Random AsidesSkepticism

Six Degrees of Skepticism

I’ve been on hiatus for a few months, finishing grad school, and jumping on the bandwagon of everyone who’s getting married right now: most notably, Sid & Rebecca (last weekend), but also my brother (June), commenter Kimbo Jones (last week, I think), and a friend of our own Sam Ogden (last weekend) who missed TAM for the first time to be part of the wedding party. Congratulations, everyone!  (If I missed your contribution to the phenomenon, let me know and I’ll edit this post.) 

The comments in the post announcing Sid & Rebecca’s wedding were mostly congratulatory – I admit to getting teary-eyed when watching it via UStream myself (also oohing, ahhing, and applauding several times in my living room). But some of the comments were critical of the concept of marriage, which got me thinking – and not about the topic of skepticism vs. marriage, which I think was addressed pretty well in the comments of that thread, but about the levels/boundaries of skepticism that differ in each of us.

As Steve Degroof said eloquently in the comments,

To all the Spocks here: Yes, marriage is irrational and ultimately unnecessary but the same could be said of wine, chocolate, jokes, art, cloud-watching, kissing and thousands of other things that make life worthwhile. Even skeptics have to draw the line somewhere.

(Emphasis mine).

If I had the authority to award a COTW for saying something insightful, I’d give it to him this week.

The last sentence of Degroof’s comment is what got me thinking. Much like vegetarians draw the line somewhere with their vegetarianism, each of us also draws the line somewhere with our skepticism.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that a skeptic so rational that he doesn’t eat chocolate or believe in marriage is a vegan skeptic. That’s an admirable level of rationality, but that lifestyle is not for everyone.

For example, I think I’m sort of a pescetarian skeptic. If I check What’s the Harm and there’s no harm, only upside potential…I don’t see any reason not to try it. For example, I like to take a little extra Vitamin C when I have a cold (not this much). And while I’m not a big wine or chocolate fan, I love caramel and butterscotch, ice cream, love, almost anything with rum, and being married to my husband. None of those may be completely rational, but they all add to the quality of my life.

I’m not the first to broach the subject – Elyse asked you for your non-skeptical confessions here, to the effect of 146 comments.

So I know I’m not alone in acknowledging that we are all skeptics of varying degrees.

And I think it’s positive that our boundaries vary, because if we all agreed upon a certain set of beliefs and practices, skepticism might resemble the dogma of religion.

Tags

Related Articles

124 Comments

  1. Not a fan of chocolate! You disappoint me. ;)

    As for rationality, life would be kind of boring with too much of it. Really, isn’t pretty much all the fun stuff we do irrational? Sometimes, it is alright to just forget about the world’s trouble and just party.

  2. I have this little rhyme that I have listed on various bios and such that I think works well;

    You are you
    I am me
    On that alone
    Let us agree.

    Basically, respect is a two way street and if you aren’t harming anyone, do as you will.

    Yes, there is a bit of latent paganism coming out of me….

    Oh, and welcome back!

  3. It’d be interesting to make a list of various “irrational” things and survey people to see how many succumb to their temptations. You could then order them from least irrational (e.g. reading fiction) through moderately irrational (e.g. eating junk food) to most irrational (e.g. burning a sacrificial Mallomar offering for the candy unicorn goddess). Using that, people could figure out their own “woo” factor. “Watch what you say around him. He’s 9.5 woos.”

    Of course, the whole thing may fall apart because it assumes that the more people who do something, the more rational it is.

  4. I just remembered this episode of Blackadder II, specifically:

    Aunt: ‘Chair’? You have chairs in your house?
    Edmund: Oh, yes.
    Aunt: [slaps him twice] Wicked child! Chairs are an invention of Satan! In our house, Nathaniel sits on a spike!
    Edmund: …and yourself…?
    Aunt: I sit on Nathaniel; two spikes would be an extravagance.
    Edmund: Well, quite.

  5. I agree. While there are plenty of logical reasons to get married (I didn’t weigh in on the conversation, because that would have been off-topic and everyone knows how rigidly I like to stick to the topic) that doesn’t mean skeptics must always get married for logical reasons. I’m sure there are about as many reasons to get and to not get married as there are readers. Personally I think it’s a little quixotic for a hetcouple to avoid marriage under the current US legal system, but I always admire valiant and misdirected effort.

    @Stacey “If I had the authority to award a COTW for saying something insightful, I’d give it to him this week.”

    And why not? Why can’t the nominating and the judging be done in one step? My guess is many times a comment, not necessarily funny-ha-ha, will catch the eyes of whoever is doing COTW for that week (btw: is anyone this week filling in for The Intercontinental? (my new nickname for Rebecca)) and I don’t think this should be suppressed. I have absolutely no problem with the Skepchicks being judge, jury, and if necessary, executioner. I still like the concept of reader nominations. I just don’t think they should be binding.

  6. Marriage is neither rational nor irrational. Your reasons for doing it may be one or the other, but the act itself is completely orthogonal to skepticism.

    What I mean is, the universe dictates to us truths like astrology is bullshit and vaccinating is effective. But the universe has nothing to say on marriage.

  7. Radiolab had a very interesting show on this topic. Some people have suffered brain damage which essentially turns them into Vulcans. All of their decisions are based on rational choices without emoition. So they take for ever to decide anything. They take way to much time weighing every possible outcome from every possible choice. The example I remember best is an attorny who spent an entire morning trying to decide on whether to use a blue pen or a black pen to sign a contract. Much of what we think of as rational and logical isn’t. Veganism feels like a trendy fad that will more or less fade away in a few years. These things come and go. For awhile they are cool and all the cool kids are doing them. Then a new bright shiny way to save the world and live a moral and blameless life comes along. Next stop only eating tomatos, potatos and beans that you grew in your own garden using totally repression free methods. No bug was killed to make this meal. Or something much more clever.

  8. And then there’s the ultimate in “rationality”, the Man in the Shack:

    “I only decide about my universe. My universe is what happens to my eyes and ears – anything else is surmise and hearsay. For all I know these people may not exist. You may not exist. I say what it occurs to me to say.”

  9. Well, this concept of “rational” and “irrational” behaviours is more loaded than most people think it is, in my opinion. I was reminded of this recently when I re-twitted a comment that Amanda Marcotte made, to the effect that libertarianism in the skeptical movement surprises her because libertarianism is irrational. A friend of mine responded to point out that, technically, libertarianism is entirely internally consistent — therefore rational — but may arguably have other problems, e.g. unfamiliarity with the history behind various things like income taxes or stock market regulation or whatever that libertarians oppose.

    So it’s possible to be rational but wrong or, presumably, irrational but right, yet you lose that distinction with the way that most people wield the terms.

    Most of the things that are coming up as “irrational” in this thread or the other — liking puppies and sunsets and flowers or whatever — are, I would argue, arational. There’s no logic involved in the evaluation of whether they’re good or bad. Irrational would be cooing over a cute puppy that’s currently nibbling your genitals off, not cooing over a puppy that’s just sitting around being adorable.

  10. Oh, and I’d also say that, given the fact that we’ve evolved them as a survival mechanism, following emotions is not a priori irrational, either. Disgust, for instance, is an emotion. Not eating a sandwich that’s covered in mold because it’s disgusting is a perfectly rational decision, even if you don’t know that you’ll get sick if you do it.

    It’s only irrational if you follow an emotion or listen to advice that’s at odds without other, better information.

    Also, I would apologise for performing the internet equivalent of tossing a Molotov cocktail into the thread by bringing up libertarianism, but you know. Sometimes I do irrational things like goad libertarians for no particular reason.

  11. Stacey!

    Glad to see you back. Missed you here and at TAM. Congrats on the marriage :)

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that a skeptic so rational that he doesn’t eat chocolate or believe in marriage is a vegan skeptic. That’s an admirable level of rationality, but that lifestyle is not for everyone.

    I would quibble with the word “admirable.” It might be impressive, but I don’t find much to admire about it. Pity, maybe.

    You said it yourself — butterscotch, caramel, rum, and marriage all add to the quality of your life, even if there is no testable external benefit to the greater good.

    (Or is there? Happy Stacey => Happy Stacey’s husband, family, and friends => a slight increase in the total overall happiness in the area. Good enough for me!)

    Maybe there are people who enjoy denying themselves of everything that only exists to provide comfort, although that strikes me as a paradox. And since I have just given myself the mental image of someone masturbating to a description of a sensory deprivation chamber, I won’t continue with this trail…

    BTW davew: I think Rebecca is back in Boston and at work, while Sid is back in London.

  12. @Gabrielbrawley:

    Veganism feels like a trendy fad that will more or less fade away in a few years.

    Er. I know a Vegan who has been vegan for over a decade. I know quite a lot of vegans who would take offense that their life is a “trendy fad”. I’m sure some people use veganism in that way, but it’s not exactly an easy lifestyle. Most people who are vegan are very serious about it and it’s not just “trendy”.

    (This coming from a meat eater.)

  13. Skepticism is a discipline, it’s not a natural human state. The human brain has evolved to be “good enough” to allow us to survive but it is not a perfect logic engine. The idea that a skeptic must cast off all that is not rational and logical is asking him or her to cast off physiology, biology, and neurology. And that would not be rational.

  14. @marilove: Oh, yes, there will be people who will stick to it their whole lives. But they are a small minority of vegans. There are still a tiny number of people living in hippy communes out in the desert east of Los Angeles. Any movement will have some people who believe in it wholeheartedly and will never abandon it. But most movements don’t last. How man spiritualists are left anymore? It was a big movement after world war I but not that many are around anymore. It has become a stage show. I am sure that someone with more time and intelligience than I could write a book on different movements that gained large numbers of adherents and then dwindled down to such a small number that they essentially disappeared. Veganism strikes me as one of these. I could be wrong. I am wrong a lot. I am bitching less about veganism and more about the tendancy of us to latch onto the new shiny movement and then let it go when it isn’t cool anymore.

  15. @mikespeir: “There was a time when it was pretty much necessary for the survival of the race.”

    I’ve heard this sentiment expressed quite a lot, but I’m not sure it’s either rational or irrational. It’s just empty. Why would anyone care about the survival of “the race” or perhaps more appropriately “the species”? I see an emotional and evolutionary imperative to bring forth the next generation, but isn’t anything beyond that more than a little academic? If you knew for certain that your children were the last generation of humans would it really be that traumatic? (Admittedly your children’s retirement prospects would be bleak, but this wouldn’t be your problem.)

  16. @Gabrielbrawley: I don’t really know how much of a “trend” it is, though. MOST people aren’t going to change their entire lifestyle (and being vegan is NOT easy) to be “trendy”. Most people do it for personal reasons, and not to be trendy. And there seems to be more and more vegans every day. There certainly are more now than when I was a kid.

    I don’t think the “spiritualist” movement is really the same thing as being vegan.

  17. Joshua – thank you for saying this:

    So it’s possible to be rational but wrong or, presumably, irrational but right, yet you lose that distinction with the way that most people wield the terms.

    I was just thinking last night about a composing a post about the specific differences between being rational, and rationalizing.

    And Christian, I always enjoy reading you. I’ve been following you on my google reader.

  18. A lot of people have gotten married recently.

    I am getting close to my 2 year anniversary with Anthroslug and have been asked repetidly if I am hoping that he will propose soon.

    To which I vehemently reply “he better f-ing not!”

    Which confuses people: Don’t you want to get married? Why don’t you want to get married?

    And my answer always is… please tell me why I should?

    I think marriage is something you should do if you have a big compelling reason to do so. Such as wanting to do so. Outside of that and until we both feel that way (if ever) why in the world would we?

    That’s just us… but I think the sentiment follows for other ‘irrational” things. Compelling reasons are needed!

  19. @Kaylia_Marie:

    I think marriage is something you should do if you have a big compelling reason to do so. Such as wanting to do so. Outside of that and until we both feel that way (if ever) why in the world would we?

    Absolutely. And I think it’s also true if you replace “marriage” with “having kids” :)

  20. @marilove: I guess that I am looking at this through my cynical glasses. I assume that some vegans really are living the vegan lifestyle but that most people who claim to be vegan aren’t and really don’t even understand what it would entail to be a vegan. Also there are a lot more vegans around now than when you are a kid, and there are a lot more people around than when you are a kid and you are much more aware of the world around you now than when you are a kid. Which could, in part, account for a larger number of vegans. If that last bit didn’t sound completly loopy. I am unimpressed by new movements. I think most of them will simply shrink away with time. Some don’t. Sometimes that is good such as in the area of equality for everyone and sometimes it is bad such as in the area of talk radio ala limbaugh.

  21. The fact that the state of happiness is caused by biochemicals in your brain doesn’t mean you have a rational imperative not to seek it.

    If marriage makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t don’t. But when the universe is silent on a subject, you can believe whatever you want and still be skeptical.

  22. The DAY my husband proposed to me, was the day I had pretty much come to the conclusion that we would never get married, and I was okay with that. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that nothing would change other than a few tax/legal things. We loved each other, and I didn’t need a piece of paper to ensure that he wasn’t going to up and leave me all of a sudden.

    That being said, having the ceremony where we got to stand up in front of our friends and family and tell everyone that we love each other and that we are a family was pretty nice.

    Nothing changed between us when we got married – NOTHING. A coworker of mine is getting married August 1st, and had to attend classes with the priest before the wedding. The guy asked her what would change after they got married, and she couldn’t think of anything. WRONG! The priest pretty much told her that if she didn’t think that being married would make her more committed, etc, etc, then she shouldn’t get married. She learned to lie to the priest, essentially, and I think she actually started to believe it. (Of course I’ll be more committed once we’re married…)

    Silly.

  23. @phlebas: I agree with this completely. Get married if you want to, don’t if you don’t – it doesn’t hurt anybody else if you get married or don’t, have kids or don’t, etc. (Well, maybe *some* people having kids hurts others… but that’s a different argument.)

    Which is why telling a large group of people that they CAN’T get married is stupid. It hurts nobody…

  24. “Yes, marriage is irrational and ultimately unnecessary but the same could be said of wine, chocolate, jokes, art, cloud-watching, kissing and thousands of other things that make life worthwhile.”

    I completely disagree. There is nothing irrational at all about experiencing pleasure. It’s perfectly rational to do something because I enjoy it. It’s even OK to make myself lose out somehow in exchange for the pleasure (for example, spending money on a hobby). It’s only irrational when I fail to understand the sacrifices I’m making in exchange for that pleasure. Honestly, what is the point of saving money, living longer, etc., if not to get more chances for pleasure in life?

  25. “burning a sacrificial Mallomar offering for the candy unicorn goddess”
    mmm, fanciful s’mores.

    I too was misty-eyed watching Rebecca and Sid’s wedding on ustream. Something about weddings always gets me. Maybe it’s the notion of pretty dresses and fun hats.

    I agree with many of the comments above mine in that if someone wants to get married, then right on! If not, that’s dandy too. Sometimes we, as people, just want to do things we want to do without there being some need behind it.

    Somedays I just want to doodle swell hats and print them off into jewelry. The world doesn’t need ladies in overly complicated doodled hats to dangle on a chain, but I want the world to want it. It might make someone go “ooh!” and “aah!” and feel nice.

    I was watching a re-run of Scrubs yesterday and Kate Micucci’s adorable song was in it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSPKSBZaMX0
    I’ve been singing it all day.

  26. @“Other” Amanda: “Get married if you want to, don’t if you don’t – it doesn’t hurt anybody else if you get married or don’t…”

    If you have kids it can hurt them, but mostly I agree. I don’t think people realize how much not being married can hurt them, however. I’m speaking strictly legally here. Being married makes sharing assets so much easier. Every time you buy a house or get an insurance policy or a retirement account or buy a car, or, or, or there is usually a line for the spouse to sign and you’re done. If your partner is not your spouse everything turns into a huge hassle. (Ask any person in a long-term gay/lesbian relationship about this.) It’s all doable. Mostly. It’s just a hassle. Each and every time.

    Should your partner die without a will things can get downright ugly. I know one case where the would-be step mom never got along with her partner’s teenage daughter. Dad dies without a will. She leaves a 10 year relationship with not much more than a suitcase.

    I’d advise, at the very least, if you’re not going to get married at least have a will and keep it up to date. A partnership means the odds are twice as good that one of you isn’t going to live forever.

  27. Much of what appears to be passing as rational living and sometimes skepticism often appears to be asceticism and non religious moralizing puritanism. I have no time for either.

    @Kaylia_Marie: Inheritance, end of life and medical decision making (even hospital visitation!), property issues, and child custody concerns to name a few and as others have mentioned.

  28. @phlebas: Exactly! Why do I have defend my “childless” status? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?*

    @James Fox: Right.. see those are reasons and if they get to the point where a couple finds them compelling, then sure.

    *I am not anti kids and might someday have one, but until then I reserve the right to be darn happy about my child-free status and to hell with people who try to make me feel guilty about it.

    Ok, rant over. I think I need some food and maybe a nap.

  29. We aren’t rational creatures. Sometimes it seems that we are rejecting something just to be contrary. I can think of some great reasons to get married and some great reasons to not get married. You should get married because it is an awsome tax benefit, you get survivor benefits from social security, you can make medical decisions for your partner, you inherit property without a will. You shouldn’t get married because you can never really know someone, people change, she/he can take half of your stuff, you might have to pay alimony/palimony, it can devolve into an unending rehase of stale old arguments, you might meet someone really hot in a bar one night. I don’t think there is a rational way to decide between the two. Getting married is irrational. Not getting married is irrational. Almost everything we do is irrational. With a great amount of effort and work we can learn to be rational in small areas. In the end you have to do what you think is right.

  30. In high school I had an English teacher who argued for traditional victorian ideas of marriage. His idea was that you should marry someone because you thought that they would make a stable domestic and financial partner. My impression was that being in love with the person was not necessary.

    I think that the idea that marriage is outdated and irrational comes from bitterness about marriage or general disillusionment. Marriage as a choice is not irrational. It offers many benefits provided you are willing to give up the right to easily walk away from it.

    @Mary: I totally agree, whenever you boil everything down to purely rational choices, you leave out intuition. I make art, there’s no rational justification for it, but I’m not about to stop.

  31. So I think the issue of marrying or not marrying may not be a “skeptical” issue but I certainly think it’s a timely and appropriate one and I’m happy to see people having the discussion. TAM put me really far behind in my work schedule so I am just going to add much to this. But for those of you interested in the topic there is a great book called “Unmarried to Each Other”. The people who wrote it also started the Alternatives to Marriage Project:

    http://www.unmarried.org

    The book covers all the topics we have been discussing but at greater length and is a very easy read.

    As someone who never wants to marry based on my non-religious, libertarian (yes, a dirty libertarian), and personal viewpoints and who leans towards vegetarianism (just trying to hit everything) I don’t really like weddings. But I love happiness and Rebecca and Sid and everyone around them looked VERY happy on Saturday. So congrats on finding, making, and being part of happy!

    And me and my tag team partner of 13 unmarried years looked very happy to just be at TAM with so many smart people who had similar opinions on so many things and disparate opinions on so many others. What a fucking blast!

  32. @Gabrielbrawley: “My Darling, I love you so very much. We’ve been together three years and as I am reasonably assured of your fidelity & firtility and social convention dictates we should, so, so, so, so would you sign this legally binding mutally exclusive owner-occupier rights contract? I know it seems medaeval, bit it’ll make any of our future offspring legitimate and make it so much easier to divy up our many, many, many trinckets and knick-knacks when we die. What could be more special than that?”

  33. @davew: It is a really awsome tax benefit.

    @russellsugden: Right up to the point where your partner is dying in the hospital and they won’t let you in because you aren’t family and your partners family doesn’t like you. Or your partner’s family gets the house after death and kicks you out because you were young and hadn’t bothered to file a will. Or any of many other reasons. If you don’t want to get married you don’t have to. If you want to get married you shouldn’t have to put up with people questioning why you wanted to.

  34. @Kaylia_Marie: I’m a firm believer in a purely civil union option that has the exact same legal benefits as marriage for those who want to avoid what ever it they want to avoid with the marriage thing. And I also believe the government should only offer civil unions and the “marriage” part should be a personal choice that one does if one wants. That way any two people can get a civil union and marriage is what ever you want it to be or not.

  35. @russellsugden:
    It’s not just an issue of ownership and contractual obligation to another person. To many people, there is a great value in making a mutual commitment to another person. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t think it’s irrational at all, at the root of it.

    You seem like a very very bitter person. What made you that way?

  36. @russellsugden:

    “My Darling, I love you so very much. We’ve been together three years and as I am reasonably assured of your fidelity & firtility and social convention dictates we should, so, so, so, so would you sign this legally binding mutally exclusive owner-occupier rights contract? I know it seems medaeval, bit it’ll make any of our future offspring legitimate and make it so much easier to divy up our many, many, many trinckets and knick-knacks when we die. What could be more special than that?”

    “…and given all that, it’s a shame I have to be deported back to the Czech Republic because there was no mechanism for permanent residency other than finding an employer willing to sponsor me. Pity that I’m a free-lance graphics artist. It was irrational of us to fall in love — what kind of skeptics are we?

    “But don’t cry. Since our friends just think we were roommates, they won’t know why you’re so upset, and it’ll be awkward.

    “Look at the bright side! At least we never did something like have some sort of 20-minute ceremony with an authorized state representative. That would have been horrible.

    “So who gets to keep the dog?”

    I do not understand SugdenWorld.

  37. @Gabrielbrawley: “It is a really awesome tax benefit.”

    It’s not that simple. If two people make about the same amount of money and make quite a bit of it then marriage still carries quite a tax penalty. If your incomes are vastly different or you don’t make very much together then marriage is a tax benefit. The last year my wife worked our marriage cost us about $750 in extra taxes. Congress loves fiddling with this law so the numbers change almost annually.

  38. @sowellfan: I’m not bitter at all. There is a difference between being in a relationship with someone and needing to “officialise” it.

    And if one does marry, its either for religious reasons or the legal-contractual reasons (I appriciate there may be tax breaks in the US I’m unaware of), if not the former then the latter.

  39. @phlebas: @russellsugden: My wife is a UK citizen and has not yet (after nearly 23 years of marriage) obtained her US citizenship. As with Phlebas she would have to leave the country were it not for the marriage to a US citizen (if she were caught.). My kids have UK and US passports so they have great options as a benefit of our marriage.

  40. Skipping back up to the original question–to what extent do we stretch our skepticism?

    I was raised in a meat-eating, religious home by married Democrats.

    I am currently none of those things.

    I’m a vegetarian libertarian atheist in a committed relationship of over a dozen years with no plans to get married (I second the endorsement of “Unmarried to Each Other” and also check out Nolo’s “Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples”)

    I don’t claim to be any more rational than other skeptics, or that any rational person would make the same choices that I do.

    But they are choices.

    I’ve gone through my entire catalog of beliefs and received wisdom and asked myself why do I do or believe this? Why are things done this way generally? And do I want to continue doing so?

    There was a great line in a Ministry of Skepticism post: “Are my reasons just a shelter for my prejudices?”

    I haven’t found all the answers yet, and I’m sure I’ll change my opinions on some things, but I don’t think anything is or should be out of bounds for critical examination.

  41. @Aaron: Well they’d be social convention and legal reasons.

    As it’s no longer 1950, that leaves legal reasons and if the primary reason to marry is legal/tax advantage then couldn’t that be construed as undue government interference with individuals?

    Small minority make a lot of noise about marriage>government makes marriage tax/legal benifical>more people marry.

    Every time two atheists marry for the tax breaks, a baptists minister’s pray is answered.

  42. I agree that you don’t have to be bitter to not want a marriage. I personally think that it should be a commitment between two people, and the state/church should not be involved. However, rationally, I would probably get “officially” married because of the way our society is structured so it would just be less complicated, especially if kids are involved. However, I want my relationship to “work” because we’ve both decided on it, and not because the state, church, society, or family is pressuring us to. And if the relationship is just over, I’d rather just end it and move on with my life, rather than stay and act it out because of outside pressures.

  43. @davew: Well you are right it isn’t that simple but by and large the taxes favor married couples.

    I figured this up on the quick
    For a single person at the top of the tax bracket their tax would be
    Bracket:
    10% $802.50
    15% $4481.25
    25% $16,056.25
    28% $40,052.25
    33% $103,791.75
    35% $328,596.75 on a taxable income of $1,000.000.00

    Now on a married couple at the top of their respective tax brackets

    Bracket:
    10% $1,605.00 No savings
    15% $8,962.50 No savings
    25% $25,550.00 A savings of $6,562.50 over what two single people at the top of the 25% tax bracket would pay.
    28% $44,828.00 A savings of $35,276.00 over what two single people at the top of the 28% tax bracket would pay.
    33% $63,770.00 A savings of $143,813.50 over what two single people at the top of the 33% bracket would pay.
    35% $321575.00 A savings of $42,806.50 over what two single people who both made $1,000,000.00 would pay at the single rate.

    So yes nothing is straight forward. But on the whole marriage is a tax break. There are many difference of course and sometimes marriage will not be a tax benefit, but they are the minority of times. The tax code here in the U.S. has been designed to encourage marriage for at least 30 years. This could change but I don’t think it will anytime soon.

  44. @James Fox: The idea of a civil union that has all the same rights as a marriage but just takes out the religious overtones… makes a bit of sense up to a point…

    Maybe we need better words though because a civil union isn’t the same as a marriage, which is why so many gay people and gay right supporters are upset. (not to ninja the post here).

    If I wanted to officiate with my partner right now in CA I only have one option, marriage. If I go to a diff state and get “unionized” so as to avoid the label of marriage, my union won’t be recognized in other states. Unless I’m gay, then I can get a domestic partnership that also is not recognized and doesn’t afford the same rights.

    Now, I could get married in a civil ceremony, have a judge to the honors and such… but that still counts as a marriage. So marriage can be secular or religious.

    In a round about way I guess I’m asking; if the only diff is the word and not the aspect of the ceremony (secular or religious since you can get married either way) then why not call them all marriages? Why the need for civil unions at all?

    And also… for the same reason I don’t feel inclined to get married, I don’t feel inclined to get unionized.

    If that makes any sense.

  45. @Kaylia Marie

    “if the only diff is the word…why not call them all marriages?”

    Words have tremendous weight, meaning, connotation, historical significance, baggage, etc. What you call someone or something sends a huge signal. I’m sure you can think of some different words for:

    a) homosexuals
    b) African-Americans
    c) Muslims
    d) Jews
    e) etc.

    Some people don’t like the historical baggage that the term marriage holds. Many people people have thought about it and don’t care. I would guess most have never really thought about it because it’s just the “natural” thing to do (as evidenced by its near-universal existence across all human societies).

    But some people have thought about it and do care, and are looking at changing–however quixotically (@davew)–the status quo.

    Again, a lot of this is covered on the <a href="http://www.unmarried.org/"Alternative to Marriage Project site.

  46. @Kaylia_Marie: I’ve wondered about the same thing, myself. I feel that it might be useful to separate the legal state of being partnered from the traditional religious/social ceremony. But the problem is, modern marriage entwines the two to an extent that I don’t think you can reasonably tease them apart. Using the term “civil union” to distinguish the legal state from the social state sounds like a good idea, but ultimately it’s just semantics. And most of the folks who oppose non-hetero marriages don’t look any more kindly on non-hetero civil unions, so what’s honestly gained by compromising on terminology?

  47. @russellsugden:

    Damn right! In 1960, we left behind all concepts of monogamy! Society utterly transformed, and we no longer had the social contract of marriage!!

    You are being a fool, sir. There are any number of reasons, symbolic, legal, financial, romantic, whatever, that people might have for choosing to get married. None of these reasons is inherently irrational. If you choose not to get married for some other set of reasons, and find marriage not to your taste, or find that your view of marriage is not a romantic one, that’s your damn business, and does not apply to the general case any more than my view of marriage applies to you.

    And to the main point, I draw the line nowhere. I am as hard core a skeptic as you will find anywhere. I take nothing on faith. However, in terms of metrics that are valuable to me, I am not aware of a lot of evidence one way or the other in terms of whether marriage is a plus or a minus.

    Being skeptical just means doubting truth claims unless some form of evidence is presented to support those truth claims. It has nothing to do with the experience of romantic love or joy or any other emotion. It also has as little to do with choosing marriage as it does with choosing a brand of beer.

    To think it does is to entirely miss the goddamn point of being a skeptic. Vulcan philosophy is not the ultimate expression of skepticism: there is no evidence that ignoring your emotions will lead to optimal outcomes in all cases.

  48. @Kaylia Marie

    I think for me, I don’t want a judge or anyone official to have to recognize my partnership. I don’t want a ceremony, civil or religious. I don’t even want to sign a paper. This may not be realistic but I think the world (the US not the front runner) is slowly moving toward leaving people the hell alone with how they want to co-habitate with another adult…or adults.

    What I really want is hospitals to recognize partners (even with a health proxy it can be tricky) and for companies to expand their ideas of partner benefits. There are other issues depending upon the state (or country) you live in but these are the ones currently important to me.

    I also want a latte, as TAM seemed to reset my clock. That seems easier to proccur…if you will excuse me.

  49. If the husband runs off leaving his wife and a few small kids (yeah I know this never has happened), the government has no business sticking their nose in demanding he pay any child support. After all his new dating habits are expensive and he has the right to spend the money he earns as he chooses. If the little bastards want to eat, let them get a job. That damned government should respect individual rights and get rid of child labor laws.

  50. @Elvismorte:

    You say:

    I think for me, I don’t want a judge or anyone official to have to recognize my partnership. I don’t want a ceremony, civil or religious. I don’t even want to sign a paper.

    And then you say…

    What I really want is hospitals to recognize partners (even with a health proxy it can be tricky) and for companies to expand their ideas of partner benefits.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I think if you’re going to get partner benefits at a hospital or through a company, you’re going to have to sign a paper.

  51. @phlebas

    As contributed to Wernher von Braun: “We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.”

    True, there is always paperwork. And some of the benefits that married people receive automatically, unmarried partners have to get a lawyer to do, which means even more paperwork.

    What I meant in spirit is I don’t want to sign any paper (for the government) that is not specific to my property, healthcare etc. that states who I am sharing my house/heart with.

    I should probably not have said anything about paper. I personally hate paper and enjoy shooting holes in it.

    And truthfully, I don’t like signing most government papers. But I keep that in my fantasyland with unicorns and a perpetually young Sean Connery.

  52. What’ s irrational about chocolate? Chocolate exits. It scientifically proven to give you awesome feelings in your mouth. Trust me, I’ve tried the placebo (otherwise known as white chocolate or carob), and it ain’t the same.

  53. @The 327th Male:

    What’ s irrational about chocolate? Chocolate exits. It scientifically proven to give you awesome feelings in your mouth.

    Ah, yes, the Empiricist says that we know chocolate exists because we can taste it. But once the existance of chocolate has been confirmed in this fashion, that chocolate no longer exists! A paradox!

    Others believe that chocolate is a Platonic ideal that occasionally melts and drips down onto the “shadow world” of material reality.

    To the Capitalist, it does not matter whether or not chocolate truly exists so long as people pay for it.

    There is a chapter on this in Sandra Boynton’s classic work, Chocolate, the Consuming Passion.

  54. @JOHNEA13: This has nothing to do with marriage. Parents have to support their children whether they are married to the other parent or not. Parents can be legally made to pay child support even if they have never been married to the other parent.

  55. You are missing my point. Some people seem to be implying a utopian view that when 2 people get together it is entirely their business and always will remain that way. One reason society has rules governing contracts including marriage is to help facilitate order especially in cases where problems may arise. Others have given examples such as untimely death or illness where no will or power of attorney was made. In my example of the man leaving a woman and kids ,if they were not legally married and he denied they were his kids would you expect the government to force him to give a DNA test? What?? the government has no business to interfer in an individuals rights! What if he had siphoned off all the money from the bank account, the house was in his name ,she had been a stay home mom and they were not legally married. Even if she could get child support, what assets would she be entitled to ?

  56. @Gabrielbrawley: ” I am unimpressed by new movements”

    But Veganism isn’t really a “new movement” — it’s been around forever. It’s gaining steam, I guess, but I’ve known life-long vegans since I was a kid (and I’m from hick town nowhere, where hippie stuff isn’t tolerated much).

    Sure there are some that aren’t going to stick with it, but … it’s not really a new movement and it won’t disapear.

    Maybe it’s because I’m so heavily in the LGBT community, where there seems to be more people who choose “different” lifestyles like Veganism than out there in the real world, though, because I know a lot of Vegans.

    And I loooove meat.

    (In fact, I know we will have at least one vegetarian at my birthday party, one who doesn’t eat red meat, and possibly one vegan.)

  57. @Kaylia_Marie: As a childfree person who has no desire to have children (I am 28 and while I adore my neices and nephews, no amount of CUTE BABY AAWW! makes my ovaries go into overdrive), I feel for you. I also don’t want to get married.

    I’ve gotten used to the, “Aaah, you need to find a good man and settle down!” (What if I find a woman instead, huh huh? OR NO ONE OMG!) but sometimes it still bugs.

    It’s annoying that people seem to think EVERYONE needs to be paired up to be happy.

  58. @Elvismorte:

    This may not be realistic but I think the world (the US not the front runner) is slowly moving toward leaving people the hell alone with how they want to co-habitate with another adult…or adults.

    I was just going to bring up poly relationships! I have several poly friends, some are married to a partner, some are not. It gets sticky, there.

  59. @JOHNEA13:

    would you expect the government to force him to give a DNA test?

    Uh, can’t you already get a court order for this, if you go through the proper channels??

    And uh, yeah, you should be made to give a DNA test if you have kids and you’re trying to leave them in the dust.

    the government has no business to interfer in an individuals rights!

    And sure they do, when they need to step in to protect the rights of another individual. In this case, the children.

    She probably wouldn’t be entitled to any assets, but she WOULD be entitled to child support.

  60. @marilove:

    And uh, yeah, you should be made to give a DNA test if you have kids and you’re trying to leave them in the dust.

    And by this I mean there likely has to be some “evidence” that you are the father, ie — if you and the woman have been living together since before the children were born, or other such timelines. Judges make these kind of decisions all the time.

    I have a friend that helps to fight collect child support, and DNA tests happen all the time. (You wouldn’t want a man to NOT take a DNA test but still be made to give child support, would you? This is good for the father, too.)

  61. I’m confused again. Are we talking about marriages or weddings?

    Marriage is a legal contract that identifies one relationship in your life as unique – so unique that this other person is legally given the right to make decisions about your real estate, your financial benefits and your health care if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.
    There are between 170 to 350 state-sanctioned rights most people never think about that you are legally granting to the other person when you get “married” – and 1,138 rights that are granted by the federal government. There are the well-known rights like hospital visitation and inheritance – but there are others that don’t get as much press: You don’t have to testify against a spouse in court, you don’t have to pay taxes on property transferred between spouses, you can get reduced rate memberships at health clubs, etc.

    Weddings are a big party.

    So I don’t see anything irrational about marriage. Maybe weddings are irrational, but sometimes fun, so why not have them, too?

  62. @marilove: I’m certain you are right about it being hard to go vegan, because it’s hard enough just trying to eat healthy food in our culture. This was especially hard when working at or travelling through an airport, for example. Many are loaded with junk food, but just try to find vegan or vegetarian foods. Lot so easy. Maybe it has eased, I don’t know how it’s changed since I left the industry.

    I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about marriage as practiced in our culture and possible alternatives. I think it is necessary for many people, but not for all, which might be a partial explanation for the 50%+ divorce rate in the US.

    Many of the “givens” in our thoughts of marriage are actually socially-imposed via the state and churches. GabrielBrawley’s example of tax policy is just one way the government pressures couples into marrying. I’ve started wondering, for example, why the government has a compelling need to ensure that people marry and how that marriage will be conducted. This doesn’t even consider topics like gay marriage and the various “forbidden” permutations of heterosexual alliances. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s past time for the government to GTF out of the way and let people decide who they live with and why.

    @JohnEA13: Maybe so. It sounds as if your objection (though valid in today’s climate) is merely property and wealth-based. This might be something for lawyers to consider. However, it seems to me that if someone siphons off the joint income, that should be classified as theft and dealt with accordingly by the already-established laws, as one example.

    @davew: Our society and government make living together without marriage as hard as they can, which is a good example of that I’m talking about.

    @Other Amanda: I still can’t grasp the concept of celibate priests advising anyone about sex and marriage. It’s like going to a surgeon that has never gone to medical school.

    Thoughts welcome here. This is a long term gedankenexperiment on my part.

  63. @marilove:
    I was trying to be sarcastic.
    I am not very good at explaining things.
    I was trying to address those that seem to be implying that it is irrational for 2 people to seek a government sanctioned “union” because 2 people in love can work things out for themselves.

  64. I was watching the auction at TAM 7 remotely and saw a poster with various celebrity signatures sell for hundreds of dollars ($500?). From a purely rational point of view, it’s just a piece of paper with some ink on it. The idea that it’s worth more because someone important touched it is the epitome of magical thinking. On the other hand, if I had been there in person, I probably would’ve bid on it too.

  65. @QuestionAuthority: “””I still can’t grasp the concept of celibate priests advising anyone about sex and marriage. It’s like going to a surgeon that has never gone to medical school.”””

    So, I suppose you can’t understand either the notion of a male doctor advising a female teenager about pregnancy, right?

    I don’t think that makes sense. You can advise about something you’re not involved with, as long as you keep your statements realistically grounded on as little or as much evidence as you may have.

    Would you consider the opposite?, namely, would you question a celibate priest’s opinion that sex before marriage is not necessarily bad because he’s a celibate priest?

    The priest’s private life needs not have anything to do with the validity of his assertions. If he had reliable observational data about XX% unmarried couples’ becoming dysfunctional families and if he was merely letting you know about those data, you would have no reason to doubt him or his data on the basis of his sexual behavior.

    You don’t have to be a boson to talk about bosons.

  66. I read the original question as whether we throw away the rational v. irrational analysis at times when we make big life decisions. The answer seems to be yes.

    Then the debate seemed to move to whether marriage is rationally advantageous. Objectively, on average, all things being equal, although results may very (is that enough?), I think that it is – in this respect, one commenter raised the non-governmental benefits, which I think are quite significant (e.g., insurance premiums, gym memberships, etc.)

    Then the discussion moved to whether the government should promote marriage. It bears mentioning that a good number of these legal “rights” are simply default rules imposed by the law when you choose not to act explicitly for yourself. Inheritance and the ability to make health care decisions are good examples – i.e., unmarried couples are free to make their own wills and health care directives, and in the absence of mental illness or egregious circumstances (e.g., the housekeeper who gets the entire estate), those documents are honored. In fact, under the common law, the legal right can be more accurately described as the property right to transfer your assets to whomever you want (i.e., not the right of an heir to inherit), and ironically, when you get married, your property right to disinherit your significant other and name someone other than your spouse as beneficiary of your employee benefits actually becomes limited by ERISA and statutes that provide for a statutory allowance or community property.

    With respect to child support, regardless of whether you are married or not (because the law really makes no distinction at this point), the fundamental question is this: if society builds the safety net for those children whose parents will not/cannot support them, then to what extent will society make that safety net unconditional. There is necessarily a balancing act between providing welfare and upholding individual rights unless we choose to make that support unconditional. If we decide that we want to hold both parents financially accountable for their own children before the government doles out to “save the children,” the government must infringe on certain individual rights if we are going to go effectively go after dead-beat parents who do not want to contribute (e.g., establishing paternity, garnishing wages, etc.) Frankly, as a taxpayer (i.e., one of those in the U.S. actually paying income tax), I think the trade-off is worth it and parents should be held accountable.

  67. @skepthink: True, but a priest doesn’t end at realistic advice. They go into the supernatural (aka “God” and what “God wants”) for people. I can’t think of a time where I talked to the clergy (while I was attending church) where the subject didn’t end up four-wheeling in the muck of superstition and what an alleged deity wanted me to do.

    I must have been a bit unclear there. My apologies.

  68. @Skepthink:

    The priest’s private life needs not have anything to do with the validity of his assertions. If he had reliable observational data about XX% unmarried couples’ becoming dysfunctional families and if he was merely letting you know about those data, you would have no reason to doubt him or his data on the basis of his sexual behavior.

    Except that’s not what priests do, or at least most of them. I’m sure there are some that do fine with couples counseling, but most just use the bible and their belief system to tell couples how to live, while having no real world knowledge or experience themselves.

  69. @marilove: Sure, I didn’t intend to dispute whether priests’ advice was good or bad in itself. I only contended that what made it bad did not seem to me to be the priest’s marital status/sexual life, but probably other factors (e.g. their reliance on the Bible, as yourself point out). So I think we basically agree. My point is: even a celibate priest, if given reliable sources of information, must realize truth (regardless if he agrees with it). And if he realizes truth, then he’s potentially still able to spread it (if willing), despite the individual brand of religious experience of his choosing, to which he may still hold on for personal or whatever other reasons.

    On the other hand, I am not sure whether priests and skeptics have the same in mind when using the word “marriage”. If “marriage” was mostly related to sexual life, then I would certainly tend to consider priests’ opinions unqualified, but if we assume “marriage” as some form of “social unit”, then priests, given their socially oriented services, are probably in a much better condition to talk about marriage than most of us, all things being equal (e.g. I only know my own family, whereas priests usually know a lot of families and can assess both their individual and global situation).

  70. @Skepthink:

    If “marriage” was mostly related to sexual life, then I would certainly tend to consider priests’ opinions unqualified, but if we assume “marriage” as some form of “social unit”, then priests, given their socially oriented services, are probably in a much better condition to talk about marriage than most of us

    Roman Catholic priests apparently consider marriage to mostly be related to reproductive sex. Back in the eighties there was a big to-do in the Catholic community in Denver because a priest had refused to marry a couple on the grounds that they could not consummate the marriage. (The man was paralyzed.) They eventually found another priest who was willing to marry them, but I have heard of other cases where surgical sterilization was used as grounds for an annulment. So, in the RC church at least, marriage = reproduction via conventional means, and priests are (supposed to be) completely unqualified to discuss it. Not that that stops them, of course.

  71. @TheSkepticalMale: “I read the original question as whether we throw away the rational v. irrational analysis at times when we make big life decisions. The answer seems to be yes.”

    This is only true if you accept the Original Posts unsupported assertion that not “believing in marriage” is more rational and skeptical that believing in marriage. This conclusion is clearly false. For one thing, marriage exists. So not believing in marriage is foolish. For another, no one has made the case that marriage–or eating chocolate–is instigated by some sort of magical thinking. I don’t eat chocolate because I think it will make my dick bigger, I eat chocolate because I enjoy eating chocolate.

    And I got married because I felt strongly that the woman I married would make a good life partner, not because I thought that we would magically become a perfect couple and all our problems would be solved.

    So the fact is, we don’t throw our rationality out the window when we make big life decisions, and we don’t have to take our skeptics hats off in order to enjoy being human.

    The entire idea is actually based on a negative stereotype of skepticism, and I’m a little surprised to see it debated so rigorously.

  72. @marilove: “Not all poly relationships are the same and not all triads or moresomes sleep with everyone involved.”

    Yeah. The most stable poly relationship I ever knew was a couple with a permanent, live-in, platonic boyfriend. I think it would rock to have someone to share the boychores with. I’d pursue this except it would be so hard to find someone my wife wouldn’t eventually find preferable.

    @pciszek: “Roman Catholic priests apparently consider marriage to mostly be related to reproductive sex.”

    The one priest I’ve talked to about this had surprisingly rational ideas about pre-martial counseling. He covered the god stuff of course, but the two areas that bore the most fruit were questions about children and money. He said I’d be shocked at the number of couples who arrived to their first session having discussed neither in detail. I think this guy was providing a useful service in spite of the fact that he’d never personally stuffed a sausage.

  73. @pciszek: I disagree, “reproductive sex” is as close to “sex” as “mass production” is to “production”. A farmer/carmaker/craftsman/programmer may know a lot about production and nothing about mass production, which requires global vision, networking, hierarchical structures and decision-making. Example: I don’t know anything about cooking but I manage to survive because I can plan pretty successfully my weekly shopping for food, which actually has nothing to do with cooking at all.

    Therefore, religion-wise, priests may indeed have a Matrix-like concern for breeding as many humans as possible in order to bolster their ranks and get enough cannon fodder to spread their own translation of the Bible by brute force, but that only means that their concept of marriage is indeed about farming humans (reproductive sex), not for sportive and recreational purposes (sex).

    From this point of view, their criterion is thoroughly qualified, no matter how strongly we may disagree with that view.

  74. @sethmanapio: As for the original entry on this post (the “Original Post”?), the question discussed was to what extent we would subject our own decision to marry to tests of rationality (i.e., skepticism). I do not how the believing in marriage or its existence is germane to that issue. In fact, her only stated assumption was that marriage may not be “completely rational,” and a number of people posted both the pros and cons in terms of legal, practical, etc. consequences. I believe the question was about the degree to which we apply skepticism in decision-making at certain times.

    While you summarily dismiss those who even think that the choice to marry may be inconsistent with a decision-making process based upon rationality, I can’t help but notice your choice of words to explain your own reason to marry (i.e., “felt strongly”). More to the point, the fact that you felt you had found the right life partner supports why you might decide to live with your partner, but it does not support the contention that your decision to affirmatively change your legal status was the product of, or even consistent with, a rational decision-marking process. If you got married with your skeptical hat so firmly in place, what was your rational purpose for marrying (as opposed to just living together)?

  75. @TheSkepticalMale: If you got married with your skeptical hat so firmly in place, what was your rational purpose for marrying (as opposed to just living together)?

    =====

    First, a skeptic is someone who requires that a truth claim have some evidence to back it up. Given that, your question simply makes no sense. It’s a strawman. Seriously, attempt to parse this into something that makes sense: “If you got married with the idea that truth claims should be evidentially based, what was your rational purpose for marrrying.”

    See? The Venn diagram does not overlap. You are playing into a negative stereotype of skepticism, one that you should know better than to pander to.

    But ignoring that, since you’ve already acknowledged the existence of a huge list of legal and practical consequences of marriage, it’s obvious that marriage and living together are not equivalent states, and that life partnership may have facets that are effected by that change of state. So your question, in addition to being nonsensical, is trivial and answered in your own post.

  76. This whole thing, as I’ve said repeatedly, is baffling. Why should skeptics be incapable of enjoying things for their own sake? What does the denial of chocolate have to do with eschewing magical thinking?

    At what point did being a skeptic mean joining some kind of sick penitents club, denying yourself simple human pleasures and ignoring your emotions for absolutely no fathomable reason?

  77. I’m a placebo embracing skeptic. My job is to be better than a placebo – significantly so! The problem with a placebo is that one man’s placebo is another’s piece of junk. However, if there is no harm , in that it doesn’t replace efficacious therapy, I’m ok with it.

    For instance, on the cab ride from TAM to the airport, I shared a cab with a very nice man. We discussed a variety of topics including the fact that his father suffered a stroke this year. Because of this he drastically decreased his ETOH, went to the gym, ate better and lost 25 lbs, reducing his BP to a normal range. He also take special vitamins. Instead of ripping his belief in vitamins and BP, I applauded his life style changes which led to weight loss and reminded him that good science confirms that weight loss reduces BP and to keep up the good work.

    The weight loss is no placebo. The vitamins are. He did not substitute the vitamins for the real deal. Enjoy the placebo … and the weight loss.

  78. My first response to this thread is to ask some questions:

    1. Steve Degroof, Why do skeptics have to draw the line somewhere?

    2. If there is consensus that skeptics must draw the line somewhere, who gets to draw that line?

    3. When that line is drawn, how do we know it is a valid demarkation?

    4. What does etaing chocolate drinking wine have to do with skepticism (or as seth said: “What does the denial of chocolate have to do with eschewing magical thinking”)?

    My second response is to make some observations and ponder–and with luck I won’t be moderated into the ozone again, and hence being made to look like a loonytoon. :)

    There appear to be a couple of rather odd things happening in this thread.

    Firstly, there are behaviours and actions being exemplified as a sort of benchmark of skepticism that, as far as I can determine, have literally nothing to do with either skepticism or with critical thinking.

    The second is that there seems to be an awful lot of purely emotional reactionary argument positing supposedly valid reasons for limiting skepticism and cancelling critical thought for sentimental, non-scientific, irrational reasons.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. Are we skeptics, or just rainy-day wooists? Are we critical thinkers, or only fair weather professors?

    No doubt setmanapio will correct my errant ways; nonetheless….

    Just teasing you seth, you old hound dog you.

    Perhaps TheSkepticalMale, who I trust to be polite, concise, and explicatory, could outline what seems to be going on here.

  79. @halincoh:

    The weight loss is no placebo. The vitamins are. He did not substitute the vitamins for the real deal. Enjoy the placebo … and the weight loss.

    In what way are vitamins a placebo? If you aren’t eating your vegetables (that’s what food eats), couldn’t vitamins provide some benefit?

  80. @sethmanapio: Strawman? Really? How about “marriage exists” – that’s The Strawman of the Post, if there is one. (Put another way, exactly who’s statements does that address?) … But I digress …

    So how’s this for a “truth claim” underlying the post, Mr. Semantics: “Marriage is advantageous, based on rational precepts and the evidence, and therefore I will do it.” Or do you contend that critical thinking and skepticism doesn’t apply to personal decision-making? I’m sure you are going to keep avoiding the substantive question and continue to tell everybody how inferior they are for posing/discussing it.

    Your comparison of marriage to chocolate is nonsensical. (I’m not the only one who noticed.) Are you saying getting married just give you an immense amount of pleasure – an emotional high – that is intrisically connected with simply enjoying the human experience and therefore shouldn’t be assessed for rationality? (If anyone else understands seth’s argument and can explain it without their ego getting in the way, please illuminate me.)

    In any event, my own question wasn’t answered in my own post. (Do you actually read or what?) The orignial question was whether a skeptic should even engage in the exercise of assessing the rationality of marrying? And it seemed to me like there was an odd number of people who thought that we should/could not subject that decision to critical thinking. Yet, I still don’t see any problem with the question, your exercises in condescension aside.

    And the fact is that you originally offered a reason that doesn’t really justify getting married per se (i.e., finding your life partner), and when I pointed that out to you … well, you do what seth does.

  81. To clarify, the discussion is not about skeptics having to draw the line somewhere, it’s about the fact that many do. The question is not whether we should apply skepticism (i.e., the scientific method) to everything, but whether we do, and how that affects the quality of our lives. There’s no definitive answer to that question because each of us is different – it’s just a discussion.

    And it’s less about the conclusion that is the result of that application (e.g. Sugden concludes that marriage is irrational) and more about the act of applying the scientific method to every little thing. My reference to the “vegan” skeptic in the original post had little to do with Sugden’s conclusion, but instead with the fact that he chose to apply skepticism to the topic of marriage at all.

    I also really didn’t want to belabor the conversation about marriage. There are a lot of other things skeptics do, sometimes for reasons outside the realm of the scientific method. It doesn’t mean that you can’t rationalize them, as many have demonstrated in this thread (here’s 5 rational reasons for eating chocolate: #1…), but the question is – are you really doing it for those rational reasons? And if you do overthink every little thing you do, is it really worth the effort? Must I have a rationale for eating butterscotch?

  82. @sethmanapio:

    Well, perhaps to some degree. It has been known to happen.

    @Stacey said:

    There’s no definitive answer to that question because each of us is different – it’s just a discussion.

    Ah good! I like that. And discussion is good.

    Must I have a rationale for eating butterscotch?

    Probably not. But the marriage dissection (so to speak) is, I think, somewhat more relevant and important, within the context of this thread’s ponderage, and certainly more important than the chocloate, butterscotch, red wine meme / dialogue / debate / culture / et al and etc. and whatever.

    P.S. Not trying to butter anybody up here, or anything like that, but I’m really glad to see both you, TheSkepticalMale, and you, Stacey, back in action here. I have always found both of you to be among the most interesting, and in my opinion, among the most intelligent, well spoken, and informed of posters here. So, welcome back into the fold you two.

  83. @TheSkepticalMale: “In fact, her only stated assumption was that marriage may not be “completely rational,” and a number of people posted both the pros and cons in terms of legal, practical, etc. consequences.”

    “If you got married with your skeptical hat so firmly in place, what was your rational purpose for marrying (as opposed to just living together)?”

    “@TheSkepticalMale: “In any event, my own question wasn’t answered in my own post.”

    ——–

    Yes, it was, as demonstrated above. You noted that there are significant differences between two states, and that these differences had to do with issues relevant to life partnership. Your question is answered in your summary of the situation.

    I’m not dodging the issue at all. There’s no issue to be dodged, you’ve already caveated that there are a myriad of rational reasons why one would choose marriage over cohabitation, so my specific reasons are really not at issue. Pick any three from the many already listed, and use them.

  84. @Stacey: The question is not whether we should apply skepticism (i.e., the scientific method) to everything, but whether we do, and how that affects the quality of our lives.

    ———-

    And the argument that I’m making is twofold:
    1. Skepticism is not the scientific method.
    2. Skepticism is not hyper-rationality.

    Clearly, we employ the scientific method very rarely when we aren’t doing science. It’s a formal, specialized discipline to use the hypothesis/test framework. Skeptical Male uses “critical thinking” as his benchmark of skepticism, and I tend to agree with him.

    We can, and I do try, to apply critical thinking to every aspect of our lives.

    But this does not mean that we must critically evaluate whether to listen to Mozart or Mudhoney. You listen to Mozart (or Mudhoney) because you think, based on past experience, that this will be a pleasant experience for you, or matches your current mood. That is, you feel like it.

    That’s not “drawing the line” or failing to apply skeptical principles in any way. If you listen to the music because you think it will make your favorite sports team win the big game, that’s failing to apply skeptical principles. From a critical thinking point of view, if I feel like listening to Mudhoney, that’s a valid reason to do so unless there is some compelling reason I should not.

    So the idea that you have to put your critical thinking skills on the shelf, or ignore them, in order to relax into a moment or experience joy and abandon is not an idea that has a lot of substance behind it. To my mind, it is a stereotype of skepticism and a negative one.

    On the second point, whether skepticism is hyper-rationality, I again disagree. If you critically evaluate the situation in which you are choosing from one of two musicians to enjoy, it’s pretty clear that subjecting the choice of musician to detailed analysis is pointless. First, cognitive theory suggests you’ve already made that decision, and second, this is not an area where a cost/benefit analysis is going to help you. So in this case hyper-rationality and justification is actually anti-skeptical and ignores the critical thinking process.

  85. @sethmanapio:

    I admit to some surprise that I agree with you to almost 100 percent. My only hold back is in reference to marriage, in particular a marriage that is not just a quiet moment of committment between a couple, but a nearly exhibitionistic public shout to the world about a couple’s committment to each other. I find that a rather odd expression of personal pleasure.

    And in that sense I do, to some degree, agree with Russell Sugden’s highly unpopular position in the “Congrats Rebbecca” thread.

    However, I should make it clear that for me the more interesting and critiqueable issue has to do with what I perceive as a rather major loss of critical thinking due to the influence of unbridled, irrational, and really quite hostile and group-centric sentimentality in that thread.

    For me, and perhaps for some others, it is hard to rationalize sentimentality with critical thinking, and hence skepticism. Sentimentality seems to me to be little or no different a state of mind than that expressed by wooists such as “I don’t know what caused such and such, therefore God did it.” A position of credulousness that I find rather goofy. In the case of that thread, though, it was an instance of “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” (a really weak minded form of criticism) which I also have trouble associating with critical thinking, and hence skepticism.

    And in my case a post was moderated and removed because I failed to say something nice, and because I, to some degree, defended Russel Sugden. And both of us were also accused of being asshats for not fawning all over Rebecca’s wedding with glorious praise. Ridiculous! I feel that was really quite like the “If don’t like it, leave” mantra that rural rednecks and other hardcore conservatives like to shout at people who criticize their country’s, state’s, city’s politics.

    And all of that was because, or so it appears, Russel and I had the temerity to question the sentimental attachments and associations of the state of marriage.

    I know I got a bit off tangent there, but I’m still a bit ticked at the sillyness of it all.

  86. @SicPreFix: No, the issue was not failing to wade in on the congratulations, the issue was derailing a congratulations thread with inappropriate comments. If many, many people are celebrating the nuptials of two of their friends, it is simply not appropriate to piss on those sentiments, in the same way you wouldn’t sign a wedding guest book with “marriage is for suckers”.

    However, it was recognised that the debate is important, hence Stacey provided an appropriate platform for it rather than ruining a nice congratulations thread.

  87. Note the above: I could also have phrased that as “there is a time and a place. That was neither the time nor the place, given Rebecca and Sid have in fact just got married. THIS thread is both the time and the place, instead”.

  88. @Tracy King said:

    No, the issue was not failing to wade in on the congratulations, the issue was derailing a congratulations thread with inappropriate comments.

    It may be an intellectual shortcoming on my part, but I fail to see a substantive difference.

    @Tracy King said:

    I could also have phrased that as “there is a time and a place. That was neither the time nor the place, given Rebecca and Sid have in fact just got married. THIS thread is both the time and the place, instead”.

    That seems more appropriate.

  89. @SicPreFix:

    FYI, we do not put posts in moderation. Some posts end up there because of certain words that trigger moderation. This is so we don’t end up with threads of hundreds of comments offering you opportunities to Grow Your Penis at Home in Nigeria while making $10,000 a week.

    And though I don’t personally handle the moderating of this site, I do personally take offense to the statement that we remove comments that “don’t say something nice”.

    The argument in the Congrats thread wasn’t merely Russell voicing his opinion, it was getting on a soapbox at a time that wasn’t really appropriate. It’s the online equivalent of lecturing a bride at her reception or in the receiving line.

    The discussion is a good one to have. I don’t disagree on that. It’s an interesting topic and many people in the skeptical community feel the same way that Russell, and I believe you, do. But choosing that very moment to have that discussion was inappropriate and a bit rude.

    Odd that a man who lectured me on the importance of niceties would now rail against sentimentality.

  90. Also, so it’s clear, it was *my* decision alone to close that thread, because it was being hijacked by tools that can’t tell the difference between a contgrats post and this post, which invites comments and discussion.

  91. @Elyse:

    Thanks for the concise, and respectful clarification Elyse. I did not know that, and inevitabley it looked suspiciously otherwise to me.

    Odd that a man who lectured me on the importance of niceties would now rail against sentimentality.

    Well now, that could be a very interesting discussion I think. For my part, I don’t see the association … but I’m certainly open to an explication. Like I said, um, elsewhere, discussion is good.

    @bug_girl:

    … hijacked by tools …

    So, exaggerated claims of threadjacking mixed with ad hominems are a good thing now?

    That’s nice.

    And for the record, I am sorry I failed to read the rule that states “Congrats threads specifically do not invite comments and discussion.”

  92. @SicPreFix: “””For me, and perhaps for some others, it is hard to rationalize sentimentality with critical thinking, and hence skepticism. “””

    If we’re talking about “understanding sentimentality”, then it’s completely “rationalizable”, v.gr. take any particular emotion (e.g. fear, love, disgust, etc.), observe which stimuli trigger it and come up with a behavioral theory. It can get as rational as you want. Even a robot feeling nothing at all could analyze stimulus patterns and come up with the appropriate behavior purely on rational/empirical grounds. That would allow it to provide appropriate responses to emotions, no matter how emotionally detached itself, and without making any mistake such as some alleged skeptics have made lately around here.

    As to the question whether those sentiments with which the robot interacts rationally have themselves a rational origin in the first place, then, as long as sentiments are a result of the process of evolution, their rationality can be presupposed by adaptive pressure. So, a) they have a motivation, b) they need not and may indeed be not “rational” in the sense of e.g. “derived from the laws of logic”, c) e.g. the “sun” is not “rational” either, in that sense (its existence is a fact, not a true or false propositon). However, you have no fu***** way to scape its influence in all aspects of your life. Here’s the thing, for Rebecca Sid is the sun, and for Sid Rebecca is the sun. Rational? a) Yes per behavioral observation, b) Yes per natural adaptation, c) No per logical derivation, d) Doesn’t matter per the facts.

    So, what I don’t understand is not whether we personally justify a skeptic’s being autistic (which is crazy even if you justify it), but rather how sentimentality became the issue, given that we simply don’t know what Rebecca and Sid feel. As for me, their “sentiments” as inaccessible because I haven’t e.g. brain-scanned them. Therefore, there’s not even an issue for any skeptic, as far as THEIR relationship is concerned. Simply, it is NOT a skeptical topic; it’s just a personal topic in a skeptical site. You guys really don’t get it?

    As for me, they could be two automata which simply engaged in the behavior termed “getting married”, in which case the rest of the automata reply “Congratulations” even if they feel lonely and miserable as hell (probably quite self-explanatorily, given the autistic trend).

  93. @SicPreFix:
    I enjoy chocolate ice cream; I do not know why.
    That is a lot different than me saying I enjoy chocolate ice cream; I don’t know why therefore cupid must have shot me with a chocolate arrow.
    My nephew once said he hated chocolate ice cream. I was skeptical and thought he was just teasing me. How could anyone not at least tolerate chocolate ice cream. Well he never would eat one bite. If that was the only flavor he would go without. If there were other flavors he would shovel them down. So I changed my opinion and believed he did not like chocolate. I do not have to know the reasons why he dislikes it.
    Also just because you offer an opinion different from the majority doesn’t make your way of thinking any more skeptical . You have your own blog, you can write stuff over there if you get censored. Manners and civility are neither automatically skeptical nor askeptical but I still think they are desirable. What makes your paradigm that people should be free to write whatever they want whenever they want, the correct one or the most skeptical way of thinking. Have you never heard of trolls? (I am not accusing anyone of being one). Some people get a perverse thrill out of causing emotional distress. And yes we can conclude that emotions exist without knowing what causes them.
    As far as wanting to celebrate a graduation,promotion, wedding or whatever with other people, I do not see what that has to do with skepticism one way or another.

  94. @JOHNEA13:

    Also just because you offer an opinion different from the majority doesn’t make your way of thinking any more skeptical.

    That’s quite right, and I don’t believe I have made any such claim.

    Manners and civility are neither automatically skeptical nor askeptical but I still think they are desirable.

    So do I. And have argued just so several times. Perhaps there are degrees of civility, and the definition of such may or may not be something we find consensus on.

    What makes your paradigm that people should be free to write whatever they want whenever they want….

    I have no such paradigm, and have never proslytized nor condoned any such approach.

    As far as wanting to celebrate a graduation,promotion, wedding or whatever with other people, I do not see what that has to do with skepticism one way or another.

    Yes indeed, and clearly that is where there is some debate around the table.

  95. Posted without further comment, because I suffer Chronic Asshole Syndrome:

    1. qualitative impairment in social interaction
    2. restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors and interests
    3. significant impairment in important areas of functioning
    4. no significant delay in language development
    5. no significant delay in cognitive development, self-help skills or adaptive behaviors (other than social interaction)
    6. criteria are not met for another specific pervasive developmental disorder or schizophrenia.

  96. @SicPreFix: I find that a rather odd expression of personal pleasure.

    ——–

    Again: if Rebecca felt like getting married in front of her intellectual community and fan base, and thought that doing so would be pleasureable for her, Sid, and those attending, it was totally reasonable to do so. And based on the overwhelmingly positive response she recieved, she was correct in her belief that many other people would appreciate her sharing her happiness with them.

    You are not one of those people. I have no interest in analyzing you to discover why: however, if your response is to attack this completely rational and reasonable action on their part as somehow stupid, worthy of condolences rather than congratulations, and against skeptical principles, you should expect a little blowback.

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close