Monogamy and Violence

Would “Enforced Monogamy” reduce male violence?

Posted May 21, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Jordan Peterson, firebrand Canadian psychologist, was described recently as suggesting that enforced monogamy would be a way to reduce male violence. Peterson allegedly stated this in response to a question regarding the recent Canadian violence involving an individual involved with the “Incel” online community. The Incel term describes males who report they are “involuntarily celibate,” and unable to secure a girlfriend or female mate. These online discussion groups have become increasingly misogynist, with the premise that women are treating them poorly, withholding sexual contact.

Following the Incel incident in Canada, there was a brief flurry of outrage in response to suggestions that society “redistribute sex.” An economics professor, Robin Hanson, who suggested this, argued that the Incel movement reflected an uncomfortable truth, that there were men who wanted to have sex, but were unable to do so. Their angry, even potentially violent, dissatisfaction, could, in theory, be assuaged by tactics which increased their access to sex. Hanson suggested that legalized prostitution, education or training, promotion of monogamy and discouraging promiscuity, were all strategies which might more equitably distribute the opportunity to have sex across a wider range of persons. 

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

The redistribution of sex was widely reacted to as indicating some form of legalized rape, where women might be forced somehow to be sexual with men they would not otherwise have chosen. The history of child brides for instance, married off to wealthy men in state- and religion-sanctioned communities, seems an example of this – on the face of it, an unlikely idea, showing that in fact, there are societies where women are forced to be sexual with men in order to serve social interests.  

Both Hanson and Peterson seem to believe that monogamy is, in some ways, a social protection or prevention against violence. Peterson later argued that what he was referring to was the history of social enforcement of monogamy, and not the idea that the government should somehow get involved in regulating or mandating monogamy within consensual relationships.

There is some surprising evidence, at least tangentially supportive of the argument that Hanson and Peterson make. Multiple research studies have revealed that societies which are polygamous have higher rates of violent crime. The theoretical understanding of this phenomenon suggests that the violence is a result of a higher number of young males without access to mates, female partners, or reproduction. In polygamous societies historically the most common of marriage throughout human history, wealthy, powerful men gather women to themselves, in harems or with multiple wives. Solomon, according to the Bible, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. You can imagine then, that compared to a monogamous society, this would mean that there were then 999 men who went without a female mate, in order for Solomon to have his hundreds. Those 999 men, goes the theory, were more likely to act violently and in socially disruptive ways. Not necessarily because they didn’t get to have sex, like the Incel, but because they didn’t have any reason to support a stable, calm, peaceful society. Without a wife and children at home to care for and feed, the young men had no reason to be invested in social stability. 

This history of polygamy is one theoretical reason for another issue tangentially referenced by Peterson, that most men throughout history have not reproduced. Numbers vary, but one study suggested that as few as 17 females to every 1 male have sired offspring. Other reasons include the history of far higher mortality rates in males, who more often die young, before they can reproduce.

Today, rates of male infertility are rising tremendously, suggesting that even if males have access to female mates, they may still struggle to conceive children.  And across the world, birth rates are dropping in many industrialized countries, for a wide variety of largely unexplained reasons. 

Note, however, that all of these arguments are based on the treatment of sex with females, and reproduction, as economic commodities. Women have something which men desire, and perhaps even need, in order to reproduce. When female sexuality is treated as an economic resource, it does indeed support the notion that this resource may be utilized or controlled in utilitarian manner, to further social interests. Men who cannot mate or get a date, are viewed as inferior, broken and worthless. 

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

In much of today’s world, however, far different than our history, female sexuality is not seen as property, to be sold through dowries or taken as a right of privilege. The #Metoo movement, amongst a long history of feminist reform, has placed control and “ownership” of female sexuality in the women themselves, rejecting the “rights” of powerful men to treat women as sexual objects. It has only been in a few societies in human past, where women held economic control or independence, and in those rare societies, women often also held control of their sexuality and mated with whom they chose.

Where Peterson and Hanson’s arguments fail, is that they are using data, research, evidence, and theories, based on our dark past, where women did not hold the right to choose what to do with their own sexuality. The history of socially- and religiously-enforced monogamy was one in which female sexuality was property, and marriage was based on economics. The reason that the Incel movement is angry at women, rather than society at large, is that these young men recognize that when women are given the right to choose, they are not choosing them.  

It is speculatively possible, that when women are given the right to choose with whom to be sexual, they will choose men based on indicators of genetic and evolutionary fitness. That indicators of wealth might drive female mate selection, as they unconsciously choose mates who might have greater resources to, in theory, care for them and their offspring. In that event, men without these indicators might lose out in the long run. However, this remains to be seen, as other studies suggest that women select mates for reasons other than what kind of car the guy drives. While evolutionary principles might inform our understanding of our past, they do not control our future.  

Female control of their own sexuality is not dooming society to a wreckage of male violence. At least, not if men stop viewing female sexuality as an economic right they can win through social success. Most men do not view women with anger and resentment. Most men don’t view women as things to be won and mated with. Even the men who cannot date, due to their social inhibitions, more often feel sad and lonely, rather than violently angry. These negative reactions are predicted by personality traits such as psychopathy or low agreeableness, not by access to sex.  Most men are seeking intimate, connected relationships, where their partners’ happiness is as important to them as their own. These men don’t act enraged when they can’t get a date. Men who throw tantrums when they go dateless (or act violently when they cannot mate) reveal that there is a very good reason that women aren’t having sex with them – they don’t have the emotional maturity to succeed in a world of egalitarian sexual control. Teaching young men to view females as equal, and changing the social institutions of religion, entertainment, law, and politics where female sexuality is treated as an economic resource to be controlled, distributed and "enforced," is how we truly reduce these kinds of violence.