Lately I’ve been reading the exceptional book “Angels Of Our Better Nature” by Harvard Professor Steven Pinker. The book centers around violence and how it is decreasing in the modern world.
But there is one part of the book where he discusses honor. I’m “reading” it on audiobook so I don’t remember exactly how it was said and I can’t easily reference an exact statement by flipping to a page, so I’ll greatly paraphrase here.
“Honor is a construct, people believe they have honor and that other people have honor. It’s because we believe we have honor that we have it. It isn’t actually a real thing beyond a frame of mind. The result of an honor culture was increased violence due to people’s honor being insulted. But if we decide as a culture that honor is bullshit, than honor is no longer there to be insulted.”
So I started thinking, what if we did the same to marriage? Right now we put marriage on some pedestal. If people aren’t married but living together, society as a whole may look down on them or at the very least ask “so when are you two going to get married?” As if it’s an expected outcome of two people being together for any length of time.
But marriage is just a concept. When you take away the legal benefits its really just a commitment between two people. No different than two people who are boyfriend/girlfriend. The only reason marriage is given more weight is because we as a society have given it more weight in our minds than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
A boyfriend/girlfriend couple can be just as committed or even moreso than a married couple. Yet the married couple will often be given more weight in society.
What if that boyfriend/girlfriend couple had a contract that was just as beneficial as a marriage? That contract stated that they could speak for each other in medical or financial crisis and that their property was shared and that they received special tax incentives as a result of that contract. Still the married couple would be given more weight in society than that contractually obligated boyfriend/girlfriend. Why? Because it’s all about the words you use. It has nothing to do with the practical purpose of it. People give the word “marriage” a higher value. In the same way they give the concept of honor value. There is nothing actually there. It’s just a word.
Even the concept of being deeply committed to each other in love can be encapsulated inside of a contractually obligated boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. So really all we’re left with is the word marriage that people cling too.
So why is that bad?
Because there is a lot of baggage that comes with that word.
People view the word marriage as a sacred thing. But it’s just a word and it’s only really sacred in their mind, the same way honor is sacred only in the mind. The problem with this is that they want to legally deny people marriage because of that sacredness they hold for the word in their mind. I’ve seen plenty of people in comment threads on gay marriage topics explain that they have no problem with gay people having civil unions, just don’t call them marriage. That right there explains why we need to just get rid of the word completely rather then try to fight tooth and nail to shoehorn homosexuals into an outdated word.
When you thnk about it, past the legal benefits, why should homosexuals even want to shoehorn themselves into such an outdated word that has never embraced them in the past? Why not pave a newer better road for the future?
I mean really, what is marriage anymore? It’s changed so much, why continue to cling to the word itself. Tradition? Well traditions aren’t always good things. Sometimes you need to rid yourself of them. Especially if they are about a word that is associated with so much baggage.
The other problem with marriage beyond being just a word, but as a concept, is that it’s full of expectations which aren’t all that reasonable anymore. For starters the whole idea that people expect others to get married to begin with. Not everyone wants to get married or should be expected to get married. It should not be considered an endzone couples need to ascend to by a certain point in their relaitonship. Much to the stress of many men.
In fact statistics show that getting married gives couples only a two year boost in happiness, then they fall back down to the level of happiness they were at before they were married. So people use it as a romance booster which makes them temporarily more happy. In the same way they become temporarily more happy are when they first meet someone new and go through the honeymoon phase of a new relationship. Beyond that marriage doesn’t really do anything more for them romantically than they would normally have had not being married. Why? Because it’s not a real thing, it’s just a state of mind. A state of mind you could induce in yourself even if you’re not married or if together in some other legal contractual relationship and not using the word marriage.
The other problem is shame and divorce.
People divorce all the time and feel shameful for it. Why should they? Why cling to this concept that people should commit to one other person for the rest of their life? As if that one person is all they will ever need or desire.
People change over time. We know that. I don’t have the same best friend at 35 that I did at 10 years old. Yet that is not at all considered unreasonable. Yet somehow divorce is a negative thing. We talk about the “divorce rate” in our society as if it’s some horribe thing that is going on and eating away at our core. Yet practically speaking, it’s absolutely no different than two best friends parting ways beause they just don’t connect with each other anymore. No shame in that.
Yet it is because we put such high value on marriage to begin with, both as a word and concept that we look so negatively on divorce. So maybe we should stop putting such an artifically high value on marriage like we used to do with honor.
Would it not be better to live in a world without marriage then? I think so.
We can start fresh with a totally new concept that doesn’t carry all that baggage with it. That new concept can apply to relationships between any combiantion of people, be it a man and a woman, two men, two women, two women and a man, two men and a woman or a foursome of mixed genders who want to be legally bound to each other to the same legal and committed degree that married people are today. But without all those expectations of marriage or shame of divorce or limitations on who can marry who.
For those that are religious, they can still have their ceremonies, they can still make their commitment between each other and their deity. Those who are traditionalists can still have their dress and their vows to each other in front of friends and family. People can still gush over the deep commitment they have for each other and romanticize it if they desire. It just won’t be the same insitution that started as a trade of a woman(as property) between two families. Nor will it be viewed by some as solely a religious institution. Nor will it be restricted to just one man and one woman. Nor will it be shameful to divorce. It will be disconnected from all that legacy bullshit.
When you think about it, we’ve already reformed marriage so much over the centuries. In the modern world marriage is nothing like it was in the old world or even in parts of the middle east today. So many of the things I’ve mentioned are already changing, expectation and views on divorce have been changing for decades, marriage is a whole new thing today, so why continue to hold onto the word marriage? If we’re going to change everything, let’s just change everything and start fresh with something modern so that we can stop having these stupid arguments where someone says “that’s not what a marriage is.” Well that’s fine because we aren’t getting married, we’re getting [……….].