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Mr Cat Dog
August 22nd, 2011, 1:07 PM
Provocative title is provocative.

Sex at Dawn argues that human beings evolved in egalitarian hunter-gatherer bands in which sexual interaction was a shared resource, much like food, child care, group defense, and so on. In this, the authors agree to a degree with the work of Lewis H. Morgan who proposed in the 19th century that pre-agricultural humans lived in "primal hordes" in which property and paternity was communal. Though Darwin disagreed with Morgan's thesis, believing "pre-civilized" humans to have been polygynous (like gorillas), he respected Morgan's scholarship greatly.

The book argues that much of evolutionary psychology has been conducted with a bias regarding human sexuality. The authors believe that the public and many researchers are guilty of the "Flintstonization" of hunter-gatherer society; that is to say projecting modern assumptions and beliefs onto earlier societies. Thus they believe there has been a bias to assuming that our species is primarily monogamous despite evidence to the contrary. They believe for example, that our sexual dimorphism, testicle size, female copulatory vocalization, appetite for sexual novelty, various cultural practices, and hidden female ovulation, among other factors strongly suggest a non-monogamous, non-polygynous history. Thus, the authors argue, mate selection was not the subject of much intragroup competition in pre-agricultural humans as sex was neither scarce nor commodified, rather sperm competition was a more important paternity factor than sexual selection. This behaviour survives in extant hunter-forager groups that practice communal paternity.


So, I was bored one day, browsing the Internet, and came across a website offering free audiobooks. Free anything is always good (provided no catches are involved) so I checked the site out. None of the ones on the first page interested me that much, until I spotted this book with the very provocative title and great reviews. After reading the blurb - essentially a watered-down version of the Wikipedia summary - I used my free audiobook token to download this to my iPod, and for the past few days, I've been walking around listening to this intently. Its probably my favourite book of the last few years, especially surprising for a non-fiction book.

But I don't really want to discuss the book, or I'd make this thread in C&M; I'd rather discuss what the book 'says'. I encourage everyone to either buy the book in shops or download it in audiobook form (I went on Audbile.com to get it, and there are numerous companies who offer free audiobooks from there like I did), but what do people think about the issues raised in the quote above? I was slightly ambivalent at first, but the reasoning the book uses is very scientific and precise, and I was ultimately won over in the end.

Long post is long.

I Laugh at your Misfortune!
August 22nd, 2011, 2:36 PM
non-monogamous, non-polygynous

I may be reading this wrong, but aren't monogamous and polygynous opposites?

monogamy - having one spouse or partner

polygyny - having multiple wives

Mr Cat Dog
August 22nd, 2011, 2:58 PM
I may be reading this wrong, but aren't monogamous and polygynous opposites?

monogamy - having one spouse or partner

polygyny - having multiple wives
In both monogamy and polygyny, there is still one man at the centre of any number of women (one for monogamy and multiple for polygyny). The theories put forth by the book argue that humans evolved so that both men and women had multiple ongoing sexual partners. Reading it was slightly confusing at first, for the reasons you described, but there's a method in the madness of the description.

Cassino
August 23rd, 2011, 12:28 AM
I've always thought this sort of sexuality was natural for humans, and that the modern habit of monogamy was a sort of cultural euphemisation of our actions. I suppose having developed strict family units has had some benefit to us, but I can't think what.

Think I'll get this audiobook in any case...

Esper
August 26th, 2011, 10:41 AM
I want to say I haven't and don't plan to read the book. It has the feel of pop psychology. Yes, I know I'm quite literally judging a book by its cover. It just gives me this feeling that the whole point of it is to legitimize people sleeping around. "After all, our ancestors did it. It's in our genetics." And so on. Now I don't have a problem with people sleeping around if they aren't hurting others. I also don't have a problem with these kind of cultural studies and challenging accepted ideas. I just don't like it when they get shoved together. If you're going to have multiple sexual partners then just do it and don't try to rationalize it with arguments about it being 'natural' or whatever the book actually says. Something about drawing direct connections between modern people and ancient people bothers me.

jvpski3
September 6th, 2011, 4:18 PM
I may be reading this wrong, but aren't monogamous and polygynous opposites?

monogamy - having one spouse or partner

polygyny - having multiple wives

You are actually sorta right, to my calculations.

aruchan
September 6th, 2011, 8:40 PM
It's pretty fluid, imo. Considering the mating patterns of other monogamous animals, including many simians, it is pretty likely that humans have and always were "monogamous". However, that's a pretty bad definition. Monogamy is not like being an exclusive herbivore; it's a behavioral pattern, and there are many people who don't like that pattern. I'm sure polygyny and even polyandry were practiced in ancient times, as many tribes have shown.

PkMnTrainer Yellow
September 7th, 2011, 8:06 AM
On the contrary, the fact that we practice monogamy ties in pretty logically with our supposed evolution from an ape family.

Let me put it this way. The fact that children take so long to grow and so long to grow up? That's /not/ a result of our society. That is something that has become natural to humans through evolution. This is why you can't just kick kids in the pants and expect them to grow up super fast. It doesn't work that way. (See: Being in a rush during rush hour does nothing to help you get to your goal faster)

We're monogamous because ultimately it does a more efficient job raising kids because of their very long growth period. That isn't to say polyamory cannot work, but that if the entire human race /had/ to do it one way, monogamy would yield the best results.

The good news is we sure as heck don't have to all do it one way, so there's no reason some people can't decide to live polyamorous lives. It'll work for some. It is not however the way humans are designed to act naturally, ironically. (There is nothing inherently wrong with doing something that is not natural, however. Anything that suggests otherwise is fallacious.)

Cassino
September 7th, 2011, 8:20 AM
On the contrary, the fact that we practice monogamy ties in pretty logically with our supposed evolution from an ape family.

Let me put it this way. The fact that children take so long to grow and so long to grow up? That's /not/ a result of our society. That is something that has become natural to humans through evolution. This is why you can't just kick kids in the pants and expect them to grow up super fast. It doesn't work that way. (See: Being in a rush during rush hour does nothing to help you get to your goal faster)

We're monogamous because ultimately it does a more efficient job raising kids because of their very long growth period. That isn't to say polyamory cannot work, but that if the entire human race /had/ to do it one way, monogamy would yield the best results.

The good news is we sure as heck don't have to all do it one way, so there's no reason some people can't decide to live polyamorous lives. It'll work for some. It is not however the way humans are designed to act naturally, ironically. (There is nothing inherently wrong with doing something that is not natural, however. Anything that suggests otherwise is fallacious.)
Yet what if all members of the group helped raise the children?
So, if everybody would interbreed, and everybody would inter-raise, that seems about as efficient to me, but it's just a thought — admittedly such behaviour is probably better suited to insects than primates.

PkMnTrainer Yellow
September 8th, 2011, 9:49 AM
Yet what if all members of the group helped raise the children?

Works on paper but not in practice. See, if you have all the parents raising all the kids you're guaranteeing yourself a whole lot of bad parents teaching all the kids. (Degrees of badness varying)

See, polyamory can work, but if you had the entire human race into it then you're guaranteeing yourself failure simply because of our imperfections. Hence, from evolution's point of view, monogamy was the best default. Evolution has a pretty gruesome track record for sacrificing those that just weren't perfect enough. (Perfect in this case is relative to the current environment, so to speak) I'm just throwing that out there. It's kind of a jerk of a theory. Given, it's probably not fair to blame the theory when it's the worlds' fault for being imperfect to begin with. So, yeah.

Polyamory works best of kept to a small group, where it's still theoretically possible to avoid any seriously bad parents. (Even if it's improbable, depending on who you ask.)

Livewire
September 8th, 2011, 9:57 AM
Works on paper but not in practice. See, if you have all the parents raising all the kids you're guaranteeing yourself a whole lot of bad parents teaching all the kids. (Degrees of badness varying)



Why are you automatically assuming the parenting will all be bad, though?

PkMnTrainer Yellow
September 8th, 2011, 10:00 AM
Why are you automatically assuming the parenting will all be bad, though?

Didn't say all. Said you're guaranteed to have a lot of bad parents. This is because there are a lot of people and we're imperfect.

Good parents cannot raise a child well if they're competing with bad parents.

The main difference between polyamory and monogamy in terms of bad parenting is that in monogamy, bad parents are not teaching /all/ the children.

Esper
September 8th, 2011, 11:39 AM
Didn't say all. Said you're guaranteed to have a lot of bad parents. This is because there are a lot of people and we're imperfect.

Good parents cannot raise a child well if they're competing with bad parents.

The main difference between polyamory and monogamy in terms of bad parenting is that in monogamy, bad parents are not teaching /all/ the children.
Imperfect doesn't necessarily mean bad. There are plenty of good, imperfect parents who raise healthy kids. As for the bad ones, I don't think the bad parents would outnumber the decent or good parents or that they would somehow be able to sabotage all the work of good parents. It's not a competition either, I don't think, because raising children has lots of different parts to it and if you're the kind that isn't good at parenting then you can just be a child support parent and still contribute. You'd have to have some people who were willfully trying to be bad parents and ruin things and I just don't see that being at all common.

Cassino
September 9th, 2011, 8:08 AM
Works on paper but not in practice. See, if you have all the parents raising all the kids you're guaranteeing yourself a whole lot of bad parents teaching all the kids. (Degrees of badness varying)

See, polyamory can work, but if you had the entire human race into it then you're guaranteeing yourself failure simply because of our imperfections. Hence, from evolution's point of view, monogamy was the best default. Evolution has a pretty gruesome track record for sacrificing those that just weren't perfect enough. (Perfect in this case is relative to the current environment, so to speak) I'm just throwing that out there. It's kind of a jerk of a theory. Given, it's probably not fair to blame the theory when it's the worlds' fault for being imperfect to begin with. So, yeah.

Polyamory works best of kept to a small group, where it's still theoretically possible to avoid any seriously bad parents. (Even if it's improbable, depending on who you ask.)
And bad parents don't already raise children monogamously? Still, I see, if they affected their entire locale's children they could result in greater misfortunes, but I don't see it being a serious problem for the human population at large. Even if it may be less efficient than monogamy, polyamory could well have remained within the realm of usefulness. One could think of it as two different species in the same genus — they do things slightly differently, maybe one is worse than the other, but neither is useless. One may become useless over time though — we've clearly shifted to monogamy if we ever actually were predominantly anything else. And yes, small groups, like tribes. I don't purport that polyamory would be a beneficial thing in today's society, I just think the idea was workable in our past.