But there's some great stuff here: If you quantify and keep track, you are thinking in terms of debt. Berlatsky refers to David Graeber's book "Debt: The First 5,000 Years":
[M]any egalitarian societies make an enormous effort to keep clear of the logic of debt. Graeber tells a story about an Inuit man who offered a hungry anthropologist named Peter Freuchen a huge mound of seal meat. Freuchen thanked the man profusely. Freuchen recorded the man's response.The logic of debt? Isn't that the logic of gifts? Keeping track of debts is a way of avoiding too much, doing only your fair share. Gifts complicate a relationship, adding joy to serving and transforming the experience of being served. Debts make a cooler transaction. But Berlatsky conflates debt and gift in the pursuit of the idea that human beings do things for one another in recognition of mutual humanity. He also — scarily — conflates marriage and egalitarian societies:
"Up in our country we are human!" said the hunter. "And since we are human we help each other. We don't like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs."
Societies like the Inuit put enormous social effort and pressure into making sure that excellent hunters don't end up putting everyone in their debt. Marriages, too, can slide towards hierarchy if you're not careful. There's a lot of years of inequity and a lot of learned gender roles telling men and women that women owe housework to their families—an obligation that (as the hunter suggests) can pretty easily end up feeling like, and even functioning as, slavery. That's why housework is a feminist issue—and why both men and women need to work to stop it from becoming the whip that makes one spouse the master and the other the dog.Okay, I've done my fair share of the work of untangling the mixed up ideas in this article. But that paragraph is a mess. Why don't you clean it up?
I'm going to comment on the illustration The Atlantic paired with Berlatsky's idea salad. That looks like a more amusing task. It's Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Quick! I need a picture that represents a marriage... a bad marriage.
But the article critiques a modern-day version of a bad marriage, and "American Gothic" depicts a comical, cliché, old-fashioned marriage.
Anyway, I found a nice 2005 Slate article about "American Gothic." I hope you know the models for that painting were not a married couple that Wood found living in that house you see in the background. Wood found the house in Iowa, painted it, then got the idea to pose a couple characters in front of it. The woman is his own sister. The man was his dentist.
The critics who admired the painting in the early '30s — including Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley — ... assumed it was a satire about the rigidity of American rural or small-town life, lampooning the people H. L. Mencken called the "booboisie" of the "Bible Belt." As [Steven] Biel [author of "American Gothic"] explains, "American Gothic appeared to its first viewers as the visual equivalent of the revolt-against-the-provinces genre in 1910s and 1920s American literature"—a critique of provincialism akin to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess.The political propagandists are everywhere, mining whatever material they can get their hands on. It's arduous work, but somebody's got to do it.
But a few years later, as the nation sank into the Great Depression, people started to see Wood's painting in a different light. American Gothic was no longer understood as satirical, but as a celebratory expression of populist nationalism. Critics extolled the farmer and his wife as steadfast embodiments of American virtue and the pioneer spirit. "American democracy was built upon the labors of men and women of stout hearts and firm jaws, such people as those above," read one caption in 1935.