Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

I must admit that I can’t get excited over Obama’s comfy ‘evolution’ to support gay marriage, apart from its relevance to electoral issues in the USA. Or even in Australia Penny Wong’s made-for-TV heartfelt admission concerning ‘the most important person in my life’. All the same, there is much celebration over the potential extension of marriage – should these personal opinions ever make it into legislation – to good, middle class gay couples, especially when we keep in mind Kant’s definition, slightly adapted from The Metaphysics of Morals:

Sexual union (commercium sexuale) is the reciprocal use that one human being makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another (usus membrorum et facultatum sexualis alterius).

Sexual union in accordance with law is marriage (matrimonium), that is, the union of two persons of [either the same sex or] different sexes for lifelong possession of each other’s sexual attributes.

In light of which Brecht wrote the following: Über Kants Definition der Ehe in der ‘Metaphysik der Sitten’

Den Pakt zu wechselseitigem Gebrauch
Von den Vermögen und Geschlechtsorganen
Den der die Ehe nennt, nun einzumahnen
Erschent mir dringend und berechtigt auch.

Ich höre, einige Partner sind da säumig.
Sie haben – und ich halt’s nicht für gelogen –
Geschlechtsorgane kürzlich hinterzogen:
Das Netz hat Maschen und sie sind geräumig.

Da bleibt nur: die Gerichte anzugehn
Und die Organe in Beschlag zu nehmen.
Vielleicht wird sich der Partner dann bequemen

Sich den Kontrakt genauer anzusehn.
Wenn er sich nicht bequemt – ich fürchte es sehr –
Muß eben der Gerichtsvollzieher her.

The agreement concerning reciprocal use
Of chattels and sexual organs
Which he calls “marriage,” appears to me
In urgent need of clarification.

From what I hear, some partners are remiss.
They have—I don’t count it a false report –
Withdrawn their sexual organs from the bargain:
The net has holes, and some of them are large.

Only one course remains: go to court
Arrange an attachment of those organs.
And perhaps that will afford the partner occasion

To contemplate that contract more scrupulously.
If he doesn’t give it care, I fear very much
That the sheriff will have to appear.

On of the better points from David Graeber:

Indeed, one could judge how egalitarian a society really was by exactly this: whether those ostensibly in positions of authority are merely conduits for redistribution, or able to use their positions to accumulate riches. The latter seems most likely in aristocratic societies that add another element: war and plunder. After all, just about anyone who comes into a very large amount of wealth will ultimately give at least part of it away – often in grandiose and spectacular ways to large numbers of people. The more one’s wealth is obtained by plunder or extortion, the more spectacular and self-aggrandizing will be the forms in which it is given away. And what is true of warrior aristocracies is all the more true of ancient states, where rulers almost invariably represented themselves as protectors of the helpless, supporters of widows and orphans, and champions of the poor. The genealogy of the modern redistributive state – with its notorious tendency to foster identity politics – can be traced back not to any sort of “primitive communism” but ultimately to violence and war (Debt, p. 113).

This is as common as it’s problematic. A child owes a debt to society (and its parents, who are part of this society) for having raised it, educated, fed and kept it healthy. A prisoner must pay his or her debt to society for something a society has deemed wrong. An activist may become involved in, say, removing graffitti as a civic duty, a debt partially paid to one’s society. In the end this debt can never be repaid fully, so we keep on paying it – in taxes, volunteer work, voting, doing one’s bit for the good of society, or even making it better.

But what is this ‘society’? As Graeber points out in a good point in an otherwise increasingly problematic work, I certainly don’t think of what I do as part of my responsibility to Sweden or North Korea. What I really mean is the nation of Australia, a neatly contained and artificial demarcation. And that nation is maintained by a problematic ideology, odious rituals, border controls, indigenous sublimation, passports, patterns of inclusion and exclusion (only those with permission may avail themselves of medicare and so on).

Actually, I’d rather overthrow such a society. In that light, I’m all for social breakdown.