Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What's "natural" is heterogenous   posted by Razib @ 9/09/2009 09:43:00 PM

Seems to be the "take away" message from Bryan Caplan's post, Monogamy and Heterogeneity. Interestingly, I've run into nature-based arguments in regards to human behavior and norms (e.g., "it's the natural way" or "it's against nature") mostly from two sets, back-to-nature-hippies and social conservatives. As Caplan suggests there is a tendency in these cases for the two groups to generalize from their own likely innate preferences, though the defections and deviations from both groups over time suggest that there's a lot of heterogeneity within them and some people are just conforming to the ideologies and leaders of their packs. Humans are supposed to have good Theory of Mind, but I think even that is a little outmatched by the enormous sample space of possible choices available in a post-industrial consumer society living well above the margins of subsistence. Minor innate behavioral dispositions which might have been marginal or buffered in a small-scale society may snowball due to the unending positive feedback loops which can be generated by the diversity of choices we can make today.

The pre-modern polyamorist was likely constrained in the number of individuals they might have sexual relations with because the number of people in their social world was small. Similarly, there wasn't nearly as much temptation and opportunity (or perceived opportunity cost) for the pre-modern monogamist. The realized distribution of behavior may be much more stretched out in modern society than in the past. After all, how nerdy would most of the readers of this weblog be if they'd been peasants? How many ways are there to plant a seed? (I'm sure I'm going to get answers to that rhetorical question)

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