The Meaning and Morals of Marriage

August 29, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Evolutionary psychology,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Politics

Terrence Deacon’s classic work, The Symbolic Species, is a very interesting synthesis of 1) Peircean semiotics, 2) a socio-anthropological account of morals and 3) a very traditional understanding of marriage.  It is thus quite surprising to me that this confluence of symbols, morals and marriage within a text as widely cited as Deacon’s has gone almost entirely unnoticed within the LDS community.  Starkly put, if ever there was a naturalistic and historical argument to be made for the sanctity of marriage, this is it.

Since my goal is primarily to explicate rather than appropriate Deacon’s ideas, the quote-to-exposition ratio in this post will be quite high. Before getting to those quotes, however, let me first summarize Deacon’s account, if only to provide a roadmap for what is to come:

All and only humans have been able to combine 1) cooperative hunting, 2) male provision of offspring and 3) sexual exclusivity.  The means by which this unstable combination is maintained is marriage.  Marriage is a uniquely human practice that is totally different in kind from the pair-bonding found in other species.  By way of analogy, pair-bonding is to associative thought as marriage is to symbolic thought: While the former are concerned with the regularities that an individual can predict to hold between two objects (smoke and fire), the latter involve a collective assignment of meaning or prescription of status upon both A) an object with respect to many other objects and B) those many objects with respect to it.

Thus, while pair-bonding can be understood as a negotiation of child-rearing responsibilities between the male and female (and them alone), marriage involves the collective ascription by an entire community of not only these roles and responsibilities but also those toward an entire social network that crosses kinship lines.  Stated differently, in the same way that a change in the symbolic meaning of one sign also changes the symbolic meaning of and between 20 other signs, so too a change in the moral/marriage status of one person also changes the moral status of and relations between 20 other people. Deacon’s theory, to summarize, is not merely that symbolic thought closely parallels marriage relations; rather, it is the much stronger claim that the latter was the evolutionary origin and cause of the former. (more…)

The Word of Wisdom as a Boycott of the Free Market

August 23, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:34 am   Category: Ethics,Happiness,Life,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

A Word of Wisdom … showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days… In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days… And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. (D&C 89)

Market demand is not the same as moral evaluation – and the production and consumption habits of the saints should conform to the latter rather than the former.

Up until the turn of the 19th century, the Chinese held a significant trade balance against the British.  Chinese tea had become extraordinarily popular within the British Isles, but the Chinese refused to trade anything other than silver for their tea.  The British, however, eventually solved their trade deficit with China by providing them with an even more addictive combination of American tobacco and Indian opium.  By 1804 the trade deficit had reverse direction in favor of the British as opium addiction spread widely (50% of men and 25% of women) throughout China.  This trade deficit along with the social effects of widespread addiction together led to a Chinese prohibition on the substance and, eventually, to the opium wars against the British (1839).

It is in this light, I suggest, that we ought to understand the importance of the Word of Wisdom (WoW). While we currently focus on the social effects of addictive stimulants, I would like to argue that the economic effects are at least as relevant.  The British addiction to tea had given the Chinese so much economic power over them that the only way in which the British could reverse this power relation was through an even more addictive stimulant.  Understood this way, the WoW can (and perhaps should) be understood as an economic boycott, and as such being much more pro-active in its moral intent than the passive “abstaining” from consuming various substances. (more…)

Common Consent, Consensus Formation and Habermas

August 16, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 11:57 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics

Is there anything that you would be more willing to purchase when your mother is not present?  What about your father?  What about your children? What about an attractive young adult with whom you’re on a second date?  Does this person’s presence effect how you treat a homeless person that asks you for change?  Does his/her presence effect which jokes or stories you are willing to tell?  Which moral values you are and are not willing to take a stand on?  I think the standard answer to most of these questions is: yes, of course.  It is perfectly normal and healthy to adapt one’s behavior to those who are present.  In this post I wish to approach the ways in which public acclamations of “common consent” in the form of sustaining our leaders differ from other forms of “consensus” and the means (both private and public) by which they are formed and maintained.

For starters, almost every type of community holds some type of “consensus” or “common consent” in high esteem.  It is in this sense that many consensus theories of truth (where “truth” is the “consensus” that is arrived at at the end of “inquiry” under “ideal” conditions) and many appeals to “common consent” within the church can often be quite bereft of content.  Jürgen Habermas, however, is a clear exception to this tendency in his defense of a participatory democracy in which the consensus reached at the end of “communicative action” ought to determine collective action.  While I do have serious reservations about his theory, it is certainly not empty and will thus serve as a convenient entry point to the discussion. (more…)

Grace, Faith and “Loyal Opposition”

August 2, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:17 am   Category: Bloggernacle,Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics,Scriptures,Truth

Grace without hierarchy is meaningless.

I wish to unpack this claim using (while at the same time taking very large liberties with) Alexis de Tocqueville’s contrast between the paternalism of the European Ancien Regime, on the one hand, with the individualism of the then nascent America and the idealized fraternalism of the French Revolution, on the other, as a spring-board.  (I will lump the latter two under the common label “modernity”.)  I would also point out that Protestantism did not banish hierarchy altogether, but merely flattened it to three levels: God, humanity and non-human life.  This view, however, is the historical exception rather than the rule.  Most societies have, as a matter of historical fact, organized themselves by assigning a social/moral status to persons that they either 1) inherit by birth or 2) are set apart to by those above them in the social hierarchy.  (more…)