Happiness, Divorce and Parental Involvement

I was going to wait until the 15th before I started writing again, to give me time to finish other things I’m heavily involved in, coming into the new year. However, some conversations we had about Americanah on Twitter yesterday led me to dwell for a while on the subject of divorce and parental involvement and naturally, I wanted to clarify some of my thoughts with the hope that some of my readers might do the same, to our collective benefit. (While we’re on that, if you’ve read Americanah x Chimamanda Adichie-and even if you haven’t-join the discussion we’re having at 8pm Nigerian time on twitter, through the handle @thereadclub)

Back to the subject: it seems to me that species which have more parental involvement coincide with those who tend more toward higher civilizational, social and organic complexity. In order words, the higher up the complexity ladder you go, the greater the need for parental involvement in their offspring. Human beings are at the apex of this, with both the father and mother of a child heavily involved in all aspects of it’s development from birth until way into adulthood, to a degree that far outstrips even the closest species to us in the animal kingdom. Another point of uniqueness in human society of course, is our ability to cognitively create social technology or applications of intelligence to improve our outcomes as a species far beyond just what our instincts or impulses allow. We invent culture or behavior for ourselves that then select for and pass on different adaptations that allow us build complex societal networks, or what we simply term civilization. For instance, no one would ever posit that monogamy is a natural human instinct, even in individuals with strong mate-attachment, there is still some instinctive attraction to a reproductively fit individual of the opposite sex. We just know enough not to act on it, for many reasons, some of them social but most of them really a cost-benefit calculation meant to maximize our survival and that of our offspring. It’s what makes us superior to animals. We can act beyond and against our more deep seated instincts. What do all these have to do with anything?

If we invent culture and then force ourselves to adapt to it, then it is evident that at some point, the societal pressures or stigma against divorce and towards parental involvement were created because it led to superior outcomes than the opposite. There was a time when marriage was not permanent, when mating was purely for sex while the offspring was left to it’s mother to raise or worse, fend for itself, and the idea of sticking to one mate for life seemed ridiculous beyond description. But this represented a less evolved state of affairs. Eventually, having a father and mother sticking around for the vast majority of a child’s life was found to be better for the child. And further, having just one wife to one man (monogamy), represented the apex of cultural evolution towards permanent mate bonds, with contingent benefits for social stability and best outcomes for individuals and collective. Because these are cognitive behaviors, it stands to reason that a. some people are better than others at subduing their instincts and living within these boundaries, despite the instinctive urge to do otherwise. b. any return towards the pursuit of instinctual pleasure and less parental involvement or mate permanence represents a regression, not progress.

It is from this background that I make arguments towards the subjugation of personal happiness to the survival of our offspring and the stability of society. If we only do things that satisfy our instincts or in the pursuit of “happiness” while risking negative outcomes for our offspring, and for the wider society, than we are taking a step down the evolutionary ladder. Individually, satisfying the demands of civilized society often feels like a burden, because it is. But just like a body builder, there is the recognition that the privations and exertions of doing that, is for a better rewards further down the line. Of course, the culture today has made arguments like this quaint. We’re encouraged to take what we want, be happy, think about ourselves. It’s all fun and dandy when a few number of people are doing it, but based on the empirical results of that kind of culture, it will be terrible if that becomes the order of the day.

My thoughts are shared. Please tune into the discussion tonight. And follow me @eldivyn.


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