March 11th, 2008 by Edward Miller

The institution of marriage in Western society is both a result of human nature and rather at odds with it. Humans tend to be very possessive with regard to lovers and deeply concerned about cheating on a primal level, and, as a result, monogamy and marriage were instituted. Unfortunately, we have other desires like sexual variety that are in direct conflict with monogamy. Also, marriage functions as a way to ensure financial security, yet when it ceases to do so, marriage can seem more like a cage.

Marriage in the future, if we play our cards right, could be a much less problematic issue. Once we have sufficiently eliminated material scarcity, our financial security will no longer be tied to a spouse, and procuring the necessities of life could very well become a trivial matter. Our desire for sexual variety will be satisfied once perfectly simulated virtual reality is developed, since the experience of sex could take whatever form both partners find most appealing.

All is Full of Love | Chris Cunningham
All is Full of Love | Chris Cunningham
As we gain more control over our bodies via technology, and virtual reality becomes more sophisticated, gender will become purely superficial. Our bodies will be more like Second Life avatars than something fixed and immutable. Some call this post-genderism, and it will transform our notion of sexuality, yet it won’t significantly affect monogamy. There will no longer be any reason to base our relationships upon sexual attractiveness, but it wont affect how many people we wish to connect with on an intimate emotional and physical level.

Some argue that it will become common for humans to have emotional and physical relationships with robots and artificial intelligences. Yet, even this will likely occur in the context of monogamy, and indeed the conversation usually turns to marriage with robots.

Although marriage and monogamy has already been stripped of most of its spiritual significance, most still treasure it. There is something beautiful and comfortable about monogamy, and I have a feeling many people will continue to seek it for the foreseeable future, even as it becomes less financially necessary. Monogamous cohabitation is an increasingly common living arrangement, and it is evidence of the resilience of monogamy in the modern world. We tend to use technology in accordance with our values, which, in the West, currently includes monogamy. Any social changes that affect monogamy will likely come from our human nature asserting itself differently on a macro level as circumstances change, and it will be a slow process.

It could be argued that an ultimate realization of the will to embrace unity would be to not just feel connected to every other conscious being on an abstract level, but to actually be intimately connected. Watching as the world becomes more networked and interconnected, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to extrapolate this tendency and envision a sci-fi-esque scenario where all minds are linked together. Yet, baring the possibility of an imminent Singularity, I do not see this happening this century. I’m not precocious enough to make longer range predictions.

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3 Responses to “The Future of Marriage”

  1. Hello Edward. Thanks for the article. I initially saw it on the ieet site, but could not post a comment there, so I wanted to say something here. It was an interesting read. I identify as a transhumanist and I’m also very interested in the social implications of the technological changes our society faces.

    I started writing a response to your article that kind of became an article unto itself. So I posted it on my own blog at the web site of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. If you are interested, you can read it here: http://transfigurism.org/community/blogs/joey_west/archive/2008/03/16/4209.aspx

  2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. It seemed to me that an obvious conclusion to draw from transhumanist speculation on the future is that a radical revision of the institution of marriage is in store for us.

    While I certainly don’t discount that likely possibility, I wanted to posit an argument that seemed even more provocative… that our values, which are often in contradiction with our natural urges, may play a bigger role than we think.

    Considering that people like Ray Kurzweil claim radical change is imminent, I wanted to put forth a more realistic argument, yet one that still explores the ideas of a radical future.

    This is basically just a guess, nothing more. I tend to be skeptical of anyone who is too confident in predictions about the future. Your guess is as good as mine, and I thank you again for sharing it.

  3. […] had previously speculated that forming some sort of global brain would be the ultimate expression of Embracing Unity, but if […]

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