Most people in a position to read this blog post probably think of marriage as a contract between two people that serves a few different purposes. Initially it may be an extension of the a tacit contract governing sexual access or fidelity that likely preceded marriage. Later on it may be an arrangement that facilitates the decision a couple makes to have one or more children. Along with this a marriage may be a framework for any subset of a longish list of social relations people tend to engage in such as friendship and mutual aid, financial cooperation and joint ownership of things, or meeting and manipulating social expectations and appearances.
For every one of these functions, we can find examples either among individuals or sets of individuals, or cultures or social strata, that defy these expectations. Monarchs may have hung around courts with concubines rather than spouses. In systems where wealth is inherited strictly through a certain (usually male) line, one of the members of the marriage owns nothing, so there is little financial cooperation and no joint ownership. In some societies, men prefer to marry women who have already had a child, regardless of who the father is. In other societies sex between a man and woman is avoided at all costs except to make babies. And so on. Also, there are societies in which marriage serves very important functions that are not mentioned above but that may be considered the most important role of the practice. In societies where dowries are strictly required, marriage is primarily an inter-caste economic arrangement. In the case of the Maasai, written about earlier, marriage is about the cattle.
So, how do we define marriage then? I think there are two ways. One actually has us reaching back into the above described features of marriage and picking out a few key ones that are functions of marriage in many but not all societies. In this case we would make the claim that the other societies are exceptions, even if they have at times in the Earth’s history been widespread. Some of the more elaborate social, economic, and cultural uses of marriage are matters of exapting the practice for purposes that are particular to highly stratified societies or economies based on very vulnerable resources where ultimately some kind of warfare (or Hobbsian state of Warre, if you will) is more important than, say, a nice Valentine’s day gift or a rewarding sex life. Since these societies are almost all a function of changes that have happened over the last several thousand years they may be thought of as exceptional even if common for a long time. We’ll get back to this idea later, in another blog post.
The other way is to think of marriage not as the framework for a couple to have babies and thus reproduce, but for society to organize, obligate, educate and control it’s ascending members and thus reproduce itself writ large.
How this might work will of course vary across societies. Here, I’ll just suggest a laundry list of ways in which the whole marriage thing could be incorporated into the way society perpetuates itself by maintaining categories, relationships between groups or categories of people, and so on. Obviously, “society” itself is not a thing that can reproduce or that has goals or motivations or even mechanisms of the kind that would be needed to do these things. But a given society has groups of individuals with larger than average amounts of power. These individuals and groups can try to make and enforce rules and these can be instituted through cultural practices, marriage being a key one.
- Who gets to marry whom. The reasons to restrict marriage are myriad and may relate to ethnocentrism or racism, caste, society, and so on.
Who gets the children. Generally, the parents have the children in their care, but if there is a unilineal society (and/or “clans” or something along those lines) girls born to married couples may become social capital for exchange or alliance formation with other groups. Sons, on the other hand …. well, “sons are guns” as the saying goes. And, depending on the economy of production, children may variously grow up to be workers.
Exchange, concentration, or redistribution of wealth. In American society today, a “typical” “middle class” wedding will cost tens and tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of people get to eat. In other systems, households accumulate bride payments or wealth, or a new couple is set up with a start-up fund. This is all very complicated when looking across cultures, but there are a lot of cases where money or valuable goods exchange hands. Who gets it, how much in relation to the average household economy, who pays, and what happens when you don’t pay varies a lot.
Who owns property … and how it is redistributed and used is often linked to marriage. Sometimes, the system of marriage (and who marries whom) is determined mainly by the ownership of property. In one famous system, a marriage is always directly linked to a piece of property and there are just so many pieces of property. Nobody gets married outside of those land-linked arrangements.
Lineage maintenance and development. A lineage, usually a patrilineage, is an organizing corporate entity in many societies. Royal lines and houses, clans based on lineality, and so forth are the elemental units that fight, form alliances, or engage in joint ventures often at the expense of a third lineage. Marriage in such systems has to be between lineages, and which lineages are intermarried in a given union is often determined by elders, who make rules, or simply tell people whom they must marry.
Religion and heteronormative values. In some societies, people are forced to marry within one religion, so one individual may need to convert; those getting married may be required to promise on pain of eternal damnation to raise their children in that religion. Individuals can only be married if certain “family values” critera are met, for example, only if they are both heterosexual. Other “family values” may be imposed on those being married, often inculcated into the arrangement with required pre-marital counseling sessions or agreements. Sometimes, powerful conservative members of these societies try to impose these and other rules using governmental force or constitutional means.
I wonder which societies do that last one?
This is part of a series of posts on Marriage. To see the full list click HERE.
Photo of Umm Bororo Wedding, Eastern Sudan, by Vit Hassan
The following document was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, and is said to have been influenced by the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy, of which Franklin was well aware. This is essentially the first draft of the Articles of Confederation and closely reflects Franklin’s contribution to the Constitution of the United States.
The Albany Plan of Union
It is proposed that humble application be made for an act of Parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America, including all the said colonies, within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act, as hereafter follows.
- That the said general government be administered by a President-General, to be appointed and supported by the crown; and a Grand Council, to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several Colonies met in their respective assemblies.
That within — months after the passing such act, the House of Representatives that happen to be sitting within that time, or that shall be especially for that purpose convened, may and shall choose members for the Grand Council, in the following proportion, that is to say,
Massachusetts Bay 7
New Hampshire 2
Rhode Island 2
New York 4
New Jersey 3
North Carolina 4
South Carolina 4
— who shall meet for the first time at the city of Philadelphia, being called by the President-General as soon as conveniently may be after his appointment.
That there shall be a new election of the members of the Grand Council every three years; and, on the death or resignation of any member, his place should be supplied by a new choice at the next sitting of the Assembly of the Colony he represented.
That after the first three years, when the proportion of money arising out of each Colony to the general treasury can be known, the number of members to be chosen for each Colony shall, from time to time, in all ensuing elections, be regulated by that proportion, yet so as that the number to be chosen by any one Province be not more than seven, nor less than two.
That the Grand Council shall meet once in every year, and oftener if occasion require, at such time and place as they shall adjourn to at the last preceding meeting, or as they shall be called to meet at by the President-General on any emergency; he having first obtained in writing the consent of seven of the members to such call, and sent duly and timely notice to the whole.
That the Grand Council have power to choose their speaker; and shall neither be dissolved, prorogued, nor continued sitting longer than six weeks at one time, without their own consent or the special command of the crown.
That the members of the Grand Council shall be allowed for their service ten shillings sterling per diem, during their session and journey to and from the place of meeting; twenty miles to be reckoned a day’s journey.
That the assent of the President-General be requisite to all acts of the Grand Council, and that it be his office and duty to cause them to be carried into execution.
That the President-General, with the advice of the Grand Council, hold or direct all Indian treaties, in which the general interest of the Colonies may be concerned; and make peace or declare war with Indian nations.
That they make such laws as they judge necessary for regulating all Indian trade.
That they make all purchases from Indians, for the crown, of lands not now within the bounds of particular Colonies, or that shall not be within their bounds when some of them are reduced to more convenient dimensions.
That they make new settlements on such purchases, by granting lands in the King’s name, reserving a quitrent to the crown for the use of the general treasury.
That they make laws for regulating and governing such new settlements, till the crown shall think fit to form them into particular governments.
That they raise and pay soldiers and build forts for the defence of any of the Colonies, and equip vessels of force to guard the coasts and protect the trade on the ocean, lakes, or great rivers; but they shall not impress men in any Colony, without the consent of the Legislature.
That for these purposes they have power to make laws, and lay and levy such general duties, imposts, or taxes, as to them shall appear most equal and just (considering the ability and other circumstances of the inhabitants in the several Colonies), and such as may be collected with the least inconvenience to the people; rather discouraging luxury, than loading industry with unnecessary burdens.
That they may appoint a General Treasurer and Particular Treasurer in each government when necessary; and, from time to time, may order the sums in the treasuries of each government into the general treasury; or draw on them for special payments, as they find most convenient.
Yet no money to issue but by joint orders of the President-General and Grand Council; except where sums have been appropriated to particular purposes, and the President-General is previously empowered by an act to draw such sums.
That the general accounts shall be yearly settled and reported to the several Assemblies.
That a quorum of the Grand Council, empowered to act with the President-General, do consist of twenty-five members; among whom there shall be one or more from a majority of the Colonies.
That the laws made by them for the purposes aforesaid shall not be repugnant, but, as near as may be, agreeable to the laws of England, and shall be transmitted to the King in Council for approbation, as soon as may be after their passing; and if not disapproved within three years after presentation, to remain in force.
That, in case of the death of the President-General, the Speaker of the Grand Council for the time being shall succeed, and be vested with the same powers and authorities, to continue till the King’s pleasure be known.
That all military commission officers, whether for land or sea service, to act under this general constitution, shall be nominated by the President-General; but the approbation of the Grand Council is to be obtained, before they receive their commissions. And all civil officers are to be nominated by the Grand Council, and to receive the President-General’s approbation before they officiate.
But, in case of vacancy by death or removal of any officer, civil or military, under this constitution, the Governor of the Province in which such vacancy happens may appoint, till the pleasure of the President-General and Grand Council can be known.
That the particular military as well as civil establishments in each Colony remain in their present state, the general constitution notwithstanding; and that on sudden emergencies any Colony may defend itself, and lay the accounts of expense thence arising before the President-General and General Council, who may allow and order payment of the same, as far as they judge such accounts just and reasonable.
CERN experiments observe particle consistent with long-sought Higgs boson
Geneva, 4 July 2012. At a seminar held at CERN1 today as a curtain raiser to the year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP2012 in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented their latest preliminary results in the search for the long sought Higgs particle. Both experiments observe a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV.
“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”
“The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this CERNreason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”
“It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “ We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs. With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data.”
And you too, computer, now that I think of it. I have a list here of things that are annoying that are similar to each other in that they interfere with my most basic use of the computer. Most of the time I demand very little of a computer. Writing text in a text editor or in the text boxes of web pages, and reading things. That is mostly what I do. It is astonishing that in 2012 when we are about to do this that these simple tasks can be thwarted by poor design and engineering in the software running on what is really pretty advanced hardware.
1) Reloading web pages. This is best exemplified with our local CBS affiliate, WCCO, news site. Let’s say I open up a web page that has an interesting news story. I read part of the page and then I get distracted by something shiny for, say, 20 seconds, then I go back to finish reading the story and the page reloads. I’m now back to the top of the page. I work my way down the text to find where I left off, and start reading again. Then, I get to the end of the page and I’m about to read the last sentence, and the page reloads. Or, worse, I start up one of the embedded videos on the page. And while the video is still playing, the page reloads. Why does this page keep reloading? How can you make a news site that reloads pages while the reader is reading them almost every time if the story is longish, or, amazingly, if the reader is watching a video? Why?
I’ve actually emailed WCCO about this. This problem has been going on for at least a year, and I’m sure others have complained as well. Haven’t they? I guess there is no internal mechanism at CBS or WCCO for problems with the user eperience to translate into a redesign of the technology.
2) Moving text boxes. This is a BIG problem with Google+ but it also happens in Facebook. You have a text box in which you are entering a post, status update, or comment, and while you are typing this in, suddenly the pages shifts. This is like the reloading page mentioned above but with a different technology and effect. The point is, your text box is gone and now you have to find it to write that last one or two words of the brilliant thought you were just about to post which you may have lost track of because of this distraction. This is like if Hemmingway was writing a novel and at random intervals somebody walked into the room and rolled the typewriter platten on him. The people who designed that technology clearly don’t use the technology.
3) Text Boxes that go on vacation. This is where you are typing text into a text box, like where you put your Facebook status, and suddenly you are typing and nothing is happening. Then, suddenly, all the text you were typing comes flying out. This actually has been known to happen to me in my text editor when it decides to take too much time saving backups and maybe something is wrong with the hard disk system. So, OK, I replaced the hard drive and fixed that, but still.
4) And another thing. Why is it that bringing up a simple file manager and having it populated with the file data takes so long? Isn’t that the most basic function of my system? Shouldn’t that happen instantaneously?
Internet and Computer Software Industry, please fix these things.
Thank you very much, that is all.