Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marriage, schmarriage.

(Not another anti-marriage post.)

I started out thinking that this link would make for just a one-liner along with the others at left, but got to thinking more as I read it. Carolyn Graglia reviews a couple of books from the conservative press on the decline of marriage and in doing so she illustrates a number of the problematic aspects of the topic and in particular the inability of either side to think straight.

I was first arrested by the astonishing quote from Hymowitz, "nothing could be more natural than a sixteen-year-old having a baby".

First off, a pregnant 16 year old is, by definition a rape victim. If we take the claim at face value, then we have to conclude that criminalizing sex with a 15 or 16 year old is unnatural. I don't particularly want to get into a discussion of the ethics of an age of consent and what it ought to be, let me just say that I do believe that a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

This will inevitably conflict with the idea that pregnancy at any given age is "natural", especially if "natural" is extended to include anything found in nature as that also includes murder, for example.

Context, of course, is all. Among primitive tribes and the generally uncivilized (whatever that means - as I get older I become less and less impressed with what we are pleased to call civilization), early pregnancy enhances survivability. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but I think that with a modicum of societal development, survivability is a little more complicated than an ability to pop sprogs.

Graglia's comments on Hymowitz conclude with:
Revival of a marriage culture depends on convincing women on both sides of the divide that marriage should precede childbirth and that children need their biological fathers at home. This culture would re-stigmatize illegitimacy, reform divorce laws, and enforce mores that uphold sexual intercourse as the reward of marriage. Citing evidence of disgust with the sexual revolution and the determination of children victimized by divorce to do better than their parents, Hymowitz concludes that Americans are now "earnestly knitting up their unraveled culture."
This may be so, but I think that, as so often happens with these arguments, marriage itself is considered as the intrinsically beneficial starting point rather than first providing an argument first defending marriage. If Hymowitz does follow the rational sequence, it does not come across in Graglia's review. In the absence of an argument support the intrinsic benefits of marriage, the result is an apparently nostalgia-driven wail for a return to something that I am not at all sure ever really existed - the 50's family unit and leave it all to Beaver.

Personally, I think the issue is far more critical over the issue of the simple presence of a father in a child's life, but then you knew that.

Blankenhorn, on the other hand, is said to be defending marriage starting with an opposition to that perennial red-herring, same-sex marriage. This comes from the view of marriage as a vehicle for the production of children.

Warming my heart, he says:
What children need most are mothers and fathers. Not caregivers. Not parent-like adults. Not even ‘parents.' What a child wants and needs more than anything else are the mother and the father who together made the child, who love the child, and who love each other.
I could not agree more.

But I do take issue with "redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, Blankenhorn argues, 'would eliminate entirely in law, and weaken still further in culture, the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child,' the precise purpose for which marriage was created.".

I disagree because I do not believe that marriage was consciously created for the purpose of procreation. That point of view puts the cart before the horse. Logically, it implies that before marriage, human beings were not very good at producing children which is an obvious fallacy. No, the social contract of marriage may have been found to have been conducive to the healthy production and raising of children, but it is basically just a reflection of modern man's need to systematize, control and, well, govern his own behavior which, by and large, happens, er, naturally anyway.

It seems that Blankenhorn does much the same as many conservative theorists and argues from authority for the protection of traditional marriage, quoting philosophers and anthropologists. The trouble is that this is no more than opinion piled on opinion. Just because a thinker is eminent does not make him or her right.

Graglia gives us:
Bronislaw Malinowski, one of the founders of anthropology, established that in every culture there is "the rule of legitimacy," requiring a father and a mother for every child; "in all human societies...the group consisting of a woman and her offspring is not a sociologically complete unit." "The human family," says Malinowski, "must consist of the male as well as the female," and because the "father is defined socially," "in order that there may be fatherhood there must be marriage."
What is this "social definition" of which he speaks? There is a growing wealth of biological evidence, besides what will smack any intelligent observer squarely in the face, that fathers and their children have links which transcend any social connection - Blankenhorn even cites a couple of examples, albeit limited to indirect biological bonds between parents and thus inappropriately channeling the links through the mother (the big dicks, female orgasm and oxytocin thing).

Let me put it simply: my son and I look alike, we think alike and our emotional constitutions are alike. (One day I fully expect him to be told "You're just like your father!", and not kindly either.) I really don't care what society thinks about our relationship, especially as that society has done nothing to protect it.

There is a fair chance he will experience the close company of a number of adult men during his growth to manhood, none of them will be as appropriate to the job of leading him along that road as I am, none of them will have anything like the investment in him that I do. No amount of social definition of fatherhood nor marriage to my son's mother will change that. (Are you listening, stepfathers?)

Fundamentally, I think that fatherhood is now "defined socially" only so that "society" can have an inappropriate hold over the father and his children. In this sense, "society" has become a despot and needs to be brought to heel. In other words, Malinowski's arguments are incorrect because he confuses the individual father's historically difficult job of assuring that his children are his own with the inevitably flawed societal mechanisms he helps put in place in order to facilitate that job. Consequently he arrives at laughable and highly dangerous ideas like fatherhood having marriage as a prerequisite. It's a short step from there to the claim that you're not the child's father unless you're married to the mother and from there to: if you're divorced, you're not the kid's father any more.

These days, we have a radically different situation because fatherhood can be proved beyond doubt. Thus we have no excuse but to defend true fatherhood to the hilt. There is no longer a need for any "social definition".

Blankenhorn thinks of marriage as "a social institution to meet social needs". That may be so, but then to take that as a starting point for the defense of marriage as a vehicle for the production and protection of children again confuses the largely ignorant society's point of view with that of the very individually knowledgeable parents. I say protect a father's investment in his children and you will automatically protect society's propensity towards those institutions which help him do so. That is, protect his rights with respect to his children and I'd happily bet that the divorce rate will fall as mothers are made to realize that ejecting the father from the home does not automatically eject him from his children's lives.

Graglia further exposes Blankenhorn's woolly thinking with:
Blankenhorn himself bows to political correctness in using the female pronoun as a general referent. Why would the author of Fatherless America adopt this academic conceit and patronize the feminist belief in ongoing female oppression? He knows that our problem is to fortify the declining male, not the ascending female. Young women, who graduate from college at much higher rates than men and earn more than men in our largest cities, do not need to have the female pronoun waved in support of their cause.
Hear bloody hear! (A woman wrote this, folks.)

In short, it seems that Blankenhorn wants to protect children by protecting marriage and thinks that allowing people to marry who won't or can't have children somehow conflicts with this. I think he'd be better off by truly identifying who best protects children and their interests (their fathers, you damned fool!) and work from there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Some numbers

I found this in a comment on Glenn Sacks' blog and thought it bore repeating:

• 79.6% of custodial mothers receive a support award

• 29.9% of custodial fathers receive a support award.

• 46.9% of non-custodial mothers totally default on support.

• 26.9% of non-custodial fathers totally default on support.

• 20.0% of non-custodial mothers pay support at some level

• 61.0% of non-custodial fathers pay support at some level

• 66.2% of single custodial mothers work less than full time.

• 10.2% of single custodial fathers work less than full time.

• 7.0% of single custodial mothers work more than 44 hours weekly.

• 24.5% of single custodial fathers work more that 44 hours weekly.

• 46.2% of single custodial mothers receive public assistance.

• 20.8% of single custodial fathers receive public assistance. [1]

• 40% of mothers reported that they had interfered with the fathers
visitation to punish their ex-spouse. [2]

• 50% of mothers see no value in the fathers continued contact with his children. [3]

• 90.2% of fathers with joint custody pay the support due.

• 79.1% of fathers with visitation privileges pay the support due.

• 44.5% of fathers with no visitation pay the support due.

• 37.9% of fathers are denied any visitation.

• 66% of all support not paid by non-custodial fathers is due to the
inability to pay. [4]

1 Technical Analysis Paper No. 42 - U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services - Office of Income Security Policy
2 "Frequency of Visitation" by
Sanford Braver, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
3 "Surviving the Breakup" by Joan Berlin Kelly
4. 1988 Census "Child Support and Alimony: 1989 Series"
P-60, No. 173 p.6-7, and "U.S. General Accounting Office Report"
GAO/HRD-92-39FS January 1992

I believe the numbers apply to the US.

To this, I would add: 40% of non-custodial fathers lose all contact with their children within 2 years.