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Pushing a veiled political agenda
on 1 February 2016
I am not an anthropologist, but I read this book, because I have studied history and am interested in feminist studies. Many of the facts in the book were very interesting. It might have been convincing, if it had not been for the "amusing, light, playful" style that this book is written in. That was a red flag that this is not science. What struck me the most, was the way the author's quoted Karl Marx and the Marxist view of history, as if it was de facto truth, and an unchallenged scientific fact. Far from it, Marxist view of history was developed before archaeology became a strict discipline and source criticism was still under development. Considering what results actual historical and archaeological sciences have brought to light, we should finally be able to drop much Marxist argumentation, especially about ancient history, if it had not been for a continued Leftist political lobby. Interestingly, the idea that women could be shared is in itself a Marxist proposition. Lenin lived with two women following this sexual ideology. After having read some anthropological literature written by archaeologists about the Neolithic Revolution, I have a strong feeling that Ryan and Jetha are pushing an ideological agenda, much like Marija Gimbutas pushed a feminist ideology when reading full matriarchy into the Neolithic. Interestingly, Lynn Saxon wrote a criticism of this book, also pointing out that the sharing of women had been tried by the Soviets in 1917, and the experiment failed, social dysfunction followed in the group. Many internet critics who believe the ideology pushed by Sex at Dawn like to point out that Saxon is a Christian, and that she therefore embodies the "culturally influenced standard theory of human pair bonding", which these authors attack so much. Yet no one points out that Ryan and Jetha's clearly strong, but not openly admitted Marxist sympathies may also have influenced their work.
My other objection is the use of the word omnigamy in this book: while such a thing as group marriage between tribal members (a kind of swinger tribe) clearly exists, it is actually very rare, as Saxon's examples of hunter-gatherer groups living in marriage also suggest. Many of the examples that Ryan and Jetha use to prove omnigamy among our pre-Neolithic ancestors, are not really omnigamy. It is either an open form of marriage between a few partners, but not nearly "everyone" or it is a kind of magical sex rite, that does not continue in everyday life. It is important to make distinctions here, if we truly want to find the truth. Religious behaviour is not "normal everyday behaviour". As anthropologists, Ryan and Jetha should be aware that religious ceremonies are symbolic, they re-enact mythology or influence the world through magic, and are actually disruptive of everyday functioning - that is what gives them mystic power. So, many of the examples in this book may shed important light on variations in human mating behaviour that are influenced by religious or magical beliefs, or economic conditions, but not necessarily the strict thesis of bonobo mating behaviour which the authors advocate. We should thread carefully here, since we have no time machine to go back to ancient times. Ryan and Jetha should have used more strident source criticism, instead of idealizing every form of strange sexual behaviour that they encounter. It is difficult to remain objective, when you are in thrall to a strong ideological world view, and atheists are not necessarily more immune to that, than nice Christian ladies.
The one thing that anthropological studies show us, is that human mating behaviour is almost as diverce as human language and religion. Scientists like to group mating behaviour into monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, omnigamy, etc. but the truth is, that not even these disctinctions hide the same reality. Polygyny looked different for Mongols than Arabs, and monogamy was different for Romans than Christians. Polyandry has also been more common in history than one might think: it was practiced by the ancient Indo-Europeans, who by all evidence were both polyandrous and polygynous at the same time. How this looked in their actual social practice is hard to determine now, for lack of said time machine. The only statement that I would dare to make, is that "human pair bonding" changes with social and economic conditions. There is no evidence for anything else, the way I see it. That leaves the question: since it is undeniably a part of human nature to continually transcend its own nature, through adaptation and civilization, it is still justified to treat the question of marriage and family as a moral and ethical matter, if we do not wish to harm individuals by our social practices.
This is in fact what Ryan and Jetha are invisibly doing: they are pushing the ethical agenda that "open marriage" is better for children and adults, and that "women are sluts, not whores", who are justified in wanting group sex. This is beginning to sound more and more like a pamflet for excusing gang rape. And when the authors quote studies of pornography, then we are in dangerous territory: they say that female brains react to sexual images that their conscious selves reject. Wouldn' t that read like a great defense in court? They do nothing to explain that all test subjects at such experiments react to pornographic images somewhat, because human beings react to the sight of sex.
But that does not mean that they also want the thing they see to happen, since another instinct (the instinct to control fatherhood, which is also important to mothers, or the instinct for physical self-preservation) also act against this first instinct. Perhaps if I was a brain scientist, then I could build a whole theory around the limbic brain and the pre-frontal cortex and all of that. But since I'm not a neurologist, I will leave it at that.
This book is a prime example of how disjointed data that are not even fully understood, can be assembled to push a political agenda.