Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On "Cheating"

One often comes across the word "cheating" when reading about monogamy, adultery and extra-marital affairs.

Marriage is a union of two people. What kind of union is it?

Economic: They will pool their financial resources in the pursuit of common goals, including the care of their joint offspring.

Social: They will form a unit of hospitality and of social visits. They will engage together in social rituals.

Sexual: They can have sex with each other without anybody objecting or threatening that the intercourse is illegal, anti-social, not allowed, not possible etc. They can produce offspring which are considered first class citizens (i.e., having full rights) of the society.

Emotional: They provide companionship and living together to each other.

Legal: They are a legal entity for purposes of housing, parenting, immigration, taxation etc.

What are the biological and historical roots of this union?

The fundamental reason for this union is to pool the physical resources for taking care of the children who, in the human species, need care for an extended period. An average single parent can ill-afford to both gather resources for the household and to provide constant care for the dependants.

Sex is the vehicle for genetic propagation. It is a means, not an end. It can have psychological and sensual significance as an act in itself but this significance is nothing but a sophisticated incentive for genetic propagation. Humans can, however, disregard completely the procreative aspect and focus on the recreative aspect of sex.

Males of the human species have evolved in such a way that their goal is to attract as many females as possible and have multiple sexual encounters in order to ensure the maximal propagation possibility of their genes.

Females of the human species have evolved in such a way that they want to attract as many males as possible and to persuade the resource-rich males to provide for them and their offspring after the congress is over in order to ensure the maximal survival rate for their genes (in the form of their offspring).

An optimally evolved male will indulge in promiscuity only to an extent. Impregnating a large number of women without ensuring the survival of the resulting offspring is genetically futile.

This striving for maximal self-propagation is built into the very nature of genes. This instinct for maximal propagation results in the widely-observed promiscuous nature of human males. And since nature has clubbed together the psychological, genetic and the sensual in the sexual act, any one of these avenues getting satisfied in the act can fulfill the male's desire for promiscuity.

This promiscuity of the male makes insecure the female(s) with whom the impregnation has already happened. The implicit agreement, formalized in legal contracts in the modern age, is that in exchange for a female's childbearing capacity and other value-additions, the male will continue to provide for her. After all, the genetic propagation is of benefit to both of them.

But males will not stop being promiscuous, they are not made to be monogamous. They will seek to satisfy their promiscuous instincts with as many women as possible (within the social, legal, economic and emotional restraints).

The irony is that having a lot of sex with many women while ensuring that no impregnation happens (as is ubiquitous in this age) is a harmless perversion of nature's aims. It is to value the side effects of the act (the psychological, emotional or sensual payoff) over its main function (procreation). The sensible man will: (a) ensure the survival and wellbeing of current offspring, and (b) not engage in dangerous sexual encounters (comprising health risks or risks of emotional misery or social ostracism).

Coming to our main topic, what is "cheating"?

The charge of "cheating" is the charge of not upholding one's end of the contract after a sexual union is agreed upon. After all, the complicating factor is that propagation of genes in humans requires the cooperation of the male as well as the female. Not just in the sexual act, but also in the sharing of responsibilities of providing and caring for the offspring.

In case there is no contract (e.g. in a one-night stand), there is no notion of cheating as well.

The contract is (simplistically) as follows:

(Given by the male to the female)

Thank you for allowing me to impregnate you and to use you as a vehicle for the propagation of my genes. I promise to provide for you and for the offspring the resources and continued support necessary for your and their survival and well-being. I promise not to impregnate other women and share my resources with them. They will be used for us and our joint offspring only.

Signed, Male.

(Given by the female to the male)

Thank you for choosing me as a vehicle for the propagation for your genes as I will benefit from this impregnation too. My genes will also propagate through this offspring, who will be generously provided for by you for years to come. I promise to nurture and care for this offspring and enhance his/her chances of survival and well-being. I promise you that I will not get impregnated by other men and deviously ask you to care for their offspring through me.

Signed, Female.

...

Hence, what is the charge of "cheating" in a sexual union?

According to a female, the male is cheating if he impregnates other women and shares his resources amongst them, which "rightfully" only belonged to her. Since even a partial taking away of the resources might mean a lowering of the well-being of their joint offspring, and she cannot leave the male due to a breach of contract since she will be risking the offspring's well-being even more, she is understandably upset.

This cheating can be to the male's own detriment, if he does not have enough resources and his various offspring suffer due to too wide a distribution of his limited resources.

According to a male, the female is cheating if she is not caring enough for his offspring and is risking impregnation from other men while still holding this male as the primary provider for her current and possibly future offspring. (The male sees no value in providing for offspring of other males, which do zilch for his own genetic propagation. The only reason he might agree to provide for such offspring is if their mother is an outstanding genetic partner.)

If the female is thus cheating, the male cannot easily desert the female without risking the well-being of their joint offspring. Being thus trapped, he is understandably upset.

This cheating can be to the female's own detriment, if she produces too many offspring which she can possibly care well for, and if she alienates her loyal male provider(s).

I believe polygamy should not be illegal or socially taboo for males who can afford to provide for multiple women and their offspring, and for females who can afford to hire enough nannies. Even in developed countries, presidents and billionaires have to contend with having only one legal sexual partner at any time. They therefore have mistresses and indulge in socially-frowned-upon sexual encounters (e.g. the Monica Lewinsky affair). Their non-marital sexual partners have no legal rights. I find this unfair.

Now comes the interesting part.

If the "cheating" (as is common in today's times) is to engage in sexual encounters without any aim of impregnation or consequent resource-sharing, and with enough precautions taken to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, what exactly is wrong with it, again? How exactly is it "cheating"?

It is not cheating yet, but there is the risk, see.

The female can be hyper-sensitive to the risk that while being harmlessly promiscuous (so to speak), the male may actually impregnate his new partner, or get otherwise entangled, and stop providing for herself and their joint offspring. One of the valid criteria by which women judge this risk is the male's emotional bonding with them. If the emotional bond weakens, there is the very real risk that "their man" is now loving someone else.

In any case, it is a risk, and what is the best way to avoid this risk altogether? To control the promiscuous instincts of one's male partner in the first place, to keep an eye on him (so to speak).

The male can also be hyper-sensitive to the risk that in being harmlessly promiscuous (so to speak), the female may actually get impregnated, or get otherwise entangled, with the new sexual partner and stop providing value to himself and their joint offspring. One of the valid criteria by which men judge this risk is the female's flirtatiousness. If the flirtatiousness is alarming, so is the risk of impregnation.

In any case, it is a risk, and what is the best way to avoid this risk altogether? To keep an eye on her (so to speak) and to forbid her flirtatious behaviour.

Varied sensual pleasures, sexual encounters and flirtatious acts are therefore avoided or prohibited because of these fears. This leads to conscious resentment (it may be repressed or sublimated in the morally fastidious, "brainwashed with monogamy", puritanical or conventional amongst us). But the amusing thing is that these fears, prohibitions and resentments are the supposedly best way humans think they have of optimizing their genetic propagation.

Genetic propagation and its optimization is without a doubt important, but is living in suspicion and resentment a fair price for it? Nature seems to think so.

Do you?

17 comments:

Sriram said...

I don't quite accept your line of argument.

The gene has genetic goals. It has made sure that the individual coming out of this genetic imprint reproduces, otherwise it wouldn't survive. So it has evolved certain incentives - like sensual pleasure and love for this purpose.

But the individual is on his own, (s)he has no reason to serve the genetic goals. However, (s)he is still a slave to the emotion, love and sensual pleasures.

Hence, cheating is not deviating from a contract of male to female or vice versa, that is not even on known to individual. That still binds the genes and resources, but there is a level of indirection there that is not to be overlooked.

Cheating is cheating on the partner's feelings, the feelings that have arose from a mutual agreement and from the naivety of one's partner. The only thing that prevents cheating is conscience. And the only way to avoid morals and conscious resentment is to avoid making any contract(marriage) in the first place!

harmanjit said...

"But the individual is on his own, (s)he has no reason to serve the genetic goals. However, (s)he is still a slave to the emotion, love and sensual pleasures."

# Not sure what you mean.

"Cheating is cheating on the partner's feelings, the feelings that have arose from a mutual agreement and from the naivety of one's partner."

# But those feelings have a biological basis, the basis being the biological need to be helped in one's genetic propagation, correct?

Jack said...

Does the individual exist for the species or does the species exist for the individual? The situation you describe is a crude hack that has been good enough to keep the species alive, but the happiness of the individual has been incidental.

Is there any point in mere survival unless an individual human being somewhere, sometime, considers him/herself to be the *end* of all these billions of years of struggle and survival?

I don't believe so.

We, the individuals, might as well consider ourselves the end, the goal, of all that struggle. Then it doesn't matter whether we choose to create another being or not; the 'purpose' of all those billions of years of survival (if it makes sense to speak thus) has already been fulfilled, as us.

The above argument makes sense to me; but is still hard to accept on some level. Aside from the individual instinctive impulses (and who doesn't have them?), there's the deep-seated suspicion that maybe life has a higher purpose that is unknown to us, and will somehow be known to future generations ... in which case, our lives as progenitors are justified by results that lie in the distant future. I have no evidence whatsoever for this belief, but I bet just about everyone else has it too, and it's a tough one to shake...

srid said...

Long time back I read an article titled Deflating the myth of monogamy.

+1 for polygamous relationships. :-)

Sriram said...

"But the individual is on his own, (s)he has no reason to serve the genetic goals. However, (s)he is still a slave to the emotion, love and sensual pleasures."

# Not sure what you mean.

- The individual doesn't have to serve the genetic goals, which is the need to pass on the genes. But (s)he has to serve the emotional needs, since (s)he is not free from human condition.

Genetic needs are the reason for sexual need, but sexual need in an individual doesn't always serve genetic goal (through usage of contraceptives etc). The point I am making is you cannot use genetic reasons directly to derive individual behavior.

"Cheating is cheating on the partner's feelings, the feelings that have arose from a mutual agreement and from the naivety of one's partner."

# But those feelings have a biological basis, the basis being the biological need to be helped in one's genetic propagation, correct?

- I don't think feelings like trust arose from biological need to propogate.

Anonymous said...

you write as if we are nothing but what genes are using us for.
This is the kind of sloppy thinking that science has infected everybody with nowadays.

harmanjit said...

"you write as if we are nothing but what genes are using us for.
This is the kind of sloppy thinking that science has infected everybody with nowadays."

# I consider it obvious that our behaviour has biological roots. As to whether we can rise beyond those instinctual patterns and be happier, that is the fundamental question that I pose at the end of the essay, and one that I consider of great significance.

srid said...

"I consider it obvious that our behaviour has biological roots. As to whether we can rise beyond those instinctual patterns and be happier, that is the fundamental question that I pose at the end of the essay, and one that I consider of great significance."

# I was talking to a married guy the other day. When we were discussing about 'emotions' and how 'not getting angry at all with ones wife' could be an even better life, he tenaciously responded by saying 'anger is an ESSENTIAL part of happy life'. When questioned further, he alluded to the concomitant compassion/pity that would follow the aggressive event; and thus one SHOULD get angry with ones partner. Such is his sloppy thinking. Most people do not even realize what makes them unhappy.

Anonymous said...

"I consider it obvious that our behaviour has biological roots. As to whether we can rise beyond those instinctual patterns and be happier, that is the fundamental question that I pose at the end of the essay, and one that I consider of great significance."

I consider the term instinctual to be misleading. Nowadays it is fashionable to use this term and heap everything upon the genes which evolved to optimize survival for cave dwelling ancestors. Thus you feel anxious because it was useful for cave dwelling ancestors to feel anxious.
Similarly you like to overeat because cave dwelling ancestors liked to overeat since food was scare. Thus conveniently ignoring the perverted lifestyle of the city that is to blame for the anxiety and the abuse of food as a drug.
I would rather use the term habit than instinct and the habit can come about in various ways, other than merely hardwired biological programming. Marriage is obviously a cultural phenomenon and has hardly anything to do with natural hardwiring. The jealousies and anxieties which you blame on the genes I think have more to do with the society than natural hardwiring.
Thus it is more of a social habit than anything else. Cheating in this context is a social value, if you go to the depth of most social values you will find them to be baseless and even harmful. But then you must remember that social values are often habits and are not based on logic or even to maximize any end. Case in point is the practice of chinese foot binding. Or say the fierce competition that characterizes modern economies.

Tarun Upadhyay said...

harman, the fundamental question you pose is: can we rise above our genetic behavior? i think a very obvious answer is we cannot. to support my thesis i only have to look at other animals. Is there any other living species that rises above its genetic behavior? if not, then why do we think humans are any different. Is it not just our ego speaking that we are somehow "above" other animals. perhaps its the same ego that once made us think that the earth is the center of the universe or there is afterlife or there is an all-powerful god who cares for us. what are these thoughts if not a reflection of our ego that we are somehow special. have we bothered to consider that just like a dog or an insect cannot rise above its own "mind" and understand that there is something beyond its instinctual response; perhaps there is a possibility that we as humans cannot rise above our "mind" and may be there are options to live life that we cannot even imagine !! friends, consider the possibility that we are no "better" than any other animal and just like animals we may be unable to go beyond our instincts. consider the possibility that harman's article, my response to it and your thoughts in response to my response are all driven by instincts (is there a better explanation anyways - which does not involve our ego?). afterall, by most "objective" measures (longest surviving species, species with most members, species that consume most energy etc) we are not the most "successful" species that exists (or existed).

harmanjit said...

The conviction, or hope, that man can live a happier life, and be free of his conditioning and instincts, is not a theory or a belief, but is based on actual facts for me.

One need not change one's genes for that, only the neural connections which the genes have established at birth, and some say, the connection of the lizard brain to the neocortex.

This change can happen (no first hand opinion regarding the disconnection of the lizard brain, but only a second-hand one, from the AF website) via sustained self-investigation and self-awareness.

Changes in neural connections, i.e. learning, can happen in many advanced animals, but much more so in humans, who have developed language (no books have been found in fossils of dinosaurs), technology (no automobiles have been found in fossils of the dodo), and a much-more heightened self-awareness and ability for introspection, ability to change personal behavioral traits and ability to criticize oneself.

srid said...

Tarun Upadhyay's view is quite permeated in spirituality in the name of "Acceptance".

Susan said...

man can certainly live a happier life but my question is as before, does it really make a difference whether he achieves this happiness by disconnecting the lizard brain from the neocortex, or by simply manipulating the neocortex in such a way that it transforms the signals recieved from the lizard brain to give a feeling of happiness.

in other words, can self awareness and self investigation be put on a higher plane than sustained fake beliefs. what about those who are incapable of both....who are hung between the two?

afterall, how can we be sure of the genuinity of the self-awareness and self-investigation that we talk of ....is human mind truely capable of knowing itself and the universe completely without getting into another fake trap...as i gather from the AF site, 11 years of enlightened state of being can be shattered by another beleif....i do not certainly mean to call it fake...but does one question oneself when he/she is in the enlightened state. he/she might be completely convinced about it being the ultimate reality to realise at a later point that it was a mere delusion. how can you ensure that the next state that you get into is not delusion as well?

There is an interesting site about Godel's theorem which somehow links to what i intend to convey - http://www.miskatonic.org/godel.html.
quoting afew of the lines from this site that i found interesting

"Gödel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn't be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms "

"The other metaphorical analogue to Gödel's Theorem which I find provocative suggests that ultimately, we cannot understand our own mind/brains ... Just as we cannot see our faces with our own eyes, is it not inconceivable to expect that we cannot mirror our complete mental structures in the symbols which carry them out? "

"You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules and axioms, but by doing so you'll only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements"

"Once you begin to question your own sanity, you get trapped in an ever-tighter vortex of self-fulfilling prophecies, though the process is by no means inevitable. Everyone knows that the insane interpret the world via their own peculiarly consistent logic; how can you tell if your own logic is "peculiar' or not, given that you have only your own logic to judge itself? "
"rational thought can never penetrate to the final ultimate truth ..."

harmanjit said...

"man can certainly live a happier life but my question is as before, does it really make a difference whether he achieves this happiness by disconnecting the lizard brain from the neocortex, or by simply manipulating the neocortex in such a way that it transforms the signals recieved from the lizard brain to give a feeling of happiness."

# I am not sure it is possible to transform the signals from the lizard brain to give a feeling of happiness. As an example, If the lizard brain is in the process of an adrenaline-response to danger, how can that freeze-fight-flight reaction be interpreted as happiness? And even if you manage to interpret it as happiness somehow, the bad vibes will continue to pollute the atmosphere around you for others who interpret your vibes for what they are: malice.

"in other words, can self awareness and self investigation be put on a higher plane than sustained fake beliefs. what about those who are incapable of both....who are hung between the two?"

# How can someone who is able to put these literate, self-aware questions be incapable of self-awareness and self-investigation? I agree, sustained fake beliefs is a tall order for an intelligent person, but self-investigation comes naturally to all who seek to be happier.

"afterall, how can we be sure of the genuinity of the self-awareness and self-investigation that we talk of ....is human mind truely capable of knowing itself and the universe completely without getting into another fake trap...as i gather from the AF site, 11 years of enlightened state of being can be shattered by another beleif....i do not certainly mean to call it fake...but does one question oneself when he/she is in the enlightened state. he/she might be completely convinced about it being the ultimate reality to realise at a later point that it was a mere delusion. how can you ensure that the next state that you get into is not delusion as well?"

# I have been completely convinced of certain beliefs in the past, most of which I now consider hopelessly infantile. Evolution cannot and should not be stopped because of the possibility that intermediate states may prove to be dangerously self-deluded. I think the AF method precludes delusion, but if after diligently thinking about AF and after applying the method, one sees no improvement, well of course do something else!
But by doing nothing one will certainly NEVER improve, and remain entrenched in the human condition.

Regarding Godel's theorem, life is not a formal system of first order logic. For example, Wittgenstein quite convincingly (I think) argues that human language is not just propositional, it is also factual (i.e. it relates to states of affairs, and not just symbolic propositions.).

Godel's theorem has dubious philosophical implications, and it is best left to be a curious result in number theory.

As to the statement P: "rational thought can never penetrate the ultimate truth"

Is P a rational thought?
Or is P a true statement about ultimate truth?

P is easily seen to be self-contradictory and hence meaningless.

Leaving formalism aside, yes of course one can be wrong, but only with self-investigation and scepticism of one's belief-system and conditioning can one overcome it. Let's reach the end of the rope, and then we can talk about where to jump from there. We are here, and from here we can certainly cover a lot of terrain to be happier and more peaceful.

pankaj said...

i got the feeling like a guinea pig were placedin a petri dish, while a lab man cut it up and described its innards. the analysis was a little too neat and clinical.

nature has its ends (it would seem), and humans (like other species) are vehicles for its ends (it would seem). but humans are not conscious of nature's ends, they have their own individual ends (perhaps it is nature's ends translated for the human so that nature's ends may be acheived). included in human end's are emotional fulfilment. so, a romantic contract is also an emotional contract, a contract of "faith". cheating involves a breach of this contract of faith, hence involves unpleasant feelings like jealousy etc.

i think its reductionist to think of humans merely as puppets of instinctive forces or "natures forces". theres this other conscious, feeling part, which is just as real, and much more immediate, which u cannot pin down that easily.

cg said...

This reminds me of a book 'Naked Ape' that I read years ago. The characteristics of the union are well defined. But the contract needs to be redefined in the current context of economical independence of females. 'Cause I feel that there has been considerable evolution since then :)

Also while biological roots may be significant, the psychological, social and emotional basis cannot be ignored. Please read the following : http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/human_sexual_behavior.html

Anonymous said...

I am confused after reading your thought on cheating.. till date for me cheating means was when you break someone trust even when trust was not said or contracted explicitly.

wondering how can you address things which are too complex to be framed in theoretical logic or any mathematical logic without considering emotional part of human behaviour!!!