Friday, November 21, 2008

Decency in Courtship Still Beats the New Jerkiness

Kay Hymowitz has another fine family essay in the current City Journal, Love in a Time of Darwinism. She gives a somewhat sympathetic account of the why some single men are deliberately being sex-obsessed, marriage-averse jerks. The problem, she says, is that women's expectations are so varied, and so changeable, that men have no standard courtship script that they can follow. Moreover, many nice guys have enough bad experiences with women who really want bad boys that they start acting like jerks, too.

Hymowitz says that the new incivility (to put it nicely) in men and women about dating and mating is due to a half-understood Darwinism. Sociobiologists have convinced enough people that men and women tend to seek different things in a mate -- beauty and sex, on the one had, money and protection, on the other -- that some of them act like adversaries in a game of mutual manipulation. This makes true marriage hard to come by, and makes courtship very disheartening.

Sociobiology is not wrong, but it is only half the story. The problem, Hymowitz writes, " is an uncompromising biological determinism that makes no room for human cultivation." We have developed civilization not to enact nature, but to perfect its shortcomings. Marriage is a great human achievement because it takes the biological foundation of men's and women's desires and synthesizes them into something higher. This is the true meaning of what Hegel has in mind as a "synthesis."

Hymowitz is a secular writer, but I think we can take her argument a further step. She quotes a pro-jerkiness dating coach who contends that “Nature doesn’t care about hurting people’s feelings. It cares ONLY about reproductive success.” Let us leave aside the problem of anthropomorphizing Nature and attributing intentions to it. Nature may not care about hurting people's feelings -- but God does. And because we are made in the image of God, and so is everyone else, we have developed a capacity to care about other people's feelings, too. This is a great and high achievement. Courtship and marriage worthy of human beings is, of course, aimed at reproductive success, but as part of a decent human life, not as an alternative to one.

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