The 50% Myth

For a long time we’ve heard this saw repeated again and again: “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.” Like so much other bad news, this is no longer true. Since peaking in the 1980s, the divorce rate has been falling. Even so, news outlets like Fox and ABC still say things like “the divorce rate is going up” or it’s “50 percent and climbing.”

What has really happened? According to a recent New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller, “The Divorce Surge Is Over but the Myth Lives On,” the divorce rate will probably fall to about one in three. But isn’t that worse than divorce rates from the “good ole days?” Maybe so. However, over time the institution of marriage has changed, and this may be why divorces became much more common in the 60s, 70s and 80s. For most of its history in the Industrial Age, marriage has been, in many respects, an economic institution. The husband left home to work and make money; the wife worked at home and ran the household. (Of course this wasn’t true for all women, especially poor woman, who have often had to work to make ends meet.)

By the end of the 60s, attitudes changed a great deal. Many people felt less compelled to conform to a role and more motivated to carve out a life that transcended societal strictures. Today most people marry for love. And millions of committed couples who start families choose not to marry.

I doubt we will ever return to a time where divorces are extremely rare. Life is too good nowadays for most people to bear a bad marriage. In this era of equality, a match, to a greater degree, must be made in heaven for it to be made. As marriage becomes more of a life option and not an expectation, I think we’ll have more happy marriages and fewer divorces.

The institution of marriage continues to change as gay marriage has become legal. Innovation happens at all levels of society, and I look forward to emerging forms and types of marriage, partnership and family structure.

Good News Slow, Bad News Fast

Why do we focus on the bad news despite the tsunami of good news? Mike Cassidy at Techno-Optimism FB group shared this article by John Stossel; it covers some important territory around the reportage of good v. bad news:

“Wars, plane crashes, mass murder—it’s easy to report news that happens suddenly. Reporters do a good job covering that. But we do a bad job telling you about what’s really changing in the world, because we miss the stories that happen slowly. These are usually the more important stories.” (emphasis mine)

What are those important stories?–“The world is less violent than it has ever been. It is healthier than it has ever been. It is more tolerant than it has ever been. It is better fed than it’s ever been. It is more educated than it’s ever been.” (Barack Obama, quoted in the story)

I’m very happy that the President is talking about the positive arc of history. This is the Golden Age. I don’t think that we live in the greatest age because we are great; we live in the greatest age because we are lucky, and in order to keep our luck, we need to keep “The Long Peace” (Steven Pinker) going, support democracy and civil society, continue health and education improvements, and do all we can to foster the rights revolution that continues to progress in these days.

The New LGBT Orthodoxy

I’m generally not in favor of orthodoxy unless it’s an orthodoxy that we can all get behind, like equal rights, democracy and civil liberties.

In the electronic edition of Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote an article describing the new “Gay Orthodoxy.” As he put it, “in a great many circles, endorsement of same-sex marriage has rather suddenly become nonnegotiable. Expected. Assumed. Proof of a baseline level of enlightenment and humanity. Akin to the understanding that all people, regardless of race or color, warrant the same rights and respect.”

This incredibly fast (and positive) change in the zeitgeist around the issue of same-sex marriage is remarkable. I believe that there are so many mutually reinforcing positive trends that this kind of blink-and-you-missed-it progress will be more and more common.

2013: LGBT Movement’s Best Year Ever

Here in Washington, 2013 was bad. Even I, a persistent optimist, was deeply put off by the dysfunction.

On the other hand (and you knew some positivity was coming), something great happened in the public sphere. The dysfunction may have been fueled by small, powerful, and well-funded groups that have obstructionist representatives in the House and Senate. But our divided (as in “separation of powers,” not Red v. Blue), federalist government means the courts and people can act to make change when the leaders cannot lead. Change did happen in 2013, and much faster than many optimists would have expected.

Last year was a big one for LGBT equality. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT equality organization in the US, posted a “Best of 2013” article on its website. It highlighted the signature achievements from last year:

*Nine more states have legalized marriage for everyone, which now means a total 17 allow everyone to marry.

*The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a blatantly anti-LGBT law, was challenged in courts. Several rulings have stated that DOMA’s definition of marriage (in Section 3) is unconstitutional.

*The Windsor Decision: The Obama Administration’s interpretation of the Windsor Decision has meant that an unprecedented number of gay couples have access to federal employee benefits.

*There are at least 30 cases challenging DOMA

*Fifty-five Senators support marriage equality.

*The Senate passed the Employment Non Descrimination Act.

*And the ascension of Pope Francis has changed the tone toward LGBTs in the largest Christian sect in the world. As he said,  “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?'”

2013: The Best Year Ever?

If I were to tell you that 2013 was the best year ever, would you believe me? Most people would think it a sick joke, maybe pornographic. What great event happened in 2013?

In this blog I will often point to “smaller” indicators that point to brighter things. In 2013, there was no Battle of Marathon, Emancipation Proclamation, or Stalingrad–no event that changed the course of history for the better. However, many seemingly unrelated trends “got better” as they have in previous years. The following article from goes into five of them: mortality, poverty, war, violent crime and discrimination.

Now if you asked people on the street “Do you think that rates of death, poverty, violence and discrimination are all trending down?” do you think they’ll agree? Most would not, I think.

One theory why is that crime is reported more and more frequently and thoroughly. And since everyone has a camera in his pocket now, many crimes and most catastrophes get filmed and photographed. We see more bad things on TV and computer screens, even as they are decreasing.