Why I’m not into Evolutionary Psychology

In light of the slut-shaming mini-flamewar, Cairnarvon tried talking about promiscuity from an evolutionary point of view.

Sluttiness, from an evolutionary point of view, is pretty interesting. Talking about humans here, and clearly by sluttiness I mean sexual promiscuity with as many sexual partners as you can find. I don’t use the word slut to be inherently good or bad.

Obviously, for males, being a slut is a moderately sound strategy. STDs aside, in a species with relatively few kids per pregnancy, spreading your genes to as many mates as possible is bound to get you more offspring than a monogamous relationship would.

I suppose it’s also moderately interesting for a female to be a slut, what with the greater chance of getting pregnant, perhaps, and finding a wide variety of good mates for consecutive pregnancies.

The pressure for monogamous relationships comes from females, mostly. It’s comparatively easy for males to ditch them and leave them to raise their offspring on their own, at great expense to the mother, so it makes sense she’d want to share this burden.

The rest of the post tries to answer the question of why monogamy predominates by appealing to Dawkins’ memetics. The problem with that is that memetics is thin on falsifiability. The standard explanation of monogamy is that it results from men telling other men to only get one wife as to reduce competition. But it also reduces availability, since in a patriarchal society, a precondition of polygamy, it’s hard for a man to get multiple wives when their fathers support monogamy.

The more basal evolutionary-psychological explanation of promiscuity doesn’t hold much water, either. The pressure for monogamous relationship doesn’t come from women in general. Just because something has held true since Victorian times doesn’t make it a universal rule. The idea that women control access to sex is a relatively modern one, which only arose after capitalism required the patriarchy to reinvent itself by branding women as the guardians of male morality.

There’s a reason biologists are slowly abandoning Darwin’s sexual selection theory: it has the nasty tendency of ignoring social structures. In all but a small fraction of its history, homo sapiens has had a social structure based on packs of 30-40 hunter-gatherers (earlier the packs may have been even smaller; neanderthal packs were at 10-20). Inter-pack interaction existed but was small. Within the group, having too many children hurt everyone, including the men. Even a single birth of twins was deleterious.

5 Responses to Why I’m not into Evolutionary Psychology

  1. Yoram Gat says:

    Where is the information about prehistoric social structure from? Is there a good introductory textbook on the subject?

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Not that I’m aware of. I saw it in a documentary almost five and a half years ago, which reconstructed Neanderthal social structure from physical evidence and then followed a fictitious group of 8 individuals. Toward the end, when talking about Neanderthal extinction, it said that one of the things that made Cro-Magnons fitter was their living in larger groups, which helped them learn better.

  3. Jesse Fagan says:

    I think, perhaps, the refined version of sexual selection, or assortive mating, where organisms choose to mate with others who most resemble them – that is, others who share similar traits. In humans this could be for complex traits like personalities or
    other psychological similarities.

    Simon Baron-Cohen is suggesting that selection mechanism may play a role in the delopement of autism: http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/11/when_two_minds_think_alike.php

    I believe selection by these means does preserve social structure: http://arxiv.org/abs/nlin.AO/0309035

    I would really like to hear more specifically why you believe otherwise.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Oh, that’s not what I have a problem with. What I have a problem with is Darwin’s original theory, which is too crude and simplistic to explain any modern human behavior.

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