SEX AT DAWN: Preface
OK, I get the point of this. The preface is trying to make the point that humans are primates, and subject to primate urges. However, this is a DUMB story. Seriously, author? A monkey stealing peanuts you'd meant to give to a different monkey makes you feel 'betrayed in a way you'd never been before'? And inspires 'loathing' for monkeys? Plus, over-the-top anthropomorphization, and your telling me about putting on a 'primate display' for the monkey makes me think you may be a little unbalanced. Maybe not the best way to open the book.
SEX AT DAWN: INTRODUCTION
This covers a lot of stuff very quickly, as it's a quick overview of the topic of the book. There is little evidence for the claims here, but I'll trust that will come later.
*We're apes - fine, ok.
*Our society has sex issues - fine, ok.
*The Spanish word 'esposas' means 'wife' and 'handcuffs'... hmm... this word looks more like 'spouse' than 'wife,' looked it up, yep, I'm right, it can also mean husband. Point taken, though.
*People like porn - yep, true, but does that really mean sexual dysfunction?
*Priests molest kids - yep, true, but is this because of 'denying normal human sexuality' or because predators seek out positions where they have trusted access to kids?
*The self help industry is pathetic and non-helpful - agreed.
*On to the summary of what we'll find in this book - a theory that from existing evidence, we can conclude that pre-agricultural societies were gender-equal and generally promiscuous. I have serious doubts that it is possible to draw such conclusions. It is POSSIBLE, but I do not think it can be proven. We shall see.
*Outline of the typical 'narrative of human sexual evolution.' Yep, heard it before, agree that it's problematic.
*Graph of how agricultural societies lead to war. This graph spells the word "hierarchical" miserably wrong. PROOFREADERS are important!
*More about how agriculture leads to the idea of property, which leads to women losing status, etc. Stuff admittedly cribbed from Jared Diamond. Again, nice theory, not proven, though.
*Good point about: really WHY should men care about paternity?
SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 1, a.
Starts out with the old chestnut about an explorer asking the native "what's that?" and ending up thinking that "I don't understand" is a noun. I've most often heard this about "kangaroo" but the word in question here is "Yucatan." If you go to the 'notes' the author admits that this story is anecdotal - but he uses it anyway. It would have been more effective (not to mention more respectable) to talk ABOUT this story and why it flourishes in different versions... Cecil Adams explains in detail. (I LOVE Cecil Adams): (start w/ 4th paragraph) http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/491/whats-the-origin-of-kangaroo-court
SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 1, b.
A page or two to convince us that food preferences are cultural, and people in one country may eat things that people in another think are gross. This seems very obvious, and a waste of breath - except that Elizabeth & I were recently discussing a post where someone was using others' food habits to demonstrate racism; and then of course there's the whole "Did Obama eat a dog" thing, so maybe this actually IS a valuable point to make to a large segment of the population.
I'm still stuck in my own culture - I'll pass on the grasshoppers! The references in this bit led me to this out-of-date but interesting blog: http://bugsfordinner.blogspot.com/
SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 1, c.
"An essential first step in discerning the 'cultural' from the 'human' is what mythologist Joseph Campbell called 'detribalization.' We have to recognize the various tribes we belong to and begin extricating ourselves from the unexamined assumptions each of them mistakes for 'the truth.'"
Nice quote. I agree. I know Campbell is frequently considered outdated, and in his search for universals, he was often far TOO reductionist about human mythology. He also grabbed things that were convenient to his narratives and ignored what didn't fit... but I still like him, overall. Interesting stuff.
Goes on to say that the commonly-accepted tropes about sexual jealously, etc, are not necessarily natural, but cultural - that evolutionary psychologists are wrong. I feel like that's probably the main focus of this book - the theories of Evo. Psych. are NOT NECESSARILY true. I think that is correct - the evo. psych crowd CANNOT determine that human have always been monogamous/jealous/etc. But I still don't think this book can determine the opposite, either. Still, I suppose it's necessary and valuable to point out that one can look at the same set of data, can draw different conclusions or create a different narrative.
SEX AT DAWN - Chapter 2a
Darwin was influenced in his thought by the prudery of Victorian times, and the religious bias of those who came before him, not to mention his own sexual inexperience. The writing of Darwin were, additionally, censored by his prudey sister.
Therefore our first concepts of human evolution were subject to an anti-sex bias.
SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 2, b.
"the deepest function of myth... to lend narrative order to apparently disconnected bits of information, the way constellations group impossibly distant stars into ... patterns that are simultaneously imaginary and real."
Ok, that is lovely.
I've probably never mentioned it here, but I am a huge fan of mythology and mythopoeic fiction; and how they connect to culture and history.
The book goes on to say, "mythology is the loom on which we weave... daily experience into a coherent story. This... becomes tricky when we mythologize about ... ancestors separated from us by 20 or 30,000 years... (there's a) widespread tendency to project contemporary cultural proclivities into the distant past."
YES. Historical fiction writers talk about this A LOT, although usually not on such a grand time frame.
But I'm really glad this book is admitting this problem. We'll see where they go from here...
SEX AT DAWN, Chap. 2, c.
Stuff about Lewis Morgan, a contemporary of Darwin and an anthropoligist. Never read much about this guy, but what a fascinating character!
SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 3
Here the author's go into more detail on the assumption of current evolutionary theory that they believe are erroneous, including:
#1 - women aren't actually very horny
#2 - men are motivated to only care for their own children.
Their arguments for this second one are pretty convincing - as they point out, the arguments inherent in this are very questionable:
especially: early humans understood that sex led to children, and were certain which children were biologically his. (It's known that even recently, some 'primitive' cultures did not understand this).
There's a lot more here but it also points out that evolutionary theory concentrates ONLY on sexual relations as a method of producing children, as if this were the only function of human sexuality - which, as any psychologist can tell you, it certainly isn't.
The chapter also points out that no, not all human cultures have centered around 'marriage and the nuclear family,'and that in early societies, which centered around shared resources, the whole sex-as-barter concept does not apply. (The idea that women allow a man sexual access in exchange for his material resources.) The author clearly find this reduction of all human sexuality down to - essentially - acts of prostitution - offensive.
SEX AT DAWN - Chapter 4.
Finally, the bonobos make an appearance!
Starts off with a quote from Stephen Jay Gould about how it's peculiar that we insist on comparing 'nasty' animal and human traits, but not making the same comparison for 'noble' traits.
It then talks about how there's a history of comparing human behavior to chimp behavior. Interestingly, it mentions how some of the characterization of chimps as violent and aggressive is also inaccurate (much was based on captive chimps; and their behavior, it is pointed out, differs from behavior in the wild as much as the behavior of jailed humans and free humans.)
However, the authors are somehow not as critical of the research done on bonobos, and ignore the fact that (much like chimps) bonobos have also been observed acting in aggressive and violent ways.
I don't think this invalidates the author's theory that we can compare ourselves to bonobos, as humans also, obviously, DO act aggressively and violently, but I do feel like the authors are oversimplifying to make a point here, and the point suffers for it.
However, there are some very valid points here about the insistence on seeing animal cultures as a reflection of human. For example, the concept of "rank" and "hierarchy" in animal societies - it's noted that status can come from affection or seniority, rather than a 'rank' system.
Also, that primatologists have insisted on describing different groups of apes as 'enemy' groups, when in fact when the groups meet, socializing and sex occur - not what one would expect if they are 'enemies.'
Interesting note about how both humans and bonobos, UNLIKE other apes, have a genetic mutation related to oxytocin, and by inference, emotional bonding.
And, a reiteration of the books main point: "Modern man's seemingly instinctual impulse to control women's sexuality is not an intrinsic feature of human nature. It is a response to specific historical socioeconomic conditions - conditions very different from those in which our species evolved."
Sex At Dawn: Chap. 5
Starts off with an interpretation of the Adam and Eve story as an allegory about humans moving from a foraging to an agricultural lifestyle. The authors express befuddlement as to why anyone would move from such an Edenic lifestyle to one of toil. It seems rather willfully naive. Foraging may be Edenic, temporarily, in times and places of plenty, but not all places are full of food. The foraging lifestyle requires frequent, nomadic travel. Not so good for those who aren't hale and fit. For me, it's very easy to see why people wanted to be able to settle and make a home, to try to wrest some predictability from an unpredictable world.
However, the authors clearly state they they regard the move to agriculture as a 'fall from grace.' I see it as a trade-off, yes... but one that most people have seen as worth it.
Next: very interesting (and true) idea about how humans have domesticated themselves, as much as any crop or farm animal: 'our cultures domesticate us for obscure purposes, nurturing and encouraging certain aspects of our behavior... seeking to eliminate those that might be disruptive."
Next: the author claim that, in the animal kingdom, humans are both uniquely social and uniquely sexual. While I see their point, I do think they exaggerate both. And no, 'exile' has not usually been considered the 'worst' punishment one can decree - hello, torture and death? Check out a list of historical punishments sometime.
Last: the authors promise to make the case that prehistorical human life was 'far from solitary.' OK, I never thought it was. However, I do think that the degree of privacy/community/social interaction that an individual expects is not an innate thing, but one of those 'culturally pruned' aspects of society mentioned at the beginning of this very chapter.
SEX AT DAWN: Chap. 6
This chapter explores in more depth the fallacy of the assumption that sexual exclusivity is required because women need the protection and provision of a man, who will only cleave to a woman if he is sure that her children are his.
The authors bring up the examples of many, many tribes who have traditionally believed that ALL men a women has sex with contribute to the paternity of a child (and even that, the more men a woman has sex with, the stronger and healthier a child will be).
They point out that in cases where a child is considered to have more than one father, the child benefits, because that child has multiple people looking out for his or her well-being. (After all, in small tribal groups, the likelihood is that to some degree, the children ARE actually related to all of the adults in the group.)
In a small tribal group, where monogamy is not the rule, and having multiple lovers is not considered to be a cause for jealousy, but rather, something to be expected, having multiple bonds of affection helps draw the group closer together.
If women are free to have sex when and with whom they choose, this eliminates conflict & competition between males for female companionship.
The authors point out that the egalitarianism of small groups, where resources (and, often, sexuality) are shared, is not somehow more 'noble,' but, rather, is the most efficient way for a small group to survive. Again, showing that monogamy is not always the cultural norm, the authors mention that the Matis tribe of South America (they're pretty much nearly wiped out now, which the book doesn't mention) actually have a word that translates to "being stingy with one's genitals" - a cultural transgression. (Kinda the opposite of calling someone a "slut!")
The authors also mention that if we look at sexuality not solely as a means of reproduction, but as a mechanism for consolidating enduring bonds of affection and caring between multiple individuals in a group, homosexuality no longer appears like a functionless aberration, but rather as just another way to demonstrate mutual bonds.
However, the authors then try to make a jump to compare the sexual egalitarianism of tribes to examples such as rock bands or soccer teams that happily share the sexual favors of groupies. I'm not at all sure that this analogy works.
This is probably coming up later in the book, but it seems clear to me at this point that this egalitarian model of sharing (both sex and resources) with multiple members of a group, through multiple, enduring bonds of affection works very well IF you are in a tribe - a fairly small group who all share close bonds.
It wouldn't work so well in a larger group (say a town or city) where not all your neighbors are people you know intimately, whose well-being and survival is chained inextricably to yours.
A change from it being acceptable and expected to have sex with multiple people in your tribe probably occurred when people started having a larger social group, and the "social unit" switched from "tribe" to "family."
Huh, This would also explain the weirdness of traditions such as that in Afghanistan where a woman is expected to marry only within her family (usually an uncle or first cousin), and marrying a non-related man is considered to be wrong and threatening (a non-family member is not trusted). It's like the tradition has only half-switched over...
SEX AT DAWN - Chapter 7.
While the last chapter was all about how other cultures have often had a more non-specific view of paternity, this chapter moves on to how mothering has often been less specific as well, with examples about how, in small tribes, maternal duties are shared amongst all the women.
It also points out how, in cultures that have insisted on seeing the nuclear family as the only acceptable family unit, horrible dysfunctions often occur. They bring up a horrible statistic that I had to check: it's true. In 1915, out of ten 'foundling hospitals' visited, in NINE of them, EVERY child died before the age of two. Makes it sound like Little Orphan Annie had it good! Meanwhile, the unwed mothers of these infants would hire out as wet-nurses to other womens' children. Hardly the ideal vision of the nuclear family, I agree.
This chapter segues right along into CHAPTER 8
The main point here is that it's been claimed that "marriage" exists in every society around the world because, well, we've taken a look at whatever arrangements exist in whatever culture, and we call that "marriage," ignoring how their arrangements may actually differ quite a lot from what we think of as "marriage" - there's no definition of the word. The authors agree that yes, people around the world do 'pair-bond.' But whether a bond is supposed to be permanent, temporary, or brief, whether that bond overlaps with other long-term sexual relationships, whether sexual activity is allowed or expected outside the bond: not at all, all the time, only during festivals, only with strangers, only with tribe members...? this varies, and varies quite a lot. Most of the chapter is composed of details about the "marriages" found in other cultures, and it's quite interesting.
The first half of the chapter is all about Matriarchies. It talks about different cultures that have encouraged female sexual permissiveness, and talks a lot about the Masuo; whom I’ve read about before. In traditional Masuo culture, the family is the essential unit of society – but the family who lives in a shared house are brothers and sisters, and the children of the women. Men go to women’s homes for sex and romance, but never live with their lovers. Men’s fatherly duties are to their sisters’ children.
The authors that assert that in a matriarchal society, men have it better than in a patriarchal one, because women don’t have a tendency to form the mirror image of a patriarchy and oppress men – matriarchies tend to be more relaxed and easygoing. Sounds nice, but the evidence presented is a bit scant for that assertion.
The second half of the chapter is about animal species which are erroneously considered to behave monogamously. Penguins are brought up (they engage in serial monogamy, sticking with one partner annually to raise chicks), as well as swans (they mention that at least 20% of chicks born to supposedly monogamous birds are not the offspring of that pair).
I’m not at all sure why these two segments are jammed together into one chapter, but there you are.
The topic is jealousy.
“In a traditional Canela marriage ceremony… the brother of each partner’s mother comes forward. He admonishes the bride and her new husband to stay together until the last child is grown, specifically reminding them not to be jealous of each other’s lovers.”
I like it!
Here, the authors argue that jealousy is largely a socially-constructed emotion, pointing out that degrees of sexual jealousy differ from society to society, not to mention exactly what behavior elicits jealousy. They make a very valid point that the results of many studies that we hear bandied about a lot, (saying that men are concerned with sexual infidelity and women are concerned with emotional infidelity) are fundamentally flawed, because their respondents were all Western college students – hardly a wide representation of the many ages and cultures of humanity. Good point.
It then moves on (again, and awkward transition) to talking about how Western pop culture views of ideal love are flawed, bringing up as examples the notorious stalker-song “Every Breath you Take “ (The Police), and “When a Man Loves A Woman,” which they amusingly propose should be retitled “When A Man becomes Pathologically Obsessed and Sacrifices All Self Respect and Dignity by Making a Complete Ass of Himself (and Losing the Woman Anyway, Because, Really, Who Wants A Boyfriend Who Sleeps Out In The Rain Because Someone Told Him To?)”
They then go on to point out Richard Dawkins’ idea that there’s no reason that sexual love should necessarily be exclusive, since we don’t expect any other sort of love or affection to be exclusive. All good.