Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marriage 2.0, 2.1 and 2.2: The Muffin Years

Things started to change with the muffins.

It’s called the Agricultural Revolution, and most people think of it as an item on a Western Civ test, not one of the most important shifts in human culture in our history. When we went beyond horticulture (growing things like olives and apples and the occasional vegetable and herb) and started cultivating cereal grains, everything changed. It was a big move towards food security, which after physical security was the biggest issue facing tribal life. Hunting and gathering is great during the summer months, when everything is in bloom. But during the winter, when the plants go away and most of the animals are hibernating or migrating, things get grim. With a few exceptions hunter-gatherer cultures have a hard time accumulating and preserving sufficient food stocks to get everyone through the winter. It was easier in a herding culture, but then the issue of providing silage for your beasts arises, and you’re back to square one.

So we learned how to grow grain, and some genius invented muffins, and the Agricultural Revolution was on.

We learned how to cultivate high-carbohydrate grain crops like oats, wheat, rye and rice. Pros: life expectancies go up, infant mortality goes down, deaths from starvation (once an annual occurrence) are now much less rare. Muffins (or bread, or rice) can feed you during the lean times when protein is hard to find, it’s easy to store and has a long shelf-life, and it will sustain you in a protein-poor environment without you starving to death. Plus, a reasonable amount of effort (and luck) yields a massive potential return, which provides HUGE surpluses of grain, far more than your family could eat. This is where things start to get interesting.

If Marriage 1.0 was about male fitness and prowess and Marriage 1.1 was about herd management and wealth-in-cows, Marriage 2.0 was about Wealth-in-real-estate-and-muffins. Before, when everyone was semi-nomadic following the herds or the harvest of the nuts and berries, where you lived was a pretty transitory thing. If things got to hairy or the herds left, the tribe picked up and went to greener pastures. You can’t do that when you have a crop in the field. You’re invested.

So suddenly where you lived mattered quite a bit. High on a mountain? Good game (protein source) possibilities, maybe, but bad place to grow wheat. Where as the folks in the flat, easy-to-plant river valleys had only a reasonable protein supply, but they could grow carbs all day once they figured out the trick of cultivation. If you live on a mountain and practice Marriage 1.1, then your distant cousins who went and discovered agriculture and now practice Marriage 2.0 are going to be very strange to you.

Grain was such an important development that the level-headed Greeks devoted an entire 1/12th of their godhood to it. The center of religious thought for three thousand years in the West was the Eleusinian Mysteries, which concerned the interplay of Grain, Sex, Death, Birth and Rebirth and featured the goddess Ceres. It’s also helpful to note that the Greeks also deified both Sex and Pleasure (Aphrodite) and Marriage (Hera). These things were important to the early agricultural civilizations. Heck, so was “civilization” (“the art of living in cities”) which was impossible before grain cultivation. You need a large enough food surplus to allow for the craft specialization necessary to sustain a settlement of more than 1000 people. But once you have grain, and granaries, and collective security, then urbanization is the next step. The semi-nomadic Tribal Compound becomes The Village, and later The Town. The economics changed radically, and so human culture had to change as well.

That’s where the real Marriage 2.0 came into play, the Agricultural Marriage.

Marriage 2.0 is about ownership and control. A man can till a field and harvest a huge surplus from a wheat field -- but he has to store it securely, too, and protect it from anyone who wants to wander by and take it. You can't just run away and start planting crops in the next valley over without losing all of your accumulated wealth.

Imagine you’re an early agriculturalist for a minute, having figured out the secret of grain and muffins. You’ve got a nice, fertile piece of land near to a good irrigation source, and you’re ass-deep in grain and muffins at the end of the harvest. And other people are starting to eye your good grain field with envy. People are starting to keep track of that sort of thing. In fact, people are starting to keep track of a lot of things by necessity, like who owns what and how much wheat a given field produced in a year. This is all a lot of fun, and you’ve got muffins to burn, and aren’t you glad you aren’t out hunting all winter?

The problem is the guys in the next valley over got together and decided that they were going to support each other's claim to the lands they had. And they were going to put all of their grain in one place and protect it from the atavistic hill tribes who really enjoyed muffins but didn’t much see the need to pay for them, because they don’t understand how private property works. Or even “property”, for that matter. So you have to share the responsibilities of protecting your investment, or designate a few tough guys to do it and pay them out of the surplus. Because while a protein-fed hill-barbarian hunter/gatherer might be able to take any of the bread-eating valley people individually, when there's a dozen of them and they work together that makes just taking their grain and cows more expensive and dangerous.

Between food surpluses and collective security, life started getting pretty nice for the muffin eaters. But their values are different than the hunter-gatherers, and the basic food-and-security-for-sex-and-childrearing contract of Marriage 1.0 and 1.1 have been altered. Suddenly prowess as a hunter doesn't win you nearly as many points when it comes to arranging for a wife (although you get plenty of interested looks from their womenfolk). Neither does skill as a thief – a big bonus for tribal peoples – earn you points, since most tribal bandits raid agricultural settlements and that's frowned upon once you actually live in an agricultural settlement.

No, these grain-growing farmers are only interested in what wealth -- measured in land and grain -- you control. Providing raw protein and basic security for your mate is no longer enough in the Agricultural world. Your standing in the larger community becomes far more important than your individual bad-assedness with a spear. You are now measured by your ability to manage to cultivate a fertile plot of land and produce a surplus, as well as contribute to the collective security. It’s hard, brutal work – but it’s not particularly dangerous. Compared to fighting saber-toothed tigers and digging for grubs in the summer and starving in the winter, it’s a pretty nice gig. Much easier to raise kids that way, too, when you don’t have to worry about how to stretch one deer carcass among six rug-rats. There’s muffins aplenty for everyone. All you need is a wife who’s a “good breeder”.

Since ultimately the role of childrearing is to produce grandchildren, the people who are arranging for your marriage (your parents or equivalent) are also scheming to ensure that you live long enough to produce them. And since more kids means more free farm labor, and not just more unskilled mouths to dump protein into before they die, then having a whole lot of kids is suddenly a great idea. More kids, more workers, more cultivated land, more grain, bigger surpluses, more muffins.

This is where social and cultural mores usually segue away from carefully restricting and regulating reproduction so as not to upset the tribe, and more towards a wholesale blessing to screw all you want and have as many kids as you want. Agricultural civilizations are where you see the first rise of the real "fertility religions". Aphrodite, goddess of sex and lust and pleasure, sits on the same pantheon as Juno, the taciturn goddess of marriage. The legitimate and “illicit” elements of sex are both deified by the Greeks (along with grain and wine) because they are vital concepts within their culture. Without sex you can’t have a bunch of kids to tend the fields. Without marriage, you have no way of keeping track of whose kids are whose, and which kid inherits which field when you die. This is when marital fidelity starts really mattering. This is when you see the rise of Marriage as Political And Economic Tool.

But in this economy wives are more than just breeding machines, believe it or not: they also represent tracts of arable land to be inherited. Consider the Trojan War. Helen of Sparta, the illegitimate daughter of Zeus, represented more than just the most beautiful woman in the world (Aphrodite’s bailiwick); she also represented a filial tie between two powerful states in Greece, Sparta and Mycenae, at a critical time. The marriage was a result of a complex negotiation that demanded that Helen and her father sort through the offers from the wealthy and powerful. The marriage didn’t just mean more grandkids, it meant the union of two political entities. Only a ploy by clever Odysseus kept the suitors of Helen from killing each other. Of course, it also led to the decade-long Trojan War, and another decade of hopeless wandering for Odysseus, so that’s what a clever ploy will get you in a marriage negotiation.

Whomever married Helen would have their sons inherit in part the status and position and wealth of Helen’s father. Having the most beautiful woman in the world in your bed every night was just gravy. It’s also telling that Paris, when faced with a choice between Wisdom, Marriage, and Sex went with Sex. He may have regretted it later, but I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Inheritance becomes a huge issue in Marriage 2.0 -- indeed, it's a defining characteristic. A man who farms (or owns some farmers) wants to ensure that his children are really his, and that his accumulated wealth will be distributed fairly to avoid feuds and bloodshed among his descendents. Since accumulated wealth is measured in bushels and acres, real estate is suddenly the most important thing in the world. Marriage isn’t just about having kids, it starts being about transferring wealth and power. You’re not just marrying a woman and her family, you’re marrying into a going business concern with real tradable assets. Some ancient tribes recognized this (particularly the Celts and the Indians) by using a local earth goddess (and her comely young maiden stand-in) as a living representation of the land, and as part of the ascension of a new king this sovereign goddess was ritually screwed in the famous heiros gamos, or “sacred marriage”.

Back in Marriage 1.0, you only had a few kids to divide up your personal effects; your stock-in-trade, skill as a hunter/fisher, is non-transferable, unless you count magic. Add in cows and it gets somewhat complicated, but not much more. But when it comes to real estate and the relative arability of a piece of land, then accumulated wealth becomes a very, very big deal.

But the interesting thing here is that the ownership of land -- and using wives and daughters as living placeholders for property rights – actually establishes a monetary value for women for the first time. And a value on virginity. A certified virgin, after all, is far more likely to actually produce your genetic heir, and you don't want to leave your parent's legacy of real estate to a bastard, do you? So depending on the comeliness (read: fertility) of the wife, you're willing to invest quite a lot of land and grain in the fact that she's "untainted" by other penises. Do you have more land from your folks than you need? Then heck! Just get a second wife to help out! Double the kids, double the dowry, and your surpluses just start increasing. Or a third wife, so that the other two will have someone to pick on. Each one represents not just a new sexual partner and domestic worker, they represent a tie to a powerful family or a piece of land, a political or economic alliance.

And from here is what we know as the “Traditional Marriage” is evolved. The marriage contract is altered from 1.0, where the responsibilities of a husband or wife are fairly well-delineated by tribal custom and gender role, and where sex/childrearing in exchange for security/food is clearly established, to Marriage 2.0. In Marriage 2.0 the sex-for-security swap is enshrined with a host of new issues: marital fidelity, punishment for adultery, and all sorts of other rights and responsibilities between the two parties and their families.

Some things don’t change. The male is still considered the provider and protector. When there’s a security threat, it’s the males and not the females who are drafted into service. Males are usually legally liable for the actions of their wives. Males are usually acknowledged as the head-of-household, because now lineage is measured through the male, even if he’s not out hunting every day. Females are still in charge of most childrearing and domestic responsibilities, including a good deal of the farming in the lower orders and a good deal of the textile production in the upper orders.

But other things are different. In most Marriage 1.0 situations if things aren’t working out there are provisions for ending the union. Tribal peoples tend to have a cultural understanding that when the masculine and feminine spirits can’t be reconciled, the spirits have mandated rituals to accommodate the situation. For example, if a woman gets pissed off with her husband she might move into her mother’s hut across the compound and go get her brothers to kick his ass. Or if you catch your wife with another man, you kick his ass and then make her do a cleansing ritual, or he owes you a goat, or something. There’s a means of re-balancing domestic harmony, and that’s essential in human societies of less than 200 people. Need to see other people? Can’t stand the sight of her? Does she think you’re a tool? Then there is usually some agency for the couple to split.

But you just can’t do that in an Agricultural marriage – there’s too much paperwork. You’re dealing not just with what happens to the kids, but what happens to all of that land and grain. If you leave your wife, you leave her huge tracts of land, too. If you catch her cheating, even then it’s hard to separate without catastrophic financial loss. So you either tolerate it or you lock her in a tower or you push her off a cliff, but you don’t divorce. Agricultural marriages are “until death do we part” by necessity. They’re real legal commitments and cash transactions, even if the value is implied and not explicit. They’re designed to produce as many children as possible as quickly as possible and max out the reproductive capacities of the partners in question. That ensures that at least some of the progeny will survive, mature, and reproduce – and hopefully take care of your toothless ass when you’re old.

Of course marriage 2.0 undergoes some evolution along the way. For one thing, now that wealth is an issue so is class. Among those in power marriage is a way to build empires and dynasties first and foremost. Among the lower classes, it’s an economic necessity for food and social security. Collective security and armed conflict give you a way to peel off too many males, soft polygamy gives you a way to double up the females, and the whole thing is pretty stable, socially speaking, as long as the crops don’t fail and the grain doesn’t get moldy. Things stay relatively stable for a couple of thousand years, actually.

The rise of the Great Religions demonstrates the first calcification of Marriage 2.0 into Marriage 2.1. In the West that means Christianity and Islam, both of which have a heavily codified institution of marriage where the husbandly and wifely responsibilities are laid out pretty explicitly. After about 1000 CE this translates to hard monogamy in name, and soft monogamy in practice (except amongst the higher orders, who used their wealth and power to plow anything in a skirt like the Alphas of old). But for everyone else . . .

Prostitution was reviled and condemned; institutional and mythological reasons were developed for a harsh monogamy with no escape this side of death. Virginity and celibacy are elevated as a means of social control. Adultery and “fornication”, that is, unrestricted and unlicensed sex, was absolutely forbidden. It was better to die than to commit adultery. Virginity was elevated to near-divine levels, Motherhood was celebrated in abstract, and sexuality was brutally condemned outside of heavily-controlled ritualistic breeding.

Ideally, in Marriage 2.1 (Traditional Model) you were a virgin until your parents got together with the village matchmaker and paired you up with a good girl from a nice family who is also a virgin, and after a big ceremony and lavish gifts from both sides of the new family, you’re supposed to keep her knocked up and producing until menopause or death in childbirth. More kids = more farmers/soldiers = higher food and social security. Then there are just enough social escape-valves (monastic life, clandestine affairs and prostitution) to keep things from going crazy under pressure (as happened during the Black Death of the 14th century), but that’s how Marriage 2.1 is supposed to work.

The variant is Marriage 2.2, the Upper Class. Marriage is different for those of the aristocracy. Marriages are de facto unions of power blocs and economic empires. They aren’t expected to be romantic in the slightest, and are often barely sexual – as long as they produce a few legitimate heirs, they’re successful no matter how much they fight and scheme. Note the emphasis on fewer children – which means an institutional consolidation of power, as opposed to a dilution of power with every generation. Rich families have a few kids that they lavish attention on, instead of a lot of kids that they can support, but who will someday fight over the economic empire you’ve created.

Even after Monotheism takes root and the traditional marriage is established, the aristocracy continues to only pay lip-service to it. Men of power are no more concerned with their own marital fidelity – after all, what’s the point of being a lord when you can’t roger a servant girl? Women in such families have subtle indiscretions with the help or acquaintances with the caveat that they must always preserve the illusion of sticking to the bounds of Marriage 2.1. As a result, there are plenty of dotted lines and questionable genetics in the family trees of the European aristocracy.

And all of this was the result of muffins. It was hard work for both men and women, but it took us from watching half of our kids die of starvation every winter to having a festive Yule celebration of the harvest, secure in the knowledge that you’d likely get to spring with about the same number of kids you started the fall with. Men worked in the fields, women worked in the homes, kids worked as soon as they were old enough to hoe or feed chickens. And that’s how things settled out between 3000 BCE and 1800 CE, until the next big thing: the Industrial Revolution.

Someone went and invented the assembly line and messed up all the muffins.


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