Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Princess Bride

On this happy occasion, let's take a look back at an earlier post on marriage from Megan McArdle. Unfortunately, I seem to be blocked from accessing McArdle's Jane Galt archives, no doubt due to some kind of clerical error. Fortunately, there are other ways to access material on the internet. In "A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other," McArdle warns that big decisions can have unintended consequences, while stating over and over and over that she doesn't care either way whether or not gays can marry.

Unlike most libertarians, I don't have an opinion on gay marriage, and I'm not going to have an opinion no matter how much you bait me. However, I had an interesting discussion last night with another libertarian about it, which devolved into an argument about a certain kind of liberal/libertarian argument about gay marriage that I find really unconvincing.

Social conservatives of a more moderate stripe are essentially saying that marriage is an ancient institution, which has been carefully selected for throughout human history. It is a bedrock of our society; if it is destroyed, we will all be much worse off. (See what happened to the inner cities between 1960 and 1990 if you do not believe this.) For some reason, marriage always and everywhere, in every culture we know about, is between a man and a woman; this seems to be an important feature of the institution. We should not go mucking around and changing this extremely important institution, because if we make a bad change, the institution will fall apart.

A very common response to this is essentially to mock this as ridiculous. "Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether gay people are getting married? Why would that change my behavior as a heterosexual"

To which social conservatives reply that institutions have a number of complex ways in which they fulfill their roles, and one of the very important ways in which the institution of marriage perpetuates itself is by creating a romantic vision of oneself in marriage that is intrinsically tied into expressing one's masculinity or femininity in relation to a person of the opposite sex; stepping into an explicitly gendered role. This may not be true of every single marriage, and indeed undoubtedly it is untrue in some cases. But it is true of the culture-wide institution. By changing the explicitly gendered nature of marriage we might be accidentally cutting away something that turns out to be a crucial underpinning.

To which, again, the other side replies "That's ridiculous! I would never change my willingness to get married based on whether or not gay people were getting married!"
Having said she has no opinion, McArdle immediately begins discussing opinions. She presents these views as belonging to others so she can't be criticized or rejected by anybody. From her safe "neutral" perch she can criticize both sides while belonging to neither. Yet McArdle does, of course, have an opinion, and has the urge to present it to the world, indeed, an obligation to tell others what to think, as a highly educated person and one of the elite.

Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!" This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case. The marginal case may be some consultant who just can't justify sacrificing valuable leisure for a new project when he's only making 60 cents on the dollar. The result will nonetheless be the same: less economic activity. Similarly, you--highly educated, firmly socialised, upper middle class you--may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean that the institution of marriage won't be weakened in America just the same.
And now we're deeply in the weeds, where a layperson would have a hard time following or countering McArdle's opinions. It's not that McArdle's feelings towards marriage will suffer, it's the economy. No, McArdle isn't a bigot here and neither are you, dear reader. It's Others, lowlifes in Tuscaloosa who will harm marriage through their bigotry. Not McArdle. But just in case you accidently thought McArdle had an opinion lurking under the verbiage, she rushes to disabuse you of that notion.

This should not be taken as an endorsement of the idea that gay marriage will weaken the current institution. I can tell a plausible story where it does; I can tell a plausible story where it doesn't. I have no idea which one is true. That is why I have no opinion on gay marriage, and am not planning to develop one. Marriage is a big institution; too big for me to feel I have a successful handle on it.
Eh, maybe it will, maybe it won't, who knows? But remember, McArdle has no opinion on the subject either way. Marriage won't be harmed by gays marrying, unless, you know, it will.

However, I am bothered by this specific argument, which I have heard over and over from the people I know who favor gay marriage laws. I mean, literally over and over; when they get into arguments, they just repeat it, again and again. "I will get married even if marriage is expanded to include gay people; I cannot imagine anyone up and deciding not to get married because gay people are getting married; therefore, the whole idea is ridiculous and bigoted."

They may well be right. Nonetheless, libertarians should know better. The limits of your imagination are not the limits of reality. Every government programme that libertarians have argued against has been defended at its inception with exactly this argument.
So just in case you thought opposition to gay marriage was silly and bigoted, remember that it might not be, because someone, somewhere might make a negative economic decision, and hurt the free markets.

So what does this mean? That we shouldn't enact gay marriage because of some sort of social Precautionary Principle [sic]

No. I have no such grand advice.

My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.
Be humble little thinkers, who do not have McArdle's education and deep thoughts. Listen to your betters, which is why we have elections and stuff. Our ancestors knew what they were doing and did it for a good reason. (After all, it's not like the marriage contract started out as a bill of sale for the exchange of property.) Listen to your Authorities. They know what they are doing.
Is this post going to convince anyone? I doubt it; everyone but me seems to already know all the answers, so why listen to such a hedging, doubting bore? I myself am trying to draw a very fine line between being humble about making big changes to big social institutions, and telling people (which I am not trying to do) that they can't make those changes because other people have been wrong in the past. In the end, our judgement is all we have; everyone will have to rely on their judgement of whether gay marriage is, on net, a good or a bad idea. All I'm asking for is for people to think more deeply than a quick consultation of their imaginations to make that decision. I realise that this probably falls on the side of supporting the anti-gay-marriage forces, and I'm sorry, but I can't help that. This humility is what I want from liberals when approaching market changes; now I'm asking it from my side too, in approaching social ones. I think the approach is consistent, if not exactly popular.

Learn from my humility, little people. Deny civil rights to our fellow human beings. They might be miffed at that, but I'm sorry, I just can't help that.

McArdle is afraid of rejection from socially liberal people if she states what she really feels--gays shouldn't marry. If gay marriage hurts McArdle's marriage in any way, shape or form, she cannot allow it. Marriage is for her, happily born heterosexual and therefore good enough to marry. Not for gays, who are not good enough. McArdle has spoken. Be humble and accept her wisdom.

You go and have a very special day, Princess, and rest happy knowing that some people aren't allowed to marry at all, making your Happy Day even more exclusive and therefore better than before. It's the Libertarian Way, after all.


clever pseudonym said...

Ah, the days where Megan's pretentiousness reached it's apex. The British spelling years. She wasn't even smart enough to be consistent with it. There are "programmes," yet there are also "behaviors." We're talking about maybe thirty words in the English language here, Megs. If you're going to pull that ignorant BS assumption that being British automatically makes something smarter, you should have made a chart to remind yourself which words to consistently spell like an Oxford don.

Megan calling for people to be more humble and less arrogant is a joke, especially considering the condescending tone of that whole post. How shockingly lacking in the slightest bit of self-awareness.

"I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it."

Here's an idea for more humility and less arrogance, Megan. You don't get to "let" other people "muck around" with their own personal opinions. They are entitled to them whether you approve or not, you haughty, self-important moron.

Susan of Texas said...

Oh, this is going to be interesting--simultaneously wallowing in excess and making excuses for the excess, while bemoaning excess from anyone else.

clever pseudonym said...

How long before we get the inevitable string of photographs deliberately posed so that her bogus status symbol of a ring is prominently framed for everyone to notice? Women like Megan are *defined* by useless crap like that.

BTW, I'm not knocking all women who wear jewelry, just the ones who seem to think whipping some guy into buying them a rock is a mark of character.

Ken Houghton said...

Let's look for the "marginal case": McMegan and Suderman didn't decide to get married until gay marriage was legal in six states. (With two others

We should, therefore, decide that—for at least one of them—marriage was not a viable conceit until more than 10% of the states made Marriage for All legal.

Anyone think it's coincident that McMegan's hints because more prominent only after the first two or three legalisations? Or that Suderman's hesitation wasn't that he was sponging off her—he had to know wingnut welfare would come through eventually—but rather that not enough of his friends were allowed to marry?

Susan of Texas said...

I suspect that biological forces pushed aside other considerations, hence her post on babies.

I don't think I can take what's in store for us. I'm not as strong as I used to be.

Unknown said...

All I know is that miscegnation laws were repealed before I was born. And I'm still single. Which would prove Megan's point. If she had one.

Downpuppy said...

I was all set to write the definitive, logical deconstruction of Douthat's nonsense today. To show how the random bits never fit together & have nothing to do with the conclution, as well as carefully documenting the errors of fact.

Then I read the first sentence.

It's all yours.

satch said...

"Unlike most libertarians, I don't have an opinion on gay marriage." I'm sorry, I don't know any actual libertarians, but theoretically, at least, I thought that, since the whole point of libertarianism was to keep way the hell out of the private lives of others, most libertarians wouldn't care one way or the other about gay marriage...and thus wouldn't waste valuable nap time reading that mashup of a post. And if Megan would spend a little time researching the history of the Great Society's social programs, she would learn that one of the concessions liberals had to make to conservatives in order to get welfare expanded was to include "no man in the house" provisions in the laws, presumably so that those lazy young bucks wouldn't be sucking up money aimed at helping women and children. That provision was the single biggest contributor to the breakup of poor families, since it forced fathers out of the home even if they were inclined to help raise children. I already know the answer to this one, but geez...would it have killed Megan to use reference sources other than her own navel lint?

Chad said...

I should be used to it, but it still makes me howl in despair how vague anti-gay marriage arguments almost always are when talking about the "social consequences" of recognized gay marriage. Megan is as bad as the worst of them, only making a vague reference to "inner cities" in "1960 and 1990." I don't even want to think about what Megan was trying to imply there!

Mr. Wonderful said...

clever pseud's final graf is brilliant.

I also "like" how MM's review of the topic consists, not of even semi- accurate summaries of the various arguments for or against, but of caricatures of what "people think." She condescends to construct straw men on the left and the right, the better to announce herself above such rabble.

Whereas any true libertarian (whatever horrorshow that would actually be) should be in favor of gay marriage BY DEFINITION.

As always, her writing isn't about the merits of an argument, but about how winningly, beguilingly cool she thinks she is.

Kathy said...

Usually when someone says s/he "doesn't have an opinion" they are admitting they don't have enough information to form an opinion. But no matter how little info Megan and her chums have, they have lots and lots of opinions.

Ask the average person: "Shouldn't Gays be treated the same way as everyone else in the matter of marriage, and in all other areas?" and they'll say "sure". The major difference between Gay and Straight is there are more Straight people- gays are a minority. That's a legally questionable and morally unjust reason to deny any one basic human rights.

It is particularly contemptible when conservative apologist idiots such as Megan are given "special credence" to opine on this or any other subject, particularly when she has demonstrated over and over again that she is ignorant and dumb. As well as a bigot and hypocrite. grrr. (I'm in a bad mood today, bet you couldn't guess)

Susan of Texas said...

Yes, McArdle's first reaction to anything is how it will affect her, no matter who else gets hurt. Seeing this supposed libeertarian worry that she might suffer if we don't interefere in others' private lives reveals just how little she cares about principle or other people.


clever pseudonym said...

Mr. W - that's part of what kills me about her post. It's not as if this isn't a subject that's been argued into the ground on all sides repeatedly. She could easily find a number of other people's thoughts on the subject and write why she believes an actual person is right or wrong. But that would involve work, and Megan doesn't like doing that very much. And you nailed her on that continuing tone she has where she points out the supposed failings of others while explaining why everyone else should be more like her.

I'm beginning to think the woman genuinely believes she is perfect and has no reason to learn or improve as a human being.