In a society designed around individual liberty, has marriage become little more than a temporary link-up of working people choosing to spend some free time together? And the kids?
Marriage and family are evolution’s great stabilizers. The core family unit has held through natural catastrophe and revolution. Neither Robespierre nor Hitler, not Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot managed to wipe out the family, however much they may have tried. Marriage and family have survived any and all assaults launched their way.
Until now. More threatening than the violence of the past is the silent undermining going on today. Outsourcing is sapping the core of marriage and family to the point where only their empty husks remain.
What can marriage and family still be good for in our day and age? Cohesion? When each person suffices unto him or herself, and self-realization means realization of the self on its own, the need for social cohesion evaporates.
For offspring? You don’t need marriage to bring children into the world. Not only are out-of-wedlock births on the increase, but ways of “perfecting” babies are as well. Creating artificial people is possible, as Ray Kurzweil has written in The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
Imagine a reality where people can be “optimized” as per economic requirements, genetically engineered for whatever way they will later be productive. Joblessness thus becomes obsolete: everybody occupies the professional role he or she was programmed for. Society is stabilized: no striving for upward mobility, no fears of falling off the social ladder.
Do we need marriage, a family unit, to give kids a childhood, an upbringing, an education? In Germany, the debate over child care subsidies has shown that the model of parents bringing up kids, being a part of their education, is obsolete. Parents are regarded as dilettantes; and if children are to have equal opportunity, they all have to receive the same level of professional education. Our system is thus geared now to turning kids over as soon after birth as possible to “experts.”
Children will be schooled one way or another by “experts” all through childhood. Time for non-didactic activity, all the space for childhood adventure and discovery, will be squeezed out of their existence even during holidays when learning camps -- supervised by “pros,” of course -- take over. Families are where kids spend the night.
Limits of marriage
As for marriage: a long marriage has come to be seen as a limitation of one’s freedom of choice. In fact any type of commitment is perceived as compromising freedom. Freedom to choose is considered the highest form of freedom. So, marriages are not contracted for life but basically until somebody better comes along.
An “until death do us part” marriage has morphed into a temporary partnership for a particular tranche of one’s life, and one with relatively little legal protection – certainly less than with rent or job contracts. "Irreconcilable differences" in a marriage is enough grounds for dissolving the union. All you need to do is get through a separation period successfully. It would not be possible to get any lighter than our divorce laws.
Western monogamy has come to resemble Eastern polygamy, except that the latter is simultaneous and the former is consecutive: instead of several people in a marriage together at the same time, we have several people filling different chunks of time separately over a lifetime. The western model is also gender neutral in that it is available to women.
Temporary marriages also mean separation of goods – and income. Anybody who puts more energy into the marriage than into earning money is quite simply the stupid one when divorce time rolls around. "Advanced" couples thus contractually plan the end of the union as they enter into it: for Homo economicus even “love” requires lawyering up.
In this day of uninhibited looking out for Numero Uno, working for others and unpaid to boot – as family members do – is quite simply not on the agenda. Only working for money and for one’s own advancement counts.
So marriage has become a temporary link-up of working people who choose to spend some free time together. The model is not well-adapted to down times. And at the end of the day, the people losing out are both the parents and the kids. Children progressively grow up without parents. Parents progressively experience their kids as secondary phenomena. Children are fast becoming creatures of the state.
One of the perhaps unexpected results of this type of emancipation is more single older women. As they get older, husbands prefer younger second wives. It’s the bitter revenge of a narrow-minded patriarchy. Is there some form of feminism that is unwittingly working as a secret agent for male hegemony?
Today’s successful person is untouched by love – self-sufficient in every respect, emotional issues dealt with pharmacologically: if genetic engineers ever manage to wipe out all trace of tendencies toward togetherness, autism will become the official order of the day.
To a modern understanding, marriage is the addition of two independent individuals, whereas in the old sense it’s a community that is more than the sum of its parts (Aristotle).
The “new human” is spared the disarray of love, its joy and pain, and hence knows nothing of the happiness that comes from the enriching experience of sharing, and the dependence of love that --paradoxically -- sets people free.
*Norbert Blüm (1935) is the former Chairman of Germany’s liberal-conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) political party and a former Minister for Labor and Social Affairs.