The Enlightened Caveman


The Pair Bond and the Chiiiildren.
March 22, 2005, 5:04 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Caveman Concept, Parenting, Politics

Original Post (with comments)
I went for a run today, a baby-jogger run (i.e. harder than your average hilly run, and sometimes complete with whining soundtrack). Coming off of the flu, a vacation, and a lot of travel for business, I found that the work part of the phrase work-out kept passing across my giant movie screen – it started hurting less than two miles in. Nevertheless, at one point, another runner turned onto the road I was running. Suddenly, my focus was no longer on the discomfort I was feeling with every stride.

Me to Thomas: “Ahh, aren’t we lucky? It looks like we now have a mark (drawn out to indicate the presence of a new word for his lexicon). Now we have someone we can try to chase down and pass. And if we’re successful, it will feel so good that we’ll forget how our fitness has deteriorated.”

Thomas: “Muh.”

Me: “Very good. Let’s get him.”

Alas, my running foe turned off again before I could pass him. (I was gaining, though.) This scenario reminded me of the usefulness of competitive instincts in physical conditioning. Though being competitive is a direct result of the quest for status, and it is often the cause of serious interpersonal problems in life, it isn’t always bad – it pushes me to work harder than I might otherwise. And, to expand the concept a bit, I think many of the caveman proclivities that I usually denigrate and recommend harnessing are actually useful in the right contexts. The pair bond, particularly where kids are concerned, may be another example.

Yesterday on Michael Medved’s radio show, the discussion was centered around an article in the Northwestern periodical, The Oregonian, entitled: “Single mom a sign Rose court grows with times.” Apparently, each year for the last 75 years, during the Rose Festival, a Portland senior has been chosen as the Queen of Rosaria. This year the Queen is Rosa Montoya, a single-mom with a 7-week old daughter. Not surprisingly, Medved was appalled that a girl in such a situation would be honored in such a way. I’m inclined to agree with him, but not for the reasons he gives.

Make no mistake, there’s some substantial liberal diversity/tolerance/devictimization sentiment behind this Rose Queen selection.

Chet Orloff, director emeritus at the Oregon Historical Society and a member of the festival’s centennial committee, thinks Montoya’s election is good for Portland.

“It’s a recognition of something that’s quite realistic,” he said. “Girls are having children in high school. Getting that out into the realm of something as traditional as the Rose Festival is healthy.”

Medved disagreed. He stated that getting pregnant as a single teen is sign of poor character, and that it should not be praised or promoted as anything other than that. In my view, that’s a bit overboard. Kids are kids, which means they often to do stupid things. They have time horizon problems, so it’s hard to think of them as bad people (Isn’t that what people who accuse others of having character problems are really saying?) when they get themselves into predicaments involving pregnancy. To me, the real test of character is what they do after they learn they are pregnant. Every situation is different, so I can’t say which course of action will be the right one. However, I think it’s safe to say that most all situations will offer a hard right and an easy wrong. Which is chosen says much more about the character of the teen than the fact that he or she is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But the character issue is not my main concern here. Given the liberal penchant for upending tradition, should we not entertain the notion that the pair bond is archaic and on its way out (or that it should be)?

Is the notion that a standard step along the path through life is getting hitched up to one person nothing more than our caveman machinery driving the bus? It’s hard to say. Evolutionary psychology would seem to suggest that the monogamous pair bond is unnatural. Though the best female strategy in ancestral times entailed selecting males who had good genes and who would make good fathers, there’s really nothing to suggest that females should have stayed with their childrens’ fathers forever. But…this is not the ancestral world.

We have tens of thousands of years of culture that has shaped the way these caveman (or cavewoman, in this case) tendencies translate into behavior. Our genes push us toward love because it promotes reproduction and caring for our offspring, but our culture pushes love towards long-term, monogamous (at least on paper) relationships. Like I said, it’s hard to say. Maybe it’s better to just ask if it makes sense.

Those who are distressed that single parents are not honored nearly enough would seem to be suggesting that two-parent families are no better. Here we see shades of the theme behind multiculturalism – things (cultures, lifestyles, etc.) should not be thought of as better or worse, just different. Are they right? I think not, but not for moral reasons. I think this is a practical matter.

An Urban Institute article entitled, “Poverty among Children Born Outside of Marriage,” says:

Children born outside of marriage are more likely to have a mother who did not graduate from high school than are children born to married parents. They are also less likely to live with a mother who works full-time year-round. While 44 percent of children born to married parents have a mother who is fully employed, this is true for only 26 percent of children born outside of marriage. Similarly, a third of the mothers of non-marital children do not work at all, compared with only a fifth of children born to married parents.

What we can take from this is that being a single parent is a huge financial risk. A shocking revelation, to be sure. Having been raised by a single-mom, I can personally attest to this – my mother worked two jobs well into my college years. In the end, it seems like the usefulness of the pair bond in modern society revolves around the issue of children. If two individuals have no intention of having children, it seems hard to say that long-term monogamy is anything more than a persistent cultural relic. But, the moment kids come into the picture, it becomes a pragmatic extension of the natural propensity to provide for offspring. In that context, genetic love in the hands of monogamous cultural norms is a good thing, a better thing.

Notice I’ve never said the couple should be heterosexual. As the primary component of this equation, at least in my mind, is financial, I don’t think the sex of the parents is relevant here. What is relevant is the probable consequence of having a child out of wedlock. On that, there are mountains of statistics that make it quite clear that kids do better in life when they have married parents. It’s one thing to honor someone for overcoming hardship – one hopes this is what’s really behind Rosa’s selection as Rose Queen – but it’s something different altogether to honor someone just because she’s a single mom. If anything, the difficulties of being a single mom should be in the spotlight. Rosa should not be congratulated for raising a child on her own. If she must be foisted upon her peers, it should be as an object lesson in what not to do.

We can’t (and shouldn’t even consider) ridding ourselves of the caveman need for love, especially where children are concerned. Therefore, given that our culture has discovered that long-term, monogamous pair bonds are the best arrangements for harnessing love where children are concerned, we find ourselves in another situation where the caveman mind in the modern world isn’t a problem at all. Sometimes, I guess, enlightenment means nothing more than knowing that the old way is still the right way.

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