Monday, June 16, 2014

Marriage Equality and Family Values

Consistent with my commitment to multiculturalism and the free market of ideas, I've often been one to say that whilst marriage is a good foundation for a family, it surely isn't the only one. Yet I have also said that marriage equality is essential for the promotion of family values. If a family can be formed by other kinds of partnerships, why would marriage equality still be essential then?

There are two reasons. Firstly, marriage is a bright beacon of family values, and has always been. Whilst families can be formed by other means, marriage is still a major representation of how family values culture is seen. If any part of marriage is discriminatory, even if just in the processes of the government rather than the views of the wider culture, family values culture itself is tainted in the eyes of many people. We cannot allow that to happen.

Secondly, upholding family values means supporting the formation and sustenance of families. Whilst it is possible for gay and lesbian couples to start a family by civil union or cohabitation, for example, that may not be what they really want to do. Forcing a couple to settle for a solution that they don't really want is not a really supportive thing to do. It's for the same reason that I have been supporting opening up civil partnerships to straight couples in the UK and other countries. The foundation to a family must be something the couple must be willing to believe in. We must support them in each and every case.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Answering Critics of Marriage Privatization

1. Marriage Privatization May Affect Marriage Culture
Some people have raised concerns that marriage privatization may affect marriage culture. But just how that effect will be is still debated. Some contend that marriage culture will be weakened. However, there is no evidence nor any inherent logic that the non-use of the 'marriage' word and its replacement with 'civil unions' will weaken marriage culture in any way, since 'marriage' will be around in our culture for at least centuries to come either way. Conversely, many people also say that marriage privatization will strengthen marriage culture. When couples can set their own terms for their own marriage, it is logical that there will be more ownership of marriage in our culture, and therefore there will be a stronger marriage culture. There is a third option too - that marriage privatization would not change marriage culture in any way. As culture is not really reliant on government, except in the fantasies of authoritarian types, this is not unlikely too.

There is another aspect to this argument too. When marriage is in the hands of the government, they have an increased power to mould it any way they like. All the conservatives who don't believe in marriage privatization will regret it if one day the government allows polyamorous marriages. I believe that one of the reasons some of them are so paranoid about marriage equality, to the point of inventing a slippery slope argument, is because they are just too aware that whenever government favours on definition of marriage over another, they can further change the definition at any time. But this has nothing to do with marriage equality itself - it's just the natural consequence of letting government control marriage. When marriage returns to the collective hands of the public, no future government will be able to impose a new definition of marriage on the people without majority support.

In short, whilst there is plenty of debate about what kind of impact, if any, marriage privatization will have on marriage culture, the case for a stronger marriage culture under marriage privatization is at least as strong if not significantly stronger than the case for the opposite. Marriage culture is weak enough as it is, with the 40%+ divorce rates, and many would agree that there needs to be a change. Many believe marriage privatization should be part of that change.

2. Marriage Privatization May Lead To Bigger Government Through Welfare
This is an argument made to convince small government libertarians, but I believe it is just a conservative argument dressed up to appeal to libertarians. Firstly, believing in the result of increased reliance on welfare depends on believing in a weakened marriage culture under marriage privatization, something clearly not agreed by any supporter of marriage privatization that I know. Therefore, this is speculative opinion only. Conservatives often make and support policy on feeling rather than hard evidence, whilst libertarians are more likely to look at evidence. Hence the differences on things like the drug war. Therefore, acting on speculative opinion is essentially conservative and totally unlibertarian.

Plus it is against libertarian principles to use the ends to justify the means. It is a very conservative but not libertarian thing to do. For example, plenty of libertarians, myself included, do believe that legalising marijuana may have adverse effects on societal productivity and welfare dependence. Yet only conservatives, not libertarians, believe that the status quo of criminalising marijuana should be maintained because of this. The conservative worldview generally supports using anti-liberty means to achieve desired outcomes, whilst the libertarian worldview requires one to support liberty as a principle. Another great example is where conservatives often support wars to 'spread liberty and democracy' but libertarians almost never do, even though they too believe in liberty and democracy.

Therefore, I believe arguments like these are purely conservative and incompatible with libertarian thinking.

3. Marriage Privatization Is Impracticable As A Political Goal
This argument is often put forth by liberals and libertarians who believe that there is nothing we can do about government control of marriage. I have to disagree here. I believe we are not going to achieve the ideal of getting the word marriage replaced by the word civil unions everywhere in law in the next 30 or more years. But that doesn't mean that we cannot have a change in culture and even some changes in law that supports the idea of marriage as a cultural institution defined by the couple and their families and community first and foremost. We need to lay the groundwork and win the cultural argument first.

In the West, marriage has been in the hands of the government for a few centuries. Marriage privatization will take time. It will definitely be a much longer term thing than reforms like marriage equality. I believe full legalisation of marijuana and euthanasia will even come before legal marriage privatization. But one day its time will come. We just have to be patient.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What's Wrong with Marijuana Positivity

Some celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are well known for their positive attitudes towards marijuana. In fact, they have deliberately shown it, for example by wearing stuff with marijuana leaves on them.

I feel very uneasy about that, really. In my mind, marijuana is dangerous. Legal or not, I am never going to touch that stuff, therefore. I also feel that I should share what I think on this matter with my friends, and I certainly would be happy if they also share my point of view. I would also be worried if I ever found out a friend was using marijuana - not judgemental as you may think, but just worried for them. I believe that marijuana has potential bad health effects. I also believe that a life lived under its influence is not the best lifestyle. Therefore, I really don't like the idea of glorifying it. It's not really like saying you love ice cream and chocolate, you know.

Another thing is the double standard for those praising marijuana vs those expressing an unfavourable opinion of it. In many sections of culture, people like Miley and Rihanna are celebrated, whilst people like us are stigmatised as prohibitionists, even though we don't support the 'war on drugs' either. I hope that this double standard is removed. Those of us who advise our friends against using marijuana are speaking from our hearts too, and want the best for our friends. It doesn't mean we support the continued ban on marijuana in most places, or the 'war on drugs'. We are expressing an opinion, and we are not persecuting anyone. Why should there be a stigma against us speaking out?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

It's the Culture, not the Waiting Period

There have been talk in recent years in several US states of possibly extending the waiting period for couples who want to get a divorce. Supporters say that this will give struggling families a 'second chance', whilst opponents say that it may make things even more difficult for people trapped in abusive situations.

As a former supporter of 'divorce reform' and covenant marriages, let me say this: I too would like to see a drastic cut in the divorce rates of the Western world, perhaps 4% would be much healthier than 40%. But to justify an increase in governmental intrusion, into an area of life that is deeply personal and private, requires solid evidence to back it up, as well as a strong democratic majority to support it. It would be forcing moral values down others' throats to suggest otherwise.

Let's look at the evidence first. On the evidence, I am unconvinced that barriers to divorce in the form of waiting periods or compulsory counselling have a major impact on divorce rates. In the US each state has a different waiting period, and the data suggests that there is no clear association between waiting periods and divorce rates. Plenty of no waiting period states are below median in divorce rates, whilst Arkansas with its long waiting period has one of the highest divorce rates. If anything, divorce rates appear to be more divided along regional lines, and appear to be particularly high in the South. This suggests that waiting periods provide minimal benefit at best.

And then there was the experience of covenant marriage. Exit from covenant marriages come with a longer waiting period and there may be counselling provisions too. However, evidence I have seen suggest a divorce rate of around 25% from memory. There is a reduction there, but it's around 20% or less. Plus there is sometimes also the option of getting the divorce in a neighbouring state. Given that only very few couples chose covenant marriage in the first place, this represents a self selected group, often more religious and traditional, who definitely take marriage more seriously. You would expect a significantly lower divorce rate amongst this group, frankly. Therefore, I expect the real benefit to be 10% or less, and it is entirely plausible that there is actually no benefit at all.

Let's look at the democratic situation now. Opinion on this issue appears split. A return to fault based divorce appears to be out of favour across the Western world, and mandatory long waiting periods and counselling continues to be strongly opposed by a significant number of people. Democratic opinion alone justifies not changing the current divorce system. The only other option is to provide a two-tiered marriage system as in covenant marriage, but take up rates are low and it may create more problems than it solves.

I would suggest that most people in the 1950s did not divorce not because of the barriers, but because they truly would not even think about getting a divorce unless there was abuse in the relationship, because culturally you didn't walk away from a marriage that was 'becoming boring', or 'simply does not satisfy me anymore'. Everyone knew the expectations of marriage. Such things as Hollywood 'mini marriages' would be considered highly offensive by most. I suggest that we return to this culture. Divorce should be available, but we should all have a cultural consensus that it is only for the unfortunate few suffering abuse at the hands of their spouses. It should be never something to even think about just because you had a minor argument with your spouse. It should never be seen as a common event. One aspect about the 50s view to divorce that I surely don't want back however is discrimination against divorcees. Many divorcees have suffered so deeply, it is only fair that a compassionate society show them the deepest condolences and support. Anything less is judgmental and cold hearted.

'Divorce reform' is a non solution that pretends to be a solution, to satisfy those who cannot find a solution but are angry at the sky high divorce rates in the Western world. I suggest that we should look at proper solutions instead. I think the answer lies in culture. Using government to solve a cultural problem is basically anti-libertarian, and before long we are on our way to fascism.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Conservative Politics are Often Maladaptive (Or Why I Stopped Being Politically Conservative)

Conservative ideals are often framed in terms of family values, upholding tradition, not compromising traditional liberties, and the like. Many people hold these ideals, regardless of race, gender, cultural background, occupation or sexual orientation. And they are noble ideals! Who wouldn't want healthier families and strong traditions?

And then there is conservative politics, an attempt in translating some of those values into policies. The results are often ineffective, sometimes counter productive, and usually in violation of the principles of good government. For example, restrictions against abortion lead to an industry of backyard abortions, and the 'safe, legal and rare' position is much better. Combine that with adequate social welfare for single parents and struggling families, and I believe abortion rates will dramatically decrease. But no, in order to conserve the past which did not have a welfare state, Western conservative politics demand that no such welfare be provided. Another example is marriage equality. It is the best chance for a new generation of gay and lesbian couples to experience the value of permanent, lifelong commitment. However, conservative politics is again too often about just clinging onto the past, whatever the outcome. A great opportunity to promote and revive marriage is thus wasted. In fact, much of conservative politics, both economically and socially, is all about being rigid about rules from the past. It should really be called 'deliberately maladaptive politics', if anything.

Conservative politics is in essence lazy thinking. The solution to everything is just to turn back the clock, without regard for actual consequences. There's no critical thinking about if particular policies are good for families or good for liberty in actual result. Even if a policy is clearly bad for families and brings our traditions into disrepute with younger generations, conservative politicians often don't care about it. Results don't seem to matter too much with them. Times change, and we have to be adaptive. The only way to work for healthier families and strong traditions is to work for these goals within the context of the present, where a slightly different approach may be needed compared with what worked in the past. This is the biggest blind spot of conservative politics, and what makes it such a failure when it comes to results.

Instead of supporting conservative politics, I suggest that traditionalists simply work towards better outcomes for families and a stronger guarantee for liberties, with everyone else in society. In a society where this is the case, there would be plenty of room for a conservative lifestyle, and to promote traditionalist culture. It surely would be much more satisfying than engaging in maladaptive 'conservative politics', right?