Gonna try to keep this as short as possible because… well, it’s sorta boring, but it’s absolutely necessary to understand, if you’re going to think about this issue.
Oh, oh. It does eventually have to do with sex, but….not in this letter.
Just read it. Please.
I want you to understand the nature and place of Institutions in human society. Tommy! Wake up! Esther, will you wake your brother up.
Let me quote from the venerable Wiki:
An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community. Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intention by enforcing rules that govern cooperative human behavior.
The thing to notice is that 1) an institution governs the behavior of individuals towards a social goal, and in working for that goal 2) it goes beyond individual lives and individual intentions.
So you have the institution and its goals (which are directed to society as a whole), and you have the goals of the individuals who enter into it.
That might seem complicated, but it’s really not. Just fancy talk for things you already know. Think of a University. As an institution its purpose is to provide higher education to persons who will benefit from such an education, and by doing so better the society in which we live by preserving and building on our shared cultural inheritance.
Now that has to sound familiar because it’s precisely why all your friends want to go to college, right? You’ve talked about that very thing at lunch.
Cultural Inheritance. Higher Education. Makes ya want to holler!
I’m just guessing, but I bet there was at least the occasional excitement over potential salaries, winning football seasons; … maybe beer pong. While some people want an education, others want to play ball, march in a band or simply party with college babes; There’s the ‘whole college experience.’ I know people who have gone to specific schools in hopes of finding a specific sort of mate.
Nothing to be ashamed of. That’s just how Institutions work. If you think about the Military, you’ll see the same thing going on. Our Military exists to fight wars, but people enlist all the time with absolutely no intention or interest in fighting a war. Some do, but others need a job, or an education funded; they covet an early retirement or they admire the tradition and perceived pomp and circumstance, etc.
The point is that Institutions exists for a specific social end, but people might legitimately enter into an institution for reasons that have little to do with the Institution’s ends.
Just a couple ‘o three obvious remarks, and I’ll stop.
First, Tommy! Wake up!
Second, because the Institution exists for a specific social goal, those who enter into it are expected to meet the basic requirements of that goal.
And lastly, an institution cannot change those requirements so that they match the individual reasons for which people enter into the institution without jeopardizing the very social mission of the institution- the reason society established it in the first place.
Wild parties happen at UGA, but UGA oughtn’t write wild parties into its mission statement or recruit potential students on the basis of their ability to contribute to the memorability of UGA parties. If it did so, UGA’s Education would suffer, and the same is true for all the other (even laudable) reasons for which people apply to UGA. That’s how an institution dies as an Institution. It is de-institutionalized, which means it ceases to transcend the individual lives and intentions of those who enter into it for a societal good. It becomes simply an opportunity for individual experience.
If the social purpose for which the institution was created is important, then that’s a really big deal. Does higher education matter? Better keep academic entrance requirements up. Does the ability to defend ourselves as a nation matter, then we better keep entrance requirements focused on that end.
Why bring this up? Marriage is an institution. Though people enter into it for many different reasons, it has a social end; and like every institution it can be destroyed by replacing or confusing that end with the myriad of reasons that motivate people to get married. That’s a big deal because its purpose is the most radically foundational of any Institution.
We’ll talk more about that later.
Love you all,
Letter I– The Discussion
Letter II– Equality
Letter IV– Human Stuff