Post No.: 0217
Religions have had, and still currently have, a lot to directly say about sex and marriage norms across the world. Different major religions have different fertility rates, and other factors (e.g. poverty levels) are likely to be contributory too, but, on average, families who follow a major religion (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism) have a higher fertility rate than families who are unaffiliated. Some of the most popular religions in the world today have certain rules regarding abortion, contraception use and homosexuality, which should increase the fertility rates of these groups (although something to note is that the self-reporting of contraceptive usage is likely to be unreliable, and officially banning abortion often just moves it unsafely underground).
Traditional views of gender roles are correlated with higher religiosity and higher fertility rates too. Even though this data is only correlational, and naturally there are individual exceptions – possible causal mechanisms include the way women with careers tend to have fewer children. Therefore preventing women from being educated prevents them from working so that they can dedicate their time to child raising. Pregnancy and child raising are particularly risky and costly for women. But then low fertility rates within a group puts that group collectively at risk of being out-competed by other groups – or at least it more pertinently did in the old days when neighbouring inter-group conflict or wider imperialism was more commonplace (hence the old phrase ‘lie back and think of England’ in England i.e. make more children that’ll serve the nation as soldiers and so forth). That was then and this is now though.
Sexual reproduction is fundamental to the fluffy survival of a species yet having children is very cost-intensive. It’s probably no surprise then that humans have gone to great lengths to try to avoid pregnancy while still enjoying sex, even though having children would be good for the species – well up to a point because overpopulation is a real problem too. In a way, regarding inter-group competition, although the world is currently generally concerned about global overpopulation, each country or group should rationally rather see other groups slow down their fertility rates than slow down their own fertility rate and risk becoming outnumbered – just like countries should rationally rather other countries curb their greenhouse gas emissions than curb their own emissions and fall behind in economic production. These groupish (selfishness at the level of groups) actions lead to global collective action problems though. And these types of problems can only be solved if everyone cooperated as and for one single group rather than a bunch of different selfish countries or individuals competing against each other.
Anyway, for humans, individual men can, in a practical sense, have more offspring than individual women. Pregnancy is far riskier and costlier of time, effort, health and so forth for a female than a male, hence the drive for sex is generally larger for males than for females, and females need to be more cautious (which, as an aside, is one reason why male contraceptives aren’t, and likely won’t ever be, as popular as female contraceptives – whether the male or female forgets to take a contraceptive, the far greater risks are borne by the female hence females should be more incentivised to ensure they’re taken or used). Not all religions have pro-natalist norms (norms that promote fertility e.g. no abortion or birth control – which disproportionately negatively affect women’s rights more than men’s rights), but (all else being equal) those that do will logically become more successful and dominant over time.
Most cultures in history were actually not monogamous – most allowed at least a small minority of males to take multiple wives, but those cultures with religions that promoted monogamy (evidently) became by far more successful over time. ~85-90% of humanity today belongs to just one of five world religions, and all of these teach monogamy; at least the conservative or fundamentalist sects. This may be because they help promote ingroup harmony (less infighting for mates, particularly between males, leading to a more stable and prosperous society, which is advantageous in the face of inter-group competition) and it makes the most of the roughly 1:1 natural ratio of human females to males and pair-bonding parental investment, instead of a few men hogging and tending to lots of women and a lot of men left without any women at all, who may also become sexually frustrated and so commit risky or antisocial behaviours that disrupt the group from within. Monogamous groups grow larger than polygamous ones and this helps to build a bigger army too in the face of inter-group competition. Monogamy is more equal and a better deal for women as well because a tight pair-bond can mean the child-raising support/duties can be better shared with someone who will more likely be there rather than divided and tending to a lot of other women and their offspring.
Pre-agricultural, nomadic groups were far more equal and egalitarian than today, possibly because people could only acquire and then carry so much with them, hence polygamy, even though it was historically the norm, was less of a problem (no one could carry or hoard such a huge amount of resources compared to the rest of their group that they became super-attractive as a mate). But when agriculture arose, inequality could rise too and this created more intra-group conflict, hence the cultural evolution of monogamy, amongst other things, to reduce this infighting.
And instituting an all-powerful divine authority was more effective than secular institutions to promote monogamy because it was most likely high-status males who’d violate monogamy, and these very same males were most likely to be in positions of power in secular institutions too hence were the least deterred by any mere secular institutions of the time. But not even high-status human individuals are above an all-powerful divine authority, so as long as they believed in them or didn’t have ideas above their station (e.g. believing they too were gods or demigods, with the populace also worshipping them as such hence – either foolishly or under real coercion – granting those individuals their absolute powers over the populace), such omnipotent authorities would help keep even powerful but mortal leaders in line. (Even though the belief faces logical concerns (read Post No.: 0208), you might be able to now understand the value of people believing in an omnipotent God from a cultural evolution perspective. This also demonstrates the value of a multidisciplinary education e.g. philosophy, religion and evolutionary psychology in this case, which can bridge the understanding and empathy between different groups too – the wiser we are, the less we see that people with different beliefs are necessarily stupid.) Meow.
So making monogamy a norm that is ordained by a supernatural deity helps convince even elite men to accept monogamy. Cheating and fornication still happens, particularly amongst powerful (or merely opportunistic) males, but at least somebody can only be officially tied with one other person at a time, leaving the rest able to be tied with other people. These kinds of pro-natalist and monogamy injunctions and norms ultimately allowed those cultures to out-compete their rivals and dominate the planet.
It’s not necessarily the case that infighting due to ‘bachelor strife’ (frustrated males) will cause a reactionary progressive movement within a group to consider and enforce monogamy norms – it’s that those groups with monogamy norms will eventually out-compete groups that don’t, and so such monogamy norms will spread due to group selection (the natural selection of groups versus groups, rather than individuals versus individuals, or whole species versus whole species). Cultural norms spread, most of the time, because the groups that carry them out-compete other groups. It’s like random genetic mutations, if advantageous to the host, will cause the host organism to out-live or out-compete those organisms that don’t have the same mutations or better (all else being environmentally equal) – it’s not the case (at all regarding genetics) that organisms encounter a disadvantage or problem and then ‘decide to create a new mutation for themselves to solve this problem’! (Although, for better or worse, the rewards versus the risks – modern gene modification technologies can change this by offering the possibility of artificially engineering genes that proactively seek to solve specific known genetic problems or ‘problems’?)
Individuals could try acting selfishly within their own group to try to out-compete the other members of their own group i.e. put their own personal interests before the collective best of their own group – but if their group loses to a competing external group due to their own group’s infighting or lack of internal cooperation then these individualistic individuals will lose too. Regarding violent inter-group competition, in ancestral history at least – a group or tribe won together or lost together.
From another perspective, complex organisms, such as humans, are in fact made up of trillions of different individual organisms (‘you’ are made up of your own human cells as well as trillions of other microbial cells) – this group of organisms that makes up ‘you’ must cooperate for the entire ‘you’ to function healthily and well, and this group of individual organisms that is ‘you’ generally survives or dies together too, so group selection mechanics apply to ‘individuals’ too when seen from this perspective. (Humans have been out to banish all ‘foreign’ microbes from their bodies and homes for years but this naïve individualistic perspective may have possibly contributed to the rise in allergies and autoimmune diseases?)
Anyway, religions have had a lot to say about norms relating to sex and marriage, and the major religions of the world today became popular arguably precisely because their specific norms helped them to propagate and dominate the planet. Whether or not these norms were or are great for the individuals involved (particularly for females), they helped their groups as a whole and that’s what mattered from a historical group selection perspective.
Meow. But hopefully now, with modern secular institutions that no individual or small elite group is above, we can have places where the rights of females and those of alternative sexual orientations are much better. The global population might benefit from slowing down too, and economically developed secular countries do tend to have lower fertility rates on average. However, it wouldn’t be wise to rapidly reduce the global fertility rate because there’d be a major generational imbalance – hence generally upholding monogamy norms is still arguably useful in today’s secular societies (and is more acceptable than banning abortion, contraceptive use or homosexuality from a liberal standpoint).