Daily Archives: June 25, 2012

New Project: Marriage

I’ve started a new project on marriage. I was asked by some Minnesota-based political folks to consider writing a few blog posts on the science and anthropology associated with marriage, to evaluate some of the claims being made by anti same-sex-marriage activists, Republicans and others. I happen to be an expert on marriage, having been married several times. So, I am going to write a stream of posts on the topic on Greg Laden’s Blog starting with this one. There will be occasional posts connected to this stream here on The X Blog as appropriate, or perhaps the occasional cross posting. The entire flow of posts will be framed in intro pointer posts at the Minnesota Progressive Project, such as this one.

So, this is what you should do: Read this, then read this. Then, later, read other stuff.

There may be some guest posts.

Cabin At The Lake Tip # 3342

When installing a “porch light” (to light the entrance way ans any stairs, and the immediate area outside the cabin) do not place the light near the door as is often the custom. The light is meant to be used at night. Out in cabin country, when you turn that light on at night, 22 gazillion insects will flock to it and form a giant swarm covering a blob shaped area several feet in diameter. If the light is placed next to the entrance door, this makes that door unusable unless you wish to admit about half of the insects (about 10 gazillion of them) into the cabin.

Instead, place the outdoor light 15 feet or more away from the door. There will still be light to see and most (but certainly not all) of the insects will be off to the side.


I am going to write a bunch of blog posts about marriage.

You should regard my opinion about marriage to be valuable; I’ve had several of them. And in this way, I may be more like a hunter-gatherer than a “modern” Westerner, as the practice among the former is to treat marriage as very important and each partner in the marriage as a critical and similarly empowered member of the contract, while the practice among the latter has been to see women as the man’s property and to form economic, social, and sexual alliances as needed outside the marriage. Who is in on the deal and how they work together to get the job done matters.

As we approach a very important election in the United States, the issue of marriage…what it is and who decides how to do it…looms large as a political issue. People who are of the same sex want to get married, and about half of everybody says no. Why? Why do people of the same sex want to get married, and why does either a slim majority or a bare minority care enough to try to stop this?

One of the things that has been said is that marriage between a man and a woman is what God specified, via his various media outlets. Iron age pamphlets, burning bushes, that sort of thing. That is a religious argument for disallowing people of the same sex to get married, but there is also a secular argument; it ain’t natural. The natural form of marriage is for a man and a woman and nobody else to get married. There are all sorts of interesting questions raised by both arguments, and it is interesting to see where they agree and disagree; almost every person mentioned by name in the old testament who was married whether they were a FOG1 or not was involved in a polygynous union, not a “one man-one woman” marriage. Clearly, the Biblical argument and the Naturalistic argument are at odds.

I really am kind of an expert on marriage, and not only because I’ve had a few. I am an anthropologist and we anthropologists study, among other things, kinship and related social relations. That’s marriage and some other stuff. Also, as a biological anthropologist I’ve had a great interest in the genetical and Darwinian aspects of kinship and marriage. Finally, as a palaeoanthropologist, I’ve studied the origin of marriage. As a matter of fact, I’m the co-author of a peer reviewed paper that explains the origin of marriage in our species, and that paper is in the top ten of all papers ever published in Anthropology’s flagship journal, “Current Anthropology” in terms of numbers of times it has been cited. (This is not to say that all those people who have cited it liked it, of course.)

Marriage isn’t simple. It is about social relationships, economics, child raising, sex, power, and all sorts of other things. It is important enough that The Patriarchy has owned it, in Western Society, for centuries. The politics of marriage will likely shape the nature of politics in general, to a disproportionate degree for a social issue, over the next couple of presidential election cycles, as the politics of abortion and choice have in years past. They are related, as I’ve already suggested–marriage and women’s reproductive activities. Having, or not having, babies is an activity reserved for women, and this worries powerful men. For this reason babies have, in Western tradition, been owned or controlled by men, and marriage is one way in which that ownership is asserted. But I’m getting ahead of my self. Let’s just say that many of the sociopolitical conflicts we are experiencing today can be blamed on that age old problem: The Patriarchy. We’ll get to that too.

1Friend of God

Photo by danny.hammontree