Curious ideas...

Here's a curious idea...

Can we imagine polygamy without patriarchy--without the man in control?

The several wives in a polygamous household outnumber the male--so why don't they call the shots?   You know, keep the guy like a rooster in a cage, and let him out when the eggs need to be fertilized?

Why not?

And another curious idea...

Are there any gay polygamists?   They must be really in the closet.

When polygamy makes sense

I don't support polygamy.  But any discussion of polygamy needs to explain why some people practice it today, and why it became so widespread in Utah before statehood.   Biology provides some insight.

Biology of Polygamy

In many mammals, like elk or elephant seals, males fight other males to amass large “harems.” In these species, the males are usually much larger than females. So in that system, the battle for the harem is a way of selecting the fittest male.  The fittest male goes on to sire a large number of offspring, improving the herd.  Having the fittest male as father is good for the females, too.

For some species like red-wing black birds, it makes sense for some females to be polygamous. Why? Females are faced with a “choice.” If they can find a really vigorous male, with an especially good territory, they might be able to produce more offspring, even if they have to share the male’s help with other females. Or would they do better with any male, so long as he’s not a polygamist? Studies show that some females do produce more offspring when sharing a good male.

 Some women may think like red-wings: Better to share a good male, than have a bad one all to yourself.

Messing with the sex ratio is a dangerous thing

In humans, the numbers of each sex are pretty much equal. At birth, there are 104 males per 100 females, apparently to compensate for the fact that after birth, at every age males have a higher death rate.  But the initial surplus of females isn't enough, so among the elderly, females greatly outnumber males.

Nevertheless, when it’s time to marry, there are usually enough males to go around, unless there’s been a devastating war. That happened after WW I in Europe--the great surplus of women led to depressions and surges in the birth rate that were felt for generations.  And when the sex ratio becomes skewed, it can lead to social instability.  In China, because males are favored, this leads to abortion of female fetuses, and the abandonment of female babies--all of which are leading to many more males in Chinese society.

It’s possible that in the future, low-status men, unable to find wives, will become a violent and destabilizing force in Chinese society.

Today, many of the girl orphans in China are being adopted by American families.  If this transfer of females from China to the US grows and goes on long enough, it could lead to a surplus of women in the US, and a surplus of men in China. Some sociologists believe that women are a moderating influence in politics--that they are less likely to support a warlike foreign policy. Could it be possible sometime in the future, that China will become more warlike, while at the same time the US becomes more pacifist?

In a similar way, upsets in the sex ratio could lead to pressure for legalization of polygamy. This is already happening in Russia, where a shortage of men (caused by lower life expectancy for men) is leading to calls for legalizing polygamy in rural areas.

Solving the problem of “Lost Boys”

Polygamy works best when there’s a surplus of women. Playwright George Bernard Shaw long ago said, commenting about Mormon polygamy, that polygamy had a fatal flaw--that the “lost boys” would rise up against any polygamous system. That may not have happened, but in modern polygamous communities, the loss of many young men from the community does represent a big loss of talent and labor, not to mention ill-will.

Brigham Young partially solved the problem of surplus males by recruiting large numbers of impoverished young women from England. In this way, the numbers of Mormons grew rapidly from immigration and from births, while at the same time young men weren’t too dissatisfied--they still had the possibility of finding a wife.

If some future patriarch finds a way to keep the lost boys within the system, and indoctrinate them and satisfy them--well, that patriarch could become very powerful.  A real despot.  In our novel, our villain, Jesse Cage, has figured that out.  He has a system....

Why polygamy might have made sense to Joseph Smith

I suspect the immigration of young women from Europe was already starting when Smith introduced polygamy. But Smith had another problem at the time--keeping the inner circle of Mormon males in line. There had been many apostates and fallings out--challenges to his rule. By being in control of who married who, and who took additional wives, Smith gained power over his associates. Secondly, when he drew associates into a secret brotherhood of polygamists, this created a powerful bond. Finally, having participated in the forbidden activity, associates would have a harder time leaving or exposing Smith, for in doing so, they would expose their own activities.

And at a time when material wealth was hard to come by on the frontier, having many wives was a way for successful males to gain status over others, and to have a more comfortable home.

Could polygamy make a comeback?

Despite these advantages, widespread outrage over the practice of polygamy led to Smith’s assassination, and led to the expulsion of Mormons from the Midwest. It seems that polygamy could only flourish under the conditions of
  • Isolation in the desert
  • Immigration of women
  • Frontier conditions, where communal groups had an advantage.
Polygamy had its moment in history, in Utah before statehood. Now that immigration and isolation have diminished, and the economy has grown, polygamy is languishing in the backwaters.

But if legalized, and with the right leader and a solution to the lost boy problem, polygamy could still be a force to be reckoned with!  We've seen that polygamy feeds on female surplus and hard economic times.  This sounds like--prolonged warfare or economic decline.  Well, already we've had 8 years of war in the Middle East, and near economic collapse.   Polygamy yet may rise again!