Marriage, Employment and Interdependence

The flatness of GRIN org charts reduces points of vulnerability

Instruments which categorize people into types are typically accompanied by advice about how to use them to select mates and employment. This article discusses such implications of evidence supporting the GRIN self-quiz.

Marriage and employment are related because, as one college textbook says,

“A government program that seeks to improve relationships would probably do better to fund effective training for better jobs or to increase the minimum wage than to try to teach people to respect marriage.”

Rowland S Miller. Intimate Relationships. 7th Edition (2015), page 62.

This passage of the textbook specifically criticizes application of moral education to address especially poor marital and divorce rates among African Americans. The author points out that African Americans already value marriage, but face greater economic pressure on average, and cites evidence that few people (African American or not) marry or stay married to someone with financial problems.

The currently leading theory to predict who will marry and who will divorce is called “interdependence theory” and essentially describes an economic negotiation. You can expect to keep your spouse if the value he/she gets from your marriage less the cost of being in it is greater than the value-less-cost available in alternative relationships. This implies that staying married is like holding down a job: perform or be fired!

My government legally defines marriage as an economic contract, but this article will instead use the term “marriage” to refer to something that existed long before law or contracts: the fundamental unit of interdependence. Even before law or contract, this unit was a unit of employment. Back then, all businesses were family businesses, and marriage was one of three ways to join a business—the other ways were to be adopted or born into the family.

While African Americans may be especially hard hit, problems with marriage today are broad. People are waiting longer to get married, getting divorced more often, and more are never marrying at all. In 2012, 41% of babies were born out of wedlock (eight times the percentage fifty years earlier). We have hit the point at which over half of all adults are now unmarried. This article will argue that these trends stem from shifts in business practices, rather than from shifts in family values.

Economic Interdependence vs Evolved Interdependence

“Interdependence theory” is an unfortunate choice of name because it equates all interdependence with economic interdependence. Actually, economic interdependence is far weaker than the evolved interdependence we observe between, for example, the parts of a body.

If one member of a choir, team, family or business is lost, a replacement is needed to fill his/her role as bass, keeper (goalie), mother or manager (etc.). That necessity reflects an evolved interdependence like the interdependence between parts of a body; it is not some economic bargain one can intelligently renegotiate. However, this kind of interdependence does not bind the choir, team, family or business to any particular individual. Only economic interdependence—the fear that no better bass, keeper, mother or manager can be obtained—gives negotiating power to specific individuals.

To confuse the two kinds of interdependence creates a “moral relativism” debate. The goodness of an economic interdependence is relative to specific people—is the marriage good for these particular spouses? In contrast, the goodness of an evolved interdependence is universal—is the marriage a good pattern for arbitrary others to imitate? If we think economic interdependence is the only kind of interdependence there is, then morality will seem relative.

My own wedding vows prioritized evolved interdependence over economic interdependence: “I choose you as God’s perfect wife for me,” I said, “accepting on faith that I shall never stop learning to appreciate the amazing gift our perfect creator made you to be.” In other words, I expect to underestimate the value of my marriage, and therefore to be unqualified to negotiate a better economic deal. The article will discuss evidence in support of that hypothesis, but also that the pattern of marriage good for imitation is not mere coupling…

This article is not about economic interdependence nor any particular marriage; it is about evolved interdependence. It is about the ultimate nature of marriage. Thus, I can support whatever marital choices my children happen to make, and still seriously acknowledge the evidence discussed here. I can love my children with blatant favoritism, yet acknowledge that universally correct laws don’t necessarily favor my children nor their perspectives on marriage.

What the GRIN Model Implies 

The GRIN model tells us that each society’s success depends upon its rate of learning and that societies learn fastest when their members specialize in different aspects of learning: Gadflies specialize in producing new ideas, negotiators specialize in objectively selecting among ideas, and institutional evaluators specialize in preserving selected ideas. These three specializations are like stages in a digestive track (processing innovation instead of food).

Relational evaluators are needed because new ideas typically emerge half-baked and would get rejected by good negotiators unless incubated by people who select ideas subjectively (e.g. “through the eyes of love”). One could think of relational evaluators as a buffer between gadflies and negotiators, but subjective evaluation really connect all kinds of people, like a skeleton or circulatory system connects all other parts of a body.

The first thing this model tells us about marriage is that the basic unit of interdependence increases our collective intelligence. Thus, laws which set up each individual to decide for him/herself whom to marry and when (and if/when to divorce) are vesting power in the less-intelligent entity. At the heart of the decline in marriage are laws which give more individuals the option to avoid interdependence (to avoid marriage and to reduce interdependence in employment); these laws essentially enable societies to reduce their intelligence.

Is it possible to have a right to reduce one’s intelligence? The question poses a paradox because we do not count a behavior as freely chosen unless it is selected with sufficient intelligence. Interdependence theory may be correct that individuals get married and divorced based on their own personal economic judgments, but evidence for the GRIN model suggests that individuals are poorly-equipped to make such judgments accurately. It is a provocative possibility.

The second implication of the GRIN model is that the evolved fundamental unit of interdependence requires a lot more than just two adults. Just like (divine) evolution designed bodies to involve cells of each type, it designed families to involve adults of each type. Can you imagine cells trying to live as mere pairs…one skin cell and one neuron setting-out to grow old together? Cells need to have pairwise relationships, but those relationships must be part of an entire network.

Marriage will likewise fail to facilitate evolved interdependence if it is mere coupling. If all children go separate ways upon reaching adulthood, such that marriage is ultimately just two adults, then the value of marriage reduces to its non-interdependence aspects. Marriage adds little to the raising of children if parents have sufficient community support. Neither is marriage necessary for sex or companionship. It is no wonder marriage rates decline as the extended family falls apart.

One might hope to find evolved interdependence via employment instead of marriage, but modern corporations do not preserve the function of relational evaluators, which is to maintain a non-centralized network by forming small numbers of emotional attachments. For example, a relational evaluator might bond with a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a son and a daughter. Collectively, relational evaluators can thus divide billions of people into many relatively small families with somewhat divergent priorities. Modern corporations deny relational employees this power, instead enabling central leaders to set priorities for all employees, and that makes modern corporations fragile against challenges that require leaps of faith.

The last few centuries of social engineering separated marriage from employment, leaving social collaboration to be grounded at two new group sizes: couples and corporations. It is provocative to consider that neither of these new grounds might be viable for the long-term.

The third major implication of the GRIN model concerns matchmaking. Most models that divide people into types paint a picture in which each person has a roughly equal set of types with whom to mate. In contrast, the GRIN model tells us that naturally relational people match with anyone, but gadflies (which correlate strongly with psychopathy) cannot effectively link to interdependence through any other type—not even through another gadfly.

If marriage were just about coupling, then institutional evaluators might seem to be the second most flexible, since they could link to interdependence through any type but gadfly. However, only a marriage that includes a relational evaluator can accommodate a gadfly child, so relational evaluators are the best matches even for institutional evaluators. Is it possible that marriage is not a symmetric responsibility shared equally by all, but rather is the function of one type of person who bonds the rest together?

Again, the possibility is provocative: The prospect of assigning employees to form emotional attachments to specific other employees raises concerns about abuse. Arranged marriage and family business may be less prevalent today precisely because of damage caused by spousal abuse and familial abuse. We need to measure the value of interdependence to make sure it really is worth this risk.

Ideal Family Size

Negotiators are supposed to take control, and thus horde resources; that benefits society by allowing resources to mobilize, but it won’t feel supportive to a spouse. Gadflies and institutional evaluators are supposed to create the threat of guilt and shame; again, that benefits society, but it won’t feel supportive. Relational evaluators are the only ones who can honestly offer relationships that feel supportive to the other person. Such relationships would be asymmetric to other GRIN-types, so we will represent them here by arrows (pointing at relational evaluators).

For GRIN dynamics to work robustly, the organization of the social body must satisfy several criteria:

  1. Each evaluator has at least one symmetric or supporting relationship (i.e. without an arrow head pointing at him/her).
  2. Each evaluator is connected to an institutional evaluator either directly or through a relatively short chain of relational evaluators.
  3. Each gadfly has a relationship with a relational evaluator who has a relationship with a negotiator.
  4. No two gadflies compete over any given relational evaluator.
  5. All of these criteria remain satisfied even if any single evaluator is removed.
  6. Each evaluator must be replaceable without creating too many expensive relationships (i.e. no evaluator can have too many arrows ending at him/her).

These criteria create a puzzle. In order to satisfy #5, an organization must include at least two evaluators of each type. In order to satisfy #3, #4 and #5 together, there must be at least two relational evaluators per gadfly. This gives us a minimum of ten adult evaluators. The following example would be one solution, assuming #2 is satisfied with chains of length two, and #6 is satisfied if a maximum of three arrows point to any evaluator:

Evaluators are allowed to have relationships beyond those pictured in the org chart (for example, one might expect additional relationships between negotiators and institutional evaluators); organizational charts show only the essential relationships necessary to satisfy the criteria. On the other hand, the localization this geometry achieves would be undermined if too many evaluators became too influenced through a central authority such as Wikipedia or a large-scale vote. High-quality relationships must take priority. Any of the connections in this chart could be marriage, but any could also be adoption, sibling relationship, etc. In the solution above, institutional evaluators are the only individuals who could marry into the network through the creation of a single supporting relationship. The other three types would need polygamy, incest, or adoption by in-laws.

There is a less expensive way to join the network. The example solution is composed of two identical configurations, one on the left and the other on the right. Shifting such a configuration as a whole from one network to another, or to another location in the same network, would not require any individual evaluator to take responsibility for more than one new supporting relationship.

We will call any such configuration a “family.” Monogamy makes more sense if limited to relationships that bridge families, since relationship between families does not require any individual to manage more than one (new) emotional attachment. The suggestion that one should be emotionally attached to no more than one parent, sibling or child makes less sense. Polygamy would then be unnecessary so long as each family maintains sufficiently many of these internal emotional attachments.

To grow a new family, one would start by adding its mature relational evaluators into an existing network. The mature relational evaluators might be called the “parents” or “teachers”, but the entire surrounding network invests in the new family; authority to judge and discipline would go to negotiators and institutional evaluators. One would add or develop a full generation of five non-parents (lower-case in the figure) attached to the parents as below:

Family in reproduction

The size of a family in reproduction would be at least seven: two parents and five non-parents. Once complete and mature (which might be faster if assembling a family from polygamous adults or machines), the family can be transplanted as a productive unit. If the original relational adults are teachers, then they are the kind who emotionally attach with their students, and move with them into the real world when they graduate. The relational students/non-parents may position themselves as back-ups for their teachers/parents or could split-off individually (or with any extra siblings) to build other new families.

Another example shows that increasing the family size from five adults to six (and nine total evaluators at reproduction) allows a situation in which the loss of any individual evaluator can be repaired without creating more than two supporting relationships (criteria #3 entails that no configuration can do better):

In this example, the three relational adults in each family connect with other families at three points, so the loops/chains formed by families of this type can assemble into mesh as  in the organizational chart at the top of this article (offering the possibility of emergent higher-intelligence as in cellular automata). Each loop of twelve or more evaluators (eighteen in the  hexagonal mesh) might be called a “super-family” because it can relocate without any new asymmetric bonding at all. Larger mesh may be necessary to develop solutions to  larger challenges like climate change, pandemic, and nuclear war.

All of these examples rest in the assumption that a social architect is able to identify each evaluator’s type and assign his/her position in the network. Historically, that has not always been the case, but that’s less of a problem because early stages of differentiation are generally accompanied by hermaphroditism; GRIN-hermaphrodites would be evaluators who change GRIN-type like stem-cells change cell-type. Substituting GRIN-hermaphrodites for specialized evaluators makes any solution more robust against failure to control assignment, but the same arguments about family size and structure hold.

If population frequencies evolved to match the models above, 40%-50% of people would be naturally relational (or GRIN-hermaphrodite) and organizing adults into mere couples would leave 50%-60% of all adults feeling unsupported. That would produce envy. Like people who engage in diet and exercise to achieve the body shape of someone who came by the desired body shape without so much effort, people who are not naturally relational would find their mates attempting to transform them against their nature using complaints, threats, bribes, manipulation, religion, counseling, and self-help books (etc.)…

Meanwhile, naturally relational employees would be challenged by life-work balance. They instinctively invest in each of their emotional attachments as though participating in GRIN-dynamic, but the more emotional energy they waste on home-families that have become too small to manifest evolved interdependence, the less they can invest to support real interdependence. The result for society would be equivalent to scarcity of relational evaluators: No matter how many gadflies it hired, the average business would experience the fragility of dogmatism.

An effective solution requires substantial family size, but current business practice is to hire and relocate individuals. That makes it difficult to maintain larger families. Perhaps one adult can sacrifice his/her current employment to follow a spouse (or other family member) to a new location, but it would be unreasonable to expect four adults to change jobs for the sake of a fifth.

It would be easier if businesses hired entire families—like consulting teams—instead of hiring individuals. Assuming businesses seek to manifest evolved interdependence themselves, hiring and relocating entire families of five or six adults would be more efficient for them too.

One major obstacle businesses would face in hiring families would be determining who pays the costs of reproduction. Reproduction can be a long-term investment; families are not very useful until mature and attached. It would be unfair if company A were to hire a newly mature family raised by company B before B could recoup its investment. Perhaps reproduction could be subsidized through taxes collected from the entire society.

Next Steps

It has been said that marriage takes hard work; the GRIN-model implies that this work is harder for some people than for others. It implies that emotional attachment is an evolved feature of humanity and that its function is not merely to make us feel good nor is it limited to reproductive purposes—its function is to increase our collective intelligence. Emotional attachments with difficult people are important in fulfilling this function, so optimizing marriage is expensive and deserves planning and protection.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for a society built around the expectation that love is natural or magical and not a subject for science and engineering. When everyone is expecting to have two kids, it’s tough to suggest that most of us should never be parents (i.e. provide emotional attachment), and that the rest should raise at least five or six children. Especially when so many people consider their families dysfunctional, it’s tough to suggest that siblings should apply for employment as a team rather than as independent agents.

Show a GRIN org chart to a modern business manager, and she is likely to say, “That’s too complicated. Even if it happens to be correct, you won’t see me implementing anything like that!” Many people have never bothered considering the possibility that two adults may be too few for marriage, or the possibility that there is a specialized type of person that should be involved in every marriage, or the possibility that keeping emotional bonding out of the workplace ultimately spells the doom of business.

It would have been easier to consider these possibilities thousands of years ago, when family-businesses and large families were commonplace. Now, shall we treat these possibilities as science-fiction which has the quality of fantasy, even if likely to be true?

Thus far, the evidence is consistent with the GRIN model:

  • People are evaluatively diverse, disagreeing again and again with the same other people
  • As extended families break down, the stability of intimate relationships rests on economic interdependence and marriage and divorce rates degrade
  • Businesses that do not divide into families ultimately die because they develop the fragility of dogmatism/central-control

Furthermore, we have seen what hierarchical organization brings: segregation not only into management vs labor, but the isolation of think-tanks, monasteries, churches, prisons, etc. Segregation may seem promising at first, but the advantages we have witnessed have been limited to the short-term, being counterproductive in the long-run. GRIN organization provides an alternative to segregation.

Like climate change theories, the GRIN model could be formally tested through controlled experiments and/or well-designed monitoring programs. But who would organize such investigation? Perhaps the better use for evidence which supports the GRIN model is to refine the model for use in fiction. Perhaps there is a market for stories about using science and engineering to provide almost all people with satisfying marriages, families and careers.

For example, in the beloved parable of the prodigal son, women apparently have no power, thus leaving a family business size of only three: a negotiator, his institutional brother, and their relational father. The negotiator eliminates their economic interdependence by negotiating personal ownership, then sets-off on his own. His ability to do this demonstrates the weakness of a mere relational-institutional couple and we expect them to be destroyed by the next slick negotiator to come along, but fortunately the prodigal son hits bad luck and returns first.  The value of relational evaluation is shown at this point, because the father contributes no significant assets or labor, but it is his emotional attachments to his sons that save the business. Similar parables could be constructed to demonstrate the likely doom of other inadequate organizational structures.