July 5, 2011
In this book, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda JethÁ debunk almost everything we “know” about sex, weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality to show how far from human nature monogamy really is. I am interested in Ryan and Jetha's commentary on agriculture and how it basically ruined everything.
The conflict between what we’re told we feel and what we really feel may be the richest source of confusion, dissatisfaction, and unnecessary suffering of our time.
We need a new understanding of ourselves, based not on pulpit proclamations or feel-good Hollywood fantasies, but on a bold and unashamed assessment of the plentiful scientific data that illuminate the true origins and nature of human sexuality.
Before the advent of agriculture a hundred centuries ago, women typically had as much access to food, protection, and social support as did men. We’ll see that upheavals in human societies resulting from the shift to settled living in agricultural communities brought radical changes to women’s ability to survive. Suddenly, women lived in a world where they had to barter their reproductive capacity for access to the resources and protection they needed to survive. But these conditions are very different from those in which our species had been evolving previously.
Until agriculture, human beings evolved in societies organized around an insistence on sharing just about everything. But all this sharing doesn’t make anyone a noble savage. These pre-agricultural societies were no nobler than you are when you pay your taxes or insurance premiums. Universal, culturally imposed sharing was simply the most effective way for our highly social species to minimize risk. Sharing and self-interest, as we shall see, are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, what many anthropologists call fierce egalitarianism was the predominant pattern of social organization around the world for many millennia before the advent of agriculture.
The shift to agriculture, wrote author Jared Diamond, is a “catastrophe from which we have never recovered.”
Anthropologists have demonstrated time and again that immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies are nearly universal in their fierce egalitarianism. Sharing is not just encouraged; it’s mandatory. Hoarding or hiding food, for example, is considered deeply shameful, almost unforgivable behavior in these societies.
Human beings and our hominid ancestors have spent almost all of the past few million years or so in small, intimate bands in which most adults had several sexual relationships at any given time.
If you spend time with the primates closest to human beings, you’ll see female chimps having intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and rampant bonobo group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and maintains intricate social networks.
Clearly, the biggest loser (aside from slaves, perhaps) in the agricultural revolution was the human female, who went from occupying a central, respected role in foraging societies to becoming another possession for a man to earn and defend, along with his house, slaves, and livestock.
With agriculture, virtually everything changed: the nature of status and power, social and family structures, how humans interacted with the natural world, the gods they worshipped, the likelihood and nature of warfare between groups, quality of life, longevity, and certainly, the rules governing sexuality.
It appears Sigmund Freud got it right when he observed that “civilization” is built largely on erotic energy that has been blocked, concentrated, accumulated, and redirected.
In 1975, E. O. Wilson made a radical proposal. In a short, explosive book called Sociobiology, Wilson argued that evolutionary theory could be, indeed must be, applied to behavior—not just bodies. Later, to avoid rapidly accumulating negative connotations—some associated with eugenics (founded by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton)—the approach was renamed “evolutionary psychology” (EP). Wilson proposed to bring evolutionary theory to bear on a few “central questions…of unspeakable importance: How does the mind work, and beyond that why does it work in such a way and not another, and from these two considerations together, what is man’s ultimate nature?” He argued that evolutionary theory is “the essential first hypothesis for any serious consideration of the human condition,” and that “without it the humanities and social sciences are the limited descriptors of surface phenomena, like astronomy without physics, biology without chemistry, and mathematics without algebra.”
We’re being misled and misinformed by an unfounded yet constantly repeated mantra about the naturalness of wedded bliss, female sexual reticence, and happily-ever-after sexual monogamy—a narrative pitting man against woman in a tragic tango of unrealistic expectations, snowballing frustration, and crushing disappointment.
The Seneca tribe of the Iroquois Nation adopted Morgan as an adult, giving him the name Tayadaowuhkuh, which means “bridging the gap.” At his home near Rochester, New York, Morgan spent his evenings studying and writing, trying to bring scientific rigor to understanding the intimate lives of people made distant by time or space. The only American scholar to have been cited by each of the other three intellectual giants of his century, Darwin, Freud, and Marx, many consider Morgan the most influential social scientist of his era and the father of American anthropology.
As mentioned in previous chapters, it’s clear that overall human health (including longevity) took a severe hit from agriculture. The typical human diet went from extreme variety and nutritional richness to just a few types of grain, possibly supplemented by occasional meat and dairy.
If an infectious virus doesn’t get you, a stressed-out lifestyle and unhealthy diet probably will. Cortisol, the hormone your body releases when under stress, is the strongest immunosuppressant known. In other words, nothing weakens our defenses against disease quite like stress.
Intermittent fasting was associated with more than a 40 percent reduction in heart disease risk in a study of 448 people published in the American Journal of Cardiology reporting that “most diseases, including cancer, diabetes and even neurodegenerative illnesses, are forestalled” by caloric reduction.