Human nature is obsolete

News media throughout America are gleefully trumpetting the result that “40% of Americans think marriage is obsolete” (see, e.g. here or here).  It certainly seems like their moment of truimph.  If, like America’s newsmen and entertainers, I had spent decades promoting fornication and divorce, I would certainly feel a thrill of victory in this find.  However, on closer inspection, we realize that, in these stories, the media is not objectively reporting its victory.  These stories are themselves part of their campaign.

First of all, how did Pew get this result?  Did they just ask a bunch of people to give words they thought described marriage, and 40% said something equivalent to “obsolete”?  Of course not.  At the Pew website, their survey results are described in more detail, and it is pretty clear that survey participants were directly asked the question “Is marriage obsolete?”  But asking this question is itself a form of propaganda for fornication.  The question presupposes that marriage is a form of technology, a morally neutral means used for ends not intrinsically connected to it.  This, however, is exactly the point of contention.  In Pew’s Newspeak, though, it is not possible to question utilitarianism itself–this is affirmed whether one answers “yes” or “no”.

Let us imagine the spiritual effects of being asked the question “Is marriage obsolete?” The typical person will have (rightly) never thought of marriage in these terms before, so the question will seem strange. He has been taught to be open-minded, though, so he ponders the question. The question of obsolescence only makes sense if one is talking about a tool, so he begins to think of marriage as a tool. A tool to what, though? Things like chastity, fidelity, and filial piety are out, because they presuppose that family can be not only a means to, but an integral part of, the good life. So he turns to things like money and subjective happiness. Perhaps he gives some thought to the raising of children (the true telos of marriage), but even here his insights will be colored by the utilitarian framework he has been given. The question will be whether children raised by parents do better in the workforce than children raised in government or private kennels. The answer is not obvious: I would not be surprised if impersonal institutions do a better job of shrinking souls to fit into the capitalist machine. Perhaps he comes down for marriage, perhaps against. Either way, he has been introduced to a new and pernicious way of thinking. If he has been raised well, some part of his soul will rebel against the thought of advocating universal fornication; it will see such an arrangement as obscene, no matter how “efficient” it is. But Pew has taught our man to disregard that little voice in his head as mere “superstition” or “prejudice”. Now he has a more “scientific” way of looking at things. Most men enjoy the thought of being smarter than their fellows, and now he has found an effort-free path to intellectual snobbishness in keeping an “open mind” toward sin.

I propose we ask Americans a new question:  “Is freedom of speech obsolete?”  Surely our journalistic overlords would want us to keep an open mind on everything, even the mechanism whereby their dominion over society is guaranteed?  If the conjugal bond should not be regarded as good in itself, surely there’s no need to regard unrestricted media brainwashing as good in itself?  If our masters are as benevolent as they imagine, surely there’s no need to fear such a question?  Here, though, I think journalists would have not trouble seeing how demeaning the quesion is.

4 Responses

  1. Nice post. Alasdair MacIntyre often points out that the terms in which Catholics are called upon to debate with secularists are secular terms, and that because this is the case Catholics are doomed from the start. This is a good example of that.

  2. My impression of MacIntyre: a man with good conservative ideas and bad Leftist prejudices. I like him a lot; I strongly suspect that he would despise me. It would be hard to find a quote that would prove this. It’s just a general impression I have.

    That’s pretty much my impression of Jacques Maritain too, by the way.

  3. Why do you think MacIntyre would despise you? I think it more likely he’d agree with you.

    Maritain, on the other hand, was a good little Liberal till he saw what that really meant and went to live in a monastery. Poor.

  4. Hello Nobody,

    Just an impression I get. MacIntyre seems very hostile to Burke in “After Virtue” and towards Aristotle’s “sexism” in “Whose Justice? Which Rationality?” I interpret these as efforts to assure his readers that, even though he’s critiquing liberalism, he’s not one of “those people”–i.e. not a reactionary like me.

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