In "Libertarian Family Values," Reason's Aeon J. Skoble gets off a good one-liner.  "[M]y daughter said she wanted to be treated like a princess, so I made her marry someone she doesn't love in order to strengthen our alliance with Prussia." There's a serious point to the article. It's about emergence, with more than a little about evolutionary stability and conserving transaction costs involved.
The joke works because we're so used to thinking of marriage in terms of romantic love between moral equals that we lose sight of the fact that many other "traditional" arrangements have been dominant at different times and places. So too with families in general: For most of human history children were economic investments, either in the sense implied by the joke or in the sense of creating labor power. Wives once were essentially property, traded from the father to the husband.
Romantic love itself is emergent, just consider Shakespeare to Spencer to the Beach Boys to Blind Date.  The main message of  Mr Skoble's column, though, is that conscious efforts to preserve institutions or to change them, whether or not the institutions no longer confer evolutionary advantage, are likely to come up against the reality of complex adaptive systems doing what they darn well please.

No comments: