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June 11, 2004

Love is natural

I don't have time to post about arranged marriage right now, but I do want to submit this assertion: if pair-bonded "love matches" and families dictating arranged matches are set up as a dichotomy, the former has far deeper roots in our "hardware," while the latter is a recent emergent property of our experiments with various kinship structures in the context of dense agricultural life. My argument rests on a simple observation, societies where arranged marriages are the norm abound in lush and expansive epics of tragic love and still view individualistic pair-bonding as an ideal that simply can not be attained in this world. On the other hand, societies where individualistic pair-bonding is the norm do not seem to have great nostalgia for the days of arranged marriages (though individuals might want to "opt-out" out of the free agent marriage market because they simply can not offer a "good product," if there is no critical social mass of families who can act as liasons these individuals will "settle"). Simply put, love comes out of the EEA, it is hard-wired into us. Arranged marriages exist in a social milieu far removed from the EEA, and they trump nature with a complex system of controls and punishments which block off individual pair-bonding as a realistic option (the story told to my family of a pair of Syrian lovers who were killed and dismembered by their families comes to mind). Here again we see a situation where Information Age Western societies might be at a "lower energetic state" when it is analogistically envisaged as the tension between our evolutionarily defined inclinations and our culturally constrained parameters of action. Perhaps one reason that the Bangladeshis I alluded to have to spend so much time lubricating kin relations is that their society is in some ways fundamentally "swimming upstream" against our universal nature. Whose the freak now?

Update: A few clarifications:

1) I am not making any comment on which types of marriage last the longest. The dynamics of the two types are marriage are different enough that I think that comparisons are kind of empty (though shorter pre-modern lifespans might have made "long term" pair-bonding more realistic as "long term" was only 15-20 years).

2) This article I referenced from The Economist indicates there are various forms of love that might cement a pair-bond. The article states there are three forms of love: lust, romantic love and long-term attachment.

3) Judging "happiness" is pretty dicey in my opinion. The expectations of those in arranged marriages and love marriages are likely different. Certainly, I don't think the expectations of mind-blowing-bliss that seem dominant in American society are A) realistic or B) genetically hard-wired. Rather, I am saying the tendency to love is natural, and societies that demphasize or constrain it have to be channel the impulse in other directions, or nullify it with other values (God, family, etc.). Additionally, the cultures that practice arranged marriage often hold the ideal of love in high esteem in their literature and mythology, even if it is not an operative principle in their own marriage relationships.

Posted by razib at 04:09 AM