Why monogamy is not going to work in the future

As a species we are not wired to abide by virtues of false morality, forced fidelity and religiously mandated monogamy.

 |  5-minute read |   07-10-2016
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The succulent red fruit that set the ball rolling on Biblical history is now alternatively called an “apple” or the forbidden fruit. Moreover, the grand timeless parable has been co-opted and condensed into an icon for a mega-corporation, bite mark included.

The charming metaphor of Adam and Eve has mutated into a rigid, ossified belief system called “marriage” which stipulates that each man shall have no more than one female partner, that they must co-exist in perfect harmony till “death do them part”. This phenomenon is touted as being one of the noblest products of what is perhaps wishfully known as civilisation.

Divorce rates are skyrocketing as never before. In both the West as well India, the traditional bastion of the “Hindu undivided family”, the sacred institution of marriage does not seem to be working out the way it was marketed. In fact, it is almost at the point of complete breakdown. The younger generation seems increasingly reluctant, disinclined or incapable of abiding by the social mores laid down by their forefathers.

Before puritanical Victorian and Catholic mores percolated as far as India, China, Latin America and Africa, and “heathen” practices were banned, plural marriages, concubinage and even polyandry were widely practised. It is fascinating to study some of the quirkier social permutations that existed down the ages.

The Nayars, a warrior group of the Malabar coast of India, once practised a peculiar form of polyandry in which the prepubescent girl was "married" to a man she often never saw. He received a fee for this and was considered the official "father" of her children. From adolescence, she was free to copulate with several husbands, presented to her by her mother or her mother's brother. Each husband would spend a few days at a time with her and had the privilege of hanging his weapons on her door. He also paid part of her support, though he did not live with her.

The herder Todas, who live in the hills of southern India, practised the sharing of a wife by several brothers. The first child of the wife was said to be fathered by the oldest brother, the next by the next-oldest brother, and so on. When the horrified British discouraged the practice, the Todas turned to a form of group marriage in which a family of brothers would marry a family of sisters. 

polyandry-in-tibet_100716085054.jpeg In Tibet, a woman might marry a family of brothers. [Photo credit: Agencies] 

In Tibet, a woman might marry a family of brothers; one would stay with her while the others were at war, herded sheep, or went on trading expeditions and the story of the beautiful Draupadi consorting simultaneously with the five Pandava brothers is only too well known to most Indians.

According to traditional Islamic law, a man may take up to four wives, and each of those wives must have her own property, assets, and dowry. Usually, the wives have little to no contact with each other and lead separate, individual lives in their own houses, and sometimes in different cities, though they all share the same husband. The Prophet Muhammad, for example, married many of his wives because they were war widows who were left with nothing and took care of them.

Before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within a Chinese marriage. An emperor, government official or rich merchant could have up to hundreds of concubines after marrying his first wife, or Tai-Tai and interestingly enough, in many cases, she even auditioned and selected her husband’s secondary female companions. It was considered prudent, wise and in keeping with the timeless ways of man and nature.

Polyandry is rare in European civilisations. Perhaps its most common form is a “menage a trois”. For example, Voltaire, the rationalist philosopher, had a 16-year affair with the Marquise du Chatelet; during part of it, he, Emilie, and Emilie's husband lived together. Lady Montagu noted in 1716 in Vienna that many women of the nobility there had two "husbands" – one for the name, the other for the "game." It was considered gauche not to invite all three to dinner.

Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist, in his book, Plural Marriage for our Time, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of American society at large. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He maintains that many divorces are caused by rampant extramarital affairs in  American society.

According to Kilbride, ending an extramarital affair in a polygamous marriage, rather than in a divorce, is better for the children. "Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options." Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as: elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men.

It seems obvious that as a species we are not wired to abide by the obsolete though vigorously marketed virtues of false morality, forced fidelity and religiously mandated monogamy. Indeed, they seem to run counter to the programming that dictates how we make our way through the evolutionary maze.

The relentless march of evolutionary and biological imperative has a tendency to be oblivious to social and cultural conventions. The only thing constant is change and those who cannot adapt must by necessity make way for the next wave, the new paradigm.

Also read: Love, sex and marriage: Is polyamoury more than just honest cheating?

Also read: So long, Brangelina. Marriage ruined you

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Writer

Vikram Zutshi Vikram Zutshi @getafix2012

The writer is a filmmaker, columnist and scholar. He divides his time between the United States, Asia and Latin America

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