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Re: The lure of the older woman

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  • Jeremy Bowman
    ... -- I see no compelling reason to say that humans are not truly monogamous. One cannot say so on the grounds that there is a lot of cheating , because if
    Message 1 of 9 , Jul 2, 2001
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      Ian Mongomerie writes:

      > Additionally, humans are not truly
      > monogamous

      -- I see no compelling reason to say that humans are not "truly" monogamous.
      One cannot say so on the grounds that there is a lot of "cheating", because
      if that disqualifies us, it also disqualified the vast majority of
      monogamous birds.

      Nor does it matter much that "breeding pairs" of humans often separate,
      especially in times of great abundance. Intentions and norms here count for
      more than "success rates". Even if most of an animal's attempts to catch its
      prey fail, it is still a predator. It might conceivably still count as a
      predator even if it *doesn't even try* to catch its food -- think of a
      domestic cat that gets all of its food from a can.

      I think we adopt a too-exacting standard when we use the word 'monogamous'.
      Few (if any) creatures live up to that ideal, but that says more about our
      own absolute intentions and high-minded ideals than anything else. Those
      intentions and ideals suggest that we *are* truly monogamous, more than our
      failures to live up to them suggest the opposite.

      Just because the earth isn't a perfect sphere doesn't mean it isn't round!

      Jeremy Bowman
    • Ian Montgomerie
      ... I don t think it s quite proper to call responses non-adaptive when they may be the product of the brain having worked within its evolutionary hardware
      Message 2 of 9 , Jul 2, 2001
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        On 2 Jul 2001, at 14:06, leiedoke wrote:

        > Also - in certain cases mental mechanisms do not work, or some
        > information is given higher priority or various ontogenetic reasons,
        > leading to non-adaptive responses.

        I don't think it's quite proper to call responses "non-adaptive" when
        they may be the product of the brain having worked within its
        evolutionary hardware and environmental limits. To put it
        abstractly, if a strategy fails 20% of the time even in the EEA but
        reducing that failure rate would be too expensive for some reason,
        the strategy isn't non-adaptive, just non-perfect (and the failures
        themselves are not non-adaptive responses).

        I think that makeup and the televised personas of some very good
        looking, and thus in a fundamental way very young-looking, older
        women is simply making yet more obvious what would have been
        true thousands of years ago as well. Appearance is a very good
        proxy for youth and health, and much more suited than many other
        indicators for direct adaptations in the perceptual system. Since
        appearance and youth and health are not perfectly correlated, an
        evolutionary strategy relying heavily on them will fail, but still likely
        succeed better than the available alternatives. The result is people
        attracted to others based on appearance regardless of (or at least,
        to a greater extent than) actual age.
      • Mike Plagens
        ... A dozen species of successful bacteria, spirochetes, and viruses that produce venereal disease in humans is a compelling reason. And not to forget Pthirus
        Message 3 of 9 , Jul 3, 2001
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          > Ian Mongomerie wrote:
          >
          > > Additionally, humans are not truly
          > > monogamous>>>

          > --- Jeremy Bowman <jeremiad@...> wrote:
          > -- I see no compelling reason to say that humans are
          > not "truly" monogamous.

          A dozen species of successful bacteria, spirochetes,
          and viruses that produce venereal disease in humans is
          a compelling reason. And not to forget Pthirus pubis.

          An interesting area for research: can any of these
          organisms affect their host's relative polygamous
          behavior to their advantage?

          Mike Plagens

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        • Jeremy Bowman
          ... -- Not on its own it isn t. The existence of sexually-transmitted diseases is a reason to think that it is common for humans to have several sexual
          Message 4 of 9 , Jul 4, 2001
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            I wrote:

            > > -- I see no compelling reason to say that humans are
            > > not "truly" monogamous.

            Mike Plagens replied:

            > A dozen species of successful bacteria, spirochetes,
            > and viruses that produce venereal disease in humans is
            > a compelling reason.

            -- Not on its own it isn't. The existence of sexually-transmitted diseases
            is a reason to think that it is common for humans to have several sexual
            partners over the course of their lives. These diseases might evolve in an
            absolutely monogamous species that has a long fertile adulthood and very
            wide range of ages of death.

            But in any case, I repeat, most monogamy (including human) is non-absolute.
            Similarly, most monogamous birds are quite promiscuous -- they "cheat" --
            but we still call them "monogamous", because that is the best way of
            understanding their patterns of courtship, pairing, mating and raising
            offspring.

            If we apply the word 'monogamous' exclusively to absolutely monogamous
            species, then we would need another word to apply to non-absolutely
            monogamous species, because "lifelong pair-bonding but with cheating" is an
            explanatorily useful concept.

            My original point was not that "cheating" isn't common among humans, but
            rather that the best way of understanding the human "mating game" is to
            understand humans as (non-absolutely) monogamous. That explains why we call
            it "cheating" rather than, say, "extra-mural activity". And if the human
            "mating game" is essentially a matter of finding a partner, it is hardly
            surprising that human attraction is so flexible, or that there is so much
            variation between what individuals find sexually exciting (as a quick surf
            of porno web sites will reveal). This helps to explain why we all "go for"
            partners of different weights, different degrees of hairiness, muscularity,
            etc., etc. And why some men prefer older women, which is where this
            discussion began.

            It is currently fashionable to deny that humans are monogamous. There are
            plenty of reasons for this, but in my view all of them are illegitimate. For
            example, it's comforting to think that marital breakdown is an "inevitable
            part of human life" rather than a failure. It is understandable that people
            who have experienced marital breakdown get some comfort from thinking about
            it this way. Unfortunately, given the intentions of people who marry, it is
            better understood as a failure.

            Here's another reason why it is fashionable to think humans are not
            monogamous: we tend to extrapolate from our own rather narrow experiences to
            human life in general. Most of us in the West live in conditions of
            extraordinary and unprecedented affluence, quite unlike the conditions of
            most humans, in most places, most of the time. Where there is a great
            abundance of resources, or where childhood is unusually short -- such as in
            the United States following the Second World War -- divorce rates tend to go
            up, and "serial monogamy" becomes a common alternative to true monogamy.
            There are probably good evolutionary reasons for this. My guess is that in
            such societies, the reproductive issue for women is not "How can I bring a
            child to viable adulthood?" but rather "How can I bring genetically varied
            children to viable adulthood?" For most humans, most of the time, the real
            question was the former, and the answer was monogamy.

            To repeat, extrapolating from our own parochial experiences to human life in
            general is a bit like looking at a pampered domestic cat, which gets all of
            its food out of a can, and saying that domestic cats in general are not
            predators. Wrong!

            If extrapolating from an uncharacteristic sub-class is bad, extrapolating
            from an entirely distinct class altogether is even worse. I've noticed that
            evolutionary psychologists are ridiculously eager to draw conclusions about
            humans on the basis of the behaviour of other, very different kinds of
            primates.

            Q: What kind of biologist makes claims about species X by observing members
            of species Y? A: A bad biologist, unless members of species X are very hard
            to observe. The above is perhaps the best we can currently do with giant
            squid, say, but it's a poor second to observing the real thing. With humans,
            it's crazy.

            It can sound unpleasantly moralistic to say that humans are monogamous. To
            the semi-educated, it has a whiff of the "religious right", or even of
            Creationism. That's another reason why the fashion-conscious don't like
            saying it.

            Apologies for the length -- but I would like to make one final point that I
            think goes right to the very foundations of evolutionary psychology.

            I have noticed a great reluctance on the part of psychologists to posit
            mental states such as beliefs, desires and intentions as genuine *causes* of
            human behaviour. If we don't posit these mental states, it is much easier to
            say humans are not monogamous. Unfortunately, if we don't posit these
            states, it is also impossible to genuinely *explain* human behaviour.

            Dennis McBride writes:

            > Jeremy--It sounds as though there is some
            > judgment-calling in your thoughts:
            >
            > > Those intentions and ideals suggest that we
            > > *are* truly monogamous, more than our
            > > failures to live up to them suggest the
            > > opposite.

            -- By "intentions and ideals", I mean *actual* mental states, the sort of
            things that cause human behaviour. No moral judgement of any kind is
            involved in saying what these states are.

            For example, a person who puts on his coat and calls his dog, saying "c'mon
            Max -- walk!" has the *intention* of taking his dog for a walk. The only
            "judgement" involved here is that of (what Dennett calls) the intentional
            stance.

            Later, when they get to the beach, Max jumps into the water over and over
            again to retrieve "sticks" that his master has thrown (actually, they're
            stones, and Max retrieves none of them). Max has the *ideal* of catching and
            retrieving everything his master throws. Again, there is no moral judgement
            involved here at all.

            Mundane "intentions and ideals" such as these surround us wherever we are in
            the company of creatures that have minds. (Even creatures that don't fully
            have minds have inchoate intentions and "proto-"ideals, such as a spider's
            "determination" to weave its web.)

            The dominant tradition in psychology -- i.e. behaviourism, with its
            attendant operationalist definitions -- neglects these mundane mental
            states. But these very mental states (beliefs, desires, intentions, ideals,
            etc.) are an *essential* part of the casual chain in all human action.
            Perhaps this neglect is considered "savvy" in psychological circles, but
            among halfway-decent philosophers it is considered hopelessly naïve, for the
            simple reason that proper explanation always involves the laying bare of
            causes.

            If the intention of doing something is part of the cause of a human (or
            animal) act, then failure to take account of that intention is a failure to
            explain it. If an "ideal" -- i.e. a long-term habitual intention to achieve
            something -- is part of the cause of a human (or animal) behaviour, then
            failure to take account of that ideal is a failure to explain.

            Jeremy Bowman
          • Kevin MacDonald
            Rob Quinlan asks for references on monogamy. Here are some recent ones: MacDonald, K. B. (1995). The Establishment and Maintenance of Socially Imposed Monogamy
            Message 5 of 9 , Jul 7, 2001
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              Rob Quinlan asks for references on monogamy. Here are some recent ones:
              MacDonald, K. B. (1995). The Establishment and Maintenance of Socially
              Imposed Monogamy in Western Europe. (This article was the subject of
              commentaries by Laura Betzig, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, James A. Brundage,
              Ulrich Mueller, Frank Salter, John M. Strate, and David Sloan Wilson.)
              Politics and the Life Sciences, 14, 3-23.

              Kanazawa, S., & Still, M. C. (1999). "Why monogamy?" Social Forces
              78(1):28-50.

              Sanderson, S. K., Explaining Monogamy and Polygyny in Human Societies:
              Comment on Kanazawa and Still. , Social Forces 80(1), September, in press

              MacDonald, K. B. (2001). Theoretical Pluralism and Historical Complexity in
              the Development and Maintenance of Socially Imposed Monogamy: A Comment on
              Kanazawa and Still. Social Forces 80(1), September, in press.

              Kanazawa and Still have a reply to Sanderson and MacDonald in the same issue
              of Social Forces.

              Besides thinking in terms of social control at the cultural level, it is
              also important to think about adaptations for monogamy at the psychological
              level. My view is that humans have mechanisms that facilitate both monogamy
              (the human affectional system which correlates with long-term, intimate
              relationships, pair bonding, and high-investment parenting) and polygyny
              (the behavioral approach system--attraction to sexual reward, status
              seeking). This is based on the data from personality psychology. See:
              MacDonald, K. B. (1998). Evolution, Culture, and the Five-Factor Model.
              Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 29, 119-149. Individual differences in
              these systems and social controls at the cultural level (which typically
              reflect the interests of different groups) are critical in whether monogamy
              or polygyny will actually occur.

              My papers on these topics are on my website:
              http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/Evolpsych.html

              Kevin MacDonald
              Department of Psychology
              California State University-Long Beach
              Long Beach, CA 90840-0901
              562 985-8183; fax: 562 985-8004
              webpage: www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/
            • Jeremy Bowman
              Dear all, I am prepared to change my mind -- and to start believing that humans are *not* monogamous -- IF anyone can show me: 1. that some observable
              Message 6 of 9 , Jul 8, 2001
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                Dear all,

                I am prepared to change my mind -- and to start believing that humans are
                *not* monogamous -- IF anyone can show me:

                1. that some observable consequences can be derived from the hypothesis that
                "humans are not monogamous";

                2. that as one such consequence, a particular event (of a surprising but
                repeatable sort) was actually predicted to occur;

                3. that the event did in fact occur. (In other words, the prediction proved
                true, and the hypothesis was "confirmed".)

                I am unprepared to call anything "science" that does not involve
                confirmation, as in 1 - 3 above. Without such confirmation, we have very
                poor grounds for believing that a hypothesis is true.

                It seems to me that psychology doesn't involve much of that sort of thing.
                Instead, it uses methods well-suited to *discovery* (surveys, statistics,
                and so on) but treats the results *as if those methods justified belief in
                those results*. In psychology, the context of discovery and the context of
                justification seem not to be distinct. But in every branch of science that I
                am aware of, these "contexts" are very distinct.

                For example, it doesn't matter how Kekulé got the idea of the shape of the
                benzene molecule (it was supposed to have been a dream of snakes biting
                their own tails). Its ring shape is confirmed countless times in the
                everyday practice of chemists who deal with aromatic compounds. Similarly,
                it doesn't matter whether an apple dropped on Newton's head or not -- his
                laws are confirmed day-in day-out by most human machines, from children's
                toys to interplanetary probes (and they are found to be very nearly exactly
                right).

                But it *does* matter how surveys are conducted, and it *does* matter how
                statistical samples are chosen.

                Many supposedly "scientific" results in other disciplines (than psychology)
                are equally doubtful, because the contexts of discovery and justification
                are as indistinct as they seem to be in psychology. For example, it's anyone
                's guess whether global warming is really happening (to say nothing about
                whether carbon emissions are the cause, or whether it's a bad thing, or
                whether the supposed cure is worse than the disease). Similarly, no one
                knows for sure whether saturated fats cause heart disease. (My guess is:
                maybe, but then again, probably not.)

                The contexts of discovery and justification are so merged together in
                psychology that it cannot claim to have any more credibility than "global
                warming science" or "cholesterol studies", both of which, frankly, are
                bullshit. That's why "studies" in psychology seem so untrustworthy -- the
                question is always "is the researcher politically biased?" And that is why
                the question of the personal integrity of a researcher is relevant. (In
                disciplines where the contexts of discovery and justification are distinct,
                an ad hominem argument is fallacious -- a real *mistake* in reasoning,
                likely to lead to error -- rather than a breach of good manners.)

                I don't know what to make of the findings about monogamy based on the
                "standard sample" from the "Ethnographic Atlas". How does anyone count
                "societies"? Does every single little tribe (or extended family) in the
                trailer parks of Utah count as a separate "society"?

                Another, gigantic problem with this discussion is that we all seem to mean
                to different things by words like 'monogamy' and 'polygamy'. How are we to
                count "polygamy"? -- The having of many (legal) wives, or the having of many
                lovers, with no special attachment to any of them? Was the sultan who loved
                Scheherazade polygamous? If a man visits a prostitute for "special
                services" -- sexual acts that his beloved wife is too squeamish to
                perform -- does that make him polygamous?

                For what it's worth, when I use the word 'monogamy', I'm thinking about
                long-term "possessive" attachment, the sort of thing that makes European
                fairy tales end with "happily ever after", the very same thing that directs
                the plot of every single Bollywood movie... (By the way, did the British
                bring true love to India, or did they have it already? -- My guess is --
                they had it already!)

                I'm *not* talking about legal (or legal-type) arrangements for the expansion
                of an extended family, which legal (or legal-type) marriages often or
                usually involve. I'm talking about love. Almost everyone knows what *that*
                word means.

                Jeremy Bowman
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