Links and Comments: the mystery of monogamy; why people cannot live with doubt

Los Angeles Times op-ed by [evolutionary psychologist] David P. Barash: Our biology wants us untethered. So why does society place so much emphasis on monogamy?

Monogamy is a mystery. A Martian zoologist, visiting Earth and noting our basic biology — not to mention our frequent philandering — would conclude that monogamy is not “natural” to the human species. So why is it so widely promulgated, especially in the modern Western world?

The (traditional) answer is that monogamy is a kind of social contract that limits individual freedom – the freedom of powerful men to maintain harems – in order to preserve a larger social harmony that is gained by avoiding the concomitant proportion of men who are thus deprived of female companionship. (An initial step toward *socialism* I might observe, and a case against libertarianism, wherein any alpha male would be allowed to accumulate as large as harem as he could.)


Monogamy may improve the survival rates of offspring because males will know which babies are theirs and will therefore be more likely to support them. There is much biological wisdom behind the saying “Mommy’s babies, Daddy’s maybes,” and monogamy diminishes the maybe.

Of course. This is elementary evolutionary psychology.


Damon Linker, at The Week, on Why doubt is so difficult.

An existential consideration about why people believe certain narratives, vs understanding the real world, which entails provisional conclusions based on evidence and reason.

Nothing about human history or the present world gives us reason to conclude that most people are thoughtful, inclined toward standing back and judging their beliefs in a detached and dispassionate way, living in doubt, and affirming a life dominated by questions rather than answers. On the contrary, human history and the present world teach a far more muddled and troubling lesson, which is that the vast majority of people who have ever lived find it perfectly possible and even downright appealing to affirm certainty about a range of issues, including the divine.

The natural condition of humanity, you might say, is relatively passive, dogmatic belief in whatever the political, moral, and religious authorities teach in a given time and place about right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust — and about God or the gods.

Yes, very few people actively think things through and reach conclusions based on reason, let alone evidence. Most people’s beliefs, to the extent they recognize them *as* beliefs and not merely as assumptions, are drawn from their communities or tribes, absorbed without reflection, defended without doubt.

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