Wednesday, August 26, 2015
When even the middle classes shun marriage, our social cement truly is crumbling
Libby Purves speaks much truth below but she appears to underestimate the effect of feminist-inspired divorce laws. Stories of big divorce payouts are in the papers daily so men can hardly be unaware of the issue. To put it bluntly, the feminists have turned marriage into prostitution. It has become a good way to get big money for sex. But a lot of men don't want to pay. So they don't. A man who marries these days takes heroic risks with his financial future and his future wellbeing. A well-advised man would just not do it
Why get married? Charles Darwin, the great naturalist, took a properly scientific view of the pros and cons of marriage and jotted down his thoughts.
In favour: 'Children, if it please God . . . constant companion and friend in old age who will feel interested in one . . . object to be beloved and played with . . . better than a dog anyway . . . music and female chit chat, good for one's health but terrible loss of time '.
Against it, he put down the loss of freedom, the expense and anxiety of children, the risk of quarrelling, and (quite my favourite) the prospect of being 'forced to visit relatives'. Quite a few men, I reckon, would nod at that last one.
Nevertheless, Darwin married and was happy, and near the end wrote movingly of his wife Emma as a 'wise adviser and cheerful comforter throughout my life'.
I read that again in the light of yesterday's gloomy revelation that marriage is becoming less common and moving towards a curious situation where this most basic and ancient of social habits risks becoming largely the preserve of the rich, and of immigrant communities with strict social rules.
For some time now, in a trend since the Seventies, it has been apparent that the poorer you are in Britain, the more likely you are to be in social housing and financially precarious, and less likely to get married.
By 2001, people in the top financial category were 24 per cent more likely to marry than those at the bottom; now that figure is 48 per cent.
That was worrying enough. Solid figures show that unmarried couples with children are, statistically, three times as likely to separate, with the children facing obvious distressing results, not just emotional but financial and educational.
But it was not hard to see the reasons why the poorest, the people on the edge, were less likely to marry once there was no social stigma about sex outside marriage or just moving in with each other.
If your accommodation and job chances are unstable, perhaps you are less likely to plan, and more tempted by a chaotic, take-it-as-it-comes lifestyle.
Now, however, something interesting but faintly appalling is happening: the latest figures from the Marriage Foundation and the government's General Household Survey suggest that marrying is falling out of fashion among more settled, middle-class families.
Look at middle-income couples with young children: 20 years ago 84 per cent of such people were married. Now it is 59 per cent. Still more than the poorest group, but a definite trend is, in researcher-language, 'spreading up the socio-economic scale'.
We have not yet seen whether the break-up rate will undergo as great an increase in this middling group, but the Marriage Foundation's research director says: 'When a socio-economic group turns away from marriage, we see a corresponding hike in the rates of family breakdown.'
If so, that is bad news all round. Of course, divorces will always happen. Of course, separating couples can be responsible and considerate of the children, though even the best divorces tend to be expensive, disruptive and, to some extent, distressing. But at least divorce is a definite thing, a legal move, a big decision.
Walking out on your live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, even with a child in between, is vaguer, easier, more tempting.
So there is a whole new group (a large one) appearing to go off the idea of marriage. Meanwhile, it appears that the richest group — what statisticians call the 'higher managerial' group, with household incomes over £43,000 — are still heading for the altar, register office or ritzy wedding venue.
One theory about this suggests that if you are definitely well-off, with a mortgage and the likelihood of inheriting a house from your parents, you are more likely to think ahead about money and property and what you would like to leave to your partner and children.
Another is that if you are used to considerable affluence, you are less nervous about the future financial risks of divorce.
Also, in this 'higher managerial' gang, your parents may express some salty views about Doing The Right Thing and not messing about like characters in Coronation Street, or else they will leave the house to the cat's home, so there . . .
Governments are nervous about banging a gong in favour of marriage. They can speak warmly about 'the family', but tend to make it clear that this includes all sorts of families: single-parent, cohabiting, widowed.
They shy away from 'moralising' and praising marriage, not least because every time politicians do so, their party is promptly shaken by some disgraceful (yet hilarious) revelation of adultery.
They back off, only occasionally offering some puny tax advantage which the populace scornfully ignores. Who is going to make solemn vows just in case it saves £350 a year, and a distant prospect of your darling not paying inheritance tax when you croak?
So the strongest defence comes from the retired High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge, who saw too much misery in the family courts to ignore it. His Marriage Foundation bombards us with all those telling statistics about the disastrous effects of the decline.
Otherwise, defences of marriage tend to be left to the clergy (but who is listening?) and drowned by bitter jokes for which there are good reasons: about the absurdity of stupidly expensive weddings, when the marriage crashes and burns barely a year later, and about the risk of losing half your property to some scheming, adulterous partner who runs off with someone else.
You hear that great quip from the humorist Lewis Grizzard: 'I won't marry again — next time I'll just find a woman I don't like and give her a house.' Now, successful women feel that way, too.
We all have good friends who never married, whether for some obscure principle or just not bothering, but who raise happy, stable families. Like the politicians, we don't want to upset them.
Sometimes there are chivalrous reasons for living in what used to be called 'sin': one man I know moved on to a new partner in mid-life after a hard time with his wife but never divorced her, so that she could inherit the house and his pension. We don't often praise marriage in case it upsets those who are unmarried. But, to redress the balance, I will.
Marriage can go wrong but is basically a brilliant, useful, flexible, nurturing and enlivening thing. It does not feel like cohabitation (most of us in my generation have done a bit of both).
There is something different, awesome, about making a public declaration that you intend to try to keep this going for life; a buzz in making the tie legal and binding, contractually as well as emotionally.
You stand in front of the world saying: 'This is us. Not a temporary shack-up till we change our minds but a team, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, and let no interfering outsider dare try to break it asunder.'
Just look at the excitement and joy permission to marry brought to same-sex couples: they know its value, which is why they fought for it.
Marriage also makes you accept (no small thing) that you have tied together two families, two tribes. I remember reflecting, the morning after our wedding that from now on we were sort of responsible for one another's siblings, mothers, cousins, all that.
We might not have chosen them, but now had to take them into account, maybe rescue them when needed, consider their feelings more than when we were boyfriend and girlfriend.
A wedding is more than a show-off ceremony: it is public (even our sneaky, publicity-shy one had passers-by wandering in to the church). That declaration and status affirms marriage as a sort of cement, holding the flaky walls of society more firmly.
If every partnership was loose, informal, bound only by the emotion of the moment, we would edge closer to a lawless underworld. Victorian married propriety had its faults, heaven knows, but you could grow up safer there than down in the alleys with Bill Sikes and Nancy.
Marriage is grown-up, marriage is brave and serious: a properly provisioned, planned, hopeful, risky round-the-world voyage rather than a quick sunny trip around the bay.
In that responsibility you grow up. In that security you can relax and blossom. In that fidelity you are both free to develop other friendships and affections, because the basic, unbreakable tie is there.
Long live marriage.
Exploding the myth of radicalisation
Blaming some young Brits' attraction to ISIS on online grooming is a fudge
Frank Furedi is a sociologist so says it's all due to alienation. I taught sociology for a long time too so I tend to agree -- but we cynics should not overlook the power of religion
Reports that three sisters from Bradford and their nine children are on their way to Syria show that British Muslims inspired to make the journey potentially to join the Islamic State are no longer unusual or unique individuals. Likewise, the response to the reports shows how bewildered and confused many now are when confronted with the so-called radicalisation of fellow members of society.
The very language used to discuss the sisters’ preference for life in Syria over life in Britain betrays a complete lack of comprehension of the social and cultural dynamics at work. Bradford West MP Naz Shah, who spoke with the families of the sisters, stated, ‘I asked them if there was any indication [as to what the sisters were planning to do], and they said, absolutely not – it was a shock to them, it came out of the blue’. That it always comes ‘out of the blue’ is testimony to a failure to understand the cultural chasm that separates the world of many young Muslims from mainstream society.
Others report that the women came from a ‘hardworking’ and ‘respectable’ family. Yet young people going to Syria invariably come from normal families. The fact that the parents’ respectability is remarked upon at all shows that commentators are fixated on a non-existent pathology.
Since the London 7/7 bombings in July 2005, the issue of ‘homegrown terrorism’ has been discussed as if it was an incomprehensible and irrational phenomenon. I still recall a lecture given in 2007 by Peter Clarke, who was then head of S015, the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism team: ‘Of all the things I have seen over the past few years, one of the most worrying has been the speed and apparent ease with which young men can be turned into suicide terrorists, prepared to kill themselves and hundreds of others.’ (1)
What Clarke identified was a symptom of a far more profound and difficult problem. Young people do not turn into suicide bombers overnight or ‘out of the blue’, unless they can draw on cultural and political resources that affirm their decision. They draw support for their conviction that theirs is a cause worth fighting for from their everyday experience.
The impulse driving the radicalisation of young Muslims can only be grasped if the main myths surrounding it are exposed to rational scrutiny.
The myth of sudden radicalisation
People do not become suicide bombers overnight. Nor does a decision to travel to Syria, for instance, ‘come out of the blue’. Such actions require careful planning and are often born of reflection and deliberation. Sometimes young people do act impulsively and without thought. But they still make such hasty decisions on the basis of ideals and norms that are integral to their everyday culture or, more often, their subculture.
The focus on sudden radicalisation presents extreme and militant behaviour as a distinct and stand-alone experience, unconnected to everyday life. But this obscures the reality of radicalisation. It is precisely everyday life and everyday ideas that influence the thinking of those young people disposed towards embracing a jihadist subculture.
So instead of concentrating on sudden radicalisation, it would be far more productive to focus on the gradual consolidation of a worldview that transforms jihadism into an inspiring and morally superior alternative to the way of life of wider society.
The myth of vulnerability
Policymakers and the media continually refer to young Muslims as ‘vulnerable to radicalisation’. The term ‘vulnerability’ suggests passivity, powerlessness and gullibility. It suggests, in short, that those called vulnerable lack the intellectual resources necessary to cope with challenges. No doubt there are some weak and confused individuals drawn towards the jihadist subculture. But the reality is that most people who travel to Syria, for example, do so because they are inspired by a cause they believe is worth fighting for. Often such individuals show a capacity for planning, dissimulation, inventiveness and, above all, initiative.
The idea of vulnerability invokes individual characteristics that are often the very opposite to those actually possessed by people making the risky voyage to the Middle East. Contrary to the myth of vulnerability, these young people are – albeit misguidedly – attempting to exercise a measure of agency over their life.
The myth of grooming
Anglo-American societies have become so obsessed with child protection that they often interpret a variety of social problems through the prism of paedophilia. The idea of online grooming, for instance, has mutated into a fantasy used to explain every disturbing example of homegrown jihadism. The model of perfidious groomers seducing otherwise innocent young Muslims turns what is a struggle of ideas, a battle between ways of life, into a malevolent act of deception.
No doubt there are some clever online jihadists who are good at attracting the attention of would-be supporters. However, no one is forcing people to go online or to enter chatrooms or visit jihadist websites. Most of the time, it is the so-called vulnerable youth who, in the process of searching for answers, actively look for the ‘groomers’.
In any case, the claim that online radicalisation is responsible for the uptick in young jihadist recruits overlooks the fact that radical Islamists are actively promoting their ideals in the offline world.
The myth of the young victims
When it was revealed over the weekend that 17-year-old Talha Asmal had become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber, many reports suggested that he was a ‘victim’ of ruthless online groomers. His family described him as ‘loving, kind, caring and affable’. The obsession with representing young ‘vulnerable’ suicide bombers as victims is related to the association of the act of radicalisation with vulnerability. The irrational connection of an act of terrorism to the status of victimhood is so deeply entrenched that the British media have little interest in the real victims in this drama – the people that were maimed and killed by this ‘caring and affable’ 17-year-old.
In a perverse twist, the representation of radicalisation as an act analogous to victimisation serves to legitimise the behaviour of those who opt to join the jihadist cause. Inadvertently, the ‘don’t blame the victim’ culture lurks in the background of the discussion of radicalisation.
Radicalisation is only a part of the story
In reality, the term radicalisation captures only part of the story. The sentiments and behaviours associated with radicalisation are more accurately expressed through terms like ‘alienation’ and ‘estrangement’. The sense of estrangement from, and resentment towards, society is logically prior to the radicalising message internalised by individuals. In Europe, the embrace of a radical Islamist ideology is preceded by a rejection of society’s Western culture. Invariably, such a rejection on the part of young jihadists also reflects a generational reaction against the behaviour and way of life of their parents.
This double alienation – from parent and society – is not unconnected to normal forms of generational estrangement. What we see here is a variant form of the generational gap, except that, in this instance, it has unusual and potentially very destructive consequences.
The embrace of radical Islam is underpinned by a twofold process: an attraction to new ideas and alternative ways of life, and a rejection of the status quo. The radicalisation thesis, however, one-sidedly emphasises the so-called groomers’ powers of attraction. From this standpoint, the problem is reduced to the threat posed to the supposedly vulnerable by radical groups lurking in the shadowy world of the internet and secret prayer meetings. Yet the real problem is that a significant number of young Muslims have already rejected the cultural values and norms of the society in which they live. It is young Muslims’ rejection of European societies that motivates people to search for a meaningful cause to fight for.
While women overseas face true oppression, Western feminists dream up petty hashtags
While women in countries such as Iran face true oppression, women in western countries are among the most liberated, privileged — and safest — on earth
Christina Hoff Sommers
In August 2014, 12 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard charged into 28-year-old artist Atena Farghadani’s house, blindfolded her, and took her to prison.
She had posted a satirical cartoon on Facebook to protest proposed legislation to restrict birth control and women’s rights. Farghadani has since been found guilty of “spreading propaganda” and “insulting members of parliament through paintings.” She has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Farghadani is one of millions of women whose basic rights are being ruthlessly violated. In countries like Iran, Yemen, Egypt, and Cambodia, women are struggling for freedoms most women in the West take for granted.
But American feminists are relatively silent about these injustices — especially feminists on campus. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American college campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today’s campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world. Why not?
Today’s young feminist activists are far too preoccupied with their own supposed victimhood to make common cause with women like Farghadani.
This past year I visited and spoke at several US campuses, including Yale, UCLA, Oberlin, and Georgetown. I found activist feminist students passionately absorbed in the cause of liberating themselves from the grasp of the oppressive patriarchal order. Their trigger warnings, safe spaces and micro-aggression watches are all about saving themselves from the ravages of the male hegemony.
It’s not that they don’t feel bad for women in places like Iran or Yemen. They do. But they believe they share a similar fate.
And they can cite a litany of victim statistics from their gender studies class that shows their plight. Someone needs to tell them that most of those statistics are specious and that, although the threat of harm is a human constant, they are among the most liberated and privileged — and safest — people on earth.
Because their professors would not tell them, that someone turned out to be me; for this I was furnished with a police escort on more than one occasion.
Samantha Power, the able US ambassador to the UN and human rights champion, recently addressed the graduating class of Barnard College. Instead of urging them to support women struggling against oppression in places like Afghanistan, she congratulated them for waging a parallel struggle on the US campus.
She cited Emma Sulkowicz — a much-publicised Columbia University student who carried a mattress for months to protest her alleged rape by a fellow student — as a symbol of ongoing oppression of US women, and compared her plight with those of young women in Afghanistan struggling for elementary gender justice.
Never mind that a campus discipline committee found the accused not guilty; never mind the questionable basis of Sulkowicz’s public shaming campaign. Sulkowicz lives in a country where laws, institutions, and customs protect her. The women of Afghanistan do not. Afghan women are coping with the Taliban; Sulkowicz is coping with Columbia classmates. The US ambassador to the UN should be able to distinguish the two.
It is not my view that because women in countries like Iran or Afghanistan have it so much worse, Western women should tolerate less serious injustices at home. Emphatically they should not.
But too often, today’s gender activists are not fighting injustice, but fighting phantom epidemics and nursing petty grievances. Two leading feminist hashtags of 2015 are #FreeTheNipples and #LovetheLines. The former is a campaign to desexualise women’s breasts; the latter promotes stretch-mark acceptance. If the imprisoned women of Iran and Afghanistan were free to tweet, what would they say about these struggles?
Several years ago the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum created a small furore when she noted with disapproval that “feminist theory pays relatively little attention to the struggles of women outside the United States.” Her academic colleagues pounced: Gayatri Spivak, professor of comparative literature at Columbia, accused Nussbaum of “flag waving” and of being on a “civilising mission.”
No one is suggesting American or Australian women take on the role of moral saviours out to civilise the rest of the world. Efforts to help can often be patronising and counterproductive.
But that is an argument for being tactful and for taking direction from the women we are seeking to support. It is not, for those who claim to be devoted to gender justice, an excuse for doing nothing. Women like Atena Farghadani are already on a civilising mission — and it is disheartening so many feminists in the West seem to be looking the other way.
Victory for Free Speech in Medicine
Judges are chipping away at government censorship of communications about prescription drugs. The Food and Drug Administration exerts great power over a medicine’s label, which describes the medicine’s therapeutic claims. Drug makers and the FDA sometimes spend years negotiating a label.
The FDA regulates both safety and “efficacy.” So, a drug maker has to prove to the FDA its medicine works before marketing it to doctors. However, the cost of clinical trials required to prove claims is monumentally high, so drug makers will not always invest in clinical trials for every indication. Once a drug is used, doctors will find that it is effective for more claims than indicated on the label. The new indications are often supported by peer-reviewed, published research. However, the drug makers have not yet invested the time and money to negotiate with the FDA to get the new claims onto the label.
Oncology is a specialty where so-called off-label prescribing is common. Indeed, off-label prescribing is so common that some states mandate insurers pay for coverage of prescriptions written for off-label use! Clearly, the regulatory bureaucracy is behind the curve on this issue. Nevertheless, the FDA has asserted power to stop pharmaceutical reps from even distributing reprints of peer-reviewed studies supporting off-label uses to doctors.
We are not talking about the cure-all medicine man stopping his covered wagon in town and putting on a show to separate the yokels from their wages. We’re talking about high-level discussions with relevant specialists about new evidence-based medicine.
Fortunately, a judge recently found – on First Amendment grounds – that representatives of Amarin Pharma can distribute such information to doctors despite the FDA’s disapproval.
Established in 1906, the FDA has consistently increased its power. Not until 1962 did it win the power to adjudicate efficacy. Removing that power, and limiting the FDA to regulating safety, would return authority to doctors and patients. The 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June, does not go that far. Nevertheless, it allows more “real world” evidence to be added to a drug’s label, which is a step in the right direction.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.