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Old 11-30-2013, 04:56 AM
SparklePony SparklePony is offline
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Default The Anthropologist's Lens on Homo Sapien Sexuality

I received my BA in Anthropology from NYU and the nerd in me want's to discuss polyamory from the scientist's side of things. Please indulge me and share your thoughts! *Note: I don't have my books or sources in front of me, but here are some takeaways from my studies...

Homo Sapien sexuality is a complete mystery and anomaly in the animal kingdom. We behave like no other creature, fit no relationship model and are just plain weird. Every other primate species follows a distinct relationship model, and many different primate models exist, but each species follows just one. So what are we???

One thing is certain...we are NOT monogamous in the scientific sense. True monogamy exists in animals like birds, meaning partners really do mate-for-life: when one partner dies, the other will not find another mate, and often dies with their partner.

If we pool from all the human populations, we can find examples of almost EVERY type of relationship model, defined by ethnographic culture, not evolutionary hardwiring.
-There is of course the western idea of "monogamy," which is more accurately describe as "monogamous for periods of time."
-Another common example seen throughout history is cultures with one-male-multiple-females models.
-Rare but I'm pretty sure I remember the reverse exists, a one-female-multiple-male culture.
-There's a tribe in which the men live in one space, women and children in another, only coming together as a community and to mate with whomever they choose.
-There are cultures where multiple families live in one household and many different types of polyamory are expressed.
-Pretty much if there's a way to do relationships...humans have tried it.

The one thing these different relationship models have in common is that they are based solely on culture. If you raised a baby from one culture in any other it will adopt the relationship model it was taught. I find it interesting that participants on this board often describe themselves as "hard wired" for poly or mono. It would be interesting to do a cross cultural study to find out the distribution and ratio of such "hard wired" preferences. Here in the western world polyamory is indeed in the minority, but if you could analyze relationship preference across the whole human population and somehow remove the bias for culture, what would it show?


Another interesting way of looking at sexuality is the comparison between our closest living relatives, chimpanzees...and our next closest living relative, the bonobo. The bonobos are famous for being highly sexual, they'll do it any way possible with whomever possible, all the time. Chimps are very different.
Example:
-Put food in the middle of a group of Chimps, tensions rise, and they'll fight for it until one of the dominant ones secures the food. (And they'll do the same when there's a female in heat)
-Put food in the middle of a group of Bonobos, tensions rise, and they'll have sex with each other until no one really cares about the food and it's eaten peaceably. Dolphins, Bonobos and Humans are the only animals on record who have sex for pleasure and social intimacy, not just reproduction.
Unfortunately we evolved from Chimps, not Bonobos, and most of our cultures share the Chimp's tendency for competition...scientists like to speculate that our would would be very different if our genes were indeed wired to make love not war.

Some thoughts...what are yours??
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Old 11-30-2013, 04:55 PM
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Default Humans are Problem Solvers

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Originally Posted by SparklePony View Post
Homo Sapien sexuality is a complete mystery and anomaly in the animal kingdom. We behave like no other creature, fit no relationship model and are just plain weird. Every other primate species follows a distinct relationship model, and many different primate models exist, but each species follows just one. So what are we???
I see it as a function of human adaptability to environmental pressures. Most thriving animal species can flex their behavior patterns to one degree or another when their environment forces them to, but without the complex, pattern seeking, problem solving brain of the human most of them perish when confronted with too many changes. Not humans, when humans were hit with environmental pressures we thought our way out of it, came up with new ideas, figured out a tool to assist, etc.

It's the same with relationship models. Take polyandry as an example. There are only three or four examples of socially reinforced polyandry in the world. The Tibetan variety (I watched a program on it years ago) is fraternal polyandry, in that a woman will marry men who are brothers. This, like monogamy, is simply a response to necessity and is being reinforced by the social structure for survival. Both models (monogamy and polyandry) were at least originally reinforced to solve a resource problem; property and debt ownership being the chief issue.

Using the US as the Tibetan counter example, we have state mandated monogamy. However, because we are such a comfortable and safe first world society with no real environmental pressure, we quietly go about practicing any number of relationship models (we just don't tell the state we are doing it). It's a different kind of "problem solving" in this instance, because we have desires and each are left to our own devices to figure out how to get them met. Making ourselves as happy as possible is our new "pressure" and we busy ourselves with solving the problem.

I don't find it surprising or mysterious that our pattern seeking, problem solving minds are advanced at coming up with heating and cooling solutions AS WELL as sexual and romantic solutions. Humans are flexible, as a survival mechanism.
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Old 12-05-2013, 01:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SparklePony View Post
Homo Sapien sexuality is a complete mystery and anomaly in the animal kingdom. We behave like no other creature, fit no relationship model and are just plain weird.

Another interesting way of looking at sexuality is the comparison between our closest living relatives, chimpanzees...and our next closest living relative, the bonobo. The bonobos are famous for being highly sexual, they'll do it any way possible with whomever possible, all the time. Chimps are very different.
Example:
-Put food in the middle of a group of Chimps, tensions rise, and they'll fight for it until one of the dominant ones secures the food. (And they'll do the same when there's a female in heat)
-Put food in the middle of a group of Bonobos, tensions rise, and they'll have sex with each other until no one really cares about the food and it's eaten peaceably. Dolphins, Bonobos and Humans are the only animals on record who have sex for pleasure and social intimacy, not just reproduction.
Unfortunately we evolved from Chimps, not Bonobos, and most of our cultures share the Chimp's tendency for competition...scientists like to speculate that our would would be very different if our genes were indeed wired to make love not war.

Some thoughts...what are yours??
Sounds like if we did (i don't have facts to agree or disagree but imo we are evolved from more than what scientists say we are) evolve from a species it's either Bonobos or Dolphins, not Chimps. It just seems to me, in an analytical process, if we did evolve from Chimps we would not even be able to be polyamorous.
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Old 12-05-2013, 02:03 AM
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My understanding is that humans and chimps shared a common ancestor, not that one evolved from the other. I also read a study that found chimps and bonobos are equally related to humans, not preferentially. Both share 99.6% of our DNA.

Bonobos and Chimps split from each other only 1MYA (million years ago), humans split off from their common ancestor between 5 and 7MYA.

Another limitation of cultural anthropology is that it's impossible to interview each and every member of a culture. At best, you come up with tendencies.

I don't think I would agree with the statement "Humans are wired to make war, not love." After all, nearly every human alive is the product of sex. By contrast, though war is awful and overbearing when it happens, most of the world is not presently at war. I'm not at war with anyone, for example. My government may be supporting wars in other countries, but they do not speak for me. By and large, people on the ground who are involved in war are firmly against it.

The human tendency towards violence actually has a lot to do with cultural education, rather than hard-wired nature. Most people are, by and large, kind and compassionate. The problem is that over the past 10-20,000 years, the people who wanted power have educated the masses to think in terms of obedience and authority. Those kinds of thoughts give rise more easily to violence. It's difficult to make a group of people follow your instructions when they don't really want to, unless you can back up your commands with the use of force.

For example, a group of strangers stranded on an island will tend to work together to create shelter, find food, and get rescued. I'm not saying there won't be arguments, but their first course of action won't be to kill everyone else and be the last man standing. If humans weren't inclined to work together, we never would have made it out of the caves. It was the invention of governments and the desire of small groups of people to control large groups of people that began the process of war.
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Old 12-05-2013, 10:25 PM
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Originally Posted by SchrodingersCat View Post
My understanding is that humans and chimps shared a common ancestor, not that one evolved from the other. I also read a study that found chimps and bonobos are equally related to humans, not preferentially. Both share 99.6% of our DNA.

Bonobos and Chimps split from each other only 1MYA (million years ago), humans split off from their common ancestor between 5 and 7MYA.

Another limitation of cultural anthropology is that it's impossible to interview each and every member of a culture. At best, you come up with tendencies.

I don't think I would agree with the statement "Humans are wired to make war, not love." After all, nearly every human alive is the product of sex. By contrast, though war is awful and overbearing when it happens, most of the world is not presently at war. I'm not at war with anyone, for example. My government may be supporting wars in other countries, but they do not speak for me. By and large, people on the ground who are involved in war are firmly against it.

The human tendency towards violence actually has a lot to do with cultural education, rather than hard-wired nature. Most people are, by and large, kind and compassionate. The problem is that over the past 10-20,000 years, the people who wanted power have educated the masses to think in terms of obedience and authority. Those kinds of thoughts give rise more easily to violence. It's difficult to make a group of people follow your instructions when they don't really want to, unless you can back up your commands with the use of force.

For example, a group of strangers stranded on an island will tend to work together to create shelter, find food, and get rescued. I'm not saying there won't be arguments, but their first course of action won't be to kill everyone else and be the last man standing. If humans weren't inclined to work together, we never would have made it out of the caves. It was the invention of governments and the desire of small groups of people to control large groups of people that began the process of war.
I didn't finish reading the rest of the original post. I'm glad too, because I would have been prompted to respond to the broken science (and basic reasoning skills) presented in the second half of it. Fortunately I missed it and SC had the patience to present some information about evolution that is accurate.

I thought I'd quote your entire post SC, because it has a great deal of value and might help to iron out some of the horrific misunderstandings about evolution previously presented.
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Old 12-06-2013, 06:35 AM
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In wholehearted agreement with you, Marcus.

SC - excellent post. I agree with it totally.
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Old 12-12-2013, 02:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SparklePony View Post
The one thing these different relationship models have in common is that they are based solely on culture. If you raised a baby from one culture in any other it will adopt the relationship model it was taught. I find it interesting that participants on this board often describe themselves as "hard wired" for poly or mono. It would be interesting to do a cross cultural study to find out the distribution and ratio of such "hard wired" preferences. Here in the western world polyamory is indeed in the minority, but if you could analyze relationship preference across the whole human population and somehow remove the bias for culture, what would it show?
I believe that all humans are "hard wired" for poly but not in a "you WILL be poly" sense. I believe it's more of a "hallway with infinite doors" type of thing, and the software (social upbringing) either only allows one to open at a time (raised mono) or allows combinations of doors to be open at any time (raised poly). Some people can break their software programming and open those doors though. That's why poly people can come from mono upbringing.

It's slightly different than the "hardwired to be straight, gay, or bi" issue. In that case I think your "hallway doors" (in the previously defined hallway) are all specifically set as to what can pass through them when you are born... and that's it. If all your doors are "gay" then you will only be gay. If all your doors are "straight" then you will be straight. If all your doors are "bi" then you will be bi. basically, wherever you fall on the Kinsey Scale... that's what all your hall doors are set to.

That and $5 will get you a small Latte at Starbuck's though...
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Old 12-12-2013, 03:49 AM
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Hi SparklePony,

I know some people feel that the human race is a deplorable species that doesn't deserve to exist, but I think humans are more of a mixture of good and bad, and that above all humans are very unique among all species. It says a lot just to note that humans decided they wanted to land on the Moon -- and succeeded. We could argue all day about whether that was a useful thing for humans to do, but it was certainly unique.

If you haven't read "Sex at Dawn: how we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships," by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, I highly recommend it. I didn't agree with everything the authors said, but I agreed 75-90%, and liked how they mixed it up and forced me to think. Primarily they meant to challenge the assumption that humans have evolved to be monogamous, but as a bonus they also challenged a bunch of our sexual and non-sexual assumptions about ourselves. Just an interesting read.

Re: chimps and bonobo chimps ... like SchrodingersCat said and according to Sex at Dawn at least, humans are technically about equally related to both species. This would track when you consider that humans have a reputation for making both love *and* war.

Re (from Post #1):
Quote:
"Rare but I'm pretty sure I remember the reverse exists, a one-female-multiple-male culture."
Yes I'm pretty certain of that. More than one in fact I think (although more one-male-multiple-female cultures exist that we know of). I'm thinking one in Tibet and one in India, for instance?

Re:
Quote:
"Pretty much if there's a way to do relationships ... humans have tried it."
Indeed.

Re:
Quote:
"Humans are Problem Solvers:"
Yes! This.

Re (from SchrodingersCat):
Quote:
"If humans weren't inclined to work together, we never would have made it out of the caves."
Indeed ...

Re:
Quote:
"It was the invention of governments and the desire of small groups of people to control large groups of people that began the process of war."
Probably. As George Orwell described in "1984," war is a "wonderful" tool for expanding the scope and power of governments.

Good thread ...
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Old 12-12-2013, 11:18 PM
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Originally Posted by SparklePony View Post
I received my BA in Anthropology from NYU and the nerd in me want's to discuss polyamory from the scientist's side of things. Please indulge me and share your thoughts! *Note: I don't have my books or sources in front of me, but here are some takeaways from my studies...

Homo Sapien sexuality is a complete mystery and anomaly in the animal kingdom. We behave like no other creature, fit no relationship model and are just plain weird. Every other primate species follows a distinct relationship model, and many different primate models exist, but each species follows just one. So what are we???
I don't think it's useful to state we behave like no other creature. We have many similarities to both bonobo and common chimpanzees, in terms of behavior and relationship models.

What you seem to miss is that we, as people/humans, are exceedingly flexible and adaptable.

Quote:
One thing is certain...we are NOT monogamous in the scientific sense. True monogamy exists in animals like birds, meaning partners really do mate-for-life: when one partner dies, the other will not find another mate, and often dies with their partner.
I'm not certain why you think the avian mating model is relevant to the discussion, they are sufficiently different to be a poor analog.

Quote:
If we pool from all the human populations, we can find examples of almost EVERY type of relationship model, defined by ethnographic culture, not evolutionary hardwiring.
-There is of course the western idea of "monogamy," which is more accurately describe as "monogamous for periods of time."
-Another common example seen throughout history is cultures with one-male-multiple-females models.
-Rare but I'm pretty sure I remember the reverse exists, a one-female-multiple-male culture.
-There's a tribe in which the men live in one space, women and children in another, only coming together as a community and to mate with whomever they choose.
-There are cultures where multiple families live in one household and many different types of polyamory are expressed.
-Pretty much if there's a way to do relationships...humans have tried it.
This is true. In fact, if you go to a sufficiently large college campus, you can probably find just about all of those going on.

Quote:
The one thing these different relationship models have in common is that they are based solely on culture. If you raised a baby from one culture in any other it will adopt the relationship model it was taught. I find it interesting that participants on this board often describe themselves as "hard wired" for poly or mono.
It's pretty difficult to unlearn decades of enculturation. You are pretty 'hard wired' for English if that was the only language you've learned for 30 years. The term is of course being used incorrectly, but it's apt in this case to describe how difficult it is to unlearn.

Quote:
It would be interesting to do a cross cultural study to find out the distribution and ratio of such "hard wired" preferences. Here in the western world polyamory is indeed in the minority, but if you could analyze relationship preference across the whole human population and somehow remove the bias for culture, what would it show?
Open polyamory is in the minority; years of lawsuits and divorces indicate that secret/hidden polyamory is widespread. You bring up culture; it's pretty hard to avoid the heavy Christian influence on most modern culture.

Quote:
Another interesting way of looking at sexuality is the comparison between our closest living relatives, chimpanzees...and our next closest living relative, the bonobo. The bonobos are famous for being highly sexual, they'll do it any way possible with whomever possible, all the time. Chimps are very different.
Example:
-Put food in the middle of a group of Chimps, tensions rise, and they'll fight for it until one of the dominant ones secures the food. (And they'll do the same when there's a female in heat)
-Put food in the middle of a group of Bonobos, tensions rise, and they'll have sex with each other until no one really cares about the food and it's eaten peaceably. Dolphins, Bonobos and Humans are the only animals on record who have sex for pleasure and social intimacy, not just reproduction.
Unfortunately we evolved from Chimps, not Bonobos, and most of our cultures share the Chimp's tendency for competition...scientists like to speculate that our would would be very different if our genes were indeed wired to make love not war.
I can't believe you got that wrong. Seriously. We didn't evolve from either. Our last common ancestor was 7 or so million years ago.

Quote:
Some thoughts...what are yours??
That people behave in ways to maximize their success in their cultural-socioeconomic environments.

There's some indication that monogamy is a means where people can separate the rich from the poor because, of course, the rich can afford to pay any and all necessary fines/costs of having multiple spouses. In a patriarchial society monogamy was also used to keep/manage inheritance and wealth as well as oppress women.

Monogamy is then used to control the resources offspring had because you don't normally pool households, given that different fathers normally had independent households. Wealthy men then could stay wealthy and poor men raised poor children.

That says nothing about the normal state of behaviors, however, because even in that system there is a marked history of 'infidelity'.
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Old 12-14-2013, 07:01 PM
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I don't agree that all humans are hard-wired for the ability to be polyamorous. I don't think there is any trait at all that all humans are hard-wired for. And humans are not alone in this. Virtually all animals have different regional traits. Many of these are passed on genetically, but many are taught between generations.

I'm reminded of a recent study of crows. They can learn human faces, and they remember whether they like you or not, and they can even teach other crows whether to like you or not. So if you ever piss of one crow, and then you get this funny feeling that all the crows are after you... you're probably right.

The human brain is a fascinating organ. Many things become hard-wired during the early years. Now, if you mean "genetically coded" then that's a different conversation. But synapses, once formed, are not readily broken. Most of human personality development occurs as hard-wiring of the brain.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Spock View Post
t's pretty difficult to unlearn decades of enculturation. You are pretty 'hard wired' for English if that was the only language you've learned for 30 years.
This is a brilliant analogy. If English is the first and only language you learn for most of your life, then you'll always be an English speaker on some level. You could move to France and learn French and never speak to another English person, but it will take years and years before you think in French, if you ever get there at all.

Even our ear anatomy gets caught up in this game. As a young child (up until about 5-7), your inner ear shape grows to pick up the sounds used in your primary languages. If you miss that window, there will always be language sounds that your ear literally cannot distinguish. That, for example, is why Chinese speakers have trouble with "R" and why I will never hear the subtle differences between Khoisan clicks. In other words, your ear becomes hard-wired for your language.
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