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What are marriages actually like? What do married people do, once they are all committed and make their vows and so on? What's the meat of the idea, once all the (lots and lots and lots) of meta is relatively complete?

Married people tell each other secrets. Their own secrets. Their friend's secrets. Sometimes military secrets. Sometimes they withhold some, but they are pressured not to.

Similarly, married people are encouraged to have little or no privacy from their spouse. This includes each of them not having a room of her own. Sometimes it includes sharing a computer. Sometimes they share an email account. When they go out they are often supposed to call the other and let him know. Changes of plan must be recorded. If people had any free, unmonitored time they could cheat.

Friendships must be limited, especially with members of the opposite sex. Nothing can be allowed to threaten the marriage. If your spouse wants more time with you that must come first even if you are more interested in doing something else. You are considered wrong to have that interest -- you aren't sufficiently committed, you don't value the marriage enough -- and pressured to change or suppress it. Friendships run the risk of learning and change which could create incompatibilities with your spouse, so that must be controlled and monitored (you do that yourself more than anyone else intruding). Friendships also run the risk of developing feelings for someone else -- why wouldn't you? you believer in marriage, who got crushes on people easily in the past, and who worships the infinite potential of an everlasting union -- and that must be suppressed too.

Married people make each other do some of the chores and dull tasks they don't like. Or perhaps you could say they split them up and each avoid the most hated ones. Gender roles are taken for granted: men do repairs with power tools, not women. (But men sometimes do some of the cooking and cleaning and laundry thanks to feminism. Why don't feminists encourage women to mow the lawn in the name of equality?) Perhaps my objection here is more to people's attitude to such chores in general -- many could be avoided easily enough -- and isn't much to do with marriage. But regardless of whether it is bad, it is a significant part of the interactions of married couples. So it bears mentioning. Further, if someone so mundane takes up a significant bit of a couple's attention then that does not support the previously told story whereby marriage helps create knowledge better and solve hard problems.

There are more tasks than you might realize. House maintenance requires a lot of effort when you have conventional standards of how well kept and presentable things should be. Cooking, cleaning, laundry require a fair amount of effort, and it increases significant with kids. Sometimes married people share a car and spend a lot of effort coordinating who uses the car when, and sometimes giving each other rides. There are errands of all sorts. Groceries, a new chair, a new light bulb, a toy for a child, getting photos developed, and so on. Then there's taking kids to school and back, and to soccer practice, and to their chess tournament, and to their friend's house, and so on. And there's calling other mothers to schedule such things, and to work out carpools. And there's parent/teacher conferences.

When you throw in sleep, work, friends, extended family, and sex, how much time is really left for talking and thinking? How much opportunity is there for the supposed rewards of marriage to be reaped? All these mundane things could just as well be coordinated with a roommate -- and without the marital fights! Not much. And don't forget the 5 hours a day of TV the average adult watches, or whatever it is. Which demonstrates again there *is no special connection* allowing wonderful and mind enhancing conversations filled with learning -- in reality TV is more interesting than a spouse.

The vision of a knowledge-rich marriage seems imaginary. It seems an excuse concocted by people who believe in the value of knowledge in order to feel better, but with little relation to the facts.

This is not to say that spouses never have any valuable knowledge of each other. They often do -- and more than their friendships have. It can be very important to their lives. Many men find their wife helps inspire and encourage them through bad mental states. Many women find their husband helps calm and lead them through bad mental states.

But the comparison is not fair. If they spent so much time and effort with their friends then their friends would get better at doing the same things. Nothing about a marriage makes those specific skills more possible or effective.

You might say that it's too risky to develop that with a friend who is not committed to staying with you for your entire life so that's why this personal knowledge should be developed with a committed spouse. My first reply is that putting all your eggs in one basket -- who is about 50% likely to die before you, and has a significant chance to die many years before you -- is not the conservative, risk-averse strategy that, apparently, it is being implied to be.

But aside from being trivially false, it's also false for a more philosophically interesting reason. It is fundamentally the same point touched on previously about promises being irrational. What does this commitment to stay together really mean? Is it a promise? If so, what use is that? Either it will be right to stay together, or it won't be. Promising to stay when one should not cannot help matters. It is only a promise to do wrong. Promising to stay when one ought to stay is irrelevant -- and possibly harmful: if we stay because we promised without realizing it is right then we, by not understanding the full importance and rational reasons for staying, run the risk of being persuaded to change our minds fairly easily due to our ignorance. What if it's a statement of intent to stay together? So we don't promise, we just try to plan things out so that happens? Well first consider what married couples would be pleased to think of things that way! They are fragile enough about leaving already. Just try telling your girlfriend that you refuse to promise not to leave her. She won't be pleased at your rationality. She will wonder if you are setting up excuses for leaving in advance. She will be fearful. She will think of course you should intend that -- if you don't she will be very angry with you, and feel betrayed -- but look you should care at her enough to do more than try. Any other guy would promise. You must not really love her.

But never mind that married people won't accept statements of intent. Are they actually a good idea? Well, they work well for short term things. But the further into the future the intent goes, the harder the future is to predict. If you are making predictions about a decade hence either your life is very static -- unlikely to have much change -- or your statements of intent are fairly worthless. Sure you intend to. If it works out. But if unforeseen circumstances change things then your statement of intent will be void. If you make long term predictions then the unforeseen circumstances are so overwhelmingly likely that the statement of intent should be considered fairly worthless in the first place because it will almost certainly become void. What it really comes down to is morality. The only thing that should keep people together is that it is good for them to stay together. The fear being discussed is creating valuable, personal knowledge with someone, then they leave without using it and getting the benefits of all that work. (Creating the knowledge itself should be an interesting learning experience one was glad to have had, so this is already a bit confused. It's not work.) So why not just say it this way: you believe it is important for a person with such knowledge to, in most circumstances, stick around and stay in your life. In other words: it would be wrong to leave, because of the knowledge. Fine. That's a perfectly reasonable sort of thing to claim. But then what do you need a promise or commitment or any sort of intent for? It's wrong to leave. There you go. If person wants to leave you can tell them they are making a mistake and it is better for both of you if they change their mind. You can explain why. You can be persuasive. You believe you are right, and have a good case, so you have every reason for optimism in this discussion. And also if person persuades you he is right then again any promise or intent would be irrelevant -- now you would have to say: damn your promise, you are right to leave, that is for the best, so go, the promise was a mistake, but keeping it would be a larger mistake!

Once it's down to morality, not marital vows, commitment, promises, or whatever, then it doesn't really make a bit of difference whether it is your spouse or not. Your friends should give some priority to not leaving, proportional to how much knowledge you've created with each of them. Ditto for your spouse. It's the same. And creating knowledge with someone shouldn't be seen especially as creating risk. It's now more right to stay. (The actual importance of people staying in your life is open to some debate and is off topic. But precisely how important it is has no bearing on the principle.)

The way people choose marriage partners is absurd. It has a lot to do with sexual attraction and physical appearance. What have those to do with knowledge?

Most people never claimed marriage has anything to do with knowledge, of course. It never occurred to them that it is or should be. So why do I keep addressing that issue? Because knowledge *is* important, and the only way to make a plausible defense of marriage is to claim it somehow is about knowledge. What else would matter? (Seriously, email me answers. And yes I know many would mention love, sex, or children. Maybe I'll address those issues later.)

So people choose marriage partners a lot about sex and looks. Also first impressions play a large role. Also courtship plays a large role. That's silly too. How can you learn the suitability of someone for married life by interacting with them in a distinctly different manner? Sure it's possible -- human creativity will not be stopped by such trivialities as doing something unsuitable -- but it's not an especially good way of doing things.

Why should you care so deeply about sharing your life with someone very pretty? Are you really so shallow as that? I have nothing again pretty things. But get a painting. Get a poster. Fill your house with the best things you can find. Have nice rugs. Why should you wish to impose your sense of aesthetics on people and thereby limit which people you consider options? If marriage is so important shouldn't you seek above all to find the best personality/knowledge/worldview/ideas you can? Why should co-parent with someone you like to have sex with? Sexual prowess does not make for good mothers or fathers. They are wholly unrelated.

That brings up another point. This marriage is such a package deal of many unrelated things. Finding one person who is a great match at 20 criteria is worlds harder than finding 10 people who, combined, are good at all those things. Why should the person who is good for snuggling with to watch movies be the same person who you go on hikes with? Or pick any other two things. It's easy.

So, why indeed? Well the only plausible claim that comes to mind is: they should be the same person so you can have ongoing conversations encompassing all those things. So you can make each better with reference to the large common pool of knowledge you've developed. Because an expert at the topic is less important than doing it with someone you trust, someone you aren't embarrassed to make mistakes in front of while learning, someone who is patient with you, someone who understands how to teach you new things, someone who will recognize when you are sad and know how to cheer you up, and so on. The claim would be that such people are hard to find so it makes sense to if you are so lucky as to find a great person for all those things that are useful in general to many fields to take that person and do lots with them.

Notice that when we try to *rationally* defend marriage then knowledge comes up.

If you have a person who is good in those ways then *great*. I congratulate you. That is a good thing. And it really does frequently make sense to prefer to do things with this person you like rather than a subject-specific expert. However, consider that marriages might not generally be like that. For example marital fights are common, as is marital counseling. Why would those take place if there is so much great knowledge?

Further I ask: what does having a person like this have to do with marriage? Why marry them? Couldn't this person quite possibly be a same-sex friend? And if you did marry them, or not, what difference does it make?

You might say the difference is love. But if you have this great thing surely there are very positive and appropriate feelings to accompany it -- call them love if you like -- and whether you have a marriage ceremony shouldn't change those feelings which are based on your shared knowledge and enjoyment of each other's minds.

You might say the difference is parenting together. But you can do that without marrying. Co-parenting is a perfectly good project for a PBR (project-based relationship). So wanting to co-parent is no way to differentiate between a marriage or PBR being right for you.

You might say the difference is living in the same house. Friends could do that. This isn't really a point open to debate. There are many other differences that might be put forward. But, again, friends can do that. What's to stop them? When it comes down to it I think we all know where the line between "just friends" and "something more" is.

The line is sex (including sexual activity like kissing). If you have sex, and you have an important relationship, then like it or not our culture does not consider you to be friends, at least not first and foremost. You are lovers. You are romantically involved. You are on the path to marriage.

What sex has to do with anything is a bit of a mystery. I understand the importance in the era before cheap, reliable birth control, and I also understand that attitudes can be slow to change. But what does sex matter now? It is claimed to do everything from create intimacy, express love, untangle emotional problems, create knowledge, be extraordinarily fun, and even to be so complex as to allow for the application of great skill. And sex "means something". Having sex with someone else is this huge deal, frequently relationship ending. It's "cheating".

Maybe some other time I will attempt to put forward some plausible arguments for the above claims regarding sex, and tackle them rationally. For now it shall suffice for me to say that this stuff is complete lunacy, and any arguments in its defense are ad hoc excuses. It's much worse than arguing with UFO believers. People don't think about these things, they just behave according to their memes, and their memes make them completely blind, far more blind than a paranoid UFO nut.

If you're offended: *good*. At least you noticed I did mean you. You aren't some rare exception. Now try seriously to think about it yourself. Any knowledge you create about sex being silly yourself will serve you far better than what I could tell you, because it will be tuned to fit into your own mind well.

Feel free to email me attempts at logical arguments about the importance of sex. If I feel like it I might address them.

Elliot Temple on July 18, 2007


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