Saturday, March 25, 2006

Beards are Back

According to the New York Times, beards are fashionable again. This seems to be a reaction to the metrosexual fad.

One of the perks of being a professor is that no one expects you to be fashionable, one way or the other.

I am just grateful that I don't have to shave.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Scary Children of Goodridge

Jurisprudence professor Hadley Arkes writes in his Meaning of Marriage essay about the train of scary possibilities opened by the logic of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case that mandated legal gay marriage. The court said marriage law could not be based on procreation, or even on sexual relations. The emotional attachment of same-sex couples was enough of a foundation for marriage under the law.

Arkes points out that, since neither the possibility of children nor the practice of any sort of sex is included in the definition of marriage that the court has now imposed on Massachusetts, any pair or group claiming an emotional attachment could apply for a marriage license there. If they were denied, they could sue, citing the court's own decision to eliminate nearly all grounds of objection. Polygamy and the various grades of adult incest would all have a case that would be hard for that same court to deny.

Beyond that scary possibility, Arkes points out that all the laws and decisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including Goodridge, open a new world of "orientations" to legal protection. The growing consensus that pedophilia is a deep-seated and almost untreatable condition creates the grounds for a lawyer for, say, the North American Man-Boy Love Association (yes, there really is such a thing, and no, they aren't kidding) to argue that their sexual orientation should be protected, too.

The slope is slippery, and the Pandora's box that we are carrying down it is already ajar.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Pro-Family Aristotelians

Law professor David Forte, in his brief piece in The Meaning of Marriage on the Framers' attitude to marriage, offers a helpful aside.

The American Revolution was made by practical Aristotelians, and therefore was pro-family. They saw the family as one of the seedbeds of virtue necessary to make worthy citizens of a republic.

The French Revolution, by contrast, was made by utopian Platonists, and therefore was anti-family. They saw the family as standing against the state, which alone has the capacity to educate citizens to virtue.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Marriage as the Firmest Firm

Jennifer Roback Morse, in the same essay in The Meaning of Marriage that I wrote about yesterday, goes through the argument that marriage is a contract. She makes the point that contracts are most suitable for short-term and arms-length relations.

The sexual revolution, she says, has had some disastrous consequences for marriages because it changed the theory of sexual contracts. Under a marriage theory, sex is reserved for the most permanent, most intimate relations. Under the sexual revolution theory, by contrast, sex became a want best satisfied on the spot market.

The most intriguing point she makes, I think, is that for the most intimate and long term economic relations, the market finds that even long-term contracts are not enough. For permanent economic relations, the market invented the "firm."

Marriage is not a short-term contract for sex. It is not even a long-term contract for childrearing and companionship. A marriage is a firm, the most permanent, multi-faceted firm possible. In an ordinary firm or partnership, if they can no longer provide their distinctive good or service profitably, they dissolve. In a marriage, though, if the original product no longer works, they keep the firm and change what the firm produces.

Marriage is the firmest firm.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

No-fault Divorce Means a Bigger State

Jennifer Roback Morse, a researcher at the Hoover Institution, argues in a fine essay in The Meaning of Marriage that a libertarian society would not, in fact, want easy divorce. Marriage creates obligations which, if badly managed, create costs for society. Kids create obligations which, if badly managed, create enormous costs for society. Married people just handle both kinds of obligations, absorbing most of those costs and not externalizing them on society.

If free individuals never interacted with one another, then a libertarian state might be able to stay out of marriage and childrearing. Of course, no interaction would mean no kids, and soon enough no society. However, people do naturally couple and make kids. Marriage means they handle it, and the state doesn't have to. Not-marriage, or easy divorce, means that the state has to be involved more. Every step of the way in taking care of kids and disentangling their finances requires state intervention.

In principle, the state could leave women who had kids without husbands to sink or swim on their own. In practice, though, Morse rightly says this is politically infeasible. So the current unilateral divorce system leaves society with all the obligations of taking care of the wreckage, but none of the protections that would encourage the couple to deal with their obligations themselves.

"No fault" was supposed to make marriage better, by taking the conflict out of divorce. It was supposed to apply to cases where the divorce was not contested, where both husband and wife wanted out. Now, though, it has degenerated into legalized abandonment. And you and I get to pick up the pieces and pay for the mess.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Family Firms Build for the Future

Princeton historian Harold James makes the argument in his chapter of The Meaning of Marriage that family firms connect markets with the future. Corporations tend to be driven to short time horizons – at the worst, looking no further than shareholder returns in this quarter. Family firms, on the other hand, look for sustainable production and consumption for generations unborn.

There has been a long-running belief that family firms are a dying form of business. They may have been necessary to get capitalism started, the argument goes, but the greater rationality of the impersonal corporation will drive out family firms in a mature market. Yet this hope, like its cousin belief in secularization, keeps failing to come true. James reports that three quarters of the registered companies in the industrialized world are family firms, some of them very large.

Family firms go further toward solving the problem of trust than a corporation can. The family members are bound to one another in ways that mere coworkers rarely are. And customers can believe that a family firm can be trusted now, because they want to still have customers when the next generation takes over.

Even in the most impersonal and rationalized part of the world system, the strong bonds of marriage and family matter.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Religious Professors Give More to Students

Last Sunday's look at the "Spirituality and the Professoriate" survey revealed that the "highly spiritual" professors were mostly (70%) very religious professors.

This week, I want to take a look at the measures of what the spiritual professors do that affects students and their colleges or universities as a whole. The survey had six scales:

Positive outlook in work and life [what you might call the "gruntledness index"];
Focus on students' personal development;
Civic-minded values;
Diversity advocacy;
Student-centered pedagogy; and
Civic-minded practice.

In each scale, the high-spirituality professors outscored the low-spirituality professors. Most highly spiritual professors have a positive outlook (59%), whereas most low-spirituality professors (36%) don't. The average gap is 20%.

The biggest gap comes in the focus on students' personal development. 43% of the high-spirituality professors thought it very important to invest themselves in "developing students’ moral character, enhancing their self-understanding, helping them develop personal values, providing for their emotional development, facilitating their search for meaning and purpose in life, and enhancing their spiritual development."

How many low-spirituality professors were highly interested in students' personal development? 5%.