Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Romantic love is a strange, complicated thing, and it may well be that it is much more of a learned emotion than an inherited one, more of a cultural invention rather than a natural phenomenon.
I’m afraid I’m going to disagree with that, principally based on my reading of Desmond Morris’s books. Certainly, because humans have evolved into complex beings with complex brains, there are many more permutations than for lower order animals, but the length of pair bonding has evolved to allow the brood to reach maturity. If humans played no part in rearing their young our sexual morals and pairing behaviour would be very different, I’d imagine. As for romantic love, apparently, when in love, our eyesight is impaired slightly, to increase the chances of finding ones partner beautiful
I wasn't suggesting that lust and sexual attraction and companionship and affection are cultural inventions, obviously, and I wasn't even suggesting that romantic love is entirely
a cultural invention. But some people have argued that our beliefs and expectations about romantic love, and in particular the expectation that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, are very much tied up with how it is portrayed in novels and poems and songs and movies, and that such portrayals date back to 12th-century France, and in particular to the story of Tristan and Iseult (e.g. Love in the Western World
, by Denis de Rougemont (1940); and The Hoax of Romance
, by Jo Loudin (1981)). Johann Hari has written — rather passionately — about the subject. See "Love is ... not quite what it seems"
(also published in the Independent as "The unromantic reality of love"
). Though I note that Hari argues that romantic love is an 18th-century English invention, not a 12th-century French one. And he did admit to feeling rather love-sick when he wrote it.
Nick wrote:Certainly there will be cultural influences and reinforcements, but I don’t see any not based on nature.
I don't understand what that means. Everything is ultimately based on nature. But culture is a powerful thing. Religion alone is a powerful thing. Yes, that's loosely "based on nature", too, but it can also be seen as distinct from it. And religion has had a huge
influence on marriage, in particular.
Nick wrote:And bear in mind that humans have evolved to an extreme extent, so that one might expect to find frayed edges and non-standard responses amongst such a highly tuned animal.
Evolved to an extreme extent? Highly tuned? Hmmm. I'm not sure that's the sort of language that evolutionary biologists would be comfortable with.
But one could certainly say that humans have developed culturally as well as biologically. So one might expect to find a huge range of responses, and that what we might think of as "standard" in 21st-century Britain or Canada is very different from what biologically identical humans in other parts of the world and at other times might think of as "standard".
Nick wrote:Evolution has yet to catch up with the fact that humans generally live long beyond their reproductive years. A desire to find a mate and seek pleasure may have a second outing when the first round is completed, or when the unusual environment which we have created sparks off such a reaction that evolution did not expect. For example, the opportunity to play the field outside one’s immediate family circle.
Opportunity is key, I think. When you look at differences in behaviour, you can generally find differences in opportunity. Differences in levels of adultery between men and women have a lot to do with differences in opportunity, I suspect. Opportunities for adultery depend largely on the type of work one does. There was a study about divorce rates among various professions, and agricultural engineers were at the bottom of a list of occupations ordered by risk of divorce, with a mere 1.78% chance, and dancers and choreographers were at the top, with a 43.05% chance. I know divorce isn't just about adultery, but I'd assume that there would be a correlation. And there are other studies. Annette Lawson, who researched the subject for her book Adultery: An Analysis of Love and Betrayal
(1980), did find, as you would expect, that men typically have more extra-marital affairs than women. "Those men who were in the traditional male-dominated professions (business, accountancy, law, for example) and those women who were in typically female-dominated occupations (nursing, social work, teaching) had the same number of liaisons as expected" she writes. "When, however, we looked at the men who had entered the `female' professions or occupations and the women who had entered the `male' spheres, then these women `looked like' men and these men `looked like' women in the number of their liaisons" (quoted in "Amoral America"
, by Suzanne Fields, Insight on the News
, June 12, 2000).
For still others, perhaps only a few at the moment, there may be strong impulses to have more than one domestic sexual partner at the same time.
Hmmm... I think we are a long way from that. Free love doesn’t seem to be able to survive for very long.
As Marian has already noted, having more than one domestic sexual partner is not the same as free love. Free love is simply love unregulated by law, and that seems to be doing pretty well. My own loving relationship has survived for nearly ten years now without any state-recognised marriage contract, which isn't bad.
Nick wrote:The females may not like it, but their 'best chance' may lie with putting up with the situation.
Best chance of what?
Best chance of getting through life. Only in the last half century or so have (non-exceptional) women been able to make their way alone in a man’s world.
Nonsense. Spinsterhood and early widowhood have been common phenomena for centuries, and plenty of spinsters and widows survived to a ripe old age, and plenty of widows successfully brought up children. They may have struggled, but the struggle was because of cultural and social and political restrictions, not because they weren't physically capable of looking after themselves. And women have made their way in the world in groups, too, for centuries. Admittedly they needed the excuse of religion to be able to do it without censure, but it was an excuse that worked very well.
But if they're not jealous, or can learn not to be jealous, and if they are inclined themselves to have multiple partners, then perhaps a polyamorous set-up could work well for them.
Do you really think that is likely? How inclined would you or anyone you know be to “learn not to be jealous”? Hmmm..I don’t se it happening in general terms.
Neither do I. And perhaps "can learn not to be jealous" was an overstatement. But "can learn to control jealousy" might be more realistic. Jealousy is experienced to different degrees by different people. There is, apparently, some evidence that jealousy is more pronounced in cultures that attach social importance to marriage and disapprove of sexual relationships outside marriage, and also in cultures that value personal property (from "The evolution of jealousy" by Christine Harris, American Scientist
, vol. 92, 2004, pp. 62–71, download pdf file
). There are lots of websites that tackle the issue of jealousy in polyamorous relationships. This one
is typical: "Jealousy is most common when somebody feels insecure, mistreated, threatened, or vulnerable in a relationship. If you feel secure in a relationship, you don't get jealous. Jealousy is not the problem; jealousy is the SYMPTOM of the problem. Address the insecurity or the things underlying the feelings of vulnerability, and you address the jealousy. So the trick to making a poly relationship work is to make everyone involved feel secure, valued, and loved." I don't know how successful these relationships are or could be. In my first post I did say that I thought polyamory was "something that, in theory at least
, is perfectly compatible with a humanist outlook" (italics added). I also said that they didn't appeal to me. But there are clearly rather a lot of people these days for whom polyamory does have considerable appeal. And at least some of those people do seem to be having rewarding relationships. Perhaps they won't last as long, on average, as conventional marriages do, but how important is that?
Nick wrote:Unsurprisingly, gay relationships often follow a different path, including multiple partners.
Do you have any data on this?
I have anecdotal evidence from gay friends, and I’d suggest the course of the AIDS epidemic would be evidence of this.
I suppose it all depends on what you meant by "often". I wouldn't argue with the claim that "many" gay men and lesbians have several sexual partners. But then "many" heterosexual men and women have a lot of sexual partners too. I would probably not bother to argue with the claim that a higher proportion of gay men have multiple sexual partners than do straight men, even without supporting data. Though I don't think you can say that the course of HIV/AIDS demonstrates that, because that ignores the issue of different sexual practices having different levels of risk. And if it is true that gay men and lesbians have more sexual partners than straight men and straight women respectively, then I'd be curious to know why you'd find that "unsurprising". What would your explanation for it be? Would it be anything to do with evolutionary biology?
Nick wrote:Given these incredibly strong evolutionary characteristics ...
What incredibly strong evolutionary characteristics?
The characteristic which have led to the predominance of the family as a unit in society.
That's begging the question, Nick. Maybe it is evolution that has led to the predominance of the family as a unit in society, but it is not something that we know, because we don't know what human society was like at the time when we were supposed to have been doing most of our evolving. Since then, we have evolved culturally to a far, far greater extent than we have evolved biologically.
Not that I think those biological "rules" exist.
What none of them? (Though “rules” is probably not the best word to use.)
No, none of them. Unless you can replace the word "rules" with something that is sufficiently unlike "rules" to make some kind of sense!