The purpose of marriage is children. I know I link to Darwin Reactionary a lot, but fact is he addresses the idea in such detail it is hard not to reference him. But perhaps there is no need to go into utilitarianism, let us discuss the story of Swetaketu instead.
The rishi sees another brahmaNa catch his mothers hand and pull her away. Infuriated he is about to berate the interloper, when his father Uddalaka stops him and says that it is an acceptable practice that men and women can take any partner they desire. The rishi cannot tolerate this, and thus he lays the cornerstone of civilization – the institution of marriage.
It is important to note that in the story, it is not the mother or the father who are invested in the marriage it is the child Swetaketu. It is he who desires a union for his parents, while they are simply not bothered by it. It is also interesting to note that while this could have been his father who was straying and his mother admonishing him, the reverse is true. This is perhaps because the mother is extremely important to the child’s development. In jyotishashastra the moon represents both the mother of the native as well as the mind, but this tidbit is only of auxillary value. The mAnava dharma shAstra itself gives us a clue as to the importance of the mother.
MDS 2.145. The teacher (akarya) is ten times more venerable than a sub-teacher (upadhyaya), the father a hundred times more than the teacher, but the mother a thousand times more than the father.
Thus we see that out of all the parties involved the most affected is the child, and that marriage itself was instantiated not for the father who may benefit greatly from a wife who honours him, nor the mother who benefits greatly from being revered in the household (MDS 3.58) which could not happen if any man could enjoy her without restraint, but it is the child who benefits from the stable union of father and mother in the holy union of marriage. There is a huge amount of literature on the superiority of married biological parents raising a child versus any other form even that of biological parents cohabiting, but I can help you get started if you are interested [PDF].
So now we know, marriage is good and it protects everyone involved but it protects children even more we should ideally discuss who marries and how they decide. If marriage is truly about offspring then the decision to marry must be based keeping this in mind. Marriage cannot be a decision based on feelings such as love (in reality what is considered love is actually fleeting lust), because such lust is ephemeral and it leads to a slippery slope. If one can simply choose one’s partner, then what stops one from divorcing the first wife once the lust wears off? Is this fair to the child? Is this fair to the wife? Is it fair to the husband? Tacitus writes on how the germanic tribes viewed marriage and the structure of it is echoed in how Indians view marriage, or perhaps it is best I say viewed.
Love marriages thus are a dicey situation. Will a decision taken on the basis of fleeting feelings weather difficult situations? The American Psychological Association makes the claim that this is not so. A significant percentage of marriages are ending in divorce estimated as high as 50%. Marriage in the UK has crashed to an all time low, and people are getting married later and later which affects the quality of the progeny (paternal age). The idea of marriage based on love thus is not fulfilling the purpose of marriage, love marriages are for the most part, a farce.
Now we know that the germanic tribes seemed to “arrange” marriage in some sense and we know that in India this has always been the case. But did this exist elsewhere? Apostolou [PDF] has a number of interesting papers which discuss this. He argues that marriages have always been arranged and this is why risk taking behavior in men is valued, not because women are impressed by risk taking behavior but because other men are. Let us not dive into quasi-Freudian psychobabble about latent homosexuality, he clarifies that men are signalling to fathers of women they desire. The fathers are the ones who restrict mating rights to their daughters, and they value traits in men such as industriousness and character thus selecting for such things in the population.
Apostolou describes multiple ways in which this was done in the past, both through psychological manipulation as well as through physical force but the outcomes regardless was that sons and daughters married on the behest of their parents. The parents chose mates for them and this has been extrapolated both in agricultural societies as well as early hunter gatherer ones.
Think about this for a minute. This means that humans have evolved to have their parents choose their partners for them. They are completely ill-equipped to select a mate. Are divorce rates and marriage rates in the West a surprise?
Here are another couple studies cited in the same paper.
Farthing (2005) concluded that certain aspects of male risk-taking behaviors are directed towards other men rather than women. And men are responsive to such behaviors: Kelly and Dunbar (2001) found that men prefer to form friendships with risk-prone, brave men. It is no surprise then that men make riskier decisions while driving when they have male passengers than when they have female ones (Jackson & Gray, 1976). Additionally, Fischer and Rodriguez Mosquera (2001) in a meta-analysis study concluded that men evoke anger and aggression not because they want to attract the attention of women, but because they are afraid of losing status and respect in the eyes of other men.
Why are men so concerned with acquiring wealth, signalling risk taking ability and out-competing every other man in their field? Instead of signalling their prowess to other men, if they wanted to reproduce they should be signalling to women. Might it be because signalling wealth to older men, make them valuable son-in-laws in their eyes ultimately giving them a wife.
Now let’s remove this model of mate selection and let’s ask men to choose their own wives. Given how ingrained this system of men acquiring traits and behaviours which signal value to men, they will simply not be able to change strategies and signal now to women. They are already starting out at a disadvantage. On the other hand, men who were unconcerned with becoming industrious but were able to signal to women their mating ability (colloquially, “players”) will be the ones who succeed in mating often to the detriment of the women involved. Without arranged marriage, it looks like we hit the prisoner’s dilemma nash equilibrium. Everyone is worse off.
These make a strong case for the continuation of the arranged marriage system put in place by our pitR-s. Apostolou also describes how this may not be possible in post-industrial societies, but that simply means we have to be stricter about organizing Hindu society. The Japanese have industrialized but are nowhere near as degenerate as the West. No systems are foolproof, nor do they work effectively 100% of the time. There are always leakages, and there will always be failures. However, perhaps looking at maximizing the quantity of beneficial outcomes is a better way to go about organizing society than maximizing entropy in a way that benefits a few lucky elite.