The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People

Overview

Applying new research to sex in the animal world, esteemed scientists David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton dispel the notion that monogamy comes naturally. In fact, as The Myth of Monogamy reveals, biologists have discovered that for nearly every species, cheating is the rule — for both sexes.

Reviewing findings from the same DNA fingerprinting science employed in the courtroom, Barash and Lipton take readers from chickadee nests to chimpanzee packs to explain why animals ...

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Overview

Applying new research to sex in the animal world, esteemed scientists David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton dispel the notion that monogamy comes naturally. In fact, as The Myth of Monogamy reveals, biologists have discovered that for nearly every species, cheating is the rule — for both sexes.

Reviewing findings from the same DNA fingerprinting science employed in the courtroom, Barash and Lipton take readers from chickadee nests to chimpanzee packs to explain why animals cheat. (Some prostitute themselves for food or protection, while others strive to couple with genetically superior or multiple mates.) The Myth of Monogamy then illuminates the implications of these dramatic new findings for humans, in our relationships, as parents, and more.

The Myth of Monogamy at last brings scientific insight into this emotionally charged aspect of the ultimate dating and marriage quandary.

...Meg Ryan lost her America's sweetheart status when her affair with fellow-actor Russell Crowe was announced to the world. And let's not forget "the average Joe." Several "regular" people felt the sting of public disapproval when they agreed to air their private transgressions publicly...

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A highly readable, light-hearted survey of monogamy and its variations across the animal kingdom."

Nature

"Gripping from start to finish, solid in its science, and literary in its flair . . ."

—David M. Buss, Ph.D., professor of psychology, University of Texas

"A smart, intriguing, witty, non-sexist, provocative yet careful book about the realities . . . 'infidelity.' "

—Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D.

Booknews
Husband and wife for nearly 25 years, Barash (zoology; psychology, U of Washington) and Lipton (psychiatry) take a biological look at what is generally a moral issue. They present information from the biological community to investigate whether or not monogamy is a natural form of relationship among a variety of non-human species, including invertebrates, insects, bird and mammals. They discuss the forms that monogamy and infidelity take among non-human species, and possible biological reasons for, and advantages of, various relationship behaviors. They conclude that, while monogamy may be natural to some species, for the majority it is not; and they find that infidelity is initiated by males and females alike. These findings are used to posit a biological explanation for monogamy and infidelity in humans. The book is written in an accessible, sometimes humorous style, while striving to offer a serious, scientifically- based explanation for what is generally an emotional and controversial subject in many cultures. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805071368
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 394,894
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David P. Barash, Ph.D., is a zoologist and is currently professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Making Sense of Sex, co-authored by Judith Lipton.

Judith Eve Lipton, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in women's issues, is the recipient of many honors, including a fellowship in the American Psychiatric Association.

Married since 1977, Barash and Lipton live in Redmond, Washington.

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Read an Excerpt

1. Monogamy for Beginners
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that monogamy is the hardest of all human marital arrangements. It is also one of the rarest. Even long-married, faithful couples are new at monogamy, whether they realize it or not. In attempting to maintain a social and sexual bond consisting exclusively of one man and one woman, aspiring monogamists are going against some of the deep-seated evolutionary inclinations with which biology has endowed most creatures, Homo sapiens included. As we shall see, there is powerful evidence that human beings are not "naturally" monogamous, as well as proof that many animals, once thought to be monogamous, are not. To be sure, human beings can be monogamous (and it is another question altogether whether we should) but make no mistake: It is unusual, and difficult.

As G. K. Chesterton once observed about Christianity, the ideal of monogamy hasn't so much been tried and found wanting; rather, it has been found difficult and often left untried. Or at least, not tried for very long.

The fault - if fault there be - lies less in society than in ourselves, and our biology. Thus, monogamy has been prescribed for most of us, by American society and by Western tradition generally; the rules as officially stated are pretty clear. We are supposed to conduct our romantic and sexual lives one-on-one, within the designated matrimonial playing field ... but as in soccer or football, sometimes people go out of bounds. And not uncommonly, there is a penalty assessed if the violation is detected by a referee. For many people, monogamy and morality are synonymous. Marriage isthe ultimate sanction and departures from marital monogamy are the ultimate interpersonal sin . Indeed, George Bernard Shaw once commented acerbically that "morality consists of suspecting other people of not being legally married."

Ironically, however, monogamy itself isn't nearly as uncomfortable as are the consequences of straying from it, even, in many cases, if no one finds out. Religious qualms aside, the anguish of personal transgression can be intense (at least in much of the Western world) and those especially imbued with the myth of monogamy often find themselves beset with guilt, doomed like characters from a Puritan cautionary tale to scrub eternally and without avail at their adultery-stained souls, often believing that their transgression is not only unforgivable, but unnatural. For many others - probably the majority - there is regret and guilt aplenty in simply feeling sexual desire for someone other than one's spouse, even if such feelings are never acted upon. When Jesus famously observed that to lust after another is to commit adultery in one's heart, he echoed and reinforced the myth of monogamy, the often-unspoken assertion that even desire-at-a-distance is not only wrong, but a uniquely human sin.

Whether such inclinations are wrong is a difficult, and perhaps unanswerable question. But as we shall see, thanks to recent developments in evolutionary biology combined with the latest in biomolecular technology, there is simply no question whether sexual desire for multiple partners is "natural." It is. Similarly, there is simply no question of monogamy being "natural." It isn't.

Social conservatives out what they see as a growing threat to "family values." But they don't have the slightest idea how great that threat really is, or where it comes from. The monogamous family is very definitely under siege, and not by government, a declining moral fiber, and certainly not some vast homosexual agenda ... but from the dictates of biology itself. Infants have their infancy, and adults? Adultery.

The poet Ezra Pound once observed (somewhat self-servingly) that artists are the "antennae of the race." These antennae have long been twitching about extramarital affairs. If literature is any reflection of human concerns, then infidelity has been one of humankind's most compelling, long before biologists had anything to say about it. The first great work of Western literature, Homer's Iliad, recounts the consequences of adultery: Helen's face launched a thousand ships and changed the course of history only after it first launched an affair between Helen, a married woman and Greek queen, and Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. Helen proceeded to leave her husband Menelaius, thereby precipitating the Trojan War. And in the Odyssey, we learn of Ulysees' return from that war, whereupon he slays a virtual army of suitors, each of whom was trying to seduce his faithful wife, Penelope. (By contrast, incidentally, Ulysees himself had dallied with Circe the sorceress, but was not considered an adulterer as a result. The double standard is ancient and by definition unfair; yet it, too, is firmly rooted in biology.)

It seems that every great literary tradition, at least in the Western world, finds it especially fascinating to explore monogamy's failures: Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Henry James' The Golden Bowl. More recently, John Updike's marriage novels - not to mention scores of soap operas and movies - describe a succession of suburban, middle class affairs. The present book, by contrast, is not fiction. And it is not concerned with affairs as such, but rather, with the biological underpinnings of affairs, in human beings and other animals as well; more precisely, it is about what modern biological research has been revealing about the surprisingly weak biological underpinnings of monogamy.

* * *

But it is one thing to prove or disprove the possibility of parentage - to say that someone could, or alternatively, could not, be the father - and quite another to say with certainty that he is.

Such certainty is now available. It required the next and most significant breakthrough to date on the way toward disproving the myth of monogamy: The discovery of "DNA fingerprinting," not only for human beings, but also animals . Just as each person has a unique fingerprint, each of us has a unique pattern of DNA, so-called minisatellite regions that are "hypervariable," offering a range of possibility that encompasses more than a hundred million different identifying traits, far more than, for example, blood types A, B, AB or O. As a result, just as each citizen of the United States can be uniquely identified by a personalized social security number (so long as we allow enough digits), specification to guarantee that only one individual will possess a particular pattern.

Given tissue samples from offspring and adults, we can now specify, with certainty, whether a particular individual is or is not the parent, just as it is possible to specify, with certainty, the donor of any sample of blood, hair or semen. After subjecting the tissue to appropriate treatments, research technicians end up with a DNA profile that looks remarkably like a supermarket bar-code, and with about this level of unique identification. Armed with this technique, field biologists - studying the behavior of free-living animals in nature - have at long last been able to pinpoint parenthood. As a result the field of "biomolecular behavioral ecology" has really taken off, and with it, our understanding of a difference that may sound trivial but is actually profound: between "social monogamy" and "sexual monogamy."

Two individuals are socially monogamous if they live together, nest together, forage together, copulate together, and typically rear offspring together. Seeing all this togetherness, biologists not surprisingly used to assume that the animals they studied were also mixing their genes together, that the offspring they reared (usually, together) were theirs and theirs alone. But thanks to DNA fingerprinting, we have been learning that it ain't necessarily so. Animals - not unlike people - sometimes fool around, and much more often than had been thought. When it comes to actual reproduction, even bird species long considered the epitome of social monogamy and thus, previously known for their fidelity, are now being revealed as sexual adventurers Or at least, as sexually non-monogamous.

* * *

It is difficult to overstate the conceptual revolution that has followed the discovery that copulations - and in many cases, fertilizations - often take place outside the social unions that researchers typically identify. After all, reproductive success is the fundamental currency of evolutionary success, and behavioral ecologists and sociobiologists studying red-winged blackbirds, for example, have long been in the habit of evaluating the reproductive success of their male subjects by counting harem size or, better yet, the number of young birds produced by all of a male's "wives." But now, comes word that in this polygynous species, too, females don't restrict their mating to the harem-keeper. It turns out that there is no necessary correlation between a male red-winged blackbird's apparent reproductive success (the number of offspring reared on his territory) and his actual reproductive success (the number of offspring he fathered). Similarly, there is no guaranteed correlation between his harem size and his actual reproductive success: A male red-winged blackbird (like a male Turkish sultan) can "have" many wives - which in turn can have many offspring - but those children might not be his .

The pattern is painfully clear: In the animal world generally, and the avian world in particular, there is a whole lot more screwing around than we had thought. (As to the human world, most people have long known that there is a whole lot more of the same than is publicly - or even privately - acknowledged.)

When it comes to mam rarity. Out of 4,000 mammal species, no more than a few dozen form reliable pair-bonds, although in many cases it is hard to characterize them with certainty, because the social and sexual lives of mammals tend to be more furtive than those of birds. Monogamous mammals are most likely to be bats (a few species only), certain canids (especially foxes), and a few primates, notably the tiny New World monkeys known as marmosets and tamarins, a handful of mice and rats, several odd-sounding South American rodents (agoutis, pacas, acouchis, maras), the giant otter of South America, the northern beaver, a handful of species of seals, and a couple of small African antelopes (duikers, dik-diks, and klipspringers).

Even females in seemingly solitary species such as orangutans, gibbons, and black bears have been found to copulate with more than one male; hence, observations of social organization alone clearly can be misleading . Until recently, lacking the appropriate genetic techniques, we had little choice but to define monogamy by the social relationships involved; only with the explosion of DNA fingerprinting technology have we started to examine the genetic connections, those most important to evolution. Thus, according to the highly-respected book by David Lack, Ecological Adaptations for Breeding in Birds, fully 92% of bird species are monogamous. Socially, this figure is still accurate; sexually, it is way off. The highest known frequency of extra-pair copulations are found among the fairy wrens, lovely tropical creatures technically known as Malurus spendens and Malurus cyaneus. More than 65 percent of all fairy wren chicks are fathered by males outside the supposed breeding group . Here is another eye-opener. Warblers and tree swallows are purportedly monogamous, yet when genetic analyses were conducted on six different offspring in two different species, they were found to have been fathered by five different males!

Although such cases are admittedly extreme, we now know that it is not uncommon for 10 to 40 percent of the offspring in "monogamous" birds to be fathered by an "extra-pair" male; that is, one who isn't the identified social mate of the female in question. (It is much less common for offspring to be "mothered" by an extra-pair female; that is, for an outsider female to slip one of her eggs into the nest of a mated pair. More on this later.)

Given how much we have been learning about non-monogamy and extra-pair matings among animals, and considering the new-found availability of such testing, it is remarkable how rarely genetic paternity tests have been run on human beings. On the other hand, considering the inflammatory potential of the results, as well as, perhaps, a hesitancy to open such a Pandora's Box, perhaps Homo sapiens' reluctance to test itself for paternity is sapient indeed. Even prior to DNA fingerprinting, blood group studies in England found that the purported father is the genetic father about 94% of the time; this means that for six out of a hundred people, someone else is the genetic father . In response to surveys, between 25% and 50% of United States men report having had at least one episode of extramarital sex . The numbers for women are perhaps a bit lower - around 30% - but still in the same ballpark . Many people already know quite a lot - probably more than they would choose to know - about the painful and disruptive effects of extramarital sex. It wouldn't be surprising if a majority would rather not know anything more about its possible genetic consequences, extramarital fatherhood. Maybe ignorance is bliss. (If you feel this way, better stop reading here!)

Until quite recently, multiple mating was hidden from biologists' purview. It wasn't so much invisible as unacknowledged, a perfect example of the phenomenon that even in such a seemingly hard-headed pursuit as science, believing is seeing. More to the point, not believing is not seeing. Sexual infidelities among ostensibly monogamous species, when noticed at all by biologists, were generally written off as aberrant, not worth describing, and certainly not suitable for analysis or serious theory. Distasteful as it may have been, Geoffrey Parker's work changed that, along with this important recognition by evolutionary theoretician Robert Trivers. A "mixed strategy" should be favored, at least among males: Maintain a pair bond with a female, who you might well assist in rearing offspring, but be ready and available for additional copulations if the opportunity arises. The next step was to ask: What about the female? Is she merely a passive recipient of male attentions, an empty tank to be filled with the sperm of various competing paramours? Or does she choose among the eager male prospects? Might she even actively solicit extra-pair copulations, generating sperm competition among different males?

Early work, both empirical research and theorizing, took a decidedly male-centered perspective on multiple mating, emphasizi males maximize their paternity by being sexually available to more than one female whenever possible, also competing with each other directly (by bluffing, displaying, and fighting) and indirectly by guarding their mates, as well as by using an array of anatomical, physiological and behavioral techniques - such as frequent copulations - to give them an advantage over other males.

More recently, biologists have begun to identify how females partake of their own strategies: mating with more than one male, controlling (or at least, influencing) the outcome of sperm competition, sometimes obtaining direct, personal benefits such as food or protection in return for these extra-pair copulations, as well as gaining indirect, genetic benefits that eventually accrue to their offspring. A penchant for non-monogamy among males is no great surprise, but as we shall see, the most dramatic new findings and revised science brought about by recent demolitions of the myth of monogamy concern the role of females. Freud spoke more truth than he knew when he observed that female psychology was essentially a "dark continent." A well integrated theory of female sexuality in particular still remains to be articulated; perhaps a reader of this book will be suitably inspired.

More on this, too, later. In fact, much more. It is no coincidence that two separate chapters are devoted to the female perspective. It is a viewpoint that we are only now beginning to identify, and just barely to understand.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Monogamy for Beginners 1
Chapter 2 Undermining the Myth: Males 15
Chapter 3 Undermining the Myth: Females (Choosing Male Genes) 57
Chapter 4 Undermining the Myth: Females (Other Considerations) 87
Chapter 5 Why Does Monogamy Occur At All? 113
Chapter 6 What Are Human Beings, Naturally? 139
Chapter 7 So What? 181
Notes 193
Index 223
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay

David Barash: I have always been interested in animals. As a kid, I was fascinated with all sorts of living creatures -- ants, worms, turtles, birds, walruses -- long before I had the slightest interest in sexual behavior or any of "that stuff." As an adult, I never outgrew my obsession with animals, although my outlook became more scientific as I tried to figure out why living things do what they do. Much of this "doing" turns out to involve sex and reproduction; and so I became a bit of an expert in such out-of-the-way topics as adultery in bluebirds, rape in ducks, deceptive courtship in Hawaiian reef fishes, and gallivanting and mate guarding in hoary marmots.

In my scientific work, I became increasingly aware that the lives of many animals were characterized by sneaky sexual encounters. With the advent of DNA fingerprinting, the evidence became undeniable: From insects to fish to primates, there is a lot of hanky-panky going on in the animal world. Even many bird species -- long thought to be the poster children of blissful, monogamous fidelity -- are often chronically unfaithful, engaging in extra-pair copulations, or "EPCs," when they get the chance. Here was a new twist on an old myth: the comforting notion that many animals (including, supposedly, our own species) are happy to bond permanently, till death does part them.

I feel strongly that one of the most pleasant obligations of scientists is to share their findings with everyone else. I'd already written 20 books, most of them concerned with various aspects of animal behavior, and I couldn't wait to share these startling results with the world at large. At the same time, Judy and I had collaborated not only in raising a family but also in writing 3 previous books. In addition, as a psychiatrist, she knows as much about people as I do about animals. So, why not collaborate -- yet again -- in writing, just as we've been doing in life? The result is The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People. We hope you will enjoy the animal stories -- all true -- and that, at least on occasion, you'll see and understand yourself.

Judith Eve Lipton: My favorite character in literature was Dr. Dolittle, the man who could talk with animals. When David and I met in 1975, he reminded me of the good doctor, because he could tell me all about how elephants "do it" (carefully!) and why ants are especially fond of their sisters. We fell in love, had some babies, and acquired a small petting zoo; and we never outgrew a passion for animals.

As time went on, we became increasingly aware that our happy little family was anomalous. In my work as a psychiatrist, I could not but be aware of the high incidence of sexual infidelity in the lives of my patients, and it corresponded with the results of David's research in animals. Infidelity seems to be ubiquitous, and it is endlessly fascinating. A book seemed inevitable.

David and I are only human, and our nearly 25 years of marriage has certainly had its ups and downs. What has saved our relationship and kept us going, through thick and thin, has been the friendship we have with each other, which is embodied not only in our children and our lives together but also in the books we have written and the ones we still have in our heads. Writing together has been a kind of lovemaking, a game like jazz improvisation, in which we take turns writing little riffs and elaborating on each other's themes. Writing books is a way to talk together, a way we play together. Perhaps the intellectual variety has been a way to compensate for sexual monogamy, because it keeps us fresh and interested in each other.

I wonder now why infidelity always comes as such a shock. Clearly, we see it every day in the news and in the movies. Great novels, plays, and poetry are often about adultery. We know that it happens, but when it happens to someone personally, the victim is shocked -- as though he or she should have been immune. For both betrayer and cuckolded spouse, there is often an element of wonder and surprise, as if this odd dance were something new under the sun. But in fact, it is the oldest story in the world. From the Upanishads to the Old Testament, love and betrayal, cheating and discovery are the stories of our species. And now we know we are not alone. Virtually all of our cousins -- almost every known animal species -- do the same thing.

One of my goals in writing this book was to look at adultery in animals as well as human beings and to take the subject out of the closet, so that people young and old could begin to talk about it in an intelligent way. If couples choose to be monogamous, fine; but it is important to know that it can be difficult to keep promises and resist compelling sexual opportunities. If couples or individuals chose non-monogamy, it is important to be aware of the costs in broken hearts, broken promises, and bewildered children. This book was written to demystify adultery, in the hopes that people will make more deeply considered decisions.

There are no value judgements here, except an endorsement of the proud spirit of informed consent. There is also an inherent assumption in this book -- and in our work and in our personal lives -- that we should learn about animals, both to appreciate them and to improve our knowledge of the human species.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2005

    Very informative!

    Wow! This book was full of information on the subject of multiple partners. I was raised in a Christian home and told that monogamy was the way to go from a moral standpoint. These authors give some great data on reasons why humans seem destined to cheat. Of course, from a Christian point of view, we call this sin or temptation, the reasons given here are biological and genetic. From personal experience I have found that my monogamous relationship with my wife has been far more gratifying than any relationship I enjoyed with previous girlfriends(both emotionally and sexually). While I agree that the desire to cheat may very well be hardwired into humans from birth, I would like to make an extra point based on the ideas of Darwin and the theory of natural selection. Infidelity, I believe is truly a biological impulse, but that does not mean that it is a good idea. It seems that self-destruction in many forms(drugs, alcoholism, etc.) is a biological impulse as well. Monogamy does provide a better, safer environment to advance our species. Illegitimacy and STD's are serious problems in the United States, and much of the world. Just look at the AIDS epidemic that is destroying whole countries in Africa. This terrible disease owes a great deal of gratitude to carefree multiple partner relationships. I would love to see this text used to educate public high school students in sex ed. to better help them understand these feelings. If anything, this book can serve as a wakeup call to many of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters that we need better education regarding sex and contraception. This is serious. Morality and principle are wonderful, but we have to be realistic. I know some evangelical types will say that this attitude only contributes to the downfall of society, but come on, how many souls can you save if the bodies are dead?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2002

    Embrace/negotiate nonmonogamy

    I generally like this book. However, it extensively views the topic thru a Darwinian sperm-competition paradigm which fails to account for homosexuality (nonprocreative obviously) in both animals and people. It suggests 'rising above' the natural tendency towards nonmonogamy by resisting it, but maybe the better way is to embrace it as the polyamorists do. (See http://www.lovemore.com/ ) Since we humans can TALK about our problems, we can negotiate having more than one partner, all parties consenting, instead of going behind backs, jealousy being the problem to be risen above. On page 127 of the book is mentioned the familiar, but actually questionable idea that as women have entered the non-home workplace, they are not being relieved of at-home work. However, in Farrell's eye-opening book _Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say_, there is a long list (HEAVILY-ABRIDGED below) of men's unpaid, non-relieved housework jobs (and he asserts, among other things, that men typically commute farther to their jobs). Shoveling snow; pushing a car out of gas. Moving furniture, refrigerator, heavy suitcases. Assembly: mail-order products, toys, furniture. Bodyguard: at home (who checks in the night when awakened by a noise?). Every time a couple walk together in a public place, he unconsciously serves as an unpaid bodyguard. Car care: Checking hoses, changing tires. 'Male cleaning': gutters, furnace filters, etc. Disciplining: 'Wait till Daddy comes home.' Driving: To and from functions that both sexes go to together; especially when conditions are hazardous, when both are exhausted; on long trips, late at night while the family sleeps. Gift-giving as a contribution to maintaining the romance: Men are more likely to give the flowers; diamonds; choose a restaurant that pleases her, arranging the occasion, taking her there, paying. Installation/hook-up: Washer, dryer, computer, antennas. Option generating: In many couples, the man generates the options, the woman rejects/selects. He asks, 'Where would you like to go for dinner?' She answers, 'Anywhere.' 'Chinese?' 'We just had that.' Pumping gas: Men pump the gas about 80% of the time. Remodeling: Taking down walls, finishing garage, basement. Repairs: Toilets, faucets, electrical, screens, cabinets. Weather guard: Guarding a woman against the elements by forfeiting his jacket to a woman; scraping ice, snow off windshields; dropping the family off at a restaurant or movie when it's raining; salting the sidewalk. We don't 'know' about all this because instead of complaining, men OFFER to carry the luggage, build the shelves, etc. Because men perform their roles unconsciously, as with the bodyguard role; it's hard to complain about that which is unconscious. Complaining is conscious. BOTH sexes' housework is unappreciated: we see more of what we do than we see of what our partner does. The frequency with which we hear 'women's housework is unappreciated' is actually evidence of its appreciation. This list makes it apparent that both sexes do housework for which they are unpaid. Countries' GNPs do not include either sex's contributions to housework. Women's traditional housework tends to be regular and men's 'on call.' I am for equality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2001

    The transcendent human nature... what the authors don't ask

    This books tackles the question of human nature and defines it by what many humans actually do, but what humans do doesn't reflect necessarily their nature, human nature is what humans ARE not what they DO. Such definition would extremely narrow human nature to behaviour, as if humans were just sets of programmed behaviours. The authors don't seem to understand that our higher functions of choice, our metalevels, are also part of our biological nature not only what they consider 'natural' impulses. The most fallacious about this book is what it doesn't say. The thesis of the authors is that monogamy is unnatural because it does not occur spontaneously, 'naturally', and culture must always nurture it. They forget that humans are creatures of culture, we don't even learn to walk, much less to speak without culture. Biological abilities are given as potential, culture is needed to realise them. The comparison with animals dismisses that human nature is light years from the most evolved animals. The nature of a dog is the nature of a dog, the nature of a human is the full human potential that only a human can develop. Our biological nature is not just sexual impulses but also higher potentials in our biology. The crown human abilities are TRANSCENDENCE and INTEGRATION. Transcendence of survivalist aspects of life into a synthetic meaning which subsequently integrates all aspects of life into that meaning, the 'sense of life'. It creates a pyramidal hierarchy of meanings which commands and give 'sense' and meaning to all our activities. Only human nature can achieve that, Fido or Cheetah are not biologically equipped to do it, we are. Evolution...? There are in fact people who have transcended their narrow unintegrated life, full of giving, devotion, love, absolute honesty. Some are ready to risk their lives to their loved ones. They created a bond so strong that they couldn't dream to cheat or search other partners. They give meaning to all their activities including sex, from their ultimate transcendent metalevels? Why do they have the biological potential to do that? What makes us capable of looking at a human being as a human being not just an object of desire, what gives the ability to give our hearts, our 'souls', to devote ourselves to transcendent goals? Are we evolutionary freaks? Are such people raping their nature, are they repressing their sexual impulses, are they constantly unhappily battling against their nature or are they happy, integrated, their potential realised, complete? Is the fact of their existence an evolutionary error, are they freaks of nature or are they the ones who have realised their full human evolutionary potential, the true humans? A happy dog is a dog who has realised his canine potential, so if those people feel happy and complete is it because they work against their biological potential? Is moral, devoted, integrated life an agression against our nature? Why did then evolution give us that potential of transcendence, why even the perverted long for that 'happiness of the heart' that fullness? Could it be that it is not antievolutionary but actually the evolutionarilly most sound? Is the true human nature what actually holds society together, aren't we biologically indeed creatures of civilisation and creatures of meaning? The authors consider sexual 'impulses' as autonomous, 'natural'. And higher functions would not? This conception is simplistic and narrow, sex happens INSIDE the whole biological potential of our human nature, it is not autonomous in itself. It is only the failure by culture to realise this integrated hierarchical transcendent potential that leads to a desintegrated life where the individual searches for meaning and integration and failing to do so resorts to hierarchically lower meanings which are n

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2001

    Very insightful!!

    This book covers all the angels of 'why' monogamy is not realistic. From biological to psychological, you get it all. What I found interesting is that the authors find that the practice of monogamy is 'unnatural'. And they prove their point quite well. A must read for anyone who has ever been affected by infidelity.

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