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Hugh Hefner Engaged Again

According to the AP, Hugh Hefner is engaged again to a Playmate.

Remind me again who it is that cheapens the notion of marriage? It is so hard to keep track.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Alan Cross says:

    Hugh Hefner does not cheapen marriage, nor does the lack of fidelity of heterosexuals in marriage cheapen marriage or give validity to gay marriage. The institution of marriage is not cheapened or changed by its adherents. It is what it is. Some people have a problem holding up what it means, but it doesn’t mean less because of certain people’s experience with it. In the same way, marriage is what it is and is not changed ontologically because some people have certain relationships that they want to call marriage.

    I’m one who believes that words have definitions beyond the way that we deal with them or experience them. There are universals outside of us. The fact that don’t deal with definitions rightly or we twist them to fit our experience does not change what words/concepts actually mean. This is probably more than you intended from your post, but I’ve heard this argument for some time now and your comparison in this situation caused me to think about this.

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  2. Oh, the post was flippant, to be sure and I never know what the response will be.

    And I certainly understand from where you are coming from.

    I would, however, disagree with you on the following (although I will allow that it makes for an interesting philosophical conversation):

    I’m one who believes that words have definitions beyond the way that we deal with them or experience them. There are universals outside of us

    Marriage is, quite clearly, a social construct whose meaning has hardly been stable over time (at least not, it seems to me, the way many would like to think of it: a co-equal partnering based in romantic love). At a minimum the basic way that men and women have dealt with each other in terms of their roles even within traditional marriage has shifted considerable even within the last several generations (comparing, for example, my own marriage to that of my grandparents’). In all honesty, I don’t even see a consistent treatment of the concept through the Bible (Solomon comes to mind).

    Beyond that, however, and recognizing my flippancy, I will readily allow that Hugh Hefner’s behavior hardly is an argument for much of anything. But as a matter of politics, I do find the argument that same-sex marriage cheapens the concept of marriage to be a problematic one, given that it is hardly the case that all the heterosexuals are doing as swift as job at it as they otherwise might.

    It would seem to me that, at a minimum, the judgment of the quality of a giving pairing is about that pairing, and not a comment on all similar potential pairings.

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  3. I will say this: my main point, as is I think others who make similar points, is this: the argument that same-sex marriage cheapens marriage isn’t much of an argument, especially when there are so many examples of heterosexuals doing a sufficient job on their own. As noted above, it strikes me ultimately as a case-by-case situation.

    I understand the religious objections to the notion of same-sex marriage, I just don’t see the social justification for denying the basic right to all citizens in a democratic polity.

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  4. tom says:

    This is sad. Hugh Hefner engaged again? He should just stop.

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  5. Alan Cross says:

    Steven, I guess that my point is that marriage is not something that is redefinable just because some say that it is. This is proven by the debate. When same-sex couples want to join their lives together, it is called “gay marriage,” not just marriage. An adjective has to be attached to it to explain what it is. When a man and woman want to join their lives together, it is just called “marriage.” There is an attempt to change the definition to fit what some want. But, marriage itself as it has been understood throughout all of human history has to be redefined to encompass same-sex couples being able to participate in it.

    Because of this, I would posit that marriage is what it is. Hugh Hefner’s ridiculous activities do not tarnish any kind of view of marriage any more than Iran having an election tarnishes the idea of democracy. Even though Iran’s election is a farce, we all know what democracy actually is. Just because they say it is an honest election does not make it so. That is how I see “gay marriage.” Just because some very vocal, influential people in our society say that it is marriage does not make it so.

    I am all for pointing out the hypocrisies of the Right, but when it comes to changing the definition of words themselves to fit the views of certain groups, the liberal agenda runs aground.

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  6. I guess that my point is that marriage is not something that is redefinable just because some say that it is. This is proven by the debate. When same-sex couples want to join their lives together, it is called “gay marriage,” not just marriage. An adjective has to be attached to it to explain what it is. When a man and woman want to join their lives together, it is just called “marriage.” There is an attempt to change the definition to fit what some want. But, marriage itself as it has been understood throughout all of human history has to be redefined to encompass same-sex couples being able to participate in it.

    But the reason you need the modifier is because of the political debate-specifically because of the exclusion of a specific group of people. By the logic you provide above, the meaning of marriage was changed when people used to speak of “mixed marriages” to mean marriage of persons of different races, something that also was once illegal and considered abhorrent by many. Most of the time these days a multi-racial married coupled is simply referred to as “married” or in a “marriage” not in a “mixed” marriage.

    Is a “second” marriage different than marriage because a modifier is used? Is an “arranged” marriage? I am not so convinced that the use of a modifier proves the point you are trying to make.

    The essence of the concept, which is in this context the legal joining of two persons in a specific binding relationship for the purpose of building a live together in a mutually agreed upon, loving relationship (at least ideally) is consistent across the various types noted above isn’t changed by the modifier.

    Beyond that, though, and I noted above, the meanings of words do change and evolve over time. They are linguistically, culturally and temporally bounded.

    Just because some very vocal, influential people in our society say that it is marriage does not make it so.

    Well, that is ultimately a legal issue, yes?

    Understanding, again, the religious angle here, the bottom line is that even heterosexual, traditional (or whatever modifier one prefers) marriage is currently defined by the legal system as the result of the prevailing culture, yes?

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  7. Alan Cross says:

    Good points. But, I do believe that the “gay” modifier is fundamentally different than the others that you used as examples. “Mixed” marriages were illegal in an American context because of American’s views on race. That was not a universal perspective, nor was it a universally accepted religious one. It actually came from a decidedly non-religious view of humanity that was based on racial identities, not spiritual ones. “Arranged” marriages are a cultural phenonenom, limited to some cultures that practice that based on a hierachical perspective. Again, it is not a universal. Gay marriage ignores the one universal truth of marrage that has been accepted in all cultures at all times throughout human history – that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.

    Are you saying that a male-female view of marriage is purely a religious one? That would mean that it is particular to a certain religion or to religious teachings. To assert that, you would have to say that it was not the accepted view of all societies everywhere. Even polygamy, a view of marriage rejected in modern countries, builds off the idea that marriage is between opposite sexes. I see nothing in your definition that would not then open the door of marriage to polygamy as well, except that it is between two people, but that seems to be an arbitrary definition at this point. I am not trying to employ the “slippery slope” fallacy here. I just don’t see how, if we open up marriage to homosexual couples, how we do not simultaneously open it up to any other type of relationship. To say that a heterosexual view of marriage can only be defended on religious grounds is akin to saying that the ideals of sacrifice, consideration of the other, and human rights could only be defended on the basis of religion. That is what Neitzchse presupposed in his philosophies and why, to him, God must be dead. The end of that view is anarchy or totalitarianism.

    There are universal moral standards that are accepted by humanity apart from one particular religion. A male-female definition of marriage has been one of them throughout all societies everywhere. There are examples of murder, human sacrifice, stealing, and other things being accepted in some societies at certain times, but the human race, by and large, has condemneed these actions. What are the social reprecussions of altering the fundamental millenia old view of marriage (between a man and woman) to fit a perspective that has only gained acceptance in the last 10-15 years? Of course, I personally argue from a religious perspective and I understand what you are saying about the political view, but I don’t see where an opposition to gay marriage must be restrained to a religious view. I think there is a pretty strong sociological and anthropoligical argument against it as well. Of course, I see all truth as God’s truth, so I also don’t engage in the fact-value split that seems to be required by secular thought.

    The only way that you can establish gay marriage as a fundamental right is to dramatically alter all accepted notions of what marriage is, historically. When you do that, I believe that you fall into a postmodern, relativistic epistemology that establishes truth on the basis of what those who can accrue power want it to be. Without any form of universals to appeal to, we become subject to the whims of those who can make the most powerful arguments – or use power to assert their arguments. I know that I am moving into a broader subject here, but I don’t see how a society can continue to exist cohesively when truth is always up for grabs and it is not tied to any sense of a greater morality. This moving target of what truth is is the basic liberal argument and is why a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, for example, is seen as deplorable. This argument over gay marriage is not just about gays having their relationships recognized by the State. In the larger context, it is about the redefining of human relationships away from the established view of universal moral truths to a more relativistic view.

    From a purely non-religious view, the only modern comparison (last 500 years) that I can think of when this occured regarding a universal view of human society would be when the view of government shifted from the right of kings to the rights of man as put forward by Thomas Paine and other Enlightenment thinkers. A whole new society and way of life emerged from that philosophical shift and it has impacted the entire planet. But, even that shift appealed to universals that could be discovered through human reason. Universals were not abandoned, they just were no longer thought to come from Divine Revelation. I think that we are experiencing the same kind of shift in Western thought when it comes marriage, family, and sexual mores, but the shift is not based in any type of universal apart from a notion of romantic love that is fleeting at best. I do not think that we have adequately thought through the impliations of that shift and I would disagree with the assertion that such a shift is the logical result of the American freedom experiment, as some say it is. I think that we are entereing into something quite different from what the Enlightenment/Modernity prepared us for politically. It is altogether possible that you can go so far into “freedom” that you end up in brokenness, decay, and bondage of another kind.

    Sorry for rambling. One thought just led to another, I guess, but digging a bit below the surface of the gay marriage debate leads me to consider the presuppositions of those advancing the debate and the logical conclusions of following their direction.

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  8. A lot could be said here, but a few thoughts.

    I bring up the religious aspect because I know that that is where you are coming from. That’s fine, and I fully understand the position. However, the bottom line for your position is that the conservative evangelical view of homosexuality is correct. As such, the rest of the argument, to me, is window dressing is that sense that even if I could persuade you that this, that, or the other issue within the discussion is problematic, your basic position is not going to change. Is this not correct? (I am not trying to be confrontation about this, btw).

    In other words, it seems to me that the main and fundamental reason that you make claims about universality is because your position is framed, fundamentally, in Biblical inerrancy. As such, the claim must be true regardless of any other arguments at the end of the day, yes? In other words, it has been my experience in such conversations that really the logic or illogic of the argument is not ultimately relevant because any argument in favor of same-sex marriage is an argument for sin, and therefore the argument itself is, in many way, over before it starts.

    I have had a very hard time over the years as my views on this topic have shifted, to construct an argument in opposition to secular same-sex marriage as a legal arrangement endorsed by the state.

    For a while I thought that it should be a separate category of civil unions or some similar phrase, but came to the conclusion that it was going to be called marriage eventually in any event, so why worry about the semantics.

    This has become a question, to me (and to many people) one of civil rights and equal treatment under the law of citizens. It is fundamentally, then, a political question that ends up being handled via the political process.

    The issue of universals is a complicated one, that I will leave aside for the moment.

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  9. Another thought:

    but I don’t see how a society can continue to exist cohesively when truth is always up for grabs and it is not tied to any sense of a greater morality. This moving target of what truth is is the basic liberal argument and is why a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, for example, is seen as deplorable.

    I would argue that the bottom line is that truth has always been a contested issue. There isn’t even universal (to use that word again) acceptance of what every passage of the Bible means even amongst persons who use similar exegetical tools/approaches.

    Even simple statements that may be Truth (with the requisite capital T) end up requiring interpretation. To wit: “God is love” or “Thou shalt not kill.”

    Even a strict constructionist view of the Constitution is harder to achieve than it sounds, if anything because it is clear that a) the Founders themselves often had disagreements over what specific passages meant), and b) the document is one borne of political compromise with the commensurate usage of vague language to accommodate such a circumstance.

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  10. Alan Cross says:

    I’ve been thinking about what you have said here and I think that you are probably right regarding universals and absolutes apart from revelation. In trying to engage in a political argument from a “truth based persective,” I am arguing from the Enlightenment idea that there is a form of truth out there (apart from specific Divine Revelation) that we can all agree on using reason and rationality and thus have a reasonably coherent society. That is what the Enlightenment was all about – that truth could be attained through Reason. That project has utterly failed and has been discredited and we are left with fragmentation, language games, and power plays, as the postmodern theorists Foucault and Derrida have propositioned. So, you are right. From a purely political perspective, there is no real argument against gay marriage that has any more merit than the argument for it. Some people want it and others don’t, and at the end of the day, the ones who can persuade others and amass the most power are the ones who will get their way. That is where we are now. One can put forward one definition of marriage and another can put forward a different definition. Without any truth outside of us, only the definition that is primarily accepted by society at the time has credence. How does that definition get accepted? In a “free” society, by persuasion. In a totalitarian society, by coercion. But, you are essentially dealing with the same thing.

    What will be interesting is when other cultural/political assumptions that Western Civiliation is built upon fall apart because there is no real philosophical basis for them apart from what society wants at the time. I do argue for absolute truth from a Biblical basis (as well as common sense), and honestly, I don’t think that is a bad place to stand, especially when you consider that other perspectives are primarily based on what one special interest group or another is advocating at the time. At the same time, I also recognize the relativism that exists in Biblical studies, as any quick perusal of history will show. I do think that the truth is out there, to retrieve a phrase, but I think that it takes humility and awareness of your own cultural and personal biases to grasp it. There are things that the Bible is clear about, this issue being one of them. So, I guess I’ll stick with that and if that pushes me into an intellectual ghetto, then I don’t really see how my position is any weaker than anyone else’s in secular society.

    If what you are proposing is reality, then aren’t we all working from micro-narratives at this point? Which ones win the day? That is what the political/cultural contest is about, it seems.

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  11. Alan Cross says:

    By the way, when I said “intellectual ghetto,” I am primarily speaking of how my position would be perceived by others who are arguing from what they believe to be an expansive secular perspective. People of faith quickly get pushed out of meaningful societal discussions once it is discerned that they are arguing from any type of belief in religious truth. That is not how I see it, but I am aware of how others would perceive it. I also don’t believe that my view of truth is a “micro-narrative.” I think that everyone is working from a metanarrative approach as everyone has a working philosophy of life and right/wrong, whether they think they do or not. In reality, everyone believes in absolutes. They just choose to define them as they wish or according to the evidence that they choose to believe at any given time. I use the term “micro-narratives” to express the broad array of competing stories/truths in a pluralistic society.

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  12. Without any truth outside of us, only the definition that is primarily accepted by society at the time has credence. How does that definition get accepted? In a “free” society, by persuasion.

    I am not sure, ultimately, though, what the better alternative is. Unless you have an all wise king who hand his wisdom out, then you are left with either a system based on persuasion and bounded by rules to determine outcomes or you are left with, as you note, force.

    I take the Churchillian tact, i.e., that democracy is the worst type of government that there is, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.

    Apart from the literal Second Coming, I am not sure what the alternative is, given that even people who accept that there are universal truths agree on what they are and how they ought to be understood.

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  13. Alan Cross says:

    Thank you, Steven. This discussion, as usual, has been very helpful for my thinking. I see that I was trying to engage in the fallacy of arguing for moral absolutes/universals apart from God. There is no way to do that, as the failure of the Enlightenment/Modernism has shown us. All that you are left with is a mish-mash of public opinion and relativism. I agree that we have always had disagreements, but during the founding of our nation, there was the dual philosophical foundation of Biblical truth and the Enlightenment appeal to Reason. In other words, people generally believed that truth was knowable. We might disagree on what that truth is, but through revelation on the one hand and debate, investigation, and experimentation on the other, the belief was that we could come to some common conclusions. Now, it appears that even an attempt to do that on any basis other than fairness, tolerance, and a vague notion of freedom is impossible. As Yeats said, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.”

    Of course, common conclusions are still possible at times. That is what contemporary America places its hope in, as the election of Barack Obama showed us. But, as soon as you try and implement a post-partisian or post-racial era, you quickly find that the animosity between cultural subgroups is so great that no real agreement can be reached. So, we try and cover over this by identifying common enemies or common pursuits – anything to tie us together. The postmodern critique is that things have always been this way (as you have stated here), but now the illusion of unity is gone so we just bicker. Appeals to reason/rationality and Truth have given way to persuasion/coercion. That is the danger, I think. We cannot have honest debate because there are no rules for it any longer. We’re just yelling at each other.

    So, anyway, thanks for provoking my thinking. We’ve gone far afield from your original one line post. But, the debate over gay marriage is symptomatic of other debates in America today and how we come to any agreement over what is true and right and acceptable for a diverse society. In trying to make an argument for a position apart from God, I fall into the same trap as those I am arguing against, just from a different direction. I haven’t quite thought through all the implications of this for public discourse, but they are pretty profound for me personally, I think.

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  14. The discussion was interesting, even given the limiting context of blog comment boxes!

    There is more to say, to be sure, and non doubt he conversation can be continued over kucnh at some point.

    I would say that two quick things:

    1. I would disagree with your basic assessment of the failure of the Enlightment. The notion that applied reason can influence our daily lives and make them better is alive and well. I don’t see it as solely and enterprise aim at discovering universal truth.

    2. The basic dynamic that you describe (even if I would characterize it differently) is not a new one, but in one way or another is the history of mankind.

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  15. Alan Cross says:

    Thanks for causing me to clarify. I don’t mean that the entire Enlightenment was a failure by any means. There was much good that came out of it. I don’t see it solely as an enterprise aiming at discovering universal truth either, but it did have as a basis the belief that through reason, apart from the church/revelation, we could figure out how to live on our own by coming to consensus on universals. That aspect of it ran aground.

    Re: #2, the difference between now and the cultural consensus that we have had in the West over the past 500 years or so is that the illusion of a standard truth is gone. It is yet to be determined how a modern society will function when there is no real consensus on what morailty really is. Or, maybe it is a changing moral consensus that finds its authority primarily in the will of the majority and not any truth outside of us. Many Christians will get off the bus at that point as our culture moves into a post-Christian future, using the assumptions provided by Christianity that are still deemed acceptable – until they’re not.

    Anyway, the implications are interesting for a democratic republic founded on the two wings of the Enlightenment and Christian ideals that now seem to be fading.

    Yeah, lets talk sometime. I’d love to have a forum to discuss these things with some folks. I have my personal views based on Scripture, but am also very interested in what the working reality is in our culture.

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