The many paradoxes of marriage.

Musings Report #43  10-25-14    The Paradox of Marriage

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For those who are new to the Musings reports: they are basically a glimpse into my notebook,the unfiltered swamp where I organize future themes, sort through the dozens of stories and links submitted by readers, refine my own research and start connecting dots which appear later in the blog or in my books. As always, I hope the Musings spark new appraisals and insights. Thank you for supporting the site and for inviting me into your circle of correspondents.


The Paradox of Marriage

I was reminded of the dual nature of marriage by two films and a science article: marriage is both advantageous and problematic to the point of torture.

Scientific American's recent issue on human evolution included an essay entitled Our Secret Evolutionary Weapon: Monogamy -- Monogamous coupling might have been the best move our ancestors ever made.

The description on the cover was also insightful: (Mostly) Monogamous.

"People have affairs, get divorced and, in some cultures, marry multiple mates. In fact, polygamy appears in most of the world's societies. Yet even where polygamy is permitted, it is the minority arrangement. Most human societies are organized around the assumption that a large fraction of the population will pair off into enduring, sexually exclusive couples.

And monogamy seems to have done our species good. “Pair bonds,” as scientists call monogamous relationships, were a crucial adaptation that arose in an archaic forebear that became central to human social systems and our evolutionary success."

The evolutionary advantages of forming emotionally committed couples are compelling. Given that the advantages imparted by pairs serve our own self interests as well as the interests of our offspring, it's no wonder that marriage in one form or another has long been the foundation of human life. 

But that doesn't mean marriage is easy or emotionally rewarding.  As two well-regarded films illustrate, marriages can create conditions that can only be described as tortuous for both halves of the pair.

I recently saw Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami, the well-known Iranian director, mostly on the strength of his other films I've seen.

Unlike his other movies (filmed in Iran), this 2012 film is set in Europe (Italy) and stars French actress Juliette Binoche.  The film is said to echo Roberto Rossellini's famous depiction of a failing marriage,  Voyage to Italy (1954), and one of Kiarostami's first features, The Report  (1977), which honestly depicts a corrosive marriage. Kiarostami has said this film was based on his own marriage, which ended in divorce.

Certified Copy and Voyage to Italy are both art films, meaning that the narrative is not a linear Hollywood-style story.  Rossellini's marriage to the film's star, Ingrid Bergman, was crumbling during the filming, and so once again the director's own experience adds to the film's emotional rawness.

Certified Copy contains an unexpected shift about halfway through that the director says is designed to reveal the dual aspects of marriage: we remain strangers to each other, much as we were in courtship, even as we come to know each other all too well.

Woody Allen expressed a different paradox in Crimes and Misdemeanors:

"You will notice that what we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. The paradox consists of the fact that when we fall in love we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. 

On the other hand, we ask our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted upon us. So that love contains within it the contradiction--the attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past."

Allen's insight is missing in the two depictions of tortured marriages; we have no sense of the partners' childhoods or parents, factors which clearly lay the emotional groundwork for the adult marriages that follow.

Certified Copy and Voyage to Italy have no flashbacks, and few references to the past: they are filmed in real time, so to speak, and they dwell on how people grow apart and the pain that arises from that distance. The friction seems to arise from the inability of one partner or the other to accept that this loss of intimacy and emotional gulf is "the new normal."  Perhaps for the paradoxical reason Allen described, accepting this emotional distance is impossible for one partner, just as it is equally impossible for the other partner to bridge the gulf.

Like individuals, marriages are complex and often opaque, not just to observers but to the participants themselves. The article and the films shine some light on the innate attractions of marriage and the way this intimacy can go awry and become the wellspring of emotional loss and pain.

Summary of the Blog This Past Week

From Home-Grown Tomatoes to Home-Made Pasta Sauce 10/25/14

Does Anyone Else Think the Stock Market Is Living on Reds, Vitamin C and Cocaine? 10/24/14

What's Avant-Garde Now? Social Innovation 10/23/14

What Happens When Cash Is No Longer Trash? 10/22/14

In Uncharted Waters  10/21/14

The Artists' Road to Serfdom: The Commoditization of Creative Content 10/20/14

Best Thing That Happened To Me This Week

Making home-made pasta sauce from our home-grown tomatoes for the first time.

Market Musings: Open Gaps and Warning Signs

As I suggested last week, the SPX did run back up to the congestion area around 1960-70.  The consensus seems to be that the rally will push on from here up to old highs or maybe even new highs above 2000.

But there are also warning signs that this recent manic rally is suspect, and the market is still vulnerable to a "surprise" downturn.

I've marked up a chart of the SPX with six indicators: RSI, MACD, stochastics, percent volume oscillator, Chaikin Money Flow and Money Flow. All are well off recent highs and either neutral or bearish.

Most troubling for the Bullish case in my view are the three open gaps in SPX.  These gaps are the result of manic leaps at the open. My experience over the past 20 years of watching markets is that open gaps get filled, usually sooner than later. There are a few cases where open gaps reflect island reversals or massive trend changes that last for months or years, but three gaps in a manic 7-day rally are very suspect, especially when considered in the context of unbullish indicators.

RSI is trending down, diverging from the rally.

MACD is sharply up but well below the neutral line. It's when MACD is below the neutral line that bad things tend to happen.

The stochastics have already reached overbought levels. This can persist for weeks, but it can also reverse and turn down.

The PVO (percent volume oscillator) has recently topped during downturns, as volume has been weak in rallies and strong in declines. Volume is the weapon of the Bull, and weak volume in rallies is evidence of a poor-quality advance.

Chaikin Money Flow measures the amount of Money Flow Volume over a specific period. I use it not as the lead indicator but as something that confirms or diverges from the price trend. Notice how CMF rose in the Sept. rally, but was significantly weaker than during the summer rally.  Despite a massive rally, it's still below the neutral line. This is hardly bullish.

Money flow has flattened out at levels well below recent highs. This reflects the weak fundamentals of this wild 7-day rally.

It wouldn't surprise me if markets remain elevated into the Fed meeting on Wednesday. But if the Fed doesn't announce QE4, markets could roll over hard. The indicators are weak across the board--not a good sign for those expecting more manic upside.

From Left Field

The National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest (via John S.P.)

China Challenged by Deepening Property Slump: Decline Hits Many Households and Industries, Scams Burn Speculators -- there will be global repercussions as China's real estate bubble pops.

THE BEST NEW RESTAURANTS IN AMERICA, 2014 -- a celebration of excess and fussiness that tries to sound like it's not glorifying the very End-of-the-Empire excess it celebrates....

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon

Machine-Learning Maestro Michael Jordan on the Delusions of Big Data and Other Huge Engineering Efforts (via Lew. G.)
Big-data boondoggles and brain-inspired chips are just two of the things we’re really getting wrong

How Quantitative Easing Contributed to the Nation’s Inequality Problem -- surprising to see this in the WSJ--the meme that the Fed has exacerbated inequality has gone mainstream...

Sheldon Wolin’s the reason I began drinking coffee -- early a.m. lectures.... Descartes was also not a morning person...

A very unexpected natural event in Papua, New Guinea, recorded by a tourist (1 min) woah... is this real?

Old Masters: After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign.  -- the ideal way to age gracefully...

Kierkegaard Explains the Psychology of Bullying and Online Trolling in 1847 (via G.F.B.)

No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields, study finds (via Joel M.)

How Mainstream Economic Thinking Imperils America ( 1 hr, 25 min) (via Chad D.)-- discussion of the new book, Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World.

The Cubicle Laborers Who Keep Beheadings Off of Facebook -- apparently this editing still requires human judgment...

"If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative." Woody Allen 

Thanks for reading--
Copyright © 2014 Charles H Smith, All rights reserved.