The Fantasy of Sexual Socialism

 

There’s a new book out that changes everything. Just listen:

Since Darwin’s day, we’ve been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science–as well as religious and cultural institutions–has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man’s possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman’s fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married, and divorce rates keep climbing as adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages.

How can reality be reconciled with the accepted narrative? It can’t be, according to renegade thinkers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. While debunking almost everything we “know” about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book.

Ryan and Jethá’s central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners. Weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, the authors show how far from human nature monogamy really is. […] The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality while pointing toward a more optimistic future illuminated by our innate capacities for love, cooperation, and generosity.

Polyamory: the last refuge of a socialist. In an era when radical egalitarianism has been intellectually discredited as a political program, good old sex is there to fuel the emotional fantasies of the frustrated leveler. We’re hardwired to share everything! Exclusivity is a social construct at the most fundamental level — that of our own bodies! Take that, Aristotle! Over to you, Megan:

Lifetime monogamy may not be the evolved human template. But I’m pretty sure that carefree polyamory isn’t either. And at some level, who cares? Rape seems to be pretty “natural”, but I’d still like to build social institutions that fight this “natural instinct”. The book might have been thought-provoking, but so far, in trying to prove too much, they end up proving nothing at all. And the “I bet you didn’t know about . . . bonobos!!!!” tone is incredibly off-putting.

Look: since the time of the prophets and the philosophers we have known (no need for scare quotes) that we humans are naturally apt to fantasize simultaneously about natural and unnatural things. There’s something exciting about purposefully imagining a conflation of what’s natural with what isn’t. What else, to provide a chaste example, is the human longing for flight? It seems to me safe to say that our nature is eminently compatible with a monogamous sexual order, but that our nature doesn’t dictate any sexual order, monogamous, bigamous, polygamous, or anything else. Our nature as human animals is to want to eat our cake and have it too when it comes to order of any kind. We want the benefits of compliance when we want them, and we want the benefits of noncompliance when we want those, too. This isn’t the first time that the fantasy of sexual socialism has led progressive crusaders to run up the banner reading Eros Lo Volt!, and it won’t be the last. But it’s time we stopped taking them seriously.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @HumzaAhmad
    James Poulos, Ed.: Since Darwin’s day, we’ve been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science–as well as religious and cultural institutions–has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man’s possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman’s fertility and fidelity.

    It seems to me that this book starts off on the wrong premise. Monogamy is certainly not humans’ natural tendency, and religious and cultural institutions are certainly not tying to make this point. Most religions and cultures throughout history have supported the institutions of marriage and family in order to allow humans to suppress polyamorous and otherwise selfish or destructive instincts for the greater and longer-term good of themselves and society as a whole.

    James Poulos, Ed.: …the authors show how far from human nature monogamy really is.

    “Human nature” being far or near to monogamy is not the point; it is temperance of our natural and/or primal instincts and urges that separates humans from animals. Without such religious and social teachings and practices, we really would be no more than bonobos.

    • #1
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    @KatieO

    Pneumatic!

    “After all, every one belongs to every one else.” -Lenina Crowne, Brave New World

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    @DuaneOyen

    A progressive married couple writes a book providing the rationale for them to entertain themselves when they get bored with each other. Yawn.

    Many social scientists just need to grow up.

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    @tabularasa

    The natural man and woman are not people I’d like to hang with–they may have shared sexual partners but they’re likely to have thought of you as dinner as well. They are not Rousseau’s “noble savages.”

    Because of all this we created a civilization that, within broad limits, allows humans to be free, but then checks the most egregious of our “natural” propensities.

    And most of the data are clear that the best way to raise, self-sufficient, confident, successful children is in the traditional family.

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    @AdamFreedman
    The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality . . .

    I’m no expert, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that the “ancient roots” of human sexuality has something to do with the biological imperative to reproduce. Presumably those “renegade thinkers” will endorse a ban on birth control as being contrary to “human nature.”

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  6. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge
    Adam Freedman

    I’m no expert, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that the “ancient roots” of human sexuality has something to do with the biological imperative to reproduce. Presumably those “renegade thinkers” will endorse a ban on birth control as being contrary to “human nature.”

    Of course. It seem sex has never been only about reproduction, but if it weren’t on average reproductive, it wouldn’t exist — we wouldn’t exist. But they won’t endorse a ban on birth control because.

    There’s a new book out:

    Since Darwin’s day, we’ve been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science–as well as religious and cultural institutions–has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man’s possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman’s fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married, and divorce rates keep climbing as adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages.
    Maybe “this narrative is collapsing” now because sex has been increasingly decoupled from its natural reproductive function? Eh?

    Banning birth control would make their narrative collapse.

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  7. Profile Photo Contributor
    @Midge

    What I’ve heard evolutionary biologists say is that humans are “naturally” somewhere between monogamous and slightly polygynous (one man, many wives).

    Anthropologically, there are very few polyandrous (one woman, many husbands) cultures (often brothers share a wife), though much is made of these. On Wikipedia’s Group Marriage page, there seem to be at least as many examples taken from fiction as from real life, which would seem to suggest this is more fantasy than reality, no?

    In one sense, civilization is unnatural — it’s not easy. In another sense, though, civilization must be natural, or there’d be less of it. Civilization creates a stabler environment, favoring K-selection, and breeding civilized children takes considerably more parental investment than breeding uncivilized children. These conditions favor a monogamous mating strategy. Therefore, you can argue in evolutionary-biology terms that monogamy is the natural strategy for a natural human arrangement: civilization.

    But a critique of most evolutionary-biology arguments, especially applied to humans, is that they’re only just-so stories, rationalizations.

    I’d say the common human experience of sexual jealousy and the relative success of children in traditional families makes a better argument for monogamy in civilized culture.

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    @TommyDeSeno

    So is their conclusion also that jealousy is not part of human nature? Was jealously fabricated by religious alchemists trying to control us into monogamy and magically inserted into the human cocktail of emotions?

    Make a pass at my wife and you’ll find out jealousy is as real as any raw human emotion.

    Sorry but I’m not buying into polyamory as the norm for human emotion. Aberration maybe – not the norm.

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    @PatrickShanahan

    Let me posit a simple theory: social structures reflect what works.

    Why does it need to be more complicated than that? If monogamy were not the best coupling structure, it would not be the dominant social coupling structure.

    Idiots like these are just desperately seeking reasons why this ought not be. Well, say whatever you like, what is, is. For a reason.

    The link with socialism is actually very clear. Both seek to impose personal desires over simple social realities. The realities ain’t working for some people, so they are compelled to argue with them.

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    @Misthiocracy

    Sure sounds like the society in Brave New World, which ever-so-many lefties like to cite as a masterpiece of dystopian literature. Hmm…

    • #10
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    @DavidSchmitt
    Adam Freedman

    The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality . . .

    I’m no expert, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that the “ancient roots” of human sexuality has something to do with the biological imperative to reproduce. Presumably those “renegade thinkers” will endorse a ban on birth control as being contrary to “human nature.” · Aug 31 at 9:14am

    Brilliant, Mr. Freedman.

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    @DavidSchmitt
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: What I’ve heard evolutionary biologists say is…

    And are not evolutionary biology and individual lives both partly about the incorporation of what was once unnatural into a new natural? So a group of conspecific organisms find themselves in a niche cul-de-sac, could there have been some other place that they would have been “more naturally” suited as things turned out? Perhaps, but the multiple-worlds question is meaningless. Here it is that they must make their stand. If some members of the population can manage to survive here, with the help of some genetic drift and selection, Voila! This phyletic group is now “naturally” adapted to this place. This group successfully becomes one of evolutionary “homesteaders,” or should I say, “nichesteaders?” If organisms did not have the capacity for the “unnatural,” there would be no capacity for adaptation. Humans have the interesting and sometimes flawed tendency to push into certain niches where no one should go. Nature has not invited us there.

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