kitchen table math, the sequel: cross-pressured individuals of the world, unite!

Monday, January 11, 2010

cross-pressured individuals of the world, unite!

Beth wrote:
First of all, real progressives hate what's going on in the public schools as much as anyone. "Progressive" shouldn't mean "mushy."
True!

We've talked about this before; political opinion re: our public schools does not break along party lines. In fact, I have the impression that education politics are the single most bipartisan issue we have. (Is that true?)

The most useful explanation I've found of public school ideology is E.D. Hirsch on progressive education's roots in romanticism. Ultimately, though, Hirsch doesn't tell me why 'everyday liberals' and 'everyday conservatives' should see eye-to-eye on so many issues when it comes to K-12.

Then, a couple of days ago, I came across two studies of public opinion that struck me as relevant:
  • The Nature of Political Ideology in the Contemporary Electorate by Shawn Treier and D. Sunshine Hillygus | Public Opinion Quarterly 2009 73(4):679-703
  • Value Preferences and Ideological Structuring of Attitudes in American Public Opinion by Brendon Swedlow and Mikel L. Wyckoff | American Politics Research |Volume 37 Number 6 | November 2009 | 1048-1087
Both argue that political opinion is multidimensional. Thus the liberal-conservative dimension fails to capture a rather large percentage of the public. (62%?)

From Treier and Hillygus:
...Although political rhetoric today is clearly organized by a single ideological dimension, we find that the belief systems of the mass public remain multidimensional, with many in the electorate holding liberal preferences on one dimension and conservative preferences on another. These cross-pressured individuals tend to self-identify as moderate (or say "Don't Know") in response to the standard liberal-conservative scale, thereby jeopardizing the validity of this commonly used measure. Our analysis further shows that failing to account for the multidimensional nature of ideological preferences can produce inaccurate predictions about the voting behavior of the American public.

I can't pull a copy of their article just now, so I don't know the nature of the dimensions they see as characterizing American public opinion. I have been able to skim Swedlow and Wyckoff, who say that political opinion is organized along two dimensions:
  • order vs equality/caring
  • high freedom vs low freedom
From their article:
In this study, we investigate four attitudinal structures (including liberal, conservative, and libertarian configurations) associated with two ideological dimensions among American voters and demonstrate that these attitudinal structures are related in expected ways to differential preferences for the values of freedom, order, and equality/caring. Liberals are inclined to trade freedom for equality/caring but not for order, whereas conservatives are their opposites—willing to trade freedom for order but not for equality/caring. In contrast, libertarians are generally less willing than others to trade freedom for either order or equality/caring (although they probably prefer order to equality/caring). The fourth ideological type is more willing than the others to relinquish freedom, preferring both order and equality/caring. Depending on how our results are interpreted, this fourth type may be characterized as either communitarian or humanitarian. These findings help close the gap between unidimensional conceptions and multidimensional evidence of ideological organization in political attitudes by demonstrating that value structure and attitudinal structure are strongly related in two ideological dimensions.
Swedlow and Wyckoff duplicate Treier and Hillygus' finding re: self-identified "moderates":
When asked to identify their ideological orientation, nearly half (45% to 48% in both groups) of those with libertarian and communitarian political attitudes identified themselves as “moderates.” Similarly, when we recompute percentages by rows instead of columns, we find that just more than 60% of those identifying themselves as moderates on the self-identification scale are classified as libertarians or communitarians in our attitudinal typology. Those with libertarian and communitarian attitudes were also more likely not to respond to the self-identification question at all (4.6% and 8.6%, respectively). The bulk of libertarians and communitarians, to their credit, seem to know that they are not liberals and conservatives.* Meanwhile, though less than perfect in their ability to match attitudes with ideological labels, those with liberal and conservative attitudes are by comparison noticeably less likely to select the “moderate” or “don’t know” categories, and when they pick one of the other two ideological labels, they are usually correct.



Swedlow & Wyckoff, p. 1056


Cross-pressured individuals who "don't know" their political orientation: that's a pretty fair description of my own plight when it comes to choosing between Door A and Door B.

The reason the grid strikes me as possibly relevant to public schools is that the "Communitarian" option -- low-low on freedom -- is one way to describe what it is that is not 'liberal' about public schools, whose employees are generally identified with the Democratic Party and with liberal politics. And I think you can use this grid to visualize why a real progressive like Mary Damer and a real conservative like Martin Kozloff can be so naturally allied. Neither is a communitarian.

By which I mean that individual freedom is a core value for liberals and conservatives alike, although in different realms, which is not the case for the people running our public schools. All too often, public school culture is distinctly illiberal.

They do what they do.


Michael Kinsley on Democrats, Republicans, libertarians and conservatives
And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights.

The relationship of these two ways of thinking to the two established parties is peculiar. Republicans are far more likely to identify themselves as libertarians and to vilify the government in the abstract. And yet Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us. Now that the Republican Party is in trouble, critics are advising it to free itself of the religious right on issues like abortion and gay rights. That is, the party should become less communitarian and more libertarian. With Democrats, it's the other way around.

Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world. And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society. That is, they should become less libertarian and more communitarian. Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.

Libertarians and communitarians (to continue this unjustified generalizing) are different character types. Communitarians tend to be bossy, boring and self-important, if they're not being oversweetened and touchy-feely. Libertarians, by contrast, are not the selfish monsters you might expect. They are earnest and impractical--eager to corner you with their plan for using old refrigerators to reverse global warming or solving the traffic mess by privatizing stoplights. And if you disagree, they're fine with that. It's a free country.

Libertarians Rising
by Michael Kinsley
TIME Thursday October 18, 2007


* I love it!

small-d democracy and its discontents

71 comments:

Allison said...

But it's *not* true. What's a "real" progressive?

Let's ask the folks in the history department at NYU for a start. If you mean Ed, then yes, he hates what's happening in the public schools. But Bill Ayers doesn't--he's DEFINING it.

The "real" progressives I know are the ones asking for Berkeley High to throw out 0 and 7th period science labs in order to fund "planning" courses that will close the achievement gap.

To take the phrase "progressive", let alone "real progressive" to mean "my kind of liberal" is absurd. It has a meaning, and it's not a fluffy one.

Please, please, read Liberal Fascism before you go any farther talking about this core value of liberals that is individual freedom.

Allison said...

Now, to the bigger point, that Mary Damer and Martin Kozloff are allied, I think, is to make way too much of the supposed alliance.

The Enemy of my Enemy may be my friend, but our alliance is of temporary mutual benefit only. Both Kozloff and Damer think the current stuff is a disaster. But if you ask them what they WANT INSTEAD, IN ITS PLACE, you will find that lo and behold, THEY DO NOT AGREE.

And there the alliance ends. It's why so little can be done to change things: the two opponents can only unify long enough to say "not this"; they don't agree on what should happen instead, and they won't agree.


It's the same problem the Tea Party has, actually. Allied liberals and conservatives can say "not this spending/corruption/incompetence/blood sucking" but when it comes to the solutions they want (other than STOP!) they don't agree, and they may find it extremely difficult to actually find candidates that meet a plurality's needs.

PhysicistDave said...

Catherine,

Kinsley oversimplifies too.

For example:
> Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world.

I grew up in a stereotypical, lily-white, religiously conservative Midwestern suburb; my step-grandmother lives in Dallas, the so-called buckle of the Bible belt.

But, in fact, neither my step-grandmother nor most of the older generation I grew up around are (or were) much bothered by “the lesbian couple next door.” I don’t want to “out” any of my family member in the comments here on ktm (!), but I’ll just say all this is directly relevant to my own immediate family in the Midwest.

Furthermore, I had several (excellent) teachers in the public schools as a kid forty years ago who were obviously gay: there were never any complaints (some of these teachers were in fact favorites of the students simply because they happened to be very skilled, dedicated teachers).

The stereotype of the Archie-Bunker Religious-Right conservative is just plain wrong.

I’m a cranky, militant, outspoken atheist. But, in the real world, I often get along better with Christian evangelicals than with other atheists, because often the evangelicals are more tolerant.

There are tolerant atheists, too, of course. But even the two-dimensional grid, and Kinsley’s trying-to-be-tolerant comments oversimplify.

Incidentally, I was one of those Kinsley mentioned who contributed money to Ron Paul, who happens to be a conservative Christian, but who also wants the government to just leave people alone.

People are complicated.

Dave

Allison said...

The fact that "moderates" are really people who don't know their political persuasion points to the hypothesis that they don't have one. And that's because they have no guiding principles for political goals or means. (don't mistake this for party identification.)

The problem with "uniting" people who have no vision in that realm for educational reform is *what exactly* could they be uniting towards? Other than to vote yea/nay on the status quo, what is it they want?

People who lack guiding principles in their political choices are I'm willing to bet, the same people who lack guiding principles in education reform. Their cross pressures are present in education too. What they want is contradictory.

They aren't informed by an overarching worldview, so how could they be mobilized to improve education? What do they think that even means? In what direction would they walk?


"holding liberal preferences on one dimension, and conservative on another": while common, it's illogical, and unsustainable. It's impossible to meet these fictional goals.

Say you claim to be a fiscal conservative but are liberal about "social issues"? Then you support social issues that raise the cost of government even as you pretend to want to be fiscally conservative. (redefintion of marriage, liberalization of divorce, lower drug laws/penalties, removal of concomitant shame: all things with high economic penalty to society, and since you've undone the societal mechanisms of shame, govt must pick up the slack.)

The other version, fiscally liberal and socially conservative, is equally incoherent and impossible: you want social orders held together, but the government financial expansion erodes them all, and undermining the conservatism you espouse.

The education version of these same cross pressured individuals is equally untenable.

SteveH said...

I am mostly pragmatic, but I can be dogmatic. My guiding principles tend to be few. I try to look for solutions to problems, which drive my philosophy, rather than the other way around. Having guiding principles doesn't mean that one can avoid doing his/her homework, but I see people do that all of the time. Even when they do their homework, their views are often distorted through a rigid set of beliefs. Some hop onto one philosophical bus or another because it provides an instant framework. They can't bring themselves to admit to others that they just don't have an opinion or know enough about a topic.

I know nothing about health care issues, and I would not even hazard an opinion based on whatever philosophy I might have. If I did, I would say that everyone should be provided with health care. Period. If I studied the problem like I have with education, I might define the problem quite differently.

Some of my relatives are staunch Democrats and some are staunch Republicans. They are so the same, driven by a carved-out philosophical territory and prone to want to control the country. They don't let facts get in the way of a good philosophy.

The problem is not a lack of worldview or philosophy, it's a lack of interest, a lack of power, and a lack of facts. You need these things before philosophy is meaningful.

In our town, full inclusion is the driving force based on philosophy. However, if people studied the facts, they might see that it's a bad tradeoff. Nobody gets what they really need. People are stuck on philosophical generalities. That's why they keep trying to make differentiated instruction work. Many people don't want to be bothered by the details. It might spoil their philosophy.

Allison said...

Steve, you've demonstrated my point ably.

You say you don't have a worldview, that you think pragmatically, and you work from the problems to solutions.

But what you define as a problem isn't what other people define as a problem. What you see as something needing fixing isn't what others want fixed.

Why? because what looks like solution to you might look like the problem to me.

You say "no one gets what they really need" out of full inclusion. But you are wrong. The schools do. They get a problem solved--that pesky problem of meeting the needs of outrageously varying academic skills without an exponential blowup in costs. You say it's a problem, but it's not a problem for them. It's a solution, and really, it's the only tenable solution for most schools. Group by ability? Lots of people will complain that they've been mistreated, misevaluated, put in the wrong place. Others will shout oppression or racism. This quells those cries. Not to mention the cost and logistics of grouping by ability. Not to mention the impossible teacher prep needed, not merely on a daily basis but in terms of state certification standards and preservice training.

Your offhand comment about health care really proves might point though. Try to explain how you would "provide" everyone with health care, PERIOD ?

How? Who would you tax to pay for it? What medications would be given for free and to whom? How would you solve the coordination of care problem for big urban centers where more people want the same procedure than can fit? How would you pay doctors enough to want to do this job? If you didn't have enough doctors somewhere, how would you encourage them?

There's no such thing as a free lunch. It's not a choice between "everyone gets healthcare, period" or not. There will be tradeoffs. there is a finite amount of money, a finite amount of time, a finite amount of energy, personnel, etc. available. Who will you deny and who will you permit?

Your school district provides "education for everyone. Period." they do it with a full inclusion classroom. you hate it. but it serves the stated purpose of education for everyone as far as the state is concerned. You can blithely wave a wand and say it should be some other way, but what you want requires trade offs somewhere. you dont' like that your local school traded off your kid. it's not going to be any better in health care or whatever other big domestic undertaking you wish to have happen.

SteveH said...

"The schools do"

That's not what I meant at all. I was talking about the students. I think you miss my point that some sort of worldview philosophy or ideology is no guarantee that any proper solution will be achieved, however you define it. It can even be a hindrance. I was not talking about what I like or don't like.

Actually, our schools know that differentiated instruction doesn't work as well as they would like. They will fumble around for a few years until they try some other fad. With luck and a push from some parents (like with our change from CMP to real algebra books), the change will be good.

In general, what I see are those who care about details and those who can't get past their simple philosophical ideas. Many want to eliminate the academic gap, but they don't want to learn exactly why it exists. The problem is not a lack of a worldview. They just don't have the willingness to do the hard work. They want to guess and check.

I don't have a strong opinion about healthcare not because I don't have some level of worldview, but because I don't want to take the time to learn what I have to learn. What I would like is some sort of explanation from somebody who doesn't have a strong worldview.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
> I don't have a strong opinion about healthcare not because I don't have some level of worldview, but because I don't want to take the time to learn what I have to learn. What I would like is some sort of explanation from somebody who doesn't have a strong worldview.

Steve, in fact, the belief that problems can best be solved by “somebody who doesn't have a strong worldview” is itself a very particular, very specific worldview, the worldview of “pragmatism.”

Alas, pragmatism has proven not to work, but pragmatists are unwilling to make a pragmatic evaluation of their own worldview and notice that it fails by its own criterion!

This is a very old story in philosophy and a bit of a source of humor to competent philosophers.

Personally, I have always found it awfully funny.

An example is your own statement:
> Actually, our schools know that differentiated instruction doesn't work as well as they would like. They will fumble around for a few years until they try some other fad. With luck and a push from some parents (like with our change from CMP to real algebra books), the change will be good.

As you say, “with luck.” “Luck" is indeed what is needed without a systematic, organized perspective (AKA worldveiw). I may be a bit older than you: I have been watching the schools pragmatically stumbling around for over forty years.

They rarely have “luck”: on the whole, stumbling around has not led to improvements, quite the contrary.

Admittedly, I view this a bit from the perspective of a physicist turned engineer: if I told a customer that I was just “stumbling around” free of any “worldview” in my work, I would rapidly be fired! I’m expected to have a “worldview,” more importantly a good and correct worldview – i.e., a worldview based on Maxwell’s equations, quantum mechanics, etc.

I realize that pedagogy is not as well developed as physics. All the more reason, I would think, to explicitly and consistently work out one’s perspective and figure out why one is doing what one is doing.

The alternative is, well, the “stumbling around” the schools have been going through for over forty years.

We have a technical name for that in physics: the “drunkard’s walk.” It tends not to reach any desirable goals.

Dave

Allison said...

--"The schools do"

--That's not what I meant at all. I was talking about the students.

I know, Steve. And that's my point. What you see as the "obvious" problem, e.g. Full Inclusion, *is not a problem* to hosts of administrators nationwide. It *is a solution*.

That you can't admit that your definition of "solution" and "problem" aren't objective, but depend on how you view the world, is the reason you can't see that worldview matters.

You will need to step outside of your system to measure it.

To this point:
--I think you miss my point that some sort of worldview philosophy or ideology is no guarantee that any proper solution will be achieved, however you define it. It can even be a hindrance.

Straw man. Of course ideology is no guarantee of a proper solution. duh. I never said otherwise. And yes, ideologies can be blinders. duh again.

Saying "but you're a sinner" doesn't make their faith invalid. Saying "your ideology doesn't lead to Utopia" is a truism.

I said that people who are confused about what their political aims are don't make progress on their aims. (This does not mean that the politicians they vote for don't achieve Their Aims...)

Pragmatism is worse than that, though. It allows people to pretend they are making progress now when they ignore the 3-or-more step chain of consequences that are created in their wake.

to sum up: what we've got in education now IS the result of nearly 40 years of the GOAL of educational reform. The goal was full inclusion. The goal was diversity. you can say "no, this isn't working, so it can't be the goal" but you're wrong; what was intended WAS created. Now, the fallout wasn't desired--there were unforeseen consequences. That's the problem with Dystopia.

Allison said...

--Many want to eliminate the academic gap, but they don't want to learn exactly why it exists.

Do you know exactly why it exists?

Can you say it? Can you back up your claims?

Will you use the phrase "IQ" "g factor" to address it?

Will you use the phrases "oppression of the worker class", or "racism/sexism/classism" to address it?

Because I don't believe you are going to for once and all, tell us the truth behind why the gap exists in a way that puts the debate to rest. Show us the data that will prove that the above two (competing) worldviews aren't relevant, but some pragmatic technocratic solution is known. Come, tell us worldview holders to cast off our chains. We have nothing to lose but our worldview!

Crimson Wife said...

Kinsley wrote: "Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us"

Only a liberal would've written this sentence. From where I stand, Democrats are just as likely to try to impose their vision of a good society as Republicans if not more so. Just look at all the "nanny state" regulations California imposes on its citizens.

Why is it seen as "imposing this vision [of a good society]" upon an unwilling public when Republican politicians tighten abortion laws but "standing up for civil rights" when liberal activist judges redefine marriage??????

Hypocrisy, thy name is liberalism...

SteveH said...

"Alas, pragmatism has proven not to work.."

"proven"?

You're talking about someone who is determined to approach everything "pragmatically". That wasn't what I was talking about.

"The alternative is, well, the 'stumbling around' the schools have been going through for over forty years."


This stumbling is not driven by a lack of worldiew. It comes from an inability to evaluate details and to correlate them with their worldview. In math, it's ignorance. They have too much invested in their worldview to let reality interfere.


"... to explicitly and consistently work out one’s perspective and figure out why one is doing what one is doing."

I would call this pragmatism. You are letting experience and knowledge drive your worldiew, not the other way around. That's what schools do.

I don't even like the concept of worldview. It's too vague. I know explicitly what most students need for a good math education. Is that a worldview? My worldview, however, says that I wouldn't force that vision on others.

Barry Garelick said...

By which I mean that individual freedom is a core value for liberals and conservatives alike, although in different realms, which is not the case for the people running our public schools. All too often, public school culture is distinctly illiberal.

An essay about the illiberal nature of public school can be found here.

SteveH said...

"Pragmatism is worse than that, though."

Wow. You've lost me.

"Come, tell us worldview holders to cast off our chains. We have nothing to lose but our worldview!"

"us"??????

Double Wow!

I have to reread what I wrote to see where all of this came from. Since education is driven by a particular worldview, I'm not sure why you would think that this is about pragmatism versus worldview.

Hainish said...

Why is it seen as "imposing this vision [of a good society]" upon an unwilling public when Republican politicians tighten abortion laws but "standing up for civil rights" when liberal activist judges redefine marriage??????

Because one set of laws restricts people's actions, and the other set of laws provides for a greater range of freedom for individuals. (And no, forcing people to define marriage exactly as YOU would like is not a civil right.)

SteveH said...

"Because I don't believe you are going to for once and all, tell us the truth behind why the gap exists in a way that puts the debate to rest."

Triple Wow! Do you really think that was what I was talking about?

Everyone has a worldview. The questions are what is it, how was it created, and how is it being used. Those are the issues I was trying to address.

Allison said...

--Many want to eliminate the academic gap, but they don't want to learn exactly why it exists.

Tell me, Steve, what you meant.


Have you "learned exactly" why it exists?

Allison said...

I think the conversation with you is about pragmatism vs worldview because you said that you approached things "pragmatically" working "from problem to solution", as if the problem and the solution were objectively defined, and seemed to ignore that one's worldview changes what's a problem and what's a solution.

The bigger picture, that "Cross pressued individuals can unite" is shown to be doomed when they are supposed to go in some direction, because their cross pressures indicate confusion in their aims. What you call pragmatic is really an unwillingness to decide what star you're aiming towards in the first place, and an inability to get outside your system to observe it.

The pragmatists and confused worldview holders can unite to stop something, but they can't unite to travel anywhere, since they have no star to guide them.

lgm said...

People against full inclusion here aren't against it b/c it omits their child. They notice it b/c it omits their child from the usual procedure of actually learning something new in class. Most that notice are educated enough to tutor and gap fill. They have a problem with full incl. b/c the school has quietly abdicated the responsibility to teach the grade level objectives by pulling the sped card and daring them to say something about it, knowing that these parents will be branded elitist and thus ignored if they go public.

SteveH said...

"Have you 'learned exactly' why it exists?"

The point was not about academic gap. It was about how educators have a strong worldview, but it doesn't guarantee that they will get what they are looking for without some sort of pragmatic feedback loop. Unless, that is, you want to talk about how ignorance is bliss. I'm not even talking about what I think or want.

I don't see pragmatism and worldview as opposing forces. Everyone has some sort of rules or worldview that guides them. That star can lead them astray if they don't do their homework and are not pragmatic about refining their worldview.

As for academic gap, my position is that it's the wrong star to follow.

The problem in math education is how to get schools to change what they do. You can try to change their worldview or you can try to take a pragmatic approach which chips away at their assumptions until they can't ignore what they see. You can also advocate for alternate educational paths around the problem.

To get people to unite to stop something, I think you need to set tangible goals. Democrats, Republicans, and cross dressers may all follow a different star, but they can agree upon a math curriculum that leads to a proper algebra course in 8th grade. Lot's of people have united under this star, but more has to be done.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
>This stumbling is not driven by a lack of worldiew. It comes from an inability to evaluate details and to correlate them with their worldview. In math, it's ignorance. They have too much invested in their worldview to let reality interfere.

Well, interesting point, Steve.

I suppose that, in the end, my opinion (guess?) is that the things they are *most* invested in are their jobs, their bureaucracy and bureaucratic procedures, and their not having to exert any energy to improve things.

I also think a lot of the public school teachers and administrators (not all) are simply quite stupid and lack the ability to offer a decent education, no matter how hard they try.

And, of course they suffer from a “trained incapacity” due to the ed schools.

But, yeah, you have a point about their being invested in a worldview that is false: I suppose Hirsch is the classic source outlining this.

But I also think my earlier post was correct in that they certainly do a great deal of “stumbling around” in a pseudo-pragmatic manner, and that it pretty much never works.

As I think you know, my bottom-line conclusion is that the institutional and incentive structures of the public schools are so badly flawed that there is essentially no hope of any broad improvement: the situation is like the one Gorbachev faced in the old Soviet Union.

Indeed, the US public schools are remarkably like the old USSR: a focus in inputs, not outputs; a triumph of ideology over thought; an attempt to centralize decisions; a lack of accountability; etc.

In both cases, the only solution is abolition.

Of course, that solution is considered “utopian” in the context of the US public schools. But, then again, it was also considered utopian in the Soviet Union.

And yet it happened.

Sometimes, the utopian is more realistic than the pragmatic.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Hainish wrote:

>Because one set of laws restricts people's actions, and the other set of laws provides for a greater range of freedom for individuals. (And no, forcing people to define marriage exactly as YOU would like is not a civil right.)

Haimish, gays can already “define” marriage any way they wish and can get married anywhere and any time that they wish. They just cannot, in most places, get an “official” piece of paper from the government acknowledging their marriage. Incidentally, Kinsley also wrote an essay a while back, which I fully endorse, suggesting that government stop issuing marriage licenses to *anyone*. Why on earth do we need a “license” from the state to get married?

The “greater range of freedoms” liberals offer tends to mean, in practice passing laws forcing non-liberals to behave in the way liberals think desirable, and punishing those who decline to do so: anti-discrimination laws, hate-crime laws, gun-control laws, etc.

My personal sympathies actually lie in the liberal direction: I am an upper-middle class professional who, like most people in my social class, predictably dislikes racial discrimination, guns, etc.

But I note that it is hypocritical for those of us with such views to think that legislating our views is creating “a greater range of freedom for individuals” whereas those nasty conservatives are just engaged in pointless restrictions of liberty.

I think the real distinction is that conservatives favor restrictions of freedom that they think will strengthen the traditional family: anti-porn laws, drug laws, and opposition to abortion and gay marriage all fit into that pattern (I know liberals claim those things will not strengthen the family, but conservatives really do believe in this).

Similarly, liberals tend to favor controls over the citizenry that they think will improve the lives of people outside the traditional middle-class family – single mom, non-Asian racial minorities, etc. So they favor affirmative action, hate-crime laws, gun control, etc. (Again, conservatives deny that such laws really do help the poor and downtrodden, but liberals really believe they will.)

Personally, I am skeptical that either side is right: I doubt that passing laws often solves social problems. (For those who disagree, I offer up ---- No Child Left Behind!)

I incline towards the old Taoist perspective that the more we multiply laws, the more we multiply crimes: laws that try to enact social mores not already accepted by the community simply encourage evasion and hypocrisy.

In any case, it would at least be nice if liberals could honestly admit that they are advocating the restriction of freedom in pursuit of social goals they happen to endorse (and many of which I too endorse).

Most conservatives will admit that some of their “family-values” agenda does restrict individual rights.

Why can’t liberals be equally honest?

Dave

Allison said...

--I think the real distinction is that conservatives favor restrictions of freedom that they think will strengthen the traditional family...


I think this is not a fair characterization of social conservatives, if by conservatives you mean the intellectuals who are the people in the think tanks, policy houses and opinion media.

It might be what the Republicans did, but that's a far cry from conservatives.

Conservatives at Weekly Standard, National Review, AEI, Heritage foundation, or even Rush Limbaugh seldom advocate that the first line of defense of the family is LAW. They argue that the first line of defense is the society, and when society has been stripped of its ability to provide for families, community, and each other by an encroaching state, then society breaks down.

This is what happened with marriage--the judiciary goes around redefining it against society's will (and as gay marriage has failed when brought to a vote by the people everywhere it's been voted on in the continental US, then yes, I can say that). Similarly, this is what happened with abortion. The demise of shame for divorce or single motherhood is another example--as the state moved in to handle the welfare, society moved out.

on the drug front, social conservatives are similarly not attempting to use the law: NR is on record as being anti-drug-war and pro-decriminalization, and Heritage, too, I think. But decriminalization or not doesn't solve the problem of junkies. Being legally high on smack to where you're in a drug den doesn't make you any less likely to steal, doesn't make you capable of holding down a job. But it does make it more likely other that you will meet more junkies, as all of the evidence from Vancouver to date shows.

So, you may be speaking of other folks who you think are conservative, or self identify as such, but the core of conservatism doesn't advocate what you say it does as a first line of defense.

Allison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison said...

--And so, the cruz of the conservative/liberal issue is whether or not societal shame and other kinds of non-governmental forces are really "liberty restricting" the way the force of law can be used to be liberty restricting. Liberals can of course claim that societal pressures "to conform" was de facto censorship, or any ism they want. I think the above sentence explains nearly all of the 60s claims that they freed the world when most of what they did was undermine society. but I'm not a liberal because societal pressure is vastly different than legally threatening to incarcerate me if I make an incandescent light bulb.

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote:
>And so, the cruz of the conservative/liberal issue is whether or not societal shame and other kinds of non-governmental forces are really "liberty restricting" the way the force of law can be used to be liberty restricting.

Well… there are “conservatives” and there are “conservatives”!

There are certainly some conservatives who define themselves as you indicate, and I tend to agree with them.

There are also people who call themselves “conservatives” who are pretty happy to use the force of law to make others live as "family-values" conservatives wish them to live.

I will grant you that one relevant fact here is that the American historical tradition is intensely, almost fanatically, distrustful of government. The result is that Americans who revere the past, unlike “conservatives” in most countries, are actually, in historical terms, radical liberals – essentially Jeffersonians.

This runs very, very deep in the American psyche – recently my brother-in-law, who rarely agrees with me on any political matters, and I started talking about history, and he expressed his deep admiration for Jefferson. I was a little taken aback, but could only agree – now, if only I can get him to learn a bit more about Jefferson’s actual political views…

You’re making much the same point I made earlier in this thread about why a militant, cranky atheist like me often gets along better with evangelical Christians than with other atheists.

A lot of “Christian conservatives” (definitely not all!) are really fanatical Jeffersonians.

And, that is one of the reasons I have not quite given up on the USA, after all.

Dave

Crimson Wife said...

I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Every time I take one of those political surveys, I wind up almost exactly at the intersection of moderate, conservative, and libertarian.

Both parties work to get the government to impose their vision of a "good society" upon the populace. Frankly, I don't care whether a homosexual couple considers themselves "married" and have their union blessed by any house of worship willing to do so.

I DO care about the trampling on the rights of Christians to practice their faith. You've got situations where Christians are getting sued for refusing to perform elective services (like wedding photography or fertility treatments) for homosexual couples. The Catholic Church has had to stop providing adoption services in many areas because they refuse to place kids with homosexual couples.

The inconvenience of the homosexual couple who has to go elsewhere does not IMHO trump the First Amendment rights of Christians to practice their faith.

hainish said...

The inconvenience of the homosexual couple who has to go elsewhere does not IMHO trump the First Amendment rights of Christians to practice their faith.

WOW. Really? That's the reason for wanting marriage equality - the CONVENIENCE of a wedding photographer of one's choice?

Maybe you should tell that to those who have a partner of 40 years dying in hospital, whom they can't see because they're not legal kin. Or the ones who lose their homes because of taxes, because they can't inherit.

Hainish said...

Dave,

My comment was in response to a very specific set of issues. And I wish it were as simple as it being a "piece of paper" and that the government would stay out of it entirely, but see above.

And yes, I agree that ensuring some freedoms sometimes means restricting others.

But "social conservatives" have for years used the law to unfairly privilege some people over others. Yes, as a first line. But what happens when they're told to stop? All of a sudden they _prefer_ government intrusion into private lives. Weird, huh?

PhysicistDave said...

Hainish wrote:
> Maybe you should tell that to those who have a partner of 40 years dying in hospital, whom they can't see because they're not legal kin. Or the ones who lose their homes because of taxes, because they can't inherit.

I of course agree with you about the issue of visitation rights (and inheritance rights and so on) involving gays.

But, what is more interesting is the fact that so does *every* social conservative that I have ever discussed the issue with (and of course this was a big issue out here when we had the big gay-marriage vote).

None of this should *ever* have hinged on whether or not people have a piece of paper from the state: people should have free choice concerning visitation, inheritance, etc. whether or not they are “married.”

I do understand why some gays think the simplest ways to fix these problems is just to legally define gay marriage. I favor a more fundamental approach where we simply decouple all of this from getting a state “license” at all: let’s just end all the silliness and be rational and let people choose in such matters as inheritance and visitation, without needing to get state approval of any sort. I’ve found that a very large number of both conservatives and liberals agree (as I said, the person to publicly suggest this was Mike Kinsley, hardly a Religious Rightist!).

I also do fear some of the consequences that Crimson Wife mentions if we make gay marriage a matter of formal state approval: of course, none of what she mentioned is necessarily a result of state-licensed gay marriage, but the way the courts function nowadays (at least out here on the Left Coast), it is more than plausible.

Frankly, the thought of gays’ getting married simply makes me yawn: I honestly could not care less. But I do think it is desirable to recognize the silliness of the whole system of marriage licensure and just privatize the whole thing (of course, this would deprive politicians of a nice “hot-button” issue to posture on!).

Anyway, my broader point was that liberals really are being disingenuous in saying that they simply want more personal freedom and conservatives simply want less.

*Some* liberals really do want more personal freedom; *some* conservatives truly do want more personal freedom. But many people on both sides of the fence want to control other human beings in order to promote their own version of the good society.

Fortunately, the “gut instincts” of the American people are still largely Jeffersonian, as I mentioned above, so that the USA, for all its manifest faults, is still one of the freeest nations in the world. I do try to do my bit to encourage those Jeffersonian instincts when I can.

Dave

P.S. An example of that "gut instinct" at work was the reaction to a senile judge out here in California who tried to outlaw homeschooling not long ago: he must have felt as if the whole state was attacking him, liberals, conservatives, and moderates alike, and he was forced to reverse his decision. In their hearts, most Americans still believe in individual liberty.

PhysicistDave said...

Hainish,

One other point; you wrote:
> And yes, I agree that ensuring some freedoms sometimes means restricting others.

On that I strongly disagree with you.

I agree with you that the current situation infringes the freedom of gays; I agree with Crimson Wife that state-licensed gay marriage could restrict the freedom of religious groups. But my key point is that Kinsley’s suggestion of decoupling marriage completely from the state allows a way to avoid infringing anyone’s freedom.

And, I would argue that such a solution is almost always possible; however, to arrive at a solution that infringes no one’s freedom does usually mean simply privatizing social issues, educational issues, etc., so that they become matters of individual choice, not political posturing.

For example, school vouchers, while in some ways desirable, do raise church-state issues; however, homeschooling, if completely decoupled from the state, infringes upon no one’s freedom at all.

There is also, I think, a liberal blind spot that defines “freedom” as “other people helping me do whatever I want to do.” So, government-provided child-care counts as expanding “freedom.” That really is disingenuous: “opportunity” is not the same thing as “freedom.” If you restrict one person’s freedom in order to expand another person’s opportunity, you do not have conflicting “freedoms”: you are simply sacrificing one guy’s freedom to give a benefit to somebody else.

The same thing is true of “tolerance,” “fairness,” “equality,” etc. I’m all for tolerance and fairness (not necessarily equality!), but if you sacrifice freedom for tolerance and fairness, you are not dealing with conflicting “freedoms,” you are just deciding that you do not value freedom as highly as you value tolerance and fairness.

I’m just arguing for honesty here, and I do think conservatives, on this particular issue, do tend to be a bit less disingenuous than liberals: e.g., when conservatives argue for sacrificing freedom in the name of national security (usually unwisely, in my judgment), they seem willing to admit that they are doing just that.

(Again, I do agree with you that the current situation does infringe the rights of gays, but, since there is near national unanimity on that with regard to hospital visitation, inheritance, etc., it should be possible to fix it fairly easily.)

Dave

Allison said...

The problem of private licensing of marriage, like the problem of other libertarian notions of (some other) private licensing, is that society and/or the state has a vested interest in creating a preferred model for childrearing.

State licensure of marriage is not about two consenting adults, and never has been. State licensure is about who has formal responsibility for minor children, and how best to create a society where minor children are well-provided for.

The state has a vested interest in child rearing because when it happens poorly, it drains the state's finances, leads to social unrest, societal breakdown, and can threaten the state's existence.

So the state has a reason to prefer some family organization types over others, and it has a reason to promote that preference and reward individuals who choose that organization more than other organizations.

The evidence is clear: two parent families are on the whole, better than not, for providing financial and emotional stability. The state has an interest in promoting such over single parents, non custodial parents, no defined financial supporter, etc. Having a well defined father (regardless of genetic material) is another example of the state's promotion of marriage preference-- they have chosen that the mother's husband is the father on the birth certificate because of social stability it promotes.

Private licensing of marriage undoes the state preference. When the state tells society that it does not prefer stable arrangements for child rearing, it creates social problems for itself: poverty, crime, illiteracy, increased welfare dependence.

So the arguments of fairness/tolerance/equality are primary only in a society that has already lost the ability to speak about what is in the best interest's of society as a whole, and can only speak about what's good or bad for other individuals ("their marriage or divorce doesn't hurt my marriage, therefore I don't care"). But ceding such ground is dangerous for the state.

And if you believe that society does better when the state is less involved, then you should stand up for the state preference of a childrearing environment, because it's the only way to lessen their authority over the rest of society--it's the way to create healthier, more autonomous adults who aren't just receiving transfer payments.

Anonymous said...

Allison writes: "Private licensing of marriage undoes the state preference. When the state tells society that it does not prefer stable arrangements for child rearing, it creates social problems for itself: poverty, crime, illiteracy, increased welfare dependence."

I understand this point, but since when does "the state" know best? Seems to me poverty, crime, illiteracy & welfare dependence are alive and well in spite of state-mandated hetero-only marriages! And where's the evidence that a same-sex marriage is an unstable arrangement for child rearing? I mean, there's plenty of unstable child-rearing going on in hetero-families, isn't there?

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote:
>The evidence is clear: two parent families are on the whole, better than not, for providing financial and emotional stability.

Allison, I of course agree with that. Let’s be honest: in private conversation, almost everyone (at least everyone who has been a parent!) agrees with that: the discussion about the equal value of “alternative” family structures is really just for public consumption.

But, alas, state licensing of marriage seems to do nothing at all to encourage parental responsibility.

You also wrote:
>Private licensing of marriage undoes the state preference. When the state tells society that it does not prefer stable arrangements for child rearing, it creates social problems for itself: poverty, crime, illiteracy, increased welfare dependence.

Kinsley was not advocating private “licensing” of marriage. He just advocated recognizing what has really always been the case, at least in the US: marriage is a private contract between two individuals, a contract one hopes their family and friends will encourage and support. You said “when the state tells society”: to be blunt, I do not think that “society” listens to what the “state” tells it, nor can I see why it would.

It is hard to think of anything the state or federal governments have ever done in American history that has really strengthened marriage (although, I can think of more than one governmental policy that has had the effect of weakening marriage).

You also wrote:
>And if you believe that society does better when the state is less involved, then you should stand up for the state preference of a childrearing environment, because it's the only way to lessen their authority over the rest of society--it's the way to create healthier, more autonomous adults who aren't just receiving transfer payments.

Except, realistically, the state is not supporting a particular child-rearing environment: indeed, almost everyone already recognizes that any child-rearing environment other than a two-parent family is far from optimal (sometimes, of course, it is simply unavoidable – as when one parent dies).

I agree that it would be nice if everyone felt free to say publicly what is shown by both common sense and by a great deal of academic research: of course, two-parent families are better. I just cannot see that this has anything at all to do with state “licensing” of marriage.

If marriage were simply a private contract, then you (and probably most Americans) would be free to refer to heterosexual contracted couples as “married” and to refer to gay couples however you wished.

The one difference would be that gays, without getting permission from the state, could, contractually deal with issues such as hospital visitation, inheritance, etc. as they desired, which surely they are entitled to do.

Nothing much would really change from the current situation, either for better or worse, except that gays could arrange their personal affairs without getting a piece of paper from the state, and we could stop arguing about whether or not gays are “really” married.

And, Crimson Wife and I (and a lot of other people) would not have to worry about a bunch of crazy lawsuits because the state “officially” certified that gays were married.

The only way to improve marriage and parental responsibility in this society is for government to stop some remarkably foolish policies that have diminished such responsibility and, primarily, for people to start holding themselves and others accountable for their actions as individuals.

The state has shown no power to help the institution of marriage; at most, it can stop causing damage and just leave people alone.

Humans have, you know, managed to handle this marriage thing for thousands of years without any help from government at all. We (or at least our ancestors!) actually knew how to do this.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

I just realized that, inadvertently, Hainish, Allison, and I have managed to nicely illustrate my initial point:

Hainish and Allison, from contrasting left-right perspectives, both want the state to do something to achieve their contrasting goals.

And, I am caught in the middle between liberals and conservatives, simply hoping that the state can leave people alone and let us solve our problems ourselves.

Somehow, I’ve never really imagined myself politically as a “middle-of-the-roader”…

Dave

Tracy W said...

which I fully endorse, suggesting that government stop issuing marriage licenses to *anyone*. Why on earth do we need a “license” from the state to get married?

Well we don't *need* it, but it makes life a lot more convenient if the state has a way of recognising marriage.

In the past, marriage was important for assinging a father to kids. A family would desperately struggle to survive without an able-bodied male around. Marriage wasn't a perfect solution, the man in question could turn out to be a drunkard, a drain on the mother's resources not an addition. Or the man could desert. Or the man could die. But it was better than nothing. In small communities social pressure could be enough to keep a man meeting his obligations, or running away entirely, but as communities got more complicated the formal legal system started being brought to bear. Which then raised the question of "who was really married to who?", if one party said they were married and the other said they definitely weren't. Say a poor woman claims she was married to a rich man and he denies it. Is he a rich scoundrel trying to escape his duties or is she a golddigger trying to take him for all she could get? To deal with this, the state started saying "Well, we will recognise the wedding as long as it's been witnessed and recorded somewhere, so we can get around this he-said/she-said mess."

In modern times, we do have DNA testing so a wedding ceremony isn't so vital for identifying the Dad (except with identical twin brothers). But we still have a number of interactions with the legal system, for example what happens to our assets when we die, who makes medical decisions for us if we are incompetent (eg in a coma), people want to make arrangements like one person earns money and the other raises kids, which cause problems if a few years later the money-earner wants to break off the relationship, etc.

Now we could write individual contracts to do all this (my husband and I have wills that in the first instance leave everything to each other, and only then deal with what happens if we both die in the same car crash or whatever). Or the state could provide one contract that provides a standard setup and saves the couple in question on legal fees. Why shouldn't the state do this?

Furthermore, contracts are problematic if one party is not capable of testifying about the agreement. This is why wills tend to require two witnesses, in order to give the courts a fighting chance of figuring out what's going on if a potential beneficiary starts claiming the will was forged. In the real world, people often share housing for non-emotional reasons (ie flatmates), if a houseowner kicks a flatmate out and the flatmate claims that they were emotionally-committed to each other, and waves around a piece of paper with a contract, and the houseowner claims their signature was forged, where does the state go? A marriage contract signed and witnessed and registered with the state previously is a good clue that a commitment was intended by both parties.

Allison said...

==The state has shown no power to help the institution of marriage; at most, it can stop causing damage and just leave people alone.



Actually, the state undid marriage when it created fault-free divorce. It undid marriage when it created welfare systems that made it financially better to have more children without a father. All of those things came when the Left pushed them. This is what they've wrought.
re: your claim that I'm asking the state to do something: actually, I'm looking at what's the minimal the state can do to create a structure by which people can have the least interference.

If the state just says "we prefer this organization", then that's a lot better than the apparatus they must create to deal with the welfare of children who are in poverty, crime ridden places, illiterate, unfed, etc.

Because the state is going to do that, and interfere more and more as they say they are the de facto parents.

Eventually the state is going to be the parent and install cameras to watch children in their parents' homes (happening now in Britain) unless we limit the state's involvement. but private licensure encourages the encroachment. We have 45 years of empirical evidence showing that.

Allison said...

---Except, realistically, the state is not supporting a particular child-rearing environment: indeed, almost everyone already recognizes that any child-rearing environment other than a two-parent family is far from optimal (sometimes, of course, it is simply unavoidable – as when one parent dies).

Not true at all. The academic world recoils at this and has course after course telling you otherwise. The media tells you otherwise. The underclass doesn't believe it because the elite told them not to bother anymore.

Allison said...

Lastly, Dave,

How does private licensure affect child custody and child support?

Do you admit that the state has a vested interest in child custody cases? in determination of who the custodial parents are? of who provides financially for the child?

If so, how will private licensure support this? Will all private licenses be valid in determining father and mother? What if a private license licenses more than 2 parties? Who are the parents then, if something happens later and someone ends the contract? Will the state determine that some contracts determine a valid set of parents, but not others? If so, we're back to the current issue. If they say all are valid, how then do they handle the differences between them "fairly"? Can the state say that a license that specifically said "this coupling license implies no parental reponsibility" is invalid?

When someone fights for custody, who will the state consider as having rights?

Or will they enact the private licensure agencies to determine it for themselves, ala Sharia Courts?

Overall, do you see that the influence of the state is grown or shrunk by how it answers these questions? if it's more expensive, is it more free?

PhysicistDave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PhysicistDave said...

Tracy W. wrote to me:
>Well we don't *need* it, but it makes life a lot more convenient if the state has a way of recognising marriage.
> In the past, marriage was important for assinging a father to kids. A family would desperately struggle to survive without an able-bodied male around.

But, Tracy, I am not arguing against marriage!

I’m just arguing against the modern fallacy that a social institution cannot exist or flourish unless it is nurtured or encouraged by the state.

Sure, marriage does and always has mattered.

But, in those days of old you refer to, the state did not *license* marriage. No one did.

For thousands, I suppose tens of thousands, of years humans have managed quite well to get married without getting licensed by the state, and there was no more uncertainty about who married whom than there is today.

Indeed, a lot of people who are married today may not be truly “married” in bureaucratic terms. I think my wife and I managed to drop the slip in the mailbox after the judge signed it, but did we remember to stamp it? It was a pretty hectic day! We certainly never checked to see if the county actually received it.

I’d bet that well over ten percent of the people who think they are “legally” married never actually get properly recorded by the state bureaucracy.

And, of course, it does not actually matter.

That is my basic point. Government licensure of marriage is sort of a joke: all it does is provide divisive issues, such as “gay marriage,” that did not exist throughout most of human history, prior to government “licensure.”

Anyway, I don’t really care about gay marriage: my main point is simply that both liberals and conservative wish to use the state to advance their own preferred view of society – conservatives to help “normal” middle-American two-parent families, liberals to help those who are not in “normal” middle-American two-parent families.

I myself doubt the state really helps anyone except those who make money off the state.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
>Do you admit that the state has a vested interest in child custody cases? in determination of who the custodial parents are? of who provides financially for the child?

Whenever I hear about the state having a “vested interest,” I remember Twain’s comment:
> It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress...

Of course, he should have included the executive branch and the judiciary!

So, no, I really do not admit the state’s “vested interest” – on the contrary, I think the state spoils just about everything it touches, and that society would be best served if the state stopped having a “vested interest” in pretty much everything.

I think of the state as sort of like the Mafia – except I hear that the Mafiosos have some sense of honor.

You also wrote:
> How does private licensure affect child custody and child support?
[snip]
> If so, how will private licensure support this?

I’m not for “private licensure” and have never said I was.

I don’t see why “licensure” of marriage is necessary at all – indeed, I am quite sure it is not, since humans got along without it for thousands of years.

It’s like licensing child-bearing or home-cooking or laundering or… I mean, how do you know that moms will not kill their families with salmonella poisoning if we do not require them to get a cooking license?

I think one of the bizarre things about the modern world is that we believe in licensing.

I don’t.

And, if we must have licensing, I would trust the Mafia to provide the licenses as much as I would trust the state: the state really does not have a good record for advancing the interest of anyone except its employees and hangers-on.

You also wrote:
> Can the state say that a license that specifically said "this coupling license implies no parental reponsibility" is invalid?

Well… you still have parental responsibilities under current law, whether or not you are married. I do not think a guy can escape child-support obligations just by pointing out that he never married the girl! Can he? A lot of guys would find that welcome news!

And a contract normally cannot bind a third party or the interests of a third party -- the support obligation is to the child who is not party to the marriage contract.

As far as I can see, the existence of state marriage licensure does not resolve any of these issues – of course, that is to be expected since, as I keep pointing out, humans did quite well marriage-wise for thousands of years without state licensure: indeed, the collapse of marriage seems to have occurred not that long after the state got involved.

This is really a very minor issue (except that it stirs up so much anger when it comes to “gay marriage”) but it does nicely illustrate how both liberals and conservatives are so deeply wed to the modern fallacy that a social institution cannot exist or flourish unless it is nurtured or encouraged by the state.

As someone with a long interest in sociology as well as history, I find that liberal-conservative belief simply weird, and it is even weirder when people are surprised to run across folks like me who do not share that belief.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
>[Dave]---Except, realistically, the state is not supporting a particular child-rearing environment: indeed, almost everyone already recognizes that any child-rearing environment other than a two-parent family is far from optimal (sometimes, of course, it is simply unavoidable – as when one parent dies).
>[Allison] Not true at all. The academic world recoils at this and has course after course telling you otherwise. The media tells you otherwise. The underclass doesn't believe it because the elite told them not to bother anymore.

Yeah, but fortunately “almost everyone” in the USA is not in the academic world, the media, or the underclass.

This is why I said in my earlier post that:
> it would be nice if everyone felt free to say publicly what is shown by both common sense and by a great deal of academic research: of course, two-parent families are better.

I think even most academics and media figures know that of course two-parent families are best, but, yes, I agree with you that many are afraid to say so because of political correctness.

But, really, do you know any normal, middle-class American who, in private conversation, denies that of course two-parent families are optimal?

I don’t.

Dave

Katharine Beals said...

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who will say, both publicly and in private, that opposite gender parents are also optimal.

I'm not one of them.

Allison said...

What are you talking about re: licensing of marriage not taking place? for what thousands of years? Based on what do you say that?

The Assyrians had marriage contracts. Hammurabi's code had marriage contracts. Babylonian Law before that did, and Sumerian law too. What are you talking about?

Are you claiming that between the time, say, 10k years ago, that humans established the first agrarian communities and 4000-2000BCE, society didn't have such things?

Based on what evidence do you make that call?

Allison said...

Dave,

I don't understand something very basic in your words. You say:
"I’m not for “private licensure” and have never said I was.

I don’t see why “licensure” of marriage is necessary at all..
"I think one of the bizarre things about the modern world is that we believe in licensing."

are you against all contracts? Just all marriage contracts? Do you think private contracts can be enforced without some entity acting as the enforcer/recorder?

When I refer to private licensing I mean that entity that is the enforcer for the private party contract. It's all nice to claim you have a private party contract, but until you've got some entity that can validate that contract was properly entered into, it doesn't mean anything, because the parties could deny entering it. A private marriage license is then the receipt by an outside agent that the private parties entered into a marriage contract.

What do you mean by license?

I can understand saying you don't believe in a *state monopoly* on a license, like a hairdresser license or an FDA license to a medication, but are you actually suggesting that *private* licensing, like bar association licenses, or engineering credential licenses etc. or an insurance bond are bizarre?

Private licensing allows people an economy of scale in determining if something is meeting their needs by allowing another entity to test if the conditions are met; you trust that entity by seeing its track record. Does this really strike you as bizarre?

Crimson Wife said...

California has had a domestic partnership law for years to offer legal rights to homosexual couples, and nothing in Prop. 8 changed that. I don't really have an objection to it so long as I'm not being forced to condone homosexual behavior. Don't redefine marriage and don't force Christians to violate their religious beliefs and I don't really care about the state offering domestic partnership status to gays & lesbians.

Katharine Beals said...

Dave writes that "*every* social conservative that I have ever discussed the issue with" agrees on visitation rights and inheritance rights and so on."

Crimson Wife writes that "California has had a domestic partnership law for years to offer legal rights to homosexual couples."

Do these legal rights (and Dave's "and so on") include adoption rights and access to partner's health insurance?

If Allison is aiming at "the minimal the state can do to create a structure by which people can have the least interference" (nicely put, by the way), and, in particular, at discouraging the state from becoming the de facto parent, it seems to me that one move in this direction is to make it more likely that children adopted by gays and lesbians grow up under the stability afforded by a state license that grants the same legal rights as a marriage license does--whether or not we call it a "marriage" license.

On that note, Dave writes, "I honestly could not care less" about gay marriage; for me, more specifically, what I honestly could not care less about is whether or not we *call* it "marriage".

I don't understand people who take government policy and practices so much to heart as to feel that it's "forcing me to condone" something--not even the existence of God (as in "one nation, under God"). No one can force me to condone anything.

As far as being required to perform elective services, this is a complicated issue, and even now, restrictions apply. Suppose that I'm the kind of Christian who believes that the Bible condemns miscegenation, and suppose that I refuse to be the photographer at interracial marriage ceremonies or to provide fertility treatments to interracial couples?

Or (much loser to what I actually do believe, though I don't think the govt should be controlling these things) suppose I feel that no one over 45 should receive fertility treatments, or that the groom shouldn't be more than twice as old as the bride?

Crimson Wife said...

California not only allows homosexual couples to adopt (I don't really object to this as a less-than-ideal family is still preferable to languishing in foster care) but requires adoption agencies to do so (which I believe infringes on the freedom of religion). I think it should be left up to the individual agency to set the criteria. I'm Catholic and if a Jewish affiliated adoption agency turned me away because they only place kids with Jews, then it's no real skin off my nose for me to go elsewhere. My inconvenience does not trump the agency's right to operate in accordance with the teachings of its religion. The same applies to a homosexual couple turned away from a Christian adoption agency.

Crimson Wife said...

In terms of health insurance, if I were operating a company, I would have a policy of not providing coverage to unmarried partners of employees, regardless of whether those partners are heterosexual or homosexual.

Katharine Beals said...

Crimson Wife wrote "Don't redefine marriage" and "if I were operating a company, I would have a policy of not providing coverage to unmarried partners of employees, regardless of whether those partners are heterosexual or homosexual."

This adds up to not providing insurance to *any* gay partners of employees.

If all insurance companies make the same decision as your hypothetical insurance company, then children of gay couples are less likely to have one parent who is able to stay at home (at least part time), which some people have argued results in a sub-optimal child-rearing environment.

Katharine Beals said...

Are there any limits on freedom of religion? To take a less extreme example than many others than come to mind, consider my earlier comment on beliefs about miscegenation.

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read beyond the first comment (which I skimmed) - but I wanted to say that I think it's unlikely Mary Damer & Martin Kozloff would disagree significantly on what to teach.

Mary Damer - you may remember this - took her daughter out of public schools and sent her to an all-girls Catholic High School.

Conservatives and liberals outside of the education world typically want a liberal education for their children.

Catherine Johnson said...

Bill Ayers isn't at NYU, and he's not a member of a traditional academic department. He's in an ed school at U. of I Circle.

(Sorry - I had to say 'not at NYU'!)

Catherine Johnson said...

"the folks in the history department at NYU"

They hate constructivism and strategies over knowledge!

Ed has a funny story about having dinner with several colleagues, all of whom are quite far left of center. That was back when the cover story on constructivism in France had appeared, and every one of them was shaking his head and bemoaning the fall of civilization due to ed school constructivism.

Allison said...

Dave, you've probably becomed bored of this, but I'll add one more comment and then shut up on this topic.

At least twice, you've misunderstood what I said, and conflated conservatives with me in the process, saying that they see marriage as depending on the state.

But I said that the state depends on marriage.

In particular, I said that the state has a legitimate interest in marriage.

you either conflated the two--thinking that my claim that the state depends on marriage was really just because you thoguht I thought marriage depended on the state, it seems. Or you pushed this off so immediately with a claim that basically, the state has almost no legitimate interests at all. Either way, you keep going back to the statement about marriage existing without a state.

but i'm talking about no states existing without marriage.

Now, you don't seem to think that education is a legitimate interest of the state either. I'm not sure what interests you do grant a state at all.

For me, the state has an interest in its own security and self perpetuation, and has a reason to create institutions to support that as long as they do so justly to its citizens, and with limited interference. Again, as stated earlier, the state's legitimate interest in marriage is because it creates a better state, a freer one, a less taxed on, a less crime-filled one, and therefore, a less intrusive one.

Since you don't see that as valid, we've gotten to the crux. But your statement that I think marriage needs the state, or that conservatives think that, is I think, quite backward.

PhysicistDave said...

Katharine wrote:
>Do these legal rights (and Dave's "and so on") include adoption rights and access to partner's health insurance?
>If Allison is aiming at "the minimal the state can do to create a structure by which people can have the least interference" (nicely put, by the way), and, in particular, at discouraging the state from becoming the de facto parent, it seems to me that one move in this direction is to make it more likely that children adopted by gays and lesbians grow up under the stability afforded by a state license that grants the same legal rights as a marriage license does--whether or not we call it a "marriage" license.

I basically agree, and my point is that almost all Americans, at least in my experience, do agree.

I’d offer two caveats. The main caveat is that I do not think a marriage “license” should grant any privileges, except those the partners choose to grant to each other. That is how marriage traditionally functioned: it was a private agreement between the couple (and possibly their families). There were not, for example, complicated laws giving special tax breaks (or penalties) to married couples.

Until the last century or so, the government largely ignored marriage as being outside the political realm: I think that was a good idea, and seems to have worked great.

By wanting government to do anything with marriage, I think conservatives (and liberals) are not being “conservative” enough. Conservatives often want to “conserve” the world of fifty years before the present, whenever the present happens to be. Often that just means replicating the mistakes of fifty years ago. I think they should take a longer historical view.

Second, I think the whole medical insurance model which involves the family being covered through one spouse’s employer is deeply flawed: we do not handle, say, auto insurance that way, and we assuredly do not handle food, clothing, etc. through employer-chosen food plans, clothing plans, etc.!

It is the employer linkage that causes so much trouble with portability and pre-existing conditions.

This too is a relic of twentieth-century mistakes (it connects to wage controls during WW II).

So, I don’t think gay couples should share employer-provided health insurance, because I do not think any couples should.

Of course, if we each handled our own insurance, gays and straight would automatically be on a level playing field.

Pragmatically, we are likely to end up with what you suggest: i.e., since we are not going to correct the bad public policies related to employer-provided insurance, special tax provisions for married couples, etc., we will probably end up with “civil unions” for gays to deal with the immediate inequities.

Crimson Wife, Allison, and I will, I suspect, all complain about that a bit, but I suppose we will live with it.

I think it would be better to solve the root problems (tax-code discrimination, employer-provided health plans, etc.), but we will not be doing that soon.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
>Dave, you've probably becomed bored of this…

No, but I’m a bit concerned that we have hijacked ktm away from its official topic – education!

Allison also wrote:
>I said that the state has a legitimate interest in marriage.
>you either conflated the two--thinking that my claim that the state depends on marriage was really just because you thoguht I thought marriage depended on the state, it seems.
>Or you pushed this off so immediately with a claim that basically, the state has almost no legitimate interests at all. Either way, you keep going back to the statement about marriage existing without a state.
>but i'm talking about no states existing without marriage.

No, I understood you: I simply disagree that the state has a “legitimate interest” in marriage.

I think that the state is doing very well to handle national defense and crime prevention: in my lifetime, it has done neither very well. I think we are fooling ourselves to think the state can handle anything more complicated than that.

Furthermore, I find, looking both at current events and history, that the moral standards of the state are remarkably and consistently low: how many of the Presidents of the last hundred years would you trust as head of your child’s Scout troop?

The idea of trusting the state to provide guidance on issues involving morality, such as marriage, seems to me equivalent to asking Tiger Woods to chair a task force on marital fidelity.

You also wrote:
>Now, you don't seem to think that education is a legitimate interest of the state either. I'm not sure what interests you do grant a state at all.

Well, given the abysmal failure of the state to do almost anything efficiently or competently, and given its horrific moral shortcomings, yes, if it is physically possible to keep the state away from some area of human life, it seems to me wise to do so.

I do also have a broader point: you and I agree, I think, that there has been a very unfortunate decline in families’ willingness to take responsibility for themselves in the last century in everything ranging from marriage to their children’s education to financial planning for retirement.

Every time we suggest that the state has a “legitimate interest” in some area of life, we are excusing families’ failing to take full responsibility in that area and encouraging them to think the state can handle it.

I think we should do exactly the opposite: i.e., proclaim loudly and clearly the rather obvious truth that politicians (who, after all, run the state) have very little interest in anything, legitimate or otherwise, except in getting re-elected and paying off their special-interest groups (vide the Cornhusker Kickback, the “Louisiana Purchase,” the union no-tax deal, etc. in the current health bill).

It has always been that way: within a few days of the opening of the very first session of the US Congress, the House members were scrambling to grant special tariff privileges to their various special interests (see pp. 8-9 of Bates’ The Story of Congress).

Just as a matter of fact, the state is not going to solve social problems, no matter how much we might think it should.

I think the beginning of political wisdom is recognizing that fact, a fact that was generally recognized by the Founders. At most, the state can get out of the way of ordinary families’ figuring out how to solve their problems for themselves.

Curiously, conservatives recognize that fact in areas such as welfare policy. They do not recognize it in many other areas.

I think, frankly, that conservatives have become liberals: they have come to believe in social engineering, as long as it is directed towards conservative goals.

I think they are ignoring reality, just as I think liberals are ignoring reality.

The state does not make a convincing or effective moral teacher.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Crimson Wife wrote:
>California not only allows homosexual couples to adopt (I don't really object to this as a less-than-ideal family is still preferable to languishing in foster care) but requires adoption agencies to do so (which I believe infringes on the freedom of religion). I think it should be left up to the individual agency to set the criteria.

I agree. For all our faults, we Californians are actually largely solving these problems without explicit guidance from the state. For example, when my wife went to the hospital to deliver the kids, the hospital let her give visitation rights to whomever she wished (fortunately, she did choose to grant me visitation!).

And, many companies do extend insurance rights to gay couples.

No one, of course, is completely satisfied because no one has succeeded in imposing his values on everyone else in the state – there are companies which do not give gays insurance rights.

You also wrote:
>I'm Catholic and if a Jewish affiliated adoption agency turned me away because they only place kids with Jews, then it's no real skin off my nose for me to go elsewhere. My inconvenience does not trump the agency's right to operate in accordance with the teachings of its religion.

Yeah. Some people might find it annoying or even offensive, and it is certainly messy (and for some people confusing) to have a diversity of social standards and norms.

But, that’s just what freedom is: people work things out for themselves, and no one is completely satisfied with everyone else’s decisions.

I think there is compelling reason to think that the end result is usually preferable to imposing a uniform one-size-fits-all solution from “on high” – for example, take public education (please!).

Dave

hainish said...

Dave, I had left a comment a few days ago in response to this:

Hainish and Allison, from contrasting left-right perspectives, both want the state to do something to achieve their contrasting goals.

...but it seems to have gotten lost.

Basically, I *don't* want the state to do something to help me achieve a goal, I want the state to *stop* doing something (namely, discriminating on the basis of gender in granting marriage licenses).

PhysicistDave said...

Hainish wrote to me:
>Basically, I *don't* want the state to do something to help me achieve a goal, I want the state to *stop* doing something (namely, discriminating on the basis of gender in granting marriage licenses).

Well… another way of putting it is that you do want the state to do something – i.e., start issuing marriage licenses to gays!

You can always re-word a positive into a negative and vice versa: e.g., all I want is for you to stop refraining from paying me a thousand dollars a day.

But, of course, what that actually means is that I want you to start engaging in some physical actions you have not yet been engaging in – i.e., paying me my thousand dollars a day.

Similarly, you actually do want the state to start doing things it has not yet bee doing – going through all the physical actions involved in giving gays marriage licenses.

As you know, I sympathize with your goal of ending the situation in which the state treats heterosexuals differently than it treats homosexuals. But, for reasons I have laid out in detail above, it seems to me simpler, cheaper, and far less divisive to achieve this goal by getting the state out of the marriage business altogether by following Mike Kinsley’s suggestion and accepting that marriage is simply a private contract.

One good reason for following Kinsley’s suggestion is that, if the state starts engaging in the action of issuing gay marriage licenses, then, Crimson Wife’s concerns are well-founded: at least out here in the Golden State, it is very likely that this will lead to lawsuits against churches that will not allow gay weddings, etc.

Liberals tend to be very facile verbally and very good at muddying the difference between positively doing something vs. simply negatively refraining from doing something: e.g., we are “killing” the poor by refraining from providing them with adequate food or medical care or whatever.

But there is a real, physical difference between intentionally murdering someone vs. passively refraining from saving someone’s life.

I do sympathize with your desire to put gays and straights on a level playing field legally; for that matter, I also sympathize with conservatives’ desire to enhance “family values.”

But, I notice from my own lifetime, and from history, that when we try to achieve social goals by having the state “help” us, it tends to work out badly – at best, it tends to diminish the urge for people to solve problems themselves voluntarily.

We’re probably going to end up with “civil unions,” and we will all manage to live with that. But, it is still worth while pointing out that Kinsley’s solution is wiser and simpler (and cheaper) in practical terms, even though I know it cannot be achieved politically.

Dave

Anonymous said...

Go over to Dave's blog and hash this out over there.

palisadesk said...

I haven't had any inclination to join in this thread, but I have found it enlightening and worthwhile -- primarily because it illustrates that people with widely disparate views on the role of the state or various values can still support specific instructional or curricular initiatives.

I think SteveH has the right idea; people whose politics and belief systems may differ profoundly can be of one mind about wanting good math instruction in K-8 (and elsewhere). Those same people might not agree on broader goals, like the purpose of schooling, the role of the Federal government, and so on, but they can join forces to fight Everyday Math and demand better assessment, teaching to mastery, and opportunities for capable children to move forward.

Anonymous said...

PhysicistDave wrote:

>...I’m a bit concerned that we have hijacked ktm away from its official topic – education!

Yes, you have. Can you drop it now?

"This has grown tiresome. Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!"

PhysicistDave said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but I never respond favorably to requests from people who post as “Anonymous.”

It’s the principle of the thing.

Crimson Wife said...

Is it discrimination against triangles to insist that a 3 sided polygon not be called a "square"? Maybe we need a handful of activist geometricians (is that even a word?) to impose their redefinition of a square that include triangles onto a largely unsupportive society...

SteveH said...

Dieter! Did you bring Klaus?

Tracy W said...

But, in those days of old you refer to, the state did not *license* marriage. No one did.

This depends on which old days you think I was referring to.

In many old, small communities, the community "licensed" marriage, with various mechanisms for enforcing it, along with all other contracts. In medieval north-western Europe, the Church licensed marriage, in that if a dispute arose over whether two people were legally married, the Church courts would get involved (they could be invited to get involved by the Crown's courts) and make a ruling, eventually. Please note, I carefully am not speaking of the state, our modern conception of the state was not around then, instead there was an ongoing power struggle between the Church and the Crown.

For thousands, I suppose tens of thousands, of years humans have managed quite well to get married without getting licensed by the state, and there was no more uncertainty about who married whom than there is today.

Actually there was in England, for at least a period of time, up to 1753. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1753,
or http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/lhr/17.1/leneman.html for a more detailed explanation.

I’d bet that well over ten percent of the people who think they are “legally” married never actually get properly recorded by the state bureaucracy.
And, of course, it does not actually matter.


Unless of course a dispute arises in whether you were legally married is relevant. As in the examples I gave.

To be short, state licensure of marriage is not needed as long as everyone agrees that the marriage exists. The point of state licensure is what happens when people start disagreeing about whether a marriage exists, often the motive for disagreeing is money.

Hainish said...

Well… another way of putting it is that you do want the state to do something – i.e., start issuing marriage licenses to gays!

Well, Dave, no. If you don't realize that the state is looking at your (and your spouse's) gender when you get married and making a decision based on what it finds there, then game over. That is the issue. Whether the state should license marriages at all? That is another issue. An opinion on the second is not an opinion on the first.

You can disagree, but it's disingenuous to say that it's verbal game play. To me, it's the most honest, accurate, and logical analysis of the situation.

And, no, churches would NOT be forced to marry gays. That is a scare tactic of the right.

But again, if you're taking issue with the way other commenters define things like freedom, then we're reading from too-different playbooks to have a discussion that goes anywhere but in circles.

Catherine Johnson said...

I grew up in a stereotypical, lily-white, religiously conservative Midwestern suburb; my step-grandmother lives in Dallas, the so-called buckle of the Bible belt.

But, in fact, neither my step-grandmother nor most of the older generation I grew up around are (or were) much bothered by “the lesbian couple next door.” I don’t want to “out” any of my family member in the comments here on ktm (!), but I’ll just say all this is directly relevant to my own immediate family in the Midwest.


I still haven't read the thread (!) - but noticed this & wanted to second it.

I grew up in central IL, too. Small town, although I probably wouldn't characterize the town as religiously conservative. There were .... gosh, were there two Catholic churches? Or just one.

I don't remember.

The Christian churches were mostly mainstream Protestantism.

I don't know how to describe the culture where sexuality is concerned, other than to say that gay people were "part of things." (I'm sorry if that sounds obnoxious - can't think of a better way to put it.)

In my own family, "Cousin Gladys" was gay and I think used to come to family dinners with her partner. I don't remember how old we were when we understood that Gladys and her partner weren't just friends, but it wasn't a secret.

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of cross-pressured individuals, my copy of The Challenge of Democracy (Ninth Edition) came today.

Apparently the authors are major proponents of a multi-dimensional view of the US electorate.