Modern Family

Growing up in the 1970’s, I was exposed to Hollywood films and songs in the charts. These two art-forms would promote the idea of romantic love as the pinnacle of human existence. These dreams would have been born in 19th Century British literature I guess. It would have come from the challenge for women wanting to marry out of choice, not forced through financial or other circumstances. My dream would be to save the planet, kill the baddie and win the girl. This would lead to the belief that you would live happily ever after in some sort of married bliss. It was expected that everybody would get married and that this was the only option and the most important event in your life.

Looking back it seems so far removed from life now. There is so much cynicism about romantic love, there are so few successful relationships that I have seen in the last twenty years and there seems to be an unspoken gender war that has left sex and relationships devastated in England.

Romantic love can be wonderful, sometimes it lasts for a short time and sometimes forever. My Grandparents generation may have found it, but they may have got married young and grown together as two co-dependent people like two halves of the same being. It could be a result of a lack of independence or personal development and results in a person being fulfilled only in relationship with another. I do not wish to be cynical and denigrate others experiences, but in my mind it isn’t working in England at the moment.

Society has become much more sophisticated over the last fifty years. There are much more opportunities to experience life, especially for women who have been given the choice for their future due to the oral contraceptive. It is difficult to see how a relationship with one person can allow us to realise those opportunities. Work has also become more demanding and stressful and there is less time and more pressure put on us all.

We are also living much longer and healthier lives. The explosion of the media age has allowed ideas, education, opportunities, travel, art and images into our lives even if we don’t want them.

Childcare has become more and more problematical as balancing work and family life for two parents, has left them gasping for air. The cost of childcare can be the same as a parent’s wage. The difficulty of a parent stuck at home alone with the kids is immense, it is a lonely and painful experience which is quite frankly unhealthy.

Care for the elderly has also been forced out of the family and into isolated units for people cut off from their family and friends. Or into care-homes where the elderly are left with strangers next to them and strangers looking after them.

When I was young, people could be judged on whether they could prove themselves by getting into a relationship, any relationship. This seems ridiculous now, when those in relationships never seem happy and people never seem to socialise with anyone else. If there is a problem, then failure of the relationship ends in a catastrophic breakdown of one’s whole life. The effect on children can be devastating.

Sometimes when things in life have begun to fail, rather than try harder at the same old ways in a new style, it could be better to get back to basics and rebuild. I have mentioned before about the patriarchal society and it is worth revisiting its origins and practice. According to evolutionary psychology, our development has not got past our hunter-gatherer roots from 10,000 ago. Women were the centre of society. They would stay in a camp with the kids and forage for whatever food they could find. Men would hunt and bring back meat to the women and they would all have a party. There would be closely developed human relations and half the time people would be in gender groups and half mixed all together.

In England, hunting was based on the abundance of Red Deer in the forests. But climate change led to a reduction in game, and humans had to turn to agriculture, developed in the Fertile Crescent in Syria and Iraq. This system split the tribes into families of one man, one woman. Enclosed land for farming, was worked by the man, the woman would produce babies to grow into workers for the fields and the population would grow slowly despite the high birth rate. Life expectancy was to the mid-thirties and the men were designated leaders as the women had so much childcare responsibilities. This was a shift from the Hunter-Gatherer society where women were the centre and men would provide meat to sustain them on a periodical basis.

This system was maintained throughout the agrarian revolution, the industrial revolution and has started to breakdown with the social revolution that started in the 1960’s in the West. History may indicate that family life has been anything but blissful and the Hollywood dream many of us were sold as kids was a fantasy.

Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from the hunter-gatherers that can help us design a better system for the future. Family was designed for the purposes of agriculture, even if it started before history was recorded. Its purpose was survival of the human race and it barely worked as the population would grow slowly but could be devastated by famine and disease. Ingenious scientific and engineering solutions helped us develop and grow.

I would suggest that the main aim in life is to survive, live long and fruitful lives making the most out of our potential. Whether these goals are possible for all is questionable and connected to politics and economics, but indulge my idealism for a moment.

I would suggest that the family unit based on one couple was rarely successful. Recently there has been a trend to live like this without producing children. Perhaps a family unit with maybe four couples. Sexual partners would be governed by strict rotation over a defined period, instead of one partner there would four expanding the possibilities of your life experience. There would be eight different personalities with eight different skillsets, four times as many kids with eight parents leading to a community rather than an isolated unit of about four in the current average family.

For this system to work there would need to be better personal development to prevent jealousy and encourage communication. Partners would need to have some life experience before entering into such a group. They would have to be carefully chosen and accepted by all in an open and honest way. I believe that sex and relationships are a healthcare issue and should be treated scientifically.

A similar system would be necessary for homosexuals. There would be more career experiences on offer, more practical and social skills available and there would be more people available for childcare. In this situation there should always be two or more people covering childcare to avoid isolation. There would be greater potential to support the elderly, single people or anyone marginalised in society who could be supported by this group.

People could come and go and benefit from the family and maybe start their own. There would have to a commitment from the core members with a promise to find a replacement if a decision is made to leave. Any breakdown between two people would not become catastrophic as there are other members of the family to support them.

Children would have the benefit of more brothers and sisters and more parents. Workload would be shared, so that work, childcare, home-life and social life would become more efficient.

These ideas would require research, personal development and clearly defined rules. A system of dividing the various responsibilities would make decision making simpler. There would be different ministries such as finance, childcare, food, cleaning, sex, social life, holidays, security or whatever and one person would oversee the decision making for each. There would clearly defined rules based on equality. This approach has been tried in an informal way since the 1960’s, but I believe a serious look at such arrangements would be valuable at a time when family life in the UK appears to be slipping into decline.

A serious attempt at this sort of family could bring great benefits to relationships. People could develop and grow in all areas giving greater experience, social interaction and stability.

Rules and morals for the family would have to be defined, and organisations to promote this arrangement would have to be formed.

Life is better by design, allowing society to slide into selfish anarchy needs to be reversed. The challenge for the human race is social, this could help defeat the problems of alienation and selfish dogmatism that face us at the moment.

Conway-Laird (2017)


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