Earlier today I found myself in a discussion about a custom which a few cultures, such as Muslim, Indian, Hindu cultures, and others, practice. Arranged marriage is interesting as material for discussion because I found, among Americans, a startling degree of high relativist “understanding.” Now, there once was a time when I would have spearheaded the relativist movement decrying that “it’s not our place to judge- why is our culture better?” and all that other claptrap. Now, I have arrived at a significantly more enlightened conclusion.
Right off, arranged marriage is on the level with slavery. In whole, without compromise, it is just as ethically unjustifiable as forced labor. As a matter of fact, it opens up the possibility- though I understand this doesn’t actually happen that often- for fully fledged repeat rape that is completely legal, and that would be far, far worse than mere forced labor. If you say that arranged marriage is morally justifiable, you are stating that the use of violence by a third party to arrange a rape is acceptable. Or, in the most generous interpretation, you are at least supporting the stripping away of freedom of association, the freedom to select sexual partners, the choice to bear children, and the right to independent living. I don’t care if it’s the parents who are arranging the marriage- the parents have absolutely no special status whatsoever. Imagine if it was some culture’s custom for your second cousin to be able to select your spouse, and you would be bound by that decision. Worse, what if that cousin stood to make a significant amount of money in the form of a dowry in certain circumstances? They say that “you may one day come to love each other.” There’s a name for that. It’s called “Stockholm Syndrome.”
How is arranged marriage at all different from the institution of sexual slavery? Because the children obey the decrees of their parents? The only reason the child is prepared to accept such terms is because their independence has already been destroyed by those parents. Parents have absolutely no actual power over their children not derived from violence- that they couldn’t also have over anyone else, at least. Note that I include, for example, social pain and punishment as merely a less extreme form of violence, but I also want to add that to children such small damages are still extremely harmful. The parents are given the greatest degree of relative power that exists in the human universe, and it is their utmost responsibility to never, under any circumstances, use it. If they are rational and persuasive and can communicate how it is in the child’s best interest to, for example, marry someone, they are equally entitled to their input as anyone else is. But that’s a completely different situation. Now you’re saying that the child would have made that choice on their own if they had absorbed the information their parents are providing because they honestly believe it is what they want to do. What their reason actually is doesn’t matter- they might marry purely to make their parents rich of their own free will. But it must be their own choice, completely devoid of coercive violence affecting their choice. Anyone can provide you with whatever information or argument they wish. You’re not going to take the command of some random stranger over who you should marry, you probably wouldn’t even take their advice. However that stranger can tell you whatever advice they like on whatever terms they like, I have absolutely no problem with that.
Now, here I’m going to outline an argument for which many would call me a basket case. Namely, that marriage itself is basically an unjustified and unethical system of forced association. Yes, yes, I know, when you get married it’s definitely not forced association. But “marriage” is just the application of a label to a process that was already occurring. In cases where marriage is optional, and not arranged, the two parties usually consider themselves in love with one another to some extent- enough to marry, anyway. So what exactly changes post-marriage? The church gets to marry you, and the government now treats you as a combined entity. The couple is then bound by a categorical moral imperative to never have sex with anyone else, and to “love one another until death.” I will pass on the obvious point that you really aren’t given to decide how you feel about a person. I will also pass on the relevant observation that if humans lived to be ten thousand years old, the divorce rate would be incredible. And I will pass on the somewhat saucy argument that your resources and finances are then intertwined, and somehow this gives (often the woman) some “claim” to the spouse’s future earnings. Which is just the purest bullshit. And I will ignore how the divorce process is heavily, heavily slanted towards the woman. No, what I want to discuss is how a marriage is basically a relationship with an added technical label attached. What I mean is that if you truly love someone, then you’ll stay together, marriage or not. If twenty years into the future that relationship turns acidic, then you just walk away. Why is this issue so terribly complicated? If you want to be together, then be together. If not, then don’t. But why oh why oh why would you ever want to bet all your chips that mean anything on the slim chance that you are going to have a pristine relationship until death? Talk about playing Russian Roulette with your life savings and a fully loaded gun, claiming “it’ll jam, I’m sure of it!” Tell me, if you were going to die tomorrow, would you waste your last day getting married to the person you love? If you were going to live to be a ten thousand years old, would you wager a donut that you were going to stay together for the entire duration? OK, so why is it justified for however long you may happen to be married? Alright, it may be a spiritual and social experience with family and everybody getting together and celebrating a union, but couldn’t you do that anyway? If it’s the act of making a contract that gets you going, then for God’s sake don’t let the Church/religious body of your choice make the damn rules- they wrote those vows back when the life expectancy was 23 and you were going to live and die building a cathedral your grandchildren would never see finished because a priest told you so. The priest then proceeded to collect a fraction of your wages to line his own and his superiors’ pockets so they could suppress all movement toward progress; scientific, political, social, anything, while the priest was busy molesting the 18 children you now have to feed because that selfsame priest forbids birth control. Sound like a good deal?
If it’s the contract that’s significant about marriage- and that was its original purpose- then marriage needs a revamp. Marriage was an agreement that the couple was ready to have children, and would stay together long enough to care for them until they were old enough to live on their own. So maybe the conventional system should be rewritten- a marriage is a terminating union to last, say, 24 years and 7 months after exactly 2.2 children have been reared? I don’t care what the agreement is, but the bottom line is that when the marriage “expires” that doesn’t mean that the couple is now disbanded, to be backed up by a goddamn restraining order. More importantly, different people want different contracts. What if I want an agreement that allows for me marrying 47 women simultaneously? They can all live in my house, it’s cool. The fundy neighbors get a little freaked out from time to time and roll by in their SUV, heads up in the sunroof screaming “WHOORES!”, but that’s OK. Strength in numbers plus the right to bear arms…. No, I probably wouldn’t ever own a gun, but if guns are legal then the burglars don’t know that, and the probabilistic certainty of death is a fairly strong incentive not to burglarize. But that’s neither here nor there. Basically, why are you blindly allowing yourself to be suckered into this paradigm of morality that puts you in such a downright stupid situation? They say that after marriage, the men become slobs, the women let themselves go, and the passion just dies. There’s a reason for that. Both of you think that it’s “in the bag” and that the coercive social violence of society will keep your spouse near you.