Monday, January 24, 2005

Desiring the right things?

The latest Prospect has a nice piece on Durkheim by Michael Prowse, arguing that we should take him seriously as a critic of free-market capitalism. I was, however, struck by this paragraph concerning Durkheim's views on the advantages of marriage for men:

Durkheim used the example of marriage to illustrate the problem of anomie or inadequate social regulation. You might think that men would be happiest if able to pursue their sexual desires without restraint. But it is not so, Durkheim argued: all the evidence (including relative suicide rates) suggests that men do better when marriage closes their horizons. As bachelors they can chase every woman they find attractive but they are rarely contented because the potential objects of desires are so numerous. Nor do they enjoy any security because they may lose the woman they are currently involved with. By contrast, Durkheim argued, the married man is generally happier: he must now restrict himself to one woman (at least most of the time) but there is a quid pro quo. The marriage rules require the woman to give herself to him: hence his one permitted object of desire is guaranteed.
Marriage thus promotes the long-term happiness of men (Durkheim was less certain that it helped women) because it imposes a sometimes irksome constraint on their passions.

No comment from me, except that it reminded me of a dialogue between Gabrielle and her boy-gardener lover during a recent episode of Desperate Housewives . It went something like this:


He: So why did you marry Carlos?

She: Because he promised to give me everything I desired.

He: And did he?

She: Yes.

He: So why aren't you happy?

She: It turns out I desired the wrong things.

Cue Aristotle stage left?

Also reminds me of that C. S. Lewis quote about how the problem with humanity is not that our desires are too strong for us to overcome, but, rather, that we are far too easily pleased - willing to attempt to satiate our desires with things that cannot ultimately satisfy them - things that are transitory and ephemoral.

1 comment:

Amber Lynn said...

Oooooh!! That's good. Something to think about.