Media, Sex, Social Science

Explaining Monogamy to Vox

In the first episode of their new Netflix series, entitled Explained, the folks over at Vox set out to explain monogamy. Or at least, that is what the title (“Monogamy, Explained”) appeared to promise. But by the time it was over, very little seemed to have been explained. The central arguments, as I understand them, are that monogamy didn’t exist until after the invention of agriculture, marrying for love didn’t exist until roughly 1700 AD, and the concept of sexual selection was developed by Victorian scientists like Charles Darwin in part to justify traditional gender roles.

Vox interviews four experts for their video: relationship advice columnist Dan Savage, historian Stephanie Coontz, author Christopher Ryan, and evolutionary biologist David Barash. Of these contributors, Barash is given the least screen time. He is allowed to provide a brief description of classic sexual selection theory, noting the problem of paternity uncertainty for males, and that because of differences between sperm and eggs, males can have larger fitness payoffs by being more promiscuous than females generally can. The narrator, however, dismisses this idea, announcing that there’s a “big issue” with it (more on this later).

Ryan gets the most screen time, and the video devotes most of its time and energies to the promotion of his ideas, sometimes to comical effect. Ryan argues for the importance of sperm competition among humans—the idea that females throughout our evolutionary history were having sex with multiple males in quick succession, leading to competition between different men’s sperm to fertilize a woman’s eggs. He makes the claim that human testicle size is “intermediate” between that of gorillas, and chimpanzees and bonobos (among primates, greater sperm competition is associated with larger testicle size). As he says this, a graphic appears showing Human (34g), Gorilla (23g), Chimpanzee (149g), and Bonobo (168g) testicle size.

Vox’s image on Primate testicle size.

Saying human testicle size is “intermediate” between gorillas, and chimps and bonobos, is like saying Lebron James (2.03 m) is intermediate in height between Peter Dinklage (1.32 m) and three basketball hoops stacked on top of each other (9.15 m).

The fact that both chimps and bonobos have such large testicles means we can tentatively infer that our Last Common Ancestor before our lineage split from theirs likely had large testicles as well. If anything, this points to a significant decline in testicle size over the course of human evolutionary history, as sperm competition became less important and humans transitioned to pair-bonding.

Funnily enough, in the source from which Vox sources its testicle size data, the volume Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems (2009), primatologist Alan F. Dixson argues against the ideas Ryan describes regarding sperm competition in humans. Dixson writes that, “the assumption that sperm competition has played a significant role in the evolution of the genus Homo is not supported by extensive comparative studies of the reproductive anatomy and behaviour of extant primates.”

Dixson further adds that, “Human testes sizes are unexceptional and consistent with an evolutionary history which involved pair formation or polygyny as the principal mating system. Sperm competition pressure would have been low under these circumstances.”

In the video, Ryan also presents a fairly gentle picture of communal caregiving in hunter-gatherer societies, claiming that “If a child is crying, the adult nearest to that child picks it up. Nobody says, ‘Hey, Hey, your kid’s crying!’ There is a commonality to parenthood among hunter-gatherers.” The narrator then goes on to describe partible paternity (the idea that a child can have more than one father), which is found among a number of Amazonian societies.

Now, let’s compare Ryan’s claims with an excerpt from anthropologists Kim Hill and Ana Magdalena Hurtado’s work on the Ache of Paraguay. The Ache are hunter-gatherers, and also believe in partible paternity. Hill and Hurtado interview an Ache boy, who says that:

Bejaro-the-killer was really mean. Really really mean. He came back from hunting and heard my brother crying. My brother was crying a lot and wouldn’t shut up. Then Bejaro slammed him against a tree. He slammed him and he was dead. My mother was crying when my father returned from hunting. My father didn’t do anything. He was upset. He didn’t do anything. He was really afraid of Bejaro-the-killer. Bejaro was really strong. (Hill & Hurtado, 444)

Among the Ache, children whose fathers have died are also significantly more likely to be killed by adult men than children with fathers. This is precisely because people often don’t want to care for other people’s children. Further, despite what you may expect, having lots of fathers doesn’t necessarily help increase survival. As Hill and Hurtado write:

Presumably women who produced children with more than two fathers greatly reduced the confidence of paternity for all the candidate fathers and risked losing parental investment altogether. Probably for this reason children with three or more fathers appear to have fared worse than those with only one or two fathers. (Hill and Hurtado, 444)

Notice that this corroborates what David Barash had to say about the problem of paternal uncertainty, and which the Vox narrator casually dismissed.

Hill and Hurtado add that the personal stories they hear from the Ache themselves “suggest the theme of never-ending conflict between men and women over spreading of potential paternity and the production of extra children outside the marriage.” For example, an Ache child says:

My uncle was disliked [by the speaker’s father]. My dad would split his brother open and knock him down with a bow. After some point in time my father never liked his brother any more. He hated him. (My uncle) would have sex with his (my dad’s) wife. My father never liked again the one that used to have sex with his wife. He would club fight with a bow then. In the forest they would club fight with bows. (Hill and Hurtado, 443)

Another society that believes in partible paternity are the Mehinaku of Brazil. During the video, after Barash’s brief discussion of the kind of sex differences we might predict in the light of traditional sexual selection theory, the narrator criticizes his explanation, saying, “But there’s one big issue with that explanation of promiscuous, possessive men and demure women. At lots of points of time in places of the world people didn’t follow it.” As she says this, images of a number of individuals and societies are displayed and labelled for the viewer, one of which is the Mehinaku.

The main source of information on the Mehinaku is anthropologist Thomas Gregor. In Gregor’s work, we in fact see an affirmation of the “traditional story,” briefly mentioned by Barash, before being waved away by Ryan and the narrator. Gregor writes that:

“All men,” Ketepe informs me, “like sex. But women are different.” My data supports Ketepe’s belief to the extent that sexuality has a somewhat different meaning for the women than it does for the men. Men are more overtly sexual, and hence it is possible for women to use their sexuality to secure food and support in exchange for intercourse. (Gregor, 33)

Gregor expands on this, and describes how Mehinaku social norms and ideology police female sexuality:

Moreover, women are subject to repressive beliefs and practices that confine and even suffocate their sexual natures. From an early age, a girl knows that she is “just a girl” and in many respects inferior to boys. As she matures, she learns that her vagina is “smelly” and “disgusting.” She must take care that others do not see it when she sits or walks. With her first menses, she discovers that she is a danger to others. She can be held responsible for contaminating food, defiling sacred rituals, and making men sick. When she enters the network of sexual affairs, she finds that she must comport herself carefully. A casual boyfriend may seize on any unusual or uninhibited conduct in sexual relations and joke about it among his friends. One of the reasons that a woman expects gifts of her lovers is that a token of commitment is insurance that she will not be denigrated in village gossip. Even discreet sexual relationships are risky, however, since pregnancy is known to be painful and dangerous. A Mehinaku woman’s sexuality is thus linked to a sense of inferiority to men, to feelings of disgust about the genitalia, to concern about menstrual contamination, and to fear of unwanted pregnancy. (Gregor, 33)

Exactly as Barash said, and pace Ryan and the narrator, we see strong male coercion and control of female sexuality, and comparatively ‘demure’ women (though in this circumstance, we see the role of culture in enforcing this). The Mehinaku have a strongly masculine culture, with male self-worth tied characteristics such as height and body size and skills in wrestling. The Mehinaku are one of a number of strongly patriarchal societies that have ‘men’s cults.’ Women who challenge the status quo or glance at the men’s sacred instruments are threatened with gang rape. If this society is supposed to be an example of people not following ‘traditional’ gender roles, then it’s only an example insofar as they represent one of the more extreme manifestations of such behaviors.

Despite the glamorized picture of partible paternity painted by the video, as we can see with the Mehinaku, there is often still some male control over female sexuality. In a review article, anthropologist Robert S. Walker and his colleagues write that among societies with partible paternity, there is the “common theme of men allowing sexual license to wives among special male friends (e.g., Arara, Arawete, Canela, and Guaja), among real and classificatory brothers (e.g., Curripaco, Matis, Wanano, and Yanomami), and between fathers and sons (Matis).” Beliefs about partible paternity are often used by males to benefit male coalitions between friends and kin. Further, Walker et al. add that, “higher-status men…can garner female attention through better gifts, good health, and social capital. Partible paternity beliefs allow these men to father more offspring with more women and fewer repercussions (i.e., lower risk of retaliation or infanticide by jealous husbands).”

Among the Mehinaku, in Gregor’s (admittedly small) sample, the four taller, highest status males had more than double the amount of sexual partners on average than the 11 shorter, lower status males. Rather than reducing mating inequality, partible paternity tends to exacerbate it, with males having even larger variance in reproductive success in these societies, with high-status males often reaping the benefits.

There is a reason why anthropologist Joseph Henrich describes normative monogamy as “sexual egalitarianism.” It’s not that a monogamous marriage itself is unique—across the vast majority of societies, the majority of marriages have nearly always been monogamous—the key difference is primarily in the way normative monogamy acts to prevent polygyny, through social norms and legal enforcement. The main alternative to monogamy throughout history has not been an egalitarian, polyamorous free for all, but rather a relatively small number of elite males having multiple, sometimes even dozens, of wives. There are rare examples of polyandry being practiced, as I described here, but they are generally restricted to very specific socioecological conditions (such as a highly skewed sex ratio, high male mortality, extended male absence, or among brothers to maintain land inheritance) that don’t often co-occur.

In the Ethnographic Atlas, 85 percent (1041 out of 1231) of societies are coded as practicing at least occasional polygyny, with 15 percent (186 out of 1231) practicing only monogamy, and less than one percent (4 out of 1231) practicing polyandry.

Towards the end of the video, we hit aggressive levels of self-parody, when the narrator implies that the idea of sexual selection represented a Victorian-era conspiracy by patriarchal male scientists, and that monogamy is a “made up construct” and a “way to enforce gender roles”.

Yet, as Henrich and his colleagues persuasively argue, “In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses.” Henrich et al. sum up their argument, writing that:

We propose that the unusual package of norms and institutions that constitute modern monogamous marriage systems spread across Europe, and then the globe, because of the package’s impact on the competitive success of the polities, nations and religions that adopted this cultural package. Reducing the pool of unmarried men and levelling the reproductive playing field would have decreased crime, which would have spurred commerce, travel and the free flow of ideas and innovations.

Normative monogamy seems to have important group-level benefits, and tends to reduce the kinds of harmful behaviors associated with greater intrasexual competition, among both males and females.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, women are twice as likely to justify wife-beating as men are, and “the odds of women justifying IPVAW [intimate partner violence against women] more than men increased with increasing country polygamy rate.” If polygyny exacerbates intrasexual competition, then women may be more likely to support norms of intimate partner violence against co-wives or other women they’re competing with. And, as I noted in a previous article for Quillette, on the behavioral ecology of male violence:

There are other socioecological factors where we see an association with lethal conflict, such as the link between polygyny and war. Terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram and ISIS have exploited marriage inequality among young males by paying the brideprice (money or gifts given to a potential wife’s family), or providing wives, for recruits in the Middle East and West Africa.35 When some males monopolize access to wealth or mates, young males who are left out may behave violently to try and distinguish themselves, competing for control of such resources.

Despite the claims in the video that marrying for love is a recent phenomenon in human history, there are plenty of examples of it occurring across societies, even where marriages are usually arranged. The Kurnai of Australia had an expansive kinship system that classified many unrelated, nearby individuals as close relatives. They also had strong prohibitions against incest, and the punishment for violating them could be severe beatings or death. In such circumstances, there were numerous accounts of young women and men, who were considered ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ fleeing and eloping, while risking being killed by angry relatives. In some cases they’d spend a year ostracized, only to return a year later with a child, and grudgingly brought back into the fold. These were couples who loved each other so much, they were willing to risk being killed by their own family to be together.

Someone who fails to follow prescribed marriage rules may receive strong objections from their kin, yet you can find examples of this across numerous cultures. As anthropologist Bruce Knauft writes in his work on The Gebusi (2015) of New Guinea:

These “unreciprocated” unions provoke strong objections from the young woman’s fathers and brothers. But the young couple can prevail if the woman is strong willed or runs away with her new husband. Though the parents or brothers of the woman get upset and might beat her if they find her, many of these romantic unions endure and are ultimately accepted as marriages. (Knauft, 70)

Marrying for love isn’t new: what’s new is that people in the West today tend to have much greater freedom to do so. In his volume on The Dobe Ju/’hoansi (2013) hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari Desert, Richard Lee writes that:

All first marriages are arranged by parents, and the girls have little say in the matter. If the choice is unpopular, the girls will show their displeasure by kicking and screaming, a way of asserting their independent voice in decision making against the alliance of parents and potential husband. If they protest long and hard enough, the marriage will be called off. (Lee, 89)

Some young girls have even attempted suicide in order to get out of arranged marriages. Lee notes that close to half of all first marriages fail, and that the early periods of marriage are often turbulent. However, he also adds that:

…this level of conflict is not sustained indefinitely. After the initial stormy period Ju/′hoan couples usually settle down in a stable long-term relationship that may last 20 or 30 years or more, terminating in the death of one or another spouse. There is ample evidence that Ju men and women develop deep bonds of affection, though it is not the custom of the Ju/′hoansi to openly display it. Successful marriages are marked by joking and ease of interaction between the partners. Only about 10 percent of marriages that last five years or longer end in divorce. (Lee, 90)

We can see that the practice of arranged marriages, commonly found all over the world, primarily to form alliances or for economic reasons, often does impede a person’s ability to choose a partner for themselves. Yet even in societies with more coercive marriage practices, you find numerous examples of people rebelling against kin obligations, and prevailing norms, to marry for love.

The Himba pastoralists of Namibia have both arranged marriages chosen by kin, and ‘love matches’ determined by personal choice. While the Himba have a significant amount of ‘extra-pair births’ and high rates of adultery, there are striking differences between couples in arranged marriages compared to those in ‘love matches.’ Anthropologist Brooke A. Scelza found that, “In this sample, 31.8 percent of Himba women had at least one extra-pair (omoka) birth during their lifetime. This accounts for 17.6 percent of all marital births.” However, despite this high-rate, “Women in ‘love matches’ were significantly more faithful to their husbands than women in arranged marriages. There were no omoka children born within love matches (0 of 79), compared with 23.2 percent omoka children from arranged marriages.”

People often choose to be in monogamous pairings. Despite the perception that monogamy is coercive, overall normative monogamy constrains the behavior primarily of higher-status males, seemingly to the benefit of the rest of society.

Rather than explaining monogamy, the Vox video portrays it as something alien and largely useless. It seems like this particular narrative was deliberately chosen before a frame of video had been shot. The expert they interviewed who got much of the detail right was David Barash, yet he was given the least screen time. I suspect they chose him because he wrote a book (which the makers of the video almost certainly did not read) called The Myth of Monogamy. But once they started talking to him they were perhaps disappointed to discover that the title refers to the historical prevalence of polygyny, and not the polyamorous utopia described by Christopher Ryan.

Near the beginning of the video, soon after asserting that humans are “terrible” at monogamy, the narrator asks a central question: “Why would humans all around the world invent a rule that’s so difficult to follow, and treat breaking as such an enormous betrayal?”

I’m not sure humans are actually “terrible” at monogamy. Rather, the difficulty often lies in finding the right person, and the cultural norms and socioecological conditions that effectively promote it. Nonetheless, the question the Vox narrator asked is a fair one, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the video never attempted to answer it. We can ask this question about any number of other social norms and institutions found all over the world, such as prohibitions against theft, violence, corruption, or lying. It’s easy for many people to understand why those sorts of behaviors would be forbidden: they’re bad for society, they’re bad for the people being hurt, cheated, or deceived, they set bad examples for everyone else, etc. It’s a shame that Vox was unwilling to consider the possibility that normative monogamy fulfilled a similar function.

 

William Buckner is a student of Evolutionary Anthropology at UC Davis. He is interested in cultural evolution and understanding human conflict patterns across cultures. He can be followed on Twitter @Evolving_Moloch

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97 Comments

  1. It’s Vox. One can hardly be surprised. They’re married (see what i did there?) to their agenda. The dishonesty of calling obvious propaganda an, “explanation,” is precisely why the term “fake news” is so popular these days. Sad!

  2. MF says

    If your portrayal of the Vox series is correct, it brings out some of the worst in interdisciplinary work. There is a tendency in poor interdisciplinary work for one side, usually the less rigorous of the two involved, to co-opt the empirical strength of the other discipline to prop-up its own narrative.

    In this case, the Vox team is using a very small portion of Brash’s work to add a veneer of scientific respectability to their argument. As the author here explores, Vox’s team either were ignorant of Brash’s broader argument or simply choose to ignore the pieces that countered their argument. They were more than happy however to include Brash insofar as he strengthened their scientific credibility with what he presented, but were willing to exclude the parts that did not.

    Its a depressing state of affairs, since the idea of being interdisciplinary is to attempt to present a more holistic understanding of an issue that crosses multiple disciplines.

    • Peter says

      It is true and you are right. Look up any (ANY!) Vox video online and you’ll see that they do not ask questions, they only want you to believe their answer. They are the most dishonest people ever and they hate society.

    • ccscientist says

      Since there is no truth but only competing “narratives”, this is a dandy way to proceed /sarc

  3. Ian says

    I have always imagined that a future polygamous society, would birth people in labs and have sex for entertainment, while everyone makes it their duty to never neglect anyone, thereby restricting violent reactions from people in pain. Or at least something like that, where we live in the future.
    Because of this, I find it strange that anyone would look to the past, and consider things from the past to be good arguments for how humans should behave in the future.

    “… then women may be more likely to support norms of intimate partner violence against co-wives or other women they’re competing with.”
    I have my doubts that educated people would do this. Or people with a happy upbringing. In which case, such evil can be extinguished.

    • Shenme Shihou says

      I wouldnt be so sure. Evolutionary psycologist Gad Saad argues that the #1 factor of child abuse is a step parent in the home.

      • Jonathan says

        Data strongly supports this in the Unites States. The Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, for example, reports that abuse is 10 times more likely with a step-parent living in the home, and 20 times more likely with an unmarried partner present.

        Full report linked below:

        https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/nis4_report_congress_full_pdf_jan2010.pdf

        See particularly section 5.3.2: “Differences in the Incidence of Endangerment Standard
        Maltreatment Related to Family Structure and Living Arrangement” on page 5-30.

        Another study (link below), using data from Missouri, concluded that “child death resulting from inflicted injuries” (murder) is nearly 50 times more likely when “young children reside in a household with unrelated adults” (step-parent, boyfriend, etc.).

        http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/5/e687

        • Micha Elyi says

          #1 likeliest abuser is bio-mom. If someone else abuses, bio-mom is enabler #1.

      • markbul says

        More accurately, it’s the presence of the man in the child’s life during the first three years. If they aren’t there then, they don’t see the child as family.

    • Tradition, the democracy of the dead, as Chesterton put it. Makes sense to me to look to an effective past.

    • Hi, this happens in third world countries amongst well educated women. I’m from Nigeria and it’s really not that hard to imagine something like that here,where the male is basically treated like a good, especially amongst the Muslims.

      • Micha Elyi says

        In America “well educated women”also treat men like a good, an economic good, not like a full human being.

    • Ursus Maritimus says

      Ian said
      “I find it strange that anyone would look to the past, and consider things from the past to be good arguments for how water molecules should behave in the future.”

      Anyone who says “why should we look to experiments in the past to see how bridges, or engines, or cats, or potatoes, or mathematics, or whatever should behave in the future.” is a fantasist who should be kept away from things that matter.

  4. Jack B. Nimble says

    “………..People often choose to be in monogamous pairings. Despite the perception that monogamy is coercive, overall normative monogamy constrains the behavior primarily of higher-status males, seemingly to the benefit of the rest of society……….”

    I think that Buckner is right here, except that I would change ‘rest of society’ to ‘rest of the adult males.’

    To some degree, we can interrogate past cultures regarding variance in male and female reproductive success [RS] with genetic data. In a hypothetical perfectly monogamous species, the variance in male RS should equal that among females, whereas in polygynous societies, male variance in RS can greatly exceed female variance. Y-chromosome data suggest that pastoral nomadic cultures in Asia, for example, were characterized by large variance in male RS:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4430317/

    Buckner’s last paragraph tiptoes around something that should be stated outright: in many ancient cultures for which we have written records [the Bible, for example], daughters were considered to be the property of their fathers until marriage, when they became the property of their husbands. Violations of sexual norms were largely viewed in the same light as property crimes like theft or cheating. For example, rape was treated primarily as a property crime, with the rapist being forced to marry the woman he had raped. An unmarried woman who was raped was otherwise not marriageable and thus would have been an economic burden on her father.

    • Crispin Robinson says

      “………..People often choose to be in monogamous pairings. Despite the perception that monogamy is coercive, overall normative monogamy constrains the behavior primarily of higher-status males, seemingly to the benefit of the rest of society……….”

      One could just as easily come to the conclusion that normative monogamy constrains the behaviour of hypergamous females… Perhaps it constrains the worst excesses of both sexes…

    • Micha Elyi says

      You are wrong about the Bible and ancient societies, Nimble. No, females were not “considered to be the property of their fathers until marriage” but I see how you would make such a simpleminded error. You try to shoehorn ancient societies you do not understand into a modern secularist understanding of words and phrases like “property”, “sexual norms”, and “rape”.

      • True. It’s probably more accurate to say that women were under the protection and care of their fathers than they were their property in the sense that slaves or items might be.

  5. I can’t help but read male SJW/feminist behaviors as a reproductive strategy. I have only my observations to go on, not any real research, but it would be intereting to see if any qualified scientists have reached the same conclusion.

    • Johan says

      @K…Joe Rogan (JRE podcast) constantly says this…Beta males only shot at getting laid…

    • Rob says

      When I covered student politics for the campus newspaper, the male activists were engaged in what I’d call rapid serial monogamy.

      Jian Ghomeshi, the Canadian broadcaster who had several sexual assault charges brought against him, was the social justice champion during his student days, leading the students union, welcome in the feminist clubs, and always surrounded by young women.

      So yeah, it absolutely is a mating strategy, and a very effective one.

      • It’s possible that (a very small minority of) men may pretend to be feminists in order to “score” with more women. Obviously, abusive partners don’t punch a woman out on the first date, but instead woo her with old-fashioned charm. And abusers groom victims; even those who don’t will act very respectably to throw people off the scent, as indeed most smart criminals do. So I guess K could be right that a minority of women pretend to be feminists as a mating strategy, perhaps to weed out abusive men and only get together with safe men or men who share their values. But you could say that for any political opinion, religion, belief, identity, sport or hobby. Don’t most people prefer partners (and friends) who share at least some of their values? So unless explored further, I don’t see this as a particularly insightful idea.

        • My comment wasn’t as clear as it could have been. I was talking about male feminists using the trappings of feminism in order to gain access to potential mates.

  6. This strikes me as a pretty fair-minded and balanced critique, and the author makes some solid points. In Sex at Dawn, we present far more evidence than the admittedly unconvincing “intermediate” testicular volume in support of ancestral promiscuity (penis morphology, repeated thrusting movement, frequent non-reproductive sexual behavior, female multiple orgasm, female copulatory vocalization, etc.), so our argument is quite a bit more comprehensive than what the Vox piece could present in a few minutes. (And, for what it’s worth, I agree that the piece would have benefitted from giving Dr. Barash more screen time and less to me.)

    As for the parenting issue, the anthropological literature is rich with examples of pretty much anything you’d care to argue. Our book has dozens of examples of foragers (and bonobos) caring communally for young. Sarah Hrdy’s writing on this is well-respected among anthropologists, as I’m sure the author is aware. The notion that foraging societies are and were deeply interdependent and egalitarian is well-established and not, despite the examples of abuse cited here, a subject of much dispute among experts.

    Still, there are many unanswered questions concerning the evolutionary roots of human behavior, and I appreciate Mr. Buckner’s perspective.

    • Your comment reminds me of a world I once knew. Where has that world gone, I wonder?

      Kudos to you for such a decent reply.

    • Johan says

      @ Christopher Ryan…Nice of you. Well behaved.

    • Honest Question for you: are there examples in human cultures of men sincerely and lovingly caring for, and raising long-term, children that they know are not their own? Broadly, across all swaths of the society?

      Given the spectrum of temperament for men, I personally find this unfathomable. Which makes me curious.

      • Yes. We discuss this at some length in Sex at Dawn. The Mosuo of China are a solid example of a society in which men raise their sisters’ children and have little or no role in raising their biological children.

        • David says

          I remember there being an African tribe where the males raised the children whilst females hunted. Yet on further investigation it was found that the males were raising the children to simply raise their status with females. A different behaviour expressed by the sexual selection motivation.

          From an evolutionary perspective, males raising their sister’s offspring will still provide evolutionary benefit for genetic survival, although greatly diluted.

          Could the Mosuo be an example of R/K selection?

        • Robert Paulson says

          @Christopher Ryan,

          That would be the uncles looking after the their nieces and nephews, so they are still related through close kinship. Do you know if any examples where men communally raise children, even those whom they have no familial relation to?

          • You have to keep in mind that in small h/g bands, people are all related to some extent. The gene pool is not sufficient for there to be children who have no genetic overlap with the adults. So the examples you’re asking for really cannot exist. But it’s clear that many societies don’t value kinship over other forms of relatedness, like belonging to the same clan, for example. The assumption that genetic relatedness trumps all other forms of social organization in all human societies appears to be unwarranted.

          • Henry A. says

            Just like your analysis of the Ache, I think such view of Musuo lacks depth. While on the surface it looks one way, a more rigorous approach highlights something different.
            https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aman.12125

            However, it is true there is no stated obligation for the father to care for its own children, especially since he is already *forced* to care for his sister’s (but the fact they still often do says a lot in favor of a biological approaches)
            Also, the Musuo women often have a single partner at a time which can last a lifetime. Now, I can grant you that there is no moral pressure against promicuity (though it only makes your case weaker).

            Lastly even on a logical standpoint, your thesis has a problem: you say
            ” The assumption that genetic relatedness trumps all other forms of social organization in all human societies appears to be unwarranted. ”

            But in society you admit to be genetically homogeneous ( ” You have to keep in mind that in small h/g bands, people are all related to some extent ” ), the fact that bloodline, in the form of sister’s children, trumps is actually in your disavantage.

            In addition of all that, you also have to fight against statistics and trends: 85% of societies are more centered around polygyny VS less than 1% practice polyandry. Exceptions, especially flawed ones, cannot repel statististics.

    • Bill says

      I’ve gone back and forward on this issue for awhile since I feel there is probably (or there will be) a preferable alternative to the current “least bad option” of monogomy but the biggest issue that keeps me from not endorsing an alternative to it is the practical issue of “high status” males hoarding multiple mistresses and a massive increase in desperate low status males, almost of whom will suffer in some way from a shortage of mates and some of whom may resort to violence.

      What would be your answer/solution to the idea of issue of extreme “sexual inequality” that could result from jettisoning monogomy, especially in a time where some men have enormous wealth they can use to support multiple wives which other males can’t hope to compete with?

    • AARON D JENSEN says

      Chris your a class act, and I have long appreciated your counter narrative on this topic.

    • Very good of you to leave a comment. Cheers. I do tend to agree with Buckner’s overall thesis here, as I have personally witnessed in several communities that the absence of monogamy and exclusive pairings does tend to merely produce a society of high status males with multiple female partners, not the equitable polyamorous free for all that many expected, and that monogamy is quite obviously a large developmental benefit to societal success, despite its problems. (The fact that we have to seek out far less developed societies to find data on normalized non-monogamy should have perhaps been a giveaway). Regardless, very nice of you to pop by with a civil addendum. Happy fathers day and/or your dad.

  7. Supra says

    This show popped up in my suggestions on Netflix last night. As soon as I saw “Vox” I immediately decided not to waste my time. They would kill a small child if they thought that it would benefit their agenda.

  8. Alex Popkin says

    This is an excellent article: thorough research, numerous citations, clarity and careful attention to detail. It thoroughly demolishes the video from Vox, and after reading this, no intelligent person could possibly take the video seriously.

    Past experience tells us, however, that there’s no chance of Vox acknowledging the well-founded criticism made against them or admitting any mistakes. I’m glad that Buckner said the video is close to self-parody. The same could be said for almost anything that Vox coughs up.

    To read a thorough demolition of Vox in its entirety, see “Explaining it all to you” in Current Affairs, Nov. 2016.

    https://www.currentaffairs.org/2016/11/explaining-it-all

    • OleK says

      That Current Affairs article is awesome.

  9. Franco León says

    Quite a civil reply sir. It’s surprising to find you here. (If it’s indeed you). Nevertheless it is good to see that you are able to leave the door open for discussion. The author does it at the end of the article, and you do it in your comment. It’s actually heartening.
    If there is consensus to be built here, is that we ought to have the right to pursue our sexual and sentimental happines the way we see fit. Then the argument is what model is better for society.
    I, personally, have no problem with people proposing a new way of doing things, who believe monogamy is either a failure or does not work for all (though i disagree). The thing with Vox is the dishonesty with wich they presented the subject.
    For instance, instead of “Monogamy explained” as title it would have been better “Why Monogamy is a failure”, so that the espectator would know where Vox stands.
    What we need is an honest discussion around the subject.
    I’m glad to see that it may be possible.

  10. Bobster34 says

    What is doubly strange is that they seemed to have chosen this narrative solely in response to a comment by Jordan Peterson.

    I can’t see why exactly that narrative should be considered “progressive.”

    • Robert Paulson says

      I had a far-left anthro professor whose goal seemed to be to “debunk” every traditional Western institution for its own sake: “See, marriage is arbitrary since some booga-booga tribe in the middle of the forest has polygamy!” Although she never explicitly said so, the implication was that the mere existence of such alternative arrangements somehow invalidated traditional Western ones. It revealed a deep intellectual laziness since she was unwilling or unable to explore the differences between things beyond simply noting their existence and concluding the ways of the “noble savages” were superior to ours.

  11. Dan Meisels says

    Great read I love the debunking of the noble freelove savage. I only worry that that vast majority of the people that watch the Vox show will never read it. I wonder if Vox will bother to pen a rebuttal. Probably not as it would bring critical attention to their new show, but if they want to be intellectually honest they would. What ever they do you Mr. William Buckner are crushing it; top marks to you and to Quillette for giving you an outlet.

    • Robert Paulson says

      At the time of writing, the video has 29K likes and 4.8K dislikes. It makes me sad to think of people using this kind of nonsense to justify bad behavior in their personal lives. I’ve known some people that rationalized cheating on their partners with the “humans just weren’t meant to be monogamous” argument.

  12. Extremely interesting topic. While I don’t follow Vox whatsoever I do follow Chistopher Ryan’s blog and was really impressed by his comment here. I echo other commenter’s assertion that that kind interplay is sorely missing in this Twitter/Social Network world.

    Being a stodgy Victorian-type myself the whole topic of polygyny fascinates me, in a kind of dirty magazine sort of way. However, I believe the benefits of monogamy for men, women, children and society outweigh the negatives by a long shot.

    • Stephen Smith says

      Having listened to the man on several podcasts, he comes across consistently as a reasonble, good humored, intelligent, lovely guy. Some of the very best podcasts Joe has done over the years has been with Chris, weaving yarns about all manner of life experiences. His post above just reinforces my view that the man is a class act. I feel similarly about how he handled the criticism that came from the Weinsteins out of Evergreen on Joe’s podcast. I should add that despite what I say below, on a personal level, I have no issue with anyone exploring their sexual lives in anyway they see fit as long as it involves consenting adults. I imagine society would be quite dull and boring if we all hewed to the same sexual template so to speak. I just believe that in a larger, macro sense, societies built upon such foundations (the noble free love savage as someone posted earlier) would crumble fast, or at best be inherently unstable.

  13. Stephen Smith says

    I first heard of Chris Ryan listening to Dan Savage’s Podcast, and while I’m a big fan of the man, the second he mentioned the books premise I called bullblank. Maybe it’s simply being a History Teacher and a life long learner in the field, but it doesn’t take any time at all to realize the inherent instability in societies that might reflect Ryan’s theories (or rather dreams). Later I heard the ideas expounded upon in numerous Joe Rogan Podcasts with Ryan.

    Ryan comes off as a charming, good humored, lovely man. He also comes off as someone completely and thoroughly full of it on the topic. Perhaps it’s too denigrating to suggest as much, but I found Ryan’s book and his discussion on Rogan as far more suggestive of someone who came up with a hypothesis that explained his own behavior, urges,and desires without judgment or condemnation, and then built a book around researching justifications for said behavior.

    The points and arguments I’ve heard him make, and now apparently being made by netflix are yet another example of my fellow liberals ignoring science when it doesn’t suit their interests, something as many have commented on before that they rip the conservative right for doing on issues like global warming. It’s absolutely infuriating that my friends on the left seem bound and determined to do disinengenuous things of this sort, although at least in this case, it doesn’t seem particularly dangerous to the country as a whole, but rather just to individual social relationships, and personal growth.

    • Thanks for your kind comments, though it’s hard for me to understand why anyone would claim we “ignored the science” in Sex at Dawn when the whole book is structured as a response to said science. From my perspective, it’s “absolutely infuriating” when people who don’t like our conclusions accuse us of being disingenuous, rather than pointing out specific holes in our argument — of which there are many, I’m sure.

      The idea that I wrote a book to get laid is one that always makes me laugh. It’s like building a helicopter to clean the gutters.

      We don’t argue that people should behave in any particular way. We simply argue that the mainstream view that people (especially women) are naturally monogamous flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and does great damage to those who feel that there’s something wrong with them because their own experience runs counter to what they’ve been told they “should” feel. As I’m sure you know, almost no other mammals have sex when the female is not fertile. The few exceptions (bonobos, chimps, dolphins) are all socially promiscuous. That alone should shift the burden of proof to those who claim we somehow evolved to be monogamous (or polygynous).

      • We all look forward to Mr. Ryan’s next popular science book, in which he argues that incest is natural, and how the mainstream view that says otherwise does great damage to those who feel that there’s something wrong with them because their experience runs counter to what they’ve been told they ‘should’ feel.

  14. Jonathan says

    Excellent article. Even better than Quillett’s usual very high quality.

  15. ga gamba says

    in many ancient cultures for which we have written records [the Bible, for example], daughters were considered to be the property of their fathers until marriage, when they became the property of their husbands.

    This is partially true. In some ancient cultures the sons too were the property of their fathers’. For example, the Romans had the concept of patria potestas. Whilst we are quick to remember a father’s daughter was put into an arranged marriage, our recall often forgets another father’s son was also put into that same arranged marriage. I suspect this is due to how feminist scholars and mass media over-egg the former and omit the latter. I concede that the son, unlike a daughter, would eventually become a master upon the father’s death, but for several decades of his life he too was subject to patria potestas.

    For example, rape was treated primarily as a property crime, with the rapist being forced to marry the woman he had raped. An unmarried woman who was raped was otherwise not marriageable and thus would have been an economic burden on her father.

    Since you mentioned the Bible, I figured we out to check to see what the Jews, or at least what many of them, have to say. Chabad is Orthodox so it’s is less likely to put a modern spin on things, but being very religious it’s more likely to advocate rather than attack.

    The victim is not required to marry the rapist; the rapist is required to marry his victim (if she consents), after paying her a very heavy fine.

    The author makes this point, which in the context of ye olden days makes sense: the rapist is required to indemnify her for three forms of damage: the indignity she suffered, the pain she endured and the loss she incurred. In all, this amounts to a hefty fine.

    In addition, the rapist is required to marry his victim, and is not permitted to divorce her without her consent. The Talmud explains that this obligation rests on the rapist, not the victim. She is under no obligation to marry him.

    Yes, she’s under no obligation, but understanding the context of her time, she also didn’t have other options, which the author states: The rapist thus perpetrated a double crime against his victim: he violated her dignity and compromised her future, for with the stigma of rape upon her, it would now be exceedingly difficult for her to marry. The Torah is concerned not only with the pain she suffered in the past, but with her vulnerability in the future. Should she find herself without prospects for marriage, and should she want this man as her husband, the Torah requires him to marry her.

    Through our modern lens this is horrifying, yet the Torah, knowing the crime can’t be undone, allows for the victim to pursue a normal life akin to other women by marrying, having children, rearing families, etc. if she chooses. And it also offers her the protection of refusing divorce to prevent her husband an out. We have to remember arranged marriages were the norm for both males and females, so each had little choice in these matters. I suspect such a religious law would have dissuaded some men from raping because it would have cost his family a lot of money and he is forced into marriage he may not want. It’s plausible in my mind such a law could have been exploited by star-crossed lovers whose families opposed a union. Concoct a rape and the couple is able to wed.

    And since I mentioned Romans earlier, how did they handle rape?

    For the Romans, the act of rape was covered under a variety of legal terms, but each of those words possessed wider definition fields than the modern word “rape.” Thus while charges of seduction, attempted seduction, adultery, abduction, or ravishment all covered rape, there was no legal charge consisting solely of rape itself. Similarly, determination of whether rape occurred greatly differs from Roman times to modern times. While in modern times, attention focuses mostly on the actions of the rapist and sometimes the victim, for the Romans, the occurrence of rape, the possibility of a legal charge, and also the punishment thereof, depended on the victim’s status. That is, what actually occurred did not have legal consequences unless the victim fit in a particular social category. Indeed, socio-political factors played a very important role
    as legislation on sexual activity underwent changes throughout the course of Roman history, and accordingly, the development and refinement of rape-relevant laws strongly reflected this influence.
    (Bold text mine)
    www(dot)repository(dot)law(dot)umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1084&context=mjgl

    Much of the paper aligns to our contemporary understanding of genuine patriarchal culture’s attitudes and practices regarding women’s lives and agency.

    Lastly, I think it ought to be mentioned there were long-ago families who had no sons. Some cultures would have the husband move into his wife’s home to take care of her parents in their elder years. In Albania there was the custom of a daughter transitioning into a male role, even wearing male clothes and affecting masculine traits, as she remained single to care for her parents. In cultures with strong filial piety, which even Europe once had though not to the extent of a Confucian culture, children were greatly concerned about the well being of their parents. It seems to me those who live in the post-industrial modern West with its nuclear families don’t have an appreciation of how strong this bond of obligation and respect is. Elders in the West are kind of seen as a burden. To the mass culture they’re invisible and ignored. Youth is what is celebrated. “I can always have more children, but I only have one mum and dad,” is something I’ve heard in East Asia but never in the West. I think the practice of parents so domineering their children’s lives in the olden days wouldn’t have been seen as oppressive as we see it today.

  16. Arthur says

    Is the author the guy who lost the 86 World Series?

  17. David says

    Didn’t one of the earliest studies conclude:
    Hogamous, Higamous,
    Man is Polygamous,
    Higamous, Hogamous,
    Woman is Monagamous

    • It’s a poem by William James, and it also used to be one of the pillars of evolutionary psychology until the data proved they were overwhelmingly wrong, after which they quietly dropped it, while never admitting they were wrong.

  18. morgan says

    Such a ridiculous video.
    Even if you believe their claims about monogamy, all their counter-examples were from primitive, undeveloped cultures. They even claim monogamy arose around the same time as agriculture. This viewpoint is in a lot of way fundamentally reactionary, reactionary to the point of regressing us to primitive tribes. The idea that our way of organizing ourselves at the most fundamental level, that of reproductive relationship, is somehow divorced from our success as a civilization is pure madness.

    I can’t imagine what they actually want. All “egalitarian” sexual practices lead to, as you’ve said, the top twenty percent of men with access to all the women, while most of the men go without, or take ‘leftovers’ (so to speak). They mentioned that famous quote about the tribesman who said they “care about all the children of their tribe equally” without regard for paternity. But what that masks is the fact that in those situations, most of the children are going to be the children of the top few men in the tribe. The rest of the men are simply caretakers of the children belonging to the top men, and this situation is only sustained by the fantasy of tribe = self. How do people not understand this simple reality?

    Arranged marriages honestly would be better than what we have today. They shouldn’t interfere with a relationship of love, if they are lucky enough to find someone. But for everyone else, this serial dating and serial “monogamy” culture is just asking for trouble, and likely the cause of great or impending civilizational decay.

    Also, I agree. “leveling the playing field” in all market-based circumstances tends to greatly improve the situation for everyone. Quillette is publishing leveler economics. I think you should be a little more honest and admit that enforce monogamy is literally gender/sexual EQUITY.

    • Written like a true member of Quillette’s target audience: “primitive cultures.”

      • dirk says

        Other terminology, time dependent: savage, natural (opp. cultured), but in the modern time of egalitarianism, is pre-modern still allowed? Anthropologist Levi-Strauss once came with a book title -Pensee Sauvage-, translated by The savage mind, also in the meantime not accepted anymore, I fear! Ohohoh, what should we write not to be offensive, and correct!?!
        I started my career in a backward nation, later hatched as a developing country, then became a partner country, but under Trump, I understand, again degenerated into a shithole nation.

    • Morti says

      Quite the contrary about the leveling. Long-term monogamy means the need of commitment and responsibility and makes a bad choice have dire consequences including the ruining of a whole life. This perfectly justifies women being picky because nobody wants a life ruined by some loser.

      In case of polyamorous or “open” relationships it’s less of an issue. If you have several partners having one more or less is no problem, so going in/out is less of an issue. Incels may actually get a bang from time to time.

    • ccscientist says

      “They mentioned that famous quote about the tribesman who said they “care about all the children of their tribe equally” without regard for paternity.” Note that in small tribes as in these examples, almost everyone is related. In some cases to get a wife the men would raid other villages because all the women in their village were cousins and off-limits. So in this case if you take care of any children they are probably nieces and nephews of some sort. As well, life is simple, with the kids just running around naked in the dirt. How would this work in the US? How would you take care of “all the children”? I guess that is what welfare is but it is impersonal and often leaves kids without a father, which hurts them developmentally. To hold this up as a model for life…words fail me.

  19. As always with evolutionary psychologists, the role of economics is almost completely ignored here. The only way you’re going to get the kind of monogamy Quillette editors, authors and its target audience want – women choosing less desirable men to marry in order to pacify the otherwise “incel” – is to reduce women’s economic opportunities.

    Sorry, right-wingers. Your dream society is identical to that of the Taliban’s.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban_treatment_of_women#Employment

    • Fred says

      Nancy, the queston arises however whether women could achieve economic opportunities in a society destabilized by gangs of marauding incels tearing up the streets, starting wars, and undermining the society generally.

    • Eoghan Gannon says

      The article comprehensively dismantles everything about the Vox video. Your talk of Taliban and incels is nearly as batty as that video

    • Fred says

      The article comprehensively dismantles everything about the Vox video. Your talk of Taliban and incels is nearly as batty as that video

    • Rob says

      If we look at it through the lens of economics, when women narrow their options to fewer men, what does that do to their bargaining power? We have examples of universities with a high ratio of women to men, and studies show things don’t go well for the women. The high-status men have a lot of options, which means they have little incentive to do any more than the minimum necessary to temporarily attract a partner. Meanwhile, the women have to make themselves very agreeable to the wants of the high-status men in order to out-compete the other women.

      Then there’s child-rearing. The great majority of women want to have children at some point. What does raising children alone do to women’s economic outcomes?

    • derek says

      Funny isn’t it that the Taliban accepts polygamy. Rich men can buy wives in number, per men can’t afford the dowries or may not be able to afford to support a wife and children. These are profoundly unstable societies, and much of his women live their lives is predicated on their vulnerability in the face of that instability.

      The reason that evolutionary biologists ignore economic is because economic timeframes are very short. The economic power of women that we see in the West is barely a generation old, and is riding on top of an existing economic system.

      These changes are not finished. As women see the lifetime costs and benefits of their decisions likely many adjustments will be made. But they all depend upon a growing economy where choice and opportunity allow the experimentation.

      It always comes down to where do the resources come from to feed and care for the children.

    • “Sorry, right-wingers. Your dream society is identical to that of the Taliban’s.”

      to start with, this is a totally obnoxious statement and almost certainly untrue; at best, it’s true that the solution some people want to the problems of today are actually untenable, but you’d go a lot farther towards making that argument if you cut the bullshit

      more to the point, honest question: let’s say that there are lots of less desirable men who nevertheless seek female companionship or even marriage and can’t find it. What’s your proposed solution to this problem, exactly? Just let them be lonely forever? And we’re not talking just about guys who go on mass shootings here or even hate women; those exist, but they’re not the entirety of “guys who can’t get laid”, as much as it might make you feel better to think that all losers are assholes, many of them aren’t.

    • Whether they do the “choosing” with the backing of numerous “economic opportunities” or not, the point is that women ALWAYS do the choosing. Monogamy works better for both men and women (and thus society as a whole) than polygamy.

  20. hamr says

    Nancy,
    I propose, that you miss the point of, “Quillette”.

  21. Morti says

    Nothing strange about it. Liberals are untraindividualists and they detest any but purely opportunistic short-term relationships between humans. Marriage is oppressive. You can’t self-express your self as freely anymore and you must commit.

    A polyamorous relationship in individualistic western society can be nothing but that. One more or one less partner can make little difference if you have 4 more to hang out with. Easy in and easy out. Pure hedonistic pleasure without duties and commitments since whenever it gets hard you can just jump the other boat.

    Some lucky bastards can even find themselves in more than one polyamorous group at the same time! So much fun!

    And paradoxically some incels should not be that afraid of that. No more “I have a girlfriend” problem and easy way in. Of course only half decent ones, but still it’ll rather make things easier since there is no need to set a bar high for a potential partner because of no lasting consequences of a bad choice.

    • ccscientist says

      Polyamory I think would be devastating for children. In such a system, when there is a child, who is on the hook for taking care of them to raise them to adulthood? Sounds like no one is. Only narcissists think polyamory is ok.

  22. Nicole says

    I find it dumbfounding that so many men view their own gender so poorly. Believing your gender incapable of self control, and yourself unable to influence the behavior of your fellow man must be incredibly painful. While I acknowledge the flaws of my own gender, I wholly believe that human beings are capable of being more than our base instincts, man and woman alike.

    • Rob says

      We know that societies that have high rates of economic inequality tend to have high rates of crime and violence. The poor, history has shown, find a way to get their pound of flesh from the rich, through the destruction of public property and street crime. Does recognizing this truth about human societies, and trying to mitigate it with public welfare and income redistribution, mean that we regard the poor as incapable of self-control?

      I’m not advocating any kind of coercion when it comes to monogamy. But we make choices, and individuals and as a society. We should be aware of the trade-offs and the likely outcomes of those choices. Societies with large numbers of unattached young men tend towards violence and lawlessness. Some point to the selective-abortion induced gender disparity in India, for example, for the rising incidence of rape and violent assault on women.

    • derek says

      Funny comment. My mother told me that men were more fragile than women. Pre abortion more boys were born but more girls survived into adulthood. Men died at a younger age than women. And she experienced how badly things can go for men, her father killed himself. Compared to the women she knew who faced very similar challenges but the results were different. She cared for my father in his dementia, and two sons through serious illness losing one of them as a child.

      She knew what men know. Men are capable and willing to carry extraordinary burdens at the cost of their lives, seeing her brother in law do that. She also knew that weak men are dangerous and have the strength to hurt.

      How high will you need to build your walls and how deep will your moat need to be when 20-30% of young men have no place? Thinking well or imagining better won’t change anything.

  23. dirk says

    I was brought up in a small village where divorce was unknown, didn’t happen, though it was known from certain men and women that they had affairs. Then, our government came forward with financial support for adult people without an income, thus also for divorced women with children, and all of a sudden, many women went for such a divorce, now. Yuval Harari explained that goverments in developed nations now take care for almost everything, where once the family and the village had to take care for, freeing people now to consume, feel free and do what they personally like most, also parents in their old age are no longer being taken care for, government does, governments now also take care for abused children. Recently, in our town, there was a demonstration of gay rights and other sexual splitgroupings, on boats in the canals, with one boat with a group of jolly dancing polyamorous ones, I didn’t know what it was, and looked it up on Google. On me, the demonstration came over as one of over-zealous expression of modernity, they could as well have demonstrated for veganism, flexitarianism , speciesism or other such new things.

  24. I learned to know and respect David Barash’s ideas about evolutionary psychology when he and I were both blogging for the now defunct Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog site, “Brainstorm,” and I was reading him regularly. That he would be given short shrift by those who think patriarchal societies are cultural constructs should come as no surprise. They should be called to account for the many flaws in their argument.

    What surprises me is reading the many comments on this thread that entirely ignore, or even seem to have contempt for, ideas about equality and the rights for women that go along with a commitment to justice for all. Quelle surprise! Almost all the comment on this article are made by men (poor noble Nancy, whoever she is, taking them all on by herself).

    Is it that hard for people to agree that patriarchy is rooted in the biological and psychological differences between the sexes and simultaneously think women should be free of control by men?

    Thinking about the human condition strictly in terms of “the nature of things” pleases a whole lot of romantics, women with the minds of Stepford wives, polygamists, and the many insecure men everywhere (including, of course, the gross and loathsome Incels who exist at the most pathetic end of the sexual male loser spectrum). Interestingly, however, the most passionate adherents to “the nature of things” argument are Roman Catholics, for whom “God said it, the Pope heard it, I believe it, that settles it.”

    The relation of the sexes started out with brute male force controlling weaker females, with females having only minimal control by choosing to mate with the strongest males. But then this strange thing called history happened: Societies emerged out of its mucky primitive state and evolved to the point where this thing called “love” emerged (love appears long before marrying for love–just look at the ancient Greek and Roman world’s many funerary dedications written by husbands to their wives). Later, much later, voila! There was this thing called the Enlightenment. Perhaps we would become more civilized if we spent more time thinking about this fact, and less time lost in thought about primitive human beings.

  25. ludlow says

    I recall reading somewhere that some 19 Century doctors authoritatively claimed higher education was bad for women because it would harm their reproductive systems. Today such claims are transparent and laughable.

    It’s heartening we aren’t having to wait a hundred years to see the bias shaping the Vox piece.

    I’m reminded of hearing otherwise educated people declare, “Biology is bunk” and “Romantic love was invented by the Victorians.” They didn’t mention who invented anger, grief, joy, or maternal love, and they seemed genuinely confused when I replied that it might be more accurate to say that, upon a bedrock of biology, significant layers of culture have been deposited and they’re sometimes difficult to distinguish.

  26. duckweed says

    Laurie,

    Speaking for myself, no, it’s not hard to see biological roots of things and simultaneously see a biological capacity for change and improvement and equally.

    That’s one flaw I found in Jordan Peterson’s lobster anecdote about hierarchies. (At least in the one video I watched.) I agree with him that they’re biological, but I wanted him to be more of a visionary, to point out that our biology contains all sorts of contradictions.

    I wished he’d given examples such as our raw, powerful, even violent impulses and the fact we evolved biological and cultural systems to inhibit them. Our biology can lead to someone committing murder and another person saying “Turn the other cheek.” Hierarchies are natural, but so is kindness. Just a little less common.

    • OleK says

      duckweed,

      Just listen to more of JBP’s podcasts and you’ll hear more examples about our cultural systems to inhibit raw, powerful, violent impulses. I can’t recall specific podcasts though – likely in his biblical lecture series.

      Also, I think some things people “hope” he does I think he just hasn’t gotten to yet but will.

    • derek says

      I think you misunderstand hierarchies. They are everywhere and necessary to a functioning society. Specialization of trade is a hierarchical arrangement and one party know more and is better at something, but the other party is better at something else. The courts are based on a hierarchy offset by a second hierarchical interest. Competition in a free market provides a limit to handle power, as does a vibrant labor market provides a check to the power of employers.

      Systems that don’t recognize the reality and utility of hierarchies stumble into toxic and violent tyrannies because they have no built in checks to tyranny.

  27. Pingback: Weekend Readings for June 7, 2018 – Verywhen

  28. Bubblecar says

    An interesting article, but one that actually reinforces what many of the feminists have been arguing – that male sexuality is often dangerous and destructive, and needs to be subject to very tight social control.

    It’s interesting to contrast this article with the one about “rape culture”. It could be argued that sexual morality and its legal enforcement is fundamentally concerned with minimising or containing an underlying rape culture, and that it doesn’t actually do a very good job of it.

    Further progress may only be possible in a transhumanist future, where human sexuality – particularly male sexuality – is modified or even deleted at a species level, via biotechnological intervention of some kind.

    • dirk says

      Like castration, or, maybe, lobotomy. With modern lab methods, you need only 1 male for 1000 females, so,there is ample selection choice in wanted male DNA (not too dominant of course, that would be counterproductive).

      • Bubblecar says

        No, I’m talking about future techniques that modify the fundamental human genetic recipe.

        If there comes a day when humanity can leave sexuality behind, we will then need to ask: does the value (if any) of human sexuality outweigh the many problems it causes?

        One obvious point would be that many people find sexual behaviour pleasurable, but that’s a simple matter of cause and effect: we find it pleasurable only because we’re genetically programmed to find it pleasurable.

        I find it easy to imagine a non-sexual human species that enjoys far more pleasure, affection and companionship in less primitive and problematic ways.

        • dirk says

          If I may believe Johan, in Sweden this exists already, thanks to a strict a-sexual education from the toddler age onwards in children kindergarten (because mum is working and emancipated, so, no time for the baby after the 3 month afterbirth allowance), and all this in the present, non transhumanist society. This is Europe.

          • dirk says

            Sorry, I hear it’s more than a full yr for mum, plus an extra 3 months for dad, what a luxury.

        • Dan says

          The transhumanist angle is very interesting. As society trends towards a state where our minds define our identities more than our bodies, this is plausible. However, one of the considerations that is often ignored is that part of existence involves tasks whereby we subjugate our own identity for the good of the other or the community. Child-rearing is one of the greatest constraints on personal autonomy, and not something I could see a non-sexual transhumanist society willfully undertaking. It gets complex, of course. But sexuality and reproduction are biologically interlinked, and we simply don’t know whether engineering the removal of one will consequentially remove the other.

          • dirk says

            That sounds Schopenhauer, the pessimist and gynofoob, but savant of human behaviour and drives. He saw sexuality and romantic love as a trick needed for human reproduction, without which men and women would never become so stupid to marry and be locked in matrimony for life.

          • “As society trends towards a state where our minds define our identities more than our bodies…”

            Gnostic belief systems that reject physicality in favor of “spirituality” and that denigrate the body and sexuality have come to the fore in several times and places, including late-Roman Alexandria, 10th century Bulgaria and 11th-century Provence, and have been present in some form in the West since the inception of Christianity.

        • Algator says

          Are you aware that you’re expressing, in a 21st century idiom, Saint Augustine’s lament about sexual reproduction, from The City of God? Of course Augustine would be horrified by your proposal to perfect nature through technological means rather than by means of grace.

  29. Okaro says

    “The fact that both chimps and bonobos have such large testicles means we can tentatively infer that our Last Common Ancestor before our lineage split from theirs likely had large testicles as well. ”

    Since chimps and bonobos separated only some million years ago, we really cannot tell anything about the common ancestor of them and humans from their similarity. The conclusion may be true but the evidence does not support it.

    • dirk says

      Funny that you mention it Gypsy, I just recently came to know about this gnostic thing. It is not very christian of course, it all started in the Middle East with the prophets Mani and Zarathustra, but, yes, has uptil now its influence on western christians and seculars alike. Maybe that even the Metoo related prohibition of the female in bikini is a late emanation of this Eastern movement.

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  31. ccscientist says

    A couple of points:
    1) Married women are the least likely to be raped or murdered in the US. Women with live-in boyfriends the highest. A live-in boyfriend is one who is not really committed to a woman who is not really committed: a recipe for trouble.
    2) Why is monogamy tried when it is difficult? Because when you love someone you don’t want to be hurt. I doubt if the producers of the video are all ok with their wife having an affair. Also, it has a lot to do with the children. Children in a “fluid” arrangement can be left with no one to care for them, which means death in most of the world (where there is little social safety net). A husband does not want to take care of someone else’s kids (I know I don’t). A married couple can reliably pass down an inheritance and their kids know who their relatives are.

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