December 12, 2009

"In Defense of Monogamy, or What to do about Our Polyamorous Genes."

"Because of our ancestors’ polygynous and polyamorous sexual behavior, where a small group of powerful men, mostly traveling military warriors and merchants, had children with numerous women of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds and nationalities, more diversity was passed along to us along our ancestors’ X chromosomes than their Y chromosomes. Both men and women inherit diverse genes from their mothers and pass along these diverse sex genes on the X chromosome to their children."

What, then, did you expect from Tiger Woods?

And, speaking of genes:



I made a mess in my genes....

Get friendly with randy, normal genes.

34 comments:

Bissage said...

Genetics show that monogamy, a family of one-man-one-woman is a recent social construct. It did not exist in medieval and ancient times. As modern people, we are more evolved.

It’s good to know that my monogamy means I’m more highly evolved but I was sort of hoping it would get me into heaven.

David said...

Monogamy is Heaven. Sometimes.

Meade said...

"...but I was sort of hoping it would get me into heaven."

But it has!

Hasn't it?

former law student said...

"I can resist everything except temptation." -- Oscar Wilde

PatCA said...

Unless you have an agreement with your wife beforehand, you should keep your polyamorous genes in your jeans.

kentuckyliz said...

Here's a great song, on topic:

Pants

by Here Come The Mummies

John Lynch said...

Human society is just a way to control our bad impulses. Infidelity is simply another one.

Something "natural" is not necessarily good. We seem to have a genetic predisposition to all kinds of bad behavior, from war to murder to rape to polygamy. So what? They're still wrong.

Whoever wrote Genesis had an insight into human nature. We must constantly struggle against bad impulses.

vbspurs said...

Something I've never understood about those Darwinian responses about male sexuality is the following:

If it is true that human beings' number one evolutionary priority was to reproduce themselves to continue the species, and that is why men spread their seed amongst many women (enabling their seed to survive), the standard response about male infidelity, why is it that the female of the species seeks to prevent males from doing so?

In short, doesn't female insistence on monogamy equate with species suicide? Is this our whale equivalent of beaching ourselves? What could account for this anomaly?

(I'm feeling intellectually frisky today)

Cheers,
Victoria

Bissage said...

I will say this, Meade, it has certainly gotten me into the best of all possible worlds.

But I’m still holding out for the harp and the angel wings.

I’m a greedy man.

John Lynch said...

Victoria-

I think the standard answer is that women are concerned with their offspring surviving long enough to reproduce. Having a man around to help dramatically increases that chance. For a man, he can hedge by just having more children by more women in the hope that some will be good mothers without him. Women can't do that, given the time and effort required in being pregnant and raising an infant.

For a woman, passing on genes is a lot more work, so monogamy makes more sense.

Palladian said...

"
If it is true that human beings' number one evolutionary priority was to reproduce themselves to continue the species, and that is why men spread their seed amongst many women (enabling their seed to survive), the standard response about male infidelity, why is it that the female of the species seeks to prevent males from doing so?

In short, doesn't female insistence on monogamy equate with species suicide? Is this our whale equivalent of beaching ourselves? What could account for this anomaly?"

I think it has to do with the general tendency of mammalian females towards the nurture of the offspring. It is advantageous for the female to seek the prolonged companionship of the male because this increases the chances for the survival of the offspring in the form of protection and sustenance provided by the male.

I also think it has a lot to do with female competitiveness for quality mates. The female wants to keep the male in an exclusive pair bond with her so she can keep the advantages of a superior mate for the propagation of her own genes and for the increased protection and sustenance provided by the male. Males, of course, also fight over females but don't have the same sort of long-term nurturing instincts.

It is also advantageous for the males to be extremely prodigious sexual partners because it's much easier for the male to perform his reproductive duty than it is the female to perform hers. A female, once impregnated, is removed from the mating cycle for (assuming everything goes well) 9 months or more. The male can spread seed every single day. The female doesn't derive potential reproductive advantage from multiple partners once she's pregnant.

Of course I'm also generalizing with these statements; it doesn't work this way for every animal.

Nature is about competition and reproduction. It is this tension that keeps everything going.

peter hoh said...

Mom jeans.

rcocean said...

Another pseudo-scientific Just-so Story.

kentuckyliz said...

Females have an instinct for hybrid vigor.

They are nonmonogamous on the down low to keep that nurturing male around.

Female cheating is good for the species. Hybrid vigor.

John Lynch said...

rcocean-

Yeah, it is. It's easy to come up with a narrative. It's harder to explain why things actually happen.

I was very interested in how the author explained her ancestor's polygamy in genetic, rather than cultural, terms.

edutcher said...

Ann said...

What, then, did you expect from Tiger Woods?

The same thing Ann expects from Meade and Meade expects from Ann - respect for the other's feelings, loyalty (if the word fidelity is a problem), and maturity (we all see attractive people, but we don't dive into bed, or the nearest grassy knoll, with all of them (except Titus)).

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Can I just say ( why yes, yes I can ) that I despise this concept of 'more evolved'. Since everyone alive today is drawing from the same gene pool, we are all equally evolved. Even contrasting people today with ancestors from a few hundred or a thousand years ago is silly, that is the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms.

Even saying that we are more evolved than bacteria is misleading. Bacteria are evolving all the time, and seem to be very well adapted to their ecological niche.

traditionalguy said...

I do not believe a word of this speculation theory. The nature of all tribes/families is to stay together as a unit. The women at the fireplace and children under 12 are used differently from the Warriors/Hunters males of age and initiated into the culture. The fact that roaming war parties took up robbery and murder of other groups is explained by a need to defend the Tribe by capturing loot and taking alive slaves to add to the tribes numbers. The sex outside the tribes members when engaged in long war campaigns was a part of the domination cult of warriors. First they kill the other tribes men and take the women as property by rape(taking suddenly) to show who is boss. Raping of the defeated tribe's women have always been considered a warrior's/Army's legitimate plunder after a victory. William the Conqueror's men had a jolly ole time in Saxon England. His Doomsday book must have include a coded list of the inventory of captured women as well.

Almost Ali said...

It seems the Pill changed the equation.

Still, one must question the historical premise that males are compelled by the hidden hand of nature to spread their genes.

As Bill Clinton clearly demonstrated, for example, oral sex has gained significant currency in the hyper-modern era, now starting in middle-school.

Apparently intercourse is more of an accommodation outside marriage, and possibly even a greater accommodation inside marriage.

Anyway, we should conduct an Althouse sex survey, the results of which will be submitted for peer review. And no "tricks" with the resulting data, either - like those Marxist clowns at East Anglia.

edutcher said...

traditionalguy said...

I do not believe a word of this speculation theory. The nature of all tribes/families is to stay together as a unit. The women at the fireplace and children under 12 are used differently from the Warriors/Hunters males of age and initiated into the culture. The fact that roaming war parties took up robbery and murder of other groups is explained by a need to defend the Tribe by capturing loot and taking alive slaves to add to the tribes numbers.

Your first point is quite valid and the reason, I would think, for monogamy. That, and the desire to keep violence in the society to a minimum.

Your other point, "a need to defend the Tribe by capturing loot and taking alive slaves to add to the tribes numbers", doesn't hold up if we look at history. This is what the Iroquois did when they couldn't sustain their own population and it didn't work.

The more they pursued it, the more their population problem worsened. The Iroquois aren't the only example, but one of the more prominent.

Could it be that Mother Nature likes societies that can grow their numbers in well-defined families without poaching outside the family unit? They seem to be the ones that prosper.

Synova said...

I don't think it's appropriate to fuss about the statement that monogamy is "more evolved" because that statement seems obviously colloquial to me, rather than a scientific, biological, claim.

The biological, genetic, information in the article is fascinating. I mean, wow, they can actually tell by the genes which side of reproduction was spreading it around.

It's also interesting (but not at all surprising) that Tiger seemed to be following the old urges not just to have sex with lots of women, but to make at least a token effort to encourage *their* exclusivity and that there might actually be biological reasons to do so.

The DNA environment stuff is fascinating (if just a wee bit gross as described in the article). I know that mitochondrial DNA affects how a person develops. What this means for artificial reproduction, surrogates or futuristic artificial wombs is just too interesting.

traditionalguy said...

Edutcher... You are correct about the Iroquois Confederacy's end. But was that not more because of the 75% death rate from successive pandemics of European and African viruses. It worked well among the tribes before those plague times, when nothing could help them to survive as tribes any longer.

Tom said...

This quote is pure nonsense:


"Besides, other studies say when a man or woman is promiscuous, at conception, any other partner’s body fluids, which are trapped in the man’s urethra for a long time, even weeks, become part of each child’s DNA environment. "

A child's "DNA environment" is affected by the women Dad had prior to having sex with Mom?

John Lynch said...

Tiger might have just been concerned about STDs...

Synova said...

It might not be nonsense, Tom.

I hadn't heard that particular claim before but it seems pretty specific and I'd read that research is showing that the mother's DNA is an issue. Which makes a person wonder what happens when a fertilized egg is carried in a different woman's womb or what the effects of a science-fictional artificial womb with a sterile "DNA environment" would be.

If we get the capability to "can" our children will we develop root stock DNA soups unrelated to the actual parents that will influence the development of the new person, the way that we use root stock to control the growth of trees?

(Yes, I know, I'm a sci-fi nerd.)

traditionalguy said...

Synova...The last time the world's supply of Human DNA became corrupted by outside forces the answer was a flood that wiped out all living DNA except a good root stock of DNA in the family that happened to build an ark. Timing is everything, it seems. How close are the experimenters into creating human DNA monsters?

William said...

Perhaps exceptional people feel a Darwinian imperative to go forth and multiply. I have read that one out of six people in Mongolia is descended from Genghis Khan. How nice for Mongolians. (It would have been better for Austria if the Mozarts had been better swordsmen than the Schicklegrubers.) If Tiger had succeeded in his quest to screw every woman on the North American continent, our success in future Ryder Cup events would have been assured. You also can't count out the possibility that women have a Darwinian need to mate with exceptional men. Some of Tiger's girls were semi pro but most were doing it for the chance to embrace greatness--and child support from Tiger would be no mean thing. Our rigidity about monogamy will set the cause of golf in America back many generations.

Bruce Hayden said...

If it is true that human beings' number one evolutionary priority was to reproduce themselves to continue the species, and that is why men spread their seed amongst many women (enabling their seed to survive), the standard response about male infidelity, why is it that the female of the species seeks to prevent males from doing so?

In short, doesn't female insistence on monogamy equate with species suicide? Is this our whale equivalent of beaching ourselves? What could account for this anomaly
?

Let's start with our Chimpanzeerelatives/ancestors. For them, monogamy, etc. were not really relevant. Common Chimpanzee are bad. The pygmy chimps (Bonobo) are worse, with both genders apparently engaging in non-stop copulation, without a lot of regard to partners or gender.

This works because the mothers can take care of their children. The children grow up fairly fast, and can start taking care of themselves within a couple of years.

Indeed, some studies seem to show that Chimps keep up, if not exceed, human development for a couple of years. But then, their development tapers off, and ours continues for a decade or so. And that is part of what makes us different from them.

When it comes to parenting and polyamory, it takes a lot of resources to raise human kids to the point where they can operate independently. At a minimum, the 7 years of the proverbial "itch". But likely at least a decade. And, kids typically raised by just the mother did not do as well as if a male got involved and contributed resources.

So, human females have an incentive to mate with a single male, so as to get him to provide resources to raising their children (something that happens with chimps, but is much, much, rarer). They have an incentive in preventing that male from mating with other females, in that his resources would have to be shared with the other females. Thus, they (or actually their children) are better off if the male can be prevented from fathering kids with other women.

Now from an alpha male's point of view, the optimum situation is where he has a wife and sows oats on the side. He provides most of his resources to the legitimate offspring, and hopefully gets some other guy to raise his illegitimate children.

And, note that it is to the female's advantage to get the alpha male's sperm, but have any male, even if a beta, to provide resources to the raising of such.

Now the beta male doesn't want to waste his hard earned resources on raising some other guy's kids, since that means that they won't be furthering his own genetic legacy. This is protected by monogamy. And, since there are inevitably many more betas than alphas, there are routinely very strong prohibitions having this sort of didling around disclosed, to the extent that many cultures over time have provided the death penalty for at least the women involved - the underlying crime being deceiving men about the paternity of the kids they are helping to raise.

The combination of the motivations in this game are likely the major reasons why humans tend to pair bond, but then screw around some on the side.

One source of much of this is the "Red Queen", a book looking at the clashing reproductive strategies of human males and females. (For example, another aspect of this is the fairly unique hidden female ovulation combined with fairly continuous sexual accessibility to strengthen pair bonding through sex, in opposition to women's changing sexual attractions during their cycles - alphas around ovulation, betas the rest of the time).

Bruce Hayden said...

Because of our ancestors’ polygynous and polyamorous sexual behavior, where a small group of powerful men, mostly traveling military warriors and merchants, had children with numerous women of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds and nationalities, more diversity was passed along to us along our ancestors’ X chromosomes than their Y chromosomes. Both men and women inherit diverse genes from their mothers and pass along these diverse sex genes on the X chromosome to their children.

I think though that much of this diversity could come from the moving around of the males, and may have little to do with actual levels of polygamy, except that being a result of the alpha males moving around more.

I guess I am arguing that this may be a case of correlation, and not causation.

Bruce Hayden said...

Synova...The last time the world's supply of Human DNA became corrupted by outside forces the answer was a flood that wiped out all living DNA except a good root stock of DNA in the family that happened to build an ark. Timing is everything, it seems. How close are the experimenters into creating human DNA monsters?

Interestingly, there does appear to be some evidence of a genetic Eve, though much further back than would be plausible for Noah and his family. We are talking a half a million to a million years ago (if my memory serves me right) of the approximately 7 million years since we diverged from our chimp relatives.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think the standard answer is that women are concerned with their offspring surviving long enough to reproduce. Having a man around to help dramatically increases that chance. For a man, he can hedge by just having more children by more women in the hope that some will be good mothers without him. Women can't do that, given the time and effort required in being pregnant and raising an infant.

With the addition that the sperm from alpha males is preferred to the sperm of beta males (bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, etc.), but there are typically many more betas, and they would prefer to raise their own (genetic) children, as opposed to those of some other guy.

vbspurs said...

Oh goodness, Bruce. I can't believe the magnificent redaction you wrote (thanks!) didn't occur to me either, as I swear to you I took an anthropology course once. Your response was covered at length, especially this bit.

Now from an alpha male's point of view, the optimum situation is where he has a wife and sows oats on the side. He provides most of his resources to the legitimate offspring, and hopefully gets some other guy to raise his illegitimate children.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

I have read that one out of six people in Mongolia is descended from Genghis Khan. How nice for Mongolians.

So are the British Royal Family, through Queen Mary!

Synova said...

By the time you're descended very *far* there really isn't many of the actual genes there anymore is there?

Also, speaking of beta male types... I just think this is really funny and don't feel any personal responsibility for it... but when I got pregnant with my last the others were all watching Blue's Clues and I got the *worst* crush on Steve. Totally hormones and about as subtle as a kick in the head. The show would come on and Steve would start talking and I'd get this overwhelming *welling up* of hormones and emotion.

It was really funny, even at the time, because I knew what was happening of course.

(Ladies, this is also the biggest reason you should never make major and life changing (or ending) decisions while pregnant. You're almost certainly impaired.)