i’ve been trying to think through polygamy and if there’s any potential there for the selection for clannishness like i think there is with long-term cousin marriage. (i think i might have sprained a parietal lobe while doing so. (*^_^*) ) i very much have subsaharan african societies in mind here, but, of course, polygamy occurs elsewhere, too.

on the surface it seems obvious that long-term polygamy ought to set the stage for the possible selection for clannish behaviors like cousin marriage (imho) does. like repeated cousin marriage, strict polygamy ought to narrow the relatedness within a population — the result of strict polygamy should be a greater number of half-siblings in a population than in a randomly-mating population, and, of course, half-siblings are more closely related to one another than non-siblings, so a society full of half-siblings could potentially lead to an accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism in a way similar to cousin marrying societies.

however, one big difference is that in polygamous societies generally — even in subsaharan african societies (where there’s a lot of polygamy) — people do not marry/mate with their half-siblings. (it does occasionally happen in some subsaharan societies, but only occasionally.) so, unlike in cousin-marriage societies, “genes for nepostistic altruism” (whatever they might be) might *not* become concentrated in family lineages. yes, there are a lot of half-siblings in polygamous societies, but any particular nepostistic altruism (“clannishness”) genes they might have (gotten from their fathers) will get diluted as they move out into the general population and marry non-relatives. if polygamy isn’t a driver of accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism (and i’ve rather persuaded myself that it isn’t), that could explain why subsaharan africans are generally pretty civic-minded, comparatively speaking. (the poor outcomes seen in african nations are perhaps more the result of other factors like low iq, high disease rates, etc., rather than clannishness. dunno. Further Research is RequiredTM.)

i should note here that polygamy in subsaharan africa is extremely variegated — in some societies, it’s typical for the first wife to actually be a cousin, and then the rest not. so there can be a layer of cousin marriage in amongst the polygamy. in other societies, cousin marriage is completely avoided. in yet other societies, the series of wives might be sisters (sororal polygyny), which makes all the offspring not only half-siblings (because they have the same father) but also cousins (because their mothers are sisters). here you would think that any selection for nepotistic altruism should very much be amplified. of course, in many subsaharan african societies — especially the polygamous ones — there’s often a lot of hanky-panky going on, so not all of the siblings will truly be half-siblings, etc. that’ll dilute your genes for nepotistic altruism right there.

another thing i also thought of regarding subsaharan and/or polygamous societies is the fact that all of the half-siblings don’t always grow up together. in patrifocal polygamous societies, yes — there you’ll have one man living with all of his wives (poor fellow!) and all of his kids, so all the half-siblings will be raised in the same place and interact with one another — and, presumably, continue to do so as adults. in matrifocal societies, a mother and her children reside with the mother’s family, not her husband and his family. this occurs in some polygamous societies, too.

it seems to me that, even if polygamy was a driver of accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism, such selection couldn’t possibly happen if the carriers of the clannishness genes don’t interact. if the half-siblings from polygamous unions don’t grow up together, or don’t interact much as adults, but rather with their (ordinary, i.e. not inbred) cousins, how would clannishness be selected for? it wouldn’t, i don’t think. or it wouldn’t be selected for in an amplified, accelerated way (which is what i think happens in the long-term cousin marriage scenario).

and that’s as far as i got with thinking through polygamy (i shall return to this topic, i’m sure). but thinking about the patrifocal vs. matrifocal family types got me to thinking about something else.

thought experiment: let’s say you eliminate cousin marriage from a population, but don’t eliminate the extended family. say you get rid of the inbreeding, but individuals continue to interact mostly with their close (extended) family members — more so than with the other members of society who are unrelated to them. you would think that it would take longer for clannishness to disappear — for “genes for nepostistic altruism” to get diluted in the population — than in a society where both cousin marriage AND the extended family were simultaneously eliminated.

i am, of course, talking about medieval western versus eastern europe here. the extended family was eliminated quite early in the middle ages in western europe via manorialism along with cousin marriage (serious changes to both were well underway in western europe by the 800s). in eastern europe, the cousin marriage bans appeared later simply because christianity had arrived later. and, especially the further east one goes (like into russia), the fewer pressures there were to eliminate the extended family. quite the opposite, really. for example, this was the situation in the baltic regions, including belorussia, in ca. the fifteenth century [pg. 440]:

a “…’kinship holding’, was collectively held by the extended family. Rural settlements often contained more than one kinship holding, and each holding was in turn subdivided among smaller households within the extended family….”

and in russia as late as the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries [pg. 444]:

“Russian manorialism was distinctive in several important ways…. In Russia…it was the peasant commune that allocated these taxes and obligations among the households. The village commune in Russia had emerged in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries in response to increasing demands from the state and the landowning elite; peasant communes not only allocated obligations, but also chose their officials, held court, selected recruits for conscription levies, and kept written records of their activities. The communal clerk was sometimes the only member of his commune who could read and write….

“[O]n Russian manors, where hired labour was often not available, the peasant family had to personally perform labour obligations at the same time that it worked its own farm. This required large, often multi-generational, households with enough labour capacity to serve the simultaneous needs of both the manorial economy and the family farm…. As Steven Hoch has shown, however, life in the large household was hardly a rural idyll; household patriarchs formed a communal elite that ruled with despotic brutality, ruthlessly exploiting their families and denying any autonomy to the adults under them. At the same time, however, the large household also protected the peasant family from ruin.”

(hmmm. ever wonder where the russian love for [left-wing] authoritarianism comes from?)

even if eastern europeans/russians began to avoid cousin marriage around, say, 1000 (conversion to christianity), they didn’t quit residing in extended families and mostly interacting with their extended family members until, like, yesterday. (again, this pattern appears to be more pronounced the further east one travels.) so the dilution of nepotistic altruism genes in eastern european populations — via nepotistic behaviors being misapplied to individuals not sharing the same altruism genes (i.e. unrelated individuals) — didn’t happen as quickly as it did in western europe where people began regularly interacting with non-kin much earlier in the middle ages.

family types matter.

that’s all i’ve got for you for now. more soon! (^_^)

previously: start here and cousin marriage in sub-saharan africa and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. russian peasants.)