The Male-Competetive Nature of Sex in Evolution and Culture

The following is speculative and reliant on memory, not yet citing scientific references. I feel it includes significant insight, but wouldn't mind if anyone posts evidence to the contrary.

Sex's advantage/purpose in life's evolutionary processes is not yet as simply definable as, say "it enhances genetic diversity". But obviously there are several, complexly related advantages of sex in evolution that outweigh its disadvantages, on the whole. (Recall, bacteria are still evolving, non-sexually, or at least non-bisexually.)

One of the clear modes of sexual selection employs male competition and aggression. The strongest and cleverest males pass on their genes, thereby adding to the gene pool any genes that may contribute to successful clever and/or aggressive behavior (e.g. more developed brains, antlers, musculature, and so on). Until the costs of these larger and more complex physical and behavioral features don't overburden the creature's non-sexual daily lifestyle (e.g. in energy or other resource requirements), a positive feedback loop of increasingly competitive male physique and behavior remains in play.

There is even a significant percentage of Genghis Khan DNA in a wide range of human populations, thanks to his (and his family's) legacy of raping and pillaging! And thanks to the accelerating, expansive nature of civilization.

There is also a less physically risky/harmful type of sexual competition, e.g. competition of plumage among male peacocks, lion manes, or other conspicuous displays that consume excess energy and resources, but I won't address that here.

Sexual behavior has been a significant factor in evolution of animals for millions of years, if not a half billion. But it's only in the past 50 thousand years or so that the diversity and depth of human culture has accelerated to unnatural proportions; human cultural evolution now trumps genetic evolution in its influence over our future, except perhaps in cases like how bacteria evolve to overcome the antibiotics we try to kill them with.

How significant is the competitive nature of sex in human cultural evolution, versus the competitive nature of sex in human genetic evolution? A simpler question may be, how much real choice do we have in our personal sex-base behavior, albeit as we know, it's a question that doesn't necessarily lead to simpler answers.

Now on to my main focus. I postulate that the most dynamic mode of human evolution in the past thousands of years has been cultural (as opposed to genetic), which has for better and for worse enabled and enhanced human male dominance to an unnatural and unforeseeable degree.

The unnatural degree of male dominance accelerated the growth of civilization, becoming accepted and institutionalized to the point of increasing traditional ignorance (and often even intolerance) of female perspective and influence. Our patriarch-designed male dominance over society, law and morality (also manifesting as the He in myth and scripture) has been enforced for thousands of years, by the combination of natural, genetic evolution of male physical power and aggression with the newly evolved power of intelligence/cleverness, the imposition of culture and memes, and application of aggressive idealism and religion. This (the above), simultaneous with having women at home rear children and make personal sacrifices in support of their male head of household, thus overshadowing previously respected female roles in society at large (albeit previous "society" was smaller, at more band and tribal sizes).

Uh-oh, now I'm stuck. I expected radical but feasible solutions to spew forth from my subconscious, but nay, nothing but empty space and darkness! And heaven forbid I fall down the slipper slope of blaming one sex or the other for today's evils! Can anyone out there help me, or is this just a totally useless read?

Views: 250

Comment by ɐuɐz ǝllǝıuɐp on April 4, 2014 at 8:48pm

I was wondering if that poem i wrote, inspired you to write this. You mention the competitiveness and aggression.  Would this explain the competitiveness in business and economy of capitalism ?

Comment by Pope Beanie on April 4, 2014 at 10:06pm

I was wondering if that poem i wrote, inspired you to write this.

It did help the timing seem right for me to write this blog post, but also because of the subject of evolution and sexual pressures I've learned just this week in biology class. I've been thinking of this in general for years, and once in a while my ideas and what I learn (including here at TA) gel into something I can write. The poem you wrote did more directly inspire me to respond to it there, plus what I perceived as insensitivity (for the sake of personal, cold calculated logic) to your experience. I could have said more over there, but held back, hoping that some people there might feel they have a chance to redeem themselves with a more positive attitude.

You mention the competitiveness and aggression.  Would this explain the competitiveness in business and economy of capitalism ?

Yes, largely. Most competition isn't zero-sum, and so it contributes to growth and "healthy economy", as sexual competition usually enhances the gene pool. But occasionally greed and over-expression of sexual (and other) competition (which is 90% of the time a male trait) is damaging to other people, even fatally at times. Equal opportunity is usually good for society's health as a whole, but overly aggressive/selfish individuals are still lurking to fuck things up!

Comment by Pope Beanie on April 5, 2014 at 9:52pm

@Giovanni, thank you. I know it needs work and references. :)

Comment by _Robert_ on April 6, 2014 at 8:11am

Evolution is always genetic, right? Perhaps if you asserted that natural selection is no longer the primary mechanism for human evolution, yeah. Some mutations that were previously fatal are no longer fatal and genetic screening is certainly not natural. Our survival rates are so high right now that perhaps in the future, those who are more immune to poor environmental conditions such as pollution will start to gain an advantage.

Comment by Simon Paynton on April 6, 2014 at 12:31pm

Pope Beanie - "But occasionally greed and over-expression of sexual (and other) competition (which is 90% of the time a male trait) is damaging to other people, even fatally at times.

I find that men have a problem expressing weakness.  This is a large cause of the destructive behaviour you describe. 

I think there's no problem with men being competitive, as long as they are not sore losers.  They can compete to be the best and use each other to become stronger.  Like you say, it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game.  There should be room for everyone to thrive.  It's only weak men who want to destroy the opposition. 

Comment by Lewal on April 8, 2014 at 12:45pm
"... a positive feedback loop of increasingly competitive male physique and behavior remains in play." I don't know about this. Of course back then survival depended on these things and so sexual selection followed suit. But today, survival depends on money (and you don't even have to be particularly clever to have that). I almost feel bad for saying this somehow, but most of the people I see still using the caveman standard are young if even 20-somethings in clubs. Cavewomen see muscles (for hunting prowess and defense), are attracted, cavemen see breasts (for nurturing offspring) and hips (for successfully birthing children), are attracted, and I guess another generation of cavechildren are born-- in greater and greater numbers due to a lack of threats to survival). And sure, more mature, intelligent men and women can still be attracted to these things too (we're shackled to our evolutionary forefathers), but this is little more than a luxary for them at the end of the day. Because they know when push comes to shove, money is the new system of survival and they'll act accordingly. Of course this isn't exactly disagreeing with you, so.

Anyhoo. I'm definitely on board with your postulation. I've deconstruct it from the other end in my ponderings (perceptions of romance). I'd submit that the patriarchy has actually "trained" women (not all of course) not only to accept this, but to want it. And I've been thinking, it may very well be too late to reverse this.

I actually wrote something on this a few nights ago but was unsure about posting it. I think I will. I don't suppose it'll particularly be of great help to you, but it can't hurt.
Comment by Pope Beanie on November 16, 2014 at 4:54pm

Infanticide drives female promiscuity and big balls

Great balls of furriness! Among mammals, large testicles are a sign of a species with a history of males that have no qualms about killing the babies of their competitors.

A study of more than 200 mammals from mice to lions reveals that in species where infanticide is frequent, females make it hard for males to know which baby to kill by mating with lots of different males during the same season. The study also finds that the ancestor to all great apes - including humans - probably committed infanticide.

Infanticide is widespread among mammals. Lions do it, chimps do it, many adorable-looking lemurs do it. Why? A leading theory is that males kill infants sired by other males because it frees up females to have their own offspring, perpetuating their own genes rather than those of their competitors.

To test this in a large evolutionary model, Dieter Lukas of the University of Cambridge and Elise Huchard of the University of Montpellier in France drew up a huge database of behaviours found in over 200 species of mammals and mapped them onto the mammalian family tree.

The pair confirmed that infanticide was most frequent in species that lived in groups where a few dominant males monopolise the right to mate with the clan's females, and their tenure as top sperm donor is short.

"The males don't manage to stay dominant for very long, so when they can mate with the females, they need to do it as quickly as possible," explains Huchard. "It's not in their interest to wait for the females to finish rearing infants." Killing babies, in this instance, is an efficient way to fast-track nursing females back to fertility.

"The study confirms that infanticide isn't some curious thing caused by humans encroaching on animal territory, it is a male tactic to improve their mating opportunities," says Kit Opie of University College London.

The tree also revealed that infanticide was probably prevalent in the common ancestor of all great apes. The behaviour lives on in chimps and gorillas, although bonobos, orang-utans and - thankfully - humans have lost the trait.

Promiscuous response

No animal likes having its baby killed, so what's the defence? A recent study of primates found that they evolved monogamy early as a response to infanticide.

But in the larger mammalian tree, Lukas and Huchard found hints of another trick, in the form of a very strong link between infanticide and testicle size. Males belonging to species that commit infanticide frequently evolve large balls.

"It has long been known that testes size reflects the number of sex partners that females have," says Huchard. The large testicular size of males in species that commit infanticide suggests that females are more promiscuous, mating with multiple males before giving birth to their offspring.

What's more, by studying their evolutionary tree, the team found that large testes tended to evolve after infanticide had appeared, and continued to become larger over time. This suggests that when male mammals begin to kill infants, females respond by mating with lots of different males during the same season, forcing males into a sperm competition. Males grow larger testes to produce more sperm, but also don't know which infant is theirs. As a result, infanticide becomes counterproductive - there is always a risk they might wipe out their own gene pool.

And it's a response that works. Huchard and Lukas found that infanticide can be lost in species where the testes have grown large. Bonobos, for instance, appear to have lost infanticide since they diverged from chimps.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1257226


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