Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are extraterrestials polygamous?...French TV

Beth and I are watching The Ring Trilogy (version francais). We're halfway into the second one. It's fun. The quality of the dubbing is excellent but sometimes the names get in the way. Some names such as Frodo and Gandalf and Sam and Gollum are kept so it's just the pronunciation that causes one to smile a little. Other times the producers opt to go for a French equivalent (not necessarily a translation). Who do you think "Grimpeur" is? Or Poilgris? (answers at the end of the post)
I stayed up after the movie to watch a little television. I caught about an hour of a show whose title I can't remember but which has fairly unique format. It combines elements of formal debate, with studio audience electronic voting, and panel discussions of such hot topics as "has the sexual revolution gone too far", "is polygamy the future for male/female relationships?", "have extraterrestials already visited us here on earth?"
The show opens with two lawyers each making brief opening arguments. There is an affectation of seriousness but in typically French fashion this affectation is heavily laced with a sense of irony and smirking.
After the lawyers comes the first audience poll. The results are instantly flashed onscreen. In the case of polygamy, for example the initial vote was 75 percent against it.
Next comes the panel and the host who attempt to flesh out the subject according to their various points of view and expertise. The polygamy discussion included feminists, a beauty contest representative, a mayor, a researcher, a journalist, and a the leader of a group representing immigrants from Mali who are in fact advocating for the right to practice polygamy here in France. The latter figure was an elderly black man with an utterly engaging persona, soft spoken but very articulate, a ready smile, and that kind of sage Mandela look about him. It was therefore a bit disconcerting to try to connect the rhetoric of not only polygamy but arranged marriage to this charming fellow. The feminist tried to counter his compassionate conservatism with some chilling stories of young girls sold into arranged marriages.
In an attempt to furnish a homegrown Europen version of polygamy and not just focus exclusively on the subject as a subset of multiculturalism, a professor emeritus at the Sorbonne who is a practising polygamist (sort of) made an appearance on the show. He explained how he maintained three different households and relationships, in the cities where he works -Paris and Brussels. All of it was above board, no secrets, he said. He was only officially married to one of them but it was a very satisfactory arrangement for everyone involved, he said.
A sociologist was also there to cite statistics on marriage and divorce. Statistically, half of marriages end in divorce, he said. When you finish accounting for all the factors that weigh on the question, he said that the odds that someone will end their lives with the same partner they started out with is about 30%.
At the end, the lawyers came back out for closing arguments. Interestingly, the lawyer against polygamy chose as one of his principle arguments the proposition that mulitple marriages are bad because they multiply the negatives of an already seriously flawed institution. In other words, marriage is more often than not a mistake, so why compound the mistake several times over?!! It got a lot of laughs...and when the vote was taken, he had conserved the 75 percent vote against polygamy...but the breakdown by gender was interesting...80 percent of the women in the audience were against it while only 56 percent of the men held the same position.
As I got up to turn off the television the next topic (extraterrestials) was announced while the theme music for the X Files was played. Much as I wanted to know the truth of this matter, I couldn't stay up to find out.
I went to bed secure in the belief that extraterrestials have not only visited us but they have enrolled in high schools around the world.

p.s. the answers: Strider and Shadowfax


Anonymous cjones said...

Interesting vote. Robert Wright (either a sociobiologist or evolutionary psycologist -- can't remember which)wrote that it was the MEN who were the force in scrubbng polygamy and requiring monogamy in western (and some oriental) cultures. His thesis was that polygamy was essentially a phenomena of upper class men -- advantageous to women because more women would have access to men of power and wealth; so fewer women would end up with poor, underclass men; hence fewer women in economic misery. But as more men moved up to the middle class, gaining political power and income -- well, those men didn't want all the good women hoarded by the top dogs. So those men starting demanding one-woman-to-one-man, sort of a spread the wealth scenario. He also argued that in most places, at those times of monogamy law introduction, women were without the political power to have forced the changes.

I have no clue if Wright's hypothesis is a widely accepted or not.

10:40 AM  
Blogger kc said...

I like Robert Wright although I don't always understand him, especially when he's into one of his evolutionary psychology walkabouts. For whatever reason this makes me think of a very thought provoking essay I read not too long ago called Darwin's God...unfortunately I can't remember who wrote or where on the internet it lives though I am pretty sure I linked to it from Andrew Sullivan's blog sometime in the previous month.

3:30 PM  

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