A Tale of Two Cities

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The re-appearance of our brother Artisanal Toad has me reading some of his original work on polygamy. Toad’s contention, that polygamy is prescribed by religious scriptures, isn’t something I have standing to challenge. Maybe he’s right. Even so, I thought I’d put down some brief attempts to argue that it’s a bad idea anyway.

Where did marital monogamy originate? The smart peeps contend that it was an idea that took hold in classical antiquity.

Meanwhile, what is arguably the single most striking feature of Greco-Roman marriage has failed to raise any curiosity at all – the fact that Greeks (after Homer’s heroes) and Romans were strictly (serially) monogamous regardless of their socio-economic status, just like modern westerners but unlike most other early civilizations. While our own experience might tempt us to take this for granted, we must ask how this principle came to be so firmly established even among (customarily polygynous) elites – the egalitarian ethos of the city-state is a plausible candidate –, how it co-existed with de facto polygyny facilitated by sexual congress with chattel slaves (Scheidel forthcoming c), and how it became entrenched in Christian doctrine that survived the fall of the Roman state and ensured its survival and spread in later European (and subsequently world) history. In this strangely neglected area, ancient history has a vital contribution to make to our understanding of the global evolution of marriage.

(Scheidel 7)

It’s worth noting that matrimonivm – the Roman word for marriage, is coherent with a monogamous standard. The singular mater is the root, rather than a plural or indefinite matres.

In a popular lecture, Gregory Aldrete alludes to the possibility that monogamy became codified in the Roman monarchy, and revived in the late republic, as an attempt to maximize the output of labor (Aldrete). This makes intuitive sense. If the Romans borrowed from the Greeks, as Scheidel implies, it was likely because they had an example of monogamy, and knew that it worked well in this regard.

Consider the case of the soldier, who is asked to leave his wife and children to go on a long ocean voyage, and fight in the Punic wars. Would that man be more or less likely to obey orders, knowing that he might return to find himself responsible for a bunch of children, sired by other men? We can imagine that he would have taken at least a small amount of comfort in an implicit contract.

If your wife fucks Chad while you’re away, the state will kill them both, and we’ll hold Chad’s fortune, which becomes yours upon your return…

In times of peace, the duty to pass and execute sentence was up to the paterfamilias. If a man found his wife or daughter (be the daughter married or simply eligible) banging a playa, then he could choose to kill or pardon. One hitch: he had to apply the law to both parties. (Edwards)

The efficiency argument has a contemporary example. Consider the output of my kin, who live on the collective farm. What has been the relative results of polygamous society in Colorado City, comparable to other, similar communities? Most of them live on welfare, and a large number of the children of polygamous unions are afflicted by terrible, rare genetic diseases.

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Colorado City is a dismal failure, for the same reason Rome was an unparalleled success. These are the end results of polygamy and monogamy.

Author: Boxer

Sinister All-Male Dancer. Secret King of all Gamma Males. Member of Frankfurt School. Your Fave Contrarian!

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities”

  1. Whether or not one might agree with Toad, there is a lot that can be learned from reading his arguments.

  2. Basically my argument against it is the Solomon/St. Paul argument. The wisest man in history turns away from God by his 700 wives.

    1 Kings 11

    And when St. Paul mentions the model of marriage (Christ and the church)…it’s one husband who is the head of one wife.

    Ephesians 5

  3. “Most of them live on welfare, and a large number of the children of polygamous unions are afflicted by terrible, rare genetic diseases.”

    Interesting to compare the polygamous Mormons (e.g. Colorado City) with the monogamous Amish (e.g. Lancaster). While the former live on welfare, the latter do not ever use such social services (and correspondingly are exempted from social security taxes). Indeed, the Amish are often incredibly successful financially, sitting on a lot of hidden wealth harnessed from their shrewd business practices and frugal lifestyles. However, both groups are afflicted by rare genetic diseases.

    This comparison of anecdotes suggests that polygamy does not lead to good financial outcomes. Having one man and one woman per set of children (even if it is 8-12 in a family) leads to good financial outcomes. However, having only one man for multiple women (and who knows how many children) reduces economic potential because there is only one man and women use up more net resources than children (especially economically producing older unmarried boys/men). It’s not efficient from the market perspective.

    What is the cause of genetic disease? Obviously it is insular communities. For your theory to work, you have to show that throughout ancient history polygyny resulted in insular communities, rather than the inverse. If only the inverse is true, then the increased prevalence of densely populated cities (in Greek and Roman civilization), that is, non-insular communities, resulted in the development of monogamy. Combine the high-population cities with the force of empire-wide laws and you could enforce monogamy outside the cities.

  4. Do yenz know the sim-i-liar-tease between Poly-Gamy and Mono-Gamy ..

    ..

    Well Poly-Gamy is one to many wives ..

    ..

    And so is Mono-Gamy 🤣

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