Thursday, October 27, 2011

#5 - Marriage Privatisation & Nietzsche

The way I see it there are 2 ways to achieve marriage equality in Australia:

1) Give same-sex couples the same marriage rights as straight couples;


2) Take away the marriage rights of straight couples. 

It seems that option 1 gets far more coverage in the media, which is a fact I find interesting. What exactly is so important about marriage that abolishing the institution altogether is frowned upon so much? Perhaps it is my place in culture that makes it easy for me to question these things - I am told that marriage was taken much more serious 50 years ago. Now, however, people get divorced as much as they get married and the 'sanctity' of marriage isn't really apparent. The reason that I think people are hanging on to the marriage idea is simply because it is culturally ingrained into them. Here is a passage from Nietzsche that I think reflects this ideology perfectly:

Custom and what is in accordance with it.— To be moral, to act in accordance with custom, to be ethical means to practice obedience towards a law or tradition established from of old. Whether one submits to it gladly or with difficulty makes no difference; enough that one submits. We call “good" the man who does the moral thing as if by nature, after a long history of inheritance—that is, easily, and gladly, whatever it is (he will, for example, practice revenge when that is considered moral, as in the older Greek culture). He is called good because he is good “for" something. But because, as mores changed, goodwill, pity, and the like were always felt to be “good for" something, useful, it is primarily the man of goodwill, the helpful man, who is called “good." To be evil is to be “not moral" (immoral), to practice bad habits, go against tradition, however reasonable or stupid it may be. To harm one’s fellow, however, has been felt primarily as injurious in all moral codes of different times, so that when we hear the word “bad" now, we think particularly of voluntary injury to one’s fellow. When men determine between moral and immoral, good and evil, the basic opposition is not “egoism" and “selflessness," but rather adherence to a tradition or law, and release from it. The origin of the tradition makes no difference, at least concerning good and evil, or an immanent categorical imperative; but is rather above all for the purpose of maintaining a community, a people. Every superstitious custom, originating in a coincidence that is interpreted falsely, forces a tradition that it is moral to follow. To release oneself from it is dangerous, even more injurious for the community than for the individual (because the divinity punishes the whole community for sacrilege and violation of its rights, and the individual only as a part of that community). Now, each tradition grows more venerable the farther its origin lies in the past, the more it is forgotten; the respect paid to the tradition accumulates from generation to generation; finally the origin becomes sacred and awakens awe; and thus the morality of piety is in any case much older than that morality which requires selfless acts. (Human, All too Human 96)

This is one of my favorite passages of Nietzcshe that I have read so far and reflects the mob morality that I come across every day. Most people simply accept that there are things that are right and wrong without questioning the arbitrary tradition that has led them to this belief. It is these people that will repeatedly assert "But marriage is between a man and woman!" with the belief that they have genuinely asserted a statement of worth. I don't believe that these generations deserve abuse for what are now seen as outdated values; to quote Nietzsche once more:

Socrates and Plato are right: Whatever man does he always does the good, that is to say: that which seems to him good (useful) according to the relative degree of his intellect, the measure of his rationality. (Human, All too Human 102)   

Outside of philosophical circles it is quite rational to base ideals for the future on the successful ideals of the past. For this reason I don't think that it is fair to say that those who have a knee-jerk reaction against same-sex marriage are immoral or stupid or anything else like that. It is, however, blameworthy to keep a closed mind or refuse to acknowledge relevant details of a situation.

I'll keep this post brief because my desires to run off on a tangent are becoming unbearable. The point I am trying to make is that there is another often overlooked solution to the same-sex marriage problem that maintains equality. Contrary to popular criticism I do not believe that privatizing marriage would de-value it in any way, rather it would strengthen the bonds of marriage because of the personal ties that people could make. Perhaps marriage could still be a 'legal bond' in that the vows written by the wed-couple must be abided by or else an agreed consequence would occur but this really isn't the important part. The important part is the 'expressive aspect' of marriage discussed by Martha Nussbaum in 'From Disgust to Humanity'. Marriage expresses a a public declaration of love that not only proudly defines the persons involved but deserves recognition by the public. I do not believe that privatizing marriage would degrade this 'expressive aspect' of marriage at all.

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