Signs of the Post-Romantic Times: Arranged Marriage Chic?

Americans are growing more interested in and perhaps enamored of matchmaking and arranged marriage, which used to call to mind Fiddler on the Roof or an expose on "primitive" custom. This tentative interest in arranged marriage in Western cultures co-exists with an international, thoroughly romantic, "love before marriage" trend, which suggests an amusing and fascinating cross-pollination.

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Americans are growing more interested in and perhaps enamored of matchmaking and arranged marriage, which used to call to mind Fiddler on the Roof or an expose on "primitive" custom. This tentative interest in arranged marriage in Western cultures co-exists with an international, thoroughly romantic, "love before marriage" trend, which suggests an amusing and fascinating cross-pollination.

Perhaps the globalized economy, the Internet, war, immigration, international sex tourism, and the worrying rise of mail order brides, among other places of contact and crossing, has “flattened” our marital ideals, too, much as Thomas Friedman has proposed for the global economy. Or, it's created a marital mixing pot,pushing more practical-minded cultures toward the subversive Love before Marriage trend, and nudging romantically-besotted Americans  toward a post-romantic, sensible shoes approach.  

India's Love Before Marriage trend gained momentum, literally, on the currents of the global economy, with the software boom of the 1990s. Following the usual trade route of transmission, parts of the Asian and the middle eastern world are newly besotted with our exported romantic ideal of true love. It inspired an Indian newspaper to editorialize with rousing and delicious hyperbole against the "sickening trend" toward "Western standards for marriage," those who "wallow in cohabitation and enjoyment," breathing the "air of all pervasive permissiveness and promiscuity, redolent with adultery and infidelity." It's the (waning) American way, I suppose.

I wish that all Americans had the hedonistic love lives that our detractors imagine that we must have.

But meanwhile, in the United States and western European countries, the idea of arranged marriage and matchmaking is catching on. "Arranged marriages are very natural," says Aneela Rahman, a British citizen. "It is something Asian people do all the time and it is part of our culture." Rahman was 23, thoroughly westernized, well educated, and studying optometry when her family arranged her marriage. Now her TV series, "Arrange Me a Marriage," involves working with friends to find suitable marriage candidates.

"Even though many of you might cringe at the prospect of an arranged marriage," writes American bride Anum Ghazipura, "I actually have no reservations about the idea. Not having the added responsibility of having to choose the man with whom I will spend the rest of my life…gives me a chance to concentrate on my goals." By the romantic script, of course, love and marriage were the goals of life.

In China, parents still swap information on their marriageable children, who are too busy working to find mates themselves, in public parks that function like matrimonial Marble Arches.

But Western romantic ideals are taking hold among the younger generation of Chinese. While parents circulate trading cards on children ("associate's degree, 1.7 meters, realtor-manager, two homes, 5,500 RMB"), their children wish things were "lighter, more natural," and that "it will [just] happen."

In a reverse ideological migration, Americans are becoming more curious about arranged marriage, more receptive to the rational attitude of marrying marriage.

In academia, behavioral economists and other scholars conduct research on marital decision making and compare the virtues of the love match and the arranged marriage; in New Jersey, the Muslim community holds a Muslim Matrimonial Event in a restaurant as an accepted form of Islamic "speed dating."

It's not just an artifact of immigrant communities. High-end matchmaking services for professionals in cities such as Boston and Seattle now "outsource love," in one of these matchmaker's terms A similar service by Christine Stelmack in Seattle, who has a degree in marketing and psychology, matches men with a net worth of at least $1 million with career-oriented, attractive, educated single women.

More troubling is the number of American men finding foreign born wives through international marriage brokers may total 14,500 a year. Approved fiancée visas in the U.S. rose from 24,000 in 2000 to 47,500 in 2004. It bears underscoring that this is a worrisome and by no means entirely benign phenomenon—Congress passed the "International Marriage Broker Regulation Act" in 2006 to protect mail order brides, and the Tahirih Justice Center advocates against the blatant stereotypes of submission and docility that the matchmaking services promulgate, which can lead to "marriages" that amount to little more than abuse or sexual servitude.

Most prominently, though, matchmaking is already very much in the mainstream--if we count eHarmony, the most wildly successful matchmaker of all time. With 20 million registered clients since its inception in 2000, eHarmony has facilitated an average of 236 marriages a day. Match.com is a virtual singles bar, which tosses applicants together online, but eHarmony is a virtual shtetl matchmaker, with the demystifying matchmaker role of the elder assigned to its trademarked “Compatibility Matching System,” a meticulous five-hundred-question test. With eHarmony, as with any other matchmaker, the potential spouse entrusts the initial selections to reason over desire; method over epiphany. A go-between—the scientific system, in this case—screens and suggests mates based on clear-eyed expertise. “Who knew love and science could be so compatible?” eHarmony marvels at itself.

Robert Epstein, former editor of Psychology Today, published a controversial editorial in 2002 proposing that we shouldn’t “fall” in love. Instead we should go about it deliberately and rationally, and then learn to have a happy marriage. He proposed a “love contract” by which he and a woman would learn to love each other through “extensive counseling sessions.”

Although Epstein stopped short of recommending arranged marriage (and eventually found a partner in a more conventional way), he noted in another article that “60 percent of the world’s weddings are planned that way.” The American “love marriage” based on physical attraction and romance, he declared, is “really, really horrible.” Point taken. The romantic marriage with its notions of chronic dependency and emotional fulfillment wasn’t, and isn’t, such a tenable script. Still, I do wonder if there isn’t an alternative marriage muse for us, somewhere between the poet and the mechanic.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.


Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

For thousands of years, humans slept in two shifts. Should we do it again?

Researchers believe that the practice of sleeping through the whole night didn’t really take hold until just a few hundred years ago.

The Bed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Surprising Science

She was wide awake and it was nearly two in the morning. When asked if everything was alright, she said, “Yes.” Asked why she couldn’t get to sleep she said, “I don’t know.” Neuroscientist Russell Foster of Oxford might suggest she was exhibiting “a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern." Research suggests we used to sleep in two segments with a period of wakefulness in-between.

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Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
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  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
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