Thursday, February 9, 2012

Post apocalyptic polygamy

Many post apocalyptic novels explore the issue of different partnership arrangements between men and woman.  This trend seems to have faded in the 1980s, with any alternative arrangements being (from an authorial point of view) viewed as aberrant rather than exploratory.  The examples are so numerous, and so varied in their seriousness, I will avoid going into specifics.

This somewhat begs the question of: Why do we have monogamous societies at all?

Historically, and from what we know pre-historically, monogamy has not been the norm.  85% of societies within the anthropological record allow multiple marriages by men.  Additional wives were (are) often a status symbol.  Even societies that are otherwise highly egalitarian on their surface practice polygynous marriage.  The Cheyenne, dominant horse-tribe in the American Southwest in the early and middle portions of the 19th century used their multiple (after the third one) as an enslaved work force for those with enough wealth to maintain them.

Looking at the roots of Western Society, in the Jewish (Old Testament) Torah, many of the early patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon) had many wives, and there was no strict regulations against it.  Within the Jewish faith, the strict ban on polygynous marriage only came 1000 years ago within the Ashkenazi Jewish sect.  As an accident of history, the Ashkenazi are the dominant Jewish group in the modern world so we tend to associate Judaism with monogamous marriage.

A recent study has looked at some of the advantages of monogamy in a study of cultural cross comparisons.

Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, and Peter J. Richerson,  Royal B. Society, March 5, 2012 367 (1589) 657-669; doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0290

In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, aswell as decreasing personal abuses. By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fertility, and (iii) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, normative monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide.

I am not completely convinced of all their logic.  Many of them sound like nice reasons why monogamy would be more effective.  But reality is not always “nice”.

Peter Turchin has noted in his book, Cliodynamics, that the Islamic societies elite turnover tended to be very high, as the elite with a very large number of children, tended to very quickly outgrow the surplus resources of society: much faster than the slow rise and ebb of the general population.  The short term advantage to an individual, was also their long term disadvantage.


Degringolade said...

I grew up in Utah and back in the 70's the polygamous subculture was even more pronounced than today. Couple of friends grew up in the system and they were just fine.

I really can't see the bother about multiple marriages. Oh the feminists will bitch about the commoditization of marriage, but if anyone knew Mr Wyatt, with three wives all keeping him on a leash by tag team, they would have realized that it is no big deal.

We really gotta get a grip on this.

PioneerPreppy said...

With a few exceptions monogamy is almost exclusively a European extract. Typically the further South you go and closer to the warmer climes the more polygamy and other variants on relationships come out. This trend is more noticeable in Europe/Africa but also held true to a lesser degree in Asia and in those scattered tribes of North and South America.

In Europe monogamy managed to get itself so entangled into Christian doctrine that it became the religious norm with only one notable exception although there are other less known ones as well.

Generally speaking the easier life came the more surplus that was available and the more women there were to go around which meant more opportunities for polygamy to take hold. In general the Northern climate meant you could only afford one mate and to avoid too much jealousy the richer Northerners had to make do with mistresses instead of multiple wives. Mistresses also carried an amount of social dislike that tended to lessen the further South you went as well.

I kinda feel thats why feminism is so much more rampant and stronger in women of Northern European extract like say the really rabid ones in Sweden and the U.S.

Many African tribes practiced the rotating temporary and migrating husband culture we see as the norm in African American society today. Also as America melts with these Southern cultures it is taking on the norms in relationships that were common in Southern societies.

Generally speaking the easier life is the more open that society is to alternative relationships other than monogamy.

Humble wife said...

I used to tell my husband he can have another wife(we lived in both northern Utah and central Nevada near polygamous Mormons). He had to meet the criteria I set: she must be older, chubby, clean well, and she cannot have children!

In reality I did have several friends that were polygamous, as we lived rural and they did too. It took a good while to breach the secretive groups. The women battled daily with jealousy, but all loved having other moms to care for and love the kids. Canning time would be easier that is for sure.

But do I see polygamy a successful pattern in Islam, in the fundamental mormon religion, and in history? Truth be told, I do, much to my dismay. These groups have large numbers of children, thereby ensuring the future of their causes, and the nature of the groups also ensures a pecking order that although seems harsh allows for the communities to flow smoothly.

We have a bizarre feminist flip in the US, where women cannot be seen doing anything that may seem domestic. Check out movies/tv- women judges, tough and kick fanny cops-even if they weigh 90 lbs, super mega business bosses, supreme fighters like Angelina Jolie, etc. This flip weighs heavily on the next generation-and even if there will be a next generation.

When the one that gives birth and nurtures has been convinced that this is suppressive- we see a society on its last legs. No matter what anyone says about America, I believe that our nation is on a downward spiral because we have allowed movements to destroy the family unit. So off topic, but the polygamy made me realize how the societies flowed better than the model we have now.

This is me, stepping of my rant stump~ thanks for making me clear up some thoughts!


PioneerPreppy said...

WOW Humble Wife that as to be one of the most honest posts I have seen an American woman ever make.

Seriously I read it and then read it again trying to find the a little biased dig that most women put in their comments when a discussion isn't going the feminist way. Yours didn't contain any of them.

Good for you.

Let me tell you that is rare praise coming from me.

russell1200 said...

Y'all do live closer to Utah! LOL.

Humble Wife: The point that I noted about Turchin's findings is very much the reason I think polygamy has a problem. True, you get a lot of children, but you also get too many elite children. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. He sited someone who noted that the Arabic countries cycled through ruling groups much faster than their surrounding monotheist neighbors- every 100 years if I remember correctly.

The Romans did not practise polygamy, and I think Saint Paul, being a Roman citizen preaching to many non-Jews, was more comfortable with that approach.

One is enough for me. I would wind up like Deringolades Mr. Wyatt.

Pioneer, I had never thought of feminism as being more Northern than Southern. I agree, but am ready to be corrected by any angry Australian feminists with some data that may be lurking out there. Of course those were also the early commerce and industry cultures (LOL- you know where I am going).

In net, I suspect the whole monogomy- polygamy issue is not only important in specific situations with each having its advantages.

But it is odd that so many novels from the 1970s and earlier make such a big issue of how many wives or husbands (the novels go both ways) someone is going to have when the whole world has been nuked back to the stone age.

PioneerPreppy said...

Well Romans did keep sex slaves so the need for multiple wives was not as great.

An Australian Feminist would still be of Northern stock.

As for the 70's well they needed more shock since the free love days of the 60's. Polygamy was one way to get that shock value.

russell1200 said...


I thought the same thing visa vi shock value or at least as an outgrowth of 60s free love, but it is discussed a lot in earlier books as well. If anything they were worse, because the topic of incest was also a popular topic. That actually seems to have died out by the 70s.