As the debate about Gay Marriage builds, I wonder what is the "natural state of marriage". Much of what I read in our local paper righteously informs me that Jesus, God and the church determine what marriage is all about. In short in this view, marriage is a union of one man and one woman whose role is to have children.
Just for fun, let's explore the history of the union of adults a bit further than the few thousand year perspective that the CW allows for.
For most of the 4 million years that humans and our predecessors have been around, our primary social unit has not been a union of two adults of opposite sex but a small tribe of between 15 and 25. 25 appears to be the optimal size with the right threshold of complexity for survival. These tribes were in turn linked into their surrounding tribes into "nations" of about 150. These in turn were linked into federations of around 500-600. Why these numbers?
The Math of Genetics - There is also a genetic link to group size and Magic Numbers.
A person living alone has a "half life " of about one year. Set ups of one lose half their number in one year, half in the next and so on. Living alone is a very weak strategy in a natural environment where there are many risks and challenges. Today the power of the state is encouraging us to live this way - the state is the dependency creating family and its not a healthy relationship.
The half life of a group of 5 is a generation or about 20-40 years
The half life of 25 people is 250-500 years. 25 seems to be an ideal blend of comfort and complexity. A company that lasted 250 years would be a remarkable organizations. In a tribe about half a group of 25 would be adults - say about 8 men and women - now we see the core underlying magic number revealed. It is the ideal single sex work group derived from the ideal familial work group, the tribe.
The 500 person group is the ideal "marriage gene pool" Incest taboos prevent breeding in the 25 person tribe. Wives and husbands have to be found outside this group. But not too far outside. After all we don't want our daughter to mary a stranger or worse someone who cannot add wealth by his connections. We also want them to speak the same language and worship the same Gods. So being close means that we can enter your wife's family hunting ground and that it creates the potential to have large scale group hunts on occasion. 475 people = the ideal gene pool of 19 x 25 member bands.
Dave Pollard writes eloquently about how great it would be to live/work in a group whose sole aim would be mutual support - this is what this tribal set up was all about.
The reality is then that for most of human time, we lived not in units of two adults but in social units of 25 that include about 8 adults. The purpose of this tribal unit was obviously to raise the next generation but to do so in the context of doing all of the related work as a large team. This was above all a social and economic unit.
There was no clear line between work, play and society. No Work/Life balance issues here. Belonging to the tribe and having a tribe that functioned well was in every member's survival interests. No individual was safe on their own. No child could depend solely on her natural parents. They needed the power of the larger group. If we are honest with ourselves, this issue of safety and the need for a support group has not changed. The game can disappear - we are fired. Partners and children die. Our kids need a job. We get injured or sick. In our diminished social world, we now look mainly to the state or to insurance companies for the benefits of the protection of the group. The most important unit in our history was not the "family", it did not exist, but the tribe.
Ah but you have left out the best bits you say. So what about men and women and sex? Any study of primal people tells us that there are many arrangements for how sex was accommodated. There are tribes where the big man has most access to most women. There are matriarchal tribes where the power and the choice is in the hands of the women. There are tribes where most of the sex is homosexual and where mating for children is a by product. In most tribes your own gender is where your primary social and affection relationships reside.
My point? The tribe is sacrosanct - sex and sex partner rules are diverse. The point of the tribe is to raise children not simply to produce them. No two parents in a tribe focus on only their own offspring. They look after all the children as do all the other adults. With all property belonging to all members, there is no need to make a strong link of who was the father.
So where does this leave us now?
The reality is that most so called families are now one adult organizations lead by a woman. This is as small and as vulnerable a unit as is possible. Even with two parents, most are so stressed out at work that they have little energy for their children. We see the results in grade 1 when 30% of the kids have behaviour problems that are so overwhelming that they are unlikely to make it through school. Many families are blended but are so hooked into the CW that they blame the other for the breakdown and have little or no contact. So the children can be cut off from Grandparents and are shuttled between warring parents. Many blended families have the potential to be tribes if only the warring parents could see through their anger and see the potential.
Our view of jobs has meant that work and social life have been split apart and we vainly try and find a balance. Our social structures have been destroyed. In desperation we turn to the state or to the company benefits plan or help for those times when we as individuals cannot help ourselves. .
What marriage really means now is a legal construct by which the benefits of the state and from insurance companies, pensions etc, can pass from one party to a related party. This is what most Gay couples want - legal recognition and access to the state and company tribal benefits.
The church is fixated on sex. No surprise that this is its own weakness. The church assumes that we organize around sex which makes the conventional marriage the central organizational unit. BUT the observed fact is that humans do not naturally organize around sex - we organize around work and survival. Human social organizations are not built for procreation but to raise children so that they can take over the leadership of the tribe. Sex is not why my Gay friends want the recognition of their union. They want the protection of the state tribe. Most importantly, they want to be able to raise children so that they too have the ultimate benefit of dying in the knowledge that they have raised good people who will remember them as their ancestors.