Of love & marriage

Lechery is easily mistaken for love. This is a thought that afflicts me whenever my eyes stray into the pop tabloid reporting of current events; and when I review my own history of poor judgements, back in the days when there were two sexes.

Man is an animal. This has been known for some time. It could be known even in the Garden of Eden, from what I can make out, though science had not had the opportunity to advance at that time. He is more than an animal in the Christian teaching, not less; in particular let me mention he is higher than the monkeys. This could be taken for flattery, for there are monkeys who can be quite clever, including tool-users almost as adept as crows.

But the sex lives of the monkeys (I use the term broadly) is not nearly so romantic as we have been led to believe in e.g. documentaries of the BBC. I think of some nature documentary to which I was once exposed, and from which I learnt that bonobos “have sex all the time”; the females, indifferent to estrus, being more promiscuous than the males, and having sapphic tendencies in addition. Their communal life has been compared to that of California hippies in the ‘sixties; in contrast to that of the chimpanzees, who tend to marginalize their women. Er, females.

Perhaps I am unfair to the Beeb. As I recall, the documentary went on to demythologize the bonobo reputation, much though I was prepared to believe it from the appearances (of the bonobos, not the BBC presenters). I found them over-coiffed and prim. In human life, I try to avoid those who look like them; they seem constantly on the make, in one way or another.

Now, chimpanzees have a deserved reputation for “male chauvinism,” and for violence, which seems to come with that. But the bonobos can be quite violent, too, and it’s the women you have to watch out for. (Er, the females.) They administer beatings on each other, and especially on the males, according to my information. Their apparent lesbianism had a sociological explanation: they were actually competing for status.

I am not, I must warn the reader, an expert on the sexual activity of monkeys, but this much I will state confidently. They have much less fun than we assume. Whether they are inwardly joyous, is another question. They are certainly less imaginative than people, even those you meet in, e.g., downmarket pubs.

Except in season, they are not very lecherous. The economy of monkeys depends on hard work, for seldom is food in plentiful supply. Nature requires of her creatures a kind of working-class solidarity, for the desire of nutrition, and for survival, puts demands on them class by class. I notice this with e.g. the finches and sparrows that I sometimes feed. There are collective impulses, such as swarming a new source of food, but within that behaviour, notorious individualism. Some get to eat more than others, and in the competition, the shy seem to have no rights. But compared to the feeding frenzies, the sex lives of the animals are, overall, more discreet. (Well, I will make an exception for the mayflies.)

So it is with humans, even today. Promiscuity is common enough, but I doubt it is dominant, even in an orgy. Truth to tell, I’ve never been in an orgy, but outside, privacy is observed. Humans, being imaginative, also like to exhibit emotions, and the words “I love you” are flaunted about, at least until their object is secured.

What we have, and the other animals lack, is the capacity to imagine the future. I don’t mean mere instinct, to avoid a bad fate, but a conscious motive for discipline towards the far future. This, one might say, helps explain the ancestral custom of marriage. It is why lechery loses out to sustained, not-necessarily-gymnastic love, over the longer term.