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19.10.05

Mandatory Man-Taming Marriage

I have to give Todd Zywicki a certain kind of credit for not being ashamed to offer a clearly sexist anti-marriage argument. He states that one of the main purposes of marriage is to "tame" the raging beast that is the single man. He says that while it's possible that the evidence may eventually show that a man can be tamed by marriage to another man, polygamy could not work out so well. Given the assumption that polygamy in law would overwhelmingly mean polygyny in practice, he raises the threat of hordes of untamed men left single by the new law:

I think that there are clear benefits of societal stability and productivity of marrying men into monogamous relationships. Polygamy for some men, of course, means that other men will not be married and procreate at all. I suspect that the overall impact in terms of the damage that can be done to a society by a posse of unmarried men, and the oppressive and unproductive social investments that have to be made to control them, suggests that the net costs of permitting polygamy clearly outweigh the net benefits.


I'll leave aside the critique of the notion -- which would be bizarre if it weren't so widely believed -- that single men are antisocial creatures who need a ring to make them productive members of society. I also won't go into detail about the implication that the law must force some, if not most, women to settle for a second-best mate, forgoing their desire to join the harem of some super-stud because of their duty to society to tame some erstwhile psychopath.

What's interesting is what happens when we take Zywicki's argument to its logical conclusion. The monogamy norm remains strong in our society, and any serious proposal for polygamy in a society which has pretensions to gender equality would have to require the consent of the co-wives (who would be reluctant to give it if, as the "polygyny in practice" argument assumes, women are much more inclined toward monogamy). Therefore, polygamy seems unlikely to be the leading cause of male singleness. Simple reluctance to marry anyone, or any of the ones on offer, would be more important. But if single men are such a social problem, why should we limit ourselves to the relatively modest measure of banning polygamy? From Zywicki's view, any man who remains single is putting society at risk, and any woman who remains single is shirking her man-taming duty. The extreme expedient of sending the Marriage Police around to round up loners and shove rings on their fingers is both unnecessary and probably counterproductive. But there's a simple way to ensure that most people will get married -- make access to certain public services contingent on marriage for people above a certain age (say, 25), and allow private businesses and other organizations to implement similar policies. This would create a powerful incentive to get married, while giving you maximum freedom to choose the most compatible partner.

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