Trapped in Marriage

In the bad old days everyone would be trapped in marriage their whole life. I guess everyone was trapped, but women had it worst off. So we changed the rules, and now no one is trapped in marriage. At least legally anyone can freely ask for a divorce if they feel the marriage is not where they want to be. Well, practically men still usually feel trapped because of the emotional and financial costs, but at least women are not nearly as trapped as they used to be. Now, of course, many women still feel trapped in bad marriages, despite the best legal efforts to make it smooth and easy for them to leave. There must be something about marriage which makes it hard to leave. It might have something to do with emotional connections, or with the children which seem to magically appear when people get married.

Of course we can truly achieve a state where no one feels trapped in a marriage if we remove these non-legal barriers to exit. If a couple has no children and no emotional investment in each other, then marriage will not be a trap. It will however not be much of anything else, either. There seems to not be much demand for emotionless, childless marriages.

The easier it is to leave a marriage, the less reason there is to invest in one. It turns out that for someone who does not want to be trapped in marriage, the best approach is to not get married. The cost of a good marriage is the risk of being trapped in a bad marriage.

In traditional marriage law both sides were protected inside the marriage. In modern marriage law no one is promised anything inside the marriage, and all practical commitments are for after the marriage. Instead of woman being trapped in marriage, men are trapped post-marriage.

The traditional approach to marriage did not guarantee anyone a happy marriage, but it did make marriage a worthwhile investment for both sides. Men and women knew that if they invested well in their relationship they would have a happy life together. They also knew that if they failed they would be trapped in a bad marriage. They had the positive incentive of love and happiness, as well as the negative incentive of strife, compelling them toinvest in the marriage. It is hardly a perfect system, but it works.

Today we have a system which tries to guarantee everyone that they will not be trapped in a bad marriage. They do not have the negative incentive of strife forcing them to get along, because if things sour they can leave. They instead have a counter-incentive restricting their investment. A heavy investment in their marriage does not guarantee any happiness, but it does mean that their risks are that much higher in case of divorce and post-divorce commitments.

A Democrat’s Moral Dillema

From an article in the Wall Street Journal:

As Isaac Pollak, an ardent Republican, kissed his wife goodbye before heading out on a business trip to Asia several years ago, he handed her his absentee ballot for the coming presidential election and asked her to mail it.

Bonnie Pollak, a Democrat, weighed her options. Should she be loyal to her spouse, respect his legal right and mail the ballot? Or remain faithful to her deeply held beliefs and suppress his vote?

“It was a real dilemma,” says Ms. Pollak, 58 years old, a student in a doctoral program in social welfare who lives in Manhattan. “I decided to do the right thing.”

Ms. Pollak threw the ballot away.

What exactly is the moral dillema here? Does she think it is immoral for her husband to vote Republican? Does she have an issue with people voting according to their political beliefs?

This woman has no idea what voting means, and she is not alone. Voting is when people all state their opinion, and we see which opinion is the most popular. But many people, and I often see this with liberals, think that voting is ensuring that what they believe is right gets accepted. They have already determined what is right, that is not up for a vote. The only reason they vote is to make sure it actually happens.

While the story in the WSJ is on a very small scale, this same pattern repeats itself whenever private citizerns try to force the hand of government. This can be sometimes done through lawsuits which concern state secrets and state policy and which have no place in the court – both the litigant and the judge force the hand of the governemnt. More recently this has often been done by “whistelblowing” or publicizing governemnt secrets. Wikileaks is a classic example. Bradley Manning and Assange had issues with how governments were being run. Instead of trying to change governement policy through public democratic means, they took matters into their own hands, deciding independently what governemnts may or may not do.

Surpressing a vote in a open democratic election is never moral, even if you believe that the vote is going the wrong way. Bonnie Pollak of the WSJ story violated her husband’s trust because she did not respect his right to his own political opinion, and she did not believe he had the right to vote. Somehow this is presented as a moral dillema. She should have recognized a different moral dillema: if her political understanding did not grant her husband a right to vote, how can she claim to believe in democracy, and why is she married to him?

He says it took him at least a year to stop being irritated, and to this day he doesn’t trust his wife of 35 years with his correspondence. “Isn’t it illegal to throw away mail?” he still asks her.

His wife of 35 year violated his trust because she cannot respect a difference of political opnion. I am not sure why anyone would expect him to show her anything more than complete distrust and disresepct after this.