USS Clueless - The right to be wrong

Stardate 20021207.1517

(Captain's log): Anthony Parisi writes:

In reading your article about morality and law, you made the case that any group of people should be married if they desire. While I agree in principal, (and don't know that I disagree in practice), I feel it incumbent to make the following observations:

In the US, and indeed most western nations, marriage is based on the odd concept of romantic love. While it is true that many nations and cultures practice multiple-partnered marriage, none of them (so far as I am aware) base marriage on Romantic love. This can be taken as evidence that romantic love marriage and multiple partnered marriage are incompatible.

On a personal level, I have seen more than a few attempts at multiple-partner marriage and seen them all fail, most of them spectacularly. Oddly enough, it has been my experience that the only way a marriage can be at all open is if one partner is unaware that it is, in fact, open! If (say) eating M & Ms lead invariably to misery, wouldn't we have an interest in outlawing M & M purchases?

I would say not, and the reason why is extremely basic: I cherish my right to make mistakes. I cherish my right to decide to do things others think are highly unwise. I cherish my right to attempt things others are certain will fail. I don't want to be protected from myself and my own stupidity.

It's true that there are certain practices which often result in misery for individuals. In some cases that's virtually certain. But if they made a conscious choice to do it, then they have a right to do so even if the result will be disaster for them. As long as it doesn't cause collective harm to society, it isn't society's business.

The problem with this argument is that it is pernicious and can be applied to a lot of other things. It crosses the line from law-to-maintain-orderly-society into law-for-their-own-good. I do not want law used to protect people from the consequences of their own decisions. Do we ban smoking? Free climbing? Do we make it illegal to be extremely overweight?

It may well be true that traditionally we think marriage is primarily driven by romantic love. But must that be the only way? Who's to say that some other reasons for marriage might exist, or that it's actually impossible for anyone to have simultaneous romantic love for several people?

My own personal experience mirrors Anthony's: I have seen several cases where people claimed they had "open marriages" but in every case that I've observed closely, invariably at least one person involved was profoundly miserable as a result. But it's their choice to make, and not a choice I think we as a society should interfere with through force of law, unless a reasonable case can be made that it begins to actually threaten the fabric of our society, and I don't see one.

I could see justification for lesser regulation, such as requiring legal consent (in the form of a signature on a legal form) by everyone involved. But outright bans are, in my opinion, a holdover from the previous era of morality-driven lawmaking in this country.

I demand the right to make mistakes.

Update 20021208: Russell Wardlow comments.

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