2011 August 14 Sunday
What Happens In Multi-Wife Families Anyway?

In the comments of a post in which Razib presented an interesting typology of terrorists from the standpoint of their sanity and rationality a commenter named Sean who says he spent a few years in Iraq doing intelligence work comments on the inner dynamics of polygamous marriages as he learned about them in Iraq. These do not sound like peaceful households.

Incidentally, I’ve spoken with well over 100 men who are married to more than one woman, and children of those family arrangements. Being the person I am, I never failed to ask “what’s it like?”

I found that in about half the households, the wives manipulate the husband in a constant battle for supremacy over each other, while in the other half the wives conspire against the husband in a battle to dominate him together. Or the situation fluctuates between those two extremes. (In principle, there’s a strict hierarchy of wives but in practice, people are people.)

I only heard a positive review of polygamy from two men, one of whom was wealthy, so he could keep his wives in different houses, and one of whom was a dwarf with a major Napoleon Complex. Make of that what you will.

I expect eventually polygamists will use sexual selection to make more female babies. I also expect they will select for genes that make their wives have personalities that are more at peace in polygamous marriages. Genetic engineering will be used eventually to make females who will become unjealous and uncompetitive wives.

Will genetic engineering also be employed to make cousin marriage more sustainable? Imagine, for example, removing all the harmful genetic recessives so that cousins making babies make healthier babies. One could imagine cousins making lots of daughters so that they can trade those daughters for lots of daughters of their cousins to give their sons more wives.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 August 14 08:50 PM  Human Nature Sexual Politics

sabril said at August 15, 2011 12:49 AM:

Lol, in a monogamous marriage the wife is constantly trying to manipulate her husband. That's how girls are. Marriage sucks but it's basically the only way to have legitimate children.

no i don't said at August 15, 2011 1:16 PM:

Ha, ha, ha, ha good one!

I hope genetic engineering moves forward fast.

Will that make husbands unjealous too??


bbartlog said at August 15, 2011 8:09 PM:

'I expect eventually polygamists will use sexual selection to make more female babies.'
You're assuming they're highly rational people who want to act in a way that doesn't violate the Kantian imperative, or something. In reality, I expect many of them come from societies that place a lower value of female children, and therefore they will use sexual selection to make more male babies. The fact that this will (if widespread) lead to all sorts of problems is not necessarily going to stop them. In fact, since I would expect the practice to be taken up first by the elite of society, it might even be rational at that point for them to favor male children; and once the pattern was established at the top, it would hardly be likely to be reversed by those on the lower rungs.

WJ said at August 15, 2011 10:22 PM:

Living in polygamy-land (i.e., Utah), my suspicion is that polygamous men are looking for two things: lots of sex with different women (especially young women), and lots of progeny. To engage in sex selective abortion for either gender would be counter to the latter desire and would destroy the veneer of religiosity that maintains their cults. They are welfare parasites, using Medicaid and food stamps at rates estimated as low as 44% and as high as 80% (most of the wives are technically single mothers). They don't need to kill the young boys in the womb. They just kick them out into the world knowing that we'll raise them on their behalf. There are charities founded for this purpose, and I have known a few ex-"Lost Boys" myself.

I once met a polygamous man who lived near me. He was late-30s and was out with his 18-year-old new wife and two sons who weren't much younger than her. He was being sweet on her in her ankle-length dress as he gave me a look of "Don't you wish you were the one sleeping with this tonight?"

I will say one thing in their defense, though: I suspect the economic model you seem to favor - less formal education, more apprenticeships, etc. - may find a decent example in some polygmamous communities. These are neither terribly stupid nor terribly brilliant men, but they still manage to bring in a fair portion of their income more or less legitimately, in businesses they have been working in since childhood.

AMac said at August 16, 2011 4:49 AM:

Sean, the "Secular Right" commenter that Randall quotes, prefaced those remarks with, "I worked in Human Intelligence in Iraq for three years, and was directly involved in tailoring military intelligence training to the particular conditions in Afhganistan, Iraq and the wider Muslim world afterward, so this [terrorism] is a topic with which I have some direct experience."

Here is a direct link to his comment on polygamy.

solaris said at August 16, 2011 12:04 PM:

>"Genetic engineering will be used eventually to make females who will become unjealous and uncompetitive wives."

I guess they can also use "genetic engineering" to make nine out of ten male children sexless drones who will do the drudge work but not compete with the small minority of "true males".

Personally, I'll take up violence before I allow the Brave New Libertarian World to come into existence.

Randall Parker said at August 16, 2011 6:50 PM:


No need for sex-selective abortion. One can select out Y-carrying sperm so more X-carrying sperm reach the egg.


But will you get enough allies to wage civil war to prevent the outcomes you oppose? So far I see civil war as very unlikely. But I'm not sure how strong the bonds of loyalty to national government will remain once the next Great Depression starts.

Randall Parker said at August 16, 2011 8:21 PM:


I tried to make that point about Sean. But my HTML was missing a double quote that caused a piece of text not to be visible. I've just noticed and fixed it. I wonder what other posts have sentence fragments that make no sense.

solaris said at August 16, 2011 8:26 PM:

>"will you get enough allies to wage civil war to prevent the outcomes you oppose?"

If the outcome in question is to abolish the human race and make a new new in its stead? Yes, I think so.

WJ said at August 16, 2011 9:45 PM:

"One can select out Y-carrying sperm so more X-carrying sperm reach the egg."

I don't pretend to be an expert, but any form of gender selection would seem to run counter to my experiences with polygamists. Men who want lots of tail can get that without all the demands of a polygamist cult. Polygamous men are "manly men" - they want multiple wives and large broods, including lots of sons. If they live in polygamous communities like Hildale/Colorado City they may realize that one day they'll have to kick the sons out in order to take the wives that would go to them, but that comes later, and those exiled sons will still bear their DNA and their surname.

Sex selection just doesn't fit their profile. Polygamy is common in Islamic countries. Is pro-female sex-selection happening there?

Family history story: my cousin's great-great#?# grandmother was the daughter of a polygamous Mormon. She wanted to marry her childhood sweetheart but her father "traded" her to another polygamist in a daughter swap #i.e., "you can marry my daughter if I can marry yours"#. She eventually left the polygamist, married her sweetheart, and ran away to Wyoming.

Mthson said at August 17, 2011 12:09 AM:

Re Solaris "to abolish the human race and make a new one in its stead..."

By "human race," do we mean the 95% of humans globally who, for evolutionary reasons, are basically cognitively retarded? It's bad enough even in the only modestly incompetent wealthy countries, and they're the best of the best.

What's wrong with creating human equality? Let people have the cognitive tools they need to pursue basic happiness in a complex society, and let's avoid a permanent human state of domestic and global incompetence.

Anyway, it's a moot point, because nobody on the planet is going to be able to stop parents from bettering humankind via reprogenetics, even if they have to go abroad to do it.

solaris said at August 17, 2011 10:00 AM:

>"By "human race," do we mean the 95% of humans globally who, for evolutionary reasons, are basically cognitively retarded?"

The difference between you and the Nazi's is what, exactly? I suspect that my IQ is significantly greater than yours - why shouldn't I propose that "retards" like you be sterilized? (For the good of humanity, of course)

>"What's wrong with creating human equality?"

See the history of communism. Hell, read a little history in general. It's a good antidote to your leftish utopian ravings.

Mthson said at August 17, 2011 12:49 PM:


Ha, brilliant. Letting parents freely making their own decisions at reproductive clinics is exactly like the Nazis/Communism!

Good luck globally criminalizing these kinds of freedoms.

solaris said at August 17, 2011 2:15 PM:

>"Letting parents freely making their own decisions at reproductive clinics is exactly like the Nazis/Communists"

The Communists were very big on "letting parents" (well, women) "freely making their own decisions at reproductive clinics". If you could put down the goofy sci-fi novels for five minutes and read some history I would not need to explain this to you.

>"these kinds of freedoms"

Fuck your "freedoms", mein Herr. Freedom is something people earn, and trash like you have earned none.

solaris said at August 17, 2011 2:19 PM:

>"What's wrong with creating human equality?"

I can think of a lot of words to describe genetically engineering women into something like sexually attractive dogs, but "human equality" is not the first phrase that springs to mind.

Mthson said at August 17, 2011 2:28 PM:

As long as you have zero plans to globally criminalize embryo selection etc., including in international waters, you're just full of hot air. Fight the future as much as you want, but humankind is still going to raise its IQ.

Mthson said at August 17, 2011 3:00 PM:

The most likely scenarios seem to be a combination of the libertarian and regulatory solutions.

•Choosing genetics for daughters that are high in agreeableness: will be legal (if that's what the parents want to do).
•Interfering with offspring's human rights: won't be legal.
•Increasing children's IQ: legal, and voters will probably want vouchers for the poor.

ASPIRANT said at August 21, 2011 8:13 AM:

What happens when this new race of super-intelligent humans totally out-competes everyone else?

Will it be seen as an unfair advantage? Will we want them to be handicapped ala Harrison Bergeron? Or will they be considered an imminent threat? What will it do to society when we can no longer deny the truth of our genes; that the reason many were poor was something innate to their being all along? Will things that society (idiotically) considers genocide, such as no food aid before birth control, suddenly become more acceptable?

Mthson said at August 21, 2011 12:38 PM:


The fate of luddites against genetics is already sealed. They'll pretend they were somehow right all along, conveniently forgetting they were on the losing side for 100 years.

Reprogenetics will finally do what liberals were never able to, steadily cure poverty/education gaps, and their traditional luddism against genetics will melt away.

WJ said at August 21, 2011 6:43 PM:

This link might answer a question I posed above. It shows male/female sex ratios by nation. Numbers will be skewed somewhat by the fact that a) there are naturally more males born than females; and b) that men of any age have higher mortality rates. So a younger society will naturally skew male while an older one (e.g., Europe) will skew female before sex-selection bias is even introduced.

no i don't said at August 25, 2011 5:07 PM:

Well Freedom is only an idea, cause nobody knows how far or how near one can extend such exercise of "freedom". Freedom -seems to me- stops being so as soon as you have a need, like hunger for example. Then you become a slave to try to get rid of that need.

Genetic developments will have to be regulated and legislated on eventually. The thing is that the benefits of it reach the people in general.

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