Wednesday, 30 January 2013

"What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" Girgis, Anderson & George

Those who follow my geeky blog will know that I've recently been attempting to read all those Kindle books I've been stockpiling. Becoming somewhat agitated at the poor quality of some of the fiction books I foolishly purchased because of their price (damn you self-publishers!), I felt now was the time to give "What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P George a go.

It is a, very valiant, attempt to argue in favour of a limited definition of marriage in a non-religious and logical fallacy free way without denigrating or criticising LGBT people. And on the whole, from a certain point of view, it succeeds. As a critique of the revisionist view of marriage (in opposition to the books writers "conjugal" view) it is extremely good and I would share some of the writers issues with people who claim marriage can be both special and unique but also able to be "redefined" (i.e. their reluctance to accept that equal marriage leaves marriage open to all sorts of other types of consenting adult partnerships such as polyamory).

The problem for me about the argument put forward by this book is that it relies too heavily on a certain worldview. If you don't subscribe to this worldview (and I certainly don't) then the argument is completely without merit. At times the authors say things such as "If we take these propositions for granted", but never elaborate on what happens if we don't (or even accept that we might not!). The worldview they endorse is one with "absolute truths" and "basic goods". For someone like me, whose fundamental philosophy draws upon absurdism, individualism and libertarianism, these propositions are meaningless. Not only are our lives, in my worldview, fleeting but so is our species (thus "propagation of our species", which this book considers a "basic good" is not something I accept as a "basic good") and our universe is finite. This feeds into my individualism. If our life is fleeting, and utterly pointless, it is even more important to get out of it whatever fulfillment one can. Of course this then opens up a whole kettle of fish about "Well what is to stop murder?" etc. but I don't feel this is the time nor place to discuss my wider worldview, but merely for me to point out it is fundamentally different to one on which I could share much common ground with the authors.  Overall you end up with the feeling from this book that the authors consider individual humans as no more important or free than ants within an ant colony, all working for the "greater good". It is, for me anyway, utterly depressing to ponder forcing people who don't want to be together to stay married "for the greater good". So theirs is certainly not a worldview I subscribe to or accept.

Now that is not to say the arguments are completely without merit (although there are a few issues below that I do take exception to) for those marriage equality proponents (and in my experience they are legion) who do subscribe to the authors worldview. In fact I'd say it is the most reasonable and well thought out argument I've read. However the counter-argument to the book found in this article brings up a few points I would tend to agree with. I did come away from the book feeling like the authors had made one too many assumptions and failed to explain where these assumptions had come from (a view expanded upon in that link).

The books does bring up certain issues I feel need brief responses. For example the possibility of the restrictions on individual and religious liberties that may ensue from the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. They don't mention, of course, that this already happens in reverse, especially in their own country. This issue is far more complicated that just on the issue of marriage equality and is certainly something worthy of further debate. When issues involving personal liberty crop up as a result of equal marriage I think it is clear it is more a symptom of something bigger happening in our societies and should be dealt with separately (as just stopping equal marriage will not stop this sort of thing from happening on all sorts of subjects in all sorts of ways).

Much of the book makes clear it is concerned with a much wider issue with marriage today than just same-sex marriages, calling for more social and legal pressure on people to stay together and an end to no-fault divorces. If feels that laws influence belief and behaviour and thus "redefining" marriage (or loosening the terms as with divorce) will lead to confusion as to its purpose and cause a great many people to fail to understand the important of a life long, monogomous union. Later however when dealing with the "conservative case for marriage" (that marriage would "tame" gay people and make them more socially acceptable) the book goes on to argue that laws that restrict peoples freedoms seldom last long and often fail to influence people (ergo gay people won't be tamed). Quite how it connects these two seemingly opposing arguments (that law has a strong influence on behaviour or next to no influence) I'm not too sure.

Their argument that expanding the definition of marriage devalues friendship and singledom, which when stated in this sentence sounds patently ridiculous but I assure you they are pretty convincing, is a very compelling and thought-provoking one. Certainly not one I have an answer to but it is something to ponder on.

All in all I found reading this book rather useful in terms of helping me see the view of our more reasonable opponents (an opportunity that is currently all too rare with the debate so overshadowed by the Coalition for Marriage who present so much rubbish it beggars belief as to why they have not been overthrown from their leadership position in the anti-marriage equality movement). It has left me with a few things to think about and a few personal moral/philosophical positions I need to give greater thought to. A worthy effort, although definitely wasted on me.

No comments: