Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ayn Rand romanticized cigarette smoking--I forget in what context--as a profound act of human domination over nature: taming fire to our pleasure, to the point of holding it between our fingers. The same principle could be applied to a plethora of pleasurable indulgences. In a recent Wall Street Journal review of Stan Cox's book on the far-reaching environmental, social, geographical (etc.) effects of air-conditioning, Losing Our Cool, Eric Felten cites this "can-do" defense of technological comforts on behalf of American use of AC:
[Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini] notes that the refusal to suffer the sweaty indignity of equatorial heat is "the antithesis of passive resignation," and thus a perfect expression of the can-do American character. "In America, air-conditioning is not simply a way of cooling down a room," Mr. Severgnini writes. "It is an affirmation of supremacy."

I don't believe Felten and Severgnini have considered the full hierarchy of supremacy asserted in the decision to turn on the AC (to escape the "equatorial heat" which has magically swept up a thousand miles north of the equator). I exercise supremacy over nature, to be sure, when I adjust the thermostat, but my exercise of power is itself subordinated to the hierarchy of power within me. I have often turned on the A/C in my car or in the house with as little thought as a chain smoker gives to lighting his second cigarette. Precisely what compels me I am not prepared to say, but it suffices to observe that pressing buttons, flipping switches, and turning dials is not generally speaking a free act of self-assertion. Compare the will with which one turns on the AC, and the will with which one says, "Enough!" and flips the switch in the other direction.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Everyone knows that marriage is a private affair, right? Two people commit their lives (or maybe just "a chapter" of their lives if they're destined for a no-fault divorce) to each other, and this commitment makes each of them either happy or miserable, but it has nothing to do with politics.

The idea that a given marriage has public significance is considered ludicrous. If America had a failed marriage for every time someone sneered publicly at the notion that countenancing gay marriage would "somehow" undermine the fabric of marriage itself as a political institution, I reckon almost half our marriages would fail. (oh, wait...)

Well, haters, what if it turned out that the success or failure of every marriage had a significant influence on every other marriage within two degrees of separation? Rose McDermott:
'A person's tendency to divorce depends not just on his friend's divorce status, but also extends to his friend's friend.
'The full network shows that participants are 75 per cent more likely to be divorced if a person - obviously other than their spouse - that they are directly connected to is divorced.
'The size of the effect for people at two degrees of separation, for example the friend of a friend, is 33 per cent.

Like most social research findings, this should be obvious. Marriage is not just an arrangement between two people to meet the needs of each other's souls and bodies. It is a ministry to the world. Like any ministry, it turns poisonous as soon as it becomes self-centered.