Monday, March 30, 2009

What is Family?

The Biological Perspective
A family is generally two individuals - one male and one female who successfully reproduce and raise the next generation of individuals to continue the existence of a species. It is the smallest unit of a species, and in some cases a society, if the social species is also monogamous.

The Social Perspective
A family is the basic unit of a society of essentially monogamous human couples. In most human societies, wealth confers the advantage of polygamy, one male having multiple wives, or a wife and several concubines. Eighty to eighty-five per cent of human societies are polygamous, but 80% of the marriages in those societies are monogamous because the men can't economically support more than one wife. In the East, it has been estimated that something like 8 out of 100 men have inherited the Y chromosome of Ghengis Khan. There are likely two reasons for this, the first being that the Mongols killed many of the men in the cities and the armies that they conquered. The second reason is that Ghengis Khan had many wives and concubines as war booty. The latter would have given him many sons. In the West, there is such a thing as serial monogamy whereby one man or woman has several spouses over time, but only lives with one at a time. I believe that the correct term should be serial polygamy for men and serial polyandry for women, but serial monogamy sounds more acceptable.

The Spiritual Perspective
One does not choose one's birth, or does one? The Buddhists believe that the soul can choose the family one is to be born into. The three Western religions are silent on this for the most part. If the assumption is made that a "soul" can choose its family, then one's family consists of those individuals that love one another the most. However, this assumption is not likely very valid. Jesus Christ didn't much care for his family. He stated that his disciples were his brothers and his sisters more than his real family who were trying to take him back home. Even the Buddha left his family to seek Enlightenment and start a following of students. So, in a way, a spiritual family may consist of people who are not genetically related, but who are related by a set of ideas, principles, or memes. And, this spiritual family is more socially cohesive than a biological family.

For Christianity, a spiritual family will ultimately encompass the entire human species. For Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and other related religions and philosophies, spiritual family is not just the human species, but the entire planet's biosphere. Since every living thing is connected to every other living thing in some way, we are all related in the sense that we all carry that spark within us called Life. This can also be seen at the molecular and biochemical levels as well, since all organisms carry essentially DNA and RNA as our genetic material, and we all share a common biochemistry that likely arose from our planet's geochemistry. This oneness of Life is implied, if not accentuated, in Taoism, Buddhism, and other Eastern philosophies and religions. Christianity is like Buddhism and Taoism in this respect, but one generally has to read The Gospel of Thomas to find this teaching.

The Psychological Perspective
The psychological perspective of family depends upon which hemisphere of the brain dominates one's thinking. For those individuals we called "Enlightened", likely their right brain hemisphere is in control. This hemisphere sees people and things in terms of energy. It does not distinguish between the individual and the world around us since energy pervades and suffuses the entire planet. Everything is one. In this sense, a family could be taken to be the entire world, not unlike the spiritual perspectives of some Eastern philosophies and religions.

The majority of people are left brained. This is where the "I", the individual exists. It doesn't really care about the group, but is almost entirely focused on the individual's needs, the "little me" - the selfish me.

The Holistic Perspective
"We are all athiests under the self-delusions." - Barry Longyear

Athiests are free of a lot of religious baggage, but they share with religious believers one thing - their human mind and its beliefs. Whether one believes or does not believe in a deity makes little difference. A belief is just an idea or concept. A belief, idea, or concept that is not backed up by experience or experiential knowledge is essentially empty or hollow. Athiests are correct that there is not an old wrathful man running the Universe. The concept of a God such as that is terribly outdated and pretty much dead. If one defines "God" as some form of (conscious?) energy, like the Tao, then one may be getting closer to what actually exists.

Why does this matter? It matters for the same reason Love matters. People generally seek out each other's company because of mutual approval, respect, and ultimately, love. People will sacrifice their lives for the child, the sibling, the friend or the group. They would not generally sacrifice their lives for the institution, the state, or the nation. Those entities are impersonal and abstract, but one's family and friends are not. If one is religious, "God" is not abstract either, and people will die to protect their "God", though it is far more common for people to kill for their "God". If people adopted the spiritual belief that we are all part of one big human family which is part of a larger family called the planetary biosphere (i.e. natural world), a lot of needless suffering and fighting would evaporate overnight. But likely this will not come to pass until a famine, plague, or other calamity strikes Humanity which will eventually happen if we exterminate enough species through our overharvesting of the forests and oceans. Habitat destruction causes most extinctions, whether the cause is Mankind, asteroid (extraterrestrial), or volcano (terrestrial). The house (family) that wars with itself and others does not stand for long.

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Comments:
Well written John. Very humane and heartfelt.

Might growing another Genghis Khan one day be a possibility or would environment and irriversable mutations of DNA prevent this?

Pete
 
Genghis Khan's tomb has not been located. This is because of the Mongol practice of the funeral procession beating drums to tell people to avoid them. Any one who met the procession was killed on the spot. When the procession came near the spot to bury their lord, a group of men took the body off somewhere to bury him and then everyone who knew the location or knew someone who had known the location was killed almost immediately there or on the way back to the procession. I wish I could remember the source I'd read. Wikipedia's entry about Gengis Khan states that they may find his burial site. We'll see.

If they have a corpse, they will likely be able to recover DNA. But why resurrect such a man. The world is full of such bloodthirsty, ruthless men. Better to resurrect Mozart or Beethoven.
 
This is all I could find:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2940782.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3723218.stm
 
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