How and Why Modern Western Society Keeps Alphadom in Check and Penalizes Any Excess of It
I have to warn you, this will seem repetitive at times as I will cite overlapping points repeated by several sources, but I really, really want to make sure the logic behind my reasoning comes across clearly so bear with me.
Let’s start off with a passage from the book The Red Queen by Matt Ridley:
In the ancient empire of the Incas, sex was a heavily regulated industry:The sun-king Atahualpa kept fifteen hundred women in each of many “houses of virgins” throughout his kingdom. They were selected for their beauty and were rarely chosen after the age of eight—to ensure their virginity. But they did not all remain virgins for long: They were the emperor’s concubines: Beneath him, each rank of society afforded a harem of a particular legal size: Great lords had harems of more than seven hundred women. “Principal persons” were allowed fifty women; leaders of vassal nations, thirty; heads of provinces of 100,000 people, twenty; leaders of 1,000 people, fifteen; administrators of 500 people, twelve; governors of 100 people, eight; petty chiefs over 50 men, seven; chiefs of 10 men, five; chiefs of 5 men, three. That left precious few for the average male Indian whose enforced near-celibacy must have driven him to desperate acts, a fact attested to by the severity of the penalties that followed any cuckolding of his seniors. If a man violated one of Atahualpa’s women, he, his wife, his children, his relatives, his servants, his fellow villagers, and all his lamas would be put to death, the village would be destroyed, and the site strewn with stones.
As a result, Atahualpa and his nobles had, shall we say, a majority holding in the paternity of the next generation. They systematically dispossessed less privileged men of their genetic share of posterity. Many of the Inca people were the children of powerful men.
In the kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa, all women were at the pleasure of the king. Thousands of them were kept in the royal harem for his use, and the remainder he suffered to “marry” the more favored of his subjects: The result was that Dahomean kings were very fecund, while ordinary Dahomean men were often celibate and barren: In the city of Abomey, according to one nineteenth-century visitor, “it would be difficult to find Dahomeans who were not descended from royalty.”
The connection between sex and power is a long one.
There are several important lessons to derive from this passage. One lesson is that an unfettered, free-for-all competition for resources usually leads to incredible inequality where only a few of the men control most of the resources, including access to women, while most men are forced to suffer in misery and celibacy. The second is that being a major alpha male in today’s industrialized West is much, much less rewarding than it was at other moments in humankind’s history. We’ve gone from legalized harems and rule with an iron fist as a reward for major alphas to societies where we expect monogamy and a degree of humility exercised by comparable alpha males today. For example we recently saw the fallout a billionaire of today like Tiger Woods faces when he cheats for banging 14 low class hoes, which is nothing in comparison to the sexual escapades of the alphas of era past described above:
To get an idea of how powerful the vagina-hoarding effect of polygamy throughout history was, consider this: today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did.
How did we go from there to here? From polygamous societies where high status alphas with all the resources hoarded all the women and the average man didn’t get a chance to reproduce to a society where the most powerful alphas are expected to stay loyal to one wife and risk getting half their resources taken away from them if they don’t? How did we get from the richest alphas running harems to being publicly shamed on every television network and punished for straying even once?
The Red Queen tackles this question also, emphasis added by me:
[T]he long interlude of human polygamy, which began in Babylon nearly four thousand years ago, has largely come to an end in the West: Official concubines became unofficial mistresses, and mistresses became secrets kept from wives: In 1988, political power, far from being a ticket to polygamy, was jeopardized by any suggestion of infidelity: Whereas the Chinese emperor Fei-ti once kept ten thousand women in his harem, Gary Hart, running for the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth, could not even get away with two.
What happened? Christianity? Hardly: It coexisted with polygamy for centuries, and its strictures were as cynically self-interested as any layman’s: Women’s rights? They came too late. A Victorian woman had as much and as little say in her husband’s affairs as a medieval one: No historian can yet explain what changed, but guesses include the idea that kings came to need internal allies enough that they had to surrender despotic power. Democracy, of a sort, was born. Once monogamous men had a chance to vote against polygamists (and who does not want to tear down a competitor, however much he might also like to emulate him?), their fate was sealed.
Despotic power, which came with civilization, has faded again: It looks increasingly like an aberration in the history of humanity…[M]en have been unable to accumulate the sort of power that enabled the most successful of them to be promiscuous despots. The best they could hope for in the Pleistocene period was one or two faithful wives and a few affairs if their hunting or political skills were especially great:The best they can hope for now is a good-looking younger mistress and a devoted wife who is traded in every decade or so.
Democracy happened. Democracy empowered lower status men and gave them a voice. Individually lower status men may have much less power than individual high status alphas, but as a group since there are so many more lower-status men in a society than there are powerful alphas, a “one-man, one-vote” society allows lower status men to collectively exercise much more power against alpha males than any others. And what these lower-status men will use that power to do shape a society that will (1) give themselves more access to women while giving alphas less access to women and (2) place limits to the abuses an uber-alpha can get away with. So democracy leads to legal limits on polygamy which leads to increased monogamy which leads to less sexual spoils and unfettered power for alpha males and more sexual spoils and more political power for all other lower-status males in a society. This means limitations on the upper-levels of alphadom are an essential part of a strong democracy.
The character of Hopper in A Bug’s Life understood the dangers of lower status people, who naturally outnumber higher status people, getting an equal voice quite well:
Robert Wright also comes to a similar conclusion about the relationship of democracy to both the lessening of alpha political and sexual power and the increase of the political and sexual power of lower-class men:
Polygamy. This is the natural state of our species. Then again, the natural state of our species is also a small hunter-gatherer society, with little wealth and thus, only mild inequalities of status and power among men. In this “ancestral environment,” large harems were rare; competition for women, though intense, was seldom epically intense. But then came agriculture and other sources of economic surplus. Suddenly some males could be way more powerful than others. The commensurately massive sexual rewards made men ill-inclined to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most prolific genetic replicator in the history of our species was the last Sharifian emperor of Morocco, who had 888 offspring. He was known as Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty. Get the picture?
And, in polygamous societies, low-status males weren’t exactly pacifists either. With scads of women monopolized by the well-to-do, less fortunate men could get mighty lonely and become very unhappy campers. This volatile discontent may be the reason that, as anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown, polygamy and authoritarianism have gone hand in hand. Back when the Zulu king was entitled to more than 100 women, coughing or spitting at his dinner table was punishable by death.
In this sense, monogamy meshes better than polygamy with the egalitarian values of a democracy. One-man-one-vote, one-man-one-wife.
So hoarding of women by powerful men in the form of polygamy and despotism go hand in hand, and more equitable distribution of women in the form of monogamy and democracy go hand in hand. A lot of men mistakenly believe polygamous society represents a paradise for men in general, but it doesn’t. It represents a paradise for one or a few men over all other men, who exist in a hell. Most men in highly polygamous societies are condemned to celibacy and their lives are less free and consist of extreme oppression by uber-alphas to boot.
Consider the following excerpts from this article by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa:
The history of western civilization aside, humans are naturally polygamous. Polyandry (a marriage of one woman to many men) is very rare, but polygyny (the marriage of one man to many women) is widely practiced in human societies, even though Judeo-Christian traditions hold that monogamy is the only natural form of marriage…
In societies where rich men are much richer than poor men, women (and their children) are better off sharing the few wealthy men; one-half, one-quarter, or even one-tenth of a wealthy man is still better than an entire poor man. As George Bernard Shaw puts it, “The maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer a tenth share in a first-rate man to the exclusive possession of a third-rate one.” Despite the fact that humans are naturally polygynous, most industrial societies are monogamous because men tend to be more or less equal in their resources compared with their ancestors in medieval times. (Inequality tends to increase as society advances in complexity from hunter-gatherer to advanced agrarian societies. Industrialization tends to decrease the level of inequality.)
Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy
When there is resource inequality among men—the case in every human society—most women benefit from polygyny: women can share a wealthy man. Under monogamy, they are stuck with marrying a poorer man.
The only exceptions are extremely desirable women. Under monogamy, they can monopolize the wealthiest men; under polygyny, they must share the men with other, less desirable women. However, the situation is exactly opposite for men. Monogamy guarantees that every man can find a wife. True, less desirable men can marry only less desirable women, but that’s much better than not marrying anyone at all.
Men in monogamous societies imagine they would be better off under polygyny. What they don’t realize is that, for most men who are not extremely desirable, polygyny means no wife at all, or, if they are lucky, a wife who is much less desirable than one they could get under monogamy…
For an example of the mindset such an environment creates in lower-status men, let’s look at Muslim suicide bombers:
According to the Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, a comprehensive history of this troubling yet topical phenomenon, while suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, when religion is involved, it is always Muslim. Why is this? Why is Islam the only religion that motivates its followers to commit suicide missions?
The surprising answer from the evolutionary psychological perspective is that Muslim suicide bombing may have nothing to do with Islam or the Koran (except for two lines in it). It may have nothing to do with the religion, politics, the culture, the race, the ethnicity, the language, or the region. As with everything else from this perspective, it may have a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.
What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don’t get any wives at all.
So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.
However, polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombing. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. And they do have very high levels of violence. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars—but not suicide bombings.
The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.
It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings. Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single.
Modern democratic society is a tradeoff. A lower status man ostensibly obtains the same vote and therefore voice as a higher status man. Since lower status men outnumber higher status uberalphas, they can now create a system of laws, checks and balances called the State that contains innate limitations to just how powerful an alpha can become. Powerful men keep adapting to the new status quos and try to become more powerful regardless, and the State, which mostly represents the collective voice of the lower-status peoplee, in turn keeps adapting to find new ways to put limitations on their alphadom. It’s an arms race between uberalphas who want to become as powerful as they can thanks to human nature, and the State, which is the tool lower status men collectively use throughout history to keep uberalphas in check by limiting their access to political power and the best vagina.
Yet because most men still harbor dreams of becoming more powerful and alpha themselves, these societies are still constructed with enough flexibility to allow for social mobility as well. Evolution has designed men to naturally seek out power, status, and as a consequence, access to better and more women, so no matter how much lower-status men desire to squash uber-alphas, they will never tolerate a society that totally crushes the ability of everyone to become more powerful. These tensions are what leads to our society that rewards people for being a mix of both alpha and beta as opposed to other societies that reward people strictly for being super-alpha, a society that crushes you for being too beta and for being too alpha, especially when you’re sandwiched between both extremes in the middle class.
This is a big reason why I said in the last installment that middle-class men are the worst equipped to achieve pure unadulterated alpha status in our society. Upper class men have the resources to possibly buy the State or work it from the inside. Lower class men often have little to lose and are used to hardship so they are often more willing to just straight up refuse to abide by the rules of the State. Then you have men who embody both attitudes, a ton of resources to buy off the State or work it from the inside combined with a willingness to thumb their nose at the rules of the State and refuse to abide by them when necessary. The patron saint of this last category is Joseph Kennedy. Is it any wonder his family is considered the ultimate American dynasty?
But even among these groups, sooner or later they more often then not lose against the State, whether it’s the IRS or divorce court for the rich or jail for the poor. So what chance does the middle-class man have to aim for pure alpha status in a society that by design is meant to curb any attempts to be alpha for the benefit of all men?