The Bollywood Scenario

However much it serves to stabilise society by extending the breeding franchise, arranged marriage can also be perceived as oppressive, particularly when the young people are not given veto rights. Men obliged to marry some woman they don’t want generally have the option of taking a mistress or going to the brothel; understandably enough, therefore, we have focused our moral indignation on the plight of the woman who is forced to marry some man she doesn’t want. Rather than espouse the Jewish-type pattern of consensual matchmaking, such women have often demanded that emancipation take the form of being allowed to choose a man freely “for love”. This idea has some interesting biological consequences. For, when women protest against arranged marriage, they are actually striking a blow for fiercer biological competition and thus against a stable social order.

The storytelling convention is that the parents of the frustrated or doomed lovers are trying to marry them off to the wrong people. If not acting out of sheer malice, they are portrayed as all dried-up inside and thereby as the enemies of Love, or else as concerned with dynastic politics and property consolidation – a game that can be played just as easily by peasants and grocers as by nobles and princes. The bias is because the storyteller’s customers are youngsters identifying with the lovers rather than with the parents. There are few if any stories, particularly in the West, in which Love is not venerated and considered as justifying anything and everything. Perhaps we need to tell more counter-stories in which social stability is painfully regained after the ravages of hormone-driven insanity.

Let us imagine the classic tale, we may call it the Bollywood Scenario, of a maiden who has to marry an ancient raja but is in love with the low-caste boy. We all think we know why her parents want her to marry the raja – the desire for wealth and social status. And yet it is not as simple as that; if the girl marries the raja her sons (i.e, her parents’ grandsons) may have harems of their own; while her daughters (i.e., their granddaughters) may get to marry rajas in their turn, although this is less likely. Their chances of having lots of healthy great-grandchildren will be very much greater than if she marries the sweeper. What, then, do we have on the other side? Love – which is simply shorthand for a biochemical response to the sweeper’s good looks. Now, such good looks are a reliable guide to genetic health. The girl’s neurochemistry is pushing for the mésalliance on alternative evolutionary grounds; it is “telling her” that breeding with this young man will produce healthier children than she would get with the old raja. Perhaps the raja is sterile and diseased, which would certainly ruin the parents’ plans for high-status descendants. On the other hand, perhaps her children with the sweeper would be too poor to marry anyone, which would bring her line to an end. How do we know who has the better reproductive strategy? We don’t. We can’t.

It is possible that the girl wants to marry the old raja so as to be waited on hand and foot, while her parents think she should marry the nice young sweeper; but it is not as likely as the contrary case. The lines of conflict will usually be drawn between the parents’ consciously conservative dynastic strategy and the girl’s unconsciously high-risk biological strategy. This suggests that young women are a disruptive force for the stable society that their elders are endeavouring to create; that young men are disruptive, we already knew. It is, indeed, a “battle to control female reproduction”, but not quite in the way the gender-Manichaeans have in mind.

The whole of human history and ethics might profitably be written as a tug-of war between, on the one hand, controlled reproductive systems – the Jewish-style universal marriage, lineage politics, selective breeding for desired characteristics, the exchange of women as peacekeeping measures between clans and so forth – and on the other hand, free sexual selection on the basis of beauty and advertising. In other words, as the attempted rebellion of the also-rans against the genetic elite. The issue is whether we should create social institutions that soften the effects of variance-powered evolution, or whether we should give sexual selection free rein; it is an eternal struggle between what wrinklies think best for society and what makes youngsters horny. Or perhaps not eternal after all, as in our own time and place that struggle has been abandoned entirely; we seem determined to stamp out, across the globe, the notion that human reproduction should be based on anything except obedience to sexual stimuli.

In a Mahfouz novel we are told how, in the old Egyptian society, it was inconceivable that a young girl waiting for her parents to marry her off should ever express desire for any specific man. This is an extreme form of the attempt to prevent sexual selection. At the opposite extreme, the one venerated by our current culture, young men and women are left to their own devices. These devices will always consist in the selection of mates entirely by appearance, pheromones and display rituals. This cannot lead to any outcome other than the most ruthlessly competitive carrying off the prizes; the rewards are to the most skilful player of the sexual games.

Posted on June 18, 2009 at 09:04 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, "Love" Contra Social Stability

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