A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BRIEF NOTE] Defections and the Free Choice Problem

William Baird observes that states and cultures which can deal with variation from norms–sometimes a little variation, sometimes a lot–are destined to thrive and to push out their more intolerant contemporaries. He’s right: The collapse of traditionalist cultures which can’t deal with, as their dissenting members are lost to less pure cultures and the hard-core remnant is left to try to negotiate its way through a world that’s decidedly pro-hybridity. It’s simple Darwinian selection at work.

This is as it should be. If, say, Prince Edward Islanders are reluctant to consider Island residents of–let us say, politely–“non-European background” as potential Islanders, I’m not necessarily opposed to the province’s utter marginalization. In fact, I think it a good thing: Accelerate Atlantic Canada’s depopulation, please! (The Noodle House has closed down incidentally after five years of harassment, its owners planning on moving to Toronto. And people wonder why more immigrants don’t head to Atlantic Canada? But I digress.) If French Muslim leaders want to make membership in that community conditional on accepting a misogynistic set of cultural norms, or if German Jewish leaders are reluctant to accept Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union as proper Jews, or if third-generation ethnic Korean residents in Japan have to pass insanely rigourous exams to demonstrate that they are Japanese enough to qualify for citizenship, fine. Stupid Prince Edward Islanders, or French Muslim leaders, or German Jewish leaders, or Japanese nationalists, and all of their ilk, just shouldn’t claim to be surprised when they find that their claimed constituencies are hemorrhaging members by the tens of thousands.

In those societies where social mobility–most particularly intermarriage, but also including porous class structures and institutions of civil society–is a reality, differences will fade, as satyadasa suggested, in the space of several generations. Mobile societies–particularly, though not exclusively, First World social-democratic societies in the West–do a very good job indeed of breaking down social barriers. Even on Prince Edward Island, the distinctions between Islanders of English and Scottish and Acadien and Irish background are more theoretical than anything else.

Opponents of hybridity don’t want these possibilities to exist at all. One highly prominent form of opposition lies in the desire to regulate marriage. We see this tendency manifested, worldwide, by citizenship laws which discriminate against binational couples and their children, by the strong opposition of the Catholic Church to same-sex marriage, and by a persistent denigration of anything that isn’t a highly restricted and conservative marriage regime for heterosexuals only, with specific forms in mind (the presence of covenant marriages in the US South, the absence of civil marriage in Israel). If it’s impossible to form non-traditional sorts of bonds across communities, then defection will obviously become more difficult than ever before. It’s a stopgap measure that won’t slow things down entirely–in Israel, certainly and unarguably a sensible liberal-minded society, the main effect of the absence of civil marriage has been to promote the Cypriot tourism industry (civil marriages contracted abroad are recognized), further weaken the institution of marriage, and, in the time-honoured fashion of religious monopolies everywhere, weaken the legitimacy of religious institutions in general–but at least it’s something.

One might almost think that these organizations and attitudinal clusters are protesting the mandatory imposition of these laws on all of their communicants, rather than representing an option available for anyone to freely choose. (I recall a memorable article in The Onion which described the protests against Massachusetts’ mandatory same-sex marriage laws). In a way, that is what they’re protesting. The idea that they can no longer regulate strictly their memberships, that they can be free to make their own decisions and construct their own identities in the context of an unregulated and pluralistic society, without the possibility of an automatic veto on their part, is terrifying for them. Without change on their part, it spells their doom.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 28, 2005 at 2:26 am

Posted in Assorted

%d bloggers like this: