Ever since the internet became popular, starting with newsgroups, followed by managed websites and to the current day of bloggers, if there's one desi topic that's generated a large number of opinions, comments, heated discussions, it's the topic of arranged and love marriages and their related benefits and drawbacks. The participants usually belong to one of the two camps: Traditionalists who claim that arranged marriages create a harmonious society, low divorce rate, stable environment vs. the Modernists who claim that arranged marriages go against personal freedom (especially for women), are subtly forced, and create a boring, sexually frustrated society. The two camps have been talking past each other, each getting shriller than the other.
This article seeks to provide a different, scientific perspective to the institution of marriage from a desi perspective. In a time when we see contradictory phenomenon of proliferating matrimonial sites and proliferation of unmarried/divorced people, the author hopes that this information will provide soccour to those who need it. By no means are the ideas expressed in this article perfect, since the author believes that perfection is a journey, not a goal.
Early days and Science
During the Neanderthal era, humans pretty much had the same behavioral tendencies as animals, even in terms of procreation. This process continued for a hundred thousand or more years, thus producing certain traits that will be discussed further in the article. Eventually, the modern man evolved from the sub-human, and brought forth guidelines and rules for civilized behavior. This too will be discussed further in the article.
Without further ado, let's get into the science of attraction.
The Neanderthal man's worst enemies were not wild animals, earthquakes, volcanoes or tsunamis (although they certainly took their toll). His worst enemy was Disease. Over hundreds of thousands of years, many fatal diseases have come and Man has developed immunity to those. The segment of our DNA, called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) codes for these disease-detecting structures, which functions as our immune system's eyes. These codes are also passed down to our offspring, who inherit both their parent's immunities – that is, if the father has immunity to diseases A & B, and the mother to B & C, the child has immunity to A, B and C. Over time, people from different civilizations have amassed immunities to hundreds of different diseases, based on their breeding culture and the extent of contact with other breeding cultures.
The post-Neanderthal man formed the first societies to inhabit the earth. The family was the bedrock of society, and certain rules and guidelines began to take form. The choice of mate was highly dependant on the ability to hunt, run, climb and perform other physical actions that the slowly developing agrarian societies demanded, including working well with others, sharing and division of labor. These characteristics are also encoded in our DNA, which decides our physical traits and also learns how to subconsciously spot those traits in the opposite sex.
There is a new concept that's becoming increasingly popular – that our DNA controls many of our actions. Indeed, it seems our DNA wants to perpetuate itself and become immortal in the process. That is, that our body is just a host for our DNA to live in. Our genes are selfish. Once our body becomes old and dies, our DNA needs another body to continue its existence hence mans natural desire to procreate. This is surprisingly similar to the Hindu concept that Atman sheds an old body and occupies a new one, thus being reborn.
As a result of this, our DNA has programmed our sexual preferences so as to maintain maximum possible potential to propagate itself via our offspring. This is a two-step process.
Our proclivity to like or dislike someone based on face and/or body is an acquired trait that has been encoded into us in both the Neanderthal as well as the Modern eras. The Neanderthal era has affected how we evaluate bodies – height and long legs for running (either to chase prey or escape from predators), slimness to climb trees to pick fruit or escape from predators, muscular to fight, broad shoulders to carry animal carcasses etc. The Modern era has affected us in judging faces to look for signs of intelligence, cooperation, honesty, humility and other traits that are needed to rear a family and earn a living.
It needs to be mentioned here that just because a person's face/body suggest a certain nature is no guarantee that the person does posses that nature. A person with long legs need not be a great runner. Most swindlers and cheats have charming faces. There are plenty of dumb idiots out there who possess sharp noses. Face/Body suggests ancestral history, but not the inheritors personal history.
2. Smell/Body Odor
This is by far the most deterministic in whom we find attractive sexually. As mentioned before, mankind's worst enemy was not predators like lions or earthquakes/volcanoes, but disease. As a result, our genetic code has mutated itself to detect immunity MHC codes in potential mates through their sweat/perspiration. With one breath intake, your extremely powerful computer in our body can dissect the chemical signatures from the other person's sweat and compare their immunity codes to yours and determine the suitability of the person to share your offspring who will need to carry forth both your DNA's. Not only that, MHC codes also predict indicators of disease. Just by smell, your body will tell you that the other person has Diabetes. But first let me illustrate with some examples…
Let's say mankind has developed immunity to ten diseases (the actual number may very well be in thousands): A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and J.
Combination 1: ABC
If C1 meets C2, they will feel instant attraction, assuming the face/body match goes well. However, there will be a subconscious feeling that neither of them is complete because their offspring will lack GHIJ.
C3 will feel attracted to everyone: If it's a man he will be a skirt chaser, if a woman she will be a slut. Unless they have exceptional face/body, they will face rejection from everyone. Any acceptance due to exceptional face/body will be temporary. They will be one-night stands.
Everyone will want C4. With good face/body, they will be beauty queens or Mr. Universes. However, they will reject everyone they meet since they have no use for them. C7 will commit suicide for a C4.
But once a C5 meets a C6, boom – sparks will fly. He/She's the One. Phrases like "You complete me" will be used. High schools sweethearts who live together into a ripe old age belong to this category of combination.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are looking at someone for the first time and you absolutely hate him or her? You feel like punching them in the face even though they are perfectly normal people who are liked by others. Even though they do their work well you feel like finding fault with them. You feel like giving them lower grades, firing them, demoting them, and transferring them to another location. This is because you both are from exactly the same combination. Your DNA encoding is telling you to avoid them like the plague. They are your genealogical siblings.
Have you ever been in a situation where you like a person, despite overwhelming evidence of their shortcomings? That's because they are your genealogical opposite.
Your DNA controls you. Once you know this, you can wrest control back to yourself by making a constant, conscious effort every day of your life.
This brings us to the topic of this essay, how arranged marriages and love marriages fare under these circumstances.
Lets first dissect arranged marriages, or better yet so-called-arranged-marriages (SCAM for short), since we will discuss real arranged marriages later on.
The Scam usually begins with the boys family meeting multiple girls families, and vice-versa, from the same religion, caste, sub-caste, sub-sub-caste and language to narrow down prospective in-laws. Matching of horoscopes to further narrow down the candidates follows this. There is some asking around about the prospective family to find out if they are tainted in any way, i.e., any divorces, jailbirds, mentally challenged siblings exist for the bride or groom. There is the usually business of checking out the monetary aspect of the relationship, including preliminary talks about dowry and marriage expense.
Following this, the scamsters let the boy and the girl meet and see each other. Nowadays they let them speak to each other alone for a while. Then the boy and girl give their opinion and based on that, the actual event takes place after finalizing all the financial details.
In some cases, the boy and girl just exchange photographs and speak over the phone. In some other cases, the boy and the girl are not given the right to refuse. And in yet other rare cases, the girl is not even allowed to see the boy or his photo, but the boy is allowed that privilege.
There are the other issues in arranged marriages like dowry, who spends what on which part of the wedding etc, who pays for the expenses for delivery of children. In many cases, the expenses for the brides side of the family do not show any signs of ending. This has caused a whole segment of the population to hate the female child, resulting in female foeticide becoming rampant.
Let move on to the other major type: The love marriage or better put, self-help arranged marriage (SHAM for short). The way the sham works most of the time is: A man and a woman meet each other in a situation which is set up for some other purpose (college for study, office for working, gym for exercising, mall for shopping etc), (mis)use the said environment to get to know each other better, and take the big leap. Considerations like caste, language, religion, race do not play much of a role in decision making. This is usually done after months or even years of courtship. In India, this is shrouded in secrecy due to the disapproving eye of society. Once the two decide to get married, their families are told. In many cases, the families disown their children. In some others, they grudgingly accept the situation and bless them. In yet other rare cases, they happily accept and support their children. And in other rare cases, they get their own children killed in order to save face in society.
This kind of marriage is found to be fraught with a high divorce rate in almost all societies, although in recent times the divorce rate in India for arranged marriages are fast catching up. There is a high degree of match in the MHC codes in such relationships, since without that mutual attraction is not possible. This usually gives rise to healthier offspring that is stronger in resisting disease.
Real Arranged Marriages
After this brief overview of the two major types of marriages, let us quickly go back and understand the concept of marriage itself. The institution of marriage was formed at the dawn of civilization. Indeed, marriage is a major bedrock of all civilizations, and the disruption in the institution of marriage has been the harbinger of the fall of most extinct civilizations, be in Egyptian, Roman, Scythian etc.
When the earliest hunter-gatherer societies were formed, the elders had to come up with a sustainable system. This was possible only by strictly regulating behavior that could disrupt the harmony of the society. This regulation was not just limited to who could use how much water or grain, limitations on hunting, limitations on consumption of land and other resources, but also limitation on a persons sexual life. This meant that a persons sexual preferences were at the mercy of the society around him/her, and society had to come up with a system which not only took best care of the individuals preferences, but also create an environment where the harmony of society was not disrupted.
In the phrase Arranged marriage, the first word is redundant. Marriage has meaning only if it is arranged. In the earliest societies, down to just a century ago, marriage was arranged all over the world by the people who were closest to the individuals. From the persons childhood onwards, parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents and other relatives lived in close proximity to each other. That meant that an individuals preferences and behavior was under a spotlight right from the day when he or she was born. Their weaknesses and strengths were coded in the societys computers, which were basically the elders. If a boy preferred outdoors, soft music, lemon pickles and gaudy colored clothing, the elders would start scouting for a girl for him by the time he was ten. Girls who liked indoors, mango pickles, loud music and light colored clothing were removed from consideration. When the list was narrowed down, they would bring the prospective boys and girls together in social situations like religious functions, festivals, other weddings, even funerals and observe their behavior, facial expressions and body language closely. This was their primitive way of detecting behavior triggered by DNA, MHC codes and face/body compatibility. The moment they saw a boy edge away from a girl who was carrying a pot of water, the moment they saw a girl turn her face away abruptly from a boy was tying a horse, they knew that their DNA was similar and they would not be compatible. The instant they saw a girl and boy smile simultaneously, when they saw them reach for the fruit at the same time, they knew that their DNA was compatible. Their parents were notified, and they were put on a watch list for a few years, following which the match proceedings would begin. Every individual had a few prospective matches in the watch list, and the list was gradually narrowed down as the years went by, until it got down to one. Horoscopes were used in the last step primarily to narrow down choices to one after more than one match was found they were not used as the first step on screening possible matches as is done today.
The ingenuity of this system was that everyone found a life partner at the right age that was largely compatible with him or her in every way. Nobody was left out of the system. Even the ugliest girls and the stupidest of boys found someone whom they could spend the rest of their life with. Moreover, since the MHC codes were made to match (in a crude manner), offspring were generally healthy and resistant to disease.
Needless to add, the watching eye of society did not end right there. Not only did people have to surrender their individuality to a great extent, but they had to follow other norms as well. They had to have children within a stipulated period of time. They had to stay faithful to each other any attempt to cheat was severely reprimanded not only by physical pain, but also considerable economic consequences. They had to prepare their children for the next cycle so that society could sustain its population, its economy and its future. Any attempt to deviate from this path brought untold hardship to the couple. However, if the couple had marital issues, society helped them to resolve it amicably. If they had economic or other issues, society made sure that those problems were alleviated as well.
One major negative consequence of this was that people got comfortable and did not innovate or take risks. The industrial revolution changed all that, as we shall see later.
In the phrase Love marriage, the second word is meaningless. At the most primal level, marriage means societal sanction for sex. Those who are in love dont need to get married. The whole idea of love is that Love conquers all, and that the individuals make their own choices and are responsible for them. Once a person excludes society from making the most important choice for them, then they are not answerable to society in any way. Neither do they have to take anything, nor do they give anything to society. They can live together with their chosen partner as long as they wish, and terminate the relationship without anyone telling them what to do or not to do.
However, those who are in love insist on getting married because they think it is the right thing to do. They want their parents and siblings approval. They dont want to give up their old relationships in order to gain a new one. That sentiment may be nice, but at a deeper level it is hogwash. What such people want is to have their cake and eat it too. They want a wedding, which is a societal creation, without following the norms of society when it comes to making the choice of a life partner. They want the videos, the nice dresses, the gathering of whos-who, the jokes and all other elements that society worked over millennia. They want dinner invitations, Diwali bashes, Thanksgiving lunches with families, and other such societal events in their life. However, they dont want to be told or asked anything, since that is considered an invasion of privacy. So when are you planning to have a baby? usually elicits a cold response like : No plans yet in a tone that says Mind your own business. They want to grow old together, make sure their children turn out ok, build a house, and do all other things that (arranged) married people do.
In short, they want something for nothing.
In traditional Indian society, they were denied this privilege. As soon as a boy and girl fell in love, society ostracized them. If you dont want our guidelines, you can forget its benefits was the message of ostracision. It was correct and it worked well for millennia. The idea of love (marriage) as mainstream choice is only a century old in the rest of the world, and only a couple of decades old in India. This is due to the failure of [arranged] marriage, largely caused by industrial revolution.
Why things changed
Industrial revolution resulted in greater wealth for a large section of mankind. It brought cheap and fast transportation to everyone. This caused the traditional and closely-knit societies to break up into smaller individualized nuclear families that lived and worked far from each other. Eventually, families grew apart from each other and developed tastes and mannerisms that were considerably different from what their sect or caste had been doing for millennia. Even within the same household, siblings started to have different ideas of about life, sometimes ideas that were polar opposites. The role of elders that was to play the role of a CPU in societys computer was slowly phased out since large distances and fast moving culture prevented them from gaining insight into their grandchildrens lives. Marriage became an arrangement that was restricted to caste/religion/race/language. To reduce malfunction among relationships, people started to give an exponentially increasing amount of importance to horoscopes, and they quickly became the very first step of arranged marriages. The whole notion of observing the boy and girl to see if their MHC codes match by looking at their body language and facial expression over the years was narrowed down to just an hour or so. Many a time even that was done away with and people switched to photos.
Moreover, society stopped being a watchdog of relationships after marriage. Which meant that if a man started cheating on his wife, not much could be done about it and she and her family had to bear the brunt of the consequences. If a woman became a social introvert thus affecting her family standing, society no longer intervened to correct the situation. If the in-laws harassed and burnt the woman for more dowry, society abdicated its critical role and left the corrupt Government to take care of the problem.
As society became more and more aloof, marriage became just nothing more than a scam, and eventually the younger generation lost faith in the process. They started thinking that they could do better on their own, and in some cases they were right. However, as one can see today, more and more marriages are falling apart from both types: arranged and love. Thats because, apart from the reasons mentioned earlier, during the decision making process neither of them dont let their guard down and are on their best behavior. They come to their natural selves only after marriage and they cannot stand what they see in each other. Moreover, due to lack of societal pressure, they are free to move on. So even when life gets a little uncomfortable, they decide to end the relationship.
If one observes closely, the degradation of family/society (which is the chief influencing force for marriage) has happened right in front of our eyes over the last century. Here are the different stages:
1. Joint family system: Everyone lives under one roof. Decisions are made communally. Everyone takes care of everyone else. Cooperation is key. Competition is discouraged. Society is very strong.
2. Tightly coupled families: Everyone has their own house but not too far from each other. But they walk into each others houses without being invited. They watch over each others children even feed and clothe each others kids. Information is shared. Cooperation is reduced slightly but is still strong. Competition gets a little stronger.
3. Loosely coupled families: Everyone lives distant from each other. They meet rarely in each others houses. Nobody goes or comes unless they are personally invited. Weddings and other planned social functions are the only places where they meet. Co-operation is weak. Kids become more competitive.
4. Nuclear families: People rarely meet their relatives. They skip weddings and funerals. Social events are limited to sports events, work-related parties etc. Cooperation is non existent. Competition is very strong. Kids gradually become more narcissistic. More reliance on Government to fix societys problems like dowry, violence etc.
5. Lack of families: The country has large numbers of lonely, unmarried people. There is great wealth due to competition. Nobodys really happy. People become more and more narcissistic and sociopathic. Relationships are broken without a conscience. Government gets stronger. Society is non existent.
6. Complete chaos. Fall of civilization most likely. Everyone runs amok and hits anything that comes in their way. The man with the biggest gun wins. Some other country or culture takes over.
So whats one supposed to do? Is there a right answer, the one true path? Is there a magic spell? Will flipping some switch make matters better?
Im afraid not. This article is just a small window into how things came to the current state. It is supposed to arm people with a little more information so that they could make better decisions. No one person can provide the correct answer. Since the process has been broken for a while, it may take a couple of generations to fix it. Usually, what has been broken by nature is usually fixed by nature. What man has broken has to be fixed by man. Moreover, nature and man are not separate: Man is very much a part of nature.
Marriage has been broken due to rapid change in lifestyle due to the effects of industry and scientific innovations of the last century or so. It would be natural to presume that it is the same industry and innovation that will fix it. The way internet and videoconferencing is connecting people is one of the first baby steps. How people post their profiles and ideas on blogs, youtube and myspace gives a greater insight into what their tastes are. DNA testing is catching on. Face recognition systems may be adapted in the future to pick out people who could be a good match for each other. Gradually, people are realizing that too much of privacy results in loneliness, and they may be willing to give up some of their privacy to find their life partner, especially if the privacy is sacrificed to a computer which can match DNAs, myspace profiles, facial preferences, economic and social interests and other such parameters that go to pick a life partner. The Governments should stay away from all these issues and let men be free so that they can solve their own problems.
At the end, marriage is both an art and a science. The two have been separated from the decision making. When the two are brought together, success is almost a certainty.
More posts by this author:
- The Caste Non-System
- Valuing the Feminine
- Hinduism, Nation-State and Immigration
- The Global Warming Monotheism