Matthew Sanders: Should we tolerate cheating in marriage because we're 'animals'?

Published: Friday, June 28 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

We should rise to the highest of what it means to be human, and herald the virtue self-governance to give the best in us to our children.

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"Hey, it's normal to cheat on your spouse!" That, and, "We're all animals anyway, so we shouldn't fight our urges." Such is the societal wisdom purveyed in a column by Meghan Laslocky on CNN.

She argued, "With people living longer than ever before, a greater tolerance toward the human impulse to experience sexual variety is needed." Laslocky contends marrying for love became vogue in the past 300 years, with earlier generations coupling only for property and labor sharing.

She comforts cheaters by pointing out that others in the animal kingdom, like lovebirds and prairie voles, also stray from time to time. Finally, she concludes, "we should recognize that strict sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration."

Pause. Sigh. Here we go ...

Philosophical fads. That is what my father taught me to call them. They often begin in the halls of academia or on the pages of a notable media enterprise where accountability is difficult and responsibility diffuse. What happens next is that so-called intellectual elite circles latch onto these unfounded ideas as vogue and quickly become dogma.

Laslocky follows the classic fad-maker's playbook. She makes alarming statements and offers no data, only broad assertions that she and her fellow fad-followers restate as fact, and snicker at anyone who dares offer counterpoint as "narrow-minded." In a very subtle way they dismiss opposing viewpoints with a wave of an intellectually elite hand, all the while leaping over the very scientific method they claim to wield.

Let's reframe this one before its nonsensical platitudes become ingrained. Science does not support cheating.

First, Laslocky's contention that marriage for love is a luxury of modernity flies in the face of great love sonnets, songs and sagas from throughout history. Certainly arranged marriages and unrequited love also exist in history, but it is instructive that they are most often couched in tragedy, not normalcy.

Human yearning for love and unity did not rush onto the stages of the enlightenment and suddenly change human nature. That romantic love is more prevalent today is likely, that it is new is not.

Next, her use of animal species for moral direction for humanity is not just silly, it is dangerous. Using such an approach to its ad absurdum conclusion, we could then justify any behavior, including disemboweling others with sharp objects, because lions do it in the wild!

While humanity shares a position on a chart of living things, any child at the zoo can tell the dramatic difference between a troop of gorillas and a human family.

Further, she essentially asserts fidelity is old-fashioned and that we should just collectively lower the bar and accept the "we're all animals anyway" argument. It turns out that real data and science teach us that while infidelity certainly harms spouses, it particularly hurts children — which Laslocky conveniently leapt right past in her writing.

In the animal kingdom, swamp rats and ring-tailed lemurs may be able to birth and leave their offspring quickly, but the humans thrive in harmonious family structures that include a solid and loving marriage of parents. The best societal outcomes come from traditional family structures, not broken homes.

Finally, she said we should tolerate more infidelity due to rising life expectancies. Her reason? Spouses used to die earlier, providing a happy accident for the surviving spouse because they were afforded an additional sexual relationship!

Yep, I can envision the scene on the Oklahoma prairie where a wife nurses her husband dying of consumption. She's thinking, "we've married, homesteaded, cultivated a corn farm, and have 4 small children together. I can't wait to find another sexual partner!" Philosophical fad? No, this part of her argument is pure poppycock.

Certainly no one should throw stones at those who stray on their marriage commitments. Yet when it comes to marital cheating, let's not slump, yet again, to the quasi-virtue of tolerance. Instead, we should rise to the highest of what it means to be human, and herald the virtue self-governance to give the best in us to our children.

Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a GM at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. Email him at msanders@deseretnews.com, follow him on Twitter @Sanders_Matt or subscribe to the Reframing the Debate email feed.

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