Polygamy a better deal for women than men

In trying to argue this position, I’m going to reduce the genders to their stereotypes — namely that women want power (and note that money indirectly leads to power) and stability of that power; and men want sex with many different women. I’m going to ignore “love”, except by pointing out that marrying for love is a fairly recent phenomenon. The “normal” (in the sense of statistically more common) reasons for marriage were convenience, and establishing family alliances. Even today, arranged-marriages are still… well, arranged, based on what will likely give the couple a comfortable life, regardless of whether they love each other. Also for simplicity, I’m going to ignore homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. and assume everyone is heterosexual for this analysis.

According to evolutionary psychology, the reason men today want to have sex with lots of women is that this was one of the most effective survival strategy for their genes. Simplifying a great deal: Men with the “try to have sex with lots of women” gene tended to have children with more women than men with the “stick with one woman” gene, and thus the “try to have sex with lots of women” became more common, and dominant, in the gene pool. In contrast, no matter how many men a woman slept with, she could only be pregnant with one man’s child at a time, and thus the “try to have sex with lots of men” gene did not end up dominating. Instead, the “make sure the child is well taken care of” genes became dominant, because they tended to increase the probability that the child would survive long enough to be of reproductive age, and “well taken care of” children were more likely to recursively express the traits that attracted mate (power, beauty, etc.)

So what happens when a society becomes polygamous? We already know the answer from history: A few very powerful men (pharaohs, emperors, etc.) get the vast majority of the women, and the rest of the men get very little. In other words, most men get less sex than they would in a monogamous society, and most women get a more powerful partner than they would have.

To take an extreme example, consider a village with 100 men and 100 women. If that village were monogamous, you would imagine there being 100 men-women couples. Note that some poor woman is stuck with the least powerful man in the whole village. Another woman is stuck with the second least powerful, and so on. If the village were polygamous, then one of those men, the most powerful one, would be the “emperor” and get all 100 women, while the other 99 men get nothing. One woman has a partner equally powerful as she would have had in a monogamous society, and every other woman has a more powerful partner. One lucky lady went from the least powerful man in the whole village to the most powerful man. You can actually observe this directly today: in many cults, the cult leader (invariable male) will forbid any male other than himself from having sex, and he will have sex with all the female cult members, including the daughters and wives of other cult members.

David Koresh (1959-1993), the Seven Seals leader of Branch Davidians only in Elk, Texas, greatly restricted the sexual activity of his followers, while marrying wives as young as twelve because puberty was an accepted age for marriage in Old Testament times. A former member described Koresh as “fixated with sex and with a taste for younger girls.” He began to teach that all the women in the world belonged to him, only he had the right to procreate, and he fathered children with his plural wives.

OvercomingBias, a blog I frequent, notes that women seem to be realizing the benefits of polygamy, mating with the most sexy male (from an evolutionary viewpoint, the women are using “sexy” as a proxy for “genetically fit”), and then directly gathering the power themselves by becoming (since now, women can enter the workplace and earn a salary comparable to men’s). I’m not sure what to make of these observations, except to state that the blog’s author, Robin Hanson, is a lot smarter than I.

The new equilibrium we are moving toward seems a very different world. Women free to pick a dad without needing him to stay as a long term helper probably pick sexier men. This should create more inequality in male access to women for sex and kids, and give men more free time to compete to be the few super-sexy super-dads.

Women would get to have kids fathered by sexier men, but at the expense of raising those kids with less male help. More men would be sex-failures with more free time to pursue long-shot plans to reverse their fortunes, and without wives to moderate them. How many of those plans will be peaceful?

I guess this helps somewhat to explain the explicitly sex-aggressive men I see more of these days. When I wrote:

If you don’t signal your continued love she may well conclude that your love has in fact changed.

“Master Dogen” responded:

Hanson … seems to be thoroughly trained in thinking that the best way to long-term health in a relationship with a woman is to signal “caring more than everyone else” and “giving gifts,” etc. This, of course, is the constant position of a supplicant. … I advocate a very different way of dealing with a woman … So let’s assume you are an alpha, and you’ve trained your woman to supplicate you rather than the other way around. … You must continue signaling your dominance: gently pull her hair when you go in for a kiss, raise you voice sternly when she steps out of line, flirt shamelessly with other women in public.

I might not like it, but I can’t argue that the future doesn’t hold a lot more of this.

A true rationalist, Hason encourages all hypothesis to be testable, less they be dismissed as meaningless. The test here would seem to be more (sexual) aggressiveness in men. If present, it supports Hason’s hypothesis; if absent, weakens it. So in your immediate environment, have you tended to notice more male sexual aggressiveness? For me, on the one hand, shows like “The Pick-up Artist” seem to signal higher social acceptance of such practice, but on the other, it seems like men were much “worse” pre-1960s before feminism. Is this just a cyclical occurrence?

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