Original Post (with comments)
I got this email recently in response to the “Is Man Inherently Selfless?” article. It is chocked full of object lessons in how not to think about this stuff, so I figured I’d take it apart piece-by-piece.
One thing I read over and over again from evolutionary biologists is how men are genetically programmed to want to impregnate as many women as possible. Men are genetically predisposed agains monogamy. This is totally false. I am not programmed that way. It’s certainly not because I have rid myself of my bass desires through mental discipline. And the reasoning for it isn’t particularly enlightened. It’s quite simple and tied to other unenlightened caveman values. Status. Your offspring are much more likely to achieve status if they are born into a monogamous relationship than if they aren’t. And whereas I certainly could enjoy having sex with 70 virgins I would be highly unlikely to cheat on a monogamous mate because of feelings of loyalty which can override sexual desire. Especially if you have kids, from what I’ve heard people’s sex drive gets noticeably weaker once they have had offspring.
I knowingly embrace these caveman values of mine.
Let’s start with the biggest red flag of them all – “This is totally false. I am not programmed that way.” I see. So if this person had six fingers on his left hand and I stated that humans have five fingers on each hand, would he say that that also is totally false? It’s false for him. Exceptions to rules do not necessarily negate them. We can’t think of ourselves as archetypical representatives of our species. Some combination of genes and culture could easily produce a person who displays almost no “caveman-like” behavior. That doesn’t mean our ancestors were not cavemen, and it does not mean that the biological facts of reality are not still in play.
The facts I’m referring to have to do with the size of our sex cells. Males have many, many small ones; females have relatively few large ones. The size and quantity of sperm cells in males means that males have plenty to lose – there are millions more where they came from. In females, however, eggs are very precious. This is the reason for the divergent reproductive strategies of males and females. Males have shotguns; females have rifles. It’s that simple.
“Your offspring are much more likely to achieve status if they are born into a monogamous relationship than if they aren’t.” Sorry. Wrong again. The notion of monogamous relationships is very modern – as in, it has only been around for a few millennia. When our genes were being shaped by natural selection, it is doubtful that anything resembling monogamy existed, at least nothing very long-term. You can’t think so digitally about this. There are more than two options. Your genes, which are all that matters here, are best served if you have hundreds of kids by impregnating hundreds of women who already have mates, and then having those mates raise them. In fact, it is widely believed that jealousy emerged to keep males from being cuckolded (where they unknowingly raised another male’s child). If this is true, then we can think of monogamy as a cultural analog to jealousy – both exist to see that any time or resources a male invests in his offspring are not actually being invested in someone else’s offspring.
“And whereas I certainly could enjoy having sex with 70 virgins I would be highly unlikely to cheat on a monogamous mate because of feelings of loyalty which can override sexual desire.” Your feelings of loyalty to your mate have been installed by your environment, I can assure you. This is easy to see because you don’t have to teach kids to tell lies and be selfish. You have to teach them to tell the truth, even when it hurts. You have to teach them to share. And when it comes to sex – look at what goes on in the least educated, most ignorant places in the world. Rampant male promiscuity is the order of the day. Just look at America’s inner cities. Very few mothers are married, yet most males have children. The flip side is to look at affluent and educated people. Fewer kids, more marriages. I suspect that you grew up closer to the affluent educated side of the spectrum than you did the poor ignorant side. That, more than anything else, explains your “loyalty.”
“Especially if you have kids, from what I’ve heard people’s sex drive gets noticeably weaker once they have had offspring.” Sex drive toward the male’s mate may get weaker, but take away any culturally-installed inhibitions and put him in the back room of a strip club with a dozen prostitutes and then tell me about his sex drive.
Let me shout this point from the rooftops – IF YOU ARE MONOGAMOUS AND FAITHFUL, IT IS BECAUSE YOUR LIFE EXPERIENCES HAVE TAUGHT YOU TO OVERCOME YOUR GENES. The job can be done so well that you never even know it happened – just like how kids raised in devout religious environments never even realize (at least not until they get out into the world) that it’s possible to go through life without ever believing in God. Early indoctrination of the human mind is every bit as powerful as genetics, which is why we should be using it to do good, not to promote superstitions and nonsense. Those of us who have risen above our genes have much to be proud of, but as long as people continue to deny the dangers of our natural tendencies, we’ll never realize the vision of a truly compassionate and rational society.
This is a classic case of recognizing the problem being half the battle. Those who insist upon romanticizing humanity will consistently fail at this. Too bad. How do we justify telling a kid after catching him in a lie that he’s programmed to be good, but that somehow he has turned against his nature? And we wonder why so many people have inferiority complexes.