My motivated critics couldn’t contain their joyful glee this week at discovering my hypothetical support for a Handmaid’s Tale-type patriarchal social structure as (let’s say) hinted at in Nellie Bowles’ New York Times article presenting her take on my ideas.
It’s been a truism among anthropologists and biologically-oriented psychologists for decades that all human societies face two primary tasks: regulation of female reproduction (so the babies don’t die, you see) and male aggression (so that everyone doesn’t die). The social enforcement of monogamy happens to be an effective means of addressing both issues, as most societies have come to realize (pair-bonded marriages constituting, as they do, a human universal (see the list of human universals here, derived from Donald Brown’s book by that name).
Here’s something intelligent about the issue, written by antiquark2 on reddit (after the NYT piece appeared and produced its tempest in a tea pot): “Peterson is using well-established anthropological language here: “enforced monogamy” does not mean government-enforced monogamy. “Enforced monogamy” means socially-promoted, culturally-inculcated monogamy, as opposed to genetic monogamy – evolutionarily-dictated monogamy, which does exist in some species (but does not exist in humans). This distinction has been present in anthropological and scientific literature for decades.”
As antiquark2 points out, “for decades.” My critics’ abject ignorance of the relevant literature does not equate to evidence of my totalitarian or misogynist leanings. I might also add: anyone serious about decreasing violence against women (or violence in general) might think twice about dismissing the utility of monogamy (and social support for the monogamous tendency) as a means to attain that end.
Simply put: monogamous pair bonding makes men less violent. Here are some examples of the well-developed body of basic evolutionary-biological/psychological/anthropological evidence (and theory) supporting that claim.
The Competition–Violence Hypothesis: Sex, Marriage, and Male Aggression
“men who transition to a monogamous, or less competitive, mode of sexual behavior (fewer partners since last wave), reduce their risk for violence. The same results were not replicated for females. Further, results were not accounted for by marital status or other more readily accepted explanations of violence. Findings suggest that competition for sex be further examined as a potential cause of male violence.”
Here’s another paper, with a long list of relevant references:
Why Men Commit Crimes (and why they Desist)
Here’s some relevant sections of the latter paper (pp. 439-440).
So, let’s summarize. Men get frustrated when they are not competitive in the sexual marketplace (note: the fact that they DO get frustrated does not mean that they SHOULD get frustrated. Pointing out the existence of something is not the same as justifying its existence). Frustrated men tend to become dangerous, particularly if they are young. The dangerousness of frustrated young men (even if that frustration stems from their own incompetence) has to be regulated socially. The manifold social conventions tilting most societies toward monogamy constitute such regulation.
No recommendation of police-state assignation of woman to man (or, for that matter, man to woman).
No arbitrary dealing out of damsels to incels.
Nothing scandalous (all innuendo and suggestive editing to the contrary)
Just the plain, bare, common-sense facts: socially-enforced monogamous conventions decrease male violence. In addition (and not trivially) they also help provide mothers with comparatively reliable male partners, and increase the probability that stable, father-intact homes will exist for children.
Update June 08 2018: Here’s a quote from William Buckner, who authored this piece in Quillette:
“as Henrich and his colleagues persuasively argue, ‘In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses.’ Henrich et al. sum up their argument, writing that:
‘We propose that the unusual package of norms and institutions that constitute modern monogamous marriage systems spread across Europe, and then the globe, because of the package’s impact on the competitive success of the polities, nations and religions that adopted this cultural package. Reducing the pool of unmarried men and levelling the reproductive playing field would have decreased crime, which would have spurred commerce, travel and the free flow of ideas and innovations.’
Normative monogamy seems to have important group-level benefits, and tends to reduce the kinds of harmful behaviors associated with greater intrasexual competition, among both males and females.
We have a hard decision to make as a society as women are in fact leading us back to polygamy with 1 in 5 women under 30 now in harems whether they know it or not per the recent GSS data, often with men like Leo DiCaprio and Dan Blizarian. If we don’t want society becoming violent and devolving, then we need to fix this trend with a quickeness. Culture is slow to move, so a legal solution may be in order. Crinializing sex outside of marriage would do the trick. If not that, then perhaps banning social media, especially Tinder-like dating apps and Instagram.
To wit, monogamy is the bedrock foundation of modern society. The social contract of men doing the hard work we require for civilization to function has been broken as women are no longer rewarding men for doing the traditional things required of them. The evidence of the broken social contract is the tripling over the last decade of men who are still virgins or haven’t had sex in the past year. This is untenable and the consequences for this broken social contract WILL be dire if it’s allowed to continue.
Do you like things such as running water, food, trash collection, and electricity? Then put simply women need to start having a lot of sex with average working men, and soon. We’re already seeing a disturbing trend of young men “lying flat” working just enough to fund their porn and video game needs as they live at home with their parents. And you know what, I don’t fault them at all. Why work an arduous and often dangerous job if you don’t have a wife or kids to provide for? Thus men are making the sensible decision to NOT do the dirty jobs we need of them. There’s no longer traditional rewards for doing so.
The longer this trend of men becoming sexless and lonely continues, the more we produce what Professor Scott Galloway calls “the most dangerous men in society”. The more of these guys we produce, the more likely we see a cultural revolution that parallels what happened in Iran and Afghanistan. People forget they used to be pretty westernized a few decades ago once resembling the US.
If women want to keep their freedom, then some scarifies for the good of society are in order. Otherwise something severe can and will occur as history has shown us. In the US we could se something like the 19th Amendment being repealed. Sound crazy? Well nobody expected Roe to get overturned and yet here we are.
“100,000 women protesting is an inconvenience. 100,000 men protesting is a revolution.”
Because monogamy has put an end to domestic violence! Look,look! The violence perpetrated on children and wives has been eradicated by monogamy? The anthropological facts would imply!
Note the swift rise of the idea of ‘polyamory’, which holds that 3, 4, 5 or even more humans can share a relatively equal intimate relationship with each other. This seems extreme to most people, though paradoxically, nobody can correctly say that one lifetime partner can fulfill the emotional needs of one other lifetime partner, though this is the premise that ‘normative monogamy’ is predominantly based upon.
To have something be called ‘normative’ speaks to the historicity of behaviours. It does not necessarily speak to its correctness or effectiveness in fulfilling human desire & more successful, happier lives, to which we only need to look at todays 50%+ divorce rates & a great many more that live unhappy ;even celibate) lives in monogamy.
My point is that the term ‘normative’ includes its context as to how behaviour is coerced. While this is less aggressive than using force or threat, it is still nonetheless a subhumane modality for self-led conscious beings each with our own frontal lobe.
I’d prefer to see polyamory over coercion, which is the primary root-cause of mental illness in society.
Nonsense. If the problem is that unregulated males have problems containing their anger, the obvious answer is to “regulate” the fuck out of them.
…. And this is where your vile philosophy and way of thinking leads towards. Normal humans don’t think like this. Maybe you’d like to rethink why you are the father figure of incels?
If you had said normative monogamy instead, do you think that would have decreased the hit pieces? It seems like a more understandable term, and I’ve heard claims that it’s the more popular of the two. Certainly undeserved vitriolic garbage they’re writing about this either way.
I continue to see the at least ignorant and more likey, intentional, false attribution to Jordan Peterson of a desire to “force” monagamy in articles that reference him and his activities. It inspires in me something akin to rage when I see that sort of intentional “hit” commentary from folks that seem to now have a voice in formats duch as “Google News” One can only hope that with the currently easy access that the average reader of such malicious commentary has to the actual opinions of wise people such as Peterson, that such tactics will almost universally backfire on their purveyors.
rage? that seems rather intense. you’re mad about the attribution of the word “force”, but he literally said “enforced”? also, calm down with the thesaurus, dude.
I’m also confused. If men do better when they have one sexual partner, why does that mean women have to only have one sexual partner too? if anything we have higher odds of getting all the men sexed if some women are having sex w more than one man. and it’s interesting Peterson here shifted the focus to “not more than one partner,” when the sense in the NYT article and in places here was “at least one” partner. That’s where it gets weird. If society is shifted so men who are currently not getting sex from anyone… are getting sex from one person, how is that happening, mechanistically? Currently, no women want to have sex with this person. How are we supposed to make it so at least one woman does? Do we ignore that they don’t want to? Do we shame them for non-mono behavior, even though it’s not their behavior that it worsens and ignoring the other implications of using shame as a tool in that way? conversely are you imagining we shame men along those lines? or does the incel grow the fuck up and learn how to see women as people, not objects to be used for their personal satisfaction and the structural betterment of society? men are not entitled to sex or women. yes, there’s the idea that if the more highly desirable men were mono, the roughly equal numbers between genders mean some women would have to go lower, but the natural, nasty conclusion to that is that some women are having to deal with these gross, objectifying, otherwise violent men (and their ability to be violent doesn’t just happen in a vacuum when sex-deprived, likely just manifests / gets tabulated differently). honestly i would prefer to be single or with other women.
women are people. treating women (and access to their bodies!) as means to better men and society is gross, bad, intellectually weak, and unfortunately traditional. it’s understandable for people to dislike a solution to men’s behavior that is “waste and restrict women’s time more.” already so much of our unacknowledged time is wasted allowing for men to be careless and save time. we should change the toxic culture around how men view sex (as capital and a long list of other things) and what their ability to obtain sex means for their value, rather than innocently fanning the flames of the harmful narrative that this type of entitlement exists. that’s what saying “society should be structured so all of you can get sex” is doing.
if you hurt another human being because you have emotions, that is entitlement. you feel it’s unfair that they get what you’re entitled to, and you feel you’re entitled to damage their health safety and happiness. we need to do away with the entitlement.
to summarize: “men are less violent with not less and not more than one sexual partner” does not lead to all the conclusions for society given. moreover, no mechanism for those conclusions is given. finally, the way the conclusions are given is harmful.
Agreed. The focus is on the wrong topic. Dr. Peterson is very smart. But as often happens, highly intellectual people tend to hyperfocus on one idea, view, or a specific set of ideas to the exclusion of others, often equally or more important ideas. That’s what I think is happening here. He sees that there is a benefit to monogamy, that it tends to reduce violence in men according to all this data, etc. Therefore monogamy should be promoted or socially “enforced” according to Dr. Peterson.
What Dr. Peterson fails to realize though, at least in some of the interviews I’ve seen, is that this view puts the spotlight in the wrong direction. We should not be socially or culturally enforcing monogamy. That’s like trying to socially or culturally “enforce” religion. No one cares to hear you preach down to them about how they should live. That’s what this view is essentially trying to promote, i.e. preaching monogamy at people.
I don’t think monogamy is wrong (I do believe in it), but trying to force-feed anything to anyone tends to push them away from that idea. If instead, you give people a choice and let them be–don’t shame or try to force anything–society tends to heal itself. Enforcing your opinion is counterproductive to the promotion of good.
The more excellent way, I think, is the biblical idea of love as described in 1 Cor 13–love is patient, kind, not self-seeking, not self-exalting, does not insist on its own way, etc. If you disagree with someone you can respond by being assertive (which includes empathy and respect) without being nasty, overbearing, minimizing, or dismissive. This is where I part with Dr. Peterson. In his interview with Joe Rogan, Dr. Peterson said that if his son came to him and said, “I had 3 affairs and didn’t get caught, isn’t that awesome dad?” Dr. Peterson said his response would instantly be, “No! That’s not good!”–In other words, a reaction and insta-shame. He uses this scenario as an example of “socially enforced monogamy”. I fundamentally disagree with this response. Even though I believe in monogamy, as a Christian, I also believe that beliefs should never be forced on anyone. Jesus never forces, instead he invites others to follow Him.
I think the better response, in Dr. Peterson’s hypothetical scenario, would be to sit down and have an actual conversation with the son with empathy and respect. The father, instead of reacting, can say something like, “Well, I don’t think that’s awesome, but I want to hear your side of the story first–what led you to do it since your mom and I didn’t teach you that? Would you be willing to hear my thoughts on it and why I think it’s not a good idea?” Then listen without shaming and share tenderly, lovingly, and only if given opportunity. This approach treats the son as a human being, rather than as a disappointment to be scolded. It also provides the best avenue for change if a change is needed. Dr. Jordan Peterson needs Jesus.
But to more directly respond to this blog. Dr. Peterson brings out one benefit of monogamy–that it tends to reduce violence–but doesn’t talk about how violence is not the issue here, it is a symptom. For Dr. Peterson the equation is simple–more monogamy equals less violence from men. He states, “socially-enforced monogamous conventions decrease male violence”. This is not a very deep analysis, it is a bare reading of data at best. It puts the emphasis in the wrong direction.
The focus should be on teaching people to pursue goodness, respect, kindness, and courage. People that know how to live well and respectfully tend to be attractive to the opposite sex even if they aren’t as competent in certain skills. According to Dr. Peterson, competence is what needs to be pursued first because of the “competence hierarchy”, but I disagree. I think pursuing goodness first is greater than pursuing competence and leads to a better, non-violent society. There is a hierarchy, then, to virtues that leads to the best society. Competence is important but comes second to goodness. Skill competence gets the job done but does not, by itself, promote a healthy environment or society. That is why it is subordinate to goodness on the virtue hierarchy. To see it any other way is detrimental to any society. The New Testament teaches a “goodness hierarchy” in Matt 5:19 and the supremacy of goodness in Matt 6:33.
The focus should never be on “socially-enforced monogamy” but on goodness in general. Not forced goodness, not “socially enforced” goodness, but emphasis rather on voluntary goodness. Goodness, virtue, love never insists but compels, woos, persuades through reason. Never socially enforces, but demonstrates. It allows people the freedom of choice. God allows us the freedom of choice. Virtue, love, even monogamy must be chosen, else it’s not real love. Socially enforcing someone is the same thing as trying to control someone or manipulate them, except that instead of using the government to do it, you are using social means. It does not promote individual free will. But choosing empathy, respect, and free discourse when welcomed by the listener–does promote individual free will. This is the way of the gospel of Christ. “Socially enforced” is not good enough. It does not build a better society.
It is too bad that some of your critics reduced your opinion to “recommendation of police-state assignation of woman to man”. They missed the point. Probably because they also need Jesus.
Not everything is about “reproductive access”. On the contrary, everything is about each individual’s relationship with God. If that is strong, men will tend to be humble, admit their shortcomings and resolve conflict in a civil manner instead of violence.
The thing you must understand is that these research papers that you, Dr. Peterson, quoted are based on findings of the naturalistic world and do not take into account the spirit of man because that is not their field of expertise. They might only exhibit one aspect of society, but there is a higher, more dominant principle at work here. There are really two principles.
One is that society has unhealthy tendencies, like violence and vice in general, because their relationship with God is out of whack. Promote a religious revival, with true religion, a healthy environment, etc., and society begins to naturally heal. It begins to breed all sorts of virtue and civility.
This spiritual revival is characterized by promoting voluntary benevolence to God and people, complete transparency, and total repentance. Here the key, I believe, is that Jesus is the embodiment and manifestation of all true virtue. Believing in him and following him comprehends all the essential elements of what is needed to be done for the building of the most optimized best world.
The second principle at work here is that naturalistic processes, while important to recognize and explore, are merely effects of what is going on spiritually, and not the cause. Violence is not primarily the result of less monogamy. Rather, violence and unhappy relationships are the results of a depraved spiritual state of society, a breaking down of society due to unhealthy views and perspectives. Hence, if you focus on the spiritual, it might result in widespread unforced, but voluntary monogamy, or it might not. But violence will naturally reduce nonetheless.
In spiritual revival, people may not always choose to get married, but they experience such peace, joy, and exhilarating views of life that violent or vice-filled tendencies lose their power completely and society moves forward like a powerful engine. No one is socially forced to do anything, they begin to choose virtue naturally. This is what we are looking for. This is the antidote. This is the answer and it is found in Jesus, the author and finisher of our confidence.
This is why in highly spiritual societies, like those started in the time of Christ and the Apostles, the Early Church, and those who actually followed their principles through the ages, tend to be happy, whether married or unmarried, whether under persecution or in prosperity. They just begin to live like they never lived. They are happy and they love others, no matter their personal state or status. Those things dissolve and become obsolete in those communities. They naturally love others and see everyone as their family. They love their enemies instead of committing acts of violence against them. They faithfully, but very kindly and respectfully communicate the gospel with others. They are compelled to live this way of love because Jesus loved them first. Jesus loves you too. Will you follow him under these conditions? You must surrender all and begin to preach the love of Christ because it is the only real hope of the world.