Saturday, November 22, 2008


Mrs. G. and I were talking about our younger days as Yuppies. We lived in a basement apartment in Dupont Circle in Washington, worked for the government, and hung out with other young professionals who we knew from work, church, and graduate school. We were among the few marrieds in our church group, and soon became the first parents in a world where babies usually meant a move to the suburbs. We enjoyed our time as Young Urban Professionals.

We were delighted, though, to move on from that phase of life when we moved to Danville, KY to join Centre College. We have a great life now, which I would not trade for any other.

But we are clearly no longer Yuppies. So what are we? I propose Middle-aged Small Town Intellectuals.


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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Centrist Solutions to the "Know Your Father" Problem

Continuing the discussion of biology and identity, the same helpful reader presses to the hard question:

In principle, under what circumstances is it "OK" or even "preferable" that a child be deprived of his biological father's identity? And going forward, should we compel the sharing of his identity in those circumstances anyway? Or perhaps we should just do our best to end those kinds of circumstances in the first place.

I think about half of who we are comes from our biological heritage. That is important for a person to know. And I am impressed with how very much adopted kids and donor kids want to know who their natural parents are. So, I would incline to have open adoption and donation.

But requiring it by law in all cases? That seems to be too much.

Perhaps a market solution -- you pay extra for secrecy? Or a judicial bypass -- you can keep it secret if you can convince a judge that you have a good reason? Let each state make its own rules democratically, knowing they would differ from one another?

If the law had a presumption of openness, with some rational possibility of an exception, seems to me to be a centrist solution.

Addendum: I was chided on the above answer as inadequate and not really principled (see the first comment below). I thus add this explication.

The principle that I am applying is that principles establish a general rule, to which there might, in principle, be exceptions. The principle that applies is that law should support the presumption that children should know who their parents are. But in a wild and varied world, situations might arise that no one, myself included, can predict that would produce a good reason for secrecy. Hard cases make bad law, so we should tailor the law to the general principle, not the hard case.

Thus I believe the best we can do is to provide a general structure of openness, with known, open, and legitimate means to create exceptions.

As I said at the outset of this discussion I don't think identity comes from any one or absolute source, including biology. Biology is always important to our bodies, of course, and is almost always important to our identities, but it is not of overriding importance; it is one factor among other, and the mix of factors differs from culture to culture and person to person.

Moreover, however you conceive of identity, I don't think you have a legal and universal "right" to identity.

Still-in-Love Outliers

Nifty new research shows that in some couples romantic love just keeps on going. In most marriages, the giddiness of earlier love becomes calmer and more rational after a year to a year and a half. Most married people love one another, just not in the same crazy-for-you way. Some couples, though are outliers. A team of researchers led by Bianca Acevedo of Stony Brook did brain scans of couples married decades and compared them with newlyweds. The same brain areas lit up.

The study is small and the interpretation of brain regions and emotions is just beginning, but the results are promising. And I must admit that my interest in this study is more than a little autobiographical (I write as Mrs. G. is sitting with me in our coffee house, our MacBooks back to back, romantically sharing one power cord). Still, I think it points to something important. Romance lives!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Integrating Identity Matters More to Girls

An interesting detail of our recent extended discussion of the identity issues of donor-conceived children is that most of the people who wrote to say that they urgently wanted to know their donor father were women. A student recently brought to class a review of identity research for adoptive kids by Harold Grotevant and colleagues from Family Relations in 2000. They make this observation (references removed):

Gender may add a layer of complexity to the development of adoptive identity. Although minimal gender differences have been found in identity formation in domains involving vocation, religion, and politics, identity development in relational domains (sex-roles, relationships) appears more complex for girls. Whereas boys seem to focus their exploration on aspects of identity having to do with school and work, girls tend to integrate aspirations and goals across more areas of life at the same time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Biology is Real, But it is not Identity

The other day I made this comment, which one reader asked me, very reasonably, to explain:

" I don't think people have a right to know who their fathers are, even if nearly everyone does, in fact, know."

A right is a serious thing. It is not just a wish. Moreover, I think that anything the state acknowledges as a right it must try to guarantee to the limits of its power.

I cannot think of a compelling state interest in ensuring that every citizen knows the identity of his or her biological father. That is what a right to know who your father is would entail. In particular, I cannot think of a state interest that would use the state's power to compel unwilling sperm donors to reveal their identities.

If the state, for some reason, knew the identity of your biological father and was withholding it, I agree that it is hard to think of why they should withhold it from you. That is not the same, though, as the state having an obligation to help you find out.

If not knowing who their biological fathers are causes donor-created children sufficient anxiety that they can convince the legislature to require all future donors to reveal their identity, that would seem to me to be a fair working of democracy. Future donors could then make a free choice to donate under those rules. Such a law, though, would not be reason enough to require past donors, who were assured of privacy under normal contract law, to be compelled to reveal their identities now.

I believe that many adopted and donor-produced children suffer real anxiety from not knowing much about their biological parents. It is such a problem that it might be worthwhile to require open adoption and open donation in the future. A more centrist, and likely, solution would be to create structures and incentives to help connect such children and parents. For example, it might be worth it to create registries of parents and children seeking one another, with a third party making the connections. It might even be worth it to create a government bureaucracy to seek out parents and children separated by adoption or donation secrecy, and ask them on behalf of the other party to reveal themselves. This could even be organized on a fee-for-service basis.

The larger issue is whether biological heritage is really the same as "identity" in the first place. As adoption has proven for centuries, social parents - the people who actually raise children - are real parents. They have a real and shaping effect on the identity of their children. I think this is even more true of donor-produced children, especially when raised by one of their natural parents. The fact that some - maybe most - children not raised by their natural parents are very curious about their natural parents does not mean that that knowledge is actually essential to the children's identity.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Civil Unions Offers 90% of the Loaf. Take It.

Most Americans oppose same-sex marriage. Most Americans support civil unions.

More than half the states have passed bans on same-sex marriage, most putting it right in the state constitution. Several of those states still offer civil unions.

Civil unions are popular -- especially with heterosexual couples. Same-sex marriage is rarely used even in those places where it is legal. A few states would legalize same-sex marriage through the legislature, not the court. More power to them, I say, and bless the great diversity of jurisdictions that these united States afford.

Civil unions deliver 90% of what the proponents of same-sex marriage want
. For people who want to win, it is not just half-a-loaf, it is nearly the whole meal. The rest is mostly drama and symbolism.

President Obama, the supposed "most liberal member of the Senate" supports civil unions and opposes same-sex marriage. I am with "No-drama Obama." Take civil unions, declare victory, and let's get on with life.