The Lizard’s Tongue 1
The Great Civilizer
On September 9th, 2005, the Sacramento Bee published an editorial that casually remarked -- with remarkably unremarkable illogic -- that same-sex marriage was inevitable:
It's easy to see how the nation's debate over gay marriage will end, but hard to predict what will happen along the way.
Gay marriage eventually will be a legal and social reality. This is not a moral judgment as much as a fact of life in a democratic society.
I’m actually uninterested in their reasoning; it’s mathematically innumerate: they note that
41 percent of American adults thought gay marriage should be legal and 55 percent did not. Of those between ages 18 to 29 (the marrying crowd, at least on Round One), the results were precisely the opposite: 55 percent supported gay marriage, 42 percent did not.
From this they concluded, “the trend is clear: Each generation of Americans is more tolerant of a variety of partnerships than the previous one.”
If this were really true, then it would already be the law of the land, of course. The faulty assumption here is that people’s opinions are fixed from age 18 all the way through senior citizenhood unto death; if a kid thinks same-sex marriage is cool at age 20, then surely he will always think so -- even when he’s 45, married, with a son in college and a daughter just graduating high school.
As anyone who has ever been 18 (and is no longer) knows, this is just dumb. We think a lot of things are great as teenagers that we abhor as adults. But I’m not here to persuade you that the editors of the Sacramento Bee have never heard of people changing their minds as they grow older and wiser.
My purpose is to make the hard case itself, and from a completely non-religious orientation: five great secular reasons why same-sex marriage is wrong and dangerous for American society.
I will return to this subject many times; we have a referendum (actually two or three referenda) coming up next year on the state ballot, and it’s an important issue. But I’ll start right in with reason number one: Marriage, the Great Civilizer.
You may have already heard this; I understand word is leaking out from the ultra-secret research facility that has recently discovered this momentous truth: men and women are different. Hey, don’t laugh; billions of your tax dollars went into this study!
I’m not talking about geometry or plumbing. Men and women think differently... and more important, they have different behavior patterns.
Some of this is biologically driven: in most mammalian populations, the male tries to impregnate as many females as possible. The female, however, has a different orientation; the female requires protection for herself and her offspring, because the young are especially vulnerable to predators and unrelated males... therefore, her impulse is to interest the alpha male in providing such protection on a permanent basis.
Flash forward a few million years. It boils down to the following among human beings: men have a natural urge to go wilding, hitting on every woman they meet; but women have a natural desire to domesticate the man, bind him to her on a permanent basis, and make him stay in one spot.
This worked out fairly well when we were all hunter-gatherers: if a young man didn’t hook up with a local woman, there were always other tribes; cross-fertilization is good for the gene pool. Or he could go fight lions and wrestle crocodiles, working it out of his system.
But then some fool in Egypt or the Middle East went and invented agriculture. All of a sudden, people were staying in one spot from birth to death. Settlements get bigger and denser, due to the availability of food. Suddenly, populations of young, frustrated men roamed the streets, looking for excitement. The world’s first slums probably arose about a hundred centuries ago.
A male behavior pattern that worked perfectly among chimpanzees and reasonably well among nomads and wandering hunters became catastrophic among city-dwellers.
We skip a few hundred generations to today. We still have that huge behavioral gap between men and women: boys, as a group, are simply more aggressive, impulsive, randy, competitive, violent, and anomistic than girls. Girls (collectively) tend towards forming intricate social heirarchies and behaviors and playing cooperative games, and in general, acting more civilized than boys; in fact, civilization itself is more oriented towards the natural tendencies of women than men.
(It's no good telling me that you know some aggressive female bodybuilders or that Alan Alda is a girlie-man. Big deal. There is always more variation within a group than between groups. But that does not invalidate the central point: as a group, men and women are as I described them, and everyone knows that.)
Amazingly, though designed for women, civilization turns out to be pretty good for men, too. Wilding seems like it would be exciting; but in reality, a barbaric life is, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” as Hobbes put it. Think of a typical inner-city gang kid’s joyous day-to-day existence.
But if civilization is not natural for men, how do we get that way? Of course, you’re way ahead of me: women take male barbarians and turn them into civilized human beings. Women civilize men... and they do it primarily through marriage, though of course motherhood also plays a role.
Women civilize men. Men without women are like Lord of the Flies: kill the pig! kill the pig! Violent crime skyrockets in the absence of marriage, because men with men accentuate the negative, a huge feedback loop of savagery. Don’t believe me? Think of a bachelor party or a fraternity house.
And women with women amplify all their worst tendencies. This is why lesbian households are so often so poor: typically, neither of the “partners” is aggressive, competitive, or job-centered. This is what men teach women: how to compete, how to stick up for themselves, and how to get things done. Some women learn it from their fathers; many more learn it from their husbands. (Those whose fathers and husbands always did everything for them lost the relationship sweepstakes big-time.)
We live in a society that prizes liberty and individual choice. To me, it betrays Americanism to forbid people the right to live as they want to live -- even if that means two gay men or four lesbians making a household together. But we’re not talking about what is merely allowed; when the subject is marriage, we are talking about what is applauded.
I don’t believe we have the right to forbid gay relationships... but surely we have no obligation whatsoever to pretend they are as important to society as traditional marriage.
Marriage is a definition, and definitions are based on distinctions, on discrimination: society defines “marriage” in the way that is most valuable to society. That is the only standard to use when what you’re seeking is not individual liberty or freedom, but rather society’s seal of approval.
For its entire existence, the core of Western civilization has been the union of the male and female principles into a family that transcends the limitations of each. In deciding what relationships we, as a society, shall privilege, it is imperative that we recognize the fundamental nature of that decision: it’s not unreasonable to insist that the “norm” actually be what is normal and traditional.
So let gays shack up; let swingers have their orgies; let two aging sisters live together for companionship. But as General Honore said, “don’t get stuck on ‘stupid!’” However valuable such relationships may be to the individuals involved, we cannot pretend that every imaginable relationship is a marriage, or else the word “marriage” loses all meaning.