On the New York Times and “Enforced Monogamy”

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.

That’s all.

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.