Jul 062002

I drew a fair amount of heat, largely justified, for my first post on this subject, which you can read if you like, but I’d rather you didn’t. It’s flippant and smart-alecky and wasn’t really what I wanted to say. I leave it up because I believe in eating my own dog food.

Marriage is a contract. I’m a libertarian, I like contracts. Every contract made and adhered to, excepting the occasional mob hit, is one more small step out of the ooze. Marriage also promotes a division of labor, especially useful for raising children. (Modern feminism is, among other things, an attack on the division of labor.) My dad wrote in reply to my last that “some few of us think that such old-fashioned, two-parent families are the best basis for a good society. We also wish to inculcate such values in our children — a task at which I have obviously failed.” That isn’t true, but I understand how I conveyed that impression.

But people seem to think there’s something too…too cold-blooded, I suppose, about a contract. So we make a big mystic fuss about sexual attraction, the worst possible reason to get married. In countless popular books and movies a character will ask, “But do you love him (her)?” — as if an affirmative were absolutely decisive or it was even clear what the question meant. I don’t knock sexual attraction: it’s necessary for a successful marriage. Just far from sufficient.

We also treat marriage as a sacrament, which is a sure-fire way to screw anything up. The parties to a marriage ought to be able to terminate it by mutual consent, like any other contract. (Liberal divorce laws have their disadvantages but it’s hard not to think that they’ve contributed to human happiness on the whole.) Everyone in the Western world believes that by now, which a look at the divorce rate ought to confirm, yet people still stand up in church and pledge fidelity until “death do us part.”

So I don’t oppose marriage. I just think we’d do a better job with it if we were a little more honest about it.

Jul 052002

The charming (and lovely, I’m sure) Susanna Cornett, proprietor of the charming and lovely Cut on the Bias, writes:

Now, what I want you to blog about…What it is about women that you don’t understand, do understand and appreciate, and do understand and don’t appreciate. This is not limited at all to romantic involvements, although you can go there if you wish. Also, how a society run by women would look and act. You can’t crap out in two graphs, either.

Fortunately Susanna forgot to ban doggerel.

Hogamous, higamous,
Men are polygamous.
Higamous, hogamous,
Women are monogamous.
–William James

George Bernard Shaw argued in Man and Superman — Shaw argued a lot in his plays — that because women derive all the benefit from marriage they ought to chase men instead of the other way round.

Shaw has a point. Marriage offers women companionship, economic support, sexual fidelity and child-rearing assistance, including sperm donation. Marriage offers men companionship and a steady sex partner. Of course these benefits are theoretical; your mileage may vary. And while it’s true that economic support isn’t what it used to be, it’s also true that steady sex partners are a lot easier to find out of wedlock these days. (Women used to be able to encourage men to marry by withholding sex. But that was before the sexual revolution. Of all the stupid things the feminists did to damage women, encouraging premarital sex in the name of “liberation” may have been the stupidest.) Marriage was a bad deal for men in Shaw’s day and it may be a worse deal now. So you have to wonder, why do men marry at all?
Continue reading »

Jul 042002

Joel Spolsky explains why IBM spends millions on open source software and why TransMeta hired Linus Torvalds and many other mysteries in this excellent piece. The scales fall from your eyes when you realize that software companies are trying to commoditize the complements of their products. Except Sun. Even Joel doesn’t understand Sun.

Jul 022002

Marx and Freud did. Just bear with me a second here. You can’t argue with a Marxist. (You can’t even find a Marxist any more. Berkeley and the Politburo were the last places to look, and now there’s only Berkeley.) The reason you can’t argue with a Marxist is that Marxist doctrine disallows it. Any argument against Marxism is necessarily the product of bourgeois class-consciousness. (If a proletarian happens to make one, then he has been deceived by bourgeois class-consciousness.) It is therefore wrong, prima facie, no refutation necessary. This is very fortunate for Marxists.

But no one reads Marx, I hear you say. No one has to; this stuff gets into the air, like smog, and any new excuse not to think is bound to grow popular in a hurry. A small instance of vulgar Marxism? Glad you asked. I used to smoke. I also used to rail against anti-smoking ordinances as violations of property rights. When I would make this argument to my ex-boss, a pleasant jogger type who never cracked Kapital but was sure he was entitled to breathe free at whatever restaurant he chose, he would tell me, “You just say that because you smoke.” Right. I’m the prisoner of my cigarette-smoker class-consciousness. Some people quit smoking for their health; some people quit smoking to whiten their teeth; I quit smoking to liberate myself from my smoker class-consciousness. Somehow I still oppose anti-smoking ordinances. It’s a funny thing.

Still, this form of argument wasn’t quite respectable until Freud came along. Marx refers all thought to class; Freud, to personality. (Freud himself, to be fair, didn’t really subscribe to this view, but it is the inevitable product of the apotheosis of psychology. Marxism was born vulgar; Freudianism required vulgarization.) It follows readily that any deviance or dissent from the norm, which remains undefined, is maladjustment, a sort of mental illness. A small instance of vulgar Freudianism? Glad you asked. My uncle worked for a Jewish relief organization. I considered then, and consider now, Jewish or ethnic identity of any sort, a pox and told him so in strenuous terms. He replied, “I hear so much anger there.” What I should have said, but of course didn’t think of until afterwards, was “You hear anger, I hear error.” I was being obnoxious, but the point is that my uncle, who I’m sure never read Freud, thought it was perfectly all right to answer an argument with a diagnosis.

So now you know why I believe all this crazy stuff. I’m sick. I need help.

Jul 012002

Read Part 1.

The official version — at least the former official version, I don’t know if Barbara Branden’s hagiography in Who Is Ayn Rand? is in the canon any more — of how Ayn Rand met her husband goes like this:

One morning, she boarded a streetcar as usual for the long ride to the [de Mille] studio in Culver City…she glanced across the aisle.

He was tall and slender; a strand of fair hair fell over his forehead; he wore an open shirt, and slacks over long legs. The skin of his face was taut against high cheekbones. His mouth was long and thin. His eyes were a cold, clear blue. He was half-dozing, his body relaxed with the boneless elegance of a cat….

She knew that if she were a painter and were asked to put on canvas her own private vision of the perfect human face and figure, it would be this face and this figure that she would struggle to create. She felt as if she were chained to her seat — or chained to him — and unable to move.

Then she felt the jolt of a sudden terror: he would get off the streetcar, and she would never learn who he was.

Not to worry, kids: he turns out to be an extra in the de Mille extravaganza King of Kings, just like her. They’re together for days and she doesn’t open her mouth. Finally she manages to make him trip over her on the set and she finds out his name is Frank O’Connor. Then, disaster:
Continue reading »

Jul 012002

Peter Beinart argues in this week’s New Republic that whoever opposes affirmative action on moral grounds must oppose racial profiling on the same grounds. The syllogism runs: opponents of affirmative action base their moral case on “the principle of color blindness”; they often support racial profiling, which isn’t color-blind; therefore they don’t believe in color blindness at all. This sounds wrong: it is wrong. But it will be useful to exhibit the precise fallacy.

My source for this link writes:

Beinart misses the point. If we extend the principle of racial profiling — using actual, genuine, data about groups to help us make better guesses about individuals — to the spheres in which affirmative action operates, we get fewer blacks at prestigious universities. Racial profiling is about reality. Affirmative action is about ignoring reality.

True, but not quite satisfactory. The logical error lies in the term “color blindness.” Color blindness, as used by its advocates, does not mean literal color blindness, the belief that the state shall ignore race in every context, but something very different: the principle that the state shall ignore what is irrelevant. Race, being the most common of invidious criteria, serves as a rhetorical stand-in for all that is usually irrelevant, like religion, or sexual proclivities, or eye color. But Beinart insists on being literal. He takes race blindness, removes it from the context of university admissions, where it’s irrelevant, and transports it to the context of profiling potential terrorists, where it’s highly relevant for the obvious reason that most Muslims are Arabs. This is the fallacy of equivocation. It won’t do.