Saturday, May 26, 2007


As my post-Commencement treat, I have been working my way through Hegel's Philosophy of Right. This is pretty hard, so I asked some smart colleagues to recommend some secondary works to read along with it. I proposed that when I was done, Ken, Ken, Jason ("mind if we call you Ken?") and I could all sit down at Guadalajara, our fine local Mexican restaurant, for a wide-ranging discussion.

"A Hegelajara!" one of the Ken's said. Quite right.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hegel: Marriage is the Most Immense Contradiction

Now that the urgent daily business of the school term is over, I have time for some richer brain food. I have been reading Hegel's The Philosophy of Right, especially the section on the family. Hegel's core concern is that we become free by making our will actual in the world. Yet marital love, he says, is "the most immense contradiction; the understanding cannot resolve it" (§ 158) because we individually choose to give up our individuality. We use our individual free will to sacrifice our individual free will, to become one with another person. Yet this is not a foolish loss, but the path to our true freedom. And the fulfillment of our choice for two to become one is realized in our children. This is a real poser for Hegel, a mystery for his philosophy. He does not shrink from it, but rather makes family life, and the civil society made of families and dissolved families, the foundations of ethical life.

Marriage is a mystery. It is, I think, the most fundamental of all human mysteries.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gilmore Girls Finale: Luke In, Logan Out

So, I got it half right at the end of "Gilmore Girls." I predicted in February that the Gilmore Girls, mother and daughter, would choose poor Luke and rich Logan, respectively. The series ended with Luke going all out to take care of Lorelei. Though no future plan was settled, marriage is likely. Logan did in fact propose to Rory, but she turned him down in order to find herself. At the end she got a job writing about Barak Obama, rathering than marrying her college love and moving across the continent.

This is a sensible ending. Rory is young, and doesn't have to marry now. I thought it was a mistake to tie her so specifically to an event of this moment (the Obama campaign), which will probably not age very well. Still, I wish they had written her a better speech than simply "I'm too young to decide this now, can't we wait?" Logan sensibly replied, "What's the point?"

I will miss the "Gilmore Girls," both in itself and as a bonding activity with the women of my household. They like "Grey's Anatomy," as most young women do, but I can't get into it (or even stand it, actually). The writers have stuck all the characters except one (Dr. Bailey) in perpetual adolescence.

Perhaps Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of "Gilmore Girls," and Aaron Sorkin, the creator of "The West Wing," could write a show together about fast-talking, witty people with real work and strong marriages.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Family Issues That Affect College Students

We finished the term last week, and I just got the evaluations of the family life course. Most of the comments suggest that students liked the course, loved the subject, and learned a great deal. The first part of the course, the "all about me" section, covered sex differences in mate selection, gender differences in communication, and the advantages of marriage. In the second part we explored some of the main sources of variation in families, especially divorce and unwed motherhood. Only one comment bothered me:

I thought the first part was more interesting than the second part. I feel like more time could have been spent on things directly affecting us as college students rather than divorce and single parents.

I have been trying to put my finger on what bothers me about this view. Part of the problem is the sheer obliviousness that the comment betrays, since about a quarter of the students in the class were children of divorce, and one was about to become an unwed mother (though I believe the course convinced her to marry, after all). More trying, though, is the unconcern it suggests about the rest of the world beyond the great privilege of being a healthy young college student with no responsibilities and no disasters. The last third of the course is devoted to moving from the micro picture of my family to the macro picture of how the whole array of families shapes this country. Our last book, James Q. Wilson's The Marriage Problem, is devoted to this subject. Wilson's argument is that the decline of marriage in some sectors undermines everyone's marriages, and creates the seedbeds of all social problems.

So which family issues affect college students? Ultimately, all of them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Join the Political Elite: Vote in the Primary

Today is primary election day in Kentucky. The secretary of state is predicting a 15% turnout. This means that your vote counts for six.

This election is important to you even if you don't live in Kentucky. The commonwealth is one of only three states to elect its governor the year before the presidential election. The Kentucky governor's race is, therefore, often an early test of the general mood of the electorate. This year we have an unpopular and not-so-competent Republican governor heading a scandal-plagued administration. How bad is it? His own lieutenant governor refused to run with him, a former congresswoman is running against him in the primary with a serious chance to force a runoff, and half the leading Republican officials tried to get the governor not to seek re-election.

On my side of the aisle, the crowded field is coming down to The Turncoat, a rich businessman who backed the now-disgraced Republican in the governor's race last time, versus the strongest ticket of real Democratic officials, to see who could win in the fall.

This primary election is also a milestone in the Gruntled household. Child #2, the wonderful Endub, figured out that since she will be of age by the general election in the fall, she can vote in the primary now. She then went through the high school registering every other member of her class who will be of voting age by November. We will vote a little later in the day, and wear our I Voted stickers proudly.

With the rest of the political elite.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Most of the Little Bast -- Um, Children of Unwed Parents -- Have Dad at Home

Most of the children of unwed parents -- bastards in the technical sense -- born in America in this century came home to both parents. This is a significant change from a generation ago, according to the Child Trends study, when less than a third of unwed births were to cohabiting couples.

We celebrate silver linings at the GC, and the silver lining is that more children of unwed parents will have both parents and two incomes at home when they come home from the hospital. The dark cloud, though, is that cohabiters are likely to break up, kid or no kid.

The most educated people are increasingly likely to marry. The least educated people are decreasingly likely to marry. The front line in the marriage struggle is for those in the middle. Couples with some education, jobs, and a baby are exactly the people who should marry, and usually do marry. We need to win their hearts and minds to improve the marriage culture of the United States. And to give the little bastards -- in the most respectful and affectionate sense -- a better chance.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Centre Commencement 2007

Today was a glorious conclusion to a fine year.

My colleague Rick Axtell opened the day with a fine baccalaureate sermon on "Babel." The punchline: you are graduating to a life of service. You may be heading to the top of society, but the true view of how the world works is the view from the bottom. Commencement speaker Tim Russert concluded the day with a complementary message: to whom much is given, much will be expected. A solid, coherent, and moral message.

(OK, one story from Tim Russert.
He said his favorite "Meet the Press" was this. In the '92 election, he had Ross Perot on the show.
Russert: "Mr. Perot, you have said that the deficit is the most important problem facing America. Now that you are candidate for president what is your proposal to solve the problem?"
Perot: "What?"
Russert repeats the question.
Perot: "If I had known you were going to ask trick questions, I never would have come on the show!"

Later, Russert got on a plane.
A flight attendant asked him, "What did you think of Ross Perot?"
Russert: "I never comment on guests. But what did you think of Ross Perot?"
Flight attendant: "I think he is the kind of guy who would refuse to put his tray in the upright and locked position.")

An excellent year. Now on to the summer!