Quite by accident in my research for The Strategy, I chanced on the name of Julian Savulescu and wondered what an Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics did. It led me to read his joint paper with Anders Sandberg about the potential for neuro-enhancement of love and marriage, which is where I’m at now in this blog. Ok, so the paper was written in 2007 and maybe some things have moved on since then, but the ethical debate still applies, and it interestingly tangentially supports the aspects behind my own theories of why relationships falter in the forties and fifties, and for women, particularly, often never get going again. Here’s the paper in its entirety:
Essentially there are a number of reasons behind monogamous relationships:
- For procreation and the continuance of the species
Oh, yes – I forgot to start with there is one biological reason for our inherent physiology to promote monogamous relationships, and that is the one above. The others are all socio-economic or culture related, and support it. These are they:
- We are healthier when in a stable happy relationship – blood pressure decreases, stress levels are lower, social bonding is better, there is less danger of spread of sexual disease etc.
- It creates a more stable society in as much as there is a greater level of contentment, less change and therefore a better maintenance of status quo.
- Our culture has encouraged a view of love or being in a loving relationship as an ideal status and so it is a goal we all seek, to a greater or lesser degree.
- Financially the (welfare state in the UK) state has less potential burden to meet if families are stable and therefore children are nurtured and maintained by the parents, needing less state intervention by way of social welfare support – adoption, fostering, social workers, educational support etc and of course the involved relationship partners should be enjoying the benefits of better health overall with a similar lack of demand on the state healthcare-wise.
- Philosophically, we all need something to believe in – it may be God, religion, politics but for many it is in the power of love to create a happier and more fulfilled life.
- Essentially we are social beings.
- Children from stable families are much less at risk from abuse.
And indeed, most societies and even animal species show a preference for monogamy – read the paper for the research statistics. This preference for monogamy is evolutionarily based on the fact that children require a stable relationship to reach sufficient maturity to ensure survival of the species. Women are more programmed towards stability as they are at greater risk from the process of procreation (pregnancy and childbirth) so will seek to minimise change and destabilisation from having multiple sexual partners, whereas men are at minimal risk so are prone to proliferate their sexual activity amongst many partners for best results. However women maintain control at this earlier stage of life since they are essential as the actual life bearers, so men are forced to concede to their preference for the time being. However, move past the age of the need to maintain the status quo because of procreation – i.e. into the forties and fifties age groups + and that degree of control by the women fails. Men no longer need to defer to women’s choice. The children are raised and they are free to choose at will. Choice for them still tends to be dominated by preferring the more attractive pro-creational qualities in women, because they are still biologically driven – i.e. younger, more attractive women and hence the male choice in this age range is for the younger, ‘sexier’ women. If the men by this stage have also – as one would expect – achieved a degree of economic success and social status, it becomes much easier for them to choose amongst this more ‘attractive’ group, thereby leaving the older women now out in the cold. There are statistically many more older men in second marriages or partnerships with younger women (see partway down column 2 on P33 of the article, relating to note 35).
So ladies, if, like me , in your middle years, you’ve ever wondered why an otherwise attractive and intelligent single woman is passed over by the men in her own age group, here is your answer. You have become part of the less lucky social groups the paper talks about because of perceived lessening or lack of desirability – yet the populace of these groups have many admirable qualities of perhaps greater value than the ones whose qualities are valued higher because of youth, or perception of physical beauty. Empathetically the paper talks of equalising the situation and giving everyone an equal chance by the use of drugs, as well as the reasons for using the same drug to enhance relationships already in existence but in potential danger of breaking down.
Well, love isn’t dependent only on similar philosophical and cultural beliefs, social similarities or appropriateness of interests or intentions. Underlying all of these over-layered inclinations are the hormones and chemicals that first set our pulses racing and subsequently assist in the enforcement of attachment or bonding between us: oxytocin, testosterone, vasopressin, CRH and entactogens. They are the constituent elements that could go into a little magic bullet to make love grow or stay: a love pill. By careful manipulation of the chemical and hormone levels within a body you could actually encourage someone to fall in love with you, or having done so, keep them in love with this little (theoretical – I don’t think there’s one on the market yet) pill.
Wow! You say, so I could force someone to fall in love with me and then stay that way? My prayers are answered! The introduction agencies, matchmakers of the world and internet dating agencies would all be jumping about with joy at this, perhaps – until everyone was in love and never changing their Facebook status again – and then they’d all be out of business. But would this happy pill be so happy in reality?
Firstly, who would decide who took it or not? Who has control over your emotions? You – or someone who wants to control you? Isn’t the right to choose for oneself one of the first and most important human rights we still have?
Who decides whether a relationship is appropriate for it to be supported or maintained by such a drug? Everyone’s perceptions are different. What is a good situation for one is a bad situation for another. The paper suggests a scenario where (P39: second column) Peter is promiscuous and making Joan, his partner, unhappy, so if Joan was given the drug, she could overlook his promiscuity and be happy again. As long as she was also being able to be self-fulfilled within their relationship, this could be deemed to be a worthwhile relationship to support with the drug. Personally I wonder how any relationship where one person is serially betraying loyalty and faithfulness to another could ever be regarded as a ‘good’ relationship, and for all the valid and salient points the paper makes until here, I feel it falls dramatically over its own feet at this stage.
How much artificial interference should we tolerate before we decide we have created a world where we have no solid basis in fact and not sufficient strength of character to simply accept that some things happen for us and some don’t? Recently the US justice system has said that it will allow commutation or reduction of sentences on criminals where they can prove that their crimes are due to a chemical imbalance, if they allow that balance to be redressed. But does it change the fact that the crime has been committed – especially when that crime may be rape or murder? And what if they stop taking the medication? What next?
Wouldn’t the giving of an unequal advantage – making oneself superlatively attractive to another by the use of drugs be ethically and morally wrong when we champion equality elsewhere? Recently we had the nonsense of a Paralympics athlete being challenged about entry into the Paralympics because his artificial limbs actually enabled him to run faster than an able bodied sportsman so he was being regarded as no longer disabled.
Finally, have we become so arrogant that we believe we have an entitlement to everything, including love? The paper also considers whether we should try more to change relationships and attitudes and not people. I believe the answer to that is most definitely yes. Human beings aspire and achieve greatness because they question, challenge and test themselves. They try, they fail, they try again. In doing so they both improve themselves and the world they live in by self-analysis and change. If we rely on a growing quick-fix culture that uses the advances in science to create an artificial love-life rather than concentrating on finding something like a cure for cancer, then we will lose our ability to achieve anything philosophically and developmentally worthwhile.
I am single and in my fifties. I am told I have an attractive physique and face, and am intelligent and pleasant to be with. I have not been chosen by anyone as a permanent partner for the several years I have been widowed, and of course that is disappointing, and at times lonely. However, do I really have the right to manipulate someone else to ensure I obtain lasting love simply because that is what I would prefer to have?
A magic bullet for love? Please don’t shoot it at me; I’ll find my own form of death – or love.
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