Readers discuss its role in the gay-marriage debate.

Readers discuss its role in the gay-marriage debate.

Readers discuss its role in the gay-marriage debate.

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March 23 2006 11:22 PM

Along Came Polygamy

Readers discuss its role in the gay-marriage debate.

In his latest piece, William Saletan attempts  to differentiate gay marriage from polygamy by positing jealousy as an innate human emotion that dictates a universal desire for monogamy in hetero- and homosexual relationships alike.

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In a forceful rebuttal, ajaxafc turns Saletan's invocation of "nature" back upon him:

Saletan's reasoning is weak and tendentious. His argument that "nature," by providing humans with the inherent impulse of "jealousy," limits marriage to only two individuals seems to conveniently neglect the fact that "nature" also provides the appropriate equipment – i.e. compatible parts to perform the defining act of the relationship in the first place – to members of the opposite sex. But why should we obey nature when it comes to our psychological impulses, but not our physiological makeup?



In fact, this is precisely Krauthammer's argument: when you stare straight in the face the glaringly obvious physiological contradiction that is a homosexual relationship and choose to ignore it, what is keeping us from ignoring the other limitations "nature" places on marriage, such as the psychological ones?

By the very terms of the debate, DoctorPedantic thinks Saletan is playing into the right-wing's hands:

Gay marriage has nothing to do with polygamy. Saletan is buying into the fearmongers' "slippery slope" argument by trying to explain why one can support gay marriage while still opposing polygamy. But one has nothing to do with the other.



There are myriad constitutional, logical, humanistic, and yes, moral reasons to support gay marriage. At its core, the issue can be seen as one of flat-out gender discrimination… Gay marriage comes down to this: I am a man. If my partner (whom I refer to as my husband, laws be damned) were a woman, he and I could get married. The only reason he can't marry me is because he is a man. … We can get into a debate about suspect classifications and what policy justifications supposedly exist, but at the end of the day can you think of one other act that, if performed by a person of one gender is illegal, but if performed by another is not just legal but actually encouraged by the government?



The debate about gay marriage should be conducted on its own merits. So should the debate about polygamy. By linking the two of them, Saletan buys into the Rick Santorum view of the world, in which accepting homosexuality is somehow going to lead to bands of Satan-worshippers doing unspeakable things to their little sisters' puppies.



Let's discuss these issues one at a time, doing what's right without worrying about where the "slippery slope" may end.

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Looking at the gay marriage/polygamy debate through the prism of jealousy isn't especially compelling, saysnot_abel:

People who want traditional marriage promise (essentially) to restrain all kinds of innate human tendencies. Imagining that some polygamists might promise to restrain from exercising their tendency to jealousy hardly seems a great stretch. The probability that many of them won't succeed in keeping their promise isn't a good argument against their rights, given the rates at which traditional marriages fail.



If one accepts Saletan's arguments here, then proponents of gay marriage would need to show that gay marriage offers equivalent societal benefits to traditional marriage. That may be possible to do, but I'm not sure that it's a reasonable burden to impose.

ceptri agrees with the end result but takes a more legalistic approach:

The best argument to differentiate gay marriage from polygamy has to do not with marriage, but with divorce. When marriage is between two people is it very easy for the state to determine whether that marriage is ongoing or not. And if a marriage dissolves, we have methods for dividing property, that while argumentative, are at least possible because the marriage no longer exists. With marriages of multiple people, how does the state determine the "state" of the marriage, if one person leaves, is the marriage over? Should alimony and division of property take place, what if 1 person in a 10 person marriage leaves? You can see that it is impossible. And I like to think that this, is the simplest and best argument for making a division between gay marriage and polygamy.

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Kiz echoes this sentiment, concluding that "the mess of legal rights for multiple spouses is the primary reason (and it's an excellent one) for the state to block multi-party marriage."

Auros-4 reverts to the government neutrality argument here:

Along with Michael Kinsley, I would like to see the State, in general, butt out of marriage.



Marriage impacts several important areas of law -- custody of children, inheritance, joint filing of taxes, decision-making when impaired, etc. While it may make sense to have a "civil union EZ" form, which people can file to establish the standard assignment of all these rights to one partner, I see no reason why a pair of spinster sisters should not be allowed to establish a household together and file their taxes jointly; or why a divorced mother with a violent ex-husband should not be allowed to move in with her brother and sister-in-law, assigning the passage of custody rights to this uncle/aunt pair; and so on.



That this untangling of the rights assigned by marriage would happen to allow some forms of polyamorous union is (to my eyes) a happy side-effect. But I think it's a good idea, whether or not you believe people can maintain poly unions over the long term. (And, I can state with confidence that it is possible. I know plenty of people who have.)

In kolmogorov's view, Saletan misses the point at hand, which

is not what sort of relationships 'work', or what kind you would recommend to a friend, but what kinds of relationships we should allow people to have as a matter of law (at least, that is the point for the conservatives he mentions at the outset).



There are lots of stupid things a person can do but much of the point of a free society is to let people make stupid choices if they want. Or rather, to let people decide for themselves which choices are stupid. This is precisely what is wrong with moralist conservatives, they want to make all the choices for you.



If you are going to suggest that the ban on polygamy is meant to protect people from the pain of polygamous divorce, how can you contenence marriage of any sort, since over half of marriages of any sort end in divorce? We should ban marriage (or divorce) if the pain of divorce is so great to require state intervention.

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Ondaweb makes this appeal, endorsed by author William_Saletan here, for a gender-neutral, two-tiered system of contractual benefits:

Why is this issue so hard to understand? What business is it of yours who someone else lives with, has sex with for a long time or a short time? Or more exactly, what consequences does any of that have for you? None. So how does it get to be your business?



BUT if any of that activity produces a child, THEN it becomes our business. Because a child must be fed and taken care of and if the people who made the child don't do it we (i.e., society) will have to. Now it's my busisness because I don't want to take care of your child (or pay taxes or deal with the consequences of unwanted children who grow up.)



So let's be clear: you can sleep with, live with anyone you want but if there's a child involved, society is fairly involved in regulating that. So now marriage (as opposed to civil uninon, say) is about taking care of children. And do you have to be of differeing sexes to take care of a child? Doesn't seem so.



Let there be marriages (with a lot of rules and benefits) for taking care of children. Civil unions (focused on property) with less for people who want to live together.

TobyBelch offers an interesting summary of one gender-based study of jealousy, noting that "social sanctions against infidelity, such as marriage, are a way of freeing men and women from the burdens of being suspicious and jealous all the time, and provide a more stable institution for raising kids."

And finally, I'll leave you with Pseudo_l's defense of polygamy as a potential social good: "I'd love to agree but I can't… For one thing, what does [Saletan] say about societies where it is better for a woman to be wife number 2 than unmarried? Does he think it's good that she overcomes her jealousy--and that it's only bad for working women? I can't understand why the gay vs. polygamy argument can't just say that patriarchal oppression is bad, loving and committed relationships between 2 people are good."

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For a fascinating glimpse into how the courts handled the question of inheritance for children sprung from polygamous Mormon marriages, see the SCOTUS opinion for this 1894 case Handley v. Chapman. AC 8:11pm PST

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Witold Rybczynski's scathing commentary on Palm Beach, Fla., architecture along the city's affluent South Ocean Boulevard brought its fair share of counterprotest, from proud defenders of the local patrimoine to those who disagree with the author's assumptions about wealth and taste. 

metaskull, for his part, views the phenomenon of "ugly" architecture as a function of period more than of place:

I've lived in PB County for 10 years, and I've been all over Palm Beach Island more times than I can count. Trust me, the majority of the homes range from really nice to absolutely unbelievable. The condos this guy is mentioning are in the 'Town' area of Palm Beach, and they all share a common flaw. They were built in 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, which was architecturally the worst period in American history. Drab, ugly, oddly adorned, communist bloc style buildings... just plain ugly,I agree! This isn't only the case in Palm Beach, its true all over South Florida, indeed the United States and Europe too. You have to remember, most of South Florida has been built post WW2, after American architects gave up thier pride to build things cheaply. Having said that, the majority of Palm Beach doesn't look like that. Step out of the 'town' area, and you'll find some of the most gorgeous estates you'll ever want to see.

Echoing Rybczynski, rundeep reasons that ostentation is the only way the rich can distinguish themselves nowadays:

With good taste now the province of the middlebrow, there is only one way left for others to stand out: really despicable, large, stuff. I note that Palm Beach also features shops where you can buy the ugliest swimsuits imaginable, little metallic gold shoes and bad artwork.

andkathleen takes issue with Rybczynski's characterization of the "rich":



there is no homogenous category called 'the very rich'; and what the author is dealinng with is a subcategory of wealthy people that has no taste.



there's a reason why the term 'nouveau riche' is usually said in tones of contempt...it isn't that suddenly coming into money gives you bad taste, but it's much more visible when someone who has no taste can afford to indulge it.



as far as the architecture goes, i'd like to point out that addison mizner's uses of mediterranean architectural styles was considered so controversial that people got up a petition to prevent hime building anything else.

GratuitousPython attacks the presumed correlation between money and taste, saying there is none: "It's just that the rich, when they build badly, can afford to build bigger." To which MattS appends: "Why are we assuming that the rich (or anyone else in this country, aside from architects) care about architecture?"



On a more uplifting note, for an online tour of Palm Beach historic preservation success stories, visit this interesting site.  AC6:18pm PST

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Today marks the third anniversary of the war in Iraq. One great thing about the Fray is its persistence—the Fray is an archive of what we were thinking way back when that can keep us honest. The following discussion, between Fraysters Meletus and Mouseketeer, ranks among the best from March of 2003 and remains surprisingly relevant with age:

Right now, American deployment is consistent enough to suggest the war is going "according to plan." But the question is: according to whose plan?



For military planners, the heckling of the supply lines is probably a mild surprise, as is the intensity of the resistance; but even considering that the Republican Guard offensive was probably unexpected, none of three amounts to a tactical threat that wasn't already accounted for under the current deployment. Not in the minds of the tacticians, at least.



But in America, military tacticians take a back seat to political tacticians, since the politicians, not the military, make the final choices in war. So even if military planners knew what needed to be done, or knew what was likely to happen once it was, the extent to which the politicians considered their warnings or recommendations is another matter. As long as the two groups have a different set of criteria for success and expectations of danger, the political plans and military plans should be distinguished.



And that's were I think the war isn't going according to plan—on the political, not the military, front.



While this Administration never came out an said the war would go quickly after the initial air bombardment, or that ground resistance would be light and easily overcome through massive surrenders and defections, the leaked "shock and awe" plan fostered just such an expectation, and the Administration did absolutely nothing to dissolve it. Instead, they wrangled with critics over the extent of the civilian casualties because of the plan, while letting the common misconceptions of American air power and information technology—misconceptions prevalent in both the public mind and among the professional analysts—create the expectation of a short war. Now the Administration is blaming those initial expectations on the analysts or the press, without confessing their own role in fostering them, or their political profit by doing so.



So the way I'm guessing, the Administration's warnings of a prolonged war can be read in two ways: on the one hand, these guys were caught up in the potential of American military power, and they actually banked on some combination of "shock and awe" and the longing to be like America to make this war easy; or on the other hand, they suspected all along that it would be a long and brutal war, but they exploited the political capital of letting people assume it would quick and easy anyway. Either way would reconcile the military progress of the war with the political response, but under either interpretation, this Administration erred.



First, tactically, because "shock and awe," taken seriously in any form, is a military blunder; and second, rhetorically, because the progress of the war casts the Administration in the light of being caught unprepared. It doesn't matter if the Bush team was prepared or planned the war accordingly, since the public hope for an easy war was played off of, even encouraged. From this point on, progress will be gauged by that hope and expectation. That's just Politics 101, and now Bush has to deal with it.



I said "erred," but that might be an exaggeration belayed by what happens next. Will this Administration start blaming short war expectations on analysts and the press, calling them "overly optimistic", perhaps even indicating a lack of patriotism in the process-- since they, of course, wrongly steered the God-fearing Americans away from the necessary hardships of war, which this Administration has planned for all along? Will the Bush team polarize outright opposition to the war as unpatriotic-- since, of course, America's finest are bleeding for our freedom and safety, so who could dare to question the policies of the men who sent them there in the first place?



Time will tell, but the rhetorical war is just getting started, and it will get increasingly bitter the longer the real war draws out. My astonishment at this Administration isn't from this easily predicted possibility, or from the possibility of a long and brutal war itself. It's at the increasing likelihood that this Administration is basically a band "sunny" optimists deluded with visions of American superpower waging non-brutal wars around the world in order to implement American values. Guys like that are the worst kind to use weapons to achieve policy, because their initial errors of "benevolence" are compounded by the excessive violence required to fix them. Iraq is about 2 weeks away from proving that, and the people we are liberating will suffer for it.

In response, Mousketeer identifies a potential danger to a project motivated by honest ideals:

You correctly (in my opinion) argue that the military perspective is only a part of the story. But even within the political perspective, consider that Iraq may not be the only venue.



Thomas Powers, a highly respected journalist and author on national security and intelligence issues, has an article in the current New York Review of Books which ends with this:



"But a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein won't by itself provide a 'decision outcome' in the present case, because there are two rogue states with programs to build nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The theory says that both have to go, and if President Bush can be taken at his word, he thinks the same thing. To me the implication seems clear: Iraq first, Iran next."



This is admittedly only one opinion, and not proved. You will have to read Powers' article and see what you think. But the "democracy domino" rhetoric the administration has used to justify intervention in Iraq is not inconsistent with extending the military effort beyond Iraq, once victory is achieved there. The rationale for war against Iran would be the same, but even stronger: protection from a rogue state, which in Iran's case actually does sponsor terrorism and have links with al-Qaida, and which is close to acquiring nuclear weapons--in Iran's case that happens to be true.



If the idea that Iran is next up has any plausibility, then in theory there is no reason we would not intervene in any state in the region covered by a similar rationale (e.g., Pakistan, if Musharraf's government doesn't seem stable enough to hold the fundamentalists down), or where intervention seems tactically necessary to secure our investment to date in Iraq or Iran (e.g., Syria).



The interesting thing about this scenario is that one intervention supplies the "fuel," as it were, for the next. As one intervention increases Arab/Muslim anger and perceptions of us as imperialists and crusaders, movements and activities unfriendly to the U.S. grow and acquire power, threatening existing friendly governments, creating occasions for yet more intervention on our part. Like all wars, this one could evolve its own self-sustaining, internalized logic which may imperceptibly begin to drive events and detach decisions from the more modest goals with which we professedly began.



Of course, this is only speculation. But the potential for this is why political accountability for this Rubiconic decision is so important. The American public thinks the issue is simply whether we will win, and how quickly, and at what cost. What is not widely perceived is that victory in Iraq could be worse in the long run than defeat or stalemate. Victory could be, as it was for Nazi Germany in 1939-41, the first step on the road to hell.

Those wishing to take stock of where we've been, where we are, and where we're headed are asked to share their thoughts in The Best of the FrayGA10:45am PST

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Before Fray Editor heads out for his own Saint Patrick's Day tipple at Maloney'sWestwood's faux Irish experience for the skeevy undergraduatehe invites you to consider the Fray's discussion of Irish authenticity in the international pub, sparked by Austin Kelley's article on Ireland's "Crack" Habit.



Fray Editor relates most strongly to morganja's celebration of the universal authenticity of good times with good company and good brew:

[...] I loved Ireland and the pubs. When in France, I took a much-needed break from the wine bars to sit down in an Irish Pub, drink a Smithwicks or five, and listen to live Celtic music, an incredibly talented fiddle player from Britiany. I don't go to a pub looking for a historical reproduction, I go looking for the same things that pubs in Ireland seemed to have perfected. Crowded, friendly, fiddle music and beer, it sure seemed real to me.

In an amusing display of American solipsism's reverse polarity, Ex-Pat finds nothing Irish in IPCo's export commodity:

These places were designed for a very particular market, namely, Americans. Americans like things to be the way they expect them to be. If they go to an Irish pub they want their childish and simple-minded perception of what an Irish pub is to go unchallenged. To seek out truths and realities about other cultures takes too much effort. [...]

The ostensibly (and plausibly) Irish TeaHag finds that the accouterments may vary, but mostly just in levels of hygiene:

My husband and I will happily drink in any Irish pub, no matter the extent to which it has been pre-fabricated.  We're both born and raised Irish, and now live a heck of a long way from [...] the zillion pubs that made up our social life during our college years. So, we won't care how artificial the environment, in much the same way that we were indifferent to the poor level of hygiene in Irish bathrooms, or the ripped up seats, or the vomit outside the back door. It's nearly always about the beer and the company.

GreenwichJ discovers a more distinct cultural advantage of the Irish pub, faux or not:

In Bratislava recently it dawned on me why pubs, and Irish pubs in particular, have become so commonplace in non-English-speaking cities. Basically, if you want a beer in most European bars you have to sit down and wait for table service. When you want to leave you have to wait for the waiter to get your bill. This gets to be a pain, and, just as sometimes one just craves a quick burger from MacDonalds, you sometimes just want to buy a quick pint at the bar and then leave.

Slate's saturation coverage of all things Irish on Saint Patrick's Day sparks several other wonderful conversations. The Foreigners Fray sports several erudite essays on the state of Ulster in response to Ron DePasquale's article Fantasy Ireland.



Daniel Engber's recent Explainer on local dispensations from Lent leads Pine to lightheartedly question whether the Irish are the "super-equals" of the Catholic world:

OK, I'm Irish on Saint Patrick's Day. So I can eat corned beef and cabbage on Friday !



Does the dispensation also mean that Italians can eat beef ravoli ? or Polish can eat pork perogies?  Can Latinos eat chorizo ?



If I want filet a minion instead of corned beef, is that OK ?  Or if I eat lobster newberg, am I keeping the fast?



If I gave up drinking for Lent, can I extend the dispensation to having a few Guinneses on St. Pats? A shot of Bushmills?



Or are The Irish some sort of more-than-equal Catholic who can eat corned beef while my Italian and Polish brethern have to fast? [...]



Happy St. Patricks everybody, laugh a little.

Fray Editor agrees with that closing wisha healthy and happy St. Patrick's to all. GA1:25pm PST

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

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Sure it's art, but what does it mean? Over in the Art Fray, Lee Siegel's latest slide show sparks a debate—does the MOMA's exhibit of artists from the "Islamic World" confuse the issue of Islamic culture? argonaut thinks so:

I believe Siegel was arguing that the show started off with artists who were themselves composites of so many influences, especially Western, that it made no sense to describe them as representative of the Islamic world. These hybrid influences aren't "syncretic." They're cosmopolitan. It seems to me Siegel is saying there are more representative figures, still living in Islamic countries, who would be better test cases of how diverse contemporary--not historical--Islamic culture really is. [...]

Theodore_Geisel looks in another direction, arguing that the MOMA is deconstructing the geographical delusions of Western art:

It's possible, I suppose, that the curator's objective wasn't to "break down Western perceptions of Islam" as to "break down American perceptions of high art as 'Western.'" You seem to be proposing that they should have gone to Morrocco in search of handicrafts. [...] The concept of ghettoized "Islamic art," [...] is exactly what the show is trying to counter.

august suggests the exhibit is indeed calculated to rescue rescue the label of "Islamic":

[...] Calling someone "Islamic" has rather specific connotations in the current cultural moment -- driven by doctonaire religion, stuck in repressive political atmosphere, fundamentally opposed to artistic expression. This show suggests that "Islamic" can mean other things. I don't think it is reacting to a straw man, nor do I think the point is simplistic. [...]  Why should Islamic artists have to come from a particular place? Why should we accept some reductive definition of what Islam can be?



Siegel I'm sure would be appalled, but it seems to me that there is a kind of devil's bargain between radical Islamic groups and various Western commentators: Islam is a thing. It is a very narrow thing that demands conformity, and deviation from said conformity is strictly verboten. Many parties use this logic to justify violence.



It seems to me that a show that splits up that elective affinity is both academically sound and morally compelling.

Perhaps proving his point, twangmonkey throws down a theological challenge:

[...] it seems to me that these works were created by secular Muslims, not practitioners of Islam. The author hints at, but does not state, the end of his argument--that there may in fact be no Islamic art because there is in fact no secular Islam. The necessary distancing of faith and ideas is simply not there. [...]

Or is there something to Theodore_Geisel's argument that high culture is a trait, rather than an identity or a place?

[...] I hardly think the fact these artists are showing in New York and Geneva rather than in Peshawar is evidence of their Westernization. [...] Artists invariably go where the money is. [...] To be sure, artists represented in the Moma show are members of a cosmopolitan class, operate in European languages, as well as Arabic or Urdu etc., and are influenced by contemporary stylistic trends in America and Europe. They aren't producing folk art. But all "high art" has that cosmopolitan characteristic. The idea of these artists as Westernized only makes sense if you think that the globalized high culture of today is itself "Western." This is precisely the idea that the curator is rejecting.[...]

Get in on the discussion in Slate's Art FrayGA1:08am PST