Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Patrick Deneen on Gay Marriage

Patrick, talking about gay marriage at FPR says this, "American marriage - and relationships in general - are increasingly defined above all by the imperatives of individualism, and thereby subject to the demand that any particular relationship is contribute to an individual’s personal development and satisfaction. If not, then it is subject to fundamental redefinition."

He states things exactly correctly, and gets the main point completely wrong. Committed marriage is an ongoing act of personal development, not as a goal, but as a product. People give up on it not because they don't get enough development but because the personal development required to make a true marriage is actually quite hard. Many marriages that stay together do so even though the partners have not grown, and the marriage is not functional in any meaningful sense. Is this a desired outcome? I don't see it.

Marriage is hard work. Good work, but hard. Patrick, we are inevitably and irrevocably individuals with the the unassailable authority to choose. Limiting that choice by ramping up consequences for choices of which you disapprove is no more than whipping the deckhands until morale improves. It ain't gonna work.

Marriage is not about children, or at least not only about children. It is about two people (or more? though as hard as it is for two people, more seems all but impossible) making a life together. Marriage in this country has not been about children for a long, long time. Intentionally childless marriages are not new. Gay marrriage is no more than recognizing that we are beings inhabiting a specific body, where context is set by the body but the choices are made by the being.

Patrick goes on, "Marriage is a condition in which individuality is subsumed to the larger considerations, demands, and obligations of culture and commonweal. At the most basic level, we sacrifice our autonomy on behalf of the good of a “unit” now defined as a couple, not two individuals." Again, he missed the point. Individuality is not subsumed by marriage. Individuality is inalienable, or unfixable, depending on your POV. Partners bring their individuality to the marriage, and then in a long process of give and take, of mistakes and forgiveness, learn how to be a human being whose self defined circle of "me" includes other people, and choices are not made for the good of a single individual but for the good of whoever is included in that circle.

Patrick simply can't get it that we are inescapably individuals, that every act is a choice; that our individuality is inalienable and must be accommodated, not assumed away. Until he gets that much, his prescriptions for a better future for all of us will remain infeasible, or worse, counter productive. Which is a bad, as at least the FPR folks are talking about and working toward a future that is radically different, and fundamentally more human, from that we currently experience.


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