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Headscratchers / The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

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Loonie marriages

  • What exactly is the difference between line marriages and clan marriages? Line marriages are well explained, every man is married to every woman and the marriage never ends because new spouses are periodically brought in. But all we know about clan marriages is that they have even stronger safeguards against incest, typically that no two relatives of any degree can join the same clan as spouses, while in a line marriage or a regular polyandrous marriage relatives can sometimes join as long as they are not genetically related to any spouse they could be expected to have sexual relations with. But none of this explains what the basic dynamic of a clan marriage is. Who is married to who in a clan? Who can join and how? Are spouses held in common (shared) or is it done some other way?
    • Judging from what little I could gather from Heinlein's other books and similar situations in reality, I believe the difference is that a clan marriage is a polygamous arrangement among a group of people roughly the same age, while a line marriage keeps bringing in young folk as the older spouses age. So a 6-person clan marriage may have a 25-year-old woman, a 28-year-old woman, a 30-year-old man, a 35-year-old man, and a 27-year-old man, while a 6-person line marriage may have a 60-year-old woman, a 72-year-old man, a 42-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman, and a 19-year-old man. The spouses in a clan marriage would age and then die, ending the marriage (probably passing the property on to their children), while the line marriage never technically ends.
      • This seems closer to what the book calls a group marriage. The distinguishing characteristic of both line and clan marriages is that they never end. Clan marriages are probably similar to the marriage customs of many primitive societies, where all the offspring of one gender (usually male) remain in the clan as adults and inherit the property while all the offspring of the other gender (usually female) are sent to other clans to seek spouses. Since this is Heinlein, spouses are probably shared within a clan, or at least within the same generational cohort.
      • This tracks with the incest issue. Each generation would be a whole bunch of brothers and sisters. By kicking out all the brothers or all the sisters, they eliminate the consanguinity problem. I imagine they keep the girls, females being prized as they are.
      • More likely it's the boys they keep. As Mannie points out in the book, once a girl hits puberty, she's a free agent and can do whatever see wants. Hard to see Loonies forcing women to stay in a clan if they don't want to.
      • Agreed. Mannie specifically mentions how his family made an exception to allow a girl to stay in the family as a wife when a clan never would have allowed her to. Without genetic testing, children of a clan could never be certain who their father was but would know their mother. Girls would have to leave the clan to ensure they don’t unintentionally have intercourse with their biological fathers.


  • Mannie mentions that after the revolution, a bunch of comrades were put out to learn how far down the Party structure they were. But shouldn't that have been obvious before, given their Party names? They certainly knew that rank was denoted by the first letter of a comrade's Party name; Mannie earlier talks about a scenario in which he needs to talk to someone about propaganda stuff, someone the cell system wouldn't put him in direct contact with, but Mike sets it up so they can talk by phone, and Mannie says the person would know by his Party name beginning with a "B" that he's a VIP. So the naming system was known to the rank and file.
    • Maybe they didn’t realize how large each rank tier really was. For example, an “E” might have convinced himself that he is the fifth highest rank in the Party, not realizing that there are roughly fifty comrades above him, and about one hundred others of the same rank.
    • We humans are masters of self-deception. When you only personally know one person above you in the heirarchy, three below you, and a few of the same rank, it's pretty easy to convince yourself that you're a big fish. Most people wouldn't even consider the fact that each tier is exponentially larger than the one above it.

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