Excellent article. A few thoughts:

1. The vast majority of men want to sleep with as many women as possible. The vast majority of women want to secure access to the resources of a high value man. Polygamy aligns these desires but it's far from the only solution, and it is in many cases a very suboptimal one: it adds the many constraints of marriage for both parties.

It is interesting that while the West has since discarded polygamy, mistresses and serial monogamy et cetera have filled that role.

In other words, polygamy may just have been the most obvious means to an end that's now being satisfied in superior ways.

2. Dating apps revert social dynamics to an earlier era by reducing the costs of getting to know each other, which makes it easier to know more mates. If you make a behaviour cheaper, you get more of it.

It also solves the, admittedly trivial, uncertainty problem: if you are both on a dating app and are both checking each other out, you already know that you are into each other. There's no need to go through the sometimes overlong pas de deux of divining the romantic intentions of the other party.

3. A lot of polygamists had their favourite wives anyway whose children they often went on to install as heirs: David's favourite was Bathsheba. Genghis Khan began his conquest of central Asia to recover his first and beloved wife from kidnappers, et cetera. This indicates that romantic love is probably monogamous in nature, but sexual desire is polygamous.

A culture that prioritized romantic love would probably end up monogamous anyway, and romantic love is very easy to prioritize when you don't need your mate to survive. Industrialization might have contributed just as much, if not more, than Christianity, in dismantling polygamy by democratizing wealth.

4. Nature probably optimizes to favour partial monogamy anyway. A species where most men do not pass their own genes is incredibly wasteful and very fragile. Evolution dislikes both of these things. The 'Gini Coefficient' of sexual inequality is therefore likely to be lower than half.

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Nov 20, 2022Liked by Misha Saul

you say ‘I presume someone has written about the similar battle tactics and methods of social organisation that arose independently across horse-borne warrior empires across the world’—

you might check out the posts on https://acoup.blog/ by Dr. Bret C. Devereaux. He does exactly that, in his four part (I, II, III, IV) look at the Dothraki, the fictional horse-borne nomads of the Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire series, and the degree to which George R.R. Martin’s claim that they are “an amalgam of a number of steppe and plains cultures” holds up to scrutiny. Devereaux is quite amusing to read. Here's a brief quote from part I telling about what he planned on covering "The plan is for this series to run in three parts. Part I (this part) will discuss how the Dothraki look in the setting. Part II will look at broader questions of social organization and culture (I am nearly certain this is one of those cases where there will be a IIa and a IIb, but my hope for brevity springs eternal). Part III will look at military culture. " Later expanded it to 4 parts.

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Mar 17Liked by Misha Saul

Very nice set of articles. I only have one major objection regarding your statement on Christianity and monogamy. The great Mediterranean cultures, Rome and Greece, were both monogamous and had already paved the way to the Christian marriage.

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Great article.

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Nov 20, 2022Liked by Misha Saul

FYI, amusing typo -- yolk should be yoke: 'harness powerful men to the yolk of civilisation' ha

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I have many (many) thoughts that probably needs a conversation. But a few starters.

1. I don't think historical comparisons help much, since we live in a vastly different world. Life moves faster, and doing things to meet that require the collective labour of two than maybe the hoarding mentality of old school ape Culture.

2. The current society is more positive sum, to build things and civilisation, Vs the older zero sum societies, which dramatically changes the equilibria. Polygamy is a far more complex social equilibrium which requires stability somewhere else - eg the environment is stable, wives are content, ruler is always the ruler etc - but it the environment itself is changing this is a bad equilibrium.

3. The labour division point for instance holds less true today than in the era of hand weaving and hunting/ warring

4. WEIRD is true, though non weird folks are also monogamous as long as the economic system is progressed enough. There were pockets, eg in Kerala which had women with multiple husbands, sambandham, but they're not v stable.

5. Functionally like you said there's already similar arrangements for the rich and famous.


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(commenting while reading) I wonder if you get to Freud's theory of sublimation. Can't fight and collect wives, might as well built civilization.

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You seem to have this completely backwards.

You're looking at a lot of interesting data, and drawing the wrong conclusions because you don't understand female evolutionary psychology.

Marriage was invented by men, and imposed upon women by men.

Later, generations of men inherited the "social technology" of marriage they didn't understand, and allowed promiscuity to erode civilization. (Consider the idea of Chesterton's Fence, that progress errs by tampering with ancient traditions it doesn't understand, and unleashing horrific consequences.)

War is a team sport.

Tribes that worked as a team, and gave one wife to each man, were able to maximize roughly 5x the manpower as polygamous tribes. (In a polygamous society, one Alpha might have 4-5 wives, and he keeps the other 3-4 beta males in a malnourished, demoralized state to eliminate the internal threat, which weakens the tribe against external enemies). Unified, cohesive tribes killed and raped all the other tribes, and exterminated the majority of men in the DNA pool.

Women resent monogamy; they prefer a soft form of rotating polygamy, where women are de facto sharing an Alpha, but the women are reserving their right to Upgrade and jump to a superior man as soon as a better option comes along.

The idea women domesticated men is completely wrong. Men domesticated women, then later generations of men grew up civilized and soft.

Humans are made to be discontent.

Men desire to fuck an infinite harem, and impregnate Genghis Khans levels of women. This is impossible.

Women desire a 50-shades-of-grey style Warrior King, which in modern times is a young, athletic billionaire, a business mogul/swimsuit model. Women desire to remain young forever, always chased by men, always desired. (Think of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, or Anna Karenina, or Snow White/Evil Queen "magic mirror; who is the fairest of them all?").

Both men and women are born with ambitions that are virtually impossible to achieve.

Relevant data points for you:





Men are romantics, and they naturally idealize women ("pedestalize"). The instinct for a man to sacrifice himself and die in battle to defend women is innate.

As a result, it's too painful for men to understand the true nature of women.

Most men cannot handle these ugly truths, and retreat into emotional rationalizations when they brush across these facts.

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You gotta guess Epstein Island was a rentable offshore harem

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Wealthy, powerful men have always practiced it, and still practice it—just serially instead of simultaneously. Leo DiCaprio has a linear harem.

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