4.3.13

THE EVOLUTION OF THE VOWS.

Two posts focusing on apparently different phenomena nonetheless identify common adaptations to transaction costs.  A Via Media post on the rightness, or not, of priestly celibacy (note, this is not the chastity expected of nuns and monks) begins with the early Catholic Church.
Centuries of persecution reinforced the idea that the leaders of the Christian community, bishops and priests for whom martyrdom was in the job description, should avoid earthly entanglements. One can sympathize with their point of view. It is bad enough being fed to the lions without worrying about the hungry family you are leaving behind.
Celibacy might have expired with the Establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, but for the bequest motive.
The Church became one of the wealthiest institutions in the Empire, and its officials controlled great resources and had immense political power. That power only grew when the Empire fell and feudalism appeared. In an era of weak states and institutions, powerful families constantly sought to appropriate ‘common’ property; much like oligarchs pillaging state property after the fall of the Soviet Union, people sought to ‘privatize’ both church and state property when opportunities rose.

Without celibacy, clerical dynasties would surely have emerged, and lucrative offices would almost inevitably become hereditary. Even humble parish priests would try to ensure that their sons followed them in their calling and, in a period of weak institutions and little central authority, the positions and the possessions of the Church were all too likely to fall under private control. Celibacy ensured that priests had no children, or that, if they did (and there have never been many illusions in the Church about the weakness of the flesh and the powers of temptation), those children would at least be illegitimate and unable to claim a right of succession.
One day, there is a dissertation waiting to be written about the persistence of heirs, including, these days, the bastard heirs, of entertainers, athletes, and academicians continuing the family traditions.  And it is no accident that the canonical academic novel features a dysfunctional couple essential to a quorum of the tenure committee in the English department, and the departmental civil war begins when dysfunction manifests itself in polymorphous perversity.  But higher education's administrators see some value in solving joint-location decisions, departmental politics notwithstanding.  Or not.  At least two senior female executives in information technology businesses have implemented policies that set off the entire work-life-balance conversation all over again.  There's a well-documented round-up at 11-D.  Go there for that conversation, focus here on this observation about the academy.
A friend of mine and I were gossiping last week about fellow academics who were getting promotions and all that. The commonality? They didn't have kids. Some weren't even married. 
Perhaps we're still seeing the separating equilibrium in which the ambitious people do not begrudge their family-focused colleagues and co-workers their children, as long as those colleagues do not begrudge the ambitious their promotions.  Or perhaps, despite four years of change we can believe in, labor markets are still not tight enough for people of ability to request more favorable working conditions, despite there being good reason to do so.

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