Human Nature and Family Ties

This week, both Donald Trump and his children are testifying in court regarding accusations of financial fraud. So far, most members of the Trump family members have not broken rank–and, in fact, the Trumps seem to have one another’s backs. Whether or not they are telling the truth, they are sticking together. This is not unusual; in general, families do stick together–and, in fact, extended families in the form of clans and tribes form a major part of many populations.

But are close family ties really part of human nature?

There is no doubt that human beings are hard-wired to seek and maintain attachments. And anthropologists spend much of their time studying exactly how those attachments play out in different societies. In many parts of the world, very large extended families provide members with specific roles to play in every aspect of daily life.

But family ties, particularly in western countries, can be surprisingly loose. Family members move to new cities or across the globe, and estrangements among family members are common. Even families that think of themselves as “close” may only connect once or twice a year.

Why, if humans are naturally so family-oriented, might this be the case? According to at least one researcher, the quality of family ties is based, not on nature, but on culture: “individualism is associated with looser family ties.” In other words, a culture that places a high value on the individual is likely to place a lower value on family.

Is it unnatural for humans to live, work, and play independently, far from their family members? Or is the desire and ability to maintain an independent life a sign of emotional and cultural maturity?

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