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The Problem of Polygamy in the Contemporary World, Book Review Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1857

Essay

In every human society, the question of human sexuality was addressed according to the socio-religious framework of that society and human self-perception. Nowadays, in the age of science, people begin to explore more on the previously forbidden topics of sexuality and human sexual behaviour. From one perspective, freedom gives an opportunity to learn more about the evolution of human sexuality and its natural conditionality, on the other hand, some researchers might be too bold and tend to represent pseudo-scientific statements as a real science. In this regard, the danger is in justifying contemporary misconducts of sexual behaviour by the prehistoric potential of their occurrence and genetic favourability of its practice in the cave age. The aim of this paper is to review the book “Sex At Dawn” by Christopher Ryan and CacildaJetha and to refute the authors’ thesis in this book.

The main thesis of the authors is that monogamy is not natural for human sexuality and is just a social construction of the agricultural era. This thesis is further supported by the following arguments. First of all, the authors argue that the contemporary standard evolutionary narrative is wrong, and monogamy is not natural to human sexuality. Secondly, the war between sexes is an invention of the agricultural age. Thirdly, in contrast to agricultural societies, hunters’ communities were sexually promiscuous, and this type of sexual behaviour was natural it remained so because there are some contemporary examples of partible paternity. Finally, the all mentioned above arguments conclude that contemporary people need to embrace the true nature of their sexuality. Onwards, its argument is described in its details and further refutation.

Regarding the first argument on the standard evolutionary narrative suggests that females are likely to choose a man possessing resources to provide for her and her children, but will have sex with wild and unpredictable men for the benefit of theirstrong genetic code, while the husband will have a large number of mistresses. The authors argue that each sex has its own dark mating strategies in challenging monogamy: “females maximizing quality of mates and males maximizing quantity of mating opportunities; it’s jungle out there.”[1] Consequently, the desire of each sex to preserve benefits of the union and pretence of monogamy is the social convention rather than a natural feature of sexuality. From authors’ perspective, this standard evolutionary narrative is wrong because polygamy remains present in human mating strategies.

The problem with this argument is that it takes the evolutionary narrative for granted. In other words, the authors assume that the general theory of sexual evolution is an established standard of explaining human behaviour and modelling of human sexuality. In the field of evolutionary psychology and exploration of sexuality, there are numerous theories that are still in progress and in constant refutation due to the new evidence arising with the development of science.[2] Another argument against standardisation of evolutionary narrative and suggestion of the presence of polygamy through adultery is that infidelity differs across contemporary cultures and societies. While, in the Western society, infidelity might be more common, in the Slavic or Asian states it is far from a common phenomenon.[3]Thus, just as the infidelity frequency and polygamy is case and culture-sensitive, so is the authors’ argument for the standard evolutionary narrative. In other words, it can be standard in some places and argue for polygamy, and it may be absent in other and argue for normality ofmonogamy.

The second argument regarding “the war between the sexes” is a creation of the agricultural society and that it is conditioned by the desire of power and control which are incorporated into human evolved sexuality:

men want lots of no-strings lovers, while women want just a few partners, with as

many strings as possible. If a man agrees to be roped into a relationship, the

narrative tells us, he’ll be hellbent on making sure his mate isn’t risking his genetic

 investments by accepting deposits from other men, as it were.”[4]

In this regard, the authors suggest that this male jealousy and control are conditioned by the rule of materialistic values in the agricultural society and private ownership.The counter-argument in terms of the agricultural conditionality of the war between the sexes is actually human nature. Although the authors outline the difference between female and male human nature, they do not address the issue of ownership and belonging from an existential perspective. In this regard, the male desire to invest into his offspring is not conditioned by the socially-invented desire to look after one’s own and not waste resources on genes of another male. From a simple existential perspective, a human being is created to continue its species. Thus, for a male to fulfil his role and life goal is to make sure that his genes are transferred to his offspring.[5] In other words, male natural instinct is to pro-create his bloodline rather than concern about another male’s problem. This is where the male competition for a female comes from.[6] Unlike authors’ argument, which has little physical evidence, this counter-argument is well-documented in different experiments and exploration of male hormonal reaction tooffspring of other couples.

The next argument refers to the polygamy of the hunter communities it relevance today because there are still some tribes that practice partible paternity. The authors suggest that due to the necessity of survival, meaning male protection, provision of food and genetic strength, hunting societies were structured by sharing everything including sexual acts and parenthood of offspring. The authors suggest as system “that might have been suited to meeting the challenges of prehistoric conditions and more effective in helping people survive long enough to reproduce.”[7] This argument seems absolutely justified in terms of human survivability in prehistoric times. It seems rational regarding the benefits of polygamy as an element of a unified community. Even its benefit for the survival of children with multiple protectors and food-providers is entirely legitimate[8]. In fact, hunter societies could live in that way, and some of them did according to historical chronicles and anthropological findings. The problem in this argument is that the authors’ belief that one’s prehistoric existential adaptation to severe conditions of the surrounding environment is actually a universal natural feature of one’s sexuality, which preserves through the entire history of human existence and evolution.[9]

In other words, it is quite possible and scientifically provable that hunter societies practiced polygamy for the survival and because it did not contradict their social conventions. However, there is no scientific evidence that human beings are more likely to practice polygamy rather than monogamy, especially in the contemporary world. In this regard, the authors use the contemporary examples of communities that practice partible paternity. One of the examples is the Mehinaku village in Brazil. The authors quote anthropological findings from another book:

extramarital relationships contribute to village cohesion, by consolidating

relationships between persons of different clans and promoting enduring relationships

based on mutual affection. He found that many lovers are very fond of one another

and regard separation as a privation to avoid.”[10]

In this regard, the authors are justified to use legitimate physical evidence that polygamy still exists nowadays and that its benefits prevail even 10,000 years after the hunters’ societies practiced that. On the other hand, their examples only show that such practice still exists in some remote, tribal communities of the world. However, this example does not show evidence to prove that polygamy is natural to human sexuality or that it should be practiced in the contemporary world.[11]

Furthermore, concentrating on the agricultural society conventions and how they supposedly suppressed “natural polygamy”, unwillingly the authors made the case for the social conditioning of sexuality. In this regard, the entire discourse of the book demonstrates that human sexuality is rather flexible and can evolve or adapt according to the changes in the surrounding environment, conditions of survival and social constructions.[12] Although the author aimed to demonstrate that polygamy is part of human sexuality, which it can be, they failed to demonstrate how exactly it is natural and what is meant by natural. In this regard, the failure is the categorisation of what is natural and what is not. Thus, in order to demonstrate a scientific argument the author would also need to define the difference between what was natural in the surrounding environment millennia ago, and what is natural in the contemporary environment[13]. Although the authors argue for people coming out of their closets, their explanation of the place of polygamy in the contemporary reality is quite vague which brings us to the refutation of their last argument.

The final argument of the authors is that irrespective of the seemingly sexually liberating nature of the contemporary Western society, “the conflict between what we’re told we feel and what we really feel may be the richest source of confusion, dissatisfaction and unnecessary suffering of our time.”[14]In this regard, the authors simply make assumptions about what some people may feel and what other do not. Once again they miss out other factors that influence one’s sexuality and consequent success in marriage. In this regard, various problems are conditioned by the psychoanalytical context of one’s childhood traumas.[15] On the other hand, another problem of this statement is that who knows exactly what another person feels and whether it is natural or not. If the authors challenge both social conventions and survival instincts of the animal world, then what is left for a human being to rely on and build its interactions with the rest of the humanity?

Overall, from all mentioned above it can be concluded that the authors of the book aimed at demonstrating a different side to human sexuality in terms of polygamy of the hunter societies preceding the contemporary agriculture era of ownership and control. Their approach demonstrated to be quite unorthodox in their argumentation and suggestions of the place of polygamy in natural human sexuality. On the other hand, the arguments were not supported by strong scientific evidence and systematic layout of their ideas. Thus, the book can considered an interesting reading in order to explore a different perspective on the evolution of human sexuality; however, it cannot be used as a substantive source for a scientific argument. Most of the arguments posed by the authors require a more profound exploration and validation by the contemporary science.

Bibliography

Ellsworth, Ryan. “The Human That Never Evolved.” Evolutionary Psychology 9.3 (2011): 325-335.

Gray, Peter. Evolution of Human Sexuality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2013.

Kimmel, Michael. The Sexual Self: The Construction of Sexual Scripts. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. 2007.

Ryan, Christopher and JethaCacilda. Sex at Dawn. London: Harper Perennial. 2010.

 

[1] Christopher Ryan and CacildaJetha. Sex at Dawn. (London: Harper Perennial, 2010), 55.

[2]Ryan, Ellsworth, “The Human That Never Evolved,” Evolutionary Psychology 9.3 (2011): 328.

[3]Michael, Kimmel. The Sexual Self: The Construction of Sexual Scripts. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2007), 73.

[4]Ryan and Jetha, Sex at Dawn, 269.

[5]Ellsworth, “The Human That Never Evolved”, 330.

[6]Peter, Gray. Evolution of Human Sexuality. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2013), 74.

[7] Ryan and Jetha, Sex at Dawn, 99.

[8]Kimmel. The Sexual Self, 112.

[9]Ellsworth, “The Human That Never Evolved”, 332.

[10] Ryan and Jetha, Sex at Dawn, 103.

[11]Ellsworth, “The Human That Never Evolved”, 331

[12]Kimmel. The Sexual Self, 92.

[13]Gray. Evolution of Human Sexuality, 87.

[14] Ryan and Jetha, Sex at Dawn, 4.

[15]Ellsworth, “The Human That Never Evolved”, 330.

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