What is a home?
We think of home as family—father, mother, children. But we forget that marriage is an institution, a contractual arrangement set up and enforced, by government, to define the obligations of a man and a woman to each other, and to their offspring. This institution, the nuclear family, made up of pair-bonded parents and their children living separately from others, has existed for thousands of years, as virtually the only concept of home, among humans. Yet, for many more thousands of years previous to that, humans lived in organic families—small groups with multiple men, women, and children who depended on each other to survive. The question is: Which kind of family best serves our emotional needs as human beings? Is it the emotionally bonded family that nurtured our human and pre-human ancestors, even eons before humans evolved into a distinct species, or is it the modern human family, based on institutionally prescribed obligations?
Emotions Evolve to Fit Sociological Circumstances
To address this question we might ask: What determines our emotional needs? Are they culturally imposed, or are they based on instinct? In some cultures, people feel families should be polygamous, while, in most, only pair bonding is acceptable. Cultural influences clearly affect our feelings about what constitutes an appropriate family. But, all cultures recognize the need for family. Apparently, our need for family is not culturally imposed, but innate. This makes sense. As a social species, humans cannot survive the natural world alone. In the natural world, where humans lived while our emotions were evolving, any individual who lacked the desire to seek and treasure family relationships would have perished. For any human living at that time, such lack of desire would have constituted a genetic defect—a defect that would be eliminated from our species’ gene pool by that individual’s demise.
This illustrates how emotions evolve to fit sociological environments, just as physical features evolve to comply with physical environments. Think of what it would be like for us to live on a planet where gravity is ten times greater than it is on Earth. Having evolved on Earth, we are not physically fit for such an environment. Likewise, as a social species, humans cannot survive the natural world, either alone or in pairs. Given our physical limitations, our survival requires tightly knit social groups. This is how we survived for eons, while our emotions were evolving, and for most of the 200,000 years we have existed as a distinct species.
But, at some point, humans began functioning in pairs, instead of social groups. Family relationships no longer involved emotional intimacy with 20 to 30 people of both sexes and of all ages (emotional intimacy does not imply sexual intimacy). Suddenly, family was limited to one other individual, of the opposite sex, and the resulting children. Having evolved as a social species, were humans emotionally fit for such a dramatic change in family life? Are we, even now? I don’t think so. The ongoing failure of the nuclear family implies that pair bonding is as difficult for us to manage, emotionally, as a tenfold increase in gravity would be for us to manage, physically.
Excerpt from Take Us Home, Girls!
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