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Thread: Evolutionary psychology, sexual jealousy, and cuckoldry

  1. #1 Evolutionary psychology, sexual jealousy, and cuckoldry 
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    There are tales of cultures with a variety of bizarre sexual practices (bizarre, at least, by the standards prevalent today in the industrialized world.)

    My question is: do you think these claims are overblown?

    Let me give you some examples in a moment.

    It's not up for huge debate that it wasn't until relatively recently than anthropology began to (re)focus on the universal. Before that, anthropologists were exhorted to be "merchants of astonishment", to purvey a world of the anomalous and the strange, eschewing universal patterns where possible.

    To me, the notion that sexual jealousy (in response to cuckoldry) is a western construct cannot be true, simply because it makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective. It sounds like an anthropological canard to me.

    Ok, some examples, if you'll allow me:

    "Every culture has its cuckolds and treats them in peculiar ways. In some contexts, cuckoldry is a proper and even honourable estate. ... many cultures will not allow a newly wed husband to pollute himself with the blood of his wife's defloration: he has to get in someone else to do it. In ancient Mesopotamia, it was the job of a dedicated professional. Among the Arawaks of the Caribbean, it was the responsibility of priests. In some south-east Asian kingdoms in antiquity, kings had to forego their first opportunity of intercourse with their wives in favour of strangers kind enough to take responsibility for the nasty, messy business of the night. Some sources attribute the same custom to the Samorins of Calicut and other taboo-haunted rulers. The Finnish sociologist Edvard Westermarck, who collected intriguing tales about idiosyncratic sexual customs, recorded many similar cases, stories that have gone into legend, from India, Africa, Australasia and the Americas"

    [link: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion...-1891430.html]

    Now, I ask you: do you think these are examples of cultures that subvert immutable psychological propensities (jealousy etc) in an attempt to, say, consolidate power. Or do you think the idea of universal jealousy is simply wrong? Or are these more than likely poorly documented myths?

    [This is my first post; thank you for reading]


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  3. #2 Re: Evolutionary psychology, sexual jealousy, and cuckoldry 
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by God_of_Biomechanics
    To me, the notion that sexual jealousy (in response to cuckoldry) is a western construct cannot be true, simply because it makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective. It sounds like an anthropological canard to me.
    Why do you think sexual jealousy does not make sense evolutionarily? Would it not be a good idea to avoid raising the offspring from another male, or to avoid devoting resources to someone else's child as if it were your own?

    Sexual jealously is seen outside of humans, as well, so I'm a bit unsure how or why you've made the declaration above. Did I misunderstand you, and you were referring specifically to a (ridiculous) claim that sexual jealousy is solely a western concept and would not exist if it were for silly westerners?


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    Without knowing the details of a representative number of claims (of bizarre practices) and how these claims are now viewed, it is impossible to offer anything more than a vague, knee jerk, prejudiced, unsubstantiated opinion.

    My impression is, from eclectic and superficial reading in the field over many decades, that a combination of misinterpretation (due to poor methodology and lack of proper peer review) and a bias to focus on the bizarre, will have led to undue emphasis on the importance of these instances.

    It's not up for huge debate that it wasn't until relatively recently than anthropology began to (re)focus on the universal. Before that, anthropologists were exhorted to be "merchants of astonishment", to purvey a world of the anomalous and the strange, eschewing universal patterns where possible.
    Is this actually true, or is this itself a myth that has arisen about the field? Can you provide scholarly observations that support it?
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  5. #4 Re: Evolutionary psychology, sexual jealousy, and cuckoldry 
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    Quote Originally Posted by inow
    Why do you think sexual jealousy does not make sense evolutionarily? Would it not be a good idea to avoid raising the offspring from another male, or to avoid devoting resources to someone else's child as if it were your own?

    Sexual jealously is seen outside of humans, as well, so I'm a bit unsure how or why you've made the declaration above. Did I misunderstand you, and you were referring specifically to a (ridiculous) claim that sexual jealousy is solely a western concept and would not exist if it were for silly westerners?
    Sorry Inow, I didn't write that sentence very clearly - what I meant was that sexual jealousy DOES make sense evolutionarily, so much sense that it seems highly unlikely to me that it could possibly be just a social construct (that can be done away with in other cultures, as with the examples listed in my OP).


    Edit: I seem to be having trouble quoting properly...lemme see if I can get it right.
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    @ Ophiolite: yes it's certainly true. I could suggest Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" and "The Language Instinct" for good summaries of the political and cultural forces that conspired to promote an anti-universalism bent in anthropology, mostly strongly evident during the 60s. Only recently has anthropology began to align itself with evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics (amongst other sciences) and returned to taking a more universal approach.
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  7. #6 Re: Evolutionary psychology, sexual jealousy, and cuckoldry 
    Veracity Vigilante inow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by God_of_Biomechanics
    what I meant was that sexual jealousy DOES make sense evolutionarily, so much sense that it seems highly unlikely to me that it could possibly be just a social construct.
    Right on. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I totally agree with you.



    Quote Originally Posted by God_of_Biomechanics
    Edit: I seem to be having trouble quoting properly...lemme see if I can get it right.
    Your code is fine, but you need to surpass a certain number of posts before the system recognizes and renders it for you. You only need a few more, so just keep doing what you're doing and be patient for a few more until BBCode kicks in.
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    Ok, cheers.

    I've been having a discussion with a pretty well-known psychology professor at an ivy league, and, as brilliant as he obviously is, he seems to have a real dislike of evolutionary psychology for reasons that seem a little irrational to me.

    It's strange, the field is up against some serious criticism, but it's as though it's disliked for what it represents rather than the data or ideas it relays.

    And my god, feminists really tend to hate it with a passion.

    Anyway, I really think that many of the claims of immensely varied and bizarre cultural practices are exaggerated. Without knowing the data for sure, I can say with almost 100% certainty that there is not a single culture on earth that does not experience sexual jealousy.
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  9. #8  
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    Quote Originally Posted by God_of_Biomechanics
    Without knowing the data for sure, I can say with almost 100% certainty that there is not a single culture on earth that does not experience sexual jealousy.
    I realise this was not how you intended it but........

    If you "don't know the data for sure" it is very easy to be almost 100% certain of anything. That's the great advantage of jumping to a concussion.
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  10. #9  
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    @ Ophiolite:

    Ok, maybe a little hyperbole, my bad.
    But I say it in the same sense as I have faith in the universality of evolution, in that I am (almost) 100% certain some features of human nature are immutable and trans-cultural, because it would disprove evolutionary theory were it no so. (Though I cannot prove it.)
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  11. #10  
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    you think these are examples of cultures that subvert immutable psychological propensities (jealousy etc) in an attempt to, say, consolidate power.
    How would allowing someone else to fuck your wife subvert jealousy?
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    Quote Originally Posted by God_of_Biomechanics
    I've been having a discussion with a pretty well-known psychology professor at an ivy league, and, as brilliant as he obviously is, he seems to have a real dislike of evolutionary psychology for reasons that seem a little irrational to me.

    It's strange, the field is up against some serious criticism, but it's as though it's disliked for what it represents rather than the data or ideas it relays.

    And my god, feminists really tend to hate it with a passion.
    They did this to themselves. There has been many ridiculous claims based on nothing more than some random chap's gut feelings. Claims that could never be tested, verified or much less refuted, in a thousand years. Most of the people I know in evo. psych. are just a few chimps short of a primate lab and all of them wanted to study evolutionary biology, but couldn't get in.

    Evolution is an important perspective in all of the social sciences, but as a Popperian, if it can't be falsified, it's not science.


    Quote Originally Posted by God_of_Biomechanics
    some features of human nature are immutable and trans-cultural
    We have discovered quite a few of those. Darwin himself documented some universal facial expressions in his book: "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals".
    Patricia Kuhn have proposed a mechanism for how all babies can differentiate all the sounds that make up all the languages of the world.
    “All this science I don't understand. It's just my job, five days a week.” -RocketMan

    "Sometimes an ashtray is the only way to get a point across" -Thomas Kuhn (not really, but close) via O'Connor
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  13. #12  
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    Agreed, if it's not testable and refutable, it's not science. That said, EP is a victim of egregious straw-manning, and some absurd claims from certain people does not reflect the overall thrust of it.
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by gottspieler
    How would allowing someone else to fuck your wife subvert jealousy?
    Inverse aversion therapy.
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