Coded gray.

Tuesday 3 October 2006

Screenshot anime Girls Bravo

Pic of the day: In a situation like the one pictured here, polygamy is the obvious solution. This is not always the case, though.


My "revelation" on this topic is kinda hidden away in a mixed bag of an entry 7 years ago. I think maybe I should give it some more attention and a headline of its own. It is a pretty good understanding, I think. I will tell it in other words now, and seen from my current perspective.

Wikipedia defines promiscuity as "the practice of making relatively casual and indiscriminate choices. The term is most commonly applied to sexual behavior, where it refers to sexual intercourse that is not in the framework of a long term monogamous sexual relationship." It thoughtfully adds that "People who are called "promiscuous", within the scope of this usage, may actually be quite selective in their choice of sexual partners."

Based on this definition, it is no wonder that the human male (and to a lesser extent female) has recently been viewed as inherently promiscuous. But is this really true?


First off, we will have to filter out the individual choices and then culture to see if there is any genetic tendency. This is already an almost impossible job. Humans today cannot live without culture. It is easier in fact to live without arms or legs. The best we can do is compare as many cultures as we can across different times and places and see if they differ, and if so, how much.

What we find is that the focus on monogamy is fairly recent. While it has certainly been the norm for most of known history, and even in stone age tribes, there have frequently been room for polygamy. This has usually taken the form of the richest or leading males having two or more wives (polygyny), so frequently that the two are almost synonymous. (Or in practice, only "polygamy" is used.) One wife having two or more husbands is called polyandry. In these cases, the husbands are usually brothers or at least close relatives. There is a reason for this, I'd say.


Contrary to what you may think, evolution does not favor the person who has many children. It favors the person who has many grandchildren, or preferably great-grandchildren. There is a difference. Compared to any other species, humans have an extremely long childhood. While our childhood is certainly not a helpless larval stage all the time, it is so for the first couple years, and toddlers are not exactly useful either. Even after that, parental attention is good for your mental and especially social progress. (Within reason, but this was hardly a problem until just recently.) Children who grow up with only their mother can do well, depending on the mother and the wider society she lives in. But for much of human history, they were in acute danger of starvation. Actually, people in general were, but single parents and their children did not come first in line. And even if they grew up, they would tend to have low social status and less skill and wealth than those with two parents.

So while it might seem like a good idea to spread one's seed around, it was not. You might get a lot of children, but unless you backed them up yourself, they were last in line to procreate themselves, if they even lived that long. They were certainly not likely to found a dynasty that would stand the test of time.

There would be two very different situations, then, where a man's genes would benefit from him spreading them around: 1) If he could back them up with attention, status or material wealth. 2) If some other man would think they were his, and support them wholeheartedly.

These two situations closely correspond to the exceptions we historically see to monogamy. In the standard Bronze Age level society, the Chieftain or King would mop up unmarried women to establish a harem. The men who had less resources would get one wife or in extreme cases none. The second, much less common solution was brothers sharing a wife (or more than one wife). In these cases, it would usually be hard to tell apart whose child it was; and anyway, it would have a substantial portion of your genes.

Fathering children with other men's wives was otherwise frowned on by every society, but it also happened. In a time where people lived in ethnically homogeneous enclaves, it might well be possible for a child to look similar enough that the husband thought it was his, even if it was not. This would give a bonus to genes of promiscuous men, finally. But given the social repercussions if you were found out, it was a risky strategy... you might never have any more children, and the ones you had might also find themselves fatherless early in life. So while the trait would not die out, there would not be much of an evolutionary pressure in its favor either.

And this is pretty much how things stand today. There is a small minority of truly promiscuous people. How much of this is personal choices, how much culture and how much genes, no one can say. But it seems from epidemiological studies that a small part of the population is extremely promiscuous, and the rest is not. When a married man has an affair with a coworker or a friend, it is not truly promiscuity. Rather it is usually a suppressed polygamy. We have the capacity to have sexual encounters with a huge number of people, but we can fall in love with only a few, and each of these tend to make a lasting impression on us. Promiscuous people don't fall in love. Extramarital love affairs must rather be seen as polygamy that is forbidden by the mores of society. (And possibly forbidden for very good reason, but some of these are beside the point of this entry.)


I hope this made sense to you. The human male (and to lesser extent female) has wrongly been seen as promiscuous, while they were actually oligamous (having marriage-like relationships with a few people). I have explained elsewhere the rise of monogamy: Basically it is an Iron Age thing, where the military strength of a state depended on men fighting for their own women and children. A man is genetically disposed to fight to the death for his children, but not for some greedy bastard who scoops up all the women. This makes a big difference in actual battle, since humans are already by instinct reluctant to kill members of their own species, and it takes a lot to overcome this hesitation. Fighting for one's offspring is one of the few things that will reliably do it.

Again, all this makes sense in terms of instinctive tendencies. Tendencies is all we have; we are not, like some birds, puppets of our instincts; they just give us an edge. But that may be enough to shape the world we live in.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: Beauty
Two years ago: Quiet Sunday
Three years ago: Rubies of Eventide: Day 1
Four years ago: The greatness of USB
Five years ago: This day sucked
Six years ago: Need cash?
Seven years ago: Rebooting reality

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