Friday, February 22, 2008

On Stridency in Bipartisan Marriages

The New York Times has a light piece in their "Modern Marriage" feature, "I Married a Republican." The author, Ann Hood, is of the all-good-people-are-Democrats school, yet she falls for and marries a man who "votes for the best candidates" - who almost always happen to be Republicans. Her friends are appalled. She finds his friends to be very nice people, yet she ends up ranting at them whenever politics comes up.

The moral turning point in the story comes when she realized that "it was not his stridency that was causing this rift in our marriage, but mine."

The story has a happy ending from Hood's (and the Times') perspective. Her husband decides Obama is the best candidate. As an Obama supporter myself, I applaud that outcome. I enjoy her suggestion that there should be a bumper sticker: "Barak Obama: Uniting America, One Bipartisan Marriage at a Time."

What struck me as odd about the story, though, was that the author never describes her political choices, or his, or anyone's as based on reasons. The whole frame of the story is that blind loyalty on our side is good, blind loyalty on the other side is bad. Stridency comes in for some muted criticism, because it creates marital rifts. But she does not make a case for choosing the best candidate. She is not won over by her husband's apparent calm and reasoned judgment. Only that she won.

Now, I appreciate that Ann Hood is employing a common women's conversational ploy of presenting herself as strident and unreasonable -- she is starting in the one-down position in relation to the reader -- so that the reader can invite her up to an equal position. I imagine that many of the women that she tells this story to respond with their own tales of realizing they were being unreasonable. This restores equality. It is a species of "troubles talk." Nonetheless, it seems to me that she missed the point of her own story. It is not just stridency that creates the rift. If we don't think critically about our own positions, and give others credit for thinking critically about theirs, we cannot reasonably heal the rifts created by our stridency.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

She Is Ready for the Question Four Months Before He Pops It

The British program The National Wedding Show commissioned a survey of married couples in that country. They found that, on average, a couple got engaged nearly three years after they met: two years, eleven months, and eight days, to be exact.

The survey also found that she wished that he had proposed sooner -- four months sooner, on average.

I have met many couples in which she was waiting, with decreasing patience, for the proposal that she knew was coming. In fact, he often delays the proposal just because she is expecting it. He wants to surprise her. And he doesn't want to feel like he is following orders.

Still, if four months of grief can be avoided, or even cut back to two, many couples might have a happier life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What Anger is For

Steven Stosny was the keynote speaker at the Bluegrass Healthy Marriages conference. Stosny is a marriage therapist and researcher, and co-author of the wonderfully titled How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (which must be aimed at men).

Stosny had a fascinating sociobiological tidbit in his talk. He said the portion of the brain that is given over to anger is more than twice as large as the portion concerned with self-preservation. His reading of this: we developed anger to get us to protect our loved ones. We need to protect our loved ones because humans are more dependent on other people than most species are, especially during our long childhood. It is to our long-term advantage to protect our loved ones, especially our genetic relatives. But protecting our loved ones to the extent of endangering our own self-preservation is a hard and biologically costly choice. Thus we need to devote big brain resources to overcome our short-term individual interest in order to realize our long-term social interest. And anger makes us mad enough to override our higher calculations of interest and just do what needs to be done to protect our own.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Two Military Dictatorships Crumble

This is a great moment for democracy: Pakistan had an election displacing the military dictator, and Cuba announced the retirement of its military dictator. The Pakistani election has been marred by many things, yet it promises to bring to power multi-party democracy in a Muslim state, which is extremely rare. Cuba's announcement that Fidel Castro is retiring is even further from bringing in multi-party democracy, since he is likely to replaced by his brother.

Still, if the military (theirs and ours) can keep their hands off, I think we will see functioning democracies in both countries within a few years. It would also help if we had normal trade with both countries -- if we had ended our foolish embargo of Cuba 40 years ago, I think we would have brought Cuba into the club of American democracies long ago.

I am hopeful. Building democracy builds centrism.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fraternities Fighting Casual Sex Face Challenges, Too

Fraternity parties are notorious sites for casual "hook ups." Recently I got another view of this issue from an officer of one fraternity that is trying to change that story in their own house.

"being respectful of women [is] a key element among our brothers, and even brothers [will be] called out for any disrespectful actions (such as groping, or any action that may make a woman uncomfortable).

[In our house, at least,] I believe the general statement that “fraternity parties are places where people hook up” to be especially true with non-fraternity male members. I believe the dance floor of a fraternity party provides a certain degree of anonymity in which males can “make a move” on a female, and if the female is willing, she can be taken back to a dorm without anyone noticing. I am frustrated by such occurrences because men who take women home anonymously will not have the criticism from the entire chapter to motivate them to choose the right decision."

Fraternities have the power to partly regulate their members' actions -- for good or ill. If, as sometimes happens, fraternity means that brothers assist one another in taking advantage of women, as in "Animal House," then the group makes things worse. On the other hand, a "good guy" fraternity can help one another uphold a higher standard of treating women respectfully. In that case it is the independent men who take advantage of the fraternity's open parties to meet incautious women, without the fraternity having any leverage to regulate the men's behavior.

The fraternity is, in this case, a help to women and the moral order; it is the independence of independents that leaves women and the moral order without protection.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Adopting Act Holds

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the "supreme court" of the Presbyterian Church (USA), released a major decision this week on the Pittsburgh case. This case is the first of several heading to the GAPJC to test the real meaning of the church's adoption of the Peace, Unity, and Purity report in 2006, on which I have blogged quite a bit.

At issue in the Pittsburgh Presbytery case were two related points:
can a candidate for ordination in the church scruple behavior, as opposed to belief? and
can an ordaining body make a blanket determination of what the essential and necessary standards for ordination are?

In both cases the GAPJC said no

Specifically, the court said that ministers and elders may declare that they disagree with the church's interpretation of scripture as requiring that all officers must “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness” (Book of Order, G-6.0106b) - but they must still act within that standard of behavior until and unless the whole church constitutionally changes that interpretation.

Second, the court said that the presbytery must take each case for ordination individually and not issue a blanket interpretation of church rules that go beyond what the constitution itself explicitly says. Each candidate's confession and scruples must be considered individually and as a whole.

In other words, the middle way that PUP promoted, and the Adopting Act of 1729 standard that it revived, were upheld by the court.