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Saturday, June 25, 2011


larry kurtz

Ever been to the FLDS compound near Pringle or to Colorado City, Arizona, Ken? They would love to have you live there. Statehood for Mexico Now!


Ken, this article does not make a bit of sense to me.

Ken Blanchard

Sorry, Guard. It makes plenty of sense to me.

Bill Fleming

Ken, it seems like you are missing something between the first and second sentences of your first paragraph. One thought does not flow syntactically into the next. But then, maybe you don't care about such things?

Bill Fleming

...okay, I see, you are showing why polyandry is not as popular of cultural option as the other two. Probably your first non- sequitur, actually, having to do with a possible confusion about what marriage is and isn't and why we do it.

Ken Blanchard

Bill: marriage is a contract between potential parents in which a promise of fidelity is exchanged for a promise of support. That's why it exists and if it didn't exist, we wouldn't do it.

Donald Pay

I generally agree that Mathusian policies when instituted by an elite against others, tend to be genocidal. In patrilineal societies, forced controls can encourage sex selection and a devaluing of women. There is a problem, though, with your understanding of the China one-child policy. The China policy was instituted in 1979 by the Chinese government after Mao's policy of encouraging population growth had exacerbated urban poverty and was retarding modernization. It was the only time that a majority population actually implemented population control upon itself while not applying it to ethnic minorities. It was part of the country's initial reforms toward modernization and open markets under Deng. The policy was instituted as a temporary measure applying in mostly urban areas to address particular issues, not as general population control. It has had unintended consequences (sex selection by various means and a lot of migrant workers). It is reconsidered every 5 years, and many believe it will be modified or lifted in the next few years. Reported sex ratios spike for many reasons, including differential rates of migration and underreporting of female births.

Bill Fleming

If you say so, professor.


Made perfect sense to me.

Donald: Is the five year consideration part of some law or tradition? Or does it just happen to come up every five years? Why, if it is has been reconsidered every five years without change, is it expected to change now?

Ken Blanchard

Bill: stairs are also for walking up and down. Just thought you should know.

Donald Pay

The one-child policy has changed over the years. It generally comes up with every five year plan. This article explains that China's birth control policies result in an abortion rate that is less than that of the United States.


Bill Fleming

Ken, presumably, your definition applies only to a monogamous marriages, correct?

It seems the other two types by definition don't fit the (fairly outdated) mold you suggest.

I know happily married couples who have no intention of having children, so your "potential parents" qualifier
seems not to really have anything to do with your definition.

Likewise, there are very solid marriages that have little or nothing to do with infidelity requirements
or the surrender of liberty for some vague sense of security.

Are you talking about ancient times?

Because I don't think your definition has very much to do with contemporary marriages at all.

Perhaps it's time for you to rethink your definition.

The one you've offered here obviously has far too many holes in it.

Bill Fleming

A little primer here to help the good professor get up to speed:


The American Heritage Dictionary, Black's Law Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, and Webster's have all added same-sex unions to their definitions of marriage.* The right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily broke the news in March about Webster's, reporting that the dictionary had "resolved the argument" over gay marriage by applying the ancient term "to same-sex duos."

How, exactly, has the wording in the dictionaries changed? American Heritage went first, adding this to its definition of marriage in 2000: "A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage." In 2003, Webster's included in its definition "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage." In 2004, in its eighth edition, Black's added "same-sex marriage" to its marriage entry, recognizing that "same-sex couples have successfully challenged the laws against same-sex marriage" in a number of states. Even more interesting, 2008's Webster's Contemporary School and Office Dictionary says nothing gendered about marriage at all. The entry simply states that marriage is "the state of being united to another person as a contractual relationship according to law or custom." And the king of them all, the Oxford English Dictionary, since 2000 has included in the definition of marriage the phrase "long-term relationships between partners of the same sex."

P. Chirry

I am somewhat troubled by the whole ranking bit at the beginning of your post, Dr. Blanchard. You seem to equate women "moving up in ranks" with women "benefiting." This strikes me as a complete preposterousity, in every sense of the word.

First of all, in your hypothetical polygynous society, you state that W2 "benefits" because now she gets M1, a better mate than M2, whom she would get in the monogamous society. But this overlooks the fact that she must now share M1 with W1. It would be more fair to say that she is getting half of M1. And while it is presupposed that W2 prefers M1 to M2, it is not presupposed that W2 prefers half of M1 to all of M2, which is what she would get in the monogamous society. So, even in your own framework, there is no ground for saying women benefit from polygyny.

But moreover, the framework is an absolutely absurd abstraction to be making in the first place. It captures nothing about the true nature of human behavior--it falsely assumes, for instance, that there is a universally acknowledged best prospective mate--whereas in real life, one man's "W1" might be another man's "W12." Really, I don't see the point of all this make-believe that humans have boring names like "M1" and "W2," anyway. It tells us nothing useful, and serves only to confuse our thought. The idea that polygyny somehow benefits women is absurd on its face, and should be rejected as such. I was glad to read that you eventually came to this conclusion--but the fact that the idea of polygyny being beneficial to women was even seriously entertained is a sign that maybe it would be a good idea to start thinking about people less as numbers, and more as--well individual human beings.

P. Chirry

Side note: Is there any way for us commenters to use italics?

Ken Blanchard

P. Chirry: Apparently a lot of things are opaque to you. Let me see if I can clear them up. For most of human history, and for most other animals, females were looking for two things from potential mates: genes and resources. As for the former, one man can sire just as many children with two women as two men can, so biologically speaking, there is no "half of M1." If you need any more coaching on the birds and bees, let me know.

As for resources, M1 will enjoy a lot more status than M2. If you don't believe that, how much better is first place and a gold medal than second place and a silver one? Status is important in the marriage market. So long as M1 has sufficient resources to feed the offspring of W1 and W2, then the latter have married up in every respect that once mattered.

I acknowledged that this is an abstraction. I was trying to make it simple enough that almost any reader could follow the logic. Apparently, I failed. But surely you can grasp that in a society where a rich man could afford as many as three wives, that a lot of poor women could marry up into wealthier families in which their children would have a much better chance of survival. That polygyny benefits women in the respects that I am talking about here is not only true but obviously true.

Of course, it tend to support both patriarchy and social stratification, which are among the reasons why modern societies have moved toward monogamy. Good thing, that, but the kind of thing that is a lot easier in modern times.

I acknowledged that the simple ranking was artificial, but it illus

Ken Blanchard

Bill: if you take the strings off a guitar and fill it with dirt, you can grow plants in it. If you do, it isn't a guitar anymore, its a planter. Marriage EXISTS because of a very general fact of mammalian biology: women know who their children are, but men don't. This is why, in the vast majority of species, males invest nothing more than sperm in their offspring. Since they can't tell who their offspring are, they can't afford to invest more. Where males do invest in the care of offspring, it is because some device has evolved to reassure them of their paternity.

Human beings are a high MPI (male parental investment) species, but male investment is still less in all human cultures than female investment. Marriage is an artificial institution that developed (unconsciously to be sure) because it reassured men of paternity and thus encouraged investment in their offspring.

That is what marriage IS. You want to argue about single sex marriage, which is not relevant here and to which I am not opposed. When an institution (or biological trait) develops for one purpose, it may later be used for another. See our guitar above. If you want to create an entirely new institution for single sex couples and call it by an old name, fine with me. I am in fact in favor of single sex marriage.

We will at least find out if this can make any difference. I predict that it will not. Very few homosexual men will choose to marry and form long term, exclusive relationships. The reason for that is not that they are homosexual, its that they are male. Suppose that any man could easily find dozens or hundreds of women who were very attractive and to whom he was just as attractive. How long would heterosexual marriage last in that scenario? It might be harder to change human behavior than to redefine a word in your dictionary.

Bill Fleming

Ken, I submit that your description is perhaps what marriage WAS. No sense repeating what I've already said beyond that, except to acknowledge that you are of course free to think whatever you wish about what your marriage is.

P. Chirry

Dr. Blanchard, it may be true "biologically speaking" that one man can sire just as many children with two women as two men can, but it is also true "biologically speaking" that M50 can sire just as many children with one or two women as M1 can. So really, "biologically speaking" there's no reason to construct your hypothetical hierarchy in the first place. We can toss the "genes" part of the equation out, then.

As for "resources," you emphasize the importance of "status," which completely baffles me. Status is relative, is it not? It has value only in relation to the status of others. So yes, W20, for instance, moves up in rank when she marries M10 instead of M20. But you overlook how W2-19 _also_ get to move up in rank, too. At the end of the day, W20's status is exactly the same in a polygynous society as in a monogamous one. There are 19 women above her, and 30 women below her. No increase in status. You can't really say that W20 has "moved up" over any of the males, either--in early human societies, males were considered of higher status than pretty much all females simply by virtue of being male.

With resources that are not status, "ability to care for children," for instance, my earlier analysis is still valid. In a polygynous society, W2 gets only _half_ of M1's resources in a polygynous society (less, if he plays favorites), whereas in a monogamous society she would get _all_ of M2's. So, as I said, in your own framework the only way women can be said to "benefit" from polygyny is if you assume M1 is always twice as able to care for children as M2. I see no reason to make this assumption.

Again, this is all superficial. In real life, people are not numbers and do not deterministically "benefit" or not benefit based on an artificial hierarchy imposed upon them by an NSU political science professor. Far better to simply acknowledge the complexity of human beings and the diversity of their preferences and needs. This will prevent us from making absurd and groundless claims, like that polygyny would be good for women, if it weren't for patriarchy and stratification.

Bill Fleming

P. Chirry, in real life, almost all of KB's arguments abov fail to pass the smell test, but he'll never let that stop him.

These days with the miricle of modern science it is possible to know, for absolute certain who the father of any given child is.

These days, there are plenty of "fathers" who aren't the least bit interested in "investing" in their offspring, male or female, and hence, not only shun marriage vows, but instead, actively resist making said "investment" any and every way they can.

These days, in spite of that, there are strict laws that compel the unwilling sires to make that investment anyway, or go to jail, whether they marry the mother or not (in most cases, the mother would prefer not.)

It has been this way for quite some time, and yet our good friend the professor still has these archaic notions about what marriage is and why we do it rattling around in his head.

Go figure, huh?

P. Chirry

I think the idea is, Bill, that though the things you mention aren't true nowadays, they can still help explain many things about human nature, because they were true during much of human evolutionary history and the time at which many human customs and traditions were formed.

I don't see a problem with Dr. Blanchard examining how marriage was in the past to help in understanding how marriage is today. What I have a problem with is the reduction of people into mindless numeral-letter pairs whose simplistic values and deterministic behaviors do not resemble those of real humans at any time, past or present.

Bill Fleming

Well, yeah there's that. Personally, I think the good professor glosses over polyandry way too quickly. I think if he looked at it in "real life" terms as you suggest, he might see some social evidence for it there that's not necessarily very well documented in the philosophy and/or legal literature, but is actually pretty prominent in nature, including human nature.

Ken Blanchard

P. Scholars use simplified diagrams all the time. As I illustrated in my recent reply, my diagram does model something real that I wished to talk about. Women do in fact move up in status and benefit economically from polygyny. However, what I was talking about was the more general consequences of artificially restricting the supply of women. If the supply of women and men is roughly equal, and a significant number of men have more than one wife, then a significant number of men will do without wives. I don't see how someone with a mind can call that mindless.

Bill: I have no idea what your last comment is supposed to mean. One hundred and sixty three million missing women is real life my friend.


I can think of some benefits to a polygynous system! If we agree that men tend to seek attention from multiple partners, women in a polygynous system might fare better than women who pursue monogamy - at least in some respects.

If a man cheats on his wife, it can cause her a great deal of pain and does not really benefit her in any way. In a polygynous system, women often get to divide housework and responsibilities amongst each other. So, while dealing with the knowledge that the husband is interested in other women is, no doubt, difficult for each wife, housework might end up being a lot easier!

Bill Fleming

"Anthropocentrism is a disabling vice of the intellect.” - Edward O. Wilson. How much more so male chauvinism, KB. The altruism you highlight in your last paragraph is explained quite well by Richard Dawkins in "The Selfish Gene." The egg came first. The chicken is just the way the egg makes another egg.

Bill Fleming

In short, KB, if you're not saying that, you're not saying anything (philosophically speaking).

Bill Fleming

As per "Guard" (above) KB and I are having trouble making sense to each other in this thread. That could be due to a paradigm shift in perception. I'm guessing KB still thinks "we" have life. I (and many others, mostly biologists) will argue the opposite. Life has us. It's not easy to make the shift, I know. But I maintain that my position is the more "real."

The 160 million women KB bemoans never were, except in his mind. 75% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Nature is astonishingly cruel if you choose to look at it that way... i.e. as though you were somehow separate from it. Well, guess what, we're not. That's reality. Now, if we can first all come to that modern understanding, perhaps we can begin to discuss a contemporary ethics that makes a little more sense.

Ken Blanchard

Bill: I am not at all sure that we are having trouble making sense to each other. We just disagree. You, like other readers, believe that personhood occurs at some point after conception. By contrast, I do not believe that dogs become dogs, or that horses become horses, or that human beings become human. I think that such is logically problematic and biologically Medieval.

Though you do not deny the statistics regarding sex-selective abortions, you think that "The 160 million women KB bemoans never were, except in his mind." Nice of you to erase another three million from the ledger. I think, by contrast, that sex-selective abortions are impossible unless there are unborn to abort. I doubt my imagination is powerful enough to keep all those physicians busy. Again, we differ on a logical and metaphysical point. I also think that shortfall of 163 million worldwide is a demographic disaster for women. That is a lot fewer women to press their rights in elections and by other venues. We also seem to differ in so far as I am interested in this fact.

You think that there were chicken eggs before there were chickens. I do not. I suppose, rather, that the biological relationship between the egg [as a metaphor for genotype] and the chicken [as a metaphor for phenotype] is a dynamic relation that defines life. It takes two to tango. Contrary to what you say, I think this the view of all modern biologists; the argument is over which is the senior partner. Morally, that question is easy to answer. Selfish genes are selfish only in a metaphorical sense. Only organisms have interests in any real sense.

I do not think that the fact that children die both before and after birth has any bearing on the existence of children. You seem to think it does. I think that the artificial idea of personhood, though certainly useful in many contexts, separates us from nature far more than any argument I have made here. I emphatically believe that we are not separable from nature in any real sense.

Finally, I think that Matthew Shepard in fact had a life and that Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson took it from him when they beat him up and left him tied to a fence. You seem to think that none of has a life but that "life has us." Perhaps you can testify at their next parole hearing. If you are right, the prosecution certainly appears misguided. Perhaps "life" should have brought civil suit against McKinney and Henderson for destruction of property. You think that life is somehow more real than living things. I confess that I see it as exactly the opposite. "Life" is an abstraction, a useful fiction. What is real are things that are born, hatch, split, breath, consume, and go potty. If you are right, I am indeed confused.

Ken Blanchard

P.C.: I am sorry, but you just seem so clueless. M50 may be able to sire as many children as M1, but M1 is handsome and rich whereas M50 is dirt poor and butt ugly. M1 has first status; do you really not think that woman gains no status by marrying the Prince? Is that status not important when she tries to arrange marriages for her offspring with the most competitive partners? Yes, her status is less within the family than Wife #1. This is the stuff of a lot of familial dramas in polygynous cultures. But she gets live in the big house and be called princess. Is it really news to you that men and women in all societies compete over such things? Apparently.

Why was the evil stepmother so anxious to get her biological daughters to the ball? Because this fairy tale, like most fairly tales, was inspired by real life. Mothers want their children to marry up. They may have understood at at least as much as Bill and P. Chirry.

Polygyny allows almost a lot of women to marry up. This is not a controversial point in anthropology. I am not making a case for polygyny. I think it is a retrograde institution. I was merely pointing some facts that are commonplace in scholarly discussions about such things.

Ken Blanchard

ps. I think you two guys are clueless about a lot of things. Maybe its me who is clueless. Either way, this has been a bang up great thread!

Bill Fleming

You are correct about my definition of "personhood" KB. I seriously question whether some people ever achieve it. ;^)
As far as the chicken/egg thing goes, I don't think there is any dispute whatsoever that DNA came first, but maybe there is. Can you point me to any sources along those lines? Beyond that, I agree, great discussion. Thanks for initiating it.

Bill Fleming

"In the beginning, there was information. The word came later. - "The transition was achieved by the development of organisms with the capacity for selectively exploiting this information to survive and perpetuate their kind." — Fred Dretske, Philosopher of mind and knowledge.

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