This is a response to Sam Schulman's "The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage". I won't post a link, but fear not; google will show you the way.
In order for an argument to hold water, you must first accept the basic premises. In this case, firstly, that we have a rigid kinship structure; and secondly, that this rigid kinship structure must be preserved. I am completely ignoring the issue of whether or not marriage does indeed fulfill the functions laid out by Mr. Schulman, because that portion of the argument is completely irrelevant. His assumptions are faulty; there is no need to consider arguments supporting a faulty assumption.
Besides, I’m pretty sure a lot of people have already torn his article apart on those grounds.
But back to my issues. To begin with, the idea of a rigid kinship structure is laughable. Clearly, this person has no idea what kinship actually means.
Kinship, like all cultural traits, is fluid. This fluid nature is harder to see when you only examine a short period of time in the history of a culture, but it is always there. Do you really suppose that the Yanomamo came into existence using ebene? This notion ignores the process of cultural evolution; it's possible that we can define the moment they became Yanomamo as the period when they began practicing the use of ebene, but it's absurd to propose that they've "always been that way". Nobody has "always" been anything.
Unless you’re a Creationist, of course. If that is the case, you might as well stop reading right now, because 1) you’re going to get annoyed with me, and 2) you are obviously unequipped to grapple with the basic rules of logic and reading this is a waste of your time.
Culture, like "nature", is continually in flux. There is no end goal; no set purpose; no state to which we are moving. Understanding of this concept has fallen into shadow with the advent of our own particular culture, as we have developed the cultural trait of seeking the "best" way to do things; but in reality, there is no such thing as “best”. Just the fact that I can point out our desire to do things "right" proves my point; have humans "always" tried to things “right”? Of course not. The Yanomamo do not run up to the U.S. and attempt to get us to use ebene. Neither do they attempt to coerce neighboring villages into joining theirs; on the contrary, historically, Yanomamo societies are more likely to split than merge. (Chagnon 82)
Because, for example, our technology trends toward faster, smaller, and more efficient, we feel that our society is also trending upwards. I will not offer a commentary on whether we are trending upwards or downwards, because to me, the issue is moot. We’re not trending up or down—but we are trending in a direction. And that direction is change—just change. Undeniably, the United States has changed radically since its inception; but there is no reason to suppose that today we are inherently better than we were on May 27, 1809. To be sure, our society had ills at that time that we have since attempted to erase, but again, there is no reason to suppose that we are “better”. We are merely different.
Our laws make more sense now; that’s all. Laws shape a society as often as they reflect it; quite frequently, a law is enacted that does not reflect the society as it is, but how [enough] people wish it to be. And it takes time for the attitudes to catch up with the laws; we don’t consider black people to be property anymore, but that doesn’t mean every individual in the U.S. is free of racism. The longer we live in a society that prohibits slavery, the more we come to collectively agree on the immorality of racial discrimination. It’s a simple, observable fact.
And so, who are you to choose an arbitrary point in our cultural history and claim it as the best? On May 27, 1809, plenty of people thought we were already the best we could possibly be. Think about that.
The plain and simple fact is that if you consider a kinship system to be so glorious that it can and should resist evolutionary (in a societal sense) pressures, you have disregarded the fluid nature of culture and placed that particular system as the end result of cultural change. Which just means that all cultures are striving to be like yours.
Do you recall the “Great Chain of Being”? The Great Chain of Being placed squirrels above insects; dogs above squirrels; dark-skinned humans above dogs; light-skinned humans above dark-skinned humans; angels above light-skinned humans; God above angels. The Chain placed creatures in this manner as a reflection of how God had ordered his creation; the position of dark-skinned humans below light-skinned ones allowed the white Europeans to consider their African peers as subhuman.
You may laugh at the ignorant people who made the Great Chain of Being, and well you should—but if you laugh unfettered, unmindful of your hypocrisy, perhaps you should go back to the beginning and read every word of this over again.
Chagnon, Napoleon A. Yanomamo. 5th edition; 1997.
My degree (in anthropology).