Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Monogamy in the human and animal world.

A friend of mine raised some common and valid counterpoints to my previous essay located here...


I run across these arguments and variations of them frequently. So many in fact that rather than reply in a second comment I felt it deserved its own post.

"I think that monogamy and the "traditional" small family unit consisting of two parents and their offspring is older than corporations or the church…"

Well yes, in the strictest technical sense, but as far as societies go we’ve generally been small tribal units since before we were even homosapien. Besides you’re mixing topics. The nuclear family is monogamous traditionally, but that does not mean all monogamists are in a nuclear family. For example, a monogamous pair can also live with grandparents and grand children, thus making them monogamous but non-nuclear. But I’ll try to muddle through.

“… and yes while both of those institutions may try to benefit from the drive that some people have to pursue that life, it's not as if they invented it or have to brainwash people to sustain it.”

Actually, yea they do. First of all the nuclear family is in the minority. The term wasn’t even invented until 1947. The links below suggest otherwise. The picture painted for us is that monogamy is normal. If normal is the majority, then it isn’t.

According to http://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-421619/nuclear-family

The emergence of the human nuclear family has been a particularly knotty problem for Western evolutionary theorists. Like bonobos and chimpanzees, people probably are fundamentally promiscuous, though such mating behaviour is heavily proscribed by the cultures into which individuals are born and reside…

And then there is… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_sexuality#Monogamy

Zoologists and biologists now have solid evidence that monogamous pairs of animals are not always sexually exclusive. Many animals that form pairs to mate and raise offspring regularly engage in sexual activities with extra-pair partners[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] This includes previous exemplars such as swans and (depending upon circumstances) wolves. Sometimes these extra-pair sexual activities lead to offspring. Genetic tests frequently show that some of the offspring raised by a monogamous pair come from the female mating with an extra-pair male partner.[4][5][17][18] These discoveries have led biologists to adopt new ways of talking about monogamy:

And then there is… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monogamy#Animals

Monogamy is one of several mating systems observed in animals. The amount of social monogamy in animals varies across taxa, with over 90 percent of birds engaging in social monogamy but only 3 percent of mammals engaging in social monogamy. The incidence of sexual monogamy appears quite rare in the animal kingdom. It is becoming clear that even animals that are socially monogamous engage in extra-pair copulations.[1]

So the argument can easily be made that monogamy is not natural for other animals.

According to… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_family

“Generally, the trend to shift from extended to nuclear family structures has been supported by the spread of western values.”

The impact of monogamy on the formation of the psyche was not anticipated, but was later exploited. The origins of monogamy were quite simply and directly related to control. Men wanting to own women without the hassle of having to beat off competitors daily. It’s a complex collusion between the class specialists born as a result of agriculture. The warrior, the priest, the farmer.

While we are programmed to share to an extent we are also programmed to survive, and in times of actual sexual scarcity (not the artificial one we live in today) it made evolutionary sense to try and lock down a single mate for a variety of reasons, all of which were practical.

Those reasons today have all been obviated by advanced industry, agriculture, and medical technologies.

I mean come on, the word ‘obey’ is part of traditional marriage vows for women, doesn’t that tell you something?

“Just look to the animal kingdom for proof that the monogamous lifestyle is not a sinister invention of evil men; while the whole of the animal kingdom is sparse on species that practice it, it is there...”

As stated above no species is truly monogamous. So rather than trying to justify the practice by looking at all other species, which include such grand examples as fish which latch on, and the black widow, let’s look at humans. Humans are quasi monogamous at best, I’ll grant that much. But, I think you can agree that just because you can find an example of something in nature does not mean it’s a good idea. Rape is natural for example and a big part of our evolutionary past, but that’s not to say it’s a good thing.

“Yes, there probably are many more benefits to living in a commune, but i don't think that means that monogamy is evil, a means to slavery, or should be abolished. “

False dichotomy, a commune is not the opposite of monogamy. I’m not suggesting life in a commune, or even free love, as a commune is socialist in nature. I’m an anarchist. I would like to see infrastructure itself dissolve. I don’t want to live as an ant in a colony I want to live as a free thinking independent organism that has the option (but not the requirement) of interacting with others who are equally free and independent. I'm not saying everyone should have access to anyone they please, I'm simply saying that the option should be there should all parties be in agreement. Saying that "ok then well I don't want my wife to sleep with other people" is circular as that is the ownership attitude that does so much of the harm relating too and encouraged by monogamy. A more valid disagreement would be something along the lines of "I don't trust that guy, he might have a condition and be lying about it."

Secondly I’m not suggesting that monogamy be outlawed I’m suggesting that alternatives be legalized both officially and socially. Polygamy is so misunderstood that modern rational practitioners had to develop a new word (polyamory). Polygamy should not instantly mean David Koresh or psychotic pedophile Mormons or Moonies. It should not mean perversion. It should not be assumed that if I want to share my mate, or share someone else’s mate I’m a loser who can’t get one on his own or a freak. Maybe spending my life with one person is just as depressing for me as spending it alone. At least alone I have a greater degree of freedom.

“It's merely another lifestyle choice…”

But, as above, if the choice is between solitude, ridicule, or monogamy, is that really a choice?

“..we got in this monogamous society because it works for people, not all people, granted, but most of us do want to share our lives and ourselves with one person on a more intimate level than a large family group can sustain. “

Another false dichotomy, intimacy is not linked to exclusivity(or sexuality for that matter). I suppose you can’t be truly close with 40 people for purely logistical reasons, but any good parent with multiple children will tell you that extreme closeness and intimacy are possible with more than one person.

“I guess all I'm saying is, it's not as evil as you think it is...yeah it's been exploited, yes ads and churches try to cash in on it, but only because it's THE biggest demographic on the planet.”

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy#Polygamy_worldwide...

According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of the 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry.[5]

Controlling people with sexual tension is very effective, but it never lasts, eventually we discover that we don’t need anyone’s permission. This is the lesson I try to teach. The state should not be involved with who I love and who loves me.

“In closing, monogamy is not a perfect system, with plenty of downsides for sure, but from my perspective it's not an ultimate evil that needs to be done away with.”

Again I’m not saying outlaw it, that’s absurd. I’m saying truly allow alternatives, and the market will take care of the rest.

For the record, the legislative changes I would suggest are as follows…

1. Allow people to marry anyone who will say yes, or remove marriage.

2. Allow the sale of sex between persons just as we allow the sale of back massages.

3. Annihilate all tax or insurance impact of marriage.

If you really love your spouse you don’t need a bribe, and conversely I should not be punished because I choose not to engage in a system which is effectively against my religion.

It is the ultimate evil in the sense that efforts to force us to choose monogamy and the resulting social changes stemming from successes in that area can be shown to be the root of most American social problems.

In fact I’ll make a general claim now that monogamy can be traced back as at least contributory to most any social problem.

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I'm a politically and culturally subversive author with obsessive tendencies and a lot of free time. I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the fate of my species. My writing is the result.

My primary blog is at http://underlore.com but this G+ profile is a far more active representation of my viewpoint.

Generally I feel the answer to society's ills are technological in nature not political or cultural.

Having said that, I do have political positions of course and I strongly feel that we need to embrace nuclear power and deploy a universal basic income.