Family Measures

When Dad died, some surprising family dynamics emerged.  My youngest brother disowned me, vowing to never return.  My “older” brother (I’m the oldest) was executor, and blocked me from understanding what was going on.

Later on, the older brother gave me a lecture.  He declared our family dysfunctional and decried the ineffectiveness of holding a grudge.  He was diplomatic enough so that I couldn’t be sure who he was accusing, if anyone.  I sat there attempting to be a calming influence given that he had a lot on his shoulders, even though I found his words inconsistent and insulting.

Months later, my younger brother returned to our fair city.  His wife has cancer, and our hospitals are world famous.  We learned they’d come and gone too late to visit or offer support.  But this event did trigger a discussion among our little family about what it means to be a family.

Here’s my take.  More importantly, it’s something that you can measure and record.  It’s one small step towards making all those soft sciences a little bit harder.

Sharing information.  Let’s not worry about what’s true or false, what’s gossip and what’s important.  In a tight-knit family, information is shared quickly.  In today’s age, it can be shared among everyone instantly.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about Mom’s breakfast or sis-in-law is town for chemo.  Who knows what and when, among the family, is very important.  In our case, we found out through a very roundabout non-family member.

Mi casa, su casa.

Many times in the past my older brother came to town, sometimes with his wife, but never notified me, and never stayed with us.  They could have, but generally I didn’t find out that they’d arrived until they’d always booked accommodations.  Yes, we extended an invitation every time.

In the case of the sis-in-law, they also booked rooms.  In fact, their hotel wasn’t too far from us.  In both cases, they could have stayed with us.  The comforts of home, more time to spend with each other, more time to share experiences and give emotional support.

I know of families that always stay with each other, even if they live in trailers.  They can’t stand it for too long, after all they are human.  But they try.

You might argue that it’s a money thing, or a culture thing.  You’re partially right.  But you can ignore those factors and look at the willingness of people to be together, to be close.

My older brother lectured me that families are comprised of people who are different.  That’s a given, everyone is different.

What defines a family is the willingness of “different” people to be together, argue politely together, and support each other.

Measuring how fast they share information, how closely they spend their limited time together when able, how open their homes are to each other, that’s a great measure of family integrity.

My extended family scores fairly low, but our nuclear family is tight.

How about yours?

 

Invisible Tools: Society

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This series has been all about invisible tools that our species uses to make life better for itself.

Notice I said, itself.  I’m talking about the species here.  Not you, not me.  Not our government, not even the world government.

Species.

Some of the tools our species uses were invented long before primates climbed down from the trees.  So things like using machines, sex, childhood, pair bonding and childhood are used by many other species.  Maybe they invented those on their own.  Maybe not.

However, some of the other tools we covered are pretty much unique to humans: Marriage, Relatives, Dynasties, and perhaps the biggest one of all, society.

Yes, we have a society.  If you talk to some biologists, they’ll argue some insects have a society as well.  But there’s a big difference, besides the fact that they are bugs.

We invent the society, we join the society, and we can leave the society.  The society isn’t baked into our DNA.  It’s in our heads.

 

Last post I asked if a family dynasty, like the Samsung Corporation, is good or bad?

There’s no way to tell without looking at the dynasty in context.  And the best context is within society.

If society is Korea, then the closer the purpose of Samsung is to the purpose of Korea will answer how “good” they are.

But if their purpose is at odds with the rest of their country, then we could argue that they are “bad.”

The primary purpose of any family, any dynasty, any government, and any society is to survive.  In fact, it’s the basic purpose of any living unit, like the species.  After all, if they don’t survive, they disappear.

We tend to forget this simple fact.  Heck, let’s call it the first axiom of life.

If something helps Korea survive, but impacts Samsung negatively, then Samsung will fight back.  They will resist.  They will undermine.  They will be “bad” for Korea.

In general, there will always be something that satisfies the above condition.  So, in general, a family dynasty is “bad” for society.

The same logic applies to the society and our species.  If a society wants to do something that is not good for the species, what happens?  You get pollution.  You get toxic waste.  You get human forced climate change.

That’s it for talking about tools.  We have them, we use them, usually without thinking about them.  Maybe we should start thinking, talking, and using them more effectively.

Then again, only if we want to survive.

Thanks for reading.

 

Invisible Tools: Dynasty

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Sex, childhood, marriage, family.  These are some invisible behavioral tools our species uses to thrive.  We should understand them as tools, and make them better.  The more we think of them as tools, the better we use them, making our own lives easier.

Every tool can vary in quality.  Take any one of the items mentioned up front.  I’m sure you can think of both good and bad examples.  Please don’t dwell on the first one.

The family is most important here, because humans have gone far beyond the original tool.  In fact, this set of families are so different that they may need their own category.  It’s easiest to think of them as a “super-family.”

Your average, run-of-the-mill family has parents and kids.  A bigger family has grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.  An even bigger family may have some “greats” scattered here and there.  And some of the biggest families may have a celebration of relatives including hundreds of people.

Then there is the super-family.  The dynasty.  This is family taken to the highest level.  For not only can this family get large, it extends far back in time.  The dynasty becomes history unto itself.

The most famous dynasties are those that are connected to great wealth.  And that’s another feature of a successful dynasty, they are very good at passing wealth from one generation to another.  But that’s only the part we see.

The part we don’t see is that they also pass on secrets; teaching the next generation about keeping the dynasty together, growing its leadership, and increasing its wealth.

We don’t do a good job of tracking dynasties today.  Most are interested in conspicuous individuals.  Too bad, because it’s like only looking at the tip of an iceberg.

Most of the dynasty is hidden, just as interesting, and very powerful.  It will have branches embedded in government, commerce, and finance.  It will transcend nationalities, and can think on time scales most of us can’t conceive.

Japan and Korea have some famous dynasties you already know about.  China certainly has a few, and so does Europe.

Are family dynasties bad or good?  Not our job, not today.  The advantages are great power.  The disadvantage is the same.  The only question is this:

Does a dynasty want the same thing that is good for society in general?

Let’s tackle that next.

 

Invisible Tools: Relatives

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Does your family have a crazy uncle?

Perhaps you have a cousin?

Don’t assume everyone has a cousin.  As families shrink, as the human population contracts (and it will) the chances of having a cousin will shrink.

Having a cousin used to mean you shared a grandparent with that person, usually two grandparents.

In today’s society, with halves and steps and mixing of marriages, there’s a chance your cousin is in name only.  You may not share an ancestor within a thousand years of each other.

However, that’s not the point.  In a biological sense, we are all related.  That’s the whole point of being a species.  Humans are part of a single species we call humanity.  Everybody within a species is supposed to be able to marry anyone else within the species.  Please don’t try to marry someone outside your species!

Some scientists say that modern humans may have married Neanderthals back when they still rented rooms in Europe.  If that’s true, and they had kids, then they must also been part of our species.

No other animal has special names for relatives.  The most family other animals care about is Mom, Dad, and Kids.  And for most other animals, once the kids are adults, they aren’t part of the family anymore.

Humans seem to be unique in this way.  We keep track of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents, second cousins twice removed, and possibly even more.  In some languages there’s a word for my mother’s father’s brother.

What’s the benefit of tracking these relationships?

Power.  Pure and simple.  If you can name someone that can help you get what you want, then you are better off.  If you didn’t know who your cousin was, then you couldn’t go to them in order to ask for help.

Of course, the downside of relatives is a bit the same.  If a relative is a pain in the butt, and tends to drag you down, then you’d be better off without them.  We “forget” them.

The good news is that, on average, having relatives has been a good thing.  And thanks to another tool called marriage, we can increase our number of relatives by adding “-in-law” to their name.  We do that because it tells us that the bond is through marriage, and may not be as strong as a more direct biological connection.

So the next time your relative calls you up and asks for a favor, think of it as an advantage, not a nuisance.  At least do this a few times.

After that, read them the riot act.  Let’s face it.  They’re not going to change.

 

Invisible Tools: Marriage

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Ever thought about what the world would be without marriage?

Wait a minute.

Silly me.   I thought this would be a thought experiment.

We’re already doing this.  Women are empowered, Men are “depowered,” and the implications clear.

Women and men get married later in life, and those marriages last fewer years.  Regardless of marital status, couples are having fewer children.

Marriage is no longer standard, it’s an option.

That’s too bad.  Because way back when, in the days before primates climbed trees, families had begun taking care of their young even after they’d left the egg.

Primates came along, and the young stayed young even longer.  Mom stayed with her child for many years.  That Mom and that child would even identify each other, even when that child was an adult.

The primate Dad was a different story.  He was probably the alpha male.  He probably was the father of that child, because he would have killed the child of another male.  And Mom?  She was only one of many other wives.  That’s how alpha male societies work.

There are downsides.  For one thing, if a new alpha male comes along, then he also has access to all the old wives.  One of the first things he’ll do is get rid of all the other young males.  If you’re a mom, you don’t like that.

So there’s a push among moms to have one husband.  That’s where pair bonding comes in, another great invention.

But for males that like to be social, that can be a problem.  Social males like to have many friends.  And if those friends are female, what of it?  And if that female is feeling lonely and wants to snuggle, just a little, what’s wrong with that?  And if snuggling leads to something else, well, it’s all natural.

That’s where marriage comes in.  It’s a tool used by society to help lock down that male to that female.  It helps keep that one family together.  It’s a formal recognition of a pair bond and all the advantages it brings.

One straying married male can result in two failed families.

Did women invent marriage?  Perhaps.  But it’s unlikely that it would have become a social institution if men didn’t also see its advantages.  If you’re happily married, you know what those are.

Was it always religious?  No.  It certainly goes much further back.

Here’s the best part.  It’s a tool.  It’s a device we use to make life easier.  Instead of looking at it romantically, we should start to understand it as a tool.

Perhaps that will make all our lives easier.

It certainly will make the conversation more lively at the marriage counselor’s.