Thursday, 31 May 2012

Why Families Break

Tribes. Long ago pre-Abraham, tribes made up the essential building-blocks of society. Instinctively, people realised it was better to outbreed than to inbreed: the offspring were more intelligent and beautiful. Today of course, we would talk of better genetic variety: earlier we find the expression 'bring in new blood'.

So tribes might turn a blind eye to their girls getting pregnant by a man from another tribe. If they made a fuss, the girls themselves would briefly turn against their own tribe so that they could meet their foreign lovers.

But once the babies were born, the mother's tribe would WANT THOSE CHILDREN BACK! They had the tribal culture to sustain, and of course without new children to replace the old, the tribe and all its delicious ways would die.

So the next thing was TRIBAL WAR.

Tribal members had to be kind and polite to others within the tribe, but to anyone outside the tribe they could be as hostile and horrible as they wished. They would only get praised for it. It was best to VILIFY the alien parent before one robbed and possibly murdered him.

In general, because in ancient history families in the modern sense had not been thought of, the tribes would naturally be matrilineal and therefore the women had tremendous power. They would, on the other hand, rely on their brothers and grown-up sons (and maybe a few pathetic inbreeding henpecked local fathers) to fight off the alien genetic contributors who had provided them with a nice new set of babies.

So who was the alien father's number one enemy? Of course it was that formidable matriarch, the mother's mother. She would be the one who would lead the father-vilification program that would start the tribal war which would bring the babies back into her own tribe.

Where do you think all those mother-in-law jokes come from?

We see the first stage of the process in Romeo and Juliet. Juliet looks to another tribe for a mate. She turns against her own tribe so that she can meet her 'foreign' lover. If she had successfully produced babies with Romeo, it would have been Lady Capulet's job to vilify Romeo and pull those babies back into the Capulet tribe. The tribal war between the Capulets and the Montagues would have been stepped up to new levels of horror and murder.

Now of course all this wrangling, fighting and murdering did not produce great civilisations. It was not until the invention of something new (something which is now in deep trouble) that the oppressive power of the tribe could be overturned. It was this invention that provided small tough units that could think independently, challenge injustice, bring down dictators, but above all conserve that energy which had previously been wasted in tribal conflict. Like putting coffee in a thermos flask, it stopped the dissipation of heat that could now be used for a useful purpose. You've guessed it. It was the idea of the family.

By Shakespeare's time the family was well established, but tribal wars were still in the air. The struggle between Lancaster and York were well remembered, but fresher in Shakespeare's mind would have been the violent clashes between the tribes of the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk on which the Capulets and the Montagues were surely based. Nor did it end with Shakespeare. The Civil War between the Roundheads and the Royalists was still to come.

Even in Tudor and Stuart times the integrity of the family was threatened by tribal war.

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