Why Do So Many People Want To Be in a Relationship?

Why Do People Want To Be in a Relationship?

Why Do People Want To Be in Relationships?

Sharing your life with someone else. Always being together: if not in person, then at least in mind. Sharing in the other person’s pain (but also in their happiness of course). Always having an obligation to someone. Not being fully free.

These are merely some of the consequences of being in a relationship. I wonder: what draws so many people into a relationship? Why do so many people appear to have the urge to always have that other special person in their lives?

Is it is to share your feelings and ideas with someone who truly cares about you? Who doesn’t judge you, who wishes the best for you and tries to help you? That might be true, but it seems like you don’t have to be in a relationship to have such experiences. You might just as well talk to friends – who by definition care about you, want the best for you and try to help you – and achieve pretty much the same results.

Is it for sex then? To have sexual intercourse with someone regularly without having to go through the seduction process over and over again? Maybe, but again: you don’t need to be in a relationship for that. You can have sex with pretty much anyone who wants to have sex with you; also with the same person, so that you don’t have to go through the seduction process over and over again. ‘But’, someone might object, ‘sex with someone you’re not in a relationship with is less intimate in some way, than sex with your girlfriend/boyfriend.’ But is it really? Because why would the fact that you are in relationship with someone, which appears to be nothing but a social construct, add to the intimacy of sex? It might be that being in love with each other does, but then again: you don’t need to be in a relationship to have that experience.

So why then, if not for companionship or sex?

Maybe it is to boost our own perception of ourselves. Maybe it is the idea that we mean so much to someone that that person is willing to give up a large part of their lives, time and bodies for us. And the prettier, smarter, kinder that other person is, the more special it is that that person chooses you. And it might just be that feeling of possession that we, insecure humans, crave for, and why we value being in a relationship with someone.

Or maybe it is because it is just the normal thing to do, according to the unwritten rules of society. But one could question whether this is ever a good reason to do anything.

The best reason I can think of is when you plan on having, or actually have, children with someone. For in case you have children with someone, it might only be fair towards that person to devote all your resources to him/her and your children – if only because it might be best for your children, which from an evolutionary perspective seems an important consideration in one’s actions. However, I doubt many teenagers, or people in their twenties, consciously decide to get into a relationship with someone for this reason.

None of this is of course a problem; not if both parties agree to the relationship. But it might shed light on the not-so-conscious reasons that drive people into a relationship.

Why Euthanasia should be Legal in any Civilized Democracy

It recently came to my attention that euthanasia, the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve suffering, is illegal in the United Kingdom. Being a Dutchman, and the Netherlands being a country in which euthanasia is legal, I was surprised to notice this. But even though I was surprised to read this, I was literally shocked to read that euthanasia is – depending on the circumstances – judged as either manslaughter or murder, and punishable by law up to life imprisonment. Just to put that into perspective: assisted suicide is illegal too, but punishable by up to ‘only’ 14 years.

Being fully aware of the fact that euthanasia is a controversial topic, I want to make a claim in favor of legalizing euthanasia – whether this is in the UK, or in any other democracy. The first argument for this claim might sound dramatic, but I believe it hits the core of the issue. It is the following: no single individual has decided to come into this world. Our parents ‘decided’ to have a child, and there we were. From this it follows that none of us chose to live a life with perpetual (and incurable) pain, which is the life many terminally ill people live. So, having been put on this world without his consent, and not having chosen for the extreme pains he – being a terminally ill person – suffers, it would only be fair for any terminally ill person to be able to ‘opt out’ of life whenever he wants to; in a humane manner that is, thus excluding suicide.

Note that I am talking about the option of euthanasia for terminally ill people only. And this brings me to my second point, which has to do with the position of doctors. Let’s ask ourselves the question: what is the duty of doctors? Is it to cure people? If so, then terminally ill people shouldn’t be treated by a doctor in the first place, since – by definition – terminally people cannot be cured from whatever it is they are suffering from. Hence, given that terminally people are in fact being treated by doctors, there must be another reason the medical community has for treating them; I presume something in the form of ‘easing their pain’.

Now, given that we have a doctor and that he wants to ‘ease the pain’ of the terminally ill, I assume that he wants to do so in the best manner possible; that is, by using the treatment that eases the pain most, keeping in mind any future consequences the treatment might have. But what if a patient has crossed a certain ‘pain threshold’, and the doctor knows which great certainty that the patient cannot be cured from his disease? In this case it seems that not performing euthanasia would be equivalent to prolonging the patient’s suffering, without improving the chance of recovery (and recovery is, by definition, absent for terminally ill people). It is in those cases, and those cases only, that euthanasia seems to be the optimal method for easing the pain, and should therefore be applied by doctors (in case the patient wants to, of course).

It is not that the National Health Service (the ‘NHS’) hasn’t thought about these matters. On the contrary; they have a entire webpage devoted to ‘Arguments for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide’. Although I agree with none of the arguments the NHS gives against euthanasia, there is one that I find particularly wrong, and which they call the ‘alternative argument’. The alternative argument states that ‘there is no reason for a person to suffer because effective end of life treatments are available’. Hence euthanasia should be no option. One of the ‘alternatives’ the NHS puts forward is that ‘all adults have the right to refuse medical treatment, as long as they have sufficient capacity to make a decision’ (which, by the way, in practice has the same effect as euthanasia: the patient will die).

But refusing medical treatment is clearly in no way a valid alternative to euthanasia, for the aims of refusing medical treatment and the aims of euthanasia are profoundly different. While refusing medical treatment is about – clearly – the refusal of medical treatment, euthanasia is about wanting (a form of) medical treatment. Therefore, the fact that there might be another way in which the aim of the former can be accomplished is irrelevant and ineffective from the perspective of pursuing the aim of the latter. Also, the cases to which a refusal of medical treatment might apply are likely to be very different from the ones to which euthanasia is applied.

Car accident
Imagine, for example, a car accident, in which one of the victims is severely injured, and needs acute medical treatment in order not to die. This is an accident, in which no terminally ill people are involved. Refusing medical treatment seems a reasonable option; euthanasia not. Now imagine the life of a cancer patient, who is terminally ill, and who realizes that his suffering will only become worse. Euthanasia seems a reasonable option; refusing medical treatment not.

To end this post with a personal note, I would like to say that I hope that, in this 21st century we are living in, where everyone gets older and older, and prolonging life seems to be the preferred option a priori, irrespective of the specific circumstances, I hope that we can engage in a healthy discussion about a topic so relevant as euthanasia. Of course, many of us are still young and hope not to experience severe illness soon, but looking at the people we love and seeing them suffer unbearably seems to me sufficient reason for not condemning euthanasia straight away.

But what do you think?

Feelings of Shame: Biologically or Socially determined?

We’ve all had it. That feeling of being deeply disappointed in yourself. That feeling of knowing that you’ve done something wrong, even though you might not know exactly what. I’m talking of course about the feeling of shame. But what is shame? Is it nothing but a chemical response our bodies tend to have towards “embarrassing” situations? And if so, how do our bodies decide between embarrassing and non-embarrassing situations? And what role does our social context play in determining our feelings of shame?

Like any feeling, shame has developed to increase our procreation chances. If we wouldn’t feel any shame, we might have never become the social creatures that we are. Imagine that you would be a caveman hunting with your fellow cavemen. While you’re sitting in the bush, you decide to attack a very angry looking bear, even though the leader of the group explicitly told you not to do so. If you wouldn’t feel bad – feel “ashamed” – about this situation afterwards, there would be nothing to prevent you from doing this “stupid” behavior again. In other words: there would be nothing withholding you from endangering you and your group members again. Sooner or later you would end up being banned from the tribe or dead.

This example might be a oversimplification of the actual workings of our “shame mechanism”, but it should do the job in explaining how our tendency to feel shame has come about. Millions and millions of years of evolution have weeded out those not feeling shame; ending up with a population in which (almost) anyone has the ability to feel shame.

However, while our ability to feel shame is biologically determined, the content of our feelings of shame – that is where we feel ashamed about – is for the biggest part socially determined. And the reason for that is simple: if the content of our feelings of shame wouldn’t be socially determined, they would always lack “environmental relevancy”. What do I mean that? Well – to return to the example of the cavemen – if we would be biologically “tuned” to experience shame whenever we let our fellow hunters down while chasing an angry looking bear, this would imply the requirement a great deal of likewise shame mechanisms to prevent us from doing anything shameful/harmful in life. And because our society is ever-changing – at least a faster pace than our biological makeup – we would always remain tuned to a historical environment; an environment not relevant in sifting the fit from the weak in today’s world. That’s why the ability to feel shame is biologically determined, but the instances that trigger our feelings of shame come about (mainly) through our social context.

There are, however, some aspects of life more important in determining one’s procreation chances than others. The most prominent of course being our sexual capabilities. This could explain why sex seems to take such a prominent position in the whole realm of of areas we could be ashamed about; sex related events simply tend to have a more profound physical effect on us than non-sex related events. This might be why people have the tendency to feel ashamed about their weight, looks, sexual experience, sexual orientation etc.: all of these have – or have had in the past – a significant effect in determining one’s procreation chances.

These are my thoughts on the issue; what are yours?

What’s Wrong with Pedophilia and Bestiality?

Pedophilia and bestiality: sex by an adult with a child and sex by a human with an animal. Most people consider the former to be disgusting and the latter to be twisted. Both of these activities are illegal in many countries. And that’s the way it should be, right? We all feel that both pedophilia and bestiality are wrong. But why is that exactly? What is it that makes us so creeped out by the thought of an adult having sexual intercourse with a child? Or the noise of the neighbor enjoying the companionship of his dog a little too much? And in what way do both pedophilia and bestiality differ from rape? Aren’t they ‘just’ rape, but disguised in a different form? Let’s take a look at these questions.

I believe that – as it is with all matters in life – you have to come to understand why it is that you find something right or wrong, and that you should not just take society’s word for it. After all, there are many societies in which gay marriage is believed to be morally wrong or even illegal, but that doesn’t imply that gay marriage is in itself morally wrong or illegal, right? Of course not. It is morally wrong or illegal because the society in which it is morally wrong or illegal made it so. And so it is with pedophilia and bestiality. However, in contrast to gay marriage, there might be more compelling reasons to make pedophilia and bestiality wrong and illegal.

Let me ask you the following question: what is it that you find so repulsive about grown up men (and women) having sex with (little) children? Responding with, ‘They are children!’, is not an argument; merely a shout of disgust. A better – but still unsatisfying – response would be, ‘Children aren’t outgrown yet. Therefore an adult who has sex with a child does not have intercourse with a “complete” human being, only with some entity that has the potential of becoming a fully developed human being. And it is not until someone is having intercourse with a full-grown member of his own species that he is engaged in a “normal”, or “morally right”, endeavor’. But that’s nonsense, right? That would imply that sex with any person who is not believed to be ‘fully developed’ according to the moral rules of society would be an act worthy of condemnation. Also, if you make this claim, you might be asked to answer the question of when it is that someone is fully developed; when someone has ‘reached’ his full potential as a human being. When he has reached the ‘normal’ IQ-level? When her breasts are ‘sufficiently’ matured? When he has got the ‘right’ amount of hair on his chest? These measures seem utterly arbitrary and incapable of explaining our repulsion with pedophilia, let alone bestiality.

The reason why we find sex by adults with children – and sex by humans with animals – inappropriate (to say the least) is because we believe that the someone, or the ‘something’, we have sex with should in potential be able to assent to you and itself engaging in the sexual transaction. Note the prefix ‘in potential be able to’. Why is the addition of these few words so important? If we would skip them, the act would still be worthy of our condemnation, right? If you engage in whatever kind of relationship with another person (whether this is trading collector-cards, selling a motorcycle or having sex), it is always ‘appropriate’ to make sure that both parties agree to the deal, right?

That’s true, but somehow we find pedophilia and bestiality to be different from – or even ‘more wrong’ than – rape. Thus, it cannot only be the absence of mutual agreement for entering into the sexual transaction that explains our repulsion with both pedophilia and bestiality. No, it is the fact that a child or an animal does not even possess the capability of making a conscious decision to enter the deal or not. They don’t even have the sense of consciousness required to deliberately consider the ‘pros and cons’ of having sex with a person. And where in the case of rape, the rapist doesn’t take into consideration the intentions of the person being raped, the case of pedophilia and bestiality is different because children and animals might not even have – or at least not to the same extent as human adults – the potential to consciously reflect on the situation they’re in, and hence to decide whether or not to engage in a (sexual) transaction. And it this absence of potentially being able to consciously reflect on the situation, of consciously (ab)using another living creature while knowing that it is – in principle – incapable to consent with ‘the deal’, that we as a society seem to find more inappropriate than the act of don’t paying attention to another person’s intentions. And that’s why we think that the former should be punished more severely than the latter.

But what do you think?