The debate whether polygamy or monogamy is the natural way of life often misses important points as it is too focused on polygyny. A recent example is an article by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times claiming that monogamy brings an evolutionary advantage. The article is part of the discussion which was initiated in recent weeks by two studies of monogamy in mammals and primates. However, the studies led by Christopher Opie and Dieter Lukas came to different conclusions.
Nonetheless some authors saw this as an opportunity to reaffirm their preexisting opinion that monogamy was the only natural way of life for humans. Actually there is no scientific proof for this notion, as among others Professor Peter Kappeler makes clear: ““Whoever claims that monogamy had always been the only acceptable form of organization of human beings should visit an anthropology lecture.”
Natural way of life?
It seems to make little sense to speak of a natural way of life regarding monogamy. Something that is natural for us in my opinion would have to be like breathing, eating and drinking. No one would have to tell us that we “should” or “have to” live like this or even force us to. We would just do it, because we could not help it.
Understanding it like this it seems more sensible to see promiscuity as a natural way of life. Humans constantly have sex and lasting relationships with others than our official partners in monogamous societies. This is common knowledge but moreover it is proven scientifically by various studies such as this one by Conley as well as by statistics about adultery and divorce rates.
Monogamy supposed to be beneficial for evolution
The above-mentioned article, “Monogamy and Human Evolution” by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times claims that monogamy has been an evolutionary advantage in human development. Fathers who enter into long-term bonds supposedly take more care of their children, which in turn led to a better food supply for these children. This better food supply may be the reason why our ancestors developed larger brains.
Apart from the fact that it seems to me like too many advantages are attributed to monogamy by Zimmer, this causal chain to my knowledge is by no means proven. Added to that is the fact that in studies and articles about polygamous societies it is repeatedly mentioned that the promiscuous lifestyle of our ancestors, when there is not only a father but the whole group takes care of the children, is actually an advantage for the continuous supply of children.
Look beyond polygyny or you´ll miss the point
It seems to me that the debate about polygamy suffers from the fact that most participants, especially from the U.S., focus on polygyny = one man with several women. It thereby misses out on polyandry = one woman with several men and on group marriage = multiple women and multiple men. But this might be a serious mistake, because promiscuous lifestyles that most closely match polyandry and / or group marriage seem to have been the predominant way of life for our ancestors. At least this is the argument made by Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jethá and the many scientists they quote in Sex at Dawn.
Debate on polygamy and monogamy needs wider perspective
The debate about monogamy requires a new approach. First, it should definitely stay away from nonsensical arguments about our “natural way of life”. This is simply misleading as humans, like all animals, adapt to their circumstances, which are different now then when we lived in hunter-gatherer societies. Second, it would do the debate much good if it moved away from the fixation on polygyny and participants would always remember that polygamy has many forms.
Notice: This article is translated and some contents might have been added or left out to better meet the needs of an international audience from an original article on one of my german websites Viktor-Leberecht.de or Polygamie-ist-gut-fuer-sie.de (engl:Polygamy is good for you). How i do my translations. Last updated: August 11, 2013 at 16:50 pm © Viktor Leberecht All rights reserved. Please feel free to share my content, but on republishing this post please provide a link to the original post, which happens automatically when you use Social-Sharing-Services. What do you think? Leave a comment here or send me a question through the contact form or the FAQ.
Tags: Anthropology, Cacilda Jethá, Chris Ryan, Monogamy, Peter Kappeler, Polyamory, Polyandry, Polygamy, Polygyny, Promiscuity, Sex at Dawn