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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #74, 1/24/2007

Manifesto for the Anti-Marriage Revolution

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

I believe in romantic love. Men and women are set up for it, so it is bound to happen. Sex itself is a hokey marketing gimmick that can't take you very far, but if it helps you get started at intimacy, that's okay. True intimacy, if you can pull it off, can be a wonderful, life-changing treasure. It beats isolation by a long shot.

I also see nothing wrong with people bonding for life. It is part of the human nervous system to latch onto someone else and not let go. Bonding has its dangers (like getting attached to someone who isn't healthy for you), but also great rewards (knowing someone well enough for very subtle communication). If the person who you are drawn to sexually turns out to be a lifelong partner, that's great! However, it should be a natural commitment that evolves on its own, not an artificial one enforced from the outside.

In spite of all its cultural and emotional symbolism, marriage boils down to one thing legally: It is an economic contract to share all future assets and liabilities. Under the law, it is not a "joining of two hearts"; it is merging of your money. It is a total surrender of your personal economic discretion in a single act. What's love got to do with it?

Everybody has boundaries. No matter how much we may be in love, there is a certain point where I begin and you end. After we have fallen into bed together, determining these boundaries is what makes or breaks a relationship. Most people, frankly, can't handle the loss of control that comes with intimacy. They end up taking too much or giving too much. The equilibrium of the relationship is lost, and it spirals out of control toward its inevitable explosive demise. It may take twenty years for the end to finally come, but usually the problem can be traced to the beginning, when you gave up certain natural personal boundaries and didn't have anything to replace them with.

Marriage may seem logical at first. If two people are already living together, doesn't it make sense for them to pool their bank accounts? Sure, it is sensible for them to open one joint bank account to serve the needs of the home. It doesn't make sense to merge all of their bank accounts, credit cards, real estate transactions, legal liabilities, retirement plans, insurance policies, stock options and parking fines in a single contract, which is essentially what marriage does. Isn't it better to resolve each problem on a case-by-case basis?

(You may think that you can retain your "own" bank accounts and credit cards after marriage, but you will discover at the time of divorce that this was a fiction. Barring an explicit agreement otherwise, anything that happens after marriage is "community property," regardless of whose name it is in.)

It is only money, right? No, it is more than that. Money is power and responsibility, even in an intimate and trusting relationship, and you shouldn't surrender control of it lightly. We struggle for money. For most of us, that is why we go to work every day. Money and how we handle it helps define who we are in the world. If my money automatically becomes your money, then I may lose something essential and irreplaceable about my identity.

Living together, or even just dating, naturally requires negotiations about money. If we go out to dinner, which of us is going to pay? This can be a very complicated issue. Is it the man who should pay? Is it the person who has the higher income? Maybe we should split the bill down the middle or alternate between you and I. There's no simple, universal solution; we just have to work it out.

Ideally, people should contribute to a relationship according to the Communist ideal: "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." This sounds nice in theory, but it tends to break down in practice. Communism tends to disrupt personal responsibility. For example, if one person pays for dinner most of the time, then the relationship runs the risk of falling into an unhealthy parent-child dynamic where the parent is expected to solve all problems and the child has no incentive to take responsibility for their actions.

When you engage in the economic contract of marriage, you are signing on to a utopian ideal where everyone is going to share things equally and work just as hard as they did when they were on their own. In practice, this perfect harmony doesn't usually last for long. Without clear boundaries, equality and personal responsibility tend to deteriorate over time. Instead of an equal sharing of resources, the burdens sometime to shift more and more to one party while the other accomplishes less and less. This was the downfall of many a hippie commune in the 1960s: One or two people ended up doing all the work, while the others, lacking direct incentive, began sitting around too much.

The alternative economic system, Capitalism, isn't necessarily much better, but at least the boundaries are clear. Each person is responsible for his own production and consumption, regardless of the problems he is facing. There is no generosity in a strict Capitalist system. It doesn't call for sharing, and if you get old or sick, that's your problem.

When you are in love, you want to give more than that. You want to share. When your partner gets sick, you want to take care of them. You are sensitive to their needs, want to look after them and don't expect direct compensation in return. That's love!

That doesn't mean, however, that you should entirely surrender the Capitalist system in a single idealistic act. The substance of all relationships is negotiation. After you have fallen in love, that's what you do together every day: you negotiate. I want one thing; you want another, and we wrestle things out and come to a workable settlement. This is the fun of love! That's the joy and communication of it! Without active, ongoing negotiation and the resulting change to each of us, a relationship is just repetitive factory work.

It is foolish to give up all of your economic negotiating power in a single contract. It is like defecting from Capitalism to Communism based only on your fantasy of what you think Communism should be. When you find yourself in a bleak factory job in Kiev, laboring to support an oppressive state that takes all you can give and doesn't recognize your needs, then you'll think twice about your defection.

That's just a metaphor, of course. I'm not saying marriage ever turns out like that.


Reader Comments

“And when the ecomic contract must be dissolved with negotiations with a no-longer friendly party - the whole concept of HALF of community property is seen in a whole new light!! Aaarrrrgghhhh it's ugly if one has slaved in the factory to see half of the toils of one's labors snatched unceremoniously away! But then that would be cynical now wouldn't it?” — 1/24/07 (rating=3)

“I disagree with virtually everything you say Glenn, but it's a great read.” — 1/24/07 (rating=4)

“Wow! This was a great article about marriage.” —maryjo85 1/17/10 (rating=5)

Ratings so far: 3 4 3 3 5 3 5 4 (Average=3.7)

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