The Ethicist Apparently Endorses Discrimination As Ethical

, the New York Times Magazine’s ethics columnist, just opened a can of metaphorical worms, and I’m going to spread them around a little. It may get messy.

A woman—actually, now that I re-read the post, we don’t know it’s a woman— wrote to be reassured that he or she wasn’t a bad person for wanting to dump a man she had engaged in a nascent romantic relationship after discovering that he had Crohn’s Disease. “I know I’m being selfish, but is it unethical to not date him because of it?” she wrote. ” I don’t know what to do to support him, and I am worried about the future. He said it’s very likely his intestinal issues could get worse, and his life expectancy may be shorter. I want to shield myself from the pain, but I also feel like a terrible person for even thinking about it.”

Hey, don’t feel bad,  sayeth “The Ethicist”:

“Once someone is truly a friend or a lover, you have all kinds of responsibilities to them that you didn’t have before. So for example, it would be deplorable to abandon a spouse because he or she has become seriously ill. That’s part of what’s meant by saying a marriage is to endure “in sickness and in health.” Of course, this can turn out to be a promise someone can’t keep. But precisely because a partnership is for the long term, you can appropriately consider what your lives together would be like before you enter into one. When a potential partner is already seriously ill, committing to this person may be committing to a life as a caregiver. (The specific condition you mention has a wide range of severity; it can be mild and well controlled or genuinely debilitating.) You don’t owe it to anyone to accept that burden; indeed, if you think you don’t want such a life, you have a good reason not to enter into the relationship. It doesn’t make you a terrible person to think about the issue. The terrible thing would be to make the commitment and then to be unable to keep it.”

Oddly for “The Ethicist,” he ducked the main question that was asked, and instead answered what he thought was an easier one.   The questions he answered were ” Is it wrong to reject a commitment to someone because that commitment may be too burdensome?,” and “Is it wrong to think about the issue?” (It isn’t wrong to think about anything, regardless of what Black Lives Matter says. They should see what I think about them.)

What the inquirer was asking, however, is whether she should end a casual relationship—she had only known the guy through Zoom, after all—because he had Crone’s Disease, before she could form an attachment to him and might decide that he was worth the trouble…make that  potential trouble.

I see no distinction between what she wants to do and invidious discrimination in any other relationship, like employment. Discrimination is when you treat someone worse than someone else because of who they are and  features they have no control over, rather than what they do, have done, or “the content of their character.” It is also discrimination to make judgments about someone based on assumptions about people “like” them—profiling, essentially. “I don’t want to date him, even though I really like him, because he has a handicap” is,  as I see it, indistinguishable from saying, “I don’t want to hire her because she has a handicap/ is likely to become pregnant/ is old/ is black.”

That’s discrimination, and that’s wrong.

Since everything is about race now, here’s an example involving race. Black actors have a hard time in the Washington, D.C. theater community. Many of them come from an economically strained upbringing; many have not developed good work habits (like being on time for rehearsals); many of them have transportation issues, and unlike the bulk of the white actors in the area, live downtown, requiring a long commute to Northern Virginia, and many have to depend on public transportation.  Many, thanks to people telling them all their lives that they are being discriminated against, are paranoid, and suspect that every rejection or criticism is motivated by racial animus. This causes friction in a production, and trust me, friction in the theater is a big problem.

Thus there is are practical disincentives to casting  black performers in roles written for white actors, and also to do shows requiring black performers. As an artistic director I pushed a different policy: The American Century Theater would be committed to giving black actors opportunities. Frankly, we got burned many times—too many times. In other instances, however, we found excellent performers and terrific people who enhanced our productions. The odds, however, on casting unknown black actors were never good. It was a risk. Nonetheless, the theater remained committed to giving everyone a chance, if they had the talent to do a role, and to creating as many opportunities for black actors as we could.

I know, we weren’t marrying any of the actors. Still, depending on a performer in a theatrical production is a commitment, and the decision not to commit to a performer because experience tells us that someone like this performer is likely to require special patience, consideration, and accommodations is making a decision based  on bias and prejudice.

So is what Appiah’s inquirer wants to do. My question to the Ethicist is: What happened to the Golden Rule? Don’t all of us want the chance to show we’re worth a commitment, whether it is in a job or a serious relationship?

32 thoughts on “The Ethicist Apparently Endorses Discrimination As Ethical

  1. It’s evolutionary biology. She subconsciously wants her potential offspring to be “fit for survival,” as cold as it sounds.

    It’s why short men have such a hard time in the dating market, for example.

  2. ” ‘The terrible thing would be to make the commitment and then to be unable to keep it.’ ”

    Many people struggle with the difference between just being involved and being committed.

    Take the example of eggs-n-bacon: The chicken’s involved, the pig’s committed

    Curious, I’ve been out-of-town and just noticed; what moved you to change the avatar pic?

  3. > What happened to the Golden Rule? Don’t all of us want the chance to show we’re worth a commitment, whether it is in a job or a serious relationship?

    Playing Devil’s Advocate, as well as on my own experience with relationships–consider the audience.

    If the audience is the general public, then yes, I agree with Jack. But if the audience is the letter writer and people with the same selfish, discriminatory views, then the ethicist is sparing the poor ill man a relationship with a person who will abandon him for selfish reasons.

  4. Just a quickie today.

    Discrimination is when you treat someone worse than someone else because of who they are and features they have no control over, rather than what they do, have done, or “the content of their character.”

    1) I disagree with how that’s phrased but its not so far off base that we can’t work with it. Discrimination is not inherently unethical. Discrimination without good reason is. It’s why fitness tests are often a valid form of discrimination against the weak and infirm. Some people can’t help that they’re too physically weak to reach fire fighter fitness standards – it’s not unethical for the Fire Department to refuse to employ them based on that characteristic they can’t control even if they’re walking saints. Their character doesn’t matter. Is a serious illness a good reason to discriminate against someone for dating purposes? That brings us to our next point.

    2) There is no world where dating preferences can be considered unethically discriminatory. You cannot ethically be expected to change your own innate romantic feelings. If a serious disease breaks those romantic feelings for you, that’s fair. If you could actually change your own innate romantic feelings then I imagine all kinds of historical injustices would suddenly look pretty valid – gay conversion, forced marriages, etc. They aren’t and not wanting to date someone because they’re old, sick, trans, white, straight, poly, etc. is an ethically valid choice because… once more…. romantic feelings aren’t chosen by the user off of a shelf. They’re a complex cocktail of personal brain build, chemistry, and history and there is no known way to reliably change them (and there probably shouldn’t be).

    3) Side note: I said preference not act. Obviously some people have romantic and sexual preferences that are unethical to act on. Your rape kink doesn’t justify rape but, for the same reason that you can’t be judged for being born physically disfigured, not one can ethically shame you for being what you didn’t choose. In the same sense that a born blind person doesn’t choose to be blind, you didn’t go to the kink store and choose ‘rape’ off the shelf. Actions are what matter, far more than thoughts, and if you don’t do unethical acts then you can’t be unethical.

    TL;DR:
    1) Discrimination without a good reason is unethical.
    2) Sexual and dating preferences are intrinsic and unchosen personal characteristics.
    3) As such choosing not to date someone who doesn’t comport with your sexual and dating preferences isn’t unethical. The reason for the discrimination is plain and valid – you can’t feel what you dont.

    • I agree with everything RedPill said and I want to expand a little;

      “I see no distinction between what she wants to do and invidious discrimination in any other relationship, like employment. Discrimination is when you treat someone worse than someone else because of who they are and features they have no control over, rather than what they do, have done, or “the content of their character.” It is also discrimination to make judgments about someone based on assumptions about people “like” them—profiling, essentially. “I don’t want to date him, even though I really like him, because he has a handicap” is, as I see it, indistinguishable from saying, “I don’t want to hire her because she has a handicap/ is likely to become pregnant/ is old/ is black.”

      That’s discrimination, and that’s wrong.”

      Is not only unworkable, but I can’t imagine you actually thought much on the subject before writing it, because it is absurd, especially when taken to logical conclusions; Would you marry a man? If not, why not? You aren’t gay? Well, that seems a little 1880’s. You want children? That’s not his fault. Especially in sexual preference, people have to be given the latitude to discriminate, and if that means that an unattractive, amputee midget with AIDS can’t find a sexual partner, well… tough. Life ain’t fair, and you aren’t entitled to sex.

      One might argue that someone with Krohn’s might otherwise check all the attractiveness boxes. I’d argue that changing diapers in your 40’s isn’t sexy, unless you’re into that kind of thing, in which case…. You do you. Not wanting to discriminate isn’t a suicide pact, I refuse and reject, utterly, the idea that I’m a bad person if I don’t want to sign up to be an almost stranger’s nursemaid a decade down the road because I might be discriminating against him now.

      Tuck, roll, and keep on running, Name Withheld.

    • I disagree with the general characterizing of “discrimination” as something bad or undesirable. In its raw form it is merely the activity of making a choice. The reasons for making a particular choice may be questionable or even wrong, but making a choice, discriminating, is not.

      Back in the dark ages when I was subjected so one of the “how to teach a class” courses, one criteria for a proper test question was that it discriminated. Specifically to sort out people who knew the material and those who didn’t, framed for just the correct answer.

      Discrimination in choice of a dating partner makes sense, as it is the opening move in a chess game that could end up with a life partner. On a personal level, criteria such as sex, size, perceived future earning potential, apparent intelligence, and yes,even race are all valid points to consider. Laws have been written to make some of those points illegal when you are selecting an employee. Different games, different rules.

    • ” Discrimination is not inherently unethical.” Yeah, I know. And anti-discrimination statutes are not talking about “discriminating tastes.” Move on.

      Discrimination without good reason is. That’s right, and discriminating on the basis of one’s features and identity is unethical. As in the example at hand.

      It’s why fitness tests are often a valid form of discrimination against the weak and infirm. Now cut that out. Fitness tests measure ability, and that’s not the kind of invidious discrimination we are discussing.

      2) There is no world where dating preferences can be considered unethically discriminatory. Nope, I disagree. In this case, it’s not an example of someone saying “I would never date a Jew/black/Democrat. It’s someone saying “I really like this guy…two bad he’s a Jew.black/Democrat.” That kind of discrimination is “invidous,” and harms society.

      You cannot ethically be expected to change your own innate romantic feelings. Straw man! That’s not what she asked. She didn’t ask “Is it unethical not to be attracted to a man with an serious handicap?” That’s easy—of course it’s not. She asked if it was fair to ding someone she was attracted to for that reason.

    • Red Pill Ethics said:

      2) There is no world where dating preferences can be considered unethically discriminatory.

      Yeah, I think this is right, and I think the same is true for the decision to develop friendships. We all have a right and the freedom to decide who to associate with in our personal lives — not in our professional or business lives — and I cannot see how exercising that right can be considered unethical.

      Is it discrimination? Absolutely, but we discriminate all the time for all kinds of valid reasons, and many invalid ones as well. Personal decisions kept to our own council about who to voluntarily associate with or develop close relationships are, by my lights, beyond ethical scrutiny in our society, or should be.

      I think this is true regardless of the reason, even if race, gender, or gender identity is a factor. A founding precept of our way of life is the freedom of association, but more fundamentally, the freedom to decide with whom one forms close relationships, regardless of the validity of the reason, is literally a human right.

  5. I am going to argue the opposite. In a romantic relationship, people have weird preferences and different people have different goals for the relationship. I would hate to say that once you start talking to someone about starting a relationship, you have to follow through on it no matter what. Going beyond simple height, body type, hair color, personality type of preferences, what about long-term goals? What if the person is looking to start a family and have a lifelong parter and it turns out the person they just started dating only has 3-5 years to live and will degenerate to the state that they need to be in a nursing home for the last year or so of their life before dying. Say this is a woman in her late 20’s. Is she morally obligated to continue this relationship, possibly giving up any chance she would have of having the family she wants because of someone she met online? Are people obligated to give up all they want in life because they met someone online who could use their help?

    Now, my postdoc advisor had Crohn’s disease. I saw what that did to her. I filled in for her for some years as she was in hospitals, as she had to spend long spans of time outside the state to get treatment, away from her family. It was awful seeing her suffer and have to go through all that. The constant medical care did result in her death just a few years later at a young age. I can’t believe this is what anyone has in mind when they start dating someone. I do not think it is unethical for the person to end the relationship. The man with Crohn’s could probably use a significant other in the next few years, but in many ways, that is what it will be…use. Is it selfish to want a family for yourself? Well, yes it would be. Is it unethical? That is a dangerous proposition to make, to demand that everyone be selfless and to declare that anyone who wants anything for themself, their life, or their children is unethical.

    My example: I dated a woman once that I liked. She had two children. One child had serious psychiatric problems that the mother did not want to acknowledge. I realized that if I continued the relationship, my entire life would revolve around dealing with this child’s issues and the fact that the mother did not want to deal with them. That is not what I wanted for my life and I broke off the relationship after a few months. Unethical? According to this post. Did it keep me out of jail and keep me from losing my job? Probably.

    • This is a good comment.

      Dating ethics is different than relationship ethics and is different than marriage ethics.

      Now, what I would define as standard ethics i all of them is “honesty”. Don’t waste anyone’s time, especially someone who may only have 5-10 years left. If you know you can’t be that type of committed person, it’s best to tell them up front that they need to continue their search for someone who will. If you’re unsure, then giving them a fair shake to see what else about them might drive you right up the frickin’ wall and then dumping them for that reason is fair too.

    • That’s conduct, though. Different issue, like if the guy in the letter was in denial about his disease, and clearly wasn’t going to work to mitigate it.

      Would you have broken off if she had acknowledged the child’s problem?

      A good friend of mine divorced a husband who refused to acknowledge their son’s autism, hurting her son and her as well.

  6. I think I have to disagree with you on this one. In rationalization 6, the biblical rationalization, you call people who misapply the statement “Judge not, lest ye be judged” to mean “you shouldnt judge anything. Prejudice is a bad problem to have, but discernment is not. The simple ability to say “this is a thing which is good, this is a thing which is not good” is an essential skill to have – although the existentialists running the show today would certainly disagree!

    Further, the very purpose of dating is a winnowing process, separating the wheat from the chaff. I applaud the person writing in for identifying a flaw they would not be ok with, and then moving to protect that boundary. Instead of wishy-washily shrugging and imaging they’ll be able to handle it for the rest of their life, only to discover – whoops, this hard work! Divorce court time! It isn’t particularly fair to the fellow with the disease – it certainly isnt his fault, after all! – but he would be better off with a partner that genuinely didn’t mind his infirmity, or even valued him higher for it.

    The biggest problem is see here is the writer has been made to feel guilty for the simple act of having boundaries, and acting to enforce them. It’s hard enough to say “you aren’t making the cut, and I’m not basing that on any agreed upon criteria, but only my own judgement!” without other people in your life taking you to task for daring to defend your own boundaries.

  7. Often when I’m having a discussion with someone that seems diametrically opposed to me, I’ll come up with two extreme examples; an extreme position on my side that I don’t agree with, and an extreme position on their side that I assume that they don’t agree with, this means that if literally nothing else, we agree on two things, and have developed a range for the discussion, anything outside that range was a strawman anyway, and we whittle away at the extremes until we arrive at the range of actual disagreement, which is usually much smaller than you might think entering the conversation.

    I wonder if that would be useful here. It might not be. I actually have a pretty extreme position with a pretty hard cutoff: I don’t think trying to moralize what you’re attracted to is ever a good idea. I think that if new information comes up, and it’s more than you can deal with, then acting as if you have some kind of moral, principled duty to be attracted to the person is absurd. Pretending that dating is a lifetime contract is absurd. That math changes drastically upon marriage, but marriage is a drastic change. And comparing marriage to employment isn’t completely absurd, but only if you compare it honestly…. They are not the same thing and the differences matter; Just because you cannot discriminate based on gender in hiring does not mean you are required not to discriminate in your love life. Obviously.

    If anything, this might be a conversation that veers into a defense of discrimination in hiring practices, particularly bona fide discrimination.

  8. Whoa Nellie. A first date or contact on the internet commits someone to marriage? To bail at that point is unethical? Whew!

    The girl who turned out to be just my college girlfriend after we’d been monogamously intimate for three years of college and had moved to a new location together after graduation, dropped me like a dirty shirt a few months after the move. I had to move out of our apartment and sleep in the guest bedroom until I found a new place. I’m still not sure exactly what caused the dumpster fire. Was it a shitty thing to do to me? I think so. Was it unethical for her to decide she didn’t want to be in a lifelong relationship with me? No. There are all sorts of complicating factors that may have gone into her decision, but the point is, in choosing a spouse, you need to have an absolutely free hand. As feeble Joe Biden said when he was competent, “It’s a big fucking deal!” Whatever decisions are made that end nascent relationships are the right decisions.

    • Why is the concept of dropping someone because you’re afraid that you will want to make a commitment to them, and doing so because they are, say, Jewish or black so hard to visualize? Because that’s the issue, not deciding to end a relationship because it has no future.

      • I think the problem is that you’re analogizing race and physical infirmity. They aren’t the same.

        I know there’s a really hard push to make the lives of disabled people easier (and Crohn’s is absolutely a disability) and pretend as if protecting the rights of disabled people comes without a cost. But unlike race, sex, gender, or political leaning, physical infirmity often requires accommodation, and where employers have to make reasonable accommodations via the Americans With Disabilities Act (which you routinely rail against), you have absolutely no duty to do so yourself in regards to your love life.

        Part of reasonable accommodation is the understanding that you will probably have to do something to make employment work. Disabled people *are* more of a burden on the people around them than abled people, despite it being seen as rude to say so. The fact of the matter is that building wheelchair access to every public building in America came with a cost, even if it was the right thing to do.

        You have no duty to reasonably accommodate in your love life. If you chat with a guy online that you really like, and he’s hot, but you find out he’s wheelchair bound, you aren’t required, even ethically, to make your bedroom wheelchair accessible. Likewise, when faced with a person with Crohn’s, a couple of Zoom dates don’t require you to sign up for in-home nursing, diaper duty, and/or a lifetime of medical bills.

      • What if, for instance, you’re dating a woman, she’s amazing, funny, gainfully employed, and smoking hot, you can see yourself spending the rest of your life with her…. but after a couple of dates, she tells you that she has a penis? What if it’s not even that bad; What if you really want kids, but she had some kind of birth defect and is barren? Are you required, ethically, to resign yourself to childlessness and continue the relationship, or is it ethically permissible to call that a material difference and break it off?

        • If something’s a turn-off, it’s a turn-off. That, for many men, is a turn-off, and related to, in your hypo, ability, not identity. Is having a penis a handicap? Unlike the disease in question, it can be “cured.” Personally, I think rejecting someone whom you already love because she can’t have children is atrocious.

          But then, my son was adopted.

          • Frankly, Jack, that’s insane. Not even just wrong, or absurd, but legitimately insane.

            If you think that a person is a monster for not giving up the possibility of having children, because they owe the person they went out on a date with a lifetime of fidelity, then you are insane.

            • Two straw men in one!

              1. I never called anyone a monster. Hyperbole is fine, but that’s cheating.
              2. I literally never said that anyone “owes the person they went out on a date with a lifetime of fidelity.” and don’t think that.

              I know you are fully capable of understanding what I did write, so I’m not going to repeat it. I do think that if you’re going to call me insane it should be for what I wrote, and not based on how you somehow distorted what I wrote, which I neither believe nor think.

              • 1. You called the behavior atrocious, I think getting your scruff up because I translated that to monstrous is semantic. However you want to phrase it, we’re at odds, because whether you think the behavior is atrocious or monstrous, I think it’s acceptable and reasonable.

                2. I think it’s maybe necessary to remember that this case study involves a person who has never actually stood in the same room as the person she is dating. And you’re saying that she is unethical for leaving him because he has a serious medical condition. You are literally saying that the ethical thing for her to do is to resign herself to a lifetime of nursing care to a person that she actually hasn’t even physically dated once.

                In the hypothetical I posed, which was “What if instead of Crohn’s, she was barren (or had a penis)?” You used the qualifier “whom you already love” which I don’t really think matters, frankly, if someone who you are for springs something that big on you, I think it changes the relationship. Particularly, I think that if it’s something that would have stalled the relationship to begin with, it’s probably unethical to sit on it long enough for feelings to develop before springing in on your date. It smacks of dishonesty. But even if you do think that matters, I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume “love” when the fact pattern is “a couple of Zoom dates”. I don’t know why you’re assuming the level of commitment you are.

                • You are literally saying that the ethical thing for her to do is to resign herself to a lifetime of nursing care to a person that she actually hasn’t even physically dated once.

                  Why do you keep saying this? I never did. She barely know the guy, liked him, and said that she had decided to end the relationship because she didn’t want to RISK the possibility of later deciding that she loved him and would commit to a life with him, whatever it entailed. That’s entirely different. Dating him isn’t a commitment. If she decides he a creep, or a fool, or any other reason, swell, dump him. But she doesn’t think he’s any of those things, She’s deciding that simply because his illness might be a burden IF she committed to a relationship, she wouldn’t give him a chance to justify that decision. And she still can, if and when she reaches that decision point, decide on a pragmatic basis that she doesn’t want her life so burdened. That’s fine too…I think its cold, but it’s pragmatic: this is an ethics dilemma then.

                  It is cutting off the potential relationship solely because of a handicap that is unfair IF she otherwise would explore.

                  Saying conduct is atrocious is a long, long way from calling someone a monster, HT. But I agree that that adjective is hyperbolic too.

                  • What situation are you even talking about? I went back to the article because I didn’t recall this moral dilemma of “I might grow to love him” that you’re asserting. On further reading, I think they actually had a single face to face date before isolating, and as far as I can tell, never had a Zoom date, the word “Zoom” does not appear in that article once.

                    The question was:

                    “Before the pandemic hit, I started seeing a new man; since the lockdowns, we’ve texted every day. On our first date he told me about his Crohn’s disease. He has it pretty bad — he has to follow a strict diet and goes to the doctor often. I know I’m being selfish, but is it unethical to not date him because of it? I don’t know what to do to support him, and I am worried about the future. He said it’s very likely his intestinal issues could get worse, and his life expectancy may be shorter. I want to shield myself from the pain, but I also feel like a terrible person for even thinking about it. Any advice? Name Withheld”

                    • To be crystal clear, I have no idea how you parsed,

                      “I don’t know what to do to support him, and I am worried about the future. He said it’s very likely his intestinal issues could get worse, and his life expectancy may be shorter. I want to shield myself from the pain, but I also feel like a terrible person for even thinking about it.”

                      into

                      “She […] said that she had decided to end the relationship because she didn’t want to RISK the possibility of later deciding that she loved him and would commit to a life with him, whatever it entailed.”

                    • Really? It’s pretty clear: she has no pain now, because she doesn’t even know the guy, and they’ve never dated.only begun dating. These are all suppositions on her part, and there are no counter-balancing positives, because she won’t let there be. She’s worried about the future IF she became committed to him, and that also is completely speculative. It is literally evaluating a possible relationship by a single negative factor.

                      “I don’t want to start dating this charming black man because mixed race children can have a hard time.” That’s discrimination. There are practical justifications for all invidious discrimination: the idea is to give them a chance.

                      Her reasoning is not only bigotry, it’s foolish.

                    • I have Zoom on the brain—my mistake.

                      Texting, of course, is even less contact.The narrative is that this is a nascent relationship, not a deep one, and she is using the disability as the entire reason not to allow it the chance to deepen. She didn’t say “I’m not that crazy abut the guy for a lot of reasons, but the final straw is..”

      • Our daughter dated a bunch of Jewish guys and was even engaged to one of them during college. I really liked the father (he was my orthopod and one of his other sons was a classmate and buddy of my son.) I found hanging out with the family fun and different. But I’m glad she ended up dropping him. He is kind of a jerky dope. Frankly, he may be a closeted gay guy. But my feeling is marriage is difficult enough without throwing in the Jewish Gentile thing. (Ironically? The girl who dumped me went on the marry a Jewish guy and is still married to him. ‘C’est la vie! say the old folks. It goes to show you never can tell.’) I also think black and white marriages are dicey as well. Can they succeed? Sure. Are they wise to get into? No. I don’t think so. Again, the goal is to increase the likelihood of marital happiness and longevity for the benefit of the couple and their children.

        For the record, Mrs. OB and I fell almost instantly in love, or at least lust. And guess what. She was ten days away from giving birth to the daughter (I soon adopted) from her then dissolving marriage to her abusive paranoid schizophrenic husband. Becoming a virtually instant father and husband at 22 didn’t deter me. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. And she disclosed her situation literally within minutes of our meeting since you could hardly tell she was eight and a half months pregnant by looking at her, and certainly not in New England February outerwear. But boy, did she need help. She didn’t even know how to change a diaper.

        Just recently she said she had no idea how messed up husband no. 1 was when she hurriedly married him because she’d run out of scholarship money and was desperate. His family clearly knew how messed up he was. He’d been institutionalized. No one said a peep to her. He’s currently living somewhere in rural Arkansas, supported by his family and essentially Ted Kaczynski redux, without the explosive, mail order devises. She said in passing that if he hadn’t started beating her up to get her to terminate the inadvertent pregnancy (she became pregnant while using an IUD) she’d probably still be with him. She’s that loyal.

        A good college friend’s father married her mother without knowing or being told she was a major league alcoholic her super wealthy father had been trying to marry off for quite some time. The marriage lasted but was a disaster in countless ways, certainly for her father who was evidently slated to become the president of Bethlehem Steel but for the fact his wife’s being an alcoholic disqualified him.

        Are we discriminating against people if we don’t marry them because they are severely mentally ill, alcoholic (like mental illness, a severe disability and disease in my book), pregnant with another man’s child? If a federal law says we can’t discriminate against them because of their condition, we are obligated to ignore their disability in determining whether or not we want to spend our life with them? I’m mystified. I see no connection whatsoever between illegal and unethical discrimination and choosing a partner for life. Refusing to build a wheel chair ramp for a customer and electing not to marry a paraplegic are one and the same?

  9. Alright, I read through the comments and I see what’s going on here. Jacks’ position is coherent. I still don’t think I agree with it, but it’s internally consistent. (Jack, please correct me on any points of mismatch between my explanation and your actual position.)

    The idea is that a person should not allow practical concerns to deter them from pursuing a romantic connection, or to be the reason they stop exploring for a romantic connection with a person they’re dating. (I confidently assume the converse would also be true, that people shouldn’t look for romantic connections, or commit to relationships that lack one, motivated by practical concerns.)

    This idea is based in part on the following premises, as far as I can tell:

    1. There is a difference between a romantic connection and a practical concern.

    2. A romantic connection is based on what it’s like to be with someone as they manifest who they are as a person. It does include their physical appearance, as well as their personality on good days and bad days, but it’s something that is felt involuntarily and not deliberately chosen.

    3. Practical concerns are any costs or perks to a relationship other than the romantic connection. They include calculated consequences of becoming committed to a person, such as financial or social status costs or benefits, as well as involuntary feelings that don’t pertain to what it’s like to be with the person in and of themselves: body and feelings and intellect combined. Combining those two categories, I suspect practical concerns might include anticipated involuntary feelings in the future, such as a decline in mental or physical health.

    Assuming what I’ve stated above describes Jack’s position reasonably accurately, I’ll explore it from a categorical imperative angle.

    What would the world be like if people decided whom to marry based on a more holistic sense of the consequences, rather than just romantic connections? In the short run, I think it will result in many more single people, for good or ill. In the long run, I think it might be better for more people to avoid starting relationships and families which go beyond their ability to handle and become dysfunctional.

    Then again, there’s Idiocracy to consider. What happens when only those heedless of consequences start families? That puts us in the odd position where two people can agree that having children is unwise for them, but they have children anyway as a duty to society because they can recognize that it’s unwise, so they’ll be able to raise their children (with much stress and dysfunction) with that big-picture wisdom. Now that’s sacrifice.

    If it’s all right for me to ask, does anyone have a strong emotional connection to a related situation that might contribute to their position on this issue?

    For myself, I am a lazy, miserly coward. I don’t like surprises. I hate being insufficiently powerful to help people in pain. When I get too comfortable, I find it easy to annoy and become annoyed by those around me, so I like being alone where I don’t have to worry about that. I find it easiest to minimize how much I depend on other people and how much other people depend on me. Intensity of perception and communication is my only major strength, and the only service I’m comfortable pledging.

    I avoid romantic relationships in general, not because I couldn’t form a romantic connection (though it would take an extraordinary person), but because if the relationship around the romantic connection didn’t help me develop enough emotional fortitude to sustain it, then it would become mutual torture. That contributes to my position on this issue.

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