One of the most crucial and inflexible ways North American society has divided itself – since the 1950s, anyway – is between homo and straight.
But I think that within the next 10 or 20 years, that division will collapse. We’ll find the bigger gap is between people (queer and straight) who believe in long-term partnered relationships according to strict rules – and people (queer and straight) who make up their intimate relationships as they go along.
And I’d say the latter group is the future of human society.
I’m getting this from reading up on evolutionary psychology – a field of science that explores why humans have the behaviours and feelings we have.
Emotions aren’t just fun add-ons to spice up life. We developed them over millions of years for specific reasons. The problem is that many purposes have disappeared as the way humans do things – have babies, feed ourselves, impress potential sexual partners – has changed.
In his book, How The Mind Works, Steven Pinker argues that emotional conflicts arise from a mismatch between our present lifestyles and the hunter-gather lifestyle humans had when our emotions developed.
Take passionate anger. It used to be very handy in order to demonstrate to our enemies and neighbours that certain threats would cause us to lose rational control of ourselves – that we would die to protect our home, for example. In a world with 911, security systems, criminal charges and lawsuits, passionate anger does us more harm than good. It’s an emotion that has outlived its purpose; to let it go unchecked is to ask for trouble.
The same goes for sexual jealousy, the key to our obsession with long-term monogamous relationships. Its time has passed for an increasing number of people in contemporary society.
Sexual jealousy’s primary purpose was, for a man, to make sure his female partners was carrying his baby, so he wouldn’t waste his energy supporting someone else’s genetic material. And for a woman it was to make sure her male partner wasn’t out producing other offspring that may distract him from his primary relationship with her. (Pulitzer-prize winning writer Jared Diamond explores these theories in his book, Why Is Sex Fun?)
All this energy and anxiety seems pretty pointless when a couple isn’t planning to have kids – like a growing number of straights – or will have kids through adoption or reproductive technologies – like a growing number of homos. We can survive being unpartnered quite easily in today’s society, as many single mothers will attest.
When we obsess over our partner’s infidelity, when we panic about whether our relationship will last forever – should we continue to be proud these feelings, to sing songs about them? Or should we quash them like we quash the pointless urge to kill our noisy neighbour?
And for those who want to move ahead and conduct their lives according to the circumstances of modern life – how long can they continue to let unevolved hotheads make the rules?
Paul Gallant is Features Editor and Acting News Editor for Xtra.