take interpretative license as they struggle to navigate a rocky path.
The children are caught in the middle, and for many, the trauma and confusion of conventional divorce can be magnified. Judges have weighed in on issues like whether a former partner should pay child support, and how the children should be told of or shielded from a parent's homosexuality.
"Courts are struggling with the whole definition of what is an American family today," said John Mayoue, author of "Competing Interests in Family Law." "It's a cultural thing. There's very little law and very little regulation."
There are several reasons no legal road map exists for cases involving same-sex couples with children. Courts have been slow to address the status of children being raised by unmarried couples, straight or gay; advances in medical technologies have moved faster than the courts; and judges and legislators have had mixed reactions to the idea of gay couples as parents.
In other cases, judges have focused less on documents, many of which were not particularly tailored to same-sex couples. Those judges have relied more on the parental intent of the partners, and their relationships with the children.
According to the census, at least 600,000 same-sex couples are living together, about evenly split between men and women, but experts say such relationships are undercounted. The census also says about 60,000 female couples and 15,000 male couples live with a child, and in the vast majority, only one member of the couple has a legal relationship with the child.
Many of these children are the products of earlier heterosexual relationships, and often, courts allow a divorced man or woman who is now gay to share child custody. But not always, and courts sometimes condition custody and visitation orders on shielding the child from the homosexual relationship. In January, for instance, a Tennessee appeals court forbade an estranged husband from "exposing the child to his gay lover(s) and/or his gay lifestyle.""
While the whole thing obviously raises several interesting issues (such as the complexity of trying to graft same-sex relations onto the existing legal structure of marriage without thought of the consequences), the part I bolded seems especially striking, and seems to underscore my impression that policymakers (especially state legislatures) as well as the American electorate generally are not thinking enough about family law. Given the developments that have occurred and will continue to occur, changes are inevitable. Since my normative preference is for public policy changes to come about democratically rather than by judicial fiat or some other form of elite imposition, I think the full complexity of this issue deserves far more attention than it's been getting.
Courts have been slow to address the status of children being raised by unmarried couples, straight or gay. This seems to be a huge issue, particularly if we stipulate the social science data which appears to show significant statistical risk to children outside of a traditional two-parent environment.
advances in medical technologies have moved faster than the courts. And not thinking about it won't help. It's already possible for a mother to give birth to a genetically unrelated child who is the biological offspring of a man and a woman who never met each other or the birth mother. More complex forms of reproduction, including elaborate human genetic engineering, might soon be possible (and even if we manage to enforce a ban, other countries will likely fail to share our moral scruples, particularly when such technology has potential to prevent or alleviate human suffering).
judges and legislators have had mixed reactions to the idea of gay couples as parents. Something of an understatement. To the best of my knowledge, no reliable study has documented significant differences (or lack thereof) in outcomes between same-sex couple and opposite-sex couple parenting. Which implies that most people have personal unprovable opinions, and it will be hard to resolve the question of whose opinions are correct without experimenting to find out.
The connecting theme between all of these developments seems, to me, to be the state's role in the welfare of dependent children. Putting aside all questions of what one believes about the morality of (and morality of state regulation of) sexual relations between consenting adults, it seems that most people would concede that the state has an interest in protecting minor children, but will disagree about how far that interest goes. I can see two extremes, with most people falling somewhere in the middle.
1) Extreme Libertarian. The state has no right to regulate a parent's control of his dependent child. Thus, any sort of genetic engineering/IVF/medical experimentation is permissible if you're going to raise the kids yourself, abortion (or even infanticide) is permissible, you can teach your children whatever you want without the state meddling, you can choose what degree of medical care/nutrition/socialization is appropriate for your children, etc. If any of this bothers you, relax and realize that other people's rights are just as important as yours, and if your way is really better than your descendents will do better and rule the world someday.
2) Extreme Protection. The state has a compelling interest in protecting the defenseless child from dangerous adults. Thus, being a genetic parent gives very limited rights over a child's fundamental welfare, abortion/nontraditional reproduction methods are banned or strictly regulated, states supervise primary education, possibly correcting dangerous ideas taught by the parents, the state can intervene in parental decisions about medical care/socialization/exposure to risky or unstable situations, etc. If some of this seems harsh, recognize that it's required because the state has an affirmative duty to protect and preserve everyone's individual right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Obviously, both scenarios contain elements we're not comfortable with. This is natural, because at stake are core values, and core values often conflict with each other:
*Parents ought to control the upbringing of their children.
*The state, through Child Protective Services and equivalent agencies, ought to save children from abusive or unsafe situations.
*Parents ought to be free to both practice their religion and teach it to their children.
*The state may have a duty to save the life of a child whose parents don't want him to receive medical care.
And so on. One issue impossible to escape is that children someday grow up, and parental influence over children diminishes substantially at some point (magically and all at once at age 18, if you prefer). Hence, the state must balance the right of the parent to raise the child with the right of the future citizen to someday be free from unjust influence from the parent (which, if the child ends up dead or in majorly harmed through the negligence of the parent, is difficult to do).
I get the sense that we used to regulate these questions as much through social norms and nongovernmental censure as through formal state action (excepting those issues raised by recent technological developments). As society became less homogeneous and more morally diverse, the social norms began breaking down, but little seems to have filled the vacuum they left (which may or may not be a problem, depending on your beliefs).
Another problem stems from the fact that we don't fully trust the government, and thus may feel that some of the recommendations in #2 are nice in theory but impossible in practice--the state can't reliably determine when welfare is actually threatened enough to intervene, and is subject to takeover and abuse by factions which do not respect the original noble rationale; hence, using the state is too risky. In other words, one could support the outcomes of option 2 in principle, but assume that they're unachievable in practice and hence lean towards option 1. Hardcore libertarians opposed to coercion would disagree, of course, and ultimately the reasons for choosing one option over the other are irrelevant to the public policy outcomes. We are still left with the question:
What ought the role of the state to be in issues involving dependent children?
I suspect that a coherent public policy backed by some coherent (and even Constitutional) rationale may be necessary, though I'm not sure what it ought to be. Perhaps any coherent structure is impossible in a morally heterogeneous society. Regardless, I'm deeply troubled by the notion that children can be called into the world by individuals or couples (of any sexual persuasion) who are not fully committed to raising said children in a stable and healthy environment.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Choose To Give: Eagerly Anticipated Update
I chose not to give. Not because of matching donation concerns (though I whinged extensively below), and not because I wasn't given the stupid envelope in multiple classes (although they didn't seem to manage to hit as many of my classes this semester), but because the Eager Volunteers manning the browbeating/solicitation table in the SWKT didn't have the good sense not to play their guitar all during my class last Thursday. Obviously my boycott will cause a major restructuring of the Obnoxious Student Volunteer Campaign, once the administration catches wind of it [either that, or it's a good thing I'm blogging pseudonymously].
As long as I'm going off on counterproductive things the BYU does, it seems worth noting that mailing me the donation envelope once I've ever made a donation seems horribly silly. It sends the message 'we want your money to spend on these mass mailings,' along with 'we're not only wasting postage, but we'll waste time in most of your classes as well giving you still more redundant envelopes,' not to mention 'we've never heard of email.' The library also doesn't seem to have heard of email, given the number of useless due date reminders I get (sometimes after I've returned the books).
Inspiration just struck. My contribution to this year's Choose to Give campaign is the following suggestion to all departments of the university: "You require every student to have an email address on file. Heck, you give every student his own email address. Stop mailing anything to students that can be communicated via email/internet (this includes student health plan updates, tuition statements, registration dates, library reminders, club announcements, and, of course, solicitations)." That should save quickly save them more money than I would have been able to donate. And without even using 'matching donations.'
Democracy in crisis?
Silly DU. If only they'd talked to a rat-choicer before publishing the statement "Democracy is in crisis when citizens don't vote" in their lead editorial yesterday, they'd know that a significant school of thought holds that democracy is actually in pretty good shape when people don't feel the need to vote. Of course, one's trust in that theory may vary (and, since I started this blog in part to argue against some of the implications of pure rat-choice, I'm hardly one to talk), but I'm not convinced by the DU's overall point that students should involve themselves in local government en mass. While I generally support democratic action as healthier than the lack thereof, I much prefer informed democratic action to uninformed or single-issue self-interested involvement (which students seem to be more susceptible to). In issues involving long-term residents and short-timer students, I tend to suspect that the long-term residents will often make better decisions, both because of their stake in the community and the financial pressures students can bring to bear on unresponsive municipalities.
As for the overall subject of the editorial, the neighborhood caucuses held last night, I may have more thoughts later, and will only note now that 'worst system, except for all the rest' is a strong contender for my assessment.
Monday, March 22, 2004
With Great Power...
This story is amusing, particularly the second paragraph.
“In light of the recent questions surrounding the BYUSA presidential election, Student Body President Dave Johnson formed a committee to review the elections process.
Johnson said the committee, made up of about 10 people, has been given complete autonomy to come up with suggestions on how elections should run. Once they are done, the suggestions will be submitted to director of student leadership, Anne Rumsey, and to the administration.
"The dean is the one that's going to make the final decision about what happens, and that's appropriate in this situation," Johnson said.”"
“Complete autonomy to come up with suggestions.” Sounds like BYUSA has found its new mission statement.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
The Morality of Bashing the Daily Disappointment?
This letter seems worth responding to, not because I think that complaining about the DU is the healthiest of activities (though I suppose one wouldn’t know that from reading this blog), but because the author, and the paper, don’t seem to grasp all of the reasons behind the complaints.
“I want to complain. Not about The Daily Universe, but to the people who complain about The Daily Universe. … Do these people realize that we get a free newspaper? What do you expect from something that is free?”
If it was just an issue of being free, that one be one thing. However, the DU is also representative of the university, which implies several things, not least that the quality should be acceptable. Every department on campus is full of inexperienced students, and a lot of their output is not going to be professional quality. I can accept that, but can’t help noticing that most departments don’t showcase their students’ less-than-competent output for the world to see. I would expect each department to eagerly publicize its students’ high-quality work, but keep everything else within the department. Most of the student essays I grade (and write, for that matter) are unpublishable either due to quality or lack of general interest. This isn’t a bad thing, as most of the writing is done for educational purposes. And some undergraduates do produce work of sufficient quality and interest to be publishable, and publish it. But we don’t make a habit of publishing everything that gets written, no matter how awful, which the DU seems to do (well, actually, I can accept that there are probably even worse articles that don’t get printed, but I don’t like to think about it as what does get printed already boggles the mind).
Another point to consider is that the DU has the potential to fill a void in student life that few, if any, other products could fill. If one believes that a strong campus community would be a good thing, it would be natural to hope that the DU would fill a role in providing students a common source of information on campus happenings, creating opportunities for dialog on key issues between students, professors, administration, and the community, provoking interesting thought and discussion, and helping create a common culture and enjoyable university experience. Since the DU is mediocre at accomplishing most of these, it invites criticism from those who wish it would do more. It also invites criticism from those who are appalled at how bad it can get, which is appropriate if for no other reason than that the DU crowds out the possibility of other products filling the void that it should be filling.
“I read complaints about where articles are. I read complaints about the point of view. I read this, I read that, and I'm sick of it! Stop whining!”
Insert your own ironic comment here.
“I'm proud of the Universe for actually printing your letters. If the paper really wanted to, it wouldn't print your complaints, so you can't say that they don't listen to their readers.”
There’s actually a difference between listening to criticism, or even repeating back criticism, and actually doing something about it.
“If you honestly think that the Universe is such a terrible paper, remember, no one is forcing you to pick it up and read it.”
Of course not. But some students wish they had a paper that was worth looking forward to reading.
For another analogy, consider the Utah Colleges Exit Poll that BYU helps run. To my knowledge, the project involves both academic work and paid positions, is fairly expensive and resource intensive, and is broadcast to the general community as a public product. Thus, it seems quite comparable to the DU, except that it produces one big product once every couple of years, while the DU produces a small product every weekday. In my understanding, if, for student incompetence or whatever reason, on election night the data coming in was unreliable to the point of skewing the exit poll, those in charge would not release the results, but would chalk it up as a learning experience. The impression I get is that a management style equivalent to the DU would cause a release of the flawed results—‘we can always issue a correction later if too many people complain.’ Rather than a professional-quality product, it seems to be treated as just an undergraduate project with no seriousness. The analogy isn’t perfect, but hopefully conveys what I think is the fundamental importance of doing something right if you’re going to do it publicly. Though perhaps it’s just the difference between social science and journalism…
“If you really want real news you can always go to a computer lab and look at your favorite news Web site for just as free as picking up The Daily Universe.”
Except, of course, most news outlets aren’t going to cover the BYU community.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
The Morality Of "Matching" Donations
And once again it's time for BYU's Choose to Give campaign, in which the administration and a shocking number of student volunteers team up to browbeat everyone into ponying up a few bucks for the Cause, on the theory that small donations now will yield to endowed-chair/new building-sized donations from some of those who leverage their lucrative BYU degrees into multimillion-dollar fortunes down the line (which would have the added benefit of saving said students' souls, given gospel teachings about rich men getting into heaven--it's practically the duty of the university to rectify the situation should anyone escape with the possibility of amassing damning quantities of wealth). While the whole thing has an air of good fun, ranging from controversies over how many student donations go to buy the annoying flashing buttons worn by the browbeaters (official line: "none," assuming you haven't heard of fungibility) to typical LDS hangups about statistical achievement ('we must get students to make token donations so our U.S. News ranking will improve"), the ongoing issue which troubles me about this circus is the practice of 'matching' student donations 5:1.
The line is deceptively simple--'if you give $1, it becomes $6,' through the magic of Free Lunches and Wealthy Alumni. My problem with that is my $1 doesn't actually multiply like rabbits. What happens is that some Wealthy Donor is essentially telling me, "I've got this wad of cash that I'd like to give the BYU, but I won't unless you do first." To which I say, "mind your own business," because I tend to think that whatever Credit in Heaven I get for my good deeds should be independent of the manipulation/blackmailing of others. If they want to get Credit in Heaven for giving money to the BYU, my donation will have nothing to do with their decisions--they can 'choose to give' as much as they want, just as I can. So the whole matching donation thing strikes me as somewhat unethical, or at least a gray area. But then, I'm widely known to by cynical, apparently for good cause given the first paragraph of this post. For the record, I think donating to the BYU is a Good Thing (though perhaps not quite as Good as donating to the PEF). It just bugs me when it's dressed up as anything beyond simple philanthropy.
Monday, March 15, 2004
Marriage, Replacement Rates, Radical Proposals, and Society's Interest in Children
Opinionjournal has an interesting article. Some highlights:
"Society's stake in marriage as an institution is nothing less than the perpetuation of the society itself, a matter of much greater than merely private concern. Yet society cannot compel men and women to bring forth their replacements. Marriage as conventionally defined is still the ordinary practice in Europe, yet the birthrate in most of Europe is now less than the replacement rate, which will have all sorts of dire consequences for its future. "
This fundamental problem--that most developed countries aren't reproducing at the replacement rate--is at the heart of a radical idea I've been toying with, namely that we should reemphasize that the state's interest in marriage is in encouraging procreation and a healthy environment in which to raise children. Adopting such a public policy full-on would, of course, lead to many complications and probably be wildly unpopular. But it's hard to see how the welfare state can survive without some solution to the problem of declining birthrates and increasing lifespans.
"Nationwide, the marriage rate has plunged 43% since 1960. Instead of getting married, men and women are just living together, cohabitation having increased tenfold in the same period. According to a University of Chicago study, cohabitation has become the norm. More than half the men and women who do get married have already lived together.
The widespread social acceptance of these changes is impelling the move toward homosexual marriage. Men and women living together and having sexual relations "without benefit of clergy," as the old phrasing goes, became not merely an accepted lifestyle, but the dominant lifestyle in the under-30 demographic within the past few years. Because they are able to control their reproductive abilities--that is, have sex without sex's results--the arguments against homosexual consanguinity began to wilt.
When society decided--and we have decided, this fight is over--that society would no longer decide the legitimacy of sexual relations between particular men and women, weddings became basically symbolic rather than substantive, and have come for most couples the shortcut way to make the legal compact regarding property rights, inheritance and certain other regulatory benefits. But what weddings do not do any longer is give to a man and a woman society's permission to have sex and procreate."
I think the solution might be to reevaluate the way we handle the legal compact aspects, and decide that the state has no compelling interest in regulating consensual sexual conduct between adults (at least in situations free of STDs or children). This would require redefining marriage in terms of procreation, as mentioned above.
"Men and women today who have successful, enduring marriages till death do them part do so in spite of society, not because of it."
"...same-sex marriage, if it comes about, will not cause the degeneration of the institution of marriage; it is the result of it."
So my rough ideas for how to radically reform family law:
*Free up most of the 'legal incidents' of marriage so that individuals can easily enter (and exit) legal arrangements with whomever they please regarding inheritance, health care, etc. Allow private organizations (company benefits, insurance policies, etc) to do whatever they want.
*Reserve the legal institution of marriage for couples who expressly state their desire to have children. Require some sort of premarital counseling (to help couples know what they're getting into, nip potential problems in the bud, etc), a brief (month or two) waiting period for marriage licenses (to prevent hasty decisionmaking), stricter requirements for divorce (end no-fault, etc), and generally make marriage a much more formidable legal institution. Couple this with major tax breaks/incentives for each dependent child living at home (thus providing a strong incentive for couples with children to be married, while leaving couples who don't have children indifferent to the prospect of marriage). The legal benefits and costs would be justified by the state's major interest in encouraging births (to provide future Social Security taxpayers, if nothing else).
*Structure state adoption agencies to give priority to married couples. If a surplus of children needing adoption exists beyond what married couples can handle, allow nonmarried individuals adoption rights. In all cases, children's welfare agencies would hold unmarried parents/guardians (of both adopted and natural children) to stricter levels of scrutiny, given the social science data indicating that children living with their married biological parents are less at risk from a variety of factors, including abuse.
**Such a system would seem to address some of the major problems facing us now--the gap between the state's interest in marriage and the legal incentives which it seems unjust to deny unmarried people, the declining birthrate, the rising divorce rate, etc. However, it obviously faces several problems:
*For starters, it offends my libertarian sympathies by relying considerably on state action. I'll have to consider that angle further.
*At the state level, it might face problems given both the overbearance of the federal government (which controls most of the taxing and a great deal of the spending) and the ability of individuals to pack up and leave (which will increase short term costs as the proportion of married individuals rises in the state compared to elsewhere--even if that results in the long term in a state healthier than its depopulated neighbors, the short term costs could be high).
*Transition costs could be high, as existing marriages may or may not fit the new criteria. In general, tinkering with the accepted societal definition of marriage will ruffle feathers all around, regardless of who's doing it (and, given that marriage has evolved to the point where it can mean practically anything one wants it to, perhaps any attempt to restore a coherent definition is doomed in our current society).
*Certain groups--childless by choice couples, same-sex marriage activists, cohabitators generally--would probably vehemenently oppose any such change.
**However, a major advantage such a plan would have, it seems, is that the problem looming behind all of the current sound and fury is the approach society takes towards childrearing. The normalization camp will not be satisfied until same-sex couples can adopt and be seen as perfectly normal parents. The traditional camp, already horrified at the rise of single-parenting, is deeply suspicious of the supposed virtues of same-sex couple parenting. Since not enough hard data exists to get both sides to agree on much of anything, we can expect some nasty battles unless one side or the other manages to preempt the legal field. The difficult questions society will have to answer include:
*Does every individual have a right to have children, or does society have a role in regulating the circumstances in which children are created/live?
*What is the proper role of the state in determining the fitness of prospective individuals, couples, or groups to adopt children who are wards of the state?
*Should reproductive technology be regulated, or is using it a fundamental right? Should women (including same-sex couples) be allowed to use sperm donors to give birth to children who will be raised without fathers? Should men (including same-sex couples) be allowed to make other arrangements (such as hiring host-mothers) to arrive at an symmetric motherless result?
I think you can make a powerful argument that opposite-sex couples do the best job of raising children, particularly when said children are the biological offspring of the parents. I also think that many people, if a not a majority, will reject such an argument, and argue in favor of its converse. Further, decent people of every belief will likely have serious qualms about both involving the state heavily in regulating parents' rights, and in failing to regulate in some circumstances (given the shocking prevalence of abuse, neglect, etc). Which approach is best is still largely unclear to me, though I do predict that we will not arrive at any good solution until we address the above questions.
Friday, March 12, 2004
More Musings on Marriage
A correspondent emails: “For centuries (millenia) the definition of marriage has always presupposed "one man and one woman" (adjusted, appropriately, for societies which practiced plural marriage). The 2 gender definition was always a given. A large body of law has developed based on that 2 gender definition. The body of law affects many aspects of common and statutory law, including immigration, family law, property law, inheritance and estate, medical, privacy, child protection, tax, welfare/"safety net", retirement, and so forth. Whether we like it or not, there are hundreds or thousands of provisions which assume (because until now, perhaps no one had ever considered it) that the definition would never be otherwise. There may be compelling reasons to adjust some of the provisions of these statutes. However, simply redefining the term "marriage" is not the appropriate way to address the issue. The matters are far to complex for such a simple fix. The simple fix is likely to have wide-ranging, unanticipated consequences which could not begin to be foreseen.”
I tend to agree, though long and complicated arguments about what family law ought to be don’t fit neatly on protest signs, and probably strike everyone from media to legislators and voters as being too complicated. However, it seems to me that at this point, every state should take a long hard look at its family law, and decide what it really wants to do. I suspect many states will have few objections to overhauling laws dealing with inheritance, medical, and other issues which are now linking mainly to marriage, particularly if so doing allows them to decide what it is about marriage that the state sees as most integral.
Following up on the point I made below, I think that the nonscriptural roles of family law may be fairly malleable, from our perspective. Whatever we think of the morality of same-sex relationships, I see no compelling reason not to overhaul laws to make it easier for such couples to structure some legal issues (such as inheritance or medical issues) in ways that they want. One need not call such arrangements ‘civil unions,’ because they would merely be recognizing that any individuals ought to have certain rights to make some legal arrangements with others in ways that they find desirable.
However, the state probably should decide what it wants out of legal recognition of marriage, if anything. One view of marriage seems to be based on societal acknowledgement of love and commitment between any two people. Another view might focus less on the romantic drama of being madly in love and more on the responsibilities (including rearing children) of entering into marriage. A third view would hold that marriage is primarily religious, and the state should not have a significant role in it at all. I will admit to not seeing much public policy value in having the state involved in the first definition of marriage, but I’m not convinced we should abandon the second.
Reactions to the Hatch Amendment
Nate Oman on Eugene Volokh on the Hatch Amendment. See also NRO.
Senator Hatch's webpage doesn't seem to have any updated content about his proposal. However, his contact info can be found here.
The Campus is our World!
Today's DU Headlines:
Above the fold. Huge type: "Honors [sic] punish 6 in sex scandal" [story about Orgygate]
On the fold. Huge type: "Grin and bear it" [story about BYU professor researching bears]
Below the fold. Small type: "Terrorists strike Spain; 190 dead and 1,200 hurt" [story about horrific terrorist attack].
Monday, March 08, 2004
This article is interesting. Some highlights:
"He said 13,000 to 14,000 loans have been given. Most of them have been distributed to people living in Central and South America. The next phase of the program will take the fund to West Africa, India and Asia.
"It's a big world," Allen said. "It's tough to try and reach out and start helping those people, but with the areas we're in now we're covering over 88 percent of all the young single adults in the church outside the U.S. and Canada."
Allen told the audience their role in helping the PEF is mainly to keep in contact with returned missionaries they know, and encourage them to be faithful and to be patient if they cannot yet get a PEF loan. He also said students can contribute to the fund as much as they are able."
DU and Newsnet--Who's Criticizing Who?
Along with a spam email last week, we get this story about a panel discussion/forum tomorrow about the DU. Aside from the fact that the organizers chose classtime rather than the standard Th 11 (when more people can actually make it), what can we learn about this exciting opportunity?
Well, results are mixed. First we have the idealistic student: "She said the purpose of the panel is to get feedback from students. They can share their concerns or give ideas they would like to see regarding the newspaper. "It's a way to ask if The Daily Universe is serving its readers and how they are covering important issues," Doria said."
Immediately after, we have the 'managing director-print NewsNet,' someone with 25 years of experience (if the DU is to be believed): ""[The purpose of the panel is for] better understanding by students of what it takes to put together The Daily Universe," Hicken said."
Am I the only one who noticed that these two quotes directly contradict each other?
But, in the spirit of the inquiry (and since I'll be in class during the event), here are a few suggestions:
*Try publishing the philosophy and organization of the newspaper where anyone who's curious can find it. Answer such questions as: Does the DU intend to focus on national, local, or campus news, or some combination, and how? Do regular news beats (such as City Council, university policies, state government, religious news, etc) actually get covered by someone who knows what he's doing? What does the paper consider 'news,' and how much official control of news content is there? Does the DU bring in money, barely break even, or serve as a deadweight loss (and why)? Which student positions are paid, and which are required for classes (and why)? Can non-journalism majors work on the DU without paying homage to the Communications Department (and why)? What is the corrections policy? Why is proofreading so difficult for DU staff? Why are there so many sports stories, and so few academic ones?
*Try putting all content online when the print edition hits the stands (rather than days later). Enabling comments on articles--particularly opinion articles--isn't out of the question either.
*Try cultivating a higher standard of opinion content. Instead of publishing fringe letters to the editor, try only publishing those that actually might provoke thought (whether for or against BYU's cultural grain). Instead of bad student-written editorials, why not have professors write columns, whether one-shot or periodic? Instead of the opinion page being ridiculed, focus on making it a place of intelligent dialog. As it is, students realize that if they write outrageous letters, they might get published, which just leads to the Police Beat principle.
Saturday, March 06, 2004
According to the SLTrib, Utah Governor Olene Walker announced that she would seek reelection this morning. [Desnews appears to have been solidly scooped, as nothing seems to be on its website about it].
I find this somewhat surprising, as this gives her only two weeks to put together a solid caucus operation, while the major competitors have been working for months. Incumbancy advantage may help some, of course.
Friday, March 05, 2004
Reader responses--complexities of family law
I said: "Marriage should be marked by love between spouses. I’m not sure that there are any immediate public policy implications here, except perhaps that we should reserve the concept of marriage for unions marked by genuine love, and not the sort of informal civil-union style arrangements between two nonintimate adults that some predict will be inevitable under any civil union scheme."
Correspondent replies “I think there are a number of problems with such a suggestion. Foremost is that it undermines your next paragraph about strongly discouraging divorce. A stipulation that marriage is reserved for a relationship of genuine love seems to leave a very easy "out" when a couple "falls out of love". Such a stipulation would also essentially rule out arranged marriages, which most of us probably consider a good thing, but is closely tied to cultural issues, as is particularly evident among minorities. It would likely discourage the marriage of unwed parents, contrary to Church teachings that this is the ideal option (assuming the parents are of marriageable age). Finally, making this a requirement for entering into marriage seems to belie the fact that love is typically developed more fully subsequent to marriage than prior to marriage. It seems that this would be, overall, a fairly strong deterrent to marriage, rather than encouraging it. On the other hand, omitting such a requirement leaves the system open to abuse (marriages of convenience, for example, which already essentially fit the bill of the "informal arrangements" you mention in your post).”
I apologize for not being as clear as I wanted to be. I agree with the general thrust of this critique that the government shouldn’t be trying to quantify the degree of love within a marriage relationship. What I was trying to say above was in response to a suggestion I’ve read elsewhere that the government ‘deregulate’ marriage and allow any two consenting adults to enter into a civil-union style arrangement. That argument is based on the general libertarian approach, as well as the theory that if we allow the benefits (‘legal incidents’) of marriage to same-sex intimate couples, there’s no real reason not to allow them to nonintimate adults as well (such as single siblings living together, or roommates who wish to incorporate their personal affairs, or other endless combinations). I think such an approach could work, and is probably better than many alternatives. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that it’s the ideal. I think I’d prefer to see a system in which marriage itself (though not necessarily paler legal imitations, though they could exist) is reserved for more intimate relations—at least, the expectation would be that couples would enter marriages with the intention of maintaining a union marked by love (exactly what would happen if the love didn’t develop as they hoped it would would be a different issue). Perhaps, however, such a preference would be impossible to justify and purely secular grounds. Interesting food for thought.
I said, "Gender roles: specific responsibilities in marriage are set forth, particularly that men are responsible to provide for their families. And on this point, feminism has led to a diversity of opinions. The main public policy implications seem to warrant legally requiring a man to support his dependents (particularly after a divorce). Applying the principle outside of marriage could help stem the current tide of fatherlessness and single mothers plaguing society."
Correspondent replies: “I think there is a strong case that current divorce, alimony, and child support laws that make a man responsible for supporting his family after divorce actually make divorce easier, not harder, because women are more free to leave a bad relationship without an insurmountable financial penalty. (For example, see Wendy McElroy's discussions of the topic at www.ifeminists.com). I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, as it also makes it easier to divorce for less substantial reasons, and may unfairly penalize some men, even as it requires others to live up to their responsibilities.
“I think these are very difficult issues for government to resolve.”
Again, interesting points. Some quick skimming of McElroy’s works didn’t turn up a specific reference to that study, but I get a general sense of where she’s coming from. The exact issues of responsibility and divorce are certainly complicated (one reason I punted earlier). I suppose I would prefer to see a system in which somehow all of the following concerns are resolved:
*Couples have the strongest possible incentives to stay together.
*Abused parties are free to exit from bad situations without undue consequences.
*Anyone involved in bringing a child into the world is held responsible for his support and upbringing in some fashion.
*Innocents are not held accountable for the actions of others.
*Rights and responsibilities are shared equitably between divorcing parents.
Obviously, some of these areas are going to conflict—the stronger the incentives to stay together, the harder it may be for abused men or women to escape from dangerous marriages. My impression is that the stereotypical ‘traditional marriages’ of the 1950s era had too many cases of abuse and too little freedom, while today’s marriages have too much freedom and too little incentive to avoid divorce. Exactly what to do to change that is, of course, a difficult problem.
One major problem with equity comes from the fact that parental roles are not symmetrical. If a mother stays at home to raise her children, her lesser workforce experience leaves her at a comparative economic disadvantage following a divorce. Her opportunity cost to stay home was to forego advancing in a professional career (which, as Nibley points out, is itself a dubious goal, but that’s a different issue). I’m not sure that failing to compensate her in some way for this would be equitable—McElroy’s argument seems to imply that the woman would stay in the marriage because of fear of poverty if our current alimony schemes were scaled back. I’m not sure that fear of poverty is a moral incentive to keep marriages together (though I suppose one could argue that it’s employed for men under the current scheme). In any event, the children certainly shouldn’t have to suffer for the mistakes of the parents, which renders any solution that leaves the children in poverty (or in a bad environment) less than ideal. If men and women split both childrearing and breadwinning equally in the marriage, then diving the responsibilities evenly after a divorce would be an easy solution. However, that doesn’t seem to be the model for the vast majority of marriages.
In non-marriage related public policy, it seems just to require that anyone who fathers a child out of wedlock be held responsible for at least half the child’s support, regardless of whether he desires parental visitation rights. I would guess that systematic enforcement of such a requirement would at least encourage fornicating couples to use birth control, though perhaps I overestimate the power of economic incentives. And of course, since there are already considerable rumblings about lack of due process and presumption of guilt in the child support system as it presently operates, perhaps the status quo is already close to this system, and other problems are more relevant to the current out-of-wedlock birth rate.
Feel free to respond further. This whole exercise is more about organizing my own thoughts than about trying to convince anyone else, at this point.
Thursday, March 04, 2004
Family--Doctrine meets Politics
[Note: the following post should probably be read before this one]
With questions of our beliefs about the family addressed, the next issue is how those beliefs interrelate with our beliefs about government. Most of the scriptures here are less helpful, because, despite some comments about political theory (such as Mosiah 29), most of the scriptural record deals with societies which were much more homogenous and theocratic than ours is. The beliefs of Israelites or Nephites about government don’t parallel our current situation well (though I do like the principle, expressed in Alma 1:17, “the law could have no power on any man for his belief”). I don’t think, therefore, that most of the scriptural record can give us detailed guidance in our responsibilities as citizens, though it can help with general principles.
There is one notable exception to this trend, however. D&C 134 was canonized in our dispensation. Though one could split hairs about the difference between the antebellum frontier and the modern results of the American experiment, D&C 134 does provide some fairly solid principles for how we should look at government. Points relevant to this discussion include:
*Verse 1: Government can be good. Hence, extreme libertarianism/anarchism has problems in our theology. Also, God will hold us accountable for our actions toward government (including failed attempts to influence public policy, if they need to be tried), not only dealing with the laws we pass, but also our implementation of them.
*Verse 4: Religious opinions should not lead us to curtain the freedoms of others. Further, no law should attempt to control belief or conscience.
*Verse 5: Sedition and rebellion are not appropriate as long as the government is protecting our fundamental rights. Also, the government has the power to enact laws that it believes will serve the public interest.
The paradox of same-sex marriage is that as long as the policy debate is framed in terms of fairness/equity, attempts to deny same-sex couples the same benefits given to married couples will seem ‘unfair.’ Further, people will argue that those opposed to same-sex marriage/unions will be justifying their unfairness based on their religious beliefs, an unjustifiable use of government.
However, I believe this frame is most likely a flawed way to analyze the issue. Rather, we should look at family law as being part of the body of law enacted to serve the public interest. If the public interest is best served through promoting heterosexual marriage (while not penalizing those who choose other lifestyles), then such laws are justified (just as many laws can be justified, though they may seem arbitrary or unfair to those who do not buy the legislature’s reasoning).
Below, we defined marriage and parent/child relationships in terms of key scriptural injunctions. Let’s look at how the law should relate to each of those.
Marriage is strongly encouraged in the scriptures. It thus may be appropriate to enact laws which indirectly encourage marriage, though overt coercion should certainly be avoided. I don’t particularly have a problem with the law structured in such a way that marriage is assumed to be the ideal outcome for all individuals, and significant incentives exist to encourage all to get married (without penalizing those who don’t want to). I can also see a more laissez-faire approach in this area, though [I once had a longish discussion with a libertarian fellow student who thought that any such incentivization by the government was immoral. While I’m somewhat sympathetic to that view, its logical implication would exclude most of our current body of law, particularly in the economic sphere where we encourage and discourage all sorts of behavior through taxation and exemption—so the majority of the country is clearly comfortable with a non-libertarian approach to government incentives].
We also consider marriage to be necessary. Here, I think, is an inappropriate sphere for the law. We can certainly teach as a private organization that everyone ought to be married, but using the government in this endeavor would, I think, be inappropriate. Government shouldn’t go farther than mild encouragement.
Marriage should be marked by love between spouses. I’m not sure that there are any immediate public policy implications here, except perhaps that we should reserve the concept of marriage for unions marked by genuine love, and not the sort of informal civil-union style arrangements between two nonintimate adults that some predict will be inevitable under any civil union scheme.
Divorce is strongly discouraged. It does seem appropriate for a state to strongly discourage divorce. I am quite sympathetic to the argument that no-fault divorce liberalization has caused an immense amount of harm to our society. I (and a significant number of my generational cohorts, if BYU’s family life professors are to be believed) would support making divorce harder. This is not to say that we should ignore the types of problems that can exist in a marriage that would make divorce necessary, of course. An idealized view of an earlier era is useless if we don’t address the problems of that era as well. However, the current disaster is hardly the only other option.
Intergender marriage is necessary. And here we are at the crux of the dilemma. We believe, for religious reasons, that only male-female pairings are truly marriage. In the absence of hard social science data supporting this assertion, it’s hard to convince those who don’t already believe it. Of course, we don’t have the hard social science data that same-gender couples are as effective either. Theoretically, we would need a powerful argument to justify leaving the status quo. However, that argument is being fought in terms of equity (and, as I point out below, the status quo is in flux anyway).
The other argument for intergender marriage deals with reproduction—the vast majority of births come from heterosexual couples. If we structure the law to promote reproduction, giving heterosexual couples precedence may be justified—but under the logic, same-sex couples who want to adopt or reproduce through other means (AI, etc) may have to be included, barring the aforementioned social science evidence.
One purpose of marriage is to bring children into the world; mankind is under a commandment to do so. Most of the arguments for traditional marriage seem to revolve around this point. This argument can be problematic, though, as even we believe that there’s more to marriage than just reproduction (or why would we care if couples stay married past menopause?), and even that there’s more to sex than reproduction (ditto). At a minimum, if we define marriage solely in terms of child rearing, we face the problem of excluding heterosexual couples with no interest in bearing children.
Gender roles: specific responsibilities in marriage are set forth, particularly that men are responsible to provide for their families. And on this point, feminism has led to a diversity of opinions. The main public policy implications seem to warrant legally requiring a man to support his dependents (particularly after a divorce). Applying the principle outside of marriage could help stem the current tide of fatherlessness and single mothers plaguing society.
Honoring and obeying are the main focus of the scriptural responsibilities of a child toward his parents. While ‘honor’ is all but impossible to legislate, obedience relates to public policy in the degree of autonomy parents have to raise their children without undue interference from the state. It seems reasonable to expect parents to have control over their children’s moral education, for instance.
Provide—see ‘gender roles’ above.
Defend—I’m not sure we’ve got a lot of direct public policy implications here; this seems to be past of the point of intrastate concern, and more at the point where some other state is threatening everyone. In a spiritual sense, we should fight against anti-family forces, but that’s more meta- than specific to this point.
Praying—not an appropriate sphere for governmental intervention.
Fulfill Responsibilities—again, see above. The law would seem to have a strong role in holding individuals responsible for their dependents.
Teaching—in terms of moral education, it doesn’t seem an appropriate place for governmental intervention. Government should probably make provisions for an adequate secular education for all (again, staunch libertarians might disagree).
Nonscriptural roles of family law
Family law affects other things not mentioned in the scriptures (or, if they are mentioned, are cultural mores not followed by us today—for instance the automatic assumption that the firstborn inherits everything, or the requirement for a man to marry his brother’s childless widow). Some of these things include:
Medical issues (visitation, right to make decisions for the incapacitated, etc)
Court testimony (spouses don’t have to testify against each other, traditionally)
Extension of benefits (under various governmental as well as private plans)
And others that I’m probably not thinking of right now [Readers?].
Often, the ssm/cu debate is framed in terms of these other ‘legal incidents,’ and most reasonable people don’t see why some or all of these benefits shouldn’t be extended beyond traditional marriage. This argument will obviously have to be addressed in any policy outcome. However, I’m not convinced that the heart of the disagreement is here. Regardless of what happens to ‘marriage,’ in the United States, I suspect that both ‘sides’ may really be more concerned with broader issues.
The pro-ssm side (or the “normalization” camp) seems to me to be pushing for full social acceptance. Rather than merely seeking legal equality (or some approximation thereof), this camp seems to be pushing for social, or at least governmental, acknowledgment of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. I suspect that many in that camp will not be satisfied with anything less. Hence the current movement to force ‘marriage’ instead of any ‘separate but equal’ scheme. Disputes over adoption, child-rearing, etc, will follow, and the exact role of the state in teaching about sexuality (particularly in elementary schools) may develop into a nasty battleground.
The anti-ssm side (or the “traditionalist” camp) seems to be pushing against full social acceptance, or at least against any governmental recognition of the homosexual lifestyle. I suspect that many in this camp wouldn’t mind if some or all of the legal incidents of marriage itself were extended to same-sex couples—but they see attempts to manipulate the state into acknowledging such unions as the equal of marriage to be illegitimate, and they view the potential long-term effects in the abovementioned areas to be worth fighting against.
I don’t know that I’m any closer to deciding on an ideal solution. However, here are some possibilities I can think of:
*FMA: If the FMA is passed, no state will be able to call same-sex unions ‘marriages.’ However, states will be free to enact the legal equivalents by any other name, and some will (Oregon, at least, looks to be moving in that direction). States won’t have to recognize marriages from other states, and should (theoretically) be free from judicial manipulation within the state. The long-term trend suggests that more states would be more accommodating of civil unions as time passes. Many of the battles over childrearing would be just as contentious, I suspect, at least in the pro-civil union states.
*Other amendments: Some other amendments have been proposed, including highly improbable ‘ban-everything’ types (which won’t pass), and more narrowly tailored ‘let the states decide, but don’t impose a marriage definition’ types (Interestingly, Senator Hatch is proposing such an amendment: “Civil marriage shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman”). I think the Hatch amendment may be the best amendment strategy, as anything that reaches farther will meet with much greater opposition. That would still leave the issue to the states, which could do one of several things.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll confine analysis to one state for now, though interstate problems would certainly crop up under any federalist scheme.
*Normalization victory. Same-sex marriage could be recognized, all the way. Many LDS would likely be uncomfortable in such a society. Of course, we’re already uncomfortable with many aspects of current society, so I don’t think the world would end over it.
*Libertarian triumph. We could, as many people propose, get the government out of the marriage business entirely. Easy to say, more difficult to do. We still would have to deal with all those pesky ‘legal incidents,’ either eliminating them or setting up other criteria to make them available. The fight over the definition of marriage would move the broader culture. We would lose the ability to regulate any types of sexual relations between consenting adults, including polygamy and incest (I’m actually not convinced that’s such a bad thing, but that’s a different story). And, of course, all of the adoption/childrearing issues would still be on the table.
*Status quo. Ho hum. Seems likely that cultural pressures would push any state that tried to tread water one way or the other after a while. Some sort of vision is necessary, as the status quo is broken to just about everyone.
*Traditionalist reversal. A state could restructure its family laws to make them more traditional-family friendly. As long as secular justifications are used for each step, this shouldn’t be too difficult. It would take a broad public consensus, which makes me suspect that it would only work in some Red states (such as Utah) (however, once that consensus was in place, a self-selection effect could keep it going—individuals who didn’t like the preferred position of the traditional family would move to other states, and those in other states who liked the idea would move to the state trying it, preserving legislative majorities). I have ideas about details on this point, but I think I’ll mull them over some more before posting them, particularly since it’s getting entirely too late.
In an earlier post, I asked “Theology: What do we really believe about marriage and families? What do these beliefs imply about how society and the state structure family relations?” This is my attempt at an answer.
Let’s start with the definition of family. Despite mushy inclusiveness (GS: “or even a single person living alone”) and exceptions, I find it simpler to think about family relationships in light of what we believe about eternity. Two types of family relationships exist in the eternities—husband/wife and parent/child. In the celestial kingdom, we believe, as I understand it, that though everyone will be connected via eternal family relationships, these interconnections will all be one or the other type of sealing—corresponding to the same types of sealings we perform in temples today.
The marriage seal exists only between a man and a woman. We do believe that a man can enter into more than one such sealed marriage relationship, though a woman cannot, for reasons never made clear. [That, incidentally, is why I can accept the Church’s vigorous support for marriage being between ‘a man and a woman’—because I suspect that our unspoken footnote is ‘of course, a man can enter into more than one marriage—just not presently.’ Anything else doesn’t seem to square with our doctrine].
The child-parent sealing exists between the child and an existing marriage seal. A child cannot (under normal circumstances) be sealed to only one parent—he must be sealed to both, in connection with their preexisting eternal marriage (complications about divorce and cancelled sealings omitted, largely because I suspect that final answers are available in the eternities but do not change the basic principles, regardless of the temporal uncertainty such cases inspire). This relationship can be entered into either through being born in the covenant, or through being adopted in/sealed later, which sealing confers the same blessings providing by being born in the covenant.
Thus, in the celestial kingdom, the average faithful member will be sealed to his parents, will be sealed to at least one wife (or to one husband), and will have some number of children sealed to that marriage relationship. Temporal family relationships other than those listed do not seem to have corresponding eternal consequence (hence, though I consider my brother a close family member, our ‘family’ relationship exists because we’re sealed to the same set of parents, not due to any connection simply between the two of us).
It also seems fairly obvious that the most important types of relationships recognized by family law are husband-wife and parent-child. As far as I know, very few legal rights or responsibilities accrue between my brother and myself by virtue of that relationship—whereas several legal assumptions are made about my relationship with my parents (inheritance, medical visitation, etc). Thus far, therefore, the basic superstructure of both the ecclesiastical and legal approaches to the family coincide. Before further analyzing the legal end, though, we’ll look at our specific beliefs about what each of these relationships entails (with an eye toward what the law should say about them).
Marriage is strongly encouraged in the scriptures.
And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten, that it was not good that the man should be alone; wherefore, I will make an help meet for him. (Moses 3:18)
Marriage is honourable in all (Hebrews 13:3)
And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. (D&C 49:15)
marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God (Family Proclamation)
We also consider marriage to be necessary.
And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; (D&C 131:1)
Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. (Family Proclamation)
Marriage should be marked by love between spouses.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Ephesians 5:25)
Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else. (D&C 42:22)
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. (Family Proclamation)
Divorce is strongly discouraged.
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mark 10:9).
[other scriptures and teachings of the modern prophets are also relevant, but I think I’ll save a more detailed discussion for elsewhere]
Marriage involves the union of one person of each gender. We don’t fully know why this is necessary, other than that it is.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. (1 Cor 11:11)
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. (Family Proclamation)
One purpose of marriage is to bring children into the world; mankind is under a commandment to do so.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28)
We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. (Family Proclamation)
Gender Roles in Marriage
Specific responsibilities in marriage are set forth, particularly that men are responsible to provide for their families.
Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken; (D&C 83)
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. (Family Proclamation)
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (Exodus 20:12)
CHILDREN, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
(Ephesians 6:1) (see also Col 3:20)
And again, verily I say unto you, that every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown; and let him labor in the church. (D&C 75:28)
All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age. (D&C 83:4)
And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion. (Alma 43:47)
Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed. (3 Nephi 18:21) (see also D&C 23:6)
I would assume that this would include legal responsibilities (at least one of the current temple recommend questions seems to bear this out as well).
And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. (D&C 20:47)
And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. (D&C 68:25)
But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. (D&C 93:40)
And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:14-15)
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations. (Family Proclamation)
Monday, March 01, 2004
A Long-Expected Review
That is a chapter of ancient history which it might be good to recall; for there was sorrow then too, and gathering dark, but great valour, and great deeds that were not wholly vain. -Tolkien, FOTR, 77.
The above quote, besides demonstrating Tolkien's knack for dropping profound and memorable lines without seeming to try, captures some of the sense of higher drama and power in the universe of Middle-Earth. This quote, I think, typifies my impressions of the LOTR movies--though far from perfect, they were a monumental achievement that was certainly not 'wholly vain,' if not all it could have been. Indeed, often the gravest shortcomings seemed, to me, to be the failure to capture the sense of awe and meaning that Tolkien can create without seeming to try. Anyone can create a fantasy universe and tell Entertaining Stories (as countless bad fantasy novelists have shown). Tolkien, however, managed to create Myth with history, moral power, and higher purpose dripping off the pages. The movies, alas, often seemed to stoop to the Entertaining Story level (which can make for very good fantasy movies--but which pale in comparison to the original).
I suspect this happened for several reasons. One, of course, is the difficulty of translating words to screen, particularly given Tolkien's propensity to write unnaturally long chunks of dialog and exposition. Another reason would be length requirements (though I think this is arguably a foolish constraint--if anything, the LOTR movies proved that audience doesn't care about the length if the story is powerful enough). And a final reason would be that, arguably, Jackson et al Just Didn't Get It at several key moments, either buying into flawed Hollywood formulas or failing to understand the true power of Tolkien's tale.
Fellowship started the trilogy on a strong note. I had some grievances where things didn't make sense (the orcs surrounding the party, then running away?), but most of the details were close enough that it didn't matter. Some deletions were regrettable (cool as the falling staircase scene was, wouldn't some better indicators of the passage of time filled in the plot better?). Some key opportunities were missed ("What an evil fortune! And I am already weary," is indisputably a better line than 'a big flaming obvious evil thingee' or whatever Gandalf actually said for the benefit of the three dense people in the audience who couldn't tell that the Balrog was a Bad Thing). But my biggest grievances were the reduction of Merry and Pippin to incompetent comic relief (lighting a fire to attract the Nazgul? Whatever), and the insistence on Hollywoodizing the conflict at the Council of Elrond. The moral dilemma of the actual decision--to risk the fate of the world on a slim chance instead of doing countless more sensible but useless things--is far more compelling than pointless bickering by some of the most majestic people in Middle-Earth, yet the movie didn't, IMO, fully illustrate the dilemma.
Two Towers, despite the coolness of Helm's Deep, had its own problems. The less said about the cliff scene, the better (except, of course, to note that every minute we spend destroying one character is a minute spent not advancing plot elsewhere). And the decision to rape Faramir's character, including the whole inexplicable field trip to Osgiliath (and the subsequent nonsensical changing of his mind) was mind-boggling in its stupidity. Further, ROTK showed that leaving the original ending, complete with Shelob cliffhanger, would have made far more sense structurally (the only reason I can think to have mangled two movies in such a fashion was fear of the inevitable Harry Potter/LOTR spider comparisons, fresh on the heels of the troll comparisons from the year before. Which, needless to say, is a stupid reason).
Return of the King, however, sunk to new lows repeatedly. The overall impression is one of slapping it together without caring whether it makes sense. For instance,
*No resolution with Saruman. The palantir just sitting in the water. Whatever. (And Saruman's final defiance before Gandalf is one of the more powerful scenes in the first place, and should have been left in).
*The ineptness of Gondor. Gondor is a mighty military empire which has been fighting Mordor for millennia. Minis Tirith is the fortress at the center of their military might. A civilian could not, repeat NOT, happen to light its warning beacon without getting caught, and, even if he did, there would be a Major Inquiry probably resulting in someone's execution.
*The decline of Denethor. The books portray Denethor's downfall as a more gradual, subtle process. He certainly doesn't abandon hope until A) Faramir is wounded by the Nazgul dart, and, B) he uses the palantir to see the black-sailed ships coming up the river. His portrayal in the movies is ridiculous--there's no way he would send Faramir on a suicide mission, and it destroys the point of his character to portray him as both an incompetent strategist and an uncaring father.
*The above add up to turn Gondor into a caricature of itself. Instead of an experienced empire fighting the Shadow on many fronts (Pippin watches major fortifications before the siege), we get the picture of a few knights holed up in a mountain castle who can't defend themselves ('get the women and children out of the first ring.' Well, if you overlook the fact that they were sent to safety long before the siege...).
*Elrond's trip made no sense as well. Aragorn's kin coming not only sets up important developments later, but having Elrond abandon Rivendell simply doesn't make sense. He keeps one of the Three Rings, and knows that battles will be breaking out all over the North. Leaving his people is highly implausible, as is even getting through so many war zones. The whole 'Arwen dying' subplot, needless to say, was ridiculously stupid. I wouldn't have had any problem with an expanded role for Arwen if she had actually DONE anything, but there was really no point to expanding her role for what we got.
*The Dead. I can accept seeing them upfront rather than in a flashback. But having them come to Minis Tirith completely negates the point of the sacrifice of the Rohirrim. A ghost zombie army (like a mutant tree army) only gets to be used once, not over and over. Why not just have the Dead storm Mordor, if you're going to break the rules?
*The Last Debate was another missed opportunity, with the accompanying moral dilemmas of risk, gamble, and strategy.
*Most of the Frodo/Sam/Gollum interaction I found wearisome and implausible. It's better in the books, but I won't go into detail because it's been too long since I watched the movie.
*Sam's hasty rescue of Frodo from the Orcs didn't make sense, because certain things weren't put in context. A) The Orcs were fighting each other, in part over Frodo, and B) Sam used the Ring to slip in unseen. Neither of those points were established, leaving the impression that the Orcs started killing each other for no reason, and Sam killed the rest with no trouble. The rest of the trip to Mount Doom was handled with similar lack of plausibility, in what should have been some of the most moving and haunting scenes of despair in the movies.
*The scene at the Cracks, complete with the invisible fight, probably wasn't supposed to look as comical as it did. Bad flashbacks to the Yoda thing.
*And, of course, the various wrapups managed to misfire several times, in part because of the lack of adequate groundwork before. The multiple denouements in the books (including the Scouring) felt natural, because there were so many important plot points to resolve. In the movie, since the importance of so many of those key events hadn't been established, the multiple endings weren't as powerful, and left the movie open to mockery by those who didn't know why, if anything, the endings were too short.
So, though I left the theater feeling impressed by the special effects and such, the more I thought about the movie, the more angry I got at how sloppily so many key points were portrayed. The LOTR movies certainly deserve great praise. But, sadly, I am left with the forlorn hope that in 40 or 50 years someone will come back and do the job that, rather than being 'not wholly vain,' completely lives up to Tolkien's vision.