Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1200, (5-11 June 2014)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1200, (5-11 June 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The age of infidelity

Is anyone faithful anymore? Infidelity is always associated with couples, married or in a steady relationship, but is by no means confined to that. Infidelity, synonymous with betrayal, deception or simple cheating, is rampant. It exists in every aspect of our lives, in friendship, business, online and most assuredly in politics.

Has it always been the case or are we living in an age where cheating is the rule rather than the exception? Has this age of technology presented us with more opportunities to break our ancient code of ethics, our cherished ten commandments?

As we evolved from our primitive existence and moved up the ladder of civilisation, society dictated its laws and regulations as the price for enjoying its benefits and privileges. The result was marriage, which defined our identity, our family, our roles and positions in life; above all our traditional behaviour.

The oldest marriage tradition still practised today is the wedding ring. Dating back to the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt around 2800 BC, the ring symbolises eternity, with no beginning or end, but for many it turned out to be a noose around the neck, so divorce was invented.

Divorce was first mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi in 1800BC. Early Christians preached that marriage was permanent, and early societies permitted only the husband to divorce. With the appearance of Protestantism in the 1500s, legal separations were transferred to the state’s jurisdiction, a clever method of relieving religion from that responsibility. The Catholic Church still frowns on divorce and grants it under certain strict conditions.

Polygamy was once considered a crime punishable by death, but polygamy was always practised, openly or in secrecy. Islam’s solution was to allow the man four wives and some Hindus set no limit. Mormons practised polygamy in the US until 1890.  A refreshing practice by the Todas of India and the Eskimos, once allowed a woman to take more than one husband. Some groups in Tibet still follow this tradition.

Western societies among others preferred extra-marital relationships, while still preserving the advantages of marriage.  Infidelity is committed in secret without harming the marriage, until it is discovered.

Why only marital infidelity?  It has almost become acceptable to gain advantage in any situation, at work, at school, in business and even in sports.

A study by Rutgers University shows that students in schools and colleges cheat up to 70 per cent of the time.

In the Financial world, the illegal transaction called ‘inside trading’ is considered a crime and several prominent celebrities have served jail time for engaging in it. That would not be a bad idea for a straying husband!

One expects cheating in gambling casinos and among gamblers — rigged roulette wheels, doctored decks of cards etc, but in sports, that honourable exercise of fair-play, good sportsmanship, may the best man win and all that! It turns out that they all cheat… amateurs cheat and professionals cheat. Idols such as cyclist Lance Armstrong, whose unprecedented wins at the Tour de France astounded the world, fell from grace when it was discovered that he was using ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ and lied about it for years until squealers turned on him.

As for politics and politicians, is there anything that can be added to their lack of conscience?  During our previous elections between Morsi and Shafik, MB member Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner… a gross hoax which we were all aware of, but the Western powers insisted they knew better. It took a revolution to get rid of the cheater.

Scientists have studied the Infidelity phenomenon for years, and researcher William Maugham suggests it may be integral to human behaviour. The 7th commandment instructs us not to commit adultery.  Are we required to do what may be naturally impossible?

Human behaviour is variable and a host of human traits -- aggression, selfishness, infidelity are universal and irrevocable!

Woe of woes is there no fidelity at all among humans?  Perhaps in the animal kingdom we can find more noble traits!

Among the 5000 species of mammals only 3-5 per cent are known to form life-long relationships, beavers, otters, wolves, some bats and foxes, and even those who pair and mate for life occasionally have flings.

Certain animals once regarded as examples of faithfulness, such as gibbons and swans are now known to cheat, abandon and even divorce one another… the age of technology has caught up with them too!

The very few that stick together are baffling scientists. Why are they different?  Research has provided a wealth of valuable clues about the sociological basis of fidelity. One of the most studied animals in this regard, is the lowly mouse-like prairie vole.

A male vole prefers to stay exclusively with his first mate and his faithfulness is almost fanatic. Far from trying to woo others, or is tempted by admirers, a mated vole will actually attack them. Admirable behaviour indeed, but what causes it?  Scientists have finally traced this unusual behaviour to the high level of certain neuro-transmitters in the vole’s brains, one of which is dopamine. Dopamine is implicated in drug addiction in humans.

Would that your mate be more like a vole, or even a vulture! The black vulture frowns on infidelity and even attacks other philanderers. Staying together makes for happier vulture babies.

So it does for humans, if only it can be accompanied by couples who think fidelity is still in!


“Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.” 

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

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