Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Love Matters

Love Matters

Tibor R. Machan

Ethics is the primary human concern because it addresses how one ought to
live one?s life. But difficulties attend this concern big time.

First, while nearly everyone confidently makes ethical judgments?even
those who are skeptics do, when they decry that others make them?just how
to support or defend them is a problem. Most of us turn to our religious
upbringing for that but some find it in natural law (which means deriving
ethics from human nature) or even social convention. Since, however, there
are innumerable religions, multiple conceptions of human nature, and
certainly widely differing social conventions, grounding ethics?showing
that one?s ethical judgments are sound?is a challenge.

Second, even if one is confident that one?s foundation for making ethical
judgments is solid, what exactly do those foundations support? Sure,
probably there are some very basic principles of human conduct?the moral
virtues, the commandments, or the like?that could gain support. But more
particular judgments??You should work hard at your job,? ?You should play
fair in sports,? ?You should help the poor abroad??are more difficult
because one size does not fit all. A parent with five kids perhaps should
not focus on providing some aid to the foreign poor, while a well to do
single person could well have that as a proper moral objective, among many

Now I?ll stop there because my main topic is just this one size fits all
issue. The recently inaugurated HBO show, Big Love, dealing with
polygamy?which is a misnomer, since somehow women aren?t deemed to be
candidates for having several husbands, even in orthodox Mormonism?brings
this to mind. Should all lasting, legally certified romantic relationships
be monogamous? Is that what all persons should seek and if not, what else
might there be?

As we live longer and longer, the idea of two people declaring their love
for each other ??til death do us part? seems more and more dubious. That
idea was much more plausible when it meant, as it must have originally,
three or five years. Now it can mean fifty or seventy and over such a haul
human beings are very likely to change significantly enough not to suit
those they married at 20. So divorce appears not to be what Roman
Catholics and some other groups think it is, namely, a sin.

Yet even apart from this, perhaps some folks can love many others,
deeply, loyally, intimately, just as polygamists contend. I don?t know how
and I once had an argument that seemed to rule this out. I thought that
since we are all unique individuals, when we become fully intimate with
another unique individual, that love is itself unique and to try some
other at the same time would simply be impossible?it would have to destroy
the first one. But I don?t know any longer if this holds true?there might
be unique individuals who can love several other unique individuals, all
equally deeply, intimately. Surely the very fact that we are all unique
human individuals suggests that there can be different ways of loving
other individuals, deeply and intimately.

When gay marriages were being debated, opponents chimed in with dire
warnings about a slippery slope: Soon this will mean polygamy and who
knows what else! But why would that be so awful? We have people with very
different careers, hobbies, homes, cars, personalities, and so forth and
all that seems perfectly OK. Why not people with very different marriages?
(And no, bestiality isn?t on this slope since a relationship with some
member of another species cannot really be a loving?deep, intimate?union;
folks, other than perverts, don?t really mean it when they say, ?I love my
car or even cat.? Not in that way.)

In most areas of human life it is taken as natural that novelty will
emerge. Not only are we ourselves often quite inventive and creative?just
consider all the arts, with all the new kinds and types of styles coming
from them, or science, technology, fashion, etc.?but even the non-human
world around us goes through changes, some of them Draconian, some

Of course, if the point about certain basic principles is sound, not
anything goes, even with all the changes. Some ways of acting are morally
wrong, some ought even to be prohibited by law. But a great deal of
variation in how people conduct themselves, in their institutions,
organizations, and possibly relationships may have to be accepted as quite
OK and the one size fits all notion restricted to but the most fundamental

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