For those who have been following my 150-year goal of coming up with a new system to foster lifelong learning from conception to death, you will know that I tend to look at a whole system to judge the success of a particular solution. For instance, increased pay for teachers is a nice thought, but pointless in light of the nature of the public education system to ignore the individual, forcing unnatural age grouping, and reward the average.
So it was with some interest that I read Why We F*ck by David Cain. At first, it struck me as an article I would more likely find on The Good Men Project, a good source for discussions around human sexual experiences. David quickly traces mankind’s current (last couple thousand years, or so) insistence on monogamy to the agrarian development of property:
Much like today, when a landowner died others wanted the land, and the issue of who had legal claim to it had to be settled. The most intuitive arrangement was for a landowner’s offspring to inherit it.
So for the first time ever, it became absolutely necessary for a man to know that his children were his. In the age before birth control and paternity tests, there was only one way for a man to be certain:
He had to make 100 percent sure that his woman never, ever had sex with anyone else.
And so men came to control land by controlling women’s sexuality, and the new “normal” sculpted by this economic trend is still the primary model for us today: sexual monogamy. To secure themselves economically, men demanded virgins and had zero tolerance for any hint of non-monogamy. Fidelity was enforced by vicious social contracts including religious dictates and cultural beliefs, for which women were humiliated, stoned or worse for even expressing the desire to bed with another man.
So monogamy appears to be a cultural phenomenon that has its origins in economics of all places. There isn’t necessarily anything instrinsically wrong with it, but looking at the divorce rates one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a round hole, while humans — biologically at least — carry square pegs.
Interesting as that premise is on its own, David’s thoughts later in the comments are what really got me thinking:
I think culturally enforced monogamy is more likely to create heartbreak and unrealistic attachments than a culture in which it is accepted that people may express love to multiple people.
Which brought me to ponder this: what system would accommodate physical intimacy with more than one at a time? As with most entrenched systems, the interdependencies make it very hard to only “fix one symptom” of a bigger problem. In the one we address here—the foundation of most societies active in the 21st Century—so much of the legal and tax structure is based on the understanding of transfer to heirs that just thinking what would happen if lineage was not easily determined makes the head spin.
It’s the 200+ comments where the discussion of this topic really takes off. I won’t transfer all of that here, but encourage those of you who like a good mental exercise to read this first, then explore more of David’s blog. I think you will enjoy the expanse of topics and depth of thought.
And if you have any ideas on how to build a better societal system, feel free to start that conversation here!