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August 31, 2010

Is Monogamy Unnatural, Evolutionarily, Secularly Speaking?

A new book is out claiming, for the eight millionth time, that it is.

Andrew Sullivan, who vowed that gay marriage would not change conventional marriage one iota and who further vowed that gay marriage would have the salutary effect of reducing and restraining gay male promiscuity, is championing the book, declaring, again, that heterosexual breeders really need to get over their hang-ups about having multiple partners and embrace polyamory.

By the way, he never, ever seems to notice that he's grossly contradictory or outright lying. It just never occurs to him there's an inconsistency here.

Megan McArdle has read the book, too. She writes:

I'm in the middle of Sex at Dawn, the book that's caught the attention of a number of commentators, including Dan Savage and our own Andrew Sullivan. I'm about halfway through the book, and so far, I'm disappointed to say that it reads like fucking cock-twaddle.

Actually, she said "horsefeathers," but I knew what she really wanted to write, so I changed it.

As someone who's wary of evolutionary biology stories which just happen to tell us that our dominant social structures are "natural", I should find the book interesting. Unfortunately, it reads like an undergraduate thesis--cherry-picked evidence stretched far out of shape to support their theory. The language is breathless rather than scientific, and they don't even attempt to paper over the enormous holes in their theory that people are naturally polyamorous.

For example, like a lot of evolutionary biology critiques, this one leans heavily on bonobos (at least so far). Here's the thing: humans aren't like bonobos. And do you know how I know that we are not like bonobos? Because we're not like bonobos. There's no way observed human societies grew out of a species organized along the lines of a bonobo tribe.

She then links this gay guy over at Scientific American, who questions this evolution-says-we're-supposed-to-be-promiscuous thesis. If evolution and "nature" really want us to just have sex with as many partners as we like, why has evolution and "nature" given us such a profound check on such behavior -- sexual possessiveness of our partner's exclusive affection, heart-break over a partner's infidelity, and empathy for our partners making us not wish to hurt them in this very painful way?

Heartbreak is every bit as much a psychological adaptation as is the compulsion to have sex with those other than our partners, and it throws a monster of a monkey wrench into the evolutionists’ otherwise practical polyamory. It’s indeed natural for people—especially men—to seek sexual variety. My partner once likened this to having the same old meal over and over again, for years on end; eventually you’re going to get some serious cravings for a different dish. But I reminded him that people aren’t the equivalent of a plate of spaghetti. Unfortunately, we have feelings.

Unless you have the unfortunate luck of being coupled with a psychopath, or have the good fortune of being one yourself, broken hearts are not easily experienced at either end, nor are they easily mended by reason or waved off by all the evolutionary logic in the world. And because we’re designed by nature to be not only moderately promiscuous but also to become selfish when that natural promiscuity rears its head—again, naturally—in our partners, “reasonable people” are far from immune to getting hurt by their partner’s open and agreed-upon sex with other parties. Monogamy may not be natural, but neither is indifference to our partners’ sex lives or tolerance for polyamory. In fact, for many people, especially those naively taking guidance from evolutionary theorists without thinking deeply enough about these issues, polyamory can lead to devastating effects.

He quotes an anthropologist who outlines the basics of the phenomenon we know as heartbreak, and the clinical description of heartbreak is itself sort of heartbreaking.

There is little doubt that many of us, gun to our heads, would admit, "Sure, I'd like to see what that other person not my spouse is like in bed."

But the polyamory proponents conveniently forget about the directly contrary impulses -- inborn instinct and drive, it seems, every bit as "natural" and "Darwinian" as the spread-the-seed impulse -- that keep most of us monogamous at least most of the time.

There's no doubt that one of these two impulses must be suppressed -- either the impulse to cheat must be suppressed, or the impulse to not wish to hurt someone close to you must be suppressed.

It's not surprising that a confirmed malignant narcissist like Andrew Sullivan thinks it's the latter that's screwing up everyone's good time, and thrills over books that justify ("Science!") sexual sociopathy.

Via Instapundit, who notes a funny comment in McArdle's comment section.

How Sullivan Thinks... He's an extremely narcissistic guy -- he's always contriving some reasons why his personal preferences are morally required to be everyone's preferences.

Hence, his creation, as critics called it, a one-man political party, the Party of Andrew. And then later, when he found the 2000 year old church to contradict the Sacred Scrolls of Sullivan, the Church of Andrew.

So here's what's going on: He has a lot invested in the idea that gay marriage must be equal to, in every way, if not superior to, straight marriage, because he's in a gay "marriage." (Apparently one with a loosey-goosey policy on fidelity.)

Now, if he doesn't feel this same need that most straights do to be monogamous, that would imply that his marriage is deficient in some manner; that he is deficient in some manner. That would imply that gay marriage is... lesser than straight marriage, as it lacks (for him, at least) one of the main features of straight marriage.

He can't have that. He can't and he won't.

Thus, any heterosexual (or homosexual, for that matter) who retains a sentimental attachment to the ideal of lifelong exclusive commitment must be irrational and fundamentally broken in some manner. Science ("Science!") must endeavor to prove this.

And to prove that Sullivan is as he conceives himself -- the most superlative life-form on the planet Earth (and probably most other planets, too, but he'll get to them as time permits).


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posted by Ace at 11:45 AM

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