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CNN Opinion Article on monogamy at the natural level

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  • CNN Opinion Article on monogamy at the natural level

    This was thrown up on CNN. Interesting because it talks from the very basic human level and evolution.

  • #2
    This thread covers that topic in some good detail:

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    • #3
      I like this article in some aspects and think that he could have gone into more detail, but perhaps that wasn't quite his job. I agree with the notion that some people should stop trying to resurrect their dying relationships for the sake of monogamy, and that those who are truly adverse to it would be better served in an alternative situation. Also the notion that monogamy is the only respectable option or even good option is also just a generalization. I'm also not getting too much of a prescriptive vibe from that article, which is good since the notion that x is natural therefore x is what one ought to do is rubbish, that what is "natural" has any prescriptive weight to it. That would be the naturalist fallacy, an egregious display of dishonesty and intellectual sloth wherein one asserts that because it is natural it is therefore good or superlative to what is "unnatural". Not so.

      Firstly, there is no grounds to say that many behaviors are natural or unnatural if humans are by nature adaptors. The behavior of adapting can entail millions of behaviors, many of which contradictory. It is a condition of being a human to have highly adaptive brains and behavior, and to be able to utilize the vast sea of memes and ideas that have arisen from our heightened intelligence. If it suddenly becomes better for one to do something that contradicts tradition or even genetics, then that is what they ought to do. We can, after all, improve upon nature in many ways. No longer must so many women die during child birth, for example. This article describes the change from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one and describes monogamy as a better option for agrarians. So doesn't it then follow, since humans are such good adapters, that in general agrarians should be monogamous? I wouldn't advocate it for everyone but think that it works well for a lot of people, especially those who are cut out to be in relationships to begin with. There is far too much neurosis and egoism running rampant for long-term relationships to work properly. Hell most people on CW are on their way to impotence.

      Also, one major criticism of taking any sort of prescription from evolutionary psychology in general is that the goals of humans are not furthered by deference to selfish gene theory literalism. We are built as "survival machines" for the purpose of propagating genetic information in the gene pool. Our pleasure centers and mechanisms are ways to dupe us into doing those things that are more advantageous to our gene propagation and survival. But no self-respecting human would actually try to derive an imperative from selfish gene theory. Genetic replicators are not even conscious, they have no will or volition, they only behave as if they did if we anthromoporphize them. It is the goal of each and every conscious, feeling, thinking human to have as great a quality of experience in existence as they can muster, not to replicate mindlessly over and over. I suppose you could achieve the former with the latter but hardly anyone does and for good reason. We are too good at subverting our original instructions and designs and exploiting our pleasure mechanisms for the pleasure and fulfillment alone. Bill Gates has only 3 kids and one spouse, he is wise. Though his genes, assuming that they were conscious would be cursing his stupidity. Why he could have 10 wives and 300 kids with all of that cash!

      But none of this is particularly a criticism of that article, merely my expansion. Yay for psychobabble.
      Stabbing conventional wisdom in its face.

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      • #4
        From the article:

        Men's testicles are far larger than those of any monogamous or polygynous primate ...
        They're larger than those of a gorilla, but they're smaller than those of a chimp.

        What's his point exactly? Based on the size of the testes, you might predict that human females are less promiscuous than chimpanzee females, but that, on the other hand, no man can reliably hope to exert the kind of sexual control that a dominant male gorilla can.

        That would be very roughly in line with what one would expect if one had any experience of human beings. It's not for nothing that a savage potentate might order a surprise raid on his stock of women, nor that his more civilized but perhaps rather nastier - don't mistake the meaning of "civilized" - equivalent would have the seraglio's guards castrated as a precaution. When the cat's away, the harem girls will play. And humans are imaginative enough to dream of alternatives and clever enough to get around security.

        But you don't need to go around measuring gonads to know that. And on the other hand, it's reductionism of the most absurd - and philistine sort - to imagine that human sexuality is, at bottom, no more complex than animal reproduction and can be, so to speak, read off the body. At the bottom of it all there'll be some basic biological tendencies. But it's not the whole story. (And this is partly why I pointed to the role of imagination and intelligence above.)

        What's interesting about human behaviour is that it's self-conscious and mediated through language and concepts. This sort of theorizing is just a new kind of ignorance. What it promises is secret knowledge - which is, nevertheless, easily accessed by those in the know. Notice the tabloid-newspaper-like sales pitch:

        ... human sexuality [is] so subversive and threatening that for centuries, it has been silenced by religious authorities, pathologized by physicians, studiously ignored by scientists and covered up by moralizing therapists ...
        However, this man has the key ... if you'll only buy his book. In other words, you've got the familiar promise of "depth". Exactly what Marx, Freud, and many other charlatans have promised. You offer to go under the surface of things and reveal a shortcut to a hidden truth. But that's just a tempting illusion. Human life takes place on the "surface" ... "Don't look for the meaning, look for the use".

        Similarly, if you want to know about violence among primates then it would be interesting to read Konrad Lorenz (or whoever). But if you want to know about war, you don't go and read Lorenz. You read the literature of war - beginning with Xenophon perhaps and working forwards.