Thursday, October 11, 2018

Old Wisdom

There is age-old wisdom, and there is sometimes wisdom in age. When things have been known—or at least accepted—to be best for society, we ought to have some respect for that.

Among the age-old wisdom is that family is the basic unity of society. In order to have a strong society—civilization—you need strong families—consisting of a married man and woman. So marriage is important. And having children, and raising them in the safety provided by married parents is also important.

I heard these old notions reaffirmed in a couple of different places this past week.

It was our semi-annual worldwide conference for my Church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the many speakers was Dallin H. Oaks, always one of my favorites. He was President of Brigham Young University when I attended there. Briefly after that he served on the Utah Supreme Court, before being called as an apostle for our Church. He is now in the First Presidency, and is the senior apostle next to President Russell M. Nelson, who was called as an apostle at the same time as President Oaks.
President Dallin H. Oaks
screen shot from here

President Oaks, with his background in law, lays out information in a very orderly and direct way. That’s his style, and I appreciate that about him. He spoke twice at the weekend conference: Saturday morning, and the Saturday evening Women’s session. Both times he mentioned that truth about marriage.

Quoting from "The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” he said,

We affirm the Lord’s teachings that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” and that “marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.”
He commented on the pressure against this stand:

[S]ome are troubled by some of our Church’s positions on marriage and children. Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage and to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities, and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan.
Talking about the importance of children, he said,

[W]e also have a distinct perspective on children. We look on the bearing and nurturing of children as part of God’s plan, and a joyful and sacred duty of those given the power to participate in it. In our view, the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity. Therefore, we much teach and contend for principles and practices that provide the best conditions for the development and happiness of children—all children.
People are upset sometimes when the Church—and other churches—step into the political arena, taking a stand on particular issues. But this is why. These things affect us deeply. Near the end of this address, he was talking about the adversary, Satan’s efforts against what we know is good:

[Satan] seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing—especially by parents who will raise children in truth.
I’ve written, multiple times, on each of these issues.

·         Gender confusion: here, here, and here.

·         Defending traditional marriage: the large collection here, but also a three-art series ending here, and also here.
·         Rates of reproduction: here  a three-part series ending here, and also here.

In the General Conference Women’s session, Saturday evening, President Oaks further mentioned these cultural pressures, along with some troubling statistics:

Children are our most precious gift from God—our eternal increase. Yet we live in a time when many women wish to have no part in the bearing and nurturing of children. Many young adults delay marriage until temporal needs are satisfied. The average age of our Church members’ marriages has increased by more than two years, and the number of births to Church members is falling. The United States and some other nations face a future of too few children maturing into adults to support the number of retiring adults.[1] Over 40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed mothers. Those children are vulnerable. Each of these trends works against our Father’s divine plan of salvation.
The solution to the deterioration of valuing family is not to give in to cultural pressure; it is to adhere to the wisdom we know from historical evidence and from the happiness that comes from living in a way that leads away from the chaos, including listening to the wise words we hear from our Eternal Father, in scripture and in words of the prophets.

Along these lines, during a very long (2 ¾ hours) interview of Jordan Peterson by Dr. Oz, Peterson was responding to a question about where he lands on the political spectrum, which is a challenge for someone who isn’t a political thinker, but a thinker in the fuller sense. He’s a traditionalist, temperamentally (which is a much fuller conversation with Dr. Peterson), but also creative. So he doesn’t fit easily into prearranged boxes:

It’s not like I don’t think that the dispossessed deserve a political voice. Now, that’s why I was interested in socialist politics when I was a kid, and I understand perfectly well that hierarchies dispossess, and that something has to be done about that. But I also think that we mess with fundamental social structures at our great peril.
Dr. Jordan Peterson (right) talks with Dr. Oz
screen shot from here
What does he think we’ve been messing with to our detriment? The same things Dallin Oaks has mentioned, mainly marriage.

So, here’s a social scientist/clinical psychologist’s view on throwing out the tried and true:

I think we’ve destabilized marriage very badly, and that that’s not been good for people, especially not good for children. But I don’t think it’s been good for adult men and women either.
And I certainly, as a social scientist—one of the things you learn, if you’re a social scientist, and you’re well educated and informed, is that, if you take a complex system—let’s imagine that you have a complex system, and you have a hypothesis about how to intervene so that it will improve. OK, so what will you learn? You’ll learn, once you implement the intervention, that you didn’t understand the system, and that your stupid intervention did a bunch of things you didn’t expect it to, many of which ran counter to your original intent. And you will inevitably learn that.
So, I learned that via a whole series of very wise mentors who insisted, to everyone they talked to who was interested in public policy, for example, that when they put in place a well-meaning public policy initiative, that they put aside a substantial proportion of the budget to evaluate the outcome of the initiative. Because the probability that the initiative would produce the results desired was virtually zero.
That sounds an awful lot like our Spherical Model saying, particularly about government interference:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
So Jordan Peterson tilts conservative on that basis. But another clue is that he’s not looking at the world in disgust that we haven’t fixed everything yet; he’s in awe that things work as well as they do:

I don’t expect systems to work perfectly. If they’re not degenerating into absolute tyranny, I tend to think they’re doing quite well. Because, if you look worldwide, and you look at the entire course of human history, degeneration into abject tyranny is the norm.
And so, if you see systems like our system, say, in the democratic Western world, that are struggling by, not too badly, you should be in awe of those structures, because they’re so difficult to produce and so unlikely.
What is the so-called liberal approach (sometimes called “leftist” but actually southern hemisphere tyrannical approach)? Interfere. Badly.

You take a system that’s working not too badly. “Well, I’m going to radically improve it.” It’s like, “No. You’re not.” You’re not going to radically improve it. You might be able to improve it incrementally, if you devoted a large part of your entire life to it, and you were very humble about your methods and your ambition.
But if you think that some careless tweak of this complex system, as the consequence of the illogical presuppositions you learn in three weeks in your social justice class at university, and that’s going to produce a radical improvement? It’s like, you can’t even begin to fathom the depths of your ignorance.
 Dr. Oz asks him what specifically does he think has derailed marriage. He speculates that some of it is the changing roles from women becoming more autonomous—mainly from technological advances surrounding hygiene and birth control. Many of these changes are for the good, for women certainly, but also society, because we are able to benefit more from the genius of women. But the changing roles are still very new, anthropologically speaking, so there’s going to be some stress there as men and women renegotiate.
Dr. Jordan Peterson
screen shot from here

He totally disagrees with the assertion that women were previously oppressed by men; mostly men and women worked together to struggle out of poverty and oppression any way they could, which, without those technological advances logically placed women mostly at hearth and home.

Anyway, what has done the most harm to marriage?

The other thing that’s happened, as far as I’m concerned, is that we got a little too careless about liberalizing the divorce laws and changing the structure of marriage in general. I don’t think that that was good for people, especially not for children. Because, the evidence that children do better in intact two-parent families is overwhelming. No credible social scientist that I know of disputes that.
That’s what I have seen in the data[2] as well. And if that weren’t affirming enough, he goes on to say what we know about the family:

It might be because the minimal viable social structure is actually the minimal nuclear family: two people. One isn’t enough. Two is barely enough. But it’s a minimum.
Especially—I think the reason for that is, this is how I look at it: Everybody has lots of flaws, and tilts toward insanity in at least one direction. And so, partly what you want to do is, you want to link up with someone over the long run, because they’re— They might be sane where you’re not, and vice versa.
So, if you have a partner, and you put yourself together—and this is also how marriage works symbolically, by the way; it’s the reunion of the original man, before the separation into man and woman. You put yourself together. You have one person who’s basically sane….
Because, if [children] have parents, if they have a parental unit, let’s say, that’s communicating, and that’s straightening each other out, then the child can adapt to that unit as a microcosm of broader society. And so, if the child can figure out how to get along with the parents, in the best possible sense, then they’re also simultaneously figuring out how to get along with everyone else.
And I think, if you go below that pairing, things fragment in a way that can’t be easily rectified.
Maybe it's time we turned back to the old wisdom. Because the only way to rectify the situation now requires rebuilding: more people living the tried and true way that leads to civilization; and speaking truth, loud and clear enough that those who’ve been persuaded by those trying to meddle with what has worked for millennia will hesitate—and think again.

[1] This footnote was included in the print version of Pres. Oaks' talk: See Sara Berg, “Nation’s Latest Challenge: Too Few Children,” AMA Wire, June 18, 2018,
[2] For a collection of data, see “Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” 2002, Institute for American Values.

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