Thesis 1: Marriage continues family
At some point, I'll turn this into a proper essay. As an experiment, I'm posting it in draft form, section by section. I'm also writing codas, which I'll post separately.
My first thesis is that marriage is the continuation of childhood and so is as wrapped up in family as it is in the desire for love that gives rise to it.
We are born into a family and it forms the context of our lives through our upbringing. We make friends and eventually we split off from our family in order to form another. But that act, if we pursue it, is also part of the family dynamic, which posits its continuation and views marriage, particularly from the standpoint of the parents, as a vehicle of generation. (Marriage is a "genetic conspiracy" between grandparents and their grandchildren.) In time, these families join up. The year's feast days still bring them together under one roof. Cousins meet and form a larger cohort. The elders age and die, but the family lives on.
Marriage recreates the intimate tension of the family at its heart. We enter the family by passing through our mother's birth canal and then attaching ourselves to her breasts. Long before this, we take hold amid passion and make our presence felt. Once born, we relate to our mother physically. That physical intimacy, the realm of childhood, is forcibly put aside until our hormones stir and our bodies change. At that point, we may seek lovers. Not always consciously, we may want children.
There's a hardwired aspect to this, and not everyone shares the wiring. So I should say that at a certain point, we want another (or others) with whom to share an intimate tension. Family may be both the cause and consequence of this. We do so despite the inconveniences, the unhappinesses, and even the dangers that come with it.
For my purposes here, I'm going to set the untoward aside. Marriage in one form or another is a common feature of life, so it exhibits the full range of human behavior. There are sociopaths and psychopaths out there. A lot of family life is toxic in one way or another. This is not about that toxicity. Its sense of family is more benign than not.
Yet the inconveniences and unhappinesses are real. And there are dangers, even among the benign. You can be messed with without anyone laying a hand on you, often with the best of intentions. Misunderstandings abound. We bring our natures with us, on arrival. Parents do their best, and then friends, lovers, and partners take their turns.
Oddly, though - improbably - we invite this. We bring it on ourselves, throwing our ill-suited natures into unlikely combinations that nonetheless attracted us: incompatibles attract. This too is like family, which despite the bond of blood is a genetic menagerie. Perhaps instinctively, we want to mix it up. (Personally, I give destiny some credence.)
What family has going for it is staying power. Not for nothing do cults seek to break its hold. Cults and gangs are family substitutes, but poor ones that suffice only when the real family doesn't cut it. And of course a lot of families don't. Those that do manage to transcend the self-centeredness of our species often enough to be altruistic. It's limited, as Swedenborg noted. (He condemned families for tending to restrict their kindnesses to themselves.) It's limited, but it's a start. You have to learn altruism somewhere.
Within the family, altruism is an evolutionary tactic. Hayek contrasts the altruism of the traders' host with the xenophobia and tribalism of the family, posing it as an ancient tension only resolved in the agora, that sanctioned meeting and mixing place. These days, altruism is an evolutionary tactic in aggregate. Xenophobia and tribalism persist, but the cosmos we inhabit suffers from them. Intimate tensions at the community level have a way of exploding. The family is where we first learn how to negotiate difference.