February 15th, 2007


Rules and Rule Sets

An interesting contrast here

Most Americans these days agree that couples should stay together only so long as both parties love each other. That should you fall deeply and irretrievably in love with someone else, you owe it to yourself to follow your heart. That you shouldn't remain in an unhappy union purely for the sake of the children. Marriage, the thinking goes, should entail joy and mutual self-fulfillment.

But not if movie characters act that way. We disapprove of other people who walk out on marriages because of "love" or "self-fulfillment" or the usual minor unhappinesses that occur in every marriage. Hollywood stacks the deck: you're leaving because he's a fascist heroin addict.

This is not so minor a matter as sorting out how fiction writers might most slyly manipulate their audiences' affections. Plenty of real relationships break up for no other reason than that one or both parties is "unhappy," or "in love" with someone else. Yet here in the world, we cannot stack our own decks. We can't rewrite the role of a partner with whom we've grown dissatisfied in such a way as to make our urge to flee more defensible. If your husband isn't, conveniently, a heroin addict, well--he simply isn't.

We may officially embrace the view that a partnership can justifiably be dissolved for reasons of "unhappiness" or "love." Yet we are not only the protagonists but the audiences of our own lives. Thus the same onlooker's standards of judgment apply to our private dramas as they do to entertainment. When we act trustingly on those ostensibly shared social precepts I began with, we're often shocked to discover that we don't sympathize with ourselves.

(no subject)

Thanks to Erudito, I have a reference to this article, which, when paired with This interview and this article start me on the path of understanding the implications of this post.

And you thought weblogs were about trivial things, where you could hit a link and understand it all!

OK, you didn't. But I have. This is somewhat like the opposite: how to work at understanding your reasoning (both moral and logical).

The best you can do, even with your own behavior, is to try to piece together hypotheses about the hidden motives at work based on what the person actually does, situated in the context of things you know are generally true of why people might want to do those things.

Which leads precisely to that problem I highlight in the prior post: if we applied to ourselves the standards we use to judge others, would we like ourselves very much?