I am convinced the reason man rose to stand on two feet was to invent the hug. Okay, okay: I know that from a strictly evolutionary perspective, there were other, far more basic, reasons for this shift from quadruped to bipeds – starting with the obvious advantage of being able to see further and use your hands to throw stones at nasty saber-toothed tigers – but from an emotional perspective, primitive man sure needed a hug now and then.
After all, it wasn’t as if life was a walk in the park back then. It was too hot – or too cold. Food consisted of what one could find, so grubs and roots were high on the list of everyday staples. Clothes did not exist. Fire was as yet in the future. There were no carrots (not, perhaps, the most drastic of drawbacks). There were very many animals keen on eating us – them. There was no tea to calm your nerves after having fled the latest attack by a determined cave lion. Things crawled all over our hirsute ancestors: fleas, lice, ticks – what have you. But once they were on two feet, these our distant progenitors could hold hands. And hug. I hope they hugged each other a lot.
As per the Bible, God created man and then he created woman, realising man needed a companion. Of course he did. Adam was going stir-crazy all on his own, a minute speck beneath the star-strewn skies, but once Eve was there, he had someone warm to lie beside at night, ensuring the things that go bump were kept at bay. Adam – or primitive man – needed proximity. Those scruffy forebears of ours huddled together in the dark, needing the comfort and security of numbers – like a communal hug, if you will.
Somewhere along the line, man discovered fire. And clothes. And crops and domesticated animals. And love – conceptually as well as biologically. Our Neolithic forebears did not exactly live a life of plenty, but the hug, dear people, was here to stay, having upgraded from a sharing of warmth to an expression of tenderness and togetherness. And you know what? Essentially, the hug remains unchanged to this day – it offers security and warmth, but is also a way of telling somebody that you care for him/her specifically.
Moving along: Civilisations started to develop. In Europe, these were patriarchal constructs. Subtly, restrictions were imposed on hugging. Where before everything had been owned in common, making the paternity of children relatively unimportant – all children belonged to the group, were necessary for the future of the group – a society where there were assets to inherit through the paternal line made it more important for the fathers to ensure the kids were in fact their kids (women always know if the kid is theirs – sort of difficult not to…). Ergo, too much familiarity between a woman and other men was frowned upon. Women hugging women was okay. Women hugging their children was okay. Woman hugging her man was definitely approved of. Woman hugging other men she liked – nope.
Mind you, men could hug other men, they could hug their children and they could hug other women – or rather, if a man hugged another woman this was mostly the woman’s fault for enticing the man to sin. Plus, everyone knew that a woman who hugged various men was probably of loose morals, so she didn’t count. Men did not have to be faithful to ensure the paternity of their heirs – in difference to their wives who had to be carefully watched so as to ensure they were not too generous with their bodily warmth.
Things were taken to extremes at times: in the formal Spanish court of the 16th – 17th century, no one was allowed to touch the queen. No one – well, bar the king. One assumes the maids required to help with the queen’s toilette were exempt, but even they were expected to minimise actual physical contact. To live under such conditions must lead to a certain wilting of the human soul. We are, after all, simple creatures at heart, requiring physical confirmation that we are loved – or at least tolerated.
For a couple of centuries, physical proximity with others than your nearest and dearest was not approved of. The Victorian gentleman rarely hugged – he patted on the back. The Victorian lady was too voluminously attired to be able to hug. But I bet they still managed the odd squeeze, as did most others, thirsting for proximity, for the simple pleasure of being held in a warm embrace.
These days, things seem to be moving in the right direction. We hug our friends, we hug our kids, our partners, our parents. Considering the general state of the world, I think we need it. Time to hold hands, hug each other hard and hope for a better world, a world in which children don’t die needlessly in the sea, in which men do not take God hostage and perform vile deeds in his name.
Time for some love, people. Time to understand that fundamentally we’re not all that different from Mr and Mrs Biped. After all, what do we want from life? A place to sleep, someone to love, a future for our kids – and arms that tighten round us, that hold us close and safe, while way up high those stars that once gazed down on Adam, gaze down at us, as impervious to our fates today as they were then.
Many, many years ago, primitive man rose to his two feet. A giant step for mankind – and for that most wonderful of affectionate gestures, the hug!