Guest post: Why We Need Definitions, Borders, and Boundary Maintenance

This is a guest post by Jamie Huston, who blogs at gentlyhewstone.com.

PART I: INTRODUCTION

Can you define the word “chair?” Seems simple—let’s say it’s a small, raised platform that’s supported by legs and which typically has a back against which your torso can rest. That definition brings to mind a single, simple, useful picture—in short, a conservative ideal of chairs.

But might that seem too restrictive? So let’s say a chair can have variations. Chairs with wheels are chairs, too, and shouldn’t be judged for being different! Those tacky old chairs that are shaped like a giant hand? Those are chairs that demand to exist as they are—a chair that lives on the fringes of society and is getting tired of being mistreated.

Maybe accepting some natural variations is morally decent, though, right? But now we’re on a slippery slope. There are some people who claim to be more high-minded than the rest, who embrace diversity and tolerance as the greatest values, and who therefore feel driven to constantly expand our understanding of chairs for us, for the good of those would-be chairs which have been marginalized and for those of us who are too culturally dull to know that we had many more chairs among us in the first place.

Is not, they indignantly say, a chair anything on which one might reasonably sit? Is not a bean bag a valid chair? A couch? The ground itself? Well, perhaps, we’re inclined to say, for we see many of our peers nodding at the wisdom of this, and feeling good about ourselves for being such pioneers of inclusion.

And now we’re solidly in liberal territory (liberal, after all, connotes expansiveness above all—the eternal obsession with widening existing things). Once we’ve established that the very surface of the world could be called a chair, for it can kind of serve a similar function if forced to, we have given a green light to the radicals who insist that it’s a moral imperative to recognize as a legitimate chair anything and everything that could ever conceivably be used for sitting. The hood of a car, a rock, a stack of books: all chairs.

By this point, much of society has decided that—in line with the warped thinking that has gotten us this far—virtue lies in defending the most extreme minorities possible. Life becomes a contest to advertise our righteousness by campaigning for the most imaginative visions of chairs. The tops of skyscrapers, piles of razor blades, the backs of sleeping grizzly bears: all are supposedly just as valid as any other kind of chair.

This nightmare scenario has now become both ludicrous and dangerous; dangerous for obvious reasons—those who embrace this expansive idea of chairs imperil themselves by rushing into rash experimentation; ludicrous because we would have long since abandoned the very concept of definition.

If anything and everything could be a chair, then it cannot be said that there really is any such thing as a chair at all. Things can only be said to exist by being distinct from the things which they are not. We can say that we know that chairs exist because, for one thing, a fish is not a chair. But if we decide that such a distinction is arbitrary or even bigoted, then everything becomes a blurry mush and our understanding of chairs disappears.

In the film The Incredibles, the mom tells her son, “Everyone is special,” and the frustrated son mumbles, “Which is another way of saying no one is.” There’s a serious principle there: we might call the boy’s desire to be special wrong, we might label it “privileged,” or “exclusive,” or “elitist,” or any other such loaded slur, but the fact remains that in order for anything to be said to exist, there must be things outside the definition, and that definition must usefully restrict it.

I’m talking about religion and politics here, clearly, but this even applies to fitness. We speak of toned, trained muscles as having “definition.” That means that they’re visible, as things that exist separate from the rest of the body. Even more importantly, a defined muscle is likely to be stronger and more useful for work. A muscle that has absolutely no definition is difficult to distinguish, and may not be as useful for work.

That’s what happens when we endeavor to remove definitions from our lives: we make things so indistinct as to be invisible, and so weak as to be useless.

PART II: MARRIAGE

The most obvious application of this lesson is in our society’s virtually one-sided debate about the meaning of marriage. Those who zealously crusade for same-sex marriage often do so in complete ignorance of the larger context of their goal: whatever else they may feel they’re accomplishing, they are expanding the idea of marriage to the point that it will no longer exist or function usefully in our society (indeed, many conservatives have argued that this is precisely what the liberals’ larger goal is). Anyone who automatically denies that result hasn’t considered the family court ramifications of expanding marriage, for example.

Ryan T. Anderson has made a name for himself for defending the definition of marriage in public. Consider this video, where he presses a critic to define what marriage is, and the critic refuses to do so, perhaps because he hasn’t considered it at all, or maybe because he realizes that analyzing his position will destroy it.

Ultimately, if marriage is to exist at all, it must have some kind of definition, and by its nature, a definition must exclude some things; in the real world, exclusion will always mean that some people will get left out—that good, decent people will get their feelings hurt and will go without things they think they deserve. Liberals are hesitant to admit that they’re re-defining marriage, much less define what it should be at all, because they will then be in the position conservatives are in now—the exclusivist bad guys. How do you justify telling anyone that their desire for a marriage innovation isn’t acceptable?

But that’s how we end up with grizzly bear chairs.

Here’s another great, recent example of Anderson defining marriage in the face of a critic’s failure to do so. The trend here is not accidental.

PART III: BORDERS

Another political issue can be illuminated here. In the ongoing arguments about illegal immigration, there are many who cry for compassion and inclusion first and foremost. Those things may be good, but when they come before or at the expense of definition, they become destructive.

A nation, like a marriage, a muscle, or a chair, must have a definition. It must be distinct from anything else that is not part of it. It must, in short, have a border. And that border cannot be a mere line on a map—it has to mean something. A border must delineate where something begins and ends—where it exists. Again, anything with no limit cannot be said to exist at all.

Those who oppose unchecked immigration are often derided as “nativists,” but they’re only interested in saving the continued existence of a nation as it is (in conserving it, to employ another literal definition). A liberal might ask, does unchecked immigration really imperil the existence of our nation? Yes, indeed—that’s usually how nations do end. Not in the “total annihilation of the land and all life on it” sense, but in the sense that, when definition is removed, when our understanding of who we are is expanded to the point that polyamorous groups can be considered marriages or grizzly bears can be considered chairs, we lose what Mark Steyn calls “civilizational confidence” and the definition of a nation—in the metaphorical if not in the literal sense—evaporates.

People are unlikely to have pride in, much less sacrifice to defend, a nation that doesn’t even know what it is. The relativistic virtues that have been foisted on us for generations now bear their fruit: a civilization that accepts anyone and everyone as part of it without assimilation is no real civilization at all. The British historian Arnold Toynbee said that all civilizations die from suicide, and one major test of our will to live is whether or not we have the will to define what America is…and what it is not. Failure to do so will have inevitable and predictable results.

Liberals undervalue the questions illustrated by our border problems: the issue isn’t just about crime and economics (or tolerance and racism), it’s an existential need to decide if we even care who we are.

PART IV: RELIGION

In the recent kerfuffle about the disciplining of agitators, some sympathizers have criticized LDS church leadership for what they snidely refer to as mere “boundary maintenance.”

Ironically, that’s the very crux of the issue. Few things could be more important. Just as expanding the definition of “chair” becomes silly and counterproductive, just as a muscle without definition may be less useful, just as redefining marriage must necessarily injure the institution, and just as erasing borders damages civilizations, artificially altering our understanding of priesthood, for example, to make it more inclusive, will have the same negative effects such well-intentioned expansion has everywhere else: the watering down of the thing itself until it is little more than bland mush.

Nephi identifies just such a process of steady erosion as the root cause of the Great Apostasy:

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. (1 Nephi 13:26-28)

What was the practical result of repeatedly removing distinctive, challenging, exclusivist features of the gospel and church? The remaining material was free to be corrupted by every whim the trendsetters felt free to impose as they improvised new definitions.

Thus the medieval church, with its incomprehensible Trinitarian creeds.

Thus much of modern Christianity, which has accommodated itself to the world so much that one wonders why, if it’s going to simply agree with everything in the culture around it, it needs to exist at all.

I recall Hugh Nibley once writing that a non-Mormon teacher of his had criticized modern Christianity for being anemic. That’s a perfect word: it suggests the same watered-down weakness I’ve been discussing.

PART V: CONCLUSION

Today, we have an all-things-to-all-people religious and political culture that doesn’t really mean anything.

Al Franken once mocked Rush Limbaugh for saying “Words mean things.” Sad that he didn’t realize that that’s precisely what differentiates our sides of various debates: conservatives are demonstrating care about basic meanings, and liberals aren’t.

I used to think Aristotle’s concern with classifying everything (see here) was pointless, but I now see that it’s essential: there can be no progress in thought unless we first know exactly what we’re working with. As a debate coach, I can tell you that the side that better defines the relevant terms will almost always win. (That’s why the mainstream is winning the same-sex marriage debate: popularizing the word “homophobia” was a stroke of genius.)

Institutions react like a gas: when elements are removed, the fewer remaining particles expand to fill the void in a pale simulacrum of the original, giving us a much thinner substance. If you remove the borders containing it, it will expand to the point where it effectively disappears, blending into the environment around it.

Hopefully I haven’t labored the point too excessively, but I need you to see the same cause at the root of all these disparate problems.

As an English teacher, I’m happy to suggest that as we confront controversies in religion and politics, we would do well to focus on defending definitions.

30 thoughts on “Guest post: Why We Need Definitions, Borders, and Boundary Maintenance

  1. Thanks for this post. Your central point is an excellent one to make. I think it’s true that if we define everything so as not to miss any exceptions that our definitions become useless. As you say, everything will blend into everything else.

    But I think it’s even more than that. We risk actually losing the *essence* of what we’re defining. I hope it’s okay if I quote myself from something I posted about gender on my own blog:

    “In the twenty-first century, by abstracting with even more boldness than before, we are at risk of inventing an epicene anthropology, a de-gendered image of humanity in which very few people are made.

    The beauty of our civilizational self-portrait has given way to something more schematic, an image that contains no errors but misses the likeness of its subject. Which is more important—that our collective imagination of human identity (symbolized, perhaps, by a birth certificate) is broad enough to include every permutation of individual identity, or that it is deep enough to capture the essence of humanity itself?”

  2. Shouldn’t there be some discussion with regard to authority here, as in “Who has the authority to determine the definitions?”

    The Book of Mormon has an instructive episode in which Alma and Korihor have a discussion about what is true and what is not, and when it’s all over, Alma has demonstrated the authority of God in the matter when Korihor is struck deaf and dumb.

    As members of the Church preaching to an unbelieving world, we can say “Because God says so” all we want, but until there’s a convincing demonstration of authority, the world is going to continue to do as it darn well pleases.

  3. Jamie, this is an excellent post, and I agree with you. Mostly.

    Main point of agreement: if we do not define things we lose all meaning. As you rightly say, a chair has a specific definition, as does marriage. I have been writing that for years now on this blog but apparently my powers of persuasion are very low, so it is nice to see people like you, LDSP and Ryan T. Anderson take up the banner. (jk).

    I disagree a bit on the whole border issue, but I admit I am torn on this, so my disagreement will seem a bit wishy-washy. My practical side says of course we need borders and borders need enforcing, etc, etc. My romantic spiritual side says: defending borders has been the source of much unneeded conflict during world history, and as a follower of the Prince of Peace I simply cannot get too worked up about these arbitrary borders that have been in place in the U.S. for about 60 years (Alaska, Hawaii). Spanish Mexico once included most of the Western U.S., and our dirty little war against Mexico brought almost half of Mexico’s territory into the U.S. Did Mexico have a right to defend its borders? Yes, the Mexicans defended their borders and lost the war and lost half their land. Was that just? Personally, I think the answer is “no,” but the practical effect for today is that the land is now “ours” so “we” get to decide who is part of the “nation” and who is not.

    I simply don’t think God sees it that way, and I doubt in the Millennium there will be such a thing as national borders.

    Now, from a practical standpoint I agree that the U.S. cannot simply open the borders and let everybody in. The latest crisis has proven beyond a doubt that the result of that would be chaotic. In addition, I simply don’t think that you can have unlimited immigration and a welfare state at the same time. There was no welfare state during the immigrant wave of 1870 to 1910, and immigrants were assimilated relatively easily. That is simply not possible with a welfare state.

    So, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know what the solution is to our immigration problem, but I don’t share your love for the idea of borders. Otherwise, great post.

  4. I’m curious if the author(s) of this post would support policy that would return us to the way immigration was handled when our country first came into being. It is my understanding that we essentially had open immigration with a few rules such as quarantines in order to prevent outbreaks of disease.

  5. Mark,

    That is a great point. First, recall that in the Book of Mormon itself we have examples of people who saw mighty miracles and still hardened their hearts. For instance, Laman and Lemuel complained to their death about their rights to leadership over Nephi even though an angel of the Lord clearly told them that Nephi was the rightful ruler because of his obedience and their disobedience.

    Kohiror, as a consequence of his hubris, was struck dumb and eventually died penniless and, supposedly, not fully repentant (I need to re-read Alma 30 to be sure of the conditions imposed for his healing). Clearly, seeing an angel or being struck dumb is not guaranteed to change the hearts of individuals.

    Therefore, such divine intervention won’t change the world (except for the second coming itself, naturally). Things will only get worse up until then, despite our efforts. What we can do is invite people to the winning team through missionary work, by focusing on raising or children, and gaining a testimony of the basic principles and ordinances of the Gospel.

  6. Aaron,

    I would love to see a return to that (just watched “An American Tail” the other night and began wondering the same thing). I just don’t see any actual way of having that be feasible. For instance, where would these immigrants settle down? Would the government be willing to issue SS# for all of them to work (and be taxed)? Where would we house these people until they are cleared? How will the American Citizens already here treat them, especially if these citizens think these immigrants are taking away their identity, their jobs, and their tax money? These are all issues that need to be taken into account, because 330 million people will never 100% agree on anything with regards to immigration.

    It appears to me that, some 70 years ago, these issues were much easier to deal with because the influx of people may have been smaller, the nation as a whole was warmer towards these immigrants, and there were less bureaucratic hurdles to jump through.

  7. Mark N, you write:

    “Shouldn’t there be some discussion with regard to authority here, as in “Who has the authority to determine the definitions?”

    I highly recommend watching this interaction between Ryan Anderson and a person at a Stanford conference:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcs1K7Gi9Pg

    In it, you will see that one person has a clear definition of marriage and the other does not and avoids actually defining what marriage is. The obvious reason is that once you change the definition of marriage from its natural definition you lose all sense of what marriage is.

    There is a natural law definition of marriage that has been around for thousands of years and is understood (still) by the majority of human beings, and that definition is: marriage is the union of a man and a woman to create a family and (hopefully) produce children.

    This is a not a definition created by the Church or by me or by Huston or by Ryan T. Anderson, it is a result of natural law. (And this does not mean that other people can form other types of unions, but they are not marriages, they are something else). Just as the word “liberty” has a natural meaning, “marriage” has a natural meaning. You cannot claim that the word “liberty” means “spending your life in jail because Mark N thinks you should go to jail and he doesn’t like you.” No, “liberty” has a clear meaning. The same thing applies to the word “marriage.”

    So, in some places gay couples can get marriage licenses. This does not mean they have formed a “marriage.” It means they have formed a union of their own choice, but marriage is something else. If a dictator claims that he is providing “liberty” to his subjects by throwing them in concentration camps, this does not mean he is actually doing so. “Liberty” means something else than concentration camps.

    So, we do not need to play the game of “this is the Church trying to define marriage and impose its definition on a secular world.” The definition of marriage existed long before Joseph Smith or President Monson.

  8. I have believed for a long time that a defining characteristic of modern liberals is an inability to make fine moral distinctions. However, you’ve fleshd out this idea far better than I ever had.

  9. I’m not sure that “The definition of marriage existed long before Joseph Smith or President Monson”, or, rather, that our current definition matches up with the definition that “existed long before Joseph Smith”. As the wikipedia states:

    Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own, being considered, along with the family’s children, the property of the husband; as such, they could not own or inherit property, or represent themselves legally (see for example coverture). In Europe, the United States, and a few other places, from the late 19th century throughout the 21st century, marriage has undergone gradual legal changes, aimed at improving the rights of women. These changes included giving wives a legal identity of their own, abolishing the right of husbands to physically discipline their wives, giving wives property rights, liberalizing divorce laws, and requiring a wife’s consent when sexual relations occur.

    Do our relatively recently implemented changes from the historical version of marriage not count somehow as being a change in the definition of marriage?

  10. Mark, regarding who has authority to define things, we hardly need to reinvent the wheel or use religion as a cop-out. Thousands of years of civilization has defined basic institutions for us. The whole point of conservatism is to save those things in our heritage most worth saving. Should any faction want to alter an aspect of that heritage, the burden of proof falls on them to convince us of the need for that change. None of the agitators discussed in this post–about marriage, borders, or priesthood–have done so, hence their typical resorting to propaganda and fallacies. Favoring the status quo is not only the philosophy of the legal system, it’s common sense.

    Geoff and Carolina, I actually have a lot of sympathy for your views here. For example, those tens of thousands of children pouring into the US lately? I think there’s a good case to be made for granting them asylum. If anyone else here is as huge a fan of Mark Steyn as I am, you know he’d kill me for saying that!

    The bigger issue for me than our actual immigration policies is that we acknowledge as a society–that we remember–that we have both a right and need to strictly define ourselves. We might end up agreeing as a nation to let everyone in, but we should understand that any action needs to stem from a conscious decision about our identity, a decision that will enable us to endure as a distinct people. Hence my use of the phrase “without assimilation” in my post. Not everybody can be an American; if it were otherwise, “American” would be as meaningless as the chair in my example, and our society would be lost.

    Aaron, the history of our immigration policies is more complicated than that. A liberal would be horrified at it. But that history at least flows from a solid understanding that we have defined ourselves until recently, and our policies followed accordingly.

    That being said, no, I also don’t think there will be national borders during the Millennium, at least in any significant sense. I could be wrong.

    Interesting that so many of the comments have focused on borders, but not civil marriage or the church at all. It seems there’s at least support for my general thesis: liberal agitation relies on subverting definitions, which imperils the very existence of the things being targeted for reform.

  11. Also, interesting that a couple of people have brought up Alma. There was a section in my first draft of this about discipleship as commandment-driven behavior, but it got cut because the post was already so long.

    Short version: consider the wonderful (and under-quoted) parable of the kite by Sister Pinegar in the October 1999 conference. She likened the string on a kite to the commandments, which, though appearing to hold the kite back, in reality is keeping it up. Cutting the string and giving the kite “freedom” only causes it to crash.

    I like the use of a string as a symbol here: a line that seemingly creates a burden but which actually enables success. It’s just like the definitions, borders, and boundaries in the rest of the post–all of them either literally or metaphorically lines which give life to things by creating limits.

    Contrast that with Korihor, that most modern of the Book of Mormon’s anti-Christs, whose whole strategy is to eliminate the borders and boundaries set up around people (Alma 30:13, 23, 24, 27) and live without any such definitions at all (Alma 30:17-18). Of course his plan found many new fans in 20th century America, and it always leads to destruction.

  12. Mark N., I noticed in your wikipedia definition how you ignored the elephant in the room. Regardless of how limiting or free the treatment of women has been in past marriages, the fact remains that the core component of marriage for thousands of years has been a man and a woman united. Instead of undermining, that little trick quote of yours actually underlines that fact.

  13. Mark, To clarify a common misconception, the BofM never says that Korihor became “deaf and dumb.” It is a commonly used phrase but has lately fallen out of usage because 1) it is offensive to the Deaf community, and 2) there are Deaf folks who can speak quite intelligibly.

    Outstanding post, Jamie. I also like your application of the parable of the kite. Definitions, boundaries, and strong guidelines are important, otherwise we all build on an environment of shifting sands and anything goes mentality.

  14. It took me a bit of thinking to figure out what was bothering me about this article, but I think I’ve hit on it – setting up a large straw man. It’s like when someone points to a particularly vehement (and uneducated) tea party adherent and says, “see what all conservatives are like! Aren’t they awful?”

    I mean really, you couldn’t find anyone with a strict definition of marriage that wasn’t of the “one man one woman” variety? I’d imagine the only ones who can’t are those who ultimately don’t want marriage to exist at all. It’s pretty simple to shift the definition and retain stability, just change “one man and one woman” to “any two consenting adults”.

    Second, we’ve got to get over the whole argument of “historical” or “traditional” for our definition of marriage. Even if you step back 20 years to where no one was even considering SSM, there were a lot of variations in traditions and history in the world that didn’t fit the “one man one woman” mold, and were still considered marriages. LDS still believe in polygamy, even if it’s not practiced while living.

    We’re far better served by looking at actual data on the spiritual and psychological effects of the removal of the importance of marriage and family. We’ve spent generations hacking away out roots and wondering why we feel so isolated. We have thrown away our parents and wonder why we have no identity. So yes, this is a big, scary straw man.

    For the longing of pre-20th century immigration; it’s not only missing out on the vast difference in government services created in the 20th century, but also the mass amount of racism toward any group of immigrants you’d arrived even 10 minutes before (or just felt they were different enough).

  15. Jamie, it’s true that words often evolve in meaning over time. But this doesn’t mean that it loses definition. The definition simply changes to include other parameters. Sometimes if a word becomes too inclusive or broad, qualifiers are added to give it more meaning. So languages become more complicated, but they never become confusing or too general.

    So with “marriage,” whose definition has broadened in the last decade, we now have “traditional marriage” as well as “same-sex marriage.” What’s the big deal about adding a qualifier as words take on more complicated meanings? We also have “open marriage” “polygamous marriage,” “common law marriage,” “arranged marriage,” “forced marriage” “polyandrous marriage” and many others that have been around for centuries.

    A “same-sex marriage” will never be a “traditional marriage” just as a “polygamous marriage” will never be a “traditional marriage” according to it’s current conservative definition. We can all have our favorite kinds of marriage, and we can personally and collectively advocate for the kinds of marriage we happen to think are best. But upon what grounds do we deny the same privilege to others, who like other kinds of marriage?

    The real issue is that conservatives don’t want “same sex marriage” to be a “legal marriage.” They only want “traditional marriage” to be legal, maybe along with “arranged marriage” or “polygamous marriage” (in the case of some Mormons). So it’s not a question of semantics but a question of law. Mark N.’s question “who has the authority” to dictate the law, is really the only legitimate question. Are laws in America dictated by Mormon prophets? Or by the American people, through their representatives who appoint judges? By the American people, through the judiciary. That is not God’s law, it is American law. As God told Samuel, “Hearken unto the voice of the people IN ALL THAT THEY SAY UNTO THEE: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them”

    This is all a lost cause of course. Soon, same-sex marriage will be legal everywhere, by the voice of the judiciary AND the voice of the people. Since the people have spoken, why advocate a tyrannical and anti-democratic position of enforcing LDS morality upon those who have wholly rejected it? That is not the Lord’s way.

    Rather, we have our own kind of special marriage, “temple marriage,” which we do not try to enforce upon people, or advocate for legally. In Great Britain and most other countries outside the US, “temple marriage” is not legal. But Mormons don’t complain. Rather, they simply do two ceremonies, a civil one, which is legal, and then they do another one in the temple afterwards. Not a big deal.

    So like married gays, whose “same-sex marriage” is illegal, Mormons around the world also have their “temple marriage” as illegal, unrecognized, with zero influence upon their place in society. Mormons are lucky because even though our marriage is illegal, we can do a “show” marriage for society in order to become recognized. But gays can’t do this. Why not let gays have “legal” marriages too? Mormons believe “legal marriages” are pretty pathetic to begin with. D&C declares that they “are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.” So they are practically worthless eternally anyway. Only our super special temple marriages are of eternal worth, and those aren’t even legal in most of the world!

  16. “why advocate a tyrannical and anti-democratic position of enforcing LDS morality upon those who have wholly rejected it? That is not the Lord’s way.”

    Why swallow hook line and sinker the bait the the adversary has used to ensnare others as demonstrated by using such militant language? Tyrannical? Anti-democratic? Forgive the exasperation, but this sounds dialogue that would have been inserted into Lucifer’s mouth int he temple drama were it being written today.

    It’s not tyrannical and anti-democratic for the people to vote what they feel their moral and civil regulatory preferences are. It’s expressly democratic.

    It’s anti-democratic to rely on the court system and a handful of elected representatives to time and time again thwart the will of the people. You and others will likely use the changing tide in opinion to your advantage in the future to say that opinions were always going to trend in the SSM direction.

    But I think it’s much more likely, that if the courts stayed out of the issue we would not even see the current trend in popular opinion. It’s only after the DOZENS of high profile legal battles in multiple states over the period of 15+ years that popular opinion is starting to weary on this issue and consequently, support is waning. This is what you’d expect, when the people vote one way, and then consistently for 10 years have everyone from the legal system, to the politicians, to the entertainment industry, to the educational “industry” tell them they are bigots.

    So again, you’re swallowing truths hook line and sinker that aren’t true at all.

  17. Nate, your pro same-sex marriage harangue is hackneyed and filled with huge logical fallacies. But arguing with you about this subject is a waste of time because our perspectives are too different for us to find any common ground.

    I will return to the point that Ryan T. Anderson makes very well: your vision of marriage as something that same-sex people can enter into is still exclusive. Presumably you do not believe that 10 people can get married or that a man can marry his chair or that people can marry dogs. (At least to have these unions recognized as a “marriage” by the state). What you must wrap your mind around (and I know that this is difficult given our current social environment) is that marriage either has a specific meaning or it has no meaning at all. This has nothing to do with LDS prophets (a logical fallacy that you bring up that I refuted above) or the Church imposing its morality on society. This is simply the natural meaning of the word “marriage.”

    Until you can define exactly what a marriage is and create a logical case to defend that definition, your argument has no meaning at all because it is simply an appeal to emotionalism with no basis in logic or natural law.

  18. One of the challenges we face in our day is the advent of technologies and sensibilities that didn’t exist years ago.

    In the distant past, it wasn’t easy for a woman to participate in sex without a strong likelihood of producing a child. Being pregnant and nursing an infant makes the individual who can bear and nurse a child vulnerable in an pre-industrial age.

    Thus the need for an individual to care for and protect the woman and her child(ren). This function is also performed in agriculture, going by the common term of husband (which arose first as a verb, and then was applied to the individual performing the action, creating the noun form).

    In Latin, one who husbands is a maritus. And thus, a situation in which a child-bearing woman and her children are protected by another individual became termed a marriage.

    Many individuals can legitimately care for a woman who bears and raises children. However over time there was strong pressure for the man who inseminated the woman to take on the role of husband. Various practices grew up to increase the likelihood that a man who wished to inseminate a woman was persuaded to take on the role of husbanding that woman.

    Here technology has in a radically short period of time removed the need for a woman to be husbanded. Not only may conception be avoided with greater than 90% probability, unwanted results from an insemination event can be safely avoided through various chemical and physical means.

    Further, technology has removed the harsh realities that attended inseminated women of past eras. Societal norms requiring protection for inseminated females, no longer supported by objective reality, begin to appear capricious and unfair. Some historical procedures for protecting inseminated females curtail liberties in a manner modern females with access to technology no longer find advantageous.

    In a world where one can count on perpetual availability of the technologies that have obviated the need for conjugal marriage, an individual’s appreciation for the need for marriage as a protection for women and children is eroded. The pleasurable aspects formerly restricted to marriage (companionship, sex, children, fancy commitment parties, tax breaks) are sought by all.

    However in a world where global climate change and stress on key resources (e.g., water) promises to force a return to many pre-technology realities, it seems unwise to jettison marriage merely because technology made the need for it less obvious in the past century.

    When we are all living within our allotted 2 tons of emitted carbon and 500 gallons of water a day, we won’t be driving around in SUVs. Transportation will be via bus or bike or foot. Food will be primarily produced locally, as the impact of shipping food from the other side of the country/world and keeping it refridgerated becomes obviously unsustainable. The old adage “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” will return to popularity.

    Society will become less mobile (have you seen how much carbon plane travel uses?). Communities will return to the human-scale clumps that existed prior to the advent of personal cars.

    I’m not saying this return to pre-industrial social patterns will happen immediately, or even during my lifetime. It may be gradual, without great upheaval. But inevitably, this return to earlier social patterns will require the emergence of a conjugal view of protecting inseminated women.

    In the mean time, however, the stress on resources has long been shown to promote anti-reproductive behaviors. For decades now, arguably since Malthus, there have been those who have promoted lack of reproduction as a virtue. So it is not at all surprising that those behaviors which reduce the likelihood and success of reproduction would become unusually prevalent.

    So long as we live in a bubble where technology has removed the need for conjugal marriage, it will not be apparent to those wishing to sit on live (but sedated?) grizzlies that their furry fashion statement is incorrect. But when the grizzly’s sedative wears off, they will no longer be so acceptable as a chair. And when transportation and “labor saving” technology ceases to be available, anti-reproductive forms of marriage may also be expected to decline (once various other events have reduced population to a level that appears to require successful reproduction).

    As the Iriquois Constitution states, “In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”

    We are looking ahead , as is one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. . . . What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

    In seven generations, I project that there will be no question that marriage is properly the province of a man willing to protect the women he inseminates, and women possessed of sense will only be allowing a single man to inseminate them. And thus we return to the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman for the protection of the woman and the woman’s children (even in the cultures that recognize the possibility of a man being allowed to serve as husband for more than a single woman).

  19. We need boundaries because otherwise we do things that, in retrospect, are not appropriate.

  20. In other words, when the bubble bursts we will be very fortunate if we don’t find ourselves flung so far back into pre-industrial modes of survival that Sharia law will make sense. How many of us will have the skills required to maintain life and liberty when the flimsy fabric of our culture crumbles? I thank God that he has set in place an organization that maintains the boundaries and knowledge that are needed.

  21. Ah, and here I thought my big long comment regarding inseminated women had gotten moderated.

    One can do the Malthusian catastrophe experiment with a short-lived population. Right now in our home the experiment is taking place with fruit flies. Currently they are experiencing beautiful conditions (somewhat like what American humans experienced during the baby boom). Shortly, I expect to inflict resource shortages on the fruit flies, along with measures that reduce reproduction.

    Humans are not fruit flies. And yet the behaviors of populations are rather predictable in the face of access to resources and the subsequent reduction in access to resources.

  22. meg wrote, “… unwanted results from an insemination event …”

    Do you ever take off the engineer hat? ;-)

  23. Pingback: Why We Need Definitions, Borders, and Boundary Maintenance | Gently Hew Stone

  24. @bookslinger: The beautiful thing about using terms like “unwanted results from an insemination event” is that I don’t get burdened by the baggage associated with other people’s words.

    Insemination event includes the following:

    rape
    consensual recreational sex
    sex within a committed relationship
    artificial insemination

    When I was going through multiple sonograms per week in the last two months of my son’s gestation, I would read the materials available for others who had reason to undergo such intense surveillance. That would include women who had been artificially inseminated and found themselves pregnant with a large number of fetuses. This was twenty years ago, so perhaps it is no longer “done” to implant a dozen fertilized eggs in hopes that at least one will “take.” But in that era, there were mothers who ended up pregnant with more children than could ever successfully come to term. And so one had to make decisions on “harvesting” or “thinning” the population of growing fetuses, else all the children would certainly die before birth.

  25. Meg. i guess that answers my question. Therefore i will infer: “no, Meg doesn’t take off the engineer hat.”

    You communicate in a style or framework similar to my own, but much more polished and professional.

    Have you ever been evaluated for Asperger’s syndrome? I sense a kindred spirit.

  26. The DSM-V no longer officially recognizes Aspergers, which I have always thought of as being socially blind.

    My daughter and brother are autistic, and I can trace autistic tendencies in my family tracing back several generations. And inasmuch as I live in an area where the schools say everyone has autistic tendencies, I don’t mind identifying autistic tendencies in myself.

    But if I have to choose between being someone who bases decisions on fact alone and being a lemming, I would prefer to be someone who bases decisions on fact.

    However, I don’t think it is accurate to bin me with the socially fragile and rigid individuals most people think of when they hear the term “Aspergers.”

    Now, those who self-identify as Aspergers tend to see it as a positive diagnosis, that as a side benefit allows them to say “it’s not my fault that I’m brusque.” So I assume that by suggesting that I might “test” positive for Aspergers, you meant it as a compliment.

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