The above image is from dispair.com, a site of satirical motivational posters (demotivational). At the time I stumbled on it, I was writing about about the problem of explaining male nature, specifically the nature that results in most men in history not having any surviving descendants, many of whom never even did the necessary act.
The tag line in the post really struck me as being profound. “Your role may be thankless, but if you are willing to give it your all, you just might bring success to those who outlast you.” I read that in context of evolution that would not thank any man who does not leave any descendants. Such men often do have a lasting impact on others. That impact may be directly beneficial, such as a man who builds something that others would enjoy, or the man who makes a scientific discovery that advances civilization or the economy. More often, the impact is indirectly beneficial especially when the man makes mistakes or leaves destruction, but the response of those who follow will build something better, something that would not have happened if the error hadn’t happened.
I think a lot about evolution theory, specifically the notion of inheritance of beneficial genetics through successful reproduction resulting in surviving grandchildren. Frequently, we appeal to evolution to explain specifically the distinction in behaviors of men and women.
Evolution appears to explain the behaviors of men and women from a mating perspective.
Women having a lot more investment in reproduction will be more selective of her mate seeking physical attractiveness as evidence of good genes, and access to resources for evidence of being a good provider. Women often can make these decisions in succession following Briffault’s law.
Meanwhile evolution has a narrower influence on male behavior that increases reproductive success with having as many partners at possible.
Personally, I think evolution explains more about female behavior than male behavior. In particular, I marvel at the observation that large numbers of men in history have no surviving descendants today. Many more have no surviving patrilineal male descendants. Evolution gives no thanks to those men who didn’t pass their genes to another generation.
In contrast, many more women in history have surviving descendants. Most women end up having children, and whether willingly or not, they pass their genes to another generation. It is easy to see how mechanisms of evolution can tune female behavior.
Frequently modern discussions observe that the vast majority of women desire having children from a very small minority of men. It is mostly through culture and economy that gives most fathers the opportunity to become fathers. Evolution itself does not need 90% of the men who are living today. 10% of the men can satisfy the population growth needs for survival of the species. This is not permitted in our current culture and economy, but to the extent it is feasible, it is actually more efficient. Given the recent and accelerating growth in income inequality, we may be heading in that direction.
Having excess males is inefficient from the perspective of evolution. Parental investment in excess males is a waste. The excess males’ adult consumption of resources is similarly wasteful for the species as a whole.
There are a couple arguments for excess males.
- To give females a choice of selecting the more suitable mates, there needs to be a population of males who would be suitable. In modern discourse, we describe these as the involuntary celibate, men who are frustrated in their quest for a heterosexual relationship.
- Excess males makes possible excess labor that dominant male can use to produce the resources for the next generation. This may come in form of forced labor either through slavery, or through wage suppression or taxation that leaves the working male with just enough for his own survival. Alternatively, it may come voluntarily through a culture that provides other distractions for the non-reproductive males. The end result is the same, the excess males provide the excess wealth for the offspring of the few fathers who have the good genes that either attract females attention, or aggressively obtains the same.
- Families may benefit from fatherless uncles who bring in resources or provide protection for their nieces and nephews who share roughly the portion of their DNA as would their own grandchildren, and evolution works through the survival of grandchildren.
These explanations do not describe the males who might otherwise have the opportunities of pursuing fatherhood but chose otherwise. That choice may be a conscious deliberate choice, based on rational arguments, such as what often gets described as MGTOW philosophy. Or it may be choice based on sexual preferences, such as homosexuality.
There is another category of non-reproductive men who do not become fathers but for reasons not due to rational choice or frustration. These are man who would not reject fatherhood if the opportunity had come to them (without their having to pursue it) either through a relationship that grew out of familiarity, or though some arrangement by others. These men are not upset by the lack of these opportunities in their lives, largely because they found other opportunities to attract their attention.
Largely unconsciously, these men exploit the evolution process. The survival of the species do not require their service as fathers or as providers for the children of others. Similarly, others do not require their services as romantic partners. If these services are required or requested, these men would not reject the request, but they are not displeased by the absence of such requests. They have other things to do with their time. Or, more accurately, other activities expand to consume their free time.
There is no deliberate choice to avoid relationships, and no frustration in being rejected in the pursuit of relationships. Other activities exhaust their free time.
I mentioned above that these men would accept requests for relationships if any were offered. The cultural norms is that men are expected to approach women in the pursuit of a relationship. Women may take the initiative to make themselves approachable, especially to those she wants, but she still requires the man to take the initiative of approaching her. A man already preoccupied with his own activities is not going to take that initiative, even though he would respond to her initiative in approaching him. If she does not take the initiative, such a man is oblivious to the opportunity.
Given the social norms, women do not this option because most of them encounter many men who do take the initiative to approach them, requesting their attention leading to a relationship they desire. For the most part, women do not have the luxury of long periods of never having their attention being requested with the goal of a relationship. This particular benefit is mostly available to men.
The point here, is that men exploit this absence of requests for relationship by pursuing their own interests. In modern times, often these interests may have no lasting impact on the surroundings. Activities such as online gaming, or watching video content, can fully occupy ones time with no lasting impact to the surroundings. However, there remains many time-occupying activities that do have lasting impact. Men will build things for their own benefit but these things will outlast them. When they are done, and abandon their project, that project will remain for others to deal with. In many cases, people will find the fruits of this activity to be beneficial.
Going back to the original quote, “if you are willing to give it your all, you just might bring success to those who outlast you”. In this context, is this a sacrifice?
I mentioned the example of a builder, but another activity of lasting impact is that of destroying things. Something previously built could have benefited others, but the self-inspired man may choose to tear it down, thus making it no longer available for others. This also has an impact that will outlast the man doing the destruction. People will need to adapt to the absence of what previously was available. Given enough time, eventually the reaction to the loss frequently can result in a benefit that would not have happened without the destructive activities of the man with his otherwise free time.
I think of my little example with this house I bought from a married couple who needed to move to a larger place. I bought it with the idea with the expectation that I would find someone I can marry and have move in with me. The house had two bedrooms, a kitchen with a dishwasher, an small but usable dining and family room. There was a closed in porch addition to the side for a hobby room, and a large deck out back for entertainment. Over the course of the years, I dismantled all the features that would make this a house suitable for a couple, and instead resulted in a place for just one person. There is only one closet in the house, the bedrooms are replaced with an open area with a murphy bed that remains closed most of the time. The hobby-room addition and the deck are gone, and so is the dishwasher. The result is that the structures of my house now occupies a much smaller part of my property and there is a view into the back visible from the street where my house is the only one on the street with so much open space between the neighbors. The rest of the neighborhood continues to expand with their additions and view-blocking fences but my house is inconveniently located in the middle of the block making a different statement.
Eventually, this property will change hands. When that happens, they will acquire what I left them. Even if they make the choice to replace what I removed, they would replace it with different plans and using different materials than they would have acquired if I didn’t do anything. Maybe they would make the choice to tear the place down and replace it with a new structure that matches the footprint of other houses. I noticed a house a couple blocks away that is laying a new foundation all around the existing house for a house within a house structure, probably because that avoids the extra regulations for complete demolition and rebuild. Maybe the same will happen here for the next owners.
In any event, my actions have constrained their options. I am even letting trees grow in a designated resource protection area that requires additional permissions to remove large trees, thus limiting the size of house that can be built here. Also, there is the uninterrupted view from the street into the backyard. Of course, they can build to obstruct that view, but that obstruction will be noticed.
My point is that I have, though my own isolated existence, left something that will constrain what future owners can do with this property. I imagine they would make some beneficial improvement of their own, but that improvement will be influenced by the actions I made during my ownership of this property. My actions would not have happened had I started a family, but now these have lasting impact on the future of this property, if not the neighborhood as a whole.
The point of this writing is how is this possible from an evolutionary perspective. What in evolution permitted me to exist in the first place. I’ve lived into later adulthood without participating in the reproductive game, and my behavior is not going to be passed on to future generations.
I could be dismissed as some kind of detrimental mutation so that it is good that I leave no heirs. My counter argument is that I am not a one-off random variant. Many men current living are in similar situations, living alone and making lasting changes (some constructive, others destructive) that will impact the future in varying degrees. This is not new, throughout all of history, such men always exist despite the fact that they leave no heirs. How does this behavior get preserved?
One argument may be that this is a side-effect behavior. This is what happen with men who would have been efficient as fathers need to use their energies without being fathers. This is just a consequence of being excess in the project of propagating the species.
I wonder why this is so persistent. It seems to me that it would be more efficient to have fewer excess males. Excess males with autonomy largely complicate things with destruction of presentation of new challenges for successors. Even their beneficial results such as new discoveries or new constructions frequently would be optional in terms of perpetuating the species. We would continue on without their innovations just as we had before their innovations.
If evolution would come up with genetics that prevent the creation of autonomous excess males, certainly this would be a more efficient solution that would breed out all the rest. Given the expanse of human history, such inefficient male behavior should have been bred out of us by now.
I suspect this behavior had a larger benefit in ancient civilizations. Back in the time of large inequities of a relatively few men having large families of multiple wives, there were many men who were left out. Even accounting for the slaves and the excessively taxes freemen, there were abundant men who had autonomy and free time and yet were not discouraged by the lack of mates. I imagine those societies honored their excess males with benefits that are lost to the modern monogamous civilizations. The initiatives of these free men (free from familial obligations) benefited all of society, including the subsequent generations that share at best distant genetic relationships. These earlier civilizations, civilizations that we now consider to be less civilized, selectively bred a population that produces autonomous excess males who, freed from familial obligations, directed their energies to their own pursuits that to varying degrees benefited the larger society and that to varying degrees were rewarded by that society.
If I were more of an advocate of undirected selection, I would conclude that modern monogamous civilizations are an anomaly that are only possible temporarily at the end of a civilization. The more sustainable model is that of the distant past civilizations of dramatic inequality in terms of male access to procreation. Those civilizations benefited from maximizing the fertility of their women with the fewest men, while encouraging the excess men to redirect their attentions and aspirations to take advantage of being free from attending to the needs of the females and their offspring. The efforts of these free men leads to the success to the future generations in a way that is less likely in modern civilization.