Marriage As Conspiracy

Reproductive success is not only about male opportunities to impregnate large numbers of healthy young females, or female opportunities to be supported by rich men in rearing their children. It is equally about what happens thereafter, yea, even unto the seventh generation. The game is won by those who have the most great-great-great grandchildren, or whenever one chooses to stop and tot up the score.

Ergo, no sooner have the players created some offspring than they are absolutely obliged to plot and scheme to advance them in the world. Everyone does this at his or her own level, and it cannot fail to involve ferocious social conflict, whether over a meadow, a company or an empire. You root for the line that has the most of your genes, and try to nobble the competition; there are reasons why most sexual abusers are stepfathers rather than biological fathers, and there are sound reasons why the baddie in the folktales is always a stepmother rather than a birth-mother.

Whenever the man and woman find themselves backing their own common children, on the other hand, they perforce become close allies, against their distant kin and everyone else; the lines are then drawn, not between male and female per se, but between lineages. As the Arab proverb has it, “me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousins against the world”. This alliance-against-others is what the strategic “partnership” we call marriage is essentially all about.

From this it is, however, only too obvious that this alliance can easily be rendered unnecessary the moment there is no longer any social pressure on the woman actually to conceive her children with the man who is supporting her. The lineage then becomes hers alone and her horizon shrinks to the promotion and defence of her child. Everyone else becomes the enemy.

Leave a Reply