Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Will Tinder Enable the Polygamies? - Mating Strategies

"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."

"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball." Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice*


A good deal of this section will be based on the Dr. Tania Reynolds podcast mentioned previously.  She is quite clear in a subject that attracts a lot of bad journalism. 

I don't want to pull the rug on you.  I will appear in this section to be saying "No, there is so much variation off the basic strategies of men and women, and the recent differences predate Tinder that we can't blame that technology for any move to polygamy, or any other dramatic change in sexual behavior. Then in the last section I will be saying "Actually, I am making the case that Tinder does matter here."

The first point in evolutionary biology is to pretend that it is your genes that are making all your decisions for you, and you are just making up rationalisations for what they demand.  The second point is to realise that it's not pretend.

Our ancestors faced a variety of problem, most of them over and over.  Evolutionary psychology studies how genes were selected for to deal with these. As genes + selection = sex, and therefore sexual selection, it is an important subtopic in the field. The main thing the general public gets wrong, because of the journalist's need for punchy first paragraphs and our own desire to simplify complicated material, is that we try to oversimplify it is that "our genes" tell us is only one thing. When a male mating strategy and female mating strategy are discussed in contrast to each other it is usually overlooked that this is a primary, or even only a major strategy. Both women and men have backup strategies, emergency strategies, lazy strategies, and sneaky strategies, not only as a group but as individuals.  We all have multiple built-in strategies, though sometimes in wildly different proportions. Not all women on a soccer team, or on a faculty, or at a strip joint, or in a harem are going to be the same. Different strategies are called out, but not all males or females have them in equal proportions. 

The controversy comes because at least some people would prefer to believe that the biological mating strategies of the past have very little effect on the present.  They believe there are few strong forces, and the remainder is easily overruled.  They don't believe this because it is true, but because it should be true, dammit, and if we try hard enough to believe we can fly, we will grow wings faster.  Or something. Maybe it's just my reflexive response of looking for opposites, but I swear the people who insist most that this is not so - usually women - are the ones who illustrate it most.  Because they are employing another slightly less-used strategy than, I don't know, cheerleaders or whatever, they believe they are not much responding to a biological script at all. There is also the sororal defensiveness that does not like men even mentioning the possibility that women use hypergamy as a strategy. There's a lot of binary thinking around this one.  More on this later, but lest you think it rare, both my mother and my only sister used it, so I'm not engaging with outraged insistence that no women do this, or that it's all just resentful male accusation.

Note: There may have been men who sexually preferred much older women in early societies...but we are not their descendants. I exaggerate.  Sex has many uses, even if only one primary use, and even the secondaries might confer survival advantages. But that is another evolutionary biology bedrock point. It doesn't matter what we think would have been better or fairer or nicer. We are descended from the people who had descendants.

A fun example of how the installed mating strategies play out: When the young competitive runners go by on the trail I walk on, you can see different social strategies at play after the first half-mile. There will be individual runners and pairs in both sexes, but even three females together will be unusual. If you see a cluster of many coming at you, it will be males. The very occasional top female will strive to remain with one of the top male groups, but beyond that the sexes will stay separate. About half (?) will be talking. This will change with full adults when there are some paired couples running, and in the youngest (5th-6th) groups you will see occasional brother-sister pairs. Think of that as we look at the strategies below.

For both sexes, their allies and their rivals are often the same people. For men, coalition-building is of major importance, while for women, sorting out trust and betrayal is key to offspring survival. Without even getting to alternative strategies, you can see how just those two things alone can have a variety of expressions. 

For men, coalitions are not only victory-in-battle-and-take-women strategies, but ganging up on males who are hogging the mating resources, which you can see even in primate behavior. We can see in the genetic record that there are periods of one group of males wiping out rivals and near-complete turnover of y-haplogroups in a generation or two.  But after that the competition is internal, and the percentage of males fathering children increases. If you look at the history of small-scale war among elite families everywhere - plus intrigue, plus obsession with external coalition-building such as arranged marriage, one can see that the purely violent strategy for males for reproductive success is temporary. Gehghis Khan and his immediate successors remake the genetics of Asia for a couple of generations, then it is back to wider-range competition again.  That one is from the Golden Family doesn't  matter as much a hundred years later, as so is every one of your rivals. Your grandsons may need to be more attractive in some way to females.  Note that this would not necessarily be hearts and flowers.  Flexible strategies are key.

The saying among Marines that you can trust your buddy with your life but not your girlfriend is built on very typical homo sapiens behavior for thousands of years. 

Coalition-building also works for whole tribes, as it increases prosperity for all.  Tribes that can build bridges and harbors have more surviving descendants. Trade networks mean that more people eat. This is important for paternal caregiving as well. Time spent with children may be time spent away from building walls or roads, and other tribes will have the advantage. This is why even now, when men sometimes take over the role of primary caregiver - I know some and was one for a few years - it is never in the ratio of 100%-0% if the mother is still alive and available. She will still be a 30-40% caregiver. There are still men who are less than 10% caregivers, however, especially if they are effectively securing resources. 

We do not see this strategy in other species, except a bit in primates.  It is human males who build coalitions. It is a swiss-army knife strategy, which can be brought into play in a variety of situations.  Even men who prefer to work alone usually have some method of bringing their work into line with the projects of other males. What we call being self-sufficient or even living off the land is a network of voluntary cooperations of varying duration. Coalitions work in both polygamy and monogamy, though in very different ways. The monogamous societies of Europe and its colonies created a situation in which an enormous percentage of male productivity was intertwined. More men had a stake in overall cooperation rather than sabotaging others in reproductive competition. If the changes we are currently seeing are not strictly polygamy, I don't think we can say that they are quite monogamy, either. And that may not be good for us economically.

"Reproductive success" does not always equal an enviable life. Wildly successful males get replaced with alarming frequency, both as groups and individuals. When there are societies that concentrate access to females among the few there is more internal violence (as we are seeing now in poorer areas, and the angrier incels muttering that they also will be resorting to this). I am reminded of the Dilbert cartoon in which one of the women is complaining angrily at Dilbert and Wally that men hold all the important positions in the company. "Those are other men," Wally points out. Hierarchical systems are more like polygamy.  To continue the analogy, it is not necessarily helpful to point out to the men who have no wives how unfair the whole system is to women. (There is an ugly side to why some women will do exactly this, though.)

Tangent: Losing can be ugly, causing men to develop alternative strategies like humor. One can feel his pain here, as is often true in comedy.

If women are not killed, they are generally bearing children and passing their genes along - but sometimes the circumstances of that are pretty dire, such as slavery. "Success" is ambiguous. 

There are interesting digressions about European nobility and sexual signalling over the last thousand years and the effect of autism on both male and female strategies, but I am steeling myself against them.  They are fascinating, but this is even longer and more disjointed than I projected. The variations on the basic themes are worthy of contemplation in themselves, but the larger view is that coalition-building is a modular, multipurpose strategy for males. Men also use it signal to women which other men they think are acceptable by who is in one coalition or another. Highschools breaking into tribes of jocks, nerds, hoods,hardworkers, artsies is not accidental. Perhaps incels would do better to join groups of men to signal their acceptability.

And...females also signal which other females are acceptable, but along different lines. Because so many biological systems have to go just right for both reproduction and childrearing (including merely surviving to raise the child) violence is a far worse strategy for women.  Men can be damaged or even partially disabled and still father children.  This is much more difficult for females. Eliminating rivals in that way is simply too dangerous most of the time.

Many societies have been patrilocal, so it has been a very common event in the history of women for a young girl to be given or taken into another tribe, where she now lands with no known allies and great uncertainty where she might fit. Learning who to trust among the other women is of enormous importance, far more important than how she is perceived by men in general, and often even more important than how her husband/owner perceives her, because he is likely embedded in a system where he cannot easily leave the tribe, nor otherwise leave her. Women have a better memory for faces, especially female faces. The appearance of winsomeness, docility, and lack of threat may have been developed to please other women more than men, contrary to current belief. Yes pleasing men, or at least one man enough to gain access to resources for your child is important, but it is more an oddity of Western sexual selection than a universal. Women do not live in extended families or sex-segregated villages anywhere near as much now, never mind harems, beginning a few hundred years ago.  They are out in the world more, somewhat removed from dependence on the world of women. And dependence on men often had an element of choosing the male that was not given to women in other times and places. Newer rules are an extension of that older change, not something brand new.

Women prize kindness to strangers more than men do, likely because more of them have been strangers, at least in prehistory. Women who are kind to younger women are valorised by them, and this very much persists even though survival is less on the line these days. In my world where young people went away to college I noticed that not only was getting along with a roommate more important to girls, but the good fortune in finding a compatible one often resulted in lifelong friendship. We have lots of these survival programs on disc, waiting to be used as needed. We thought it was all our own judgement and decision, when in fact it is mostly only the variation that is our choice.(And now do mating...)

I don't think this maps exactly on our recent discussion of whether women dress for men of for other women, but I think it is related.  We should probably conclude "Usually women. But it depends on the circumstances."

(I think there is also a very interesting parallel with the discussion we have had about princesses and Barbie and having the handsome prince take you off to his castle at the end of the story does not make him the main figure in the drama. It makes him the proper reward for having been a good princess. There are folktales with the opposite where the daughter of the king is rather like property disposed upon a worthy male who has saved the kingdom somehow. But that doesn’t show up in the toy-buying. The hypermasculine toys don’t have trophy princesses sold as accessories. Barbie has Ken, a bland han dsome figure she can tell what to do. The fairy tales seem to be more equal opportunity. But the fury at the dolls and the values they supposedly teach is misguided.  Barbie does what she wants and also gets a boy toy.  Snow White behaves in perfect princess fashion and gets given a perfect princess reward, at least from a little girl's POV.  She gets this man-toy who looks nice and speaks only when spoken to.)

Women have superior Theory of Mind, of being able to put themselves in the heads of others, especially female others.  This has its limits for all of us, because we are also likely to project that they are Just Like Us when they aren't.

Trust and betrayal for women is more dyadic.  As the new girl you need friends, someone who will have your back in particular, for the safety of your child. A woman does not have many ways of betraying the group.  But she can betray an individual to the point of endangering the survival of her child.  Thus sorting out trust is huge for women.  They must trust, and do, sharing confidences and assistance. But they can also cut off a friendship far more readily if someone proves unreliable, and this persists as well.  Women are much more likely to unfriend on Facebook, for example. Males require group loyalty, females personal loyalty.  Reactions to what are no longer life-threatening threats and betrayals look like overreactions to us now, especially to men, who see them as "hysterical."  But those came up for good reason, and if men expect some forgiveness for their "old biological programs" being put into play these days, they should be more tolerant of this in women. Their genes don't know this is a less dangerous world. What Sylvia did or didn't say seems of no importance now, but there was an era in the lives of many of her ancestresses where it was life or death for themselves or their child.  We learn this too late, if we learn it at all, in modern male thinking. 

Females have less tolerance for interpersonal conflict, which sometimes allows men to win arguments. One more discussion for another day.

So a type of cooperation is the major strategy for both males and females, but both also need strategies of standing out, both in enhancing once own status and undermining the status of others.These are quite different under monogamy and polygamy. In polygamy men's choices are fewer, and the high-risk strategy of violence, sometimes even an all-or-nothing showing off  becomes an actually reasonable response, according to what your genes are whispering in your ear. Alternatively, learning to sneak behind the Big Man's back in some way to sleep with women is also a common response.  He can't watch everywhere, even with piles of assistants.  And he has to pay those assistants with something. Women's lives are worse in polygamous societies, but any individual woman's chances might be improved by alliance with a powerful male. Strong signalling of sexual availability is high-risk, because you could just get used. This is especially so in informal polygamy when recreational sex is more prominent than reproductive sex.  Many more women are attractive to men than men to women. (We will see this in the Tinder discussion.)

Distracted again...this is similar to the expectation, mentioned before, and then expanded upon, that young innocent-looking female comedians talk ever more raunchily about sex as their careers go along. The surprise factor makes their comments funny, and we, men and women both, love deflowering them in this way. High-risk strategy that can pay off big in entertainment. It saddens me, because while some are relying on this aren't funny otherwise (Kate Micucci), others seem quite talented (Taylor Tomlinson).

When women can also be the ones taking multiple partners their concern is usually not to find just any partner, but to find one they consider acceptable.  This is predates Tinder by several decades. Males losers are obvious.  Female "losing" can be more ambiguous, harder to spot, and perhaps hardest to spot in themselves until they decide it is so in retrospect.  As we have discussed before about self-deception, their friends will not reliably tell them if they are losing at this game.  Their friends have already endorsed similar strategies and have the same indignation at being criticised. The nerve! Whether one has won or lost may not be clear for some time, sometimes only when many things fall apart. At that point it is a sunk cost and might be defended even with some force rather than admit it.  More subtly still, her victory (as with male victories in many cases) may have come at the expense of an unfair loss by some other woman/man. How quickly we will say it was their own fault! We won because we were better! And if we changed our morality along the way, ah well.  We are older and wiser now.

The disconnect comes because our mating choices are still founded more than we would care to admit on inherited babymaking strategies even when one or both of the partners emphatically does not want a baby, but would like to have sex. Modern technology has not yet pushed us to create new strategies.  It has pushed the volume to eleven on the use of some old strategies at the expense of others. I doubted this as a young man, ignoring even the evidence of my own behavior because I preferred that we were moving to something "much more rational." A really good cure for that is to listen to weary psych nurses at the end of a shift, especially on a Friday when others are closing down for the weekend but they know that they, or their people, will still be at the hospital. They discuss things very openly, and the other female staff, from professions that would not ordinarily be so open about what they are attracted to or what bedroom behavior is preferred, find themselves joining in. Males try to turn invisible, and even I don't dare say anything. (Later discussions with female psychologists who had chipped in, at which I expressed, uh, surprise, answered me with wry or even sheepish comments that they were surprised themselves. Sometimes we get caught up in things, you know? Especially when talking with our own sex. I don't know whether to be complimented or insulted that my presence didn't matter.)


Even in this discussion we tend to put ourselves in the heads of the winners and losers of our own sex. They were our ancestors, after all. But men do not as naturally consider the plight of the 15 y/o girl given in bride-exchange to a village a hundred miles away. Women will feel sorry for a specific male who is losing in the current market - a brother, a client, especially a son - but don't tend to feel the woes of a category. They are sometimes even among the most condemning of subgroups like incels, especially if they are a certain type of unattainably attractive woman.  It's ugly.  Plus, "winning" sometimes comes at a cost as well.  Spend some time contemplating these winners and losers from the inside.

Anyway, it took a long time for me to drop my 1970s illusions of growing cultural rationality, but that and other experiences have convinced me that ancient strategies are retained, even unwillingly and while trying to shed them. Best line I hear: "I have to admit, the father of my first child was a panther tattoo on a chest."

Men and women are playing parallel games, but with each other as the prizes, which keeps the interconnection odd.

A long transcript section from Dr. Reynolds: Remember she is talking about intrasexual competition strategies without regard to polygamy.  I am making the additional connections myself in subsequent posts.

Yeah,um,so research on Tinder has found that those who use it are distinct in certain ways. So they tend to be  more sexually unrestrained. So they're open more open to casual sex, as we might expect, they have lower  sexual disgust on average compared to non Tinder users. And so in one sense, I would say like, well, Tinder is great, because it provides the opportunities for those who have the disposition for it, you know, so like, it's nice that for those who are sexually unrestrained, there is, you know, an avenue for them. And there were at least in- there was a Belgian study that found that a quarter of encounters on Tinder led to committed relationships. So for even for those who value commitment, there's still a pathway to it, although of course, there's no guarantee. However, I think that Tinder, so I think that Tinder has its positive outcomes .It also might just, you might see similar patterns that you would in other mating domains. So for example, they found that women tend to prioritize education level when they're selecting their Tinder matches in their- when they're looking for men. And so this is what you see kind of in self report surveys. So it suggests that people are kind of expressing their similar mating preferences that they would otherwise even outside of Tinder. So you might view it as like neutral that it's just a sphere where people can exert their already existing preferences. However I do, I do have concerns about Tinder in in terms of like hypergamy. So this is the idea that women tend to prefer mates of higher social status and wealth. And sot his is going to be kind of a problem anyway seven outside of Tinder. But on Tinder, what that would suggest is that, you know, if there are certain men who are strongly preferred, for whatever reason, maybe it's because they have, you know, wealth, or status, or even high indices of high genetic quality, they're physically attractive. If women are going to prefer a small subset of the population of men, then if we're kind of removing the constraints of social monogamy, what that suggesting is that these few men are going to reap a lot of the benefits and many men might not, which I worry could lead to kind of resentment. And so when people have looked at kind of the so like- Wilson and Daly, for example, have examined kind of this young male syndrome, where especially low status men tend to kind of take this more risky strategy, including like, physical violence and basically like it's a,it's an effort to kind of succeed in intense male male competition. So I worry that in Tinder, we might see kind of the males who are losing resorting to more violence or crime, or that it could contribute to mental illness. And so I worry about that aspect. I also worry about for women, too,I mean, if they're perceiving a high degree of sexual competition, some data suggests that in context of inequality, women will are more inclined to self sexualize. So being that like if there are like ,if there's a large distribution between like the men at the top and the men at the bottom, women might be more inclined to appeal directly to the men at the top and the strategies or ways that men tend to prefer so cues of like sexual availability. And so it might also affect You know women's wellbeing or what strategies they're willing to use. And so I worry, I worry about that   aspect as well. And then there's also other data showing that if you perceive your alternatives as very plentiful, it makes you less inclined to commit, which would make sense. If you have all these viable mating opportunities, then there's less of an incentive to kind of lock one down. And so I guess it depends on one's goal if their goal is like, committed relationships, and that could be problematic. Whereas if your goal is to have a more loose society with more liberated sexual norms ,maybe that's not so bad. (Italics mine, and I think the point important.)

 *If you want an example of why intelligent women continue to adore Austen even though they would now consider many of the values she expresses to be outdated and regressive, this would be a good example.  Notice that she puts this sentiment in the mouth of a female character, with the male defending the dance, which is opposite to the stereotype. Her female characters are "modern enough," even when they are not modern.

No comments: