Roll yourself away from me
Unveil me from your layers
Lay with me
Let me plunder, – no betrayal
Shame cast out
Morning sensual fire aroused
Union upon union
In union we’ll flower
Sail naked in our funder
Press towards the burst
Peter Murphy, The Sweetest Drop
The other day, I had a pretty intense discussion with a friend of mine about marriage and monogamy. We didn’t agree about much of anything, so the conversation was long and drawn out and quite unfocused. But sometimes, I think those are the best kinds of friendly debate: there is so much potential for previously unconsidered ideas to emerge. This was one of those times.
I have talked previously about human sexual selection strategies, and particularly K-r Selection. K-r describes a sexually dimorphic strategy where the male (K) strategy revolves around maximizing the number of mates and mating instances in order to maximize the number of offspring fathered. The female (r) strategy, conversely, revolves around maximizing the investment and attention of a single mate.(Psychology today on Male-Female sexual adaption)
In humans, children require substantial support and nurturing to survive – more than any single individual can dependably provide. As a result, women seek out mates that are not only physically appealing, but that also exhibit an ability to support and provide for here and her children. At the same time, this same fact is a limiting factor on the male K strategy (after all, he is only ‘successful’ from an evolutionary standpoint, when his children survive to procreate themselves). The push-pull between those two adaptive strategies are a common explanation for human pair bonding. I, personally, have always found it to be rather compelling. An extended (and user-friendly) discussion of this mechanism can be found in Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker (a must read for anyone interested in evolutionary theory, IMO)
Thinking about this dynamic amongst humans, it occurred to me that this may have significantly influenced our social behaviors, as well. Most great apes are social animals, but aside from bonobos, most of those social groups are strongly hierarchical, dependent on an alpha male ‘ruling’ by physical prowess and controlled violence. Humans, to the contrary, evolved in egalitarian groups, based upon cooperative behaviors and inter-dependance.
So how does this relate bask to mating behaviors? It occurred to me that the egalitarian community was the ‘best of both worlds’ for both male and female strategies. For women, the group provided a secondary level of support for herself and her child(ren). Should her mate abandon her (unlikely as the entire group would have something to say about his behavior), or, more likely, die or become ill, she would have a number of other individuals around that would help her as needed. For him, the pressure is reduced slightly, regarding the support he would need to provide, and it would give him easy access to potential, secondary mates.
Hominids are social animals, so I am quite certain that this is not the reason we are social animals, however, it does seem like it could be one of those adaptations that reinforced this aspect of our nature. I don’t know, yet, if this line of thinking will be useful in designing our sustainable communities, but I thought I’d throw it out there, just in case.
(Originally Posted November 1, 2006)