Ab Hominem Arguments

by John Holbo on November 26, 2004

Keith Burgess-Jackson responds to Chris’ post. "What’s interesting (and ironic) is that nobody at the site engaged my
argument. In the insular world of liberalism, argumentation is
unnecessary. One mocks conservatives; one doesn’t engage their
arguments." OK, obviously the dogs voting thing wasn’t the man’s argument, so it was very unfair for Chris to seize on that. The argument goes like this: "Some disappointed pundits have said that this [voter rejection of gay marriage] reflects bigotry. No. It
reflects intelligence. The other day, Pat Caddell said that homosexual
“marriage” isn’t a conservative/liberal issue. It’s an
intelligence/stupidity issue. I agree. I have said in this blog many
times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is
why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks."

So the argument is: supporters of gay marriage are stupid? Or: some guy says homosexual marriage is incoherent? (How could some guy be wrong, after all? Makes no sense.)

Let’s take the first. Supporters of gay marriage are stupid. What sort of argument is that? (And why would any supporter of gay marriage think that it was OK to short-curcuit the argument process by mocking arguments like this?) Let’s consider this philosophical authority on ‘how to argue’: all arguments are either deductive or inductive. Well, the statement in question is neither, since both deductive and inductive arguments require at least one premise and a conclusion, I should think. Here we have, well, just a statement. Reading on we make a little more progress:

All argumentation, to be effective,
must be ad hominem in nature. The term “ad hominem” has two very different uses in philosophy. They must not be confused. You have probably heard of the ad hominem
fallacy. (A fallacy is an argument that
is psychologically attractive but logically infirm; it seems like a good
argument, but isn’t.) This fallacy
consists in dismissing someone’s argument on the ground that he or she is a bad
person (a Marxist, for example, or a goddamned Democrat). This is clearly fallacious, for bad people
can make good arguments and good people bad arguments.  One cannot transfer goodness or badness from
arguers to arguments any more than one can transfer goodness or badness from
politicians to policies. Even Hitler
was capable of making, and probably did make, a sound argument.

The other use of the term “ad hominem
has nothing to do with fallacies. Indeed, it describes a respectable mode of argumentation. According to the British philosopher John
Locke (1632-1704), “A third way [to persuade] is, to press a Man with Consequences
drawn from his own Principles, or Concessions. This is already known under the Name of Argumentum ad Hominem” (An
Essay Concerning Human Understanding,
book IV, chap. XVII, sec. 21). Let us unpack this. People (most of them, anyway) have
principles. Principles have implications. If I can show you that your principle
commits you to belief B, then I force you to either embrace B or abandon your
principle. Yes, this is coercive. All argumentation is coercive. It is the imposition of a choice by one
person on another. In the example
given, I tell you that you cannot have both your principle and your belief that
non-B (or your nonbelief in B, if you are merely agnostic about it). You can’t both have your cake and eat it.

To summarize, the ad hominem
fallacy is an attack on a person. It is disreputable and disrespectful. Don’t do it. The argumentum
ad hominem
is an appeal to (i.e., an argument directed to) a
person (rather than to the world at large). It is reputable, respectful,and respectable. Do not confuse the two.

OK, there are good ad hominem arguments and bad ad hominem arguments. The bad consist of calling people bad (or goddamn Democrats.) It seems to me plausible that ‘supporters of gay marriage are stupid’ – if that is your whole argument – qualifies as a bad ad hominem argument. (My argument to this conclusion requires the additional premise that being stupid is commonly regarded as bad.) A good ad hominem argument will sting an interlocutor with his or her own principles. For example, if someone wanted to argue, say, that gay marriage was bad (or incoherent), a good ad hominem counter-argument might be built upon that person’s own commitment to offering at least some deductive or inductive considerations in favor of that conclusion (were there evidence that the person in question was committed to arguments being either deductive or inductive, e.g. not purely abusive or some silliness about voting dogs.)

In all seriousness, in tut-tutting Chris & co. for failing to address his argument, I think Keith Burgess-Jackson is failing to notice the use of an ab hominem – or ‘just walk away’ – style of argument. (Closely related but distinct from peri hominem argument, often employed by Kierkegaard to get around Hegel.) By making jokes about how dogs might actually be capable of voting, about puppies shooting people, Chris and his commenters were doing the dialectically rigorous thing. Until such time as a person shows willing to engage in argument, either deductive or inductive, ‘just walk away’ is the proper argumentative approach. A little judicious mockery never hurt either. [UPDATE: Belle informs me that, since it is obviously the ablative, it should be ab homine argument.]

In that spirit, I offer the following counter-argument to the ‘argument’ against gay marriage contained in Keith Burgess-Jackson’s original post.

Today a student walked into my office and said, ‘So who is this Don Knotts guy?’

In an attempt to buy time, I did my best Obi Wan. ‘Don Knotts? Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.’

This student, a Singaporean film buff – really, he knows everything; just brimming with trivia and facts – was extremely disturbed to discover that there was this famous American actor, who had made many movies, all of which are quite unknown to my student.  He had visited IMDb and was maddened by the length of titles. I stammered out some wisdom about how, yes, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was regarded as his finest work after leaving The Andy Griffith Show. Movies from my youth: Hot Lead and Cold Feet. The Apple Dumpling Gang. I explained that I hadn’t seen earlier works like No Time For Sergeants, so couldn’t comment authoritativevly. ‘But why are you asking these questions, my son?’

It turned out he’d seen this, which I hadn’t seen. It’s incredibly funny. Really well done.

All by way of saying: if you’ve got an argument, out with it. You can’t really expect people to respond to all this stuff about voting dogs. Which reminds me of a scene from The Shaggy D.A. Also of an old Bill Cosby sketch, oddly enough. Which just goes to show that I am brimming with ammunition for perfectly sound ab hominem arguments. Best then to offer deductive or inductive arguments. In short, are there any considerations that make the conclusion ‘gay marriage is bad (or incoherent)’ probably or necessarily true?

[File this post with my old one about ad hominid arguments, i.e. bad evolutionary psychology arguments that just make up a bunch of stuff about how it was ‘back in caveman days.’]

{ 102 comments }

1

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 4:39 pm

Wull…all that’s what I would have said a few minutes ago on that other thread, instead of what I did say, if, um, I’d thought of it.

Well except for the Don Knotts part, because nobody’s asked me about him lately.

2

KCinDC 11.26.04 at 4:49 pm

Shouldn’t peri hominem be circum hominem?

3

jholbo 11.26.04 at 4:56 pm

I depends how you read Kierkegaard, I suppose. But I see your point, kcindc.

4

Doctor Slack 11.26.04 at 5:57 pm

Of course Burgess-Jackson offered no real argument. And of course he knows this, and he knows that you know it.

I think of this as the David Horowitz Gambit. It goes in four basic stages:

1. Make a patently ridiculous assertion that consists, basically, of nothing more than name-calling couched in pseudo-intellectual snark. Design it to be maximally crude and offensive. (In his original post, BJ’s implication that gays and dogs have equivalent cognitive capacities — at least viz. marriage — wasn’t an unintentional misstep, it was the point. Faggots Are Animals.)

2. When someone makes an effort to engage with your attempt at provocation, dismiss them as a close-minded member of the liberal elite, and everyone knows how those liberal elites love name-calling. (Projection is the key to this step. Lay on, as thick as you can, pre-emptive accusations against your opponent of doing precisely what you are doing.) This, naturally, makes you an Intellectual Maverick bravely tilting against overwhelming odds; good Heritage Foundation material.

3. Lather, rinse and repeat step 2 for every patient attempt to explain to you that you didn’t, in fact, provide an argument in the initial instance. The more patient and erudite those attempts are, the more leverage you have to mock them. (“Look at these smug liberals talking about Kierkegaard. I notice they still haven’t addressed me original argument, which was totally airtight! So when are they going to address it? It’ll be a cold day in hell…”)

4. Whenever you get tired of repeating stage 3, declare victory and return to a variant of your “argument” in stage 1. (“Look, when I say gay marriage is an intelligence – stupidity issue, what I mean is that gays marrying is like chimps taking the SAT… and what does that say about liberals? Jack Pimpernel from the Institute for Sophisticated Gay-bashing agrees.”)

The best way to feed into the Gambit is to treat these people like they’re at all interested in debating with you in good faith. They aren’t. BJ announced this with his initial broadside.

5

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 6:10 pm

Yeah. Swhat I said, in my pre-Kierkegaardian way. He’s got considerable gall (or chutzpah, as we say around the high table) complaining about those pesky liberals at CT mocking instead of addressing his argument. The dog thing wasn’t mockery? Rilly?

6

Matt McGrattan 11.26.04 at 6:26 pm

Leaving aside the total absence of an argument for his claim that gay marriage is like dogs voting, he also says (talking of whether he ought to respond to the criticism here):

“Does Peter Singer respond to even 1% of his critics? Did John Rawls? If they did, they’d never get any work done. David Hume didn’t respond to any critics.”

He’s modest, eh? Notice the company he places himself in.

7

abb1 11.26.04 at 6:29 pm

To be fair, I think there is an argument there, even is clumsily expressed (with the dogs voting and stuff). The argument is this: the word ‘marriage’ traditionally has been reserved for a long-term union between one male and one female with the main purpose of procreation. Therefore the phrase ‘gay marriage’ is self-contradictory, an oxymoron. This certainly is an argument – trivial semantical argument. It could be addressed by suggesting a different word or by noting that meanings of words evolve (like the word ‘liberation’, for example). But it also deserves to be ridiculed because of the way this trivial and insignificant point being asserted as something crucially important. IMO.

8

dsquared 11.26.04 at 6:31 pm

I would have simply pointed out that while we hadn’t engaged with his arguments, it was also true to say that he hadn’t engaged with our name-calling.

9

Matt McGrattan 11.26.04 at 6:36 pm

Abb1:

Yes, there is that, of course but it’s not much of an argument.

Would he be happy for homosexuals to marry — with all the legal entitlements that entails — if we called it schmarriage instead, I wonder?

10

mg 11.26.04 at 6:40 pm

(like the word ‘liberation’, for example)

Indeed, although why go that far to find an example? The word “marriage” would serve just as well… (“Say we prohibit polygamy, and then, since the word “marriage” will have no meaning at all, maybe we’ll permit gay marriage?!” Great argument; shame there were no blogs then to chew on it)

11

rob 11.26.04 at 6:48 pm

I always find it quite interesting when conservatives appeal to the value of reason, because I thought that the point of conservatism (after the enlightenment at least) was to show that reason was a bad idea. Burke’s critique, insofar as he had a critique rather than an extended stream of extremely flowery rhetorical abuse, of Paine was that reason distanced us from our lives, alienated us. Maybe that means name-calling is acceptable for conservatives. Anyway, it just seems a bit weird, since a substanial part of what distinguishes them is that they don’t believe in reason (at least in the same way that liberals traditionally do).

12

Blogesota 11.26.04 at 6:48 pm

[the word ‘marriage’ traditionally has been reserved for a long-term union between one male and one female with the main purpose of procreation]

It depends on how you define “long-term”. There’s no obligation to remain married for a long period of time. Marriages are routinely annulled and dissolved after very short periods of time have passed. I understand that the intention is for a lifetime committment, but fulfillment of that committment is the exception, not the rule. 50% divorce rate, 50% infidelity.

I would also argue with the idea that marriage has the purpose of procreation. Obviously, marriage is irrelevant to biology. People reproduce whether they get married or not.

The primary purpose of marriage is the transfer of property. The property belonging to both parties separately becomes the property of both together.

Romantic notions about marriage and family are recent inventions. In the pre-modern past, people got married for survival. In order for your farm to prosper, you needed hands that you didn’t have to pay (children). In order to eat, someone had to make your food for you (wives). In order to keep property out of the hands of the lords, you had to have inheritance (children again).

The core of the pro-gay marriage argument refers to property, not romance. Gays are concerned about spousal benefits, child custody (yes, they are property, I’m afraid!), visitation rights, etc. Gay couples will be gay couples whether there is legal marriage or not.

13

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 6:52 pm

Dang, the cognitive dissonance just keeps getting worse.

“Several people have written in the past few hours to tell me that there’s a reply to my posts about homosexual “marriage” somewhere in cyberspace, the implication being that I’m obligated to respond to it. I don’t have time to respond to every critic, much less the uncharitable ones, much less the nasty ones…My rule is simple: Reply only to those who are personable…When I read something, including e-mail, I stop reading as soon as the author gets sarcastic or insulting. If you want me to read your prose, you must be kind and respectful. Is that too much to ask?”

And yet he compares gays marrying to dogs voting. Sorry to keep flailing away at the blindingly obvious, but is he serious? Does he really not think that’s insulting and sarcastic? Does he not get that his own resort to insult and sarcasm is precisely what’s at issue?

Oh never mind.

14

ed_finnerty 11.26.04 at 7:03 pm

Blogesota

I don’t think this is the case. The core of the gay marriage arguement as it was argued at the Supreme Court in Canada was that they wanted the word not just the form. They felt having an identical form with a different name e.g. civil unions was discriminatory. Think separate but equal as a reference

15

Doctor Slack 11.26.04 at 7:03 pm

“Sorry to keep flailing away at the blindingly obvious, but is he serious? “

Nope, he’s not. I think he’s bright enough to know that he’s in no position to be nattering about who’s “uncharitable” and “nasty,” he’s just dishonest. Or maybe he has enough vestigial self-respect that he’s actually not up to defending that original post.

16

Barry 11.26.04 at 7:10 pm

Ophelia, that’s the projection. Start with insults, and accuse the liberals of being the insulters.

17

Henry 11.26.04 at 7:18 pm

From what I’ve seen in the past, Burgess-Jackson is a bit of a weirdo, and an inveterate troller for links – harmless, all in all, but not to be taken seriously. I made the mistake of engaging in debate with him once by email; he started posting more and more vitriolic stuff on his blog, accusing me of this or that liberal sin, and sending me email updates to let me know when he’d done it. Eventually, I got a little tired of this, and politely asked him to stop sending me emails, as I wasn’t finding his posts interesting – he sent back a pretty surly email in reply, telling me that he’d start taking me seriously when I got a tenured position in an US university (I was in University of Toronto at the time). Ad hominems how are ya. I get the sense (could be wrong) that he doesn’t get alll that many visitors to his blog in the normal course of affairs, and that trying to get liberals and lefties all het up is his way of trying to attract some traffic.

18

Henry 11.26.04 at 7:21 pm

From what I’ve seen in the past, Burgess-Jackson is a bit of a weirdo, and an inveterate troller for links – harmless, all in all, but not to be taken seriously. I made the mistake of engaging in debate with him once by email; he started posting more and more vitriolic stuff on his blog, accusing me of this or that liberal sin, and sending me email updates to let me know when he’d done it. Eventually, I got a little tired of this, and politely asked him to stop sending me emails, as I wasn’t finding his posts interesting – he sent back a pretty surly email in reply, telling me that he’d start taking me seriously when I got a tenured position in an US university (I was in University of Toronto at the time). Ad hominems how are ya. I get the sense (could be wrong) that he doesn’t get alll that many visitors to his blog in the normal course of affairs, and that trying to get liberals and lefties all het up is his way of trying to attract some traffic.

19

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 7:24 pm

Yeah, that’s the conclusion I’ve just been coming to in a comment I’m doing for B&W. It’s the only defense he can think of. He would do a lot better just to admit that that analogy was a bad idea, cop to it, and start over. What he’s doing now just makes him look silly and evasive as well as nasty.

(It’s funny, a reader at B&W accused me of being too uncharitable, and I said I could believe it was a mistake rather than malicious – that he was trying to be amusing and slightly provocative but not as insulting as a dog comparison in fact is. He could have just said that. But no. So, okay, he stands by it, so forget the charitable reading.)

20

dsquared 11.26.04 at 7:25 pm

If you want me to read your prose, you must be kind and respectful. Is that too much to ask?”

As I always remark in response to this kind of prissiness, bad news for Socrates, Dr Johnson, Dean Swift, Churchill, etc.

21

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 7:30 pm

And Hazlitt, e.g. in the immortal Letter to Gifford for one. But the trouble is, most of us aren’t Swift or Hazlitt; we just sound like Burgess-Jackson. Not a pleasant outcome.

My ‘Yeah’ etc above was in reply to the post before Henry’s; I crossed. (I guess I’m falling into B-J’s trap then. But it’s hard to resist…)

22

Shai 11.26.04 at 7:34 pm

I can see that being the case. A lot of the stuff on his site seems pretty reasonable.

that uoftoronto ad hominem is funny if you apply it to his field, philosophy. i don’t see uoftexas arlington on the list at philosophical gourmet, and toronto is pretty respectable.

23

Shai 11.26.04 at 7:39 pm

and burgess jackson wrote the other day about how wonderful a philosopher Ian Hacking is. until his retirement this year he had been at the University of Toronto at the IHPST

24

Pedro 11.26.04 at 7:50 pm

The argument seems to be:

Premise 1: Dogs are not made for voting.

Conclusion: By analogy, gays are not made for marriage.

What sort of argument is that? Or is the premise already that gays are not made for marriage? In that case, the argument is circular. In other words, there is no argument.

25

bellatrys 11.26.04 at 8:36 pm

oh gyah, this “marriage has traditionally been a one man/one woman religious institution” crap – not in my bible. There’s one man, and all the women he can afford, some of whom have more legal standing than others (ditto their offspring), as standard through the OT which they love to reference – and there’s no indication that marriage itself was a religious ceremony rather than a political-economic contract between two houses, only Catholicism calls it a sacrament (not that that changes much except for the propaganda of the meat-for-sex arrangement), and that’s the way it is for most of human history all around the world.

Rome? Check. Medieval Europe? Check. Catholic Louisiana? Check. Victorian England? Check. The Nifty Fifties? Check…

Or–

Pop Quiz: identify which Genesis characters are described in these phrases:

a) One Man, One Woman, One Head of State, One More Head of State.

b) One Man, One Woman, One Slave Girl, Two Sons, Endless Internecine Conflict.

c) One Man, Two Women, Two Slave Girls, Thirteen Children, Twelve Tribes.

d) Two Men, One Widow, One Father-in-Law, One Pregnancy, One Embarrassing Family Scandal, One Royal Dynasty, One Messiah.

Then there’s more fun later on, with:

e) One Woman, One Half-Brother, One Full Brother’s Vengeance Eventually Encompassing Unnumbered Stepmothers.

You could argue more plausibly that poly and surrogate parenting are the *proper* forms of marriage, going by the Old Testament, than that “one man/one woman” is the norm. St. Augustine did, in fact – he thought that sex was intrinsically corrupted by hedonism, but also that harems were the natural state for mankind, and only the fact that we shouldn’t really be thinking about fleshly lusts given the immanent end of the world made the one-on-one traditions and dicta make sense, from a sociological standpoint. (That was a bit of an eye-opener, when I read it. For obvious reasons the conservatives who tout Augustine kind of overlook that bit, the way they brush past the fact that Aquinas didn’t think abortion was an issue.)

26

Philosopher 11.26.04 at 8:39 pm

Argument is stupid.

27

abb1 11.26.04 at 9:23 pm

It doesn’t matter what St. Augustine thought about the meaning of ‘marriage’. What matters is what a typical US Mid-Western hick thinks about it, or, rather, how he feels about it.

If the average Mid-Western hick feels that the word ‘marriage’ means ‘one man/one woman institution’ then this is what it means.

It’s quite possible that 30 years from now Mid-Western hicks feel differently or, maybe, there will be so few of them that it’ll be irrelevant what they feel and then the definition of marriage will be different, perhaps even unrecognizably different; but today it is what it is, that’s a fact of life and there is nothing you can do about it.

28

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 9:35 pm

Of course there are things we can do about it. We can argue, talk, discuss, post, debate, write.

Minds and attitudes do change over time, even deeply entrenched ones.

29

Doctor Slack 11.26.04 at 9:41 pm

Ahh, looks like KBJ is still in stage three. I wonder how many more namecalling-about-“namecalling” posts he has left in him…

30

Shai 11.26.04 at 10:15 pm

The Analphilosopher says, presumably in reference to this site:

“Those of you who don’t work or study at a university may not know what goes on there. See here for an example of academic discourse. It’s snide, sneering, condescending, smug, and personal.”

a rather tenuous claim under normal conditions, and a little odd coming from someone who has claimed that conservatism is the philosophy of grownups in the course of admitting that he was once young and stupid, i.e. “liberal”

“These are the equivalent of punks on a street corner. Their sole objective is to impress each other with their wit, their loyalty to the liberal cause, and their animosity toward outsiders (read: conservatives).”

a person in a reasonable state of mind would have responded with a description of what he thought was missed, misconstrued, or misunderstood about his argument or the background knowledge or philosophy that motivated it.

the “solely to impress each other with their wit” claim is also more than a little ridiculous; at the minimum the response was jointly caused by the offensive statement of the author. which by the way is rare in an average class environment, therefore explaining the tenuous nature of the first claim.

“I call them liberal punks. They’re a dime a dozen on college campuses. They wouldn’t last a minute in a real job.”

first an assumption about the composition of commenters, in addition to insensitivity to differences in politics multiply demonstrated by frequent claims on the web site, not at all helpful to the accusation of insularity (and by the way, many of us would find the exemplars of “liberals” on your site equally distasteful and badly argued); contrast this with Eugene Volokh, who is more convincing to those who tend to disagree in part because he doesn’t employ the method of outrage.

But we can’t all live up to that ideal, and therefore it is totally reasonable to sometimes be vitriolic, out of catharsis or whatever. but accept that answering in kind will have one result, and being reasonable another. hence, this thread.

31

Shai 11.26.04 at 10:43 pm

and may I suggest until demonstrated otherwise that the original argument was simply an artifact of other (geniunely interesting) discussions about the moral status of animals on his site. (leaving an explanation of Henry’s experience dangling, but anyway…)

32

Ophelia Benson 11.26.04 at 10:56 pm

“and may I suggest until demonstrated otherwise that the original argument was simply an artifact of other (geniunely interesting) discussions about the moral status of animals on his site.”

Ah? A B&W reader told me that, too. So why doesn’t B-J say that? (Well, he’s said why, because like Hume and Rawls he doesn’t have time. But he does have time to post repeatedly about ad hominems and liberal punks. Oookay.)

33

Doctor Slack 11.26.04 at 11:07 pm

“and may I suggest until demonstrated otherwise that the original argument was simply an artifact of other (geniunely interesting) discussions about the moral status of animals on his site.”

Let’s be real: how likely is this? KBJ has had any number of chances to earn the benefit of the doubt on this score, and has used all of them to complain about what awful meanies those “liberals punks” are. (He could, for instance, have responded to Richard Chapelle’s post on Philosophy, Etc., which tries to excavate what his “argument” might be at some length.)

34

A Scott Crawford 11.26.04 at 11:18 pm

Here’s two links to sites on logical fallacies:

http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html#index

The question of gay marriage, or rather the debate over the issue, is confused by a lack of clear definition of “marriage”, or at least the (contestable) claim that the commonly understood defintions of the term are discriminatory. Lacking a clear definition, both sides of the debate tend to indulge in ‘question begging’, each assuming their own particular understanding of the term “marriage” as axiomatic, either on traditional or social grounds, or else on purely secular or categorical grounds.

Additionally, the debate is much broader than a simple disagreement over definition, as in essence a disagreement is over the nature and relationship between the polis and individual members, as well as between the authority of the members of one polis to determine the laws of a different polis. This includes the question as to whether it is appropriate for contentious political subjects to be determined by the Federal government at all, or whether said subjects should be referred back to individual electorates whenever possible.

The last point I’d like to make is that the vast majority of legal and political philosophy is inductive, rather than deductive, by nature. This means that although political rhetoric is reduced to simple “pro-con” positions, the reality of almost all debates is otherwise. In truth, political arguments are really a matter of the relative inductive strength or weakness of conflicting socio-political claims. In a collective there is only a general consensus because individual members never assign exactly the same weight to a given inductive argument. This is the nature of collective political organization: at times members must either, a) agree to disagree; or b) fight; or c) leave the polis.

35

kevin donoghue 11.26.04 at 11:27 pm

“…and may I suggest until demonstrated otherwise that the original argument was simply an artifact of other (geniunely interesting) discussions about the moral status of animals on his site.”

Indeed; consider this, for example:

“Len’s professed concern for innocent Iraqis rings hollow when he blithely inflicts terrible pain and suffering on innocent animals for his gustatory pleasure. And please, Len, don’t say that animals aren’t innocent. What are they, guilty? Animals are innocent in the same sense in which Iraqi children are innocent.”

If you want to see the reply of KB-J’s co-blogger Len Carrier, tough luck; KB-J deleted all his posts when he turned their group blog on the Ethics of War into his solo blog.

http://animalethics.blogspot.com/2004_07_01_animalethics_archive.html

36

Tim Lambert 11.27.04 at 1:39 am

Ah, KBJ. On his blog he wrote:

First, studies by law professor John Lott and others show that private gun-ownership reduces crime rates. This may be counterintuitive, but it’s true. There would be more crime than there is if guns were banned.

In an attempt to set him straight, I emailed him and pointed out that Lott’s studies had been refuted by better and more extensive work by Ayres and Donohue and gave him a link to my comments on Lott. Instead of responding to any of the points I made, he replied:

You sound like a gun-hater.

I wrote back: “You are mistaken. Do you care whether your claims are true or not?” Burgess-Jackson replied:

I have more faith in John Lott than I do in you, that’s for sure.

37

pedro 11.27.04 at 3:55 am

If “you sound like a gun-hater” is deemed an adecquate response to Tim’s ideas, I frankly don’t understand all KBJ’s whining about liberal sneering and elitism.

38

cbl 11.27.04 at 4:33 am

“Argument is stupid.”

No it’s not.

39

Shai 11.27.04 at 5:17 am

haha. ok I take that back.

40

Chris 11.27.04 at 5:52 am

Notice how Burgess-Jackson has refused (openly) to actually comment on any of the posts that do engage his “argument,” including the one that Chris linked from the original CT post! If you wanted to know anything about his character, that should tell you all you need to know.

41

Bucky 11.27.04 at 7:02 am

With all due respect to the scholars and academics who’ve expended so much energy on and around the topic, the political event that’s at the heart of this issue was the vehement denunciation of legalized homosexual marriage by non-scholastic non-academics – it was a decision taken emotionally, or psychologically, not by reasoned contemplation. Intellectual accuracy and consistency doesn’t have much to do with it.
Whatever forms marriage has had over the millenia it is centered on children, on the production and nurturing of children. It was and is a formalized, societally-sanctioned arrangement. It’s been co-opted, redesigned, reduced, expanded, weaseled and bronzed, but until very recently the idea that it had to do with children primarily was obvious and seemingly permanent.
Now, though, marriage is a contract between two consumers who retail themselves to each other. Children are an aftermarket add-on, an accoutrement, another consumer choice – secondary, no longer primary.
The counter-suggestion that was burbling around the Kerry campaign, of legally binding contracts – “civil unions” – is probably the best solution to the contractual aspect, but the underlying issue – the only one that the average American is really concerned about – is children and their rearing.
We live in a time that sees the complete negation of the primacy of organic biology by scientific technology. Children can be made outside the womb, produced from two cells from the same person, (or one I suppose – if not now, tomorrow). In a cunning sleight-of-hand the real fear engendered by that Frankensteinian/Promethean end-run was diverted toward the relatively defenseless and politically powerless gay community.
As far as this issue in this election the flames were fanned behnd the scenes, the electorate was polarized and the larger side won, regardless of the moral niceties.
The people whose majority vote rejected gay marriage are confused and afraid, and they have every reason to be. They’ve been misled, lied to, tricked, conned, seduced and fast-talked; and they can sense the unravelling of the social cohesion that their lives, and more especially their children’s lives, depend on.
The people, most of them, who advocated gay marriage are concerned with enfranchising what they see as an unjustly persecuted minority, legally recognizing the humanity of the disenfranchised.
Fixing the larger and more diffuse conflict on gay marriage as an issue meant that the unifying strengths of both sides – the legitimate compassion of one and the protective concern of the other – was dissipated into antagonism and antipathy, and the people further polarized.
This keeps happening. It’s hard to believe it’s accidental.

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John N 11.27.04 at 7:19 am

There is another form of logical fallacy masquerading as a real argument. That is the move that a reductionistic explanation of some event carries some presumption of validity. So we have “marriage is really about procreation” or “marriage is really for passing on property.” Since these explanations reduce a multi-dimensional event to something using ‘lower’ motives or reason, it is considered a proof or an argument.

But its not, its simply an assertion.

Full-blown notions of romantic love may be ‘modern’ (assuming literature from the middle-ages can be considered modern) but joining on the basis of sexual attraction is certainly not modern. In any case, the desire of gays to be together in a public commitment with legal implications is rather similar to the desires of many straight couples.

Childlessness is rather more common among heterosexuals than supposed. Is the argument that if you don’t have children your straight marriage is ‘incoherent’ and you are like a dog?

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Robert Gressis 11.27.04 at 9:03 am

Bucky’s argument is similar to the most plausible argument against the government sanction of gay marriage that I’ve heard. It goes like this: marriage is about lots of things: love, companionship, the rearing of children, etc. However, the most important function of marriage (and of course, this is a value-judgment, although one that I suppose could be argued for) is to provide a stable environment for children. However, people have begun to think that the primary purpose of a marriage is to publicly celebrate one person’s love for another. The problem with this view of what is important about marriage is that it makes marriage more unstable: if marriage is mainly about romantic love, then if I no longer love you, there’s no reason to stay married to you. So, a loveless marriage is one without its fundamental reason for being. How does homosexuality relate to this? Well, some of the main reasons advocates of homosexual marriage have been giving have to do with the love that two gay people can have for one another. Obviously, a gay man can love his husband just as much as a straight man can love his wife. Given this, it’s unfair to discriminate against gays and deny them the right to marry one another. Unfortunately, if people permit state-sanctioned gay marriages for that reason, it’s only going to further cement in people’s minds the view that marriage is primarily about love rather than caring for one’s children (note: advocates of this argument claim that it’s important to have a two-parent environment in which to raise children because children of broken homes tend to do worse socio-economically later in life; I don’t know whether that’s true, but that’s what I’ve heard).

I’m not convinced by this argument–I’m for allowing gay marriage–but it’s the closest one to offering a reason that I’ve heard.

44

Oral Philosopher 11.27.04 at 9:42 am

You people don’t get it, do you?

Keef Burgis Jacksoff is the ultimate troll and everybody took his bait. He fully deserves the title of Master Baiter.

45

enthymeme 11.27.04 at 12:05 pm

Mr Mcgrattan,

Would he be happy for homosexuals to marry — with all the legal entitlements that entails — if we called it schmarriage instead, I wonder?

No, he wouldn’t. He’s taking a substantive position, not a semantical one. His legal position is more nuanced, however: he would acquiesce to states deciding the issue for themselves if there’s a federal amendment that prevents same-sex marriage being forced on other states via the full faith and credit clause.

blogesota,

The core of the pro-gay marriage argument refers to property, not romance. Gays are concerned about spousal benefits, child custody (yes, they are property, I’m afraid!), visitation rights, etc. Gay couples will be gay couples whether there is legal marriage or not.

As is part of the core of the anti-gay marriage position.

Ms Benson,

It’s funny, a reader at B&W accused me of being too uncharitable, and I said I could believe it was a mistake rather than malicious . . .

I’d agree (with the reader). I think the analogy is unfortunate – but not unreasonable – if read in context, and I’ve explained why in Chris Bertram’s original thread. You didn’t seem to take issue with the explanation then; it seems you do, now – even after the more charitable option was pointed out to you.

Of course there are things we can do about it. We can argue, talk, discuss, post, debate, write.

Of course. But no one has addressed any of the points I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing in the original thread. This is so much lip-service. Only Harry Brighouse (in the original thread) has indicated that yes, it may not be that clear-cut an issue and that yes, there are plausible and serious public policy arguments against gay marriage. Indeed, Mr Mcgrattan seems to think that he is some kind of idiot, and that his opposition to same sex marriage hinges on some verbal quibble. You’re just not serious.

46

abb1 11.27.04 at 12:50 pm

He’s taking a substantive position, not a semantical one.

Hmm, I think it would be hard for you to demonstrate, because he states several times:


What Tuesday’s results show is that Americans are overwhelmingly against changing the traditional understanding of marriage.

…the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent…

I have no idea what the people of Massachusetts would do if presented with the option of redefining “marriage.”

Clearly he views it as a matter semanitcs, the meaning of the word ‘marriage’.

Why, exactly, would he object to homosexual couples being ‘schmarried‘ in the cityhall? Seems to me he should have no objection to that since all his ‘argument’ is built on the the traditional understanding of marriage.

Thanks.

47

jholbo 11.27.04 at 2:04 pm

Enthymeme, seems like a while since we’ve heard from you. (But maybe I’ve just missed your presence in other threads.) Welcome back.

The man’s legal position is more nuanced, to be sure. But it would be logically impossible for it to be any less nuanced than the moral ‘argument’ against gay marriage presented in the post which is the cause of the kerfuffle, which was pure abuse.

It is really this high abuse/no content ratio that has drawn all the subsequent ire and fire. If you just tell your opponents they are stupid, plus a transparently idiotic dog analogy; if you dump that on them, you simply can’t complain if a little gets flicked back your way in the form of mockery of the fact that you aren’t making an argument.

In your response to Chris’ thread you point out that the man has discussed the issue on numerous occasions. Thanks for the links. I clicked on a couple and, although the arguments seem to me very bad, they are members of the genus. Fair enough. But K B-J himself didn’t link to any of this stuff in his own post. If, in response to criticisms, he had admitted that his post was pure abuse – no argument – but that he had arguments on offer elsewhere. Well, that would have been more reasonable. But to keep grouching about how everyone is being mean, when he started it; and to complain about how everyone is ignoring his argument, then not even to offer so much as a link from the post in question to some such argument, seems to me absurd and comic behavior.

He’s like the guy in the argument clinic sketch in the room next door to the place where you can go for an argument. ‘Oh, this is abuse.’ Finding ourselves in this room … well, when in Rome.

And maybe it is worth adding that the man’s actual moral arguments, plus his legal position, clearly show that the dog analogy is worthless. (The point is supposed to be that dogs don’t understand this stuff. But I don’t think even K J-B is going to say that gay people don’t understand how having property rights, visitation rights, that sort of stuff, could be in their interest.)

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Matt McGrattan 11.27.04 at 3:58 pm

Enythmeme:

I have little to add beyond what John Holbo has just said.

K J-B doesn’t offer an explicit argument in the post linked to and under discussion here. Nor does he link to any arguments he may have made elsewhere. It’s possible to read what he says as a weak semantic argument, at best, and only then if one is inclined towards charity.

Contrary to what you say above, there’s nothng substantive there. If you are convinced his dog analogy constitues some kind of substantive claim about gay marriage then I’d be happy for you to enlighten me about what that substantive claim is and be happy to debate the merits of such a claim.

In the absence of any such substantive argument all he’s done is indulge in the drawing of spurious analogies and the calling of names.

It’s particularly rich for you to say that:

“Indeed, Mr Mcgrattan seems to think that he is some kind of idiot, and that his opposition to same sex marriage hinges on some verbal quibble. “

When a) it’s he who has engaged in calling his opponents stupid and b) when his views as expressed in the passage under discussion do consist of nothing more than a verbal quibble.

Pot/kettle/black, etc.

49

Martin Wisse 11.27.04 at 4:01 pm

It’s very simple: if you want to keep gay people from marrying, you are either ignorant or a bigot.

There are no arguments against extending the franchise to gay people.

Period.

50

enthymeme 11.27.04 at 4:01 pm

abb1,

Hmm, I think it would be hard for you to demonstrate . . .

Actually, I attempted to do just that by cribbing his arguments from multiple posts on the subject. For example, the first post I linked to (in the origial thread) is a public policy argument. And I believe he has stated time and again that those who oppose same sex marriage should tie their arguments to the ostensible policy aim of marriage – that of child rearing.

Clearly he views it as a matter semanitcs, the meaning of the word ‘marriage’.

Doesn’t follow.

“What Tuesday’s results show is that Americans are overwhelmingly against changing the traditional understanding of marriage” refers to the traditional understanding of the policy aim of marriage; or to what Americans understand the word to mean. It doesn’t mean that the arguments against gay marriage are semantical ones.

Same deal with the Massachusetts quote.

Same sex marriage is incoherent in the light of what he thinks are the policy aims of the institution. Again, this does not entail that it is a semantical argument. Quite the contrary.

If the government decrees that all nicotine products should be subject to a consumer tax because they are unhealthful, wouldn’t you agree that it is incoherent to assert that, for all legal, policy and taxation purposes, nicotine patches should fall under the same rubric?

Isn’t the public policy aim of the tax to discourage smoking? If so, why should nicotine patches fall under that rubric?

In this case, the decision not to include nicotine patches under that rubric could hardly be said to be a semantical one: there are clear policy reasons for not doing so. Yet that is precisely what you are asserting in the case of same sex marriage.

Why, exactly, would he object to homosexual couples being ‘schmarried’ in the cityhall?

Policy reasons, maybe??

Seems to me he should have no objection to that since all his ‘argument’ is built on the the traditional understanding of marriage.

Well, then you should have no objection to including nicotine patches under the rubric of ‘nicotine product’ for all legal purposes.

Heya Mr Holbo,

And maybe it is worth adding that the man’s actual moral arguments, plus his legal position, clearly show that the dog analogy is worthless. (The point is supposed to be that dogs don’t understand this stuff. But I don’t think even K J-B is going to say that gay people don’t understand how having property rights, visitation rights, that sort of stuff, could be in their interest.)

No, you’re misreading him. He’s not saying that gay people don’t understand marriage (clearly they do) – he’s saying that they do not have the capacity to participate in the institution (his words) _qua_ child rearers: it is a biological impossibility for male homosexuals to have children, they do not usually have children, and we are unsure as to the desirability of deviant family units for children. This is a not implausible concern – for if single parent families are not optimal for raising children, it is perhaps only prudent to ask the same questions of other deviant family units with regards to setting policy.

As I mentioned early on to Ms Benson (in the original thread):

“I agree that the analogy is unfortunate; but it’s not unreasonable if read in context: that is, same sex couples do not have the capacity of participating in an institution the purpose of which is to raise children. That is not ad hominem: it goes right to the heart of policy arguments against gay marriage. The jury, I think, is out on this – as I mentioned before; but I don’t think one can dismiss it out of hand.”

So I agree that it is an unfortunate analogy because it may be reasonably (but mistakenly) construed as abuse, but I disagree that it is an unreasonable analogy for the aforementioned reasons.

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Matt McGrattan 11.27.04 at 4:16 pm

“..he’s saying that they do not have the capacity to participate in the institution (his words) qua child rearers: it is a biological impossibility for male homosexuals to have children, they do not usually have children, and we are unsure as to the desirability of deviant family units for children.”

It’s clearly not a biological impossibility for homosexual men to have children. Homosexual men have children, and historically have had children, all the time. The claim that gay men, for example, are unlikely to have children, only holds true in Western countries and has only held true since the early 1970s.

Now clearly it is a biological impossibility for two men to have a child together but it’s also biologically impossible for many heterosexual couples for straight-forward medical reasons.

Such couples are able to adopt children, as are gay men. Indeed, many Western countries allow for adoption by male and female homosexual couples.

I don’t think we ought to set any great store by the claim that the ‘purpose’ of marriage is chld-rearing but even if we do there’s no reason why homosexual couples (male or female) can’t participate in marriage so constituted.

[For what it's worth, I think that marriage involves a complex inter-weaving of any number of social, economic and institutional factors involving property distribution, child-rearing, romantic love, etc. and think the ideas that a) marriage has a single primary purpose and b) that the 'fitness' of homosexual couples for fulfilling this purpose should be the deciding factor in whether full marriage status is extended to them, are both highly suspect.]

52

enthymeme 11.27.04 at 4:19 pm

When a) it’s he who has engaged in calling his opponents stupid and b) when his views as expressed in the passage under discussion do consist of nothing more than a verbal quibble.

Oh really. Is this why he wrote: “[h]ow the amendment is worded remains to be seen. It should simply say that marriage, for all legal purposes, is a relation between a man and a woman.”

Now, I wonder why he would explicitly state the legally substantive bolded bit if it was just a matter of semantics.

53

Matt McGrattan 11.27.04 at 4:26 pm

Oh come on…

His use of the “for all legal purposes” clause occurs in his discussion of the proposed federal marriage amendment. He’s explicitly discussing the legal definition of marriage and this occurs a few paragraphs after the section I was referring to.

Where he states that:

“I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks.”

How else are we to understand ‘the very idea of X is incoherent’ except as some kind of semantic or conceptual claim?

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enthymeme 11.27.04 at 4:28 pm

Now clearly it is a biological impossibility for two men to have a child together but it’s also biologically impossible for many heterosexual couples for straight-forward medical reasons.

Right, see original thread and first link in my original post which addresses the childless couple objection.

Such couples are able to adopt children, as are gay men. Indeed, many Western countries allow for adoption by male and female homosexual couples.

Yet this begs the very questions mentioned: is this a desirable policy aim in the absence of further research into the question? And do the vast majority of same sex couples adopt if able to, thereby constituting a class of people who do fulfill the ostensible policy aims of marriage. These are precisely the policy issues at question.

I don’t think we ought to set any great store by the claim that the ‘purpose’ of marriage is chld-rearing but even if we do there’s no reason why homosexual couples (male or female) can’t participate in marriage so constituted.

See above, also see my original post in the original thread.

55

jholbo 11.27.04 at 4:32 pm

Enthymeme,

Well, there’s no biological obstacle to gay couples REARING children. Just conceiving them. (Even if you thought that gays would tend to be bad parents – which I think is a rather silly thought but I’m not prepared to club it senseless tonight – there are lots of types of folks who tend to be bad parents, who are allowed to marry and have kids. Back, forth, I win the argument in about two more steps, if I make no mistake.) But you see, I think, that that’s not the really crucial bit for purposes of assessing whether the voting dogs analogy has no merit whatsoever, or some concealed sliver of potential merit. The thing that makes the analogy not just unfortunate but totally unreasonable is that K B-J is hereby implying not just that he, personally, advocates cleavage to a narrow concept of marriage. He is saying that no alternative conception is conceivable. But that’s silly.

No, really, the dog analogy commits him to this. If he is not saying that his concept is the only one, how can he convict his opponents not just of doing something inadvisable but of something inherently logically absurd and stupid? This is the point of saying it’s not a liberal/conservative thing. He’s denying that this is some sort of confict of values. He’s denying that there is any thought to be thunk but the anti-gay marriage one. But that’s just silly, and not even something he himself thinks, if you read those other posts you link. (Which may be why he didn’t link them, I dunno.)

(I can’t believe I’m still talking about the dog analogy. This is what I get for being fascinated by the comically disproportionate post, as literary genre. Molding mountains of molehills my modus. I nominate my post for next year’s Contumelys.)

56

enthymeme 11.27.04 at 4:43 pm

Oh come on… His use of the “for all legal purposes” clause occurs in his discussion of the proposed federal marriage amendment. He’s explicitly discussing the legal definition of marriage and this occurs a few paragraphs after the section I was referring to.

??? So why would he include that clause if it’s a “mere verbal quibble”, as you assert?

Yes he’s discussing the legal definition of marriage and its attendant rights and benefits. Hence “for all legal purposes”. But you just said it was merely semantical for him. So which is it? Either there is a legally substantive issue for him or there isn’t. Make up your mind.

Notice how you first say ‘post’, then now you say ‘section’. No point shifting the goal posts . . .

How else are we to understand ‘the very idea of X is incoherent’ except as some kind of semantic or conceptual claim?

Already addressed. See my response to abb1.

57

abb1 11.27.04 at 5:24 pm

Enthymeme,
I don’t disagree that a reasonable person may find a concept of homosexual marriage incoherent and I respect this person’s view even though I don’t see it this way.

But I really don’t understand your objection to schmarriage (aka ‘civil union’) and your analogy with nicotine patches.

Schmarriage is nothing like marriage, it’s explicitly defined as a civil contract between two (or more – why not?) people (of any gender) and the state; it enumerates all the specific rights and responsibilites of the participats to each other and the state vis-a-vis the participats. I just don’t see any rational reason to object to something like that – a voluntary contract conceptualizing an already existing, relatively wide-spread – and totally harmless! – social phenomenon.

I don’t think marriage (as you define it) to schmarriage is like a cigarette to nicotine patch. Rather S-Corporation/Partnership to schmarriage is like a cigarette to nicotine patch. And marriage (by your definition) is something totally unrelated, from a different area of social interactions.

Whadayathink?

58

Ophelia Benson 11.27.04 at 5:30 pm

Enth,

Yeah, what John Holbo said (way up there). I wasn’t talking about the entirety of B-J’s argument on gay marriage; the whole subject doesn’t interest me much; I was talking specifically about his analogy. I think the analogy itself is worth disagreeing with, even if the rest of his argument is beyond reproach. I think things like rhetoric, insults whether deliberate or accidental or some combination of the two, strained analogies, comparisons to animals – I think all that kind of thing is highly interesting and also important. (I’ve written a parody guide to rhetoric and co-written a parody dictionary, so you can see my interest is genuine and not worked-up in order to answer you.) I talked about that because that’s what I was talking about, it’s as simple as that.

59

h. e. baber 11.27.04 at 6:49 pm

Has there ever been any serious effort to find out why the majority of Americans, including many who didn’t initially oppose civil unions, oppose gay marriage?

It won’t do to write them all off as fundamentalists because from the figures cited earlier it’s clear that there are far more opponents of gay marriage than there are conservative evangelical Christians in the population. Moreover these conservative evangelicals don’t have serious objections to other practices like divorce, that Jesus explicitly prohibited. It would be really helpful to find out what the gut level objection really is instead of writing it off, uninformatively, as a religious issue or just part of the culture of hoi polloi.

The claim is that gay marriage will somehow change heterosexual marriage, but there never seems to be any explanation of the causal mechanism that’s supposed to bring this about or even what the change is supposed to be. The only change I can see to my marriage if gays are allowed to marry is a “Cambridge change” (like coming to be 5 miles south of a burning barn, etc.).

Lots of people are obviously worried about something. Why not some serious empirical research to figure out what it really is so that it can be addressed?

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Matt McGrattan 11.27.04 at 7:19 pm

Suppose I concede for the purpose of this argument that a) the institution we currently call marriage has as its primary purpose the raising of children and b) that it is impossible for homosexual couples to raise children.

Even given this, why should this be an argument against homosexual couples entering into a civil union which confers upon them certain property entitlements and next of kind status and power-of-attorney in issues of health care?

This institution does not have as it’s primary purpose the raising of children. It’s a whole other kind of institution — one which reflects two people’s commitment to each other and an affirmation of mutual responsibility and care, etc.

How is the ‘marriage is ultimately about child rearing’ argument supposed to impinge upon that?

If the argument is not merely terminological i.e. about calling this new relationship between two people of the same sex ‘marriage’ then how is some set of claims about one particular type relationship between two adults supposed to render illegitimate some other relationship between two adults?

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pedro 11.27.04 at 7:56 pm

Why is it that in the US ministers have the power to marry people? In other countries, there is a well drawn line between civil marriage and religious marriage. The former is indeed about legal entitlements and responsibilities, and the latter is a separate affair.

Methinks that the gay marriage conundrum is made worse by the lack of separation of Church and State in regards to the institution of marriage. I’d like to see a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage in the US.

62

Bucky 11.27.04 at 9:02 pm

Dogs vote by proxy, having ceded the process to their more competent masters and mistresses, trusting, as dogs will, in the beneficence and more finely calibrated wisdom of the human race.
Noble, misguided Trey!
H.E.Baber-
Marriage as an institution is one more social-control device, allowing the existent dominant generation to exert shaping authority over the next. This is why both religious and civil authorities battle over and wrangle for and divvy up the licensing of marriage, and also why sexual taboos are so deeply embedded in moral systems that are otherwise concerned solely with corporal/property harm and protection. Making people feel that their sexuality is a franchise that can be bestowed or withheld at the discretion of the church or state means that sexual identity itself is in the hands of authority. This gives weight to the cunning old, and takes it away from the less-experienced young. These forces are at work in both the institution of marriage and the prohibition of sexual deviancy. The harm done by sexual deviants is not to the society itself but to the authority that governs. Making people feel that anything proscribed is a threat to their well-being is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people surrender more of their independence and volition to that authority – “Anything that threatens the masters threatens me.”
Logic is secondary, which is obvious once you get clear of your own engagement with social pathologies. What difference does it make to the rest of us if two people give each other maple syrup enemas? None. So explain the ripples of malice and scorn that proceed from public knowledge of that practice. Explain a culture that will show videos of murder and execution on primetime news, and censor the word “shit” in a late-night movie. Any discussion of marriage, gay or otherwise, that doesn’t proceed from an admission of toxicity in the social matrices is flighty and unaware of its own context.
Our sexuality is under government license, or ecclesiastic dispensation, though we’re branded locally. This makes for a general anxiety toward sexual rules and creates that kind of collaborationist v. resistance mentality any dictatorial system generates.
Marriage is an outgrowth of human social evolution, a process that’s recently mutated wildly. Human social evolution began as a survival imperative, became a maintenance regime, and now delaminates, fragments, and atrophies as the purpose of that imperative and maintenance are called into unanswerable question.
Science can’t lead us, religion’s going the wrong way, anarchy corrodes, hedonism rots, sentimentality weakens, doing nothing gets nothing done…

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Stephen M (Ethesis 11.27.04 at 9:05 pm

Whatever forms marriage has had over the millenia it is centered on children, on the production and nurturing of children. It was and is a formalized, societally-sanctioned arrangement.

It’s been co-opted, redesigned, reduced, expanded, weaseled and bronzed, but until very recently the idea that it had to do with children primarily was obvious and seemingly permanent. [interesting analysis would include whether annulment was available in cases of infertility or known sterility].

Now, though, marriage is a contract between two consumers who retail themselves to each other. Children are an aftermarket add-on, an accoutrement, another consumer choice – secondary, no longer primary.

Interesting how a shift from a duty based philosophy to a rights based one can have such an intersection.

Schmarriage is nothing like marriage, it’s explicitly defined as a civil contract between two (or more – why not?) people (of any gender) and the state.

Or why there are trusts that people set up that handle most of these elements.

e.g. http://www.zislaw.com/domestic_partnership_trusts.shtml

But, the threshold costs, the limits and the insurance rights (a very, very big development — health insurance — something not a part of our historical heritage) colors the debate.

64

John Ray 11.27.04 at 9:08 pm

65

Michael Blowhard 11.27.04 at 9:24 pm

I’m completely confused. Have the bunch of you gotten so worked up because you think KBJ used an unfortunate analogy and failed to provide a good argument? Or have you gotten so worked up — really, remarkably worked-up — because of the chance to rant on again about gay marriage?

If it’s the first: gee, well, you’re getting mighty worked up about it, aren’t you? Nothing wrong with that, of course, but still — makes me wonder why. If it’s the second: do you really think there can be no such thing as a defensible and humane position against gay marriage? If so: wow. So people who might think, “Hey, marriage has always been between woman and man. Why screw with that?”, or maybe, “Hey, I don’t like having changes in fundamental social arrangements being forced on me by judges” — such feelings and thoughts are what? Beneath your respect? Like I say: wow.

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abb1 11.27.04 at 9:44 pm

makes me wonder why

Lol. You damn well know why – we’re all closeted homosexuals here, that’s why. And we want to get married, dammit.

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kevin donoghue 11.27.04 at 9:45 pm

“I’m completely confused.”

Well, maybe this isn’t your kind of debate. It’s not my kind, but I am inclined to think the dog analogy is a turd.

You say you wonder why people get worked up about KBJ failing to provide a good argument. Aren’t philosophers supposed to provide good arguments? If not, what the hell are philosophers for?

68

mg 11.27.04 at 9:55 pm

I’m completely confused. Have the bunch of you gotten so worked up because you think KBJ used an unfortunate analogy and failed to provide a good argument? Or have you gotten so worked up — really, remarkably worked-up — because of the chance to rant on again about gay marriage?

I can’t speak for the others, obviously, but if I had been worked up, it would’ve been because KBJ is being insulting to people on the left for no good reason. It’s really quite discomforting unless you’re accustomed to reading such things on the internet. Gay marriage is hardly the issue here as far as being worked up is concerned, and to the extent that someone is worked up, IMHO. It’s not like people aren’t aware of the anti-gay marriage arguments.

“Hey, marriage has always been between woman and man. Why screw with that?”

Because marriage is all about procereation, duh. (sorry)

69

Michael Blowhard 11.27.04 at 10:11 pm

64 comments, all generated because a blogger used a bad analogy/argument/whatever? So shoot me for marveling a bit about this.

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h. e. baber 11.27.04 at 10:27 pm

There aren’t any crusades against childless marriages as such, e.g. marriages between elderly people so I don’t think it’s likely that the procreative norm is the issue.

My guess is that members of “traditional families” feel squeezed, feel that their preferred way of life is being denigrated or in any case that it’s no longer the social norm. The media portray the lives of young urban professionals, centered around the office, after work bar and upscale restaurants and represent suburban family life as something of a joke–from the Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy back to Married With Children.

Gay marriage is a symbol of the high prestige urban lifestyle that they don’t want and, in any case, couldn’t get. I think when they vote against gay marriage they’re saying we’ve got the power, we’re the “normal” Americans, we’re not a joke.

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jholbo 11.27.04 at 11:41 pm

Just to keep things from stopping, heaven forbid, I would just like to draw attention to the John Ray link above. He writes:

“Crooked Timber” is run by a group of bloggers who fancy themselves as intellectuals. At least one of their members, however, is very shaky on basic philosophical terms. He cannot decide on whether he is discussing “ab hominem” arguments or “ad hominem” arguments. It’s not a typo. D and b are not close together on the keyboard. He just doesn’t know his Latin. For his information, “ad hominem” means “to the man” while “ab hominem” means “from the man”. The latter makes no sense in the given context, however.

I would say that he had simply failed to grasp the point. But in the context of this whole thread – worrying that poor dog like a bone – well, if the man ever figures out what the ab/ad point was, he can try dissecting us for losing track of it ourselves.

In response to Michael Blowhards request for information about the cause of all this. Speaking only for myself, the fact that K B-J opened himself for a little mockery was really just the occasion. I had a Don Knotts joke to tell and I told it. That was the point.

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Ophelia Benson 11.28.04 at 1:16 am

“64 comments, all generated because a blogger used a bad analogy/argument/whatever? So shoot me for marveling a bit about this.”

Sure, 64 comments, from a lot of different people. Is that a lot? Golly, I remember the time there was that dispute about where is the best place to get really good pastrami on a brioche on the long stretch of road between Kalispell and Mandan – that went up to around 6 thousand, if I remember correctly, before the nice people at CT shut it down.

Anyway. Speaking for myself and one other person (no, I don’t know which one), 1) I’m interested in rhetoric, as I’ve mentioned, so going on and on about a piece of rhetoric seems perfectly sensible and normal to me, and 2) the very bizarre reaction (bizarre and rhetorical, I might add) of B-J simply made it all more interesting. Five posts to rave about liberal punks, when he doesn’t have time to address actual arguments – now that’s interesting. Plus of course there’s the fact that he’s a philosophy professor. If he were a plumber or an airport shuttle serivce driver, I must admit, it would have been less interesting.

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sara 11.28.04 at 4:45 am

Someone tell Burgess-Jackson that he has no business defending traditional marriage, if his hyphenated surname is a product of his parents’ relatively recent American gender-equity custom of combining the spouses’ surnames (rather than subsuming the wife’s name under the husband’s, as “Mrs. John Doe”).

If his double-barrelled surname is the product of upper-class British origins, I take it back, but I can’t endure being lectured to about traditional definitions of marriage from someone whose parents rejected customs deriving from couverture.

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sara 11.28.04 at 4:46 am

Someone tell Burgess-Jackson that he has no business defending traditional marriage, if his hyphenated surname is a product of his parents’ relatively recent American gender-equity custom of combining the spouses’ surnames (rather than subsuming the wife’s name under the husband’s, as “Mrs. John Doe”).

If his double-barrelled surname is the product of upper-class British origins, I take it back, but I can’t endure being lectured to about traditional definitions of marriage from someone whose parents rejected customs deriving from couverture.

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mg 11.28.04 at 5:24 am

Actually, Sara, I clicked around on his site last time someone linked, and it’s not quite like that(link; long story short, he added his mother’s name to his own in defiance of conservative thought, just because he’s a maverick like that).

By the way, scrolling up and down, I notice that he’s fond of arguing that he knows liberals are obnoxious because he was when he was one. Curious line of thought.

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mg 11.28.04 at 5:30 am

Forgot: either way, people really can’t be held responsible for decisions their parents made when they weren’t even around.

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Tim Lambert 11.28.04 at 10:53 am

Right before his comment where the ab hominem thing whooshes right over his head, John Ray has an “ad hominid” argument, with an article about how women need to be dominated that even Tech Central Station rejected.

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Kieran Healy 11.28.04 at 2:23 pm

That John Ray post is a classic. It’s up there with that time some commenter “diagnosed Belle”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001827.html as suffering from an “inadequate classics education” because she made a joke about Troy.

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raj 11.28.04 at 4:19 pm

I have no idea who this Burgess-Jackson fellow is. It is the fact that any wacko can set up a web site, and another fact that more than a few people have. Even wackos posing as perfessers. It is yet another fact that not all “arguments” deserve responses other than ridicule. And that is largely what he has apparently received. If he wishes to characterize them as “ad hominem,” so be it.

A cursory glance at his bloviations on his web site suggests that he does not provide for comments. Probably a good thing. On the other hand, query why anyone would care what he has to bloviate about. Merely because he has landed a cushy position at some university doesn’t mean that he has anything much to tell anyone else about.

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rob 11.28.04 at 4:37 pm

Michael Blowhard,

I mean, why should we get worked up about arguing that we should deny legal rights to some part of the population on totally spurious grounds… Clearly that’s not an issue, right…

Also, what Ophelia said (note my only other post on this thread was to say it’s a bit wierd for conservatives to invoke the value of reason).

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armpit philosopher 11.28.04 at 8:23 pm

I’m inclined to think that the dog analogy is a turd. -kevin donoghue

Well, what did you expect would come out of the anal philosopher?

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W. Kiernan 11.28.04 at 9:14 pm

Stephen m sez: It’s been co-opted, redesigned, reduced, expanded, weaseled and bronzed, but until very recently the idea that it had to do with children primarily was obvious and seemingly permanent.

According to Denis de Rougemont, “very recently” would be somewhere in the twelveth century.

Mr. Burgess-Jackson (is that you, osm?) could also explain to me why it is unexceptionable for Judith and William to raise William’s stepdaughter but not for Nancy and Linda to raise Nancy’s stepdaughter. I suppose one could apply some heavyweight Gunnar Myrdalesque socio-statistics to the problem and demonstrate that Linda & Nancy’s “deviant” menage will more likely than not put their child at a disadvantage to mine. But KBJ hasn’t done this at all; he blows off the question as self-evident. Well, I guess, as Barbie sez, “Math is hard work!!!”

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a philosophy blog reader 11.29.04 at 1:19 am

Burgess-Jackson is dumb and a bit crazy (a single man in his late 40s, who lives with two dogs, writes about rape and attacks homosexuals…com’on now). This Ray guy is totally lunatic. Enthymeme is a mentally ill law student at Bristol. Why devote a whole thread to their nonsense?

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AlanDownUnder 11.29.04 at 1:24 am

What if the state conceded ‘marriage’ as a term for a religious institution and got out of the business of secular marriage entirely? (OK this ignores the issue that marriage may have had secular origins, but so what? If religions want a monopoly on the term, let them have it)

The state could then deal purely in ‘life partnerships’ or ‘civil unions’ or whatever. It could recognise marriages as such and register/conduct the secular variety.

All the financial discrimination issues would be separated from the religious issues and a lot of philosophical thickets would instantly evaporate.

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P. Yu 11.29.04 at 4:00 am

The anal philosopher stinks!

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Jeremy Pierce 11.29.04 at 2:22 pm

John, I expect better of a professional philosopher. At least get the structure of his argument right. His claim that supporters of gay marriage are stupid is not a premise, which is what would be required for it to be ad hominem. That claim is the conclusion of his argument.

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Jeremy Pierce 11.29.04 at 2:34 pm

Sorry. I’m so used to typing ‘ad hominem that that’s how it came out. I meant to address what you really were talking about.

I should say that I don’t agree with Keith on this. I just don’t think you’ve got the structure of his argument right.

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Calvin Ostrum 11.29.04 at 4:15 pm

I really don’t understand. B-J claims that people don’t address his arguments, but it seems to me that they do, despite the fact he makes it difficult by not allowing comments or trackbacks on his blog, and by (apparently) never showing up at a blog where comments and trackbacks do allow an exchange. Instead he stays hidden away and whines about liberals this and liberals that. The same seems to go for Dissecting Leftism Man, John Ray. No comments or trackbacks allowed, along with the claim that the “Leftists are too grand to debate anything with conservatives”.

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rob 11.29.04 at 5:04 pm

Like I said bloody ages ago, conservatives don’t believe in the value of reason (or at least not in the same way as liberals). They think it’s a load of transcendentalist bullshit, which tells us nothing about the world and how it ought to be, like Hume and Burke. The wisdom of the ages, enshrined in the social contracts of our ancestors, is far preferable. So of course it’s not surprising that they don’t engage in reasoned debate, because they don’t like the reasoned part, just as I suppose appeal to outmoded and romantic notions of marriage is not surprising either. Maybe we have misunderstood KBJ’s argument then: asserting that x is how it ought to be done (according to the wisdom of the ages) is an argument to him.

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HP 11.29.04 at 9:04 pm

Whatever forms marriage has had over the millenia it is centered on children, on the production and nurturing of children.

Close, but no cigar. You can produce and nurture children like crazy outside of marriage. Marriage is traditionally about the establishment of unambiguous paternity, and therefore patrimony.

The Cartoon History of the Universe had an interesting take on this (not that I’m citing it as an authority). As I recall, an ancient shepherd watches his ewe giving birth to a lamb, points to the lamb, and says “Mine!” He then goes to the village, and there sees a small group of women and a large group of children. He scratches his head, and says, “????” The next step involves a marriage ritual and the establishment of laws against adultery (with punishments such as stoning). The shepherd now looks at the small group of women and the large group of children, and says, “Mine!”

I would argue that the current debate about gay marriage is not about changing the “traditional” definition of marriage. It is about establishing a brand new definition of marriage. Paternity, of course, is now a matter of DNA. We’ve been going on for half-a-century or so with the “when two people love each other very much” contemporary definition of marriage, and there’s no logical reason why that shouldn’t apply to homosexuals. The only way to argue against homosexual marriage is to throw out the traditional definition (unambiguous paternity), throw out the contemporary definition (two people very much in love), and establish some new definition, based on somehow establishing the predominant circumstances of marriage as the new purpose for marriage.

Frankly, having married someone I loved very much, who by all accounts loved me very much, and yet getting divorced in spite of it, I happen to think the “when two people love each other very much” definition of marriage deserves to be scrapped. I’m not sure that’s what conservatives are arguing; however, I do think that will be the result.

Suppose schmarriage were an option for homosexuals: I do not think you could legally deny heterosexual couples the right to schmarry, if that’s what they choose. If a non-marriage legal union were available, and open to all couples regardless of sexual identity, I think marriage rates would plummet to the point of irrelevance in short order. I know that if I had the option of schmarriage instead of marriage, I would choose it in a heartbeat (assuming, of course, a willing partner — sigh).

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enthymeme 11.29.04 at 10:55 pm

Mr Holbo,

Even if you thought that gays would tend to be bad parents – which I think is a rather silly thought but I’m not prepared to club it senseless tonight – there are lots of types of folks who tend to be bad parents, who are allowed to marry and have kids. Back, forth, I win the argument in about two more steps, if I make no mistake.

The mistake is that a counterexample won’t cut it – there are lots of types of folks who are of legal drinking age yet tend to be immature, just as there are teenagers who are underaged yet may be mature enough to handle drink. Should we therefore lower the legal drinking age? Of course not.

Yet the law has to draw the line somewhere.

I pass no judgment as to the competence of same sex parents (although an argument may be made for the incompetence – due to a higher degree of promiscuity – of male homosexual parents: see Posner, “Economics and the Social Construction of Homosexuality”, _Overcoming Law pp. 575-76), just as I pass no judgment as to the competence of the single parent. The single mother may be doing her best for the child but clearly her situation is not the optimum one. The child’s developmental psychology could be impaired by the lack of an anchoring father figure or the absence of maternal attachment. And this is an inherent structural defect of deviant family units. As far as I know, research in this area is comparatively scarce and inconclusive.

More importantly, most heterosexual couples have children. By contrast, do a majority of same sex couples adopt, where they can? I do not think so (absent the data, I can’t be sure; but anecdotally speaking, none of the people I know can be bothered to).

In which case why should we extend marriage with its attendant rights and pecuniary benefits to a class of people who 1. don’t usually have children 2. may not be optimal child rearers? These rights and benefits are also _costs_ for the rest of society. That there are financial costs is obvious; but there are also negative externalities that may arise from e.g., the exploitation of spousal evidentiary immunity by non-gay persons. Gay marriage is therefore not a species of self-regarding conduct.

As such, should we incur the costs of legalizing gay marriage while not furthering the ostensible policy aim of marriage? If forced in the courts, I would say no (because the spectre of polysexual polyamorous marriage would double the costs and externalities and then some).

As for the folks who tend to be bad parents having kids, there’s a more prosaic reason as to why a law regulating their behaviour is not a good idea: because heterosexual couples will have kids _anyway_, married or not. So of course we’d rather have the institution, thereby encouraging stable family units, etc etc etc – because they’d have children anyway and be the worse for the wear otherwise.

The thing that makes the analogy not just unfortunate but totally unreasonable is that K B-J is hereby implying not just that he, personally, advocates cleavage to a narrow concept of marriage. He is saying that no alternative conception is conceivable. But that’s silly.

He’s saying it doesn’t make sense in the light of the policy aim of marriage. Just like it wouldn’t make sense to classify nicotine patches as a nicotine product for the legal purpose of a consumer tax the aim of which is to discourage smoking (since imposing a tax on the product – which is meant to wean and ultimately discourage smokers from smoking -would raise its price, thereby defeating the aim of the tax in the first place).

abb1,

Quick one (gotta run soon).

But I really don’t understand your objection to schmarriage (aka ‘civil union’) and your analogy with nicotine patches.

??? I understood schmarriage to be marriage, with the same legal rights and benefits – just given some other name. It’s not civil union, which is legally dissimilar.

As for the patch analogy – same sex couples are analogous to the patches. Marriage is analogous to the tax (in that both are policy instruments).

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abb1 11.30.04 at 8:02 am

How is ‘civil union’ legally dissimilar?

If you view ‘marriage’ as a policy instrument, why all this talk about ‘traditional meaning’? This is a completely different venue and I don’t think this venue is particularly promising for your side.

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Calvin Ostrum 11.30.04 at 4:53 pm

Enthymeme: Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to tie justification of the institution of marriage so tightly to child-rearing? Lots of married couples do not have children, despite what you say. Couldn’t we avoid all these horrendoues costs of marriage you refer to (what exactly are those, that do not also accrue to “civil unions”) by not letting people get married until they exhibit clear intentions to have children? Don’t let old people or sterile people get married either.

What about the fact that marriage also represents for many a solemn recognition of two people’s deep loving committment to one another as life-partners? Why should people who are capable of entering such a committment be denied having that committment recognized when others are allowed to have it recognized?

Rob: I do not think you can appeal so glibly to stock conservative ideology to adequately account for the pathologies of AnalMan and DissectingLeftismMan. Many conservatives are devoted enough to reason to realize that they have to have arguments for their positions, and they try to supply such arguments. (Consider contemporary conservatives such as Kekes and Scruton for example). Their traditionally less optimistic view about the powers of reason does not abjure its use altogether, but simply suggests that attempts to use reason to remake society are bound to fail because society is simply too poorly understood (perhaps essentially so) to make such attempts successful. Okay, some conservatives go further than this, but they still, if decent, try to provide arguments for their position. Admittedly, only at the most abstract level, which might allow them to ignore specific issues, or even, simply, lie about them (cf. Scruton below).

I suppose you might also be vindicated by the fact that AnalMan himself provides a highly exaggerated charicature of the relation of liberals and conservatives to reason, but then again he also complains that liberals “emote” where conservatives “cogitate”, so that’s pretty much a wash. And there remains the fact that both he and DLM whine that liberals won’t dare to face them on the battleground of reasoned argument.

I also find it interesting that he quotes Scruton as apparently describing liberals being those who like to engage in what he calls “the joyous work of falsehood”. I can’t verify that quote, but it is interesting given that Scruton is quite aware that playing loose with the truth is part and parcel of a archetypical conservative position:

“Like Plato, a conservative may have to advocate the Noble Lie. He might in all conscience seek to propagate the ideology which sustains the social order, whether or not there is a reality that corresponds to it.”

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enthymeme 12.01.04 at 8:23 pm

abb1,

How is ‘civil union’ legally dissimilar?

Abrogated rights and benefits. In the case of the US, Federal benefits omitted; in the Netherlands and some Scandinavian countries, limited adoption rights, inter alia.

If you view ‘marriage’ as a policy instrument, why all this talk about ‘traditional meaning’? This is a completely different venue and I don’t think this venue is particularly promising for your side.

Why can’t the traditional meaning of marriage comport with the policy aim of the institution? At any event, this has been adequately explained in my earlier answer to this question: it may refer to how Americans understand the term; but it does not follow that the arguments against gay marriage is a semantical one.

Mr Ostrum,

Enthymeme: Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to tie justification of the institution of marriage so tightly to child-rearing? Lots of married couples do not have children, despite what you say.

I never denied that “lots” do not have children. But most do. So no, it is not a stretch to tie marriage to child rearing. I mean, what other policy aims are there that would be encouraged by the structure of our family/marriage laws? If not children, then what? Moreover, heterosexuality is a reasonable proxy for assessing whether the couple in question intend to have children or not. It could be that the demographics change with time, and with it, our lines of demarcation.

Couldn’t we avoid all these horrendoues costs of marriage you refer to (what exactly are those, that do not also accrue to “civil unions”) by not letting people get married until they exhibit clear intentions to have children?

But how would you ascertain intention without incurring prohibitive costs (one can lie about intentions, obviously), other than using heterosexuality as a reasonable proxy?

And I’ve already mentioned a few costs that might accrue to marriage and not civil unions – spousal evidentiary immunity and (possibly) adoption rights.

Don’t let old people or sterile people get married either.

But people often don’t know they are sterile until they try for children. And how do you propose to find out if a woman is indeed menopausal without violating doctor-patient confidentiality? Or indeed, what if the parties in question do not consent to fertility testing in the first place? Further, you discount the fact that many old people already have children – perhaps from previous marriages – and should not therefore (having served the policy aim) be excluded from the institution should a partner die early.

What about the fact that marriage also represents for many a solemn recognition of two people’s deep loving committment to one another as life-partners? Why should people who are capable of entering such a committment be denied having that committment recognized when others are allowed to have it recognized?

Well, if this is a question of “recognition” then I’m not sure what policy aim is being served so as to justify the costs involved. I don’t think “recognition” is a legitimate justification (recognition may after all be obtained via other ceremonial or religious means – your parish might recognize your union, for e.g. – without the costs that legal recognition entail) in light of the costs involved, however gratifying it might be for those who bear only a part of it.

Again, this is not to say that our demarcations hold in perpetua. _Autres temps, autres moeurs_, and with justification too, should the future makeup of society warrant it.

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enthymeme 12.01.04 at 8:55 pm

Another point re: recognition. Many males, I daresay, are polyamorous. Does the non-recognition of that particular form of union mean that a vast underclass of males are second class citizens unrecognized by the law? Of course not. Same deal with gay marriage.

Of course, one may object that same sex couplehood is the very essence of homosexuality, and that failure to recognize that is tantamount to disenfranchisement, as some of the more hysterical commentators here have remarked. Implicit in that objection is that male heterosexuals have a perfectly good substitute for polyamorous behaviour – namely, monogamy – something that homosexual couples, absent gay marriage, do not have. But if so, this spurs the rejoinder: why can’t civil unions be an adequate substitute for same sex marriage in the way marriage is for polyamorous unions? After all, it may be contended that polyamorous behaviour has a basis in biology, and goes to the essence of what it is to be male.

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rob 12.01.04 at 9:46 pm

Calvin Ostrum,

it’s just so tempting when they do just make assertions (enthymeme, this is KBJ, not you: you clearly have an argument), especially when they email me, ask if I have an argument or just insults – I was nasty about KBJ in an earlier thread – and then don’t reply when I provide one. It’s a bit snide I suppose, but…

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calvin ostrum 12.01.04 at 9:54 pm

Enthymeme, I grant that one can come up with some arguments against gay marriage (although your arguments seem to have a few steps missing): my main reason for posting here was to comment on KBJ and not on the substantive issues per se. However, since I did make a few comments about your post, I’ll give at least one reply, even though I don’t know if you are serious.

I would claim you base too much on some “cost benefit” analysis, without any real attempt to carefully measure the costs and benefits to see on what side things come out. Ironically, by the way, this is a rather “liberal” way of approaching the issue of defending an “organic”, “conservative” institution.

You don’t think that the issue of marriage being a solemn recognition of the importance of a couple’s pair bond, regardless of whether they choose to have children, is a “policy benefit”, and that denying it has “costs”, for example. Why not include those costs and benefits?

You suggest it would be too costly to restrict marriage more narrowly to what you say it really is good for (childrearing), but your attempts to actually measure those costs seem rather half-hearted and you don’t seem to use much imagination to figure out how such costs could be limited or avoided. For example, how is determining whether people are lying about their intention to have children some serious cost? Let them have a licence ahead of time, so they can start to build an environment for the little tyke, but rescind it if the tyke never shows up. Big deal.

You compare forever forbidding some people to marry with temporarily restricting someone (for a couple of years or so) from drinking. Doesn’t something seem just a little amiss there to you?

You suggest that lots of people would like to have polygamous marriages. Well, where are all those clamoring for this? Perhaps this will be the next step: polygamous marriages between equals. I doubt there will ever be many takers for this, though: it seems that traditionally, most polygamous marriage have been assertions of power rather that autonomously chosen relations between equals.

You dream up all sorts of things, like, apparently, some nasty criminal marrying his nasty accomplice so they don’t have to testify against one another. Isn’t this rather fanciful? In any case, if you are so concerned with rational policy formation and all the costs associated with marriage, why not drop this spousal immunity thing all together? What is its logical relation to child-rearing?

In general, where is your analysis that the current bundle of costs and benefits is just as it should be? Your defense of letting old codgers without any young kids marry seems to be rather weak. You tar gay marriages for not being able to rear children, but then you want to restrict what they are allowed to have, civil unions, so that they cannot adopt. At one point, then, child rearing is a “benefit” when it suits you, but at another point, it is a “cost” you cannot allow civil unions to impose on us.

Just a few considerations. One last remark as a general point. Although I harbour significant consquentialist tendencies, I am still a little annoyed by the way that a consequentialist can hand-wave to provide some kind of justification for about whatever policy he wants. There’s a lot of gap to fill between principle and policy and it can be filled with all sorts of plausible storys by a good story teller, to end up at the policy he likes on other grounds.

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enthymeme 12.02.04 at 9:25 pm

Mr Ostrum,

You don’t think that the issue of marriage being a solemn recognition of the importance of a couple’s pair bond, regardless of whether they choose to have children, is a “policy benefit”, and that denying it has “costs”, for example. Why not include those costs and benefits?

But what exactly are these? I have expressed puzzlement as to what other policy aims might be served, but you have not specified. “Recognition” for recognition’s sake – however gratifying – seems to me a facile reason. For on that count many polyamorists can also claim to lack recognition in the eyes of the law.

You suggest it would be too costly to restrict marriage more narrowly to what you say it really is good for (childrearing), but your attempts to actually measure those costs seem rather half-hearted and you don’t seem to use much imagination to figure out how such costs could be limited or avoided.

There are over a thousand Federal rights and benefits. I can only give some indicia of what the likely costs and benefits are. Of course I can’t give a comprehensive account with respect to all of them – only to some of the more significant ones. If indeed I lack imagination, then I’m prepared to be convinced; but be assured that I too think the shoe is on the other foot.

For example, how is determining whether people are lying about their intention to have children some serious cost?

Because 1. people may lie about their intentions for the indefinite future and you’d be none the wiser; 2. coercive questioning of millions of couples in an effort to determine the truth of their claims takes up resources, may be ineffective for reason 1. – and if the regime were especially draconian – would create a disincentive to get married in the first place, thereby defeating the original policy aim of marriage, in addition to incurring costs.

Let them have a licence ahead of time, so they can start to build an environment for the little tyke, but rescind it if the tyke never shows up. Big deal.

Yeah, easy for you to say. The problem with this is that it creates a pressure on married couples to have children – even if they aren’t ready for them; even if they no longer intend to have children – just so they preserve their marital status. How does this encourage the welfare of the child, implicit in the policy aim of marriage? Indeed, how does it _not_ encourage a palpable harm – that of inducing a decision to have children in onerous circumstances?

You compare forever forbidding some people to marry with temporarily restricting someone (for a couple of years or so) from drinking. Doesn’t something seem just a little amiss there to you?

No, because you’re missing the point of the comparison, which was meant to show that the law in practice has to draw bright if imperfect lines at the least cost by using proxies (age, sex) as indicia for maturity in the one case and propensity to have children in the other. Which is why merely pointing out some counter-examples won’t cut the mustard.

You suggest that lots of people would like to have polygamous marriages. Well, where are all those clamoring for this?

Old School Mormons? Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness? Muslims? – polygamy is after all permitted under Sharia law. Non-religious polyamorists? You forget that a lot of the clamoring for gay marriage is done by people who are NOT gay. Perhaps the notion of polygamy doesn’t quite accord with what liberals intuit as an ‘oppressed class’, hence the comparative lack of clamoring – despite the fact that the usual arguments trotted out for the former may just as well be used to justify the latter.

I doubt there will ever be many takers for this, though: it seems that traditionally, most polygamous marriage have been assertions of power rather that autonomously chosen relations between equals.

Traditionally, so was marriage. And your point is? Neither are there many gays, who like polyamorists, are a relative minority. Again, your point is?

You dream up all sorts of things, like, apparently, some nasty criminal marrying his nasty accomplice so they don’t have to testify against one another. Isn’t this rather fanciful?

Wait – I thought I lacked imagination; now I’m suffering from a surfeit of it.

At any event, argument from incredulity.

In any case, if you are so concerned with rational policy formation and all the costs associated with marriage, why not drop this spousal immunity thing all together? What is its logical relation to child-rearing?

Because the doctrinaire rationale for spousal immunity happens to hold: it fosters trust between husband and wife, thereby contributing, as a general rule, to marital stability. Even if the rationale were unsound, it is still a given, and barring a revision of laws cannot be excluded in the tally of externalities.

In general, where is your analysis that the current bundle of costs and benefits is just as it should be?

In the original thread, and in this one.

Your defense of letting old codgers without any young kids marry seems to be rather weak. You tar gay marriages for not being able to rear children, but then you want to restrict what they are allowed to have, civil unions, so that they cannot adopt. At one point, then, child rearing is a “benefit” when it suits you, but at another point, it is a “cost” you cannot allow civil unions to impose on us.

There is no contradiction, unless you’re being deliberately obtuse. I have addressed this point repeatedly in this as well as the original thread. See my reply to Mr Holbo, particularly the paragraph referencing Posner.

. . . There’s a lot of gap to fill between principle and policy and it can be filled with all sorts of plausible storys by a good story teller, to end up at the policy he likes on other grounds.

And yet you do not provide a plausible alternative story?

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Calvin Ostrum 12.03.04 at 2:35 am

Enythmeme: Although it’s certainly possible, I decline to get further involved in all of this putative cost-benefit analysis that magically comes out just the way you want it.

Or, perhaps not so magically. You seemed to have missed the point of my reference to your imagination, by suggesting I am contradicting myself in attributing to you at one point not enough imagination, and then at another point, too much imagination.

But your varying imagination is just the point: you can turn your imagination on full power to get things to put on one side of the cost-benefit analysis, but apparently you don’t even try to engage it when it comes to the other side. (I’ll grant you in the specific case, though, that it is probably my similar error to call “fanciful” the idea of criminals taking advantage of the privilege of spousal immunity. I’m correcting that now).

And as far as your assuredness that I am the one lacking imagination goes, well, perhaps. But you are the one who, based on a “cost-benefit analysis” (that would seem to many to be post-hoc special pleading) wants to deny to a large specific group of people something they consider to be a fundamental right. The onus would seem to be more on you to be the imaginative one to put some effort into finding a way to allow this right without onerous costs. On me, too, and all of us really, so I tried to provide some simple possibilities. You are obviously much smarter than me — instead of just smugly shooting them down, maybe you should try to come up with your own!

Anyway, despite all this, if there are some folks who really want to try a cost-benefit analysis here in a dispassionate manner, by all means I hope they try. But I am not going to continue trying when, for example, you immediately disparage one of the main benefits of marriage as “facile”, and compare denying this benefit to a large specific class of people forever to uniformly restricting everyone’s right to legally drink for just a couple of years, without showing any attempt at trying to define a differing “bright line” that still gets you all of your “policy goals”.

And if we want to talk about child rearing, we should talk explicitly about that and what things we could do to improve it. Like welfare rights, good jobs for working families, a better education system, affordable housing, bans on corporal punishment, restriction of religious schools, the drug war, etc. Gay marriage probably isn’t even on the radar in comparison. But all of this is even more off-topic for this thread, and even harder to reasonably address in short compass.

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enthymeme 12.03.04 at 9:47 pm

Mr Ostrum,

But I am not going to continue trying when, for example, you immediately disparage one of the main benefits of marriage as “facile” . . .

This is manifestly false. I did not “immediately disparage” what you _claim_ – without argument – to be a legitimate policy aim. Indeed, I asked you to specify exactly what policy aim was being served (surely not recognition for recognition’s sake?) in the first instance, and how, ostensibly, it is cost justified especially when there are good substitutes for “recognition” (be they “solemn” – your terminology – i.e., religious or ceremonial marriage; or legal – e.g. civil unions). In the second instance, you merely repeated the demand for recognition – again without argument and without addressing my initial response. It was only then that I remarked that it was facile (having already argued for the position), while providing yet another reason as to why it struck me as so (because polyamorists and many polyamorous men may claim to ‘lack recognition’ too).

Also, you continue to miss the point of the legal drinking age comparison. I think I have given an adequate explanation for why imperfect legal lines are drawn in practice. The specific examples I used and what they prohibit are irrelevant to the argument. The focus on said irrelevancies is just an ignoratio elenchi. I could just as easily have used drink driving laws to make the same point.

Admittedly I was being cheeky about “imagination”, but not so cheeky – because I do think that your impression is mistaken. Essentially, you’re blaming me for not coming up with the counter-arguments _you_ have failed to come up with. If so, then you’re at least as lacking in imagination as I am, innit?

More seriously though, you presume, without cause, that I have not attempted to anticipate – in an imaginative manner – some of the objections to the anti-gay marriage position (when indeed it would benefit any dogmatist to – since he would be all the harder to refute in the event); that my position was arrived at without prolepsis: implicitly, that my position on gay marriage is dogma, and only being justified post hoc.

This is unfair. My previous unthought-out (and complacent) position on the issue was the conventional liberal one. Having encountered some of the more sophisticated arguments against gay marriage, and having been unable to mount a successful counter-argument against these (not for lack of trying), I changed my position; it’s as simple as that.

Of course, it may be that I’m wrong. I was ready to be convinced, _had any of the philosophers/economists/soi-disant intellectuals here bothered to engage Burgess-Jackson seriously instead of merely piling on for a spot of conservative bashing_. (This is not to impugn Mr Holbo – he was being humorous, and humour is always excused – but his commentators were not.) Hence my exasperation. That said, I don’t think there are simple answers as to whether or not we should legalize gay marriage; but on the merits, I am inclined against.

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calvin ostrum 12.04.04 at 12:07 am

Enthymeme: I am not missing your point about “bright lines”. Obviously, the cost of administering state policy is a cost that has to be considered, and where possible, minimized, and “bright lines” help that. That goes without saying. However, less bright lines might be better under some circumstances, even if more costly, or one might be able to draw such a line elsewhere, the obvious example being one that simply allows all gay marriage. I just don’t see where you have begun to show the costs of allowing such marriage, with the “thousands of benefits” couples would get, would be so onerous. Or that, in fact, we will necessarily want to continue extending all of these benefits to all married couples anyway, i.e., that we could not alter the benefits and costs of the institution minimally, but in such a manner as to still obtain, without onerous extra costs, the bulk of the original “policy goals” while adding a new one, one that you continue to simply not acknowledge. My “counterargument” for the most part is simply that. Fortunately it does not take a lot of imagination.

As for your story of how you managed to escape the “unthought-out (and complacent)” “conventional liberal” position, I am not so sure I believe that. Is there any textual evidence online of your attempts to “mount successful counter-arguments” against these “sophisticated arguments”? The best I can see your arguments rationally doing is suggesting that things are up in the air and require more detailed social-scientific research, and, as well, a process of public reason and negotiation in these “cost benefit” terms. Not some bit flipped in a person’s head from “complacency” to enlightenment.

And as for your italicized complaint, as I myself complained in my original comment to Rob, I think this really is conflating two very separate things: one of them quite reasonable and justified, and the other, not. I believe that point has also been made, more or less, by quite a few others in the comments…

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calvin ostrum 12.04.04 at 7:24 am

Hmm, looking arond a little, I see that Enthymeme has been using these sophisticated arguments for quite a while. In the exchange here, for example, he criticizes his interlocutors by telling them that “Any debate about according marriage rights to homosexuals would, I take it, be altogether more nuanced [than they are being] about things.”

This is presumably why, a few lines earlier in the very same comment, he gives this highly nuanced claim: “if you have the (legal) right to homosexual marriage, then you have the right to bigamy, to polygamy, to bestiality, to consensual cannibalism, to _anything_”, and also perhaps why he decides to refer to folks who disagree with him as being “fuckwits”, “asswipes”, and “dumbfucks”…

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