A Philosopher's Blog

Virtual Cheating II: Sexting & Virtual Worlds

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on June 23, 2017

While there is considerable debate about the right moral theory to apply to the ethics of cheating in a relationship, it is generally agreed that what makes cheating is that a person in a committed relationship is engaging in sexual activity with a person outside of that relationship. As such, cheating involves three main factors. The first is that the cheater is in a relationship that is supposed to exclude cheating. The second is that there is sexual activity. The third is that this activity is with a person outside of the relationship.

These factors would, on the face of it, exclude sexting and “cheating” in virtual environments (such as video games) from the realm of cheating. Or, more precisely, the sexual activity factor would exclude these activities. After all, sexting is just the exchange of texts and in current virtual environments, there is no sexual contact. For example, if two players in World of Warcraft decide they are going to have a “virtual affair”, the most they can do is chat with each other, strip down to their virtual underwear and awkwardly bump their characters together. I will address more “robust” virtual interactions in an essay to follow. As such, these virtual and textual realms preclude the possibility of cheating in the traditional sense: at most, one is bumping ugly code rather than bumping uglies. That said, there does seem to be an intuitive appeal to the claim that such virtual cheating is real cheating in a moral sense. The challenge is making the case for this.

Since the physical infidelity aspect of cheating does not occur in purely virtual cheating of this sort, the obvious alternative is to focus on emotional fidelity. That is, the commitment is not just to sexual exclusivity but also emotional exclusivity of a certain sort. This does require being careful about specifying the boundaries of this exclusivity. To use the obvious analogy, just as sexual exclusivity does not exclude all physical interaction with people outside the relationship, emotional exclusivity does not exclude all emotional interaction with people outside the relationship. Physical cheating, obviously enough, is much easier to define and there are clear boundaries between sexual and non-sexual behavior. To use an easy illustration, hugging a friend is not sexual behavior. Naturally, I do acknowledge the obvious grey areas, but these rarely create significant problems for sorting out cheating. They can, however, creates some practical problems, such as when a person is trying to explain how they were just giving a friendly massage and everyone just happened to be naked.

Emotional cheating is rather more difficult to define, although the obvious avenue is to focus on emotions connected with sex and romance. There is a rather broad area of concern about emotional fidelity; that is the question of what it is appropriate to feel about people outside of one’s committed relationship. Fortunately, the discussion is focused not merely on feeling, but the expression of feelings through sexting and virtual behavior. While I obviously am aware of the problem of other minds (one never knows what another is really thinking or feeling…or if they are thinking or feeling at all), it is reasonable to take the emotions expressed in sexting and virtual behavior at face value. Naturally, it is reasonable to consider that the person’s feelings do not match the behavior—but this is more of an epistemic problem than a moral problem in the context of this discussion. As such, if a person is expressing emotions via sexting and virtual behavior that should be exclusive to their relationship, then they are engaged in virtual cheating. This rests on the reasonable assumption that the expression of romantic and sexual feelings should be limited to the committed, exclusive relationship. The next obvious point of concern is why virtual cheating matters.

Traditional cheating is of concern for the obvious reasons: unplanned pregnancies, STDs, questions of property rights and inheritance, emotional damage, physical damage and so on. While virtual cheating cannot cause STDs or pregnancies, it can cause emotional damage and thus can potentially be morally wrong on utilitarian grounds. If the people in a relationship have agreed to emotional fidelity, such cheating can also be a violation of a person’s rights or the moral rules. There is also the obvious practical concern that virtual cheating can lead to physical cheating. To borrow from Plato’s arguments about the corrupting influence of art, even if someone starts out just “joking around” with sexting and virtual behavior outside of their committed relationship, there is a clear psychological path in which that “kidding around” can lead to real infidelity.

In the next essay I’ll look at the ethics of cheating in more “robust” virtual realities.

Dating II: Are Relationships Worth It?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 10, 2016

My long term, long-distance relationship recently came to an amicable end, thus tossing me back into the world of dating. Philosophers, of course, have two standard responses to problems: thinking or drinking. Since I am not much for drinking, I have been thinking about relationships.

Since starting and maintaining a relationship is a great deal of work (and if it is not, you are either lucky or doing it wrong), I think it is important to consider whether relationships are worth it. One obvious consideration is the fact that the vast majority of romantic relationships end well before death.  Even marriage, which is supposed to be the most solid of relationships, tends to end in divorce.

While there are many ways to look at the ending of a relationship, I think there are two main approaches. One is to consider the end of the relationship a failure. One obvious analogy is to writing a book and not finishing: all that work poured into it, yet it remains incomplete. Another obvious analogy is with running a marathon that one does not finish—great effort expended, but in the end just failure. Another approach is to consider the ending more positively: the relationship ended, but was completed. Going back to the analogies, it is like completing that book you are writing or finishing that marathon. True, it has ended—but it is supposed to end.

When my relationship ended, I initially looked at it as a failure—all that effort invested and it just came to an end one day because, despite two years of trying, we could not land academic jobs in the same geographical area. However, I am endeavoring to look at in a more positive light—although I would have preferred that it did not end, it was a very positive relationship, rich with wonderful experiences and helped me to become better as a human being. There still, of course, remains the question of whether or not it is worth being in another relationship.

One approach to address this is the ever-popular context of biology and evolution. Humans are animals that need food, water and air to survive. As such, there is no real question about whether food, water and air are worth it—one is simply driven to possess them. Likewise, humans are driven by their biology to reproduce and natural selection seems to have selected for genes that mold brains to engage in relationships. As such, there is no real question of whether they are worth it, humans merely do have relationships. This answer is, of course, rather unsatisfying since a person can, it would seem, make the choice to be in a relationship or not. There is also the question of whether relationships are, in fact, worth it—this is a question of value and science is not the realm where such answers lie. Value questions belong to such areas as moral philosophy and aesthetics. So, on to value.

The question of whether relationships are worth it or not is rather like asking whether technology is worth it or not: the question is extremely broad. While some might endeavor to give sweeping answers to these broad questions, such an approach would seem problematic and unsatisfying. Just as it makes sense to be more specific about technology (such as asking if nuclear power is worth the risk), it makes more sense to consider whether a specific relationship is worth it. That is, there seems to be no general answer to the question of whether relationships are worth it or not, it is a question of whether a specific relationship would be worth it.

It could be countered that there is, in fact, a legitimate general question. A person might regard any likely relationship to not be worth it. For example, I know several professionals who have devoted their lives to their careers and have no interest in relationships—they do not consider a romantic involvement with another human being to have much, if any value. A person might also regard a relationship as a necessary part of their well-being. While this might be due to social conditioning or biology, there are certainly people who consider almost any relationship worth it.

These counters are quite reasonable, but it can be argued that the general question is best answered by considering specific relationships. If no specific possible (or likely) relationship for a person would be worth it, then relationships in general would not be worth it. So, if a person honestly considered all the relationships she might have and rejected all of them because their value is not sufficient, then relationships would not be worth it to her. As noted above, some people take this view.

If at least some possible (or likely) relationships would be worth it to a person, then relationships would thus be worth it. This leads to what is an obvious point: the worth of a relationship depends on that specific relationship, so it comes down to weighing the negative and positive aspects. If there is a sufficient surplus of positive over the negative, then the relationship would be worth it. As should be expected, there are many serious epistemic problems here. How does a person know what would be positive or negative? How does a person know that a relationship with a specific person would be more positive or more negative? How does a person know what they should do to make the relationship more positive than negative? How does a person know how much the positive needs to outweigh the negative to make the relationship worth it? And, of course, many more concerns. Given the challenge of answering these questions, it is no wonder that so many relationships fail. There is also the fact that each person has a different answer to many of these questions, so getting answers from others will tend to be of little real value and could lead to problems. As such, I am reluctant to answer them for others; especially since I cannot yet answer them for myself.


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Love, Voles & Kant

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on March 14, 2014
Español: Intercambio de anillos entre los novios

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my previous essay I discussed the current theory that love is essentially a mechanical matter. That is, what we regard as love behavior is merely the workings of chemistry, neurons and genetics. This view, as noted in the essay, is supported by Larry Young’s research involving Voles. This mechanistic view of love has some interesting implications and I will consider one of these in this essay. To be specific, I will consider the matter of the virtue of fidelity.

While most of human history has involved polygamous relationships (such as those enjoyed by the famous King Solomon), the idea of romantic fidelity has been praised in song, fiction and in the professed values of contemporary society. Given Young’s research, it could be the case that humans are biochemically inclined to fidelity—at least in the sense of forming pair bonds. Sexual fidelity, as with the voles, is rather another matter.

While fidelity is praised, one important question is whether or not is worthy of praise as a virtue. If humans are like voles and the mechanistic theory of human bonding is correct, then fidelity of the sort that ground pair-bonding would essentially be a form of addiction, as discussed in the previous essay. On the face of it, this would seem to show that such fidelity is not worthy of praise. After all, one does not praise crack heads for their loyalty to crack. Likewise, being addicted to love would hardly make a person worthy of praise.

One obvious counter is that while crack addiction is regarded as bad because of the harms of crack, the addiction that composes pair bonding should be generally regarded as good because of its good consequences. These consequences would be the usual sort of things people praise about pair bonding, such as the benefits to health.  However, this counter misses the point: the question is not whether pair bonding is good (it generally is in terms of consequences) but whether fidelity should be praised.

If fidelity is a matter of chemistry (in the literal sense), then it would not seem to be worthy of praise. After all, if I form a lasting bond because of this process it is merely a matter of a mechanical process, analogous to being chained to a person. If I stick close to a person because I am chained to her, that is hardly worthy of praise—be the chain metal or chemical.

If my fidelity is determined by this process, then I am not actually acting from fidelity but rather merely acting as a physical system in accord with deterministic (or whatever physics says these days) processes.  To steal from Kant, I would not be free in my fidelity—it would be imposed upon me by this process. As such, my fidelity would not be morally right (or wrong) and I would not be worthy of praise for my fidelity. In order for my fidelity to be morally commendable, it would have to be something that I freely chose as a matter of will.

One obvious concern with this sort of view is that it would seem to make fidelity a passionless sort of thing. After all, if I chose to be faithful to a person on the basis of a free and rational choice rather than being locked into fidelity by a chemical stew of passion and emotion, then this seems rather cold and calculating—like how one might select the next move in chess or determine which stock to buy. After all, love is supposed to be something one falls into rather than something that one chooses.

This reply has considerable appeal. After all, a rational choice to be loyal to a person would not be the traditional sort of love that is praised in song, fiction and romantic daydreams. One wants to hear a person gushing about passion, burning emotions, and the ways of the heart—not rational choice.  Of course, an appeal to the idealized version of romantic love might be a poor response—much like any appeal to fiction. That said, there does seem to be a certain appeal in the whole emotional love thing—although the idea that love is merely a chemical romance also seems to rob love of that magic.

A second obvious concern is that it assumes that people are capable of free choice—that is, a person can decide to be faithful or not. The mechanistic view of humans typically does not stop with the emotional aspects (although Descartes did seem to regard emotions, at least in animals, as having a physical basis—while leaving thinking to the immaterial mind). Rather, they tend to extend to all aspects of the human and this includes what we would regard as decision making. For example, Thomas Hobbes argued that we actually do not chose—we simply seem to make decisions but they are purely deterministic. As such, if the choice to be faithful is merely another mechanistic process, then this would be no more praiseworthy than being faithful through a love addiction. In fact, as has long been argued, this sort of mechanistic view would take care of morality by eliminating agency.



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Slippery Slope, Same Sex Marriage, Goats & Corpses

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 8, 2014

Gray-GoatWhile same-sex marriage seems to have momentum in its favor in the United States, there is still considerable opposition to its acceptance. This opposition is well stocked up with stock arguments against this practice. One of these is the slippery slope argument: if same-sex marriage is allowed, then people will then be allowed to marry turtles, dolphins, trees, cats, corpses or iPads.  Since this would be bad/absurd, same-sex marriage should not be allowed. This is, of course, the classic slippery slope fallacy.

This is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This “argument” has the following form:

1. Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
2. Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without adequate evidence for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there are a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

In the case of same-sex marriage the folks who claim these dire results do not make the causal link needed to infer, for example, that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to people marrying goats.  As such, they are committing this fallacy and inviting others to join them in their error.

While I have written a reply to this fallacious argument before, hearing someone making the argument using goat marriage and corpse marriage got me thinking about the matter once again.

Using goat marriage as an example, the idea is that if same-sex marriage is allowed, then there is no way to stop the slide into people marrying goats. Presumably people marrying goats would be bad, so this should be avoided. In the case of corpse marriage, the gist is that if same-sex marriage is allowed, then there would be no way to stop the slide into people marry corpses. This would presumably be bad and hence must be avoided.

The slide down the slippery slope, it must be assumed, would occur because a principled distinction cannot be drawn between humans and goats. Nor can a principled distinction be drawn between living humans and corpses. After all, if such principled distinctions could be drawn, then the slide from same-sex marriage to goat marriage and corpse marriage could be stopped in a principled way, thus allowing same-sex marriage without the alleged dire consequences.

For the slippery slope arguments to work, there must not be a way to stop the slide. That is, there is a smooth and well-lubricated transition between humans and goats and between living humans and corpses. Since this is a conceptual matter rather than a matter of actual slopes, the slide would go both ways. That is, if we do not have an adequate wall between goats and humans, then the wall can be jumped from either direction. Likewise for corpses.

So, for the sake of argument, let it be supposed that there are not such adequate walls—that once we start moving, we are over the walls or down the slopes. This would, apparently, show that same-sex marriage would lead to goat marriage and corpse marriage. Of course, it would also show that different sex-marriage would lead to a slide into goat marriage and corpse marriage (I argued this point in my book, For Better or Worse Reasoning, so I will not repeat the argument here).

Somewhat more interestingly, the supposition of a low wall (or slippery slope) between humans and animals would also lead to some interesting results. For example, if we allow animals to be hunted and there is no solid wall between humans and animals in terms of laws and practices, then that would put us on the slippery slope to the hunting of humans. So, by the logic of the slippery slope, we should not allow humans to hunt animals. Ditto for eating animals—after all, if same-sex marriage leads to goat marriage, then eating beef must surely lead to cannibalism.

In the case of the low wall (or slippery slope) between corpses and humans, then there would also be some odd results. For example, if we allow corpses to be buried or cremated and there is no solid wall between the living and the dead, then this would put us on the slippery slope to burying or cremating the living. So, by the logic of the slippery slope, we should not allow corpses to be buried or cremated. Ditto for denying the dead the right to vote. After all, if allowing same-sex marriage would warrant necrophilia, then denying corpses the vote would warrant denying the living the right to vote.

Obviously, people will want to say that we can clearly distinguish between animals and humans as well as between the living and corpses. However, if we can do this, then the slippery slope argument against same-sex marriage would lose its slip.

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For Better or Worse Reasoning in Print

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 30, 2013

For_Better_or_Worse__Cover_for_KindleWhy listen to  illogical diatribes when you can read them? I mean, read a rational examination of the arguments against same sex marriage.

This concise work is aimed at presenting a logical assessment of the stock arguments against same-sex marriage. While my position is in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, I have made every effort to present a fair and rational assessment of the stock arguments against it. The work itself is divided into distinct sections. The first section provides some background material regarding arguments. The second section focuses on the common fallacious arguments used to argue against same-sex marriage. The third section examines standard moral arguments against same-sex marriage and this is followed by a brief look at the procreation argument. The work closes, appropriately enough, with a few modest proposals regarding marriage.

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Corporations & Relations

Posted in Business, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 26, 2011

Some critics of Governor Walker have claimed that he is trying to balance the budget on the backs of the workers while providing tax giveaways to corporations. This raises an old issue of whether states should provide companies with special incentives in the hopes of attracting business.

When times are good, this might be seen as quite sensible. After all, if the state coffers are well packed, the state can afford to be generous in the hopes of luring in companies that will (in theory) create new jobs. Of course, when times are good folks tend to see little reason to lure in more companies.

When times are not so good, this is often presented as a good idea. In theory, offering companies tax breaks and other incentives will lure them to a state, thus creating jobs and leading to more revenue for the state.

This becomes  somewhat controversial when the state is offering these breaks while also cutting budgets, typically those for social programs. This could be seen as balancing the budget by taking from the poor and giving to the rich. After all, the corporations generally do not need the breaks and incentives. Rather, they are offered in the hopes of luring companies away from setting up shop in other states. This is, not surprisingly, a matter that generates some controversy.

On the face of it, it does make sense for states to try to appear attractive to business. To use an analogy, it is a lot like dating and relationships. Corporations are analogous to the prize catches in the dating world and to land such a fish, a person needs to provide incentives. After all, someone who is handsome, rich and charming is not going to settle for someone who has little to offer. The person who can offer the most is, in general, the one who gets the prize catch.So, just as a hot young babe (or dude) might be willing to marry an old man (or woman) who is ugly but rich, a corporation would be wiling to go to a state that forks over plenty of incentives

Just like in dating and relationships, there is also competition.  If a man wants to keep that hot babe or a woman wants to keep her sugar daddy (or vice versa) then s/he has to keep providing a reason for that person to stick around and not go off with someone else. Likewise for keeping corporations. If a state wants a corporation to stay and not pack up for Mexico or China, the state needs to put out for the corporation.

Of course, these sort of relationships do raise moral questions. One of the most important is the matter of how far a person (or state) should go in order to get and keep  that other person (or corporation). On one hand, it could be argued that what matters is getting that prize (hot babe or hot corporation) and sacrificing other things is thus justified. After all, unless that hot babe (or hot corporation) is properly appeased, she (it) will just move on to another source of incentives. On the other hand, it could be argued that people (and corporations) that are willing to simply go wherever they can get the most or wherever they can get away with whatever they want are not the best people (or corporations) to have around. To use the analogy, if a guy tells his wife that she must allow him to have threesomes while he smokes crack or he will dump her for someone who will, then she should probably divorce him rather than giving in (assuming, of course, she does not want that as well).

This is not to say that people (or states and corporations) should not take into account the benefits of a relationship. However, it should be asked if it is worth it to provide such incentives and whether or not doing so is a moral compromise or not.

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Valentine’s Day & Going Shirtless

Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on February 14, 2011
Victorian Valentine's Day Card

Image via Wikipedia

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day forged in the minds of purveyors of cards, candy, jewelry, flowers and body lubes. Aside from the cheaper candy available after the holiday, I’ve never been a big fan of the event. When I have been single, it simply drew attention to the fact that I was single. Most of the time, however, the event means that I have to spend money on consumables (which is okay-I am pro-chocolate) on perishables (flowers) and the soon-to-be-tossed (cards). Even worse, the gods of the holiday have set a bar of romantic awesomeness that no mere mortal can meet. The fact that the day shifts throughout the week also makes it challenging. After all, who has the time and energy to be all romantic and such on a Monday or Wednesday. They should just fix the day on a Saturday-say, the second Saturday of February.

But now, to what is supposed to be the main point of the blog. As most folks know, Chris Lee is no longer a representative thanks to his attempts to have an affair. Interestingly, he tried to do this via Craig’s List and sent a prospective date a photo of himself sans shirt. More awesomely, he did it in what is now an iconic way: he took the picture using his phone camera and a bathroom (I assume) mirror. If this style does not yet have a  name, I might suggest “mirror shot” or maybe it should be named after him: “Lee shot.”

After a little research, I found that this sort of thing is not uncommon-men apparently send women such photos and post them on dating sites. Rumor has it that this is most common with older men, which leads me to worry that it might something that can arise from the midlife crisis. Since I am over 40, have a cell phone with a camera and my bathroom has a mirror, I am a bit worried I might find myself taking such a photo. Maybe I should get rid of my phone or take down the mirror. Or maybe…crap, I just went and took a picture and emailed a copy to my girlfriend. Well, at least I didn’t put it up on Craig’s List.

Tastefully shirtless.

I’m not sure why men, especially a fellow like Lee, would think that such photos are a good idea. Of course, Lee showed rather bad judgment (“Hey, I’ll have an affair and I’ll get it going with a Craig’s List ad…what could go wrong?”) across the board. However, I still wonder why a dude would do a Lee shot.

The best explanations I can come up with (other than bad judgment) are that such men think that they look far better than they actually do or that they think that women will be overcome with lust when they see a Lee shot. Or both, of course.

While I am no expert on female psychology, I suspect that most woman would not be turned on by a shirtless bathroom mirror self portrait. Then again, maybe I missed out on a surefire way of getting chicks when I was single. I must admit that there are a lot of photos of me shirtless on the web. However, I’m actually competing in races so it isn’t creepy. Well, not very creepy. In fact, I would say that I am tastefully shirtless.

However, as I man I would like to request that other men stop doing Lee Shots. You are making us look bad. Well, worse.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Posted in Business, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 9, 2011
Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

Image via Wikipedia

Marriage and other romantic relationships have often been cast as being fundamentally economic in nature. In most cases, this perspective has been taken by those critical of marriage (“marriage is long term prostitution”). However, there are some who take a positive view of marriage seen through the lens of economics. One recent book is Spousonomics, which I have not read. Like most men, I’m not much on reading books on relationships. However, hearing about the book did get me thinking about the general subject of casting a relationship in economic terms.

On the face of it, this perspective makes perfect sense. Legally, marriage is fundamentally about property rights: who owns what and who gets what when the marriage almost inevitably fails. However, that part is so obvious that it is hardly interesting to even write anymore about it.  Instead, I will focus on the view that characterizing relations in economic terms is a “bad thing.”

A case can be made for this being, in fact, bad. After all, deep in our secret hearts we want to believe in a love that is pure and unsullied by such matters as value exchanged and crass things like cash. I do, of course, agree with that. Love should not be about money (although money can kill love) nor should it be regarded as a crude matter of toting up gains and losses. However, I do think that it makes sense to consider relationships in terms of value.

While the feeling of love has value, it is one value among many in a relationship. While this might sound cynical, you can test this yourself: imagine that somehow all you have is love for someone and nothing else. No pleasure in their company, no common interests, and so on. Just someone the existence of love. While I suspect that is not even possible, that would seem to show that love is not the sole value in a relationship and is probably not enough to keep a relationship going by itself.

In addition to love (and one hopes that love is at least present) there must also be other matters of value. These things (though I dislike using that word here) could include the pleasure of the other person’s company, shared interests, emotional support, and so on. It is the sum of these factors that make a relationship worthwhile or not. This is, of course, a matter of value.

But, someone might say, this still seems like crude economics. It makes  relationship like a business merger or an alliance: you should be in it if it creates more value for you than the alternatives. That, one might say, is crass economics.

However, I have two responses. First, that is how you, good reader,  really function. Think about it honestly and  consider relationships you have ended and why. Second, this does not so much cast relations ships in a negative light as economics in a better light. Economics is, of course, based on human relationships (and not the other way around). As such, the reason why relationships seem to be analyzable in economic terms is that economics are forms of human relationships. As such, economics can be analyzable in terms of human relationships-although it is but a narrow set of possible human relations.

So, perhaps we should not say that marriage is a form of economics, but that economics is a form of marriage. Or not.

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Money & Marriage

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on January 26, 2011
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A short while ago I saw a filler piece on CNN about finances and marriage. One of the main points was that financial matters can spell doom for a marriage. This, of course, matches what I have consistently heard over the years: sex and money are supposed to be the major points of problems in marriages.

In the case of money, two main concerns are debt and honesty. Obviously enough, debt can be the source of marriage tension.  Worry about debt can cause a person stress and people who are stressed are generally not at their best. This can then lead to other problems or serve to acerbate them. For example, a person who is stressed out over debt might over-react to relative small incidents, such as her/his spouse getting home a little late or forgetting to pick up the milk. The debt can also cause various problems by eating up resources. To be specific, a couple that is in debt would be less likely to take vacations, get each other gifts, or do other activities that cost money. This can stress the relationship by making it less enjoyable. For example, a one spouse might come to resent having to do without going out to dinner or on vacation so as to pay off the credit card debt the other brought into the marriage.

As such, it is hardly a shock that it is a good idea to minimize the debt one has when entering into that most holy of economic contracts, marriage.

Interestingly, debt need not be a marriage killer and, in some cases, it can result in a stronger relationship. If, for example, a couple works together to reduce their debt, then this can give then a strong sense of being a cooperative team. Also, there are “good” (or at least generally unavoidable) debts that can help cement a relationship. For example, if a couple buys a house or car together and work as a team on the debt, this can help build feelings of trust and confidence.

Of course, if the people in the relationship do not work together or one partner did not want the debt, then these debts can turn into points of contention and resentment, thus serving as dividers rather than a source of unity.

There is also the obvious concern that if the relationship fails, then the debt situation can be a serious problem. To use an example from my own life, when my (now ex) wife and I bought a house, it actually brought us closer together as we worked on it. However, it soon turned out that I would be the one making the mortgage payments. This, of course, caused me some stress. When we got divorced (and money was one factor), I had to buy her share of the house that I had paid for and then re-finance it (so I now call it the “thrice bought house”). I am, in fact, still paying off these debts.

Thus, while some shared debts can unify a couple, big debts are not a decision to enter into lightly. Also, I suspect that entering into such big debts will be more likely to intensify what it already there (or even create new problems) rather than simply creating greater unity.

My take on debt is that it is best avoided. If it cannot avoided, then it must be well-managed with shared effort and a cooperate strategy.

Honesty is, not surprisingly, a rather important factor in marriage. Not surprisingly, partners sometimes lie to each other about financial matters. In some cases, the lies are small and mostly harmless. For example, a husband might tell his wife that the new laptop he got cost a bit less than it actually did. In other cases, the lies are big and harmful. For example, a husband might have told his wife-to-be that he only had a small amount of credit card debt when, in reality, he was being crushed under $40,000 spread over several cards.

While the debt or other financial problems (like a horrific credit rating) will create problems, lies (once exposed) will also damage the foundation of trust that relationships require to remain solid. The partner who was lied to will almost certainly trust the liar less and might be inclined to check up on other possible lies, thus leading to even greater stress in the relationship.

Obviously, honesty is (as always) the best policy. Of course, people are not always inclined to be honest and hence it does make sense to inquire into a potential spouses finances. While this might seem nosy or improper, it is important to recognize that marriage is fundamentally an economic relationship. In most cases, your spouse will own half of whatever you acquire in the marriage (with some exceptions) and you will almost certainly be affected by whatever financial baggage or problems they bring into the marriage. As such, it makes sense to approach marriage like the financial merger that it, in fact, is.

This concern about honesty needs to, obviously enough, extend into the marriage itself. I learned this the hard way. For example, after some extensive spending, my (ex) wife agreed to stop using my credit cards and returned them to me. Shortly thereafter charges appeared on my card and I thought someone had gotten my numbers. However, I eventually found out my (ex) wife had been able to buy things in person by giving my credit card number even without having the card. Out of anger, I ended up getting the account numbers changed and this, of course, led to even more conflict between us.

But, one might ask, what about love and all that? Should people look at marriage like they look at corporate mergers or investments?

Love is, of course, great and important. However, the legal aspects of marriage have nothing to do with love but rather are almost entirely about finances and property. As such, it does make sense to look at a marriage in the same way you would consider a corporate merger or an investment. After all, if you had a successful and profitably business, you would not want to merge with a business that was horribly managed and floundering in debt (unless you needed a big tax write off, of course).

Naturally, it can make sense to marry someone even if they come with considerable debt. The person might, as they say, be well worth it (that is, the person is so great that the financial stress is worth it). Also, if you are sure the person will be able to handle the debt responsibly and be able to carry his/her fair share in the marriage, then it can be well worth it. After all, most people have debt these days, especially when they are graduating from college.

So, my main advice is to try to minimize debt, shop smart for a spouse, and be honest.

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Politics of Anger II: Barking Dogs

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on October 14, 2010

As noted in my previous blog, this is supposed to the time of anger based politics.

People find their own anger appealing for various reasons. One reason for this is that people have a tendency to believe that anger is efficacious-that is, if they feel anger, then they are accomplishing something.  This might be a matter of physiology-after all, anger leads to an adrenalin rush as the body prepares to act upon that anger. This can lead people to feel either that that can do something about what has made them angry or that they are actually doing something because they feel so worked up about it.

Another reason is that, at least in the context of politics, people often feel that their anger shows that they “get it”-that they see the truth of the matter as proven by their anger. This is, of course, based on poor reasoning. The fact that a person is angry does not prove that their anger is justified. It just proves that they are angry. Naturally, people tend to feel the opposite, namely they infer they are justified in their anger because they are angry.

An interesting fact about anger is that angry people generally like to see their anger reflected in others, especially their leaders. As the proverb I just made up goes, “the barking dog loves to hear other dogs bark.”

One reason is that just as people think that their own anger is a sign that they “get it”, a comparable anger in a leader is taken as evidence that they “get it.” Of course, a lack of anger in another is taken as evidence that the person does not “get it.” As such, it is hardly a surprise that people often regard Obama’s calm as evidence that he just doesn’t get it. Presumably if he did “get it” he would be overcome by anger and ruled by his rage rather than by reason.

Of course, this view is mistaken. Anger is not evidence that a person “gets it.” It is just a sign that the person is angry. Anger is, after all, not a good indicator of comprehension, understanding or the ability to solve problems. To use an obvious example, imagine a person “reasoning” like this:

Bob: “I went to the doctor and he said I have high blood pressure. He said I needed to change my diet and exercise.”

Glenn: “Was he angry when he said that? Did he pour out his rage?”

Bob: “What? No. He was pretty calm when he was talking to me.”

Glenn: “Then he just doesn’t get it. He should be angry about your condition. If he was a good doctor, he’d be mad as hell.”

Bob: “That is crazy. I don’t want some angry doctor. I want someone who thinks about the problem and comes up with a solution.”

Glenn: “You just don’t get it either.”

Bob: “Yeah. Well, you should see a doctor.”

What shows whether a person “gets it” or not is how that person acts in response to the situation in terms of addressing the problem. A person who calmly works at a problem shows that she “gets it” far more than someone who rages in anger, yet has no viable solution for said problem.  It is the case that, as the proverb I just made up says,”the barking dog barks, but the quiet dog brings the bird back.”

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