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Bonobos Tribal Advantage

One of the great misconceptions about evolution is that it has a certain teleological attribute, that is that evolution makes life better. Evolution has no end goal; it's simply reproductive success under varying environmental conditions.

I've been reading Sex at Dawn recently which is about the kind of cultural blinders that we put on as a society when it comes to mating. The book is full of information and analysis about the sexual habits of primates and various human cultures as they relate to the concept of monogamy. I learned that a number of South American societies view conception to be a matter of "partible paternity" in which pregnancy occurs via an accumulation of semen and not necessarily from a single father. In order to provide her child the best opportunity in life, a mother may "solicit 'contributions' from the best hunters, the best story-tellers, the funniets, the kindest, the best-looking, the strongest, and so-on in the hopes of her child absorbing the essence of each." In this more tribal setting, children have multiple fathers and mothers and there is a more egalitarian perspective because no individual in the group is an asset for survival. They all rely on each other and are intimately connected in the process of raising children.

I am completely in favor of a society in which small groups of people unify for a common good (which I think we do already just in a less sexualized way), but I wonder what would be the advantages and disadvantages to living this way in our current times?

Advantage: People would be less sexually inhibited. Why is this an advantage? More sex means less violence. Make love not war. Studies of Bonobos Ape societies offer insight into how human socio-sexual relationships may have developed millions of years ago. The flow chart indicates that attaining a lower rate of infanticide and creating a society of more generalized paternal care starts with females being more receptive to male sexual advances. Why are Bonobos considered a possible model for how early human society's might have existed? Humans and Bonobos copulate throughout the menstrual cycle, while female Chimpanzees are sexually active only 25-40 percent of their cycle.

Image: from Sex at Dawn written by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha page 102.

Disadvantage: Birthrates and STD cases would likely increase. We have so many people on the planet connected (and copulating exponentially) in such a variety of ways that it seems plain to see that reproducing with anyone or everyone who shows interest would be detrimental to for our continued existence on the planet. Humans have the ability to both care deeply for those they don't know or imagine the worst about them and justify their disregard. Increased birthrates would most likely lead to a number of children not receiving the care that is needed to be successful in a post-industrial age. More STD's would lead to increased public health care costs. (A more optimistic perspective would include increased prophalactics sales.)

Advantage: Increased social mobility. How many times do children tell themselves that they can or cannot take a particular career path because of the singular nature of their parent's occupation. Children would no longer have to tell themselves that their parents were one thing and so they are destined to be the same thing. However, in a more close-knit society the type of job your father has would likely be rather limited; is your dad a hunter or a gatherer instead of is your dad a cashier, construction worker, a doctor, a drug dealer or an investment banker.

Disadvantage: The level of inequality of income along with the sheer number of people present in our current society makes it difficult to imagine the workings of a society in which a small tribe could function. There just isn't any level of intimacy between people who may be interdependent. For dinner I had a kale salad and stuffed mushrooms which I bought from the grocery store for dinner. I have no idea about the lifestyle of the people who farmed the kale, who cultivated the mushrooms, or even who stocked the shelves at the grocery store. The number of people involved in creating the lifestyle I currently enjoy would make for an exponentially large tribe.

Disadvantage: Loss of time. If everyone's copulating and reproducing all the time and devoting an equal amount of time toward raising communal children, when would there be time to write blog posts or make new music?

Disadvantage: What if you're just average in the tribe? While the best looking or strongest or funniest people are getting laid all the time, are the average people just kind of like, "Okay honey... have fun with the funny one tonight... really try to get pregnant so that we have a really funny kid."

Disadvantage: Science tells us that pregnancy is not a matter of an accumulation of semen. We can't really go back on our understanding like that.

Advantage: This would make an amazing reality tv show. Isn't television the place where we do our social experiments these days anyway? The pitch might go something like this: Bonobos is the ongoing sexual saga in which individuals from all walks of life form a small tribe of 14 and practice partible paternity. Will the males turn territorial or will female alliances keep the peace? Will the small society survive in the capitalistic landscape? I'm pretty sure it would get good ratings which perhaps exemplifies the lack of an end goal in terms of our endless evolving entertainment industry.


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