27 February 2012

Minor note. And one less minor

The All-Star Game was vastly more entertaining, particularly at the end of the game, than watching a collection of nostalgic films pat themselves on the back repeatedly. I still haven't seen A Separation, or Melancholia, but otherwise, I think we should just admit to ourselves that movies in general had a bad year. (Other than my aforementioned pleasant experience with Dragon Tattoo).

I do think however that nostalgia is an overriding cultural feeling in America, and that celebrating it might have been worthwhile economically. Except that none of the films that were up for awards were celebrating anything that Americans are nostalgic for. The closest to that nostalgia was probably Captain America, so far as I can tell. And not silent films, movie making, France, WWI, or campy 9-11 movies. It's possible that the "gone with the wind" level idiocy of treatment of the 60s era (1960s instead of 1860s) was something that Americans were nostalgic for (the Help), in the sense that we get to tell ourselves that are a good and noble people and that Southerners were (or are) not. Otherwise, I'm not sure I get the movies up there as servicing the public's desire for nostalgia. Glenn Beck, for all his many faults, did a far better job of this than anything Hollywood nominated because we (Americans, if not human beings) seem to prefer whitewashing out the blemishes of our misremembered past and covering ourselves in glory whilst pretending that our futures are bound to be less innovative and noble than our days gone by. 

As far as the influence of nostalgia on society more generally however, I think this argument:

is persuasive that it is the weird nostalgia for a particular version of "traditional marriage" as that practiced by our parents or grandparents, generationally speaking, is what "we" want. That "we" being the sorts of people who oppose gay marriage. There are several interesting responses to this line of logic then.
1) Marriage has itself undergone a dramatic set of changes over time. We don't accept polygamous arrangements as valid now. We don't tend to allow younger people to get married, nor use it for the explicit purpose of child-bearing. We don't use it principally as a means of transferring property, nor as treating women as property for arranging alliances over other forms of property, or power, to be transferred. These are in fact, relatively recent innovations in marriages, that they are to be used with a normative purpose of having two people who are generally emotionally committed to each other to express that commitment in the form of a marriage ceremony and contract.
2) That we use it now for that purpose, it makes no sense that we don't allow adult individuals to commit to one another simply because we, as outsiders, disapprove of their affections. If their friends and/or families observe their affections approvingly, why do the rest of us care? Does it not strengthen this nostalgic version to allow and encourage more people to marry people of their own choice and to satisfy important pair-bonding elements like sexual preference? Taking this to a logical absurdity, would it make sense to require people to marry other people they found sexually repulsive or even physically hideous because we, as outsider observers, found those people more acceptable mates for them? Preferences for local knowledge should be at the center of a liberal democracy's success wherever possible and it thus seems utterly ridiculous that we are using central control to overturn individual peoples most basic private decisions in this case.
3) That the "bigot" level of disgust or dismay at homosexual's marriage or even sexual preferences are generally diminishing by both the decrease of aged persons and their attitudes toward homosexuality in our societies and the increase in experiences of (generally younger) heterosexual persons who know and are genuinely tolerant of the (private) lives of their homosexual counterparts.
4) That the argument then must ultimately rest upon some factual assertion that it is these post Victorian/Suffrage era 1920-1960s version of marriages are either a) worthy of preservation for reasons beyond mere nostalgic attachment and served some vital social function that is currently abandoned (presumably things like the raising of children or social welfare goods that are otherwise required to be public goods) and b) is being in some way weakened and diminished or damaged by extending basic rights and privileges associated with them to others that were or are previously prevented (as we did by allowing people to marry inter-racially for instance). There are very few, if any, factual assertions that can be raised for either of these arguments that it is homosexuals that have destroyed this version of marriage. There are other grounds that can be argued upon, relating to general social shifts and cultural attitudes toward marriage as a practice as opposed to a ceremony (whereby our society seems to prefer and laud the ceremony to the practice), changes in divorce laws, and so on. But none of these seem to have very much to do with whether or not gays may marry each other.
5) Further, if the argument is to rest upon some sort of child-bearing and child raising stance, there are various problems with this as a basis of marriage. First, the argument against adoption likewise ultimately turns on the grounds of evidence. It by far strikes the empirical world as a bald-faced lie to claim things like children are better off with a father or parent in prison or jail than to have two loving adults care for them (as Rick Santorum implies) simply because those adults are of the same gender. Evidence of childhood outcomes would cut against such an inference and the implication of the argument should be that any two adults willing to raise a child together and in reasonable possession of their full mental and physical faculties should be permitted and encouraged to do so, including two homosexual adults, two non-married heterosexual adults, and so on.

Secondly, that we allow and support publicly various marriages that are privately occupied without any indication or ability for child-bearing (re-marriages by the elderly for instance or the infertile), and make no requirement that a marriage must bear children and must cooperate to raise them to adulthood. That's not part of the contract, nor the ideal basis. It could be inferred that two younger people who care for each other in an emotional and psychological sense would likely find some pleasure in producing and raising a child or two (or more). But we make no promise that they must. Why, if the premise of marriage is thus, do we make no social effort to establish requirements of such things, or why do we not absolve people of their marital duties through contracts and vows when they have raised children to adulthood and are no longer physically able to produce more children of their own?
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