Re: Often Faithful

I agree: That article has some interesting anecdotes. One cannot see it as a dismantling of the Darwinian idea of an “alpha male,” however, without neglecting the difference between Western culture and institutions and natural human drives. The “alpha male” theory has to do with all of human history, not just the modern West; and it makes claims about what human beings are naturally inclined to do, not what they may be pressured to do under the right cultural conditions. The article — and Mencken’s anecdotes — demonstrate only that our institutions have sometimes applied such pressure successfully.

The author writes that “late antique and Roman writers, like Plutarch, lauded men for their ability to resist sexual temptation and control bodily desire through force of will and intellect.” But this means neither that women aren’t attracted to power, nor that men aren’t inclined to sleep with everything that moves — in fact, when you laud someone for something, you concede that they did something unusual, or at least contrary to their immediate self-interest. And further, the claim that men are inclined to take advantage of their power is not a claim that powerful men are incapable of resisting temptation — the latter is a straw man.

If we have come to accept male promiscuity — which I don’t buy, though we are more accepting of it than we were in other recent time periods — that marks a shift in our culture, and for the worse. But it’s also a shift toward humanity’s historical norm, not away from it. Genetic data indicate that roughly twice as many women as men have reproduced throughout human history — meaning that certain men, whom some Darwinists refer to as “alphas,” have been so successful with women that they’ve shut other men out entirely. About one in 200 people alive today descend from Genghis Khan. Societies that allow men, but not women, to take multiple spouses are not historically uncommon. Across the world, women chase rock stars, politicians, and other men of high status — and those men often oblige them, sometimes in violation of marriage covenants. (Unfortunately for Neko Case, the same sexual attention is not paid to high-status females.)

The alpha-male phenomenon may be worth discouraging through social pressure. In fact, it gives supporters of monogamy an important argument: Without monogamy, alpha males get all the women, which creates social instability by leaving less attractive men with no sexual access. But there’s nothing new about it; if anything is unusual, it’s modern man’s success in battling it.

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