Polyamory and evolutionary psychology

I read this article about polyamorous relationships where Michael J. Formica suggests that such relationships might be more natural than monogamous ones. I’m a very open-minded person and I absolutely believe that people should be able to enjoy any kind of relationship that makes them happy (as long as all members are able to consent). I don’t however like this obsession with trying to claim that something must be more “natural” than something else. As if nothing can possibly exist or be accepted without some kind of iron clad “scientific” justification.

Proponents of evolutionary psychology are prone to doing this. They keep trying to justify/deny certain behaviours based on some shaky idea of what humanity was like thousands of years ago. Flewellyn was able to put the short-comings of evopsych down quite succinctly right here.

1. Human brains evolved. (Right! We know that.)

2. Human psychology is a product of human neurology. (Makes sense.)

3. Therefor, human psychology must have evolved in concert with our neurology. (Okay so far…)

4. In evolution, traits which are adaptive (or neutral) tend to survive, while traits which are maladaptive tend not to survive. (Again, not controversial.)

5. Human psychology definitely counts as a trait, if not many. (Fair enough…)

Here’s where they go off the deep end…

6. Therefor, human psychological traits must, on the whole, be adaptive. (Well, hang on a second, all of them? Some might not be neutral or even maladaptive? And what about cultural influence? Hey, are you listening?!)

7. Therefor, all behaviors that we observe in current human populations MUST have been adaptive traits that carry over from our savanna-dwelling ancestors, and biologically determined! Cultural norms of today are of course adaptive traits, and therefor there’s no point in trying to change them! (Wait, WHAT?!)

Formica uses evopsych to explain how polyamorous relationships are probably more “natural” than monogamous ones. I don’t know enough about the issue to make any claims against his arguments, but as far as I’m concerned we shouldn’t need these sort of justifications.

Formica says: “Infidelity, whether actual, emotional or objective (e.g., porn, strip clubs, etc.) is almost a given within our culture.” To him this is an indication that we aren’t naturally monogamous. Maybe. But at the same time there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy being monogamous. The point to me is that we should be able to choose what works for us personally. Like Flewellyn says evopsych doesn’t make proper allowance for the effects of culture. Most people in the West are monogamous (or try to be at least). It’s probably not because of their “nature” but because that’s the norm. Religion plays a large role in controlling people’s behaviours. In other cultures monogamy is not the norm. Who’s to say which culture is right? Homosexuality, polyamory and many other “deviant” life styles have been dismissed/outlawed for centuries. Not because of “human nature”, but because they are sinful in the eyes of the church or because many people find them to be disturbing or disgusting.

All the same, Formica’s article makes me happy. Not because he’s telling me anything new or because his arguments are persuasive, but because he’s discussing the issue. Homophobes tend to argue that legalizing gay marriage will lead to polyamorous people wanting to get married. It often makes me wonder why that’s such a big deal. Why can’t three people who love each other get married?

I feel that this is an issue that needs to be discussed more. I don’t feel that polyamory (or homosexuality for that matter) is in any need of justification. What we need is a society where people are allowed to make these choices for themselves without being denied the rights granted to the “regular” heterosexuals. Why does it matter whether homosexuality is natural or not? It exists, get over it.

Image from here.

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