Skip to main content

Moralizing and Extramarital Relations

Something from Brain Picker, Maria Popova.

From the book Updike:
“Updike wasn’t the first in his Ipswich crowd to commit adultery, and it’s possible that he wasn’t even the first in his marriage…
He didn’t have to look far to find a lover. Several of the couples had already had affairs before moving to Ipswich, and once they were all settled and best friends, romantic intrigue was very much in the air. It’s safe to say that the group’s unusual closeness (and a large part of the pain that followed) had something to do with the collective willingness to indulge in extramarital sex. This “weave of promiscuous friendship” wasn’t a purely local phenomenon. “Welcome to the post-pill paradise” is perhaps the most famous line from [Updike's 1968 novel]Couples, which Updike set in 1963, three years after he claimed to have first fallen “in love, away from marriage” — and three years after the first birth-control pill was approved for use in the United States. Did the advent of oral contraception unleash a frenzy of adulterous coupling in suburban communities all over the country? That theory seems a little pat, yet there’s a measure of truth to it. There’s no doubt that by the time of JFK’s assassination, the junior set of Ipswich were already hopping in and out of one another’s beds with impressive frequency. Whatever moral qualms Updike might have had were long since banished, and any lingering shyness had dissipated. He threw himself with reckless enthusiasm into the tangle of Ipswich infidelities. It’s worth stressing, however, that it wasn’t his idea; he wasn’t the instigator. He made suburban sex famous, but he didn’t invent it.”
 Maria Popova writes:
To give a sense of just how normalized the extramarital escapades were in the Ipswich community, Begley offers a telling example — the only two affairs of real significance in Updike’s life, one with Joyce Harrington, who was a “core member” of the love-swapping crowd along with her husband Herbert, and the other with Martha Bernhard, who had joined the circle later on with her husband Alex. Begley writes:
The first affair came within a whisker of ending the Updikes’ marriage in the fall of 1962; the second did end the marriage: John separated from Mary in 1974, and they were divorced two years later. John and Martha married soon afterward. And then, as if to demonstrate what a snarled web it was, Alex Bernhard, Martha’s ex-husband, married Joyce Harrington, John’s ex-mistress.

I don't really understand why there is so much moralizing attached to having extramarital relations. I mean, people are reacting like somebody is killing somebody or making suicide bomb attacks or exploding nuclear weapons.
People have grown up with some narrow, oh-so-outdated notion about what is 'moral' in relation to marriage and they are SO loath to apply their brains to those notions of morality.
At best, people will point to the matter of having children; as if every time one has sex, a baby pops out.
The thing or fact that should have the maximum input in formulating a sense of morality seems to me to be the idea of the rarity of life. The Dawkinsian idea of the improbability of our existing at all considering the millions of cells fighting to fertilize an egg. Our existence is a rare thing ... whether you want to call it an accident or not.
Although a "rare thing," that thing having come to pass, it is up to each of us to find the purpose of life for ourselves. Is it the purpose of life to merely carry on old-fashioned "rules" and live life as per those rules laid down by our illiterate Stone Age ancestors? Or, should we make our own rules?
I think it makes sense to make our own rules and to discard meaningless shibboleths.
The purpose of life should be to maximize happiness. Happiness can be had in many ways including: playing with kids (whether one's own or someone else's), playing or watching competitive sports, watching movies or TV shows, reading books, solving mysteries, doing research, becoming a physicist and doing equations, doing astronomy, building machines, playing with cars in one's garage, eating tasty food, cooking tasty food, and having sex.
That last point of 'having sex' perhaps has a disproportionate importance compared to the other stuff that make us happy. Only enjoying tasty food and having sex appear to me to be more or less universal things we do for enjoyment.
It appears to me to be a matter of common sense therefore that we should try to maximize that which gives us pleasure. It is weird if we should "voluntarily" make laws or put restrictions on ourselves that in any way reduces the pleasure we may be capable of achieving.
I do not advocate anything that is forcible of course. I am not suggesting that we steal food ... from anyone. There is joy to be had in eating tasty food and indeed mothers and grandmothers even get pleasure out of feeding their children and grandchildren.
As to sex, the rule about 'exclusivity' seems rather silly. In traditional societies, people associate 'faithfulness' with 'marriage.'

You gotta be faithful.
Why is that? What has sex got to do with 'faith'? It is a weird rule rooted in religious mumbo-jumbo and we all know that religious 'wisdom' is about 5-inch deep and only adolescents should take religions seriously.
Once people grow up and out-grow religious 'woo woo,' one must necessarily re-think and re-evaluate the stuff ... rather, the 'other' stuff that is also an inheritance from religion.
Religion not only deals in inane and childish theories and ideas about how the universe was created or who created it, it also claims a special place for humans and also lays out values and tries to tell people what is moral and what is not moral.
People need to discard not only religion but also ideas about morality that are derived from religion.
Remember that rules formulated regarding what is moral and what is not are man-made rules. There is nothing universal about such rules.
You cannot choose to obey or not obey the Law of Gravity as that is a law of nature. How the stars formed or how the galaxies formed is similarly a product of the laws of nature. The story of evolution is also a scientific fact. It is a fact that we on Earth are travelling on spaceship Earth that is hurtling around the Sun while rotating around itself. It is a fact that the Sun is whirring mightily around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is also a fact that the galaxies are going away from each other at a breathtaking pace approaching significant fractions of the speed of light (when you look at galaxies that are billions of light years apart).
Yes. All those 'talk' about the universe being created in a Big Bang 13.82 billion years ago is also factually correct. Our Milky Way comprising of 300 (or 400) billion stars is also factually correct.
In light of all that knowledge that humans have gathered recently (mostly in the last century), our insignificance in the grand scheme of things of the universe is pretty clear.
Looked at from this perspective, I think the idea of marital 'fidelity' seems particularly silly and childish. It's as if a kid wants to keep a toy only for himself and herself and won't share it with anyone else. Sure, kids tend to be selfish like that. But adults got to be better.


Popular posts from this blog

Longforms and 'Best of 2017' Lists and Favorite Books by Ashutosh Joglekar and Scott Aaronson

Ashutosh Joglekar's books list. Scott Aaronson' list

Savita Bhabi

Well, it seems the Government of India is up to its usual censoring ways ... It's not as bad as what the Chinese are doing in battling Google. The Internet is awash in pornography and the feeble attempts of the Govt. of India won't be able to stem the tide. The Govt. should merely restrict itself to ensuring that there's no child pornography or trafficking of humans. There are problems galore for the Govt. to worry about as it is ...