Re: poly: democracy, etc.

From: Carl Feynman <>
Date: Wed Feb 11 1998 - 09:26:38 PST

At 12:39 AM 2/11/98 -0800, D. Brin wrote:
>...which fits the
>way things seem to be in tribal societies, in which chiefs get more than
>one wife, most men get one, and a substantial minority of males are either
>killed or driven off.
>Hey, I'm not insisting on any of this. It's all too subjective and
>tentative. But the indicators are strong enough that some real research is
>called for.

Such resarch has been done, at least by anthropolgists, if not by
geneticists. I don't have a real reference for this; it appeared in 'Brain
& Behavior Studies' sometime in '92-'94. The authors of the paper were
concerned with the question of the correlation of social status with male
reproductive success in our culture, but they summarized a lot of studies
that looked at the question in other cultures, all of which had a strong
correlation between male status and number of surviving offspring. Oddly
enough, the correlation was smallest in our culture. They surveyed people
in Toronto, but I imagine it's pretty much the same in Stockholm or Los
Angeles. Their explanation was that our culture has both feminism, which
lets women have a say in who they marry and how many kids they have, and
birth control, which decouples male sexual appetites from the production of
offspring. Unfortunately, I don't remember any of the numbers from the
approximately 15 studies they summarize, but I remember that the greatest
bias in male reproductive success occured in late 18th century England.
Upper-class males averaged someting like 12 children each. Apparently this
was because of several things: the upper classes were much healthier and
protein-fed than the lower classes; wet nurses were popular, permitting
short interpregnancy intervals for wealthy women; and older men commonly
took young lower-class mistresses.

I wish I could find some real data on this question. I just spent an hour
on the Net, to no avail.

>For instance, I wonder if it would be possible to show
>genetically that we had statistically fewer male than female ancestors?

This should be feasible, by looking at the differing ranges of variation
between autosomal chromosomes (inherited from both parents) and the Y
chromosome (inherited from males only). Imagine the limiting case-- that
only one male gets to reproduce in each generation. In this case, all Y
chromosomes are identical. In the other limiting case, in which males and
females have the same distribution of number of offspring, the Y chromosome
should have the same level of variation as the autosomal chromosomes.
Somewhere in between these two cases is where we actually are.

Looking at the mitochodrial genome, inherited only from females, is
probably not as informative, since it has a different mutation rate than
the chromosomes.

>Damien>>Best not to appeal to genes to explain any behavior younger than
>I didn't! This has been going on for a VERY long time. Though now that
>you mention it, I believe there may be evidence that humans have changed
>genetically in one radical way. The invention of beer created an
>inhibition-loosening yet addictive drug that seriously reduced the survival
>prospects of a substantial fraction of the population. Note how alcohol
>affected those populations that had previously been unexposed. The result
>may have been a rise in the % of us who can say no to addictions. Pure
>speculation on my part, to be sure.

But one that is possibly supported by differing allelic frequencies for
alcohol dehydrogenase between the otherwise similar populations of East
Asia and North American Indians. The Japanese, in particular, seem to have
high abundances of an allele that seems to make it less pleasant to get
drunk. People with this allele get drunk on less alcohol, get their
hangover sooner, and turn red when intoxicated (I doubt the color change is
an evolutionary advantage...).

I read this in the journal of the NIH institute of drug and alcohol abuse
in 1991. Sorry, no more data.

Received on Wed Feb 11 17:55:50 1998

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