I read a brilliant review of what may be a brilliant book (I’ll have to read it to find out), Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature” by David Buller. He dismantles a ubiquitous myth among evolutionary psychologists: the idea that women crave wealthy, high-status men, that they’re using a peculiar kind of capitalist economic reasoning when they make significant life-choices about marriage and pregnancy. This appeals to certain kinds of people — incels and “alpha” males and MRAs — who love the idea of the “sexual marketplace” and the notion that with great profit comes great desirability, and the corollary that hey, if you’ve got a girlfriend, you must be a superior Chad.
The evidence, say the evolutionary psychologists like David Buss, is that if you look at polygamous societies where women’s mate choice is freed from at least one artificial constraint, that men can marry as many women as want them, they all come flocking to the highest status males, and high status males have the most offspring. The existence of harems is proof that status is what women are all seeking, and that men with harems are sexually desirable.
(I’ll give you a moment to see the obvious flaw in the reasoning before you read the book’s explanation.)
He criticizes the methodology of David Buss and confirms what I suspected but hadn’t yet researched – that David Buss ignores cultural restrictions on female choice of mates. As Buller says:
…in a well-documented study, the anthropologist William Irons found that, among the Turkmen of Persia, males in the wealthier half of the population left 75 percent more offspring than males in the poorer half of the population. Buss cites several studies like this as indicating that “high status in men leads directly to increased sexual access to a larger number of women,” and he implies that this is due to the greater desirability of high-status men (David Buss 1999 “Evolutionary Psychology the New Science of the Mind”).
But, among the Turkmen, women were sold by their families into marriage. The reason that higher-status males enjoyed greater reproductive success among the Turkmen is that they were able to buy wives earlier and more often than lower-status males. Other studies that clearly demonstrate a reproductive advantage for high-status males are also studies of societies or circumstances in which males “traded” in women. This isn’t evidence that high-status males enjoy greater reproductive success because women find them more desirable. Indeed, it isn’t evidence of female preference at all, just as the fact that many harem-holding despots produced remarkable numbers of offspring is no evidence of their desirability to women. It is only evidence that when men have power they will use it to promote their reproductive success, among other things (and that women, under such circumstances, will prefer entering a harem to suffering the dire consequences of refusal).
The fact that Buss can’t be bothered to account for virtual female slavery when proclaiming female choice is typical of the Evolutionary Psychologist approach. Their belief in the power of biology to control human behavior is so reflexive that they can’t be bothered to consider even the most glaringly obvious cultural factors impacting their claims.
It’s so typical of evolutionary psychologists that they would overlook trivial details like sexual slavery that might interfere with their thesis.