NAGGING; AN EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE
With the amazingly concise clarity of his writing, Webster’s New World Dictionary defines ‘nag’ as ‘to annoy by continual scolding, faultfinding, complaining, urging…a person who nags, particularly a woman.’ The behavioral definition may be offered as, communications which imply or direct behavioral change repetitively, usually unwelcome to the recipient.
In most cultures, nagging occurs between mates, usually wife to husband, to children, less often to extended family and other members of the community.
A safe assumption is that any behavior which persists from generation to generation probably has some survival value. What is the evolutionary advantage of nagging?
Picture a Neanderthal cave. The male is dominant, having superior strength, better able to provide food and protection. His female mate is weaker. She cannot coerce him by physical threats or withholding sexual activity. She can, however, repetitively urge him to build a fire, hunt a mammoth, chase away an intruder. By trial and error, she must learn to calibrate this behavior. Too little, and the family is cold and hungry; too much she gets a rock to the head. Some dyads may have no need of nagging; the male provides without it. Others may require much for bare survival. Most require some. Obviously, the dyad in which the male yields to the female’s nagging by satisfying her desire has a better chance of survival than one in which the male is lazy, unreliable (instead of hunting mammoths, he goes off with another woman), or has a low threshold for retaliatory violence.
Fast forward to the present. The Jewish ethnic group is characterized by wifely nagging. The males are usually compliant. Here it must be noted that much nagging is good, sound, advice: lose weight, stop drinking, get a job, get to work on time, drive slower, get an education, etc. It is therefore possible that a factor in the generally high achievement level among Jews is—nagging.
To sail into risky waters, is it not at least a reasonable observation that successful nagging is directly proportional to cultural success? And that the reverse is true?
Cultures which have a high incidence of impulsive male violence and low achievement have high incidence of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse. It’s no use, in fact dangerous, to nag an intoxicated spouse.
High achievement in Italy was often associated with older, single males—da Vinci, Michelangelo (gay), Galileo. In Ireland, the clergy, men who were not spouse-nagged, preserved civilization in the Dark Age. Wife beating is common in both cultures. Nordic, English, and French cultures are characterized by significant nagging, low domestic violence, and high achievement.
Finally, to recognize nagging’s value is not to approve it.