Carrying Over Our Evolutionary Past | Mitakshara Medhi

Mitakshara Medhi

Men go for a woman’s outer beauty, while women fall for a man’s money. This is, perhaps, the most sexist statement that does the rounds in the dating sphere today. Many might covertly agree with this fact, while others who know it to be false, wouldn’t. But what if this statement actually had an evolutionary basis? What if the practices of ancient times have been carried on till today?

Although professionals do not necessarily see a link between the two, somehow, Carl Jung’s concept of the Collective Unconscious seems to explain the impact of evolution. Now for Jung, the collective unconscious consisted of all the knowledge that has been gathered by our ancestors and passed on beyond time, place and race. How is it possible, otherwise, that when various cultures conceptualize the idea of the “Hero” or “God”, they almost always seem to think of the same thing? Why are the concepts of Mother Earth, Father Figure or even the Devil so similar across culture? One may argue that there are different representations, of say, God. But the idea behind these representations conveys the exact same meaning. So, can the critics of Jung – who believe that such concepts are figments of imagination and cannot be empirically proven – may not be right at all?

Jung’s theory definitely seems to give a ground to the evolutionary theory in Psychology. Darwin’s theory made the grand declaration of the survival of the fittest in terms of species. In psychology, the evolutionary survival is in terms of certain adaptive traits that seem to have withstood the test of time. For example, people living collectively in the ancient times had higher chances of survival. Social support seemed to give them a sense of protection. In the modern era, social support, or the lack of it, is considered as a major risk factor for numerous disorders like Major Depressive Disorder, Behavioural Disorders and even Schizophrenia.

So how does one’s evolutionary past influence one’s dating choice (with regard to the general overview, rather than individual cases). In the ancient hunter-gatherer societies, muscular men were seen as more capable of finding food due to their strength. This would ensure a sense of security to the women and her future children. Hence, muscular men were more preferable for marriageable prospects. As for a woman, her primary duty was to reproduce, through which the genes will be passed on to the next generation. After all, since immortality was not an option, the next best choice to ensure survival of one’s genes was through producing progenies; healthy ones. Now, women who had flawless skin, thick hair, and wider hips were seen as healthier. Healthier women would be able to produce healthy offspring, keeping the passing on of genes in safer hands. That is why how a woman “looked” was an important aspect of her marriage opportunities.

The basis that our genes need to be passed on persisted over a long time until recently. However, there was a change from the hunter-gatherer to a more industrialized society, in a gradual manner. This shift created a change in the preference for men, although it took thousands of years. Men with muscles were no longer ‘necessary’ for security and survival. The muscles had been replaced with money. Since the value for survival remained the same, women came to prefer men with money (Dr. Devendra Singh, 1995). And this is how evolutionary theory seemed to have explained the dating preferences.

Before drawing any conclusions, one must, however, look at the changing times of this generation. Firstly, women now have more opportunities to work and provide for their own security. Sexual intercourse is not simply to carry forward genes and produce progenies. Third, many people are opting to not have children, thus, going against the tide of the basis of evolution. With people no longer looking for immortality of their genes, the dating sphere is surely in a transition phase. What, then, are the current trends? One may be tempted to draw simplistic conclusions such as “men prefer brains over beauty”, “women do not mind house-husbands”. While it may or may not be true, the flaw would lie on to accept these conclusions without proper empirical data.

The whole process of transition is a slow one. It is too early to understand the trends at a general level, even if individualistic outlook can be assessed easily. For example, people would like to believe that women are increasingly occupying the workforce. But in India, only 27% of women actually work (in economical terms; where the labour put forward by the housewives is majorly ignored). This must be understood against a backdrop that in villages the women-headed households are on increase as men migrate to cities for work. Against this fact, 27% (which includes both the urban and rural data) seems too less a number. Same could be said about the desire for a healthy progeny, preferably a son, who would not only carry the biological make-up of the family, but also the social brand name (or family name) forward.

The last two paragraphs may sound contradictory. But that represents the two kinds of societies that persist. Moreover, as change is slow to come about, the impact of evolution has not yet escaped us fully. What these changes do show, however, is a glimpse into the far future – a future where probably evolutionary past would, indeed, be left behind and human beings would choose a purpose, collectively, that is quite different from what has existed for several millennia. As to what that purpose would be, and how that would affect people’s way of life and choices would be an interesting topic to theorize upon.

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