This one is a truly interesting read. Sex at Dawn focuses on the lifestyle of our Homo Sapien ancestry comparative to today’s living culture and whether many of the commonly held assumptions as to their way of living are actually correct. The short conclusion? No they’re not. The topics of sexual interaction, altruistic vs greedy behavior, the female role in a tribe are all looked at in ways you may not have previously considered. I sure hadn’t. This book is a real eye-opener.
The central thesis: Humans are not naturally monogamous. (They may very well be naturally promiscuous)
The book spends the greater part of 400 pages explaining in great detail, why this is in fact the case. It makes a pretty damn convincing argument.
There are so many gems of wisdom scattered throughout, you really need to pause and think every few pages. Here are a few of the key takeaways..
“Our extravagant sexual capacity, ubiquitous adultery in all cultures, rampant promiscuity in both our closest primate relatives, the absence of any monogamous primate living in large social groups all point toward a non-monogamous humanity.”
“When you can’t block people’s access to food and shelter, and you can’t stop them from leaving, how can you control them? The ubiquitous political egalitarianism of foraging people is rooted in this simple reality. Having no coercive power, leaders are simply those who are followed—individuals who have earned the respect of their companions.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could respect our current politicians in the same regard? With the often appalling traits of our ‘leaders’, is it any wonder they’re on the receiving end of a great deal of resentment?
Agriculture has involved the domestication of the human being as much as of any plant or animal.
“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 man to earn and defend, along with his house, slaves and livestock”
“It is a common mistake to assume that evolution is a process of improvement, that evolving organisms are progressing toward some final, perfected state. But they, and we, are not. An evolving society or organism simply adapts over the generations to changing conditions.”
“But just as “patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it” (G. B. Shaw), the notion that we live in our species’ “most peaceful moment” is as intellectually baseless as it is emotionally comforting.”
The book suggests that the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ really wasn’t present in our earlier existence. Our population was so minute and sparse that it was far more practical to work together to ensure the species survival. We also really weren’t as ‘poor’ or starved as many may imagine..
Poverty … is the invention of civilization. Marshall Sahlins
“Having evolved in small, intimate bands where everybody knows our name, human beings aren’t very good at dealing with the dubious freedoms conferred by anonymity. When communities grow beyond the point where every individual has at least a passing acquaintance with everyone else, our behavior changes, our choices shift, and our sense of the possible and of the acceptable grows ever more abstract.”
When the number of humans in a community exceeds Dunbar’s number*, we start to have problems with negative externalities (to use an economic term). Those in a society are not held accountable by the rest of the group. Theft, immoral behaviour, adultery etc.. will all likely increase.
*Dunbar’s number is 150: ““The limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”
“Paternity was determined (in ancestral times) in the inner world of the female reproductive tract where every woman is equipped with mechanisms for choosing among potential fathers at a cellular level.” This suggests there is a type of ‘sperm competition’ that was more a determinant of reproduction than the external selection of partners by a female.
Sex at Dawn is brimming with knowledge and eye-opening scenarios, I recommend you read the whole thing for yourself. A warning: Be prepared to have your whole world-view come into question..