Pro-​​life and pro–gay-marriage?

Eve Tushnet, a celi­bate, les­bian Catholic, points out that “there are strong indi­ca­tions that young adults increas­ingly sup­port gay mar­riage, and weaker indi­ca­tions that they are increas­ingly pro-​​life.” She says the (slight) increase in pro-​​life sup­port comes from see­ing fetuses in sono­grams. Similarly, gay mar­riage sup­port comes from know­ing gay peo­ple. Familiarly leads young adults view the issues as ques­tions of fair­ness. Young adults can see them­selves in the fetus or the gay per­son, so they don’t want to treat them differently.

But, Tushnet argues, the sup­port for these “con­tra­dic­tory” posi­tions has a weak basis. Pro-​​life posi­tions are only safe when Roe v. Wade keeps abor­tion restric­tions to things like parental noti­fi­ca­tion and wait­ing peri­ods. Take away Roe, and hor­ror sto­ries about ille­gal abor­tions win.

Gay-​​marriage sup­port is shal­low for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. That sup­port comes from the idea that gays are the same as straights, but

[t]he norms and cul­ture of mar­riage arose to meet the needs of het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples: to min­i­mize the dam­age of unreg­u­lated inter­course and max­i­mize the great social good of chil­drea­r­ing within the nat­ural family.

I have to dis­agree. Marriage has been many dif­fer­ent things. Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage, a History, showed that prop­erty and power were the main ratio­nales for mar­riage for most of his­tory. It was only a cou­ple cen­turies ago that love became impor­tant for mar­riage. Now, love has elim­i­nated the other ratio­nales for mar­riage. You can argue whether that’s good or bad—I think it’s bad or maybe neu­tral, Coontz thinks it’s good. But it means that today peo­ple don’t get mar­ried to reg­u­late inter­course (Let’s just call it sex?) or to ensure chil­drea­r­ing within a nat­ural fam­ily. Expanding mar­riage to include lov­ing gay cou­ples makes sense when gay love is equal to straight love. If that’s the equa­tion, gay mar­riage should win. (And that’s why it is winning.)

But that doesn’t mean I think Tushnet is all wrong. To the con­trary: it’s dandy for love to be such an impor­tant thing in mar­riage, but that means that the sex-​​regulation and the chil­drea­r­ing get shoved out to No Man’s Land. There’s no short­age of advice on sex or chil­drea­r­ing, but we no longer have an insti­tu­tion that auto­mat­i­cally trig­gers new sets of oblig­a­tions and respon­si­bil­i­ties. Maybe it’s time for a new insti­tu­tion? But of course, new soci­etal insti­tu­tions develop organ­i­cally, so you can’t just order one up on your Social Planning App.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-​​winning 2006 novel about a man and his son sur­viv­ing in a post-​​apocalyptic dystopia. A spare, nerve-​​wracking, often fright­en­ing tale, it’s the sort of book you can’t put down but want to, lest the images invade your night­mares. But in the end, though the plot is relent­lessly bleak, McCarthy is telling a valu­able story about the power of moral stead­fast­ness in the face of dan­ger and starvation.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthyI didn’t choose to read The Road. That is, some­one else in my book club chose it, and I went along with the choice because That’s What You Do in Book Club. McCarthy has a rep­u­ta­tion for grip­ping, vio­lent works, not nor­mally Yours Truly’s cup of tea. (He wrote No Country for Old Men, the book that inspired the 2007 movie—I haven’t par­taken of either of those.) I warned my fel­low book-​​clubbers that I was liable to stop the book if it got too gory. I was ready to stop halfway. But after I looked up the syn­op­sis on Wikipedia, I was sat­is­fied that I wouldn’t totally hate the rest of the book, so I fin­ished it, and I’m glad I did.

The novel’s name­less pro­tag­o­nists jour­ney along a road in an unrec­og­niz­able America where noth­ing lives or grows. Nothing, that is, except for the humans who can get to the dwin­dling food stores left behind in aban­doned homes and the occa­sional fall­out shel­ter. And the heinous gangs of brig­ands who sur­vive through cannibalism.

One reviewer believed that The Road was “the most impor­tant envi­ron­men­tal book ever,” because its bleak vision of the future could stir read­ers to avoid eco­log­i­cal holo­caust. That’s good and well, and per­haps even true, but to me it misses the point. The ashen set­ting that McCarthy so aptly por­trayed is just that, a set­ting. The man and boy’s resolve to sur­vive, and to sur­vive with­out eat­ing other humans—the barest min­i­mum of civ­i­liza­tion, and prob­a­bly the most essen­tial instance of the golden rule—are more pow­er­ful “teach­ing moments.” In his review, Ron Charles sug­gested that, despite a McCarthy’s weak­ness in depict­ing women (“Most middle-​​school boys have a more nuanced under­stand­ing of the oppo­site sex than McCarthy demon­strates in his fic­tion, and he does noth­ing to alter that impres­sion here.”), the novel’s lessons about “innate good­ness” and the “sim­ple beauty of this hero’s love for his son” are “profound.”

I agree. The book engaged me and pro­voked deep thoughts about liv­ing in extremis. Is sur­vival worth­while when the world is bar­ren and most evey­one you meet is a sav­age bar­bar­ians? Are any prin­ci­ples bind­ing when sur­vival is on the line? Do prin­ci­ples mat­ter when there is no soci­ety to speak of? McCarthy implies his own answers to these ques­tions through the pro­tag­o­nists, while show­ing that the cal­cu­lus of prin­ci­pled sur­vival can be harsh and unpleas­ant. If you have a strong-​​enough stom­ach for that sort of book, I rec­om­mend The Road.

Corporations are people too. (Sort of.)

Make Shadowy Campaign Money the Issue This Election.”  The White House is “stepp[ing] up attacks on what it describe[s] as a tidal wave of secret out­side money.” Corporations, freed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United deci­sion, are mak­ing large, unre­ported dona­tions to “char­i­ties” like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Norm Coleman’s American Action Network. Public inter­est groups like the Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center are wring­ing their hands over the money pour­ing into the sys­tem, fear­ing that it will cor­rupt the process.

Now, I under­stand the rea­sons for con­cern. No rea­son­able per­son wants bribery or quid pro quos in the polit­i­cal process. But I’m here to stand for what is appar­ently a remark­able propo­si­tion: cor­po­ra­tions are peo­ple too. Or rather, cor­po­ra­tions are groups of peo­ple with jus­ti­fi­able inter­ests and deserve to be heard and to par­tic­i­pate in the polit­i­cal process.

Corporations are taxed, they are sub­ject to laws and reg­u­la­tions, and they are inde­pen­dently liable for their actions. In short, they are legal actors, just as much as you. And, like­wise, they are affected by the polit­i­cal process, just as much as you.

Remember, the injus­tice of “Taxation Without Representation” was a key moti­va­tion behind the American Revolution. If the abil­ity to suf­fer detri­ment with­out a say in the process jus­ti­fies rev­o­lu­tion, then shouldn’t cor­po­ra­tions get at least some say in the polit­i­cal process? If a coal com­pany is being tar­geted by energy leg­is­la­tion, shouldn’t it be able to raise its col­lec­tive head and sug­gest that maybe its interests—and its own­ers’, employ­ees’, and cus­tomers’ interersts—be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion? Or should we exclude the enti­ties with the most exper­tise from the polit­i­cal process, ensur­ing that we don’t under­stand what the leg­is­la­tion is going to do to the affected industry?

I’m not sug­gest­ing that cor­po­ra­tions have the right to vote or that they should be treated the same as nat­ural per­sons. I am not even sug­gest­ing that cor­po­ra­tions shouldn’t be treated dif­fer­ently from nat­ural cit­i­zens when it comes to cam­paign finance reg­u­la­tions. But the work­ing assump­tion among many com­men­ta­tors that cor­po­ra­tions have no legit­i­mate inter­est in the polit­i­cal process, and par­tic­u­larly not in the leg­is­la­tion that attempts to tar­get them. That’s remarkable.

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is so ubiq­ui­tous that I thought it would be famil­iar and unsur­pris­ing. After all, my sis­ters tor­tured me through one junior-​​high sum­mer with repeated view­ings of the BBC minis­eries, and I saw the 2005 Keira Knightley film in the the­ater.  But after read­ing the actual text I can repeat that trite dic­tum: the book was better.

Because you’ve prob­a­bly already been acquainted with P&P, there’s no need to dilly dally by sum­ming up the plot. (If you don’t know who Lizzy and Mr. Darcy are, you’re either a sis­ter­less guy or a romanti-​​phobic gal, and you should check out Wikipedia.) Instead, I want to focus on Austen’s writ­ing: deft and witty. Her prose is tight and her dia­logue is engag­ing. As one might expect, she uses cadences and words that are a touch for­eign to the mod­ern ear, but the words and descrip­tions are so clear that the for­eign “accent” becomes familiar.

A few sam­ples from the book—

Mr. Darcy explain­ing his views on char­ac­ter defects to Lizzy:

There is, I believe, in every dis­po­si­tion a ten­dency to some par­tic­u­lar evil—a nat­ural defect, which not even the best edu­ca­tion can overcome.”

And your defect is to hate every body.”

And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is will­fully to mis­un­der­stand them.”

Mr. Bennet dis­cussing the snivel­ing Mr. Collins’ mar­riage pro­posal with Lizzy and his wife:

I under­stand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of mar­riage. Is it true?” Elizabeth replied that it was. “Very well—and this offer of mar­riage you have refused?”

I have, sir.”

Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accept­ing it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?”

Yes, or I will never see her again.”

An unhappy alter­na­tive is before you, Elizabeth. From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your par­ents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

And, of course, the famous open­ing line:

It is a truth uni­ver­sally acknowl­edged, that a sin­gle man in pos­ses­sion of a good for­tune, must be in want of a wife.

Which reminds me: one must be care­ful read­ing Austen. A mod­ern reader might be tempted pass on her, per­haps con­sid­er­ing her an out­moded tra­di­tion­al­ist. But that famous open­ing line is imbued with the tren­chant, cut­ting cul­tural crit­i­cism that fills the novel. Austen eval­u­ates her char­ac­ters hon­estly, and so she skew­ers many them in a way that pre­fig­ures 20th-​​century crit­i­cism of “tra­di­tional” fam­ily roles. Lizzy’s sis­ters do not sim­ply want to be mar­ried, they are mar­riage hun­gry. Her father is a well-​​meaning but reclu­sive and neglect­ful man, one who is very nearly emo­tion­ally absent toward his fam­ily. And the upper class are not always afforded the dig­nity that they think they deserve.

I was sur­prised and thrilled by how much I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice, and by how famil­iar it was, though set in the early 19th century.

Are You Type A or Type B?

Robin Hanson sets out descrip­tions of two dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple in a post this morning:

TYPE *A* folks . . . love nature, travel, and explo­ration, and they move more often to new com­mu­ni­ties. . . . They talk openly about sex, are more sex­u­ally promis­cu­ous, and more accept­ing of divorce, abor­tion, homo­sex­u­al­ity, and pre-​​marital and extra-​​marital sex. They have fewer kids, who they are more reluc­tant to dis­ci­pline or constrain.

. . . .

TYPE *B* folks travel less, and move less often from where they grew up. They are more polite and care more for clean­li­ness and order. They have more self-​​sacrifice and self-​​control, which makes them more stressed and sui­ci­dal. They work harder and longer at more tedious and less healthy jobs, and are more faith­ful to their spouses and their communities.

These types correspond–roughly but well–to the cul­tural divide in the West. They also cor­re­spond to the divide between farm­ers and foragers.

Type As, the for­agers, do well in times of plenty when pro­vid­ing for min­i­mum needs is easy. Type Bs, the farm­ers, do bet­ter in lean times, when strong com­mu­ni­ties and being able to pro­vide for one­self and one’s fam­ily is dif­fi­cult and thus para­mount.  Has the West’s pros­per­ity for the last half-​​century or so has made Type As dom­i­nant? If any­thing, at least in the United States, Type Bs were polit­i­cally dom­i­nant. If the forager-​​against-​​farmer dichotomy is cor­rect, why? Was it the fear of immi­nent destruc­tion by the Soviets or the mem­o­ries of the Great Depression and the World Wars that made the farm­ers ascen­dant? If so, will fear of ter­ror­ism or envi­ron­men­tal apoc­a­lypse keep them ascendant?

Hanson will be blog­ging about the types this week. I’m look­ing for­ward to it.