In a notable display of seeing the glass half empty, we continue to be fascinated by infidelity. While research suggests that about 50% of us are unfaithful within the context of a committed relationship, what that same research fails to point out - or in our zeal to slow down at the scene of the accident we fail to recognize -- is that 50% of us remain faithful. From the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, and the moral relativism that has become a hallmark of post-modern society, this is really rather remarkable.
Human beings are not wired to be monogamous. Monogamy is a social convention that we have imposed upon ourselves and one that flies in the face of both the evolutionary imperative, as well as our hardwired instinct for survival. Nonetheless, monogamy has been an active social convention for millennia and one that has been, and continues to be, adhered to by most every culture. Within cultures that have or do accept polygamy and/or polygany, there tend to be strict standards of practice, and deviance from those cultural norms (we're not talking here about individuals) is typically regarded as just as socially abhorrent as is polygamy in a monogamous culture.
While it is clear that we are not the only species that has the capacity for sentient thought, it is our self-conscious awareness (which is different than self-awareness) that allows us the capacity to make a conscious decision about our behavior, superseding the instinctive imperative that drives our animal brethren. That, in and of itself, is fascinating because it points to the fact that humans have the capacity, in this case at least 50% of the time, to override their own evolutionary imperative for the sake of a social construct.
This begs the question - and, as always, this topic raises more questions than it answers - which of the two camps is more authentic in its behavior? Are the unfaithful more or less evolved in their humanity and degree of social intelligence, or are the faithful more or less evolved in the same? Is the failure to exercise the self-conscious awareness that drives the social versus evolutionary imperative itself a socially informed evolutionary fail safe against extinction, or is the exercising of that self-conscious awareness a fail safe against the human species propagating more like a virus than it already does?
From whichever position you choose to issue, one point remains fairly clear; fidelity and infidelity would appear, from both a social and evolutionary perspective, to strike a balance that seems almost necessary, even if, from a moralistic perspective, infidelity is not acceptable or, at the very least, distasteful to us, and fidelity ostensibly falls within the ken of the righteous.
© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved
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