On Sex & Violence

Sex and violence, the most-complained-of classic movie draws, also seem to draw the most complaints re my forager-farmer hypothesis, that many non-functional industry-era trends are due to a natural human tendency to return from farmer to forager ways with increasing wealth and comfort. So let me try again to clarify.

On violence, Bryan Caplan “suspect[s] forager societies had plenty of internal violence.” But I’ve talked mainly of farmers having more organized violence like war. (Quotes below.) Foragers may well have high murder rates, but those are individual acts of passion and retribution. It is farmers who taught themselves to be professional and organized killers, who could benefit from that, though yes with time farmers learned to have less war.

On sex, I responded to Roissy here, and Razib Khan complained:

Hoe vs. plough agriculturalists shows that a simple hunter-gatherer vs. farmer narrative does not suffice. In some ways the hoe agriculturalist remains more like the hunter-gatherer, and in some ways more like his or her fellow agriculturalist. The most polygynous societies for example are arguably those of hoe based agriculturalists, as well as nomads. In contrast, hunter-gatherers and ploughman tend to be more monogamous, at least in a genetic sense.

On sex, I’ve consistently talked of “promiscuity,” not monogamy vs polygamy. (Quotes below.) The issue is how long relationships lasted, and tolerance for mating outside official relationships. Compared to farmers, foragers had shorter relations, and tolerated more unofficial mating. Polygamy is a stable long-term relation, and by tolerating more inequality is actually more farmer-like.

Now for those promised quotes.

[Foragers] talk more openly about sex, are more sexually promiscuous, and more accepting of divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital and extra-marital sex. … They are less comfortable with war, domination, bragging, or money and material inequalities, and they push more for sharing and redistribution. …

[Farmers] have more self-sacrifice and self-control, … [and] are more faithful to their spouses and their communities. They make better warriors, and expect and prepare more for disasters like war, famine, and disease. They have a stronger sense of honor and shame, and enforce more social rules. … They … believe more … in powerful gods who enforce social norms. They envy less, and better accept human authorities and hierarchy, including hereditary elites at the top (who act more type A). … They are less bothered by violence in war, and toward foreigners, kids, slaves, and animals. (more)

Sex at Dawn … is passionate, partisan, even snide. … But on their key claim, that forager females were sexually promiscuous, I am persuaded: they are basically right. … [It] also gets forager peacefulness right – see Chapter 13. …. our two closest primate relatives, chimps and bonobos, are quite sexually promiscuous. … when did the biologically-rare (3% of mammals) phenomena of (near) monogamy arise in our lineage, millions of years ago with the rise of humans, or ten thousand years ago with the rise of farming? And since our data on modern foragers suggests that farming at least greatly reduced promiscuity (especially for females), the big question is really whether lightning struck once or twice. (more)

Hadza man hunts big game to look sexy, even though that retrieves less food. Except that when a women he has sex with has a kid he thinks is his, he’ll gather more but less-sexy food, to give this woman ~1/2 of her food for one year, ~1/4 for the next two years, and declining amounts thereafter. Now, yes, this may be more pair-bonding than in chimps or bonobos. But it is also far less than the farmer ideal of life-long monogamy! (more)

When I say foragers were more promiscuous than farmers, I don’t mean they weren’t picky about sex partners, nor that they didn’t get jealous. I mean they changed partners lots more often than farmers do. (more)

Most confusion comes from seeking a one-way trend, as in “is there more or less war than in ancient times?” Problem is: overall, warfare increased, then decreased. … Yes, most of the “tribal” societies that anthropologists study have high rates of war. But most of these are intermediate forms between very distant ancestors and very modern societies, with many relatively modern features. … The rise in density before, during, and after farming seems to have been associated with a huge increase in war. Long ago, strong social norms limited violence within nomadic forager bands, and the fact that one gender typically moved to neighboring bands to find mates greatly discouraged attacking such bands. War was hard for foragers, as hostile victims were far away, at unpredictable locations, and with few physical goods worth taking; women taken in war could easily escape. Trading places, with predictable locations and trade worth taxing, made the first good war targets. (more; see also)

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