Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who's your daddy???   posted by Razib @ 4/12/2007 02:05:00 AM

Via Genetics and Health I came across this story:
But modern-day science often unearths secrets long buried. When the DNA results landed on Isaac Owusu's dinner table here last year, they showed that only one of the four boys - the oldest - was his biological child....

I'm not interested in the details of the story (immigrants who find out their putative children aren't their biological issue). Rather, whenever I bring up paternity I do note angry comments seem to emerge unbidden from regular readers who ordinarily seem placid. Why? The reality in the United States is that it is in the "child's best interest" to have a father, and whoever gets "tagged" with fatherhood has a lifetime's worth of bills. But I'm interested in some more "deep time" questions, because the issue of paternity is important to two threads we've discussed on this weblog of late: facultative homosexuality and selection in pre and post Neolithic societies.

Why is female virginity and fidelity so prized, so honored, unto death, in some societies? Simple: in those societies property is passed down through patrilineages. If the "stranger" happens to be the eldest male in his lineage in a given generation someone who is not of that lineage genetically can have total control over a whole family. In contrast, in many small scale societies which are not necessarily patrilocal (women do not move to the man's house upon marriage) or patrilineal infidelities are of lesser concern because frankly there isn't that much at stake. Males do not control the means of product, nor are they expected to fully support one woman and all her offspring. This is not limited to small scale societies, consider Sambandham, a form of "casual marriage" (rough translation) amongst the matrilineal Nairs of southern India. In contrast in north India Hindus practice strict exogamy and patrlineal descent, as well as thorough patriarchy, enforced by the culture. There is no casual element to marriage, and new brides are assumed to be under the dictatorial and tyrannical rule of their mothers-in-law. In Arab societies the importance of male lines of descent is so important that women are sequestered and protected as pure resources, bearers of the next generation of males to lead the clan. Non-marital sex can have dire functional consequences for dozens or hundreds of people, so it "makes sense" that the harsh regimes we see imposed on young women are operative amongst Arabs. Most societies do not lay at either extreme, consider that Genghis Khan's main wife was kidnapped and raped early on in their marriage, and so the paternity of his eldest "son," Jochi, was always in doubt. Though he acknowledged Jochi as his son the uncertainty about his paternity led to him being passed over for the preeminent position amongst his brothers and was the root of tensions which resulted in a rift with his "father."

What does this mean for the evolution of human societies? We've alluded to the power of reproductive skew and within group variance being heightened after the transition to mass societies because of the spread of agriculture. We've also alluded to the possibility of metapopulation dynamics and within group dampening of status & reproductive variance in hunter-gatherer conditions. Though it is a rare individual who takes no interest in the fidelity of his putative mate, the study of small scale societies seems to suggest that the extreme tendencies of Arab cultures are not manifest within them. Rather, infidelity generates discord, irritation or anger, but there are no great material or status inheritances at stake. But once super-males arose with mass societies and the emergence of "men in groups" then the stakes were raised. Harems guarded by eunuchs are the logical end stage of the development of the super-male optimal strategy, but there are many small steps along the way. Pre-Neolithic societies were never "matriarchal" and "peaceful," and I suspect that Marijas Gimbutus' Old Europe was no such culture. But, Old, Old Europe might have been a bit less fixated on sexual paternity because the stakes across the generations were just not as large.

Related: How Well Does Paternity Confidence Match Actual Paternity?