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wundayatta's avatar

Should society have the right to determine what a healthy relationship is?

Asked by wundayatta (58648points) March 4th, 2011

It seems to me that society at large, through both the power of law and the power of social pressure to conform, has given itself permission to define what a healthy relationship is. No plural marriages and no same-sex marriages. But in addition to that, even if those kinds of relationships happen in private, people have to hide them. Otherwise, they will get a lot of disapproval from people that have no business getting involved.

Or do they? Child protection seems to be an important area where society sets a standard of care and… well…. should we question their standard? Yes, we want to protect kids, but it seems like in our zeal, we get the wrong people too often.

Here are just a couple of examples: In order to adopt you have to fit a certain model of relationship. The notion of statutory rape. Just because someone is under 16 or whatever it is, it’s statutory rape, no matter how voluntary. Thus, we say that people under age 16 or 18 or whatever it is are not really people, in the sense that they don’t officially have the power to control their lives.

We are supposedly protecting these various classes of people. And when young people on fluther ask if their relationship is ok or love or whatever, we will often say they are too young to do this or that.

So what’s going on? How do we, as a society, come up with these standards? Do we have it right? Is it beneficial for society to even set standards at all?

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19 Answers

WasCy's avatar

Too many overlapping issues in one question, but here’s a shot.

1. Young people have not reached what we legally define as an “age of consent”, which defines an age at which they are considered old enough (supposedly “mature enough”) to be able to consent to an adult (sexual) relationship. Prior to that age there is no legal “consent” to sex, since the age hasn’t yet been attained at which consent could be given.

2. A lot of religions do take upon themselves a right or duty to make marital partners conform to some ideal. Many family members enforce that by insisting that their offspring marry into the same race or religion. Many clergy won’t perform non-sanctioned weddings.

incendiary_dan's avatar

OUR society shouldn’t. I’ve had multiple friends threatened with losing their kids because they decided to live in portable shelters and partake partially in hunting and gathering as a way to feed themselves. The kids were always happy, warm, well dressed, and well fed. And, you know, loved. But some state-paid motherfucker said they were abusing their kids because they didn’t have running water and a TV.

And although we as a society might have stopped turning quite as big of a blind eye to domestic abuse, and that’s good, we still ignore and tolerate numerous other forms of abuse, and in fact enshrine them. Our culture is abusive, so abuse is normalized.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” – Krishnamurti

If we want to come up with standards for people that work, we should maybe look at societies that are free from abusive behavior themselves. They do exist, despite the normalizing propaganda we receive from all corners of this culture. I’ll type some more up soon, as I’m currently at work and have to go do work-y things.

cak's avatar

I’m trying to separate your question, because I do feel that a child should not be preyed upon by an adult. They might think they are making the right decision; however, their brain, at 16 – even 18 is still maturing.

No, I don’t think society should decide on things like same sex, even plural marriages, if the plural marriage is truly a free act and not forced. I don’t understand why society has to put their nose in those issues.

In regards to plural marriages, I think that is a sticky subject because of abuse that we still see happening. (drawing a blank here…someone has been on trial for this – leading a compound and there were arranged plural marriages.)

I, personally, cringe when I hear of a very young person, and I consider 16yr olds still young dating and sleeping with an older person. There is a bit of a scandal going on in my neighborhood. A pregnant teenager with her “older” boyfriend. The parents thought she was mature enough to date him and thought the world of him. He ran, swore it wasn’t his and she is on her way to rehab for a drinking problem. There are many layers to the story, but understand that she is now wishing she had never had sex with him. Not because she is pregnant, but because she didn’t really think things through…that’s why I still don’t consider relationships like that or even peer-to-peer teens as the measure of a healthy relationship.

I hope this makes sense. My son is watching a movie and I’m trying to focus, but I keep getting sidetracked. Oh, Johnny Depp. Yum!

kess's avatar

Remember what we call society is actually the collective mind of the people.

so what is the considered as the way to go by the society standard is actually what most accept as the way.

The drawback is this the collective mind is easily swayed by each individual selfish desires and expressed primarilly in the form of cash.

So we see false Ideas can take root by individuals who gains influences with the backing of money. both overtly and covertly.
The marketing and advertising uses both, but primarily their way is covert.

So finally the way out is for each individual seek inwardly to know, what is actually the truth in each situation and when such a knowledge comes, to do what it demands…..knowing that it is the best for the individual and the collective….

For eventuallly this is what will remain , for the negative thinkers will be their own downfall.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I don’t think the US treats minors as humans. But I don’t think that having age of consent laws is an example of that – the number of kids who “consent” to other things (boring things, like being on the swim team or wearing certain clothes) because they don’t really understand that they have another option leads me to believe that they simply don’t have the mental capacity to consent to sex until a certain age.

6rant6's avatar

Most of us agree that in some cases an older person having sex with a younger person is wrong and should be forbidden. We may disagree about what the ages can be, and what we should do in response.

However, to make the law workable, we have to choose specific ages and punishments. Otherwise, we would be inflicting arbitrary judgments on cases and inflicting what in effect is arbitrary consequences. I am not defending the way all this is implemented, nor saying its carried out well, but there need to be laws, they need to be clear, and they need to be enforced without every case becoming an exception.

These are ideas that I call poppycock:
There are faultless societies on which we can model ours.
Loving someone makes things all right.
By looking within ourselves we can know what is right or wrong.
Children who live in tents so they can be closer to the things they kill are as well cared for as those that live in houses.

It’s difficult to know what rules a society should have. But without them, there is no society, only the domination of the weak by the strong or willing.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@incendiary_dan “And, you know, loved” – fucking true story
No, society should not have that right.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

So, if society doesn’t determine what’s a healthy relationship, than who does? Are all relationships ok, even the most abusive of them?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs False dichotomy. Just because society doesn’t have a right to tell me who to be with doesn’t mean I have a right to be with whoever I want without consent or with abuse.

6rant6's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Right. So if you’re the victim in a relationship, do you want us to step in?

6rant6's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Do you agree that some relationships – say a ten year old with a thirty year old – can’t be “consensual” in any meaningful sense?

We agree there is a problem that needs to be addressed. We disagree about the rules that should be used. It’s difficult, it inevitably imperfect, its inflammatory, but until King Solomon takes the throne, we need laws to tell us in advance what will and what won’t be tolerated.

I don’t think society needs to protect nonviolent people of either sex from choosing to be with like-minded adults – whatever the configuration. That’s not the same as saying it’s not society’s business who we are with.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@6rant6 What kind of an unaswerable question is that? I would never be a victim as I don’t tolerate anything even close to abuse. And what does it mean to ‘step in’ – systems in place to help victims of partner violence are a gigantic failure, btw. As to your other point, consent when it comes to age is a murky business and there is a power differential when a 10 year old is with a 30 year old even if I personally feel some of it can be consensual (though pointing to something being more ‘wrong’ with the older person rather than with a child). Anyway, the situation I describe is so rare that I don’t mind laws in place protecting children against adults.

6rant6's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Exactly my point. It’s difficult to figure out the right rules. You yourself would never be a victim? Exactly. So we can’t use your example to set the bar. We have to use the example of VULNERABLE people, like children. The reality is gray, but we have to have rules so people know what to expect. And then we agree to say, “This is black and that is white” and it’s done.

We have to have rules. It’s difficult to decide what they are. We don’t have a good system, I agree. It needs improving. But “Do whatever you want” isn’t the answer. For any nasty, hateful, cruel thing you can think of, and any act of depravity or betrayal, there is someone out there who’s wired to think that’s appropriate. Laws are what tell them it just isn’t so.

You say, “I don’t mind laws in place protecting children against adults.” But obviously, your view point is more liberal than other people’s. You and I probably think more alike than does Average Joe. But you have to see Joe wants to do the same thing – protect the weak. I’m not talking about gay marriage bans – that’s horseshit. But some people need protecting, and if I thought you were a victim – even if you didn’t – at some point I’d feel I ought to do something. Probably write a long rambling entry on Fluther…

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@6rant6 Yeah, rules, I get it. You like them. Grey areas, I get it. Not all laws are sensical but there are sometimes no other ways to go about things.

6rant6's avatar

Oh, I hate laws. I hate taking out the garbage, too. But I know they both come with being able to live in a house.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I think that rather than defining what is acceptable, I think a society should define a healthy relationship in the broadest terms possible. For example, in @incendiary_dan‘s example, he talks about parents partaking in hunting and gathering and living in a portable shelter with their children instead of eating out of a supermarket and living in a house. I think that society should mandate that all children are well-fed, sheltered and that their most basic emotional and developmental needs are taken care of, but it is not up to society to define how those needs are met. I think the same is true of marriage. The only defining characteristics of a marriage should be that all parties consent, no permanent harm is being done to the parties involved, and that the marriage is not hindering the ability of those involved to take care of themselves or their children.

I also think that a child should be able to have more than two parents, legally speaking. I think if an adult can prove that s/he will take care of the child a fair amount, then that person should be legally a parent, even if that person is not a biological mother or father. Along the same thread, I think a child should legally be able to just have a father from birth.

I really and truly think that the government should be there to protect the people and not tell them how to live. As long as no one is getting hurt, the government has no business telling us what to do.

Earthgirl's avatar

KatawaGrey I agree with what you say for the most part, but the thought popped into my head as I read it that the problem with the laws being that loose is that even the biological parents may not always agree with each other about what is best for their children. This happens frequently in the case of divorce. Then the court gives the cutstodial parent primacy. As much as the other parent may disagree with how his/her child is being rasied, there is often no legal recourse to effect a change. It can very painful for the parent who loses control. I suppose this is an extreme case and generally both parents would agree on most of the basic parameters of childcare and lifestyle. Multiple parent familys, legal or not, would complicate things even further. What do you think?

bolwerk's avatar

Should or shouldn’t, it more or less does. Like it or not, whole institutions from political on down have a stake in the quality of your offspring, so people probably have a natural propensity for worrying about it. That’s why Santorum (the political kind, not the cleaner kind) can get away with discriminating against gays while blathering about animal sex – all to support marriage, an institution with a very long history of cruelty and oppression.

Even fairly altruistic tribes probably tended to be close-knit, so it was important to encourage the right couplings, even if those couplings probably involved a lot of successive couplings with little resemblance a modern fantastical nuclear family unit. Sisters wouldn’t want to be inseminated by brothers though, so it makes sense to have such things be taboo (for those times when, crazily enough, reason fails and lust is overwhelming!). In patriarchal societies, which often encourage lifelong (or at least reproductive life-long, which could be short) coupling, the stakeholders only increase: fathers need sons, the family needs members, the community needs defenders, and later down the line in more complex societies the polis needs leaders, the army needs strength and unity, the temple needs priests and loyal parishioners, and political alliances between families need to be formed. The qualities of all these things, at some level, are affected from the beginning, not necessarily consciously, by how people couple.

Maybe, at least, the good news with gay marriage is that tolerance for a bit more leeway is generally increasing, though I don’t expect a perfect lack of busybody-ness will ever be achieved. (Perhaps we’re entering the post-patriarchal era, finally.)

josie's avatar

People can say what they want, they may approve, they may not. And social conventions are inevitable.
But the always corrupt political State should not define what “healthy anything” is.

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