Letters to the Editor

Will staying unmarried save your relationship? Plus: Camille Paglia sparks new "Sensation" debate; should technology change the way we have children?

By Letters to the Editor

Published November 24, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

The case against matrimony


How does Larissa Phillips think that by not getting married her child (or children) will be protected from the trauma of losing a live-in parent?
Most parents, married or not, are intensely committed to their children
for the long term. But children need their parents to be committed to each
other in the same way. And marriage is nothing if not a long-term, intense

Marriage is a tough gig. So is being a child in a family where adults
just can't seem to stay committed to their spouses.

-- Anne Lewis

Larissa Phillips concludes her rant against her boomer parents'
narcissism by blaming them for the rise in divorce. Actually, the rise in the
divorce rate in the United States occurred in the 1940s, not the 1970s. The World War II
generation, not the boomers, were the first to break their marriage vows on a
wide-scale basis. The boomers were just following their parents' example.

Secondly, the rate of divorce, like the rate of marriage, is down.
Divorced peaked in the early 1980s and has slowly, steadily declined. Many
boomers, having learned how dreadfully painful divorce was the first time, have
worked hard to avoid being repeat offenders.

Don't get me wrong: The boomers have plenty to be held accountable for
in screwing up the social fabric. They have, in their incompetence, created
blissfully ignorant creatures like Phillips. If she has a child and a mortgage and is
living with the father of the child, she is, in the state of New York, a common-law wife --
whether she likes it or not. In the eyes of the state, she already are married.

-- Carl Steidtmann

New York

Larissa Phillips thinks marriage is outdated and passi. She should try
being a divorce attorney. Do you know what I've seen in the last 10 years? Marriage, even if it ends in divorce, still protects women to a certain extent. It allows the less financially secure spouse,
usually the woman, to put in a claim for property division, spousal support
and child support upon the relationship. If Phillips has never been married, she
will lose many legal rights that married people now enjoy. If the father of
her child dies and he hasn't made up a will, guess who gets the property
through intestate succession? It won't be her. It may not even be their
child if they've never bothered to establish paternity. I hope that distant
cousin of her boyfriend enjoys her boyfriend's interest in their house after
the boyfriend "kicks off."

Obviously, I'm being a little flippant -- but like it or not, Phillips is
losing out and is causing her child to lose out on some legal protections by
not tying the knot.

-- Karen Moskowitz

Little Rock, Ark.

I am a 28-year-old from a "broken home." I view the institution
of marriage with deep reservations, and currently am too emotionally exhausted to even date. I think that Phillips' observation that the boomers taught by example
is valid; I also don't think it's the whole story.

For those of us who went
through our parents' divorce, there is reluctance to go through that
ourselves. But from a generational viewpoint, I think we really don't know
what marriage is really for. Commitment is not the problem; most of us want
long-lasting relationships. But we also know the reality: Not all relationships
are long-lasting and there are no absolutes. I think my
generation does not view marriage as something that either establishes such
a bond, or promises that such a bond will hold. So the real question is, "What does the institute of marriage do for us?" Until we redirect the premise of those time-honored vows, there
will continue to be grave doubts about the usefulness of blowing thousands
of dollars on a ceremony that just doesn't seem to buy what it used to.

-- Matthew Williams

Though some will undoubtedly be alarmed by Larissa Phillips' explanation
for America's falling marriage rates, she represents over 11 million of us
who live with unmarried partners in the United States today. Some
unmarried couples will get married eventually. Some are unable to marry
their partners (same-sex marriage, for instance, is illegal in every state
in the country). And others, like Phillips and myself, choose not to marry
because we are troubled by an institution with a failure rate as high as
marriage's, and because of a wide variety of other political, religious,
philosophical, and financial reasons.

Despite our considerable numbers, people in unmarried relationships rarely
see ourselves as a community with common interests and experiences. Tired
of having our fulfilling relationships attacked by outsiders' moral
stigmas, religious judgments, flawed social science research and
institutionalized penalties and discrimination, last year we decided to do
something about it. Our national organization, the Alternatives to Marriage Project is working to create space for
people like Phillips to connect -- and eventually to earn respect and
support for our relationships and families.

-- Dorian Solot


Whither marriage?


I have been extremely disappointed with the "Whither
Marriage" series. I was expecting an in-depth look at
marriage, with perhaps demographic information on how marriage is
changing in our culture; interviews with people about the challenges and
joys of marriage; conversations on how to make marriage work; maybe
something on the growing movement to legalize same-sex marriages. (A
topic dear to my queer little heart.)

Instead -- with the exception of "A Cooler Head Prevails" -- the articles have all been shallow, flippant and predominately concerned with sex, infidelity and dysfunction.
And the right-wingers think they need to protect the institution of
marriage from people like me? It needs more protection from the
cynical attitude of people like you.

-- Eris Weaver

San Rafael, Calif.

Hillary, Naomi, Susan and Rush. Sheesh!



Camille Paglia glibly accepts the analogy from a reader that compares the Virgin Mary piece in the "Sensation" exhibit to a seder plate made of swastikas. Are we to take it then that elephant dung is the preferred symbol of a movement that depicts Catholics as less than human and which celebrates a genocidal murder of millions of Catholics that took place only two generations ago? Perhaps it's true that some explanation is in order for the "Sensation" exhibit, but elephant dung is clearly not to Catholics what swastikas are to Jews. Paglia's obliviousness to this obvious fact shows that she is no longer any different than those whom she criticizes when it comes to embracing any simplistic argument that's available in order to justify her pet pronouncements.

-- David Lichtenberg

The supposedly anti-Catholic "Dung Madonna" was created by a Catholic artist, not by the collector who owns it or the museum which displayed it. The remarks about the near impossibility of a "Seder plate made of swastikas" being shown at a publicly funded museum are a red herring for a very simple reason, what one might call the "N-word principle": Just as African-Americans are free to use the N-word but whites are not, for obvious reasons, criticism from within the group is tolerated while criticism from outside the group is resisted. If such a Seder plate were created by a Jew, it would be disturbing in the extreme, but it would inevitably lead to the kind of discussion that it was intended to provoke. If it were created by a Catholic, however, it would inevitably lead to accusations of anti-Semitism, which would hardly be surprising. In creating his art, Chris Ofili, as a Catholic, had something to say about his Catholicism, regardless of how puerile some people may feel it to be. His art is not the fault of the Jews.

This all boils down to the question of what people believe the purpose of art should be. Is it something pretty to hang on walls or is it a medium for challenging people intellectually and provoking discussion about important topics? It is clear where Paglia stands on this -- a surprising position for someone who prides herself on skewering sacred cows. Paglia rejoices over dead sacred cows only as long as they are someone else's cows.

-- Earl Hartman

No regrets


Like the author, I searched the Net after the end of my affair to find an article that spoke to my particular situation. Like Sorelli, I found many stories aimed at adultery-plagued couples trying to
repair their broken marriages to which I could not fully relate. I,
too, struggled with my "lack of guilt" since the breakup of my affair last
summer. Society says I should feel awful, but I don't. I, too, prayed for
my lover's life: not so much for him to live, but for him to live happily.
I, too, passed many hours alone or at work, afraid to return to the house
full of people and the loneliness I felt there.

Like the author of this article, I thank my former lover
for giving "me back my life when I didn't even know I'd lost it."

-- Lynn Townshend

I've been noticing lately how so many religiously inclined people claim to
have no problem with cheating on their spouses. Some even use their religion
to justify their deception: "In fact, [my religious faith] grew stronger,
reinforced by what I saw as a real-life demonstration of the tenet that
Jesus loves the sinner more." Now I'm not very religious at all, nor do I
believe that monogamy is necessarily desirable or realistic for most people,
but I do believe in moral accountability. Jesus may love your lying,
cheating soul more because of your indiscretions, but in the immediate world
of emotions and consequence, you're still a scumbag. And all the Bible-thumping in the world won't change what you've done to someone who trusted you.

-- Bryan Keller

New York

Sympathy for the Devil



The real tragedy is that Donna Minkowitz has to defend her position.
The people who criticize her empathic take on outrageous situations are not liberals, but radical conservatives with different causes.
People don't want to believe that normal people -- like themselves -- can
become what they consider "monsters." It's so much better to assume that
there is a wrongness about these criminals. It makes us feel safe. After all, we
could never do that -- right?

-- Bill Stiteler Jr.

What an outrage to suggest that "we all have something
in common with Matthew Shepard's killers." Honey, I have nothing in common with
the brutal, sadistic thugs who murdered Shepard. Maybe Donna Minkowitz does! I
find Minkowitz's "method acting" form of journalism utterly repulsive.

-- Tom Gordon

New York

Playing God


What the author blithely overlooked was the actual day-to-day life experience of families where there are disabilities. As a social worker in District of Columbia a few years ago I had a mother
of three children, the youngest son autistic, as a client; she fantasized about
getting on a bus and leaving home. A neighbor's son requires round-the-clock nursing; his father and mother have changed careers so that they can work out of the home.

It's time we stopped romanticizing parenthood. In a world with too
many people, it's great when people choose not to reproduce but instead
open their lives to others' children.

-- Vickie Leonard

Why does everyone seem so surprised and appalled by the drastic steps
some people take to create a more advantaged baby? Everyone knows that
beautiful, intelligent people get further in life (cruel but true). For a parent to want
to give these advantages to a child seems a natural reaction. We should be more shocked by the
fact that our society perpetuates the idea that if you're not attractive,
intelligent and athletic, you're not going to be happy. If there wasn't
such a value placed on these birth-given traits (rather than ones achieved
though hard work) parents would wouldn't go to such extreme measures to
try to give them to their children.

-- Amy Crosby

Kristi Coale misses one key point: the connection between such invasive and manipulative pseudo-science and fascism. During the early part of the 20th century, concern about the "racial
health" of society was by no means limited to America. Our German
counterparts were also hot on the trail of the perfect human specimen, and
their conclusions continue to haunt us. One look at the article's link --
to a bizarre, cold-blooded site that auctions off genetic material from
supermodels -- provides a vulgar glimpse into our Brave New World. Despite
claims of an equal-opportunity egg- and sperm-donor policy, the stud
animals are all -- you guessed it -- lily white.

Genetic manipulation represents the last gasp of the poisonous, ethically
bankrupt farce known as Western medicine. The tiny dreams of tiny men
envision a fluorescent-lit dystopia in which neither warts, wrinkles nor
sagging tits need ever remind us of who we actually are -- human. When we
steel our hearts to that unpleasant reality is when we truly attain immortality.

-- Robert Arellano

Brave new world or future shock?


Jon Bowen writes: "Diabetics will wear sensors under
their skin to monitor glucose levels, with an internal reservoir dosing out insulin when the
levels drop." In that case, I predict that there will be a lot of dead diabetics; when blood glucose
drops, the last thing you want is more insulin! Low blood sugar is caused by an excess of circulating insulin, and the usual treatment is to eat some sugar, fast. The fundamental symptom of diabetes is high blood sugar, and the reason that diabetics suffer from episodes of low blood sugar
is that treatments for high blood sugar (insulin and oral medications) are difficult to control
precisely and aren't as flexible as the body's own feedback system.

I looked up the BMJ editorial that apparently inspired this sentence of Bowen's article. It
opens by describing a woman using what basically amounts to a surgically implanted insulin pump
paired with a continuous blood glucose sensor in some sort of automatic feedback loop. This idea
is nothing particularly new -- it's an extrapolation of diabetes-management technologies that exist or
are in development now. But when the author of the editorial says that this futuristic technology
is "almost here," he probably means that he guesses that it may be perfected within the next 25 years.
For one thing, testing such a system is likely to be a long, tortuous process. I'm not eager to be
an "early adopter" of a technology when a bug in the software could easily kill me.

Bowen wonders whether "these new technologies will ... strip away some of the mystery of living day to day in the sway of the natural world." For some of us, this is already a moot point -- there's nothing particularly "natural" about giving yourself five injections every day. For that matter, most people's everyday, normal activities, from wearing clothes to eating creme brulee, aren't "natural" in any meaningful sense. No human beings, even the most "primitive" hunter-gatherers, live in a state of
nature unmodified by culture or technology.

These issues may also be moot because doctors' and
medical researchers' predictions about the pace of
developing technology are often overly optimistic.
For several decades, researchers have been predicting
a cure for diabetes "in five years." I'm not holding
my breath.

-- Janet Lafler

"Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials" by Wendy Kaminer


Andrew O'Hehir seems to praise Wendy Kaminer for her ability to
write sagely yet with humility of American susceptibility to
superstition and the accompanying hypocritical behavior of
our leaders and others who ought to know, and act, better. Then, with New Age-ish peeve, he takes it all back. "Maybe" he concludes, "it's because Kaminer is completely
immune to the fluid, almost erotic allure of religious or
magical thinking that she has no real feeling for it. But
absent such fundamental sympathy, her book feels unhappily
reminiscent of a civics lecture: For all the excellent
points it makes, it's earnest, self-righteous and easy to ignore."

What is this? Her salient critique discounted because she
withholds soft and fuzzy "understanding" from the
criticized? Why need she be "sympathetic" with the
believe-anything boobies and religious non-rationals who
persist in foisting a murderous set of magical beliefs on
each succeeding generation? And since when is dry analysis
less valid simply because it disdains such mushiness?

Perhaps O'Hehir is one of those who fears to cut his
undoubted intellectual capacity and potential loose from
magic-based belief systems because he has been persuaded
that without a comfortably father-like God, mystically
powerful faeries, or some handy alien substitute, there will
be no "soul," no beauty of spirit or mystery.
Gosh. We might have to grow up, see the magnificent,
awe-inspiring, truly beautiful universe for the stunning
question mark it is, instead of making up childish stories
about what it isn't. We might actually find a compelling
need to make a religion that celebrates life instead of
condemning most of it to ignorance, repression or bland,
banal platitudes. We might actually become intellectually and morally responsible,
instead of hiding our ethical laziness behind some
all-excusing, all-explaining package of magical notions,
"erotically alluring" or not.

-- David Yancey

O'Hehir is quite right in calling Kaminer's book "Sleeping With
Extra-Terrestrials" sanctimonious and elitist. Kaminer certainly has a point
about public displays of piety, especially with the current presidential
candidates vying with each other to be religious and righteous.
However -- from my perspective as a pagan -- most of "Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials" bogs down in elitism and left-brain excess. I wonder if Kaminer is one of those curmudgeons who
critiques every TV show and movie she sees for "realism."

Not all spirituality is mindless fluff; one couldn't accuse the Dalai Lama, St.
Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of being lightweights. Similarly,
scientists can be every bit as corrupt, power-hungry and capable of deceit
as anyone else; Robert Anton Wilson's "The New Inquisition" explored this in

-- Crystal Di'Anno

Oakland, Calif.

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Biotechnology Camille Paglia Catholicism Coupling Health Motherhood Religion