Monthly Archives: July 2014

Tom Stringham: “Beta marriage” and other bad ideas

Some neologisms are wed so effortlessly to the zeitgeist of their time that they are all but destined for linguistic immortality, even from the moment of their conception. One week ago, Time magazine acquainted the world with “beta marriage”, a conceptual try-and-buy marriage which can either be formalized or dissolved at the end of a two-year trial period. In a survey of American adults, 43% of the Millennial generation said they would be interested in this arrangement.

The theoretical appeal of beta marriage is simple. If, at the end of the trial period, a couple found they were not sufficiently satisfied with each other’s partnership, they could go separate ways without legal penalty. This is a horrifying idea to the older generation, but to Millennials it is nothing short of intoxicating.

Leaving aside my personal feelings on beta marriage, it’s clear that generation-specific assumptions about marriage separating Millennials from their grandparents are at the root of this discrepancy. The rising generation is the second (after their parents) to believe that marriage is in its essence a union of love and commitment, and that its defining good is mutual personal fulfillment. Previous generations, in contrast, saw marriage as the way that a couple started a family together—love and fulfillment certainly attended healthy marriages, but these things did not identify or consummate the union.

Millennials with the love-centric view find it difficult to make a philosophical criticism of a trial marriage institution—doesn’t love come and go? Can’t commitment mutually fade? In the conjugal view, however, permanence is imperative because the very appeal of marriage is that it binds a family, so that each child conceived will be born and raised by his or her mother and father.

Why are views of marriage changing so rapidly? The study’s author suggests it’s because Millennials are “nimble and open to change”. But regardless of my generation’s personality profile, it would be almost impossible for their views on marriage not to dissolve into near-meaninglessness given their institutional surroundings. The conjugal, child-centric view of marriage is definitionally offensive to an epicene marriage institution.

As the world watches Millennials ask ever more unsettling questions about marriage—why must marriage be permanent? Why must it be sexually exclusive? Why must it be restricted to two? Why must the government be involved in the first place?—some of us will remain entirely unsurprised. Watch for “beta marriage” to stick around in our lexicon, and for worse and more enterprising marital innovations to come.

The Hustings


Cody Boutilier: How to stop the robot revolution

Yesterday in National Review, James Sherk wrote a staggeringly disingenuous rebuttal to fellow economist Michael R. Strain’s automation jeremiad. The following exercise in flippancy shatters his argument: “almost as quickly as technology has eliminated some jobs, it has created new ones. Like developing smartphone apps (as if the average American worker were capable of mastering advanced computer science). Or shuttling Uber passengers (as if Google’s driverless car won’t complicate that prospect). Or moving inventory in Amazon warehouses (as if stocking and transport can’t go the way of manufacturing).” [italicized phrases mine]

The impending robot revolution places conservatism at a pivotal crossroads. Confronted with the dramatic social upheavals that will follow automation and mass unemployment, conservatives have to decide whether they are first libertarian free marketeers or communitarian social conservatives. Hitherto, capitalism has thrived on the collective benefits derived from Smith’s invisible hand, but when technology fails to replace the jobs it destroys, conservatives must either accept a pronounced degree of government regulation or embrace radical Randian individualism.

It’s true that a robotic workforce will drive down the cost of consumer products to practically nothing, but when most of the human workforce is unemployed, this silver lining is nugatory. Progressives, envisioning an unprecedented redistributive apparatus, herald the New Man to emerge in the wake of obsolesced labor. Considering that more Americans seem to watch the Kardashians than have a working knowledge of the Bible, let alone Shakespeare, a massive welfare regime will coarsen rather than elevate the human spirit. Our hellish, welfare-plagued inner cities should put such utopian speculation to rest. Just as man does not live by bread alone, so does the value of work exceed basic sustenance.

The solution is to ban technology whose steep social costs outweigh its limited benefits. I’m frankly surprised that I’m the first commentator I know of to tend this obvious proposal. If the government can regulate tanks and nuclear missiles, then driverless cars and robot waiters should be no exception.

Questioning laissez-faire economics unsettles some conservatives more than the looming death of human dignity. This is the natural consequence of disparaging social conservatism in favor of libertarian fiscal policy. As social conservatives cognize the adverse consequences of the new wave of automation, they will have to abandon the fiction that humanity can absorb an unlimited degree of technological progress without attendant radical damage to the social fabric. Without impugning the well-meaning Mr. Sherk, it’s worth noting how much libertarians, in their worship of the abstract Baal of Progress and disregard for human impact, echo communists with their omelets and eggs.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Could Christianity topple the Chinese government?

Chinese authorities appear to be cracking down on Christianity, removing crosses from dozens of churches and demolishing at least a hundred more under the pretense of enforcing building codes. The growing popularity of Christianity, which is officially legal in China, is undeniable. According to analysts, the leadership of China’s ruling Communist party share a fear that Christianity is a political threat. They are probably right to worry.

Unbeknownst to many Westerners, a Christian uprising in China is not without precedent. From 1850 to 1864, in a mass revolt known as the Taiping Rebellion, a peasant named Hong Xiuquan who believed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ took control of a region of China inhabited by 30 million people. Hong’s “Heavenly Kingdom” movement almost succeeded in dethroning the Qing emperor, but was pushed back by a combined Chinese and European force before it took Beijing.

Hong’s movement was unmistakably religious, as witnessed by his own writings and those of his followers, despite projections of political motives onto his crusade by later ideologues. This fact is not lost on Chinese leadership, who understand the power of religion to move millions.

Christianity’s sphere of influence is at an all-time high, its numbers having swelled over the last half-century. In 1949, there were 700,000 Protestants and 3.5 million Catholics in China. Now, the best estimates are that there are around 40 million Protestants and 12 million Catholics. Even these figures are probably low, because so many Christians worship in secret: it’s now rumored that there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party, to which 86 million Chinese belong.

The political threat of Christianity to an autocratic state comes in part from Christian theology: whereas traditional Chinese religions tend to view the world through a paradigm of balance or stability, the religion of Christ is fundamentally transformative. To a Chinese Christian, China is good but corrupted. If it becomes fully corrupt, it requires redemption.

Rebellion against the People’s Republic has never hit critical mass, and perhaps it never will. Neither the death of Mao Zedong, rapid industrialization nor the internet appear to have destabilized the robust political system. But this week’s crackdown signals a fear in Beijing that the church could be the catalyst for unrest yet unseen. As Christians across China view images of toppled crosses and bloodied worshipers on social media this week, there might begin to stir in their hearts the seeds of political change.

The Hustings


Henry Srebrnik: The Gaza War is Taking its Toll on Israel

Israel’s “Iron Dome” defensive system has proved remarkably efficient in destroying missiles and rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza – though one rocket that landed near Ben Gurion International Airport did manage to stop much airplane travel to the country for a few days. But this is no casualty-free fight, despite overwhelming Israeli military superiority.

Given that the Palestinian death toll in Gaza in this war between Hamas and Israel has now topped 1,100, the Israeli deaths, at the moment numbering 56, may not sound like much. But we should put that number in context:

Israel’s population stands at about eight million, of which 6,135,000 are Jewish. Assuming all 56 deaths are Jews (as Israeli Arabs do not serve in the military), as a percentage of the population this is the equivalent of about 2,800 American fatalities in a population of 314 million.

In other words, Israel has proportionately lost more people in this three-week conflict than the U.S. has suffered in thirteen years in Afghanistan – where a total of some 2,300 Americans have died. That gives us some perspective as to why Israel wants to stop further Hamas attacks.

The Hustings


Barbara Kay: Niqab case a welcome ruling

Human rights is the great issue of our day, and yet weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) made a significant ruling that flew under the radar of North American pundits: The court upheld France’s ban on the wearing of the niqab in public.

The controversial law was effected by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in 2010 as a counter-measure to the symbolic Islamization represented by the niqab’s 2000-some wearers (out of five million Muslims). In 2011 a 24-year old French woman known only by the initials SAS initiated the ECHR case, arguing that the ban violated her freedom of religion and expression.

The ECHR ruled that the ban “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” And, to be more precise, the court found that concealment of the face breaches the “right of others to live in a space of socialization which [makes] living together easier.”


I welcome the ruling. The ECHR cut to the heart of the issue: If social reciprocity – or the possibility for social reciprocity – is not the default condition reigning in the public forum, then there exists a state of social inequality. If my face is visible to my fellow citizens, but some citizens’ faces are not visible to me, psychological tension is bound to colour relations between our two groups. Free people show their faces to each other, and the burden of accommodation must be assigned with a view to optimal trust in shared spaces, not the individual right to create social barriers.

As the ruling opens the door to other countries in the EU to impose a similar ban, predictable protest by human rights groups ensued. “’How do you liberate women by criminalizing their clothing?’ asked Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.”

Along with many other pundits, Chakrabarti here muddies the issue in his use of the word “clothing” to describe the niqab.

The niqab is not clothing; it is a mask. When a mask is removed, a person is still clothed. If you subtract those masks worn to protect the face from cold or germs, and those collaboratively agreed-to for specific entertainment purposes, you are left with masks that seek to conceal one’s identity, that deliberately de-personalize the face behind them. In such cases, no good motivation prevails, and no good social consequence ensues. The ECHR made the right decision.

The Hustings