Is More Really Better? The Debate between Monogamy and Polygamy
The concept of standards is very relative. Some people could not even kill a fly, while others will hunt like a tribesman in order to eat. The same can be said about forms of love relationships. It is true that monogamy is firmly established in most countries and supported by the views of the majority and the government. Still, this ‘castle’ is not so impregnable. It is worth recalling, at least, that there is a great frequency of adultery, open marriages and people who live a «two-family» life. It is no wonder that people often think of polygamy as a long-established alternative.
First of all, we need to immediately clarify the concept of monogamy and polygamy. These words define an exact form of a marital relationship, when a joint household contains actors whose aim, amongst others, is often procreation. Polygamy is often referred to as simple promiscuity or cultural promiscuity. Whereas the details of monogamy are clear (one man and one woman, with both partners holding each other fidelity, polygamy is when a man or a woman has several official wives (polygamy)/husbands (polyandry) and all of the children are heirs.
Nature can do everything
In nature, there is monogamy and polygamy (and polyandry too). Each type of sexual behaviour has its own rationale, strengths and weaknesses. Very monogamous species include the ever-romantic swans. Mankind was not originally monogamous as a rule. Our primitive ancestors (males) had a short life and, thus, sought to leave offspring with the greatest possible number of females.
The emergence of monogamy in humans can be attributed to Neanderthals. They, apparently, began to create stable couples, where the man brought the woman food so that she could concentrate on the care of the children. This strategy led to better survival of offspring. Throughout much of history, though, even though the norm was marriage, polygamy was rampant. It still exists, as does polyandry, often with reasonable rationales.
About polygamy, impartially speaking
Polygamy is indispensable in a community of few men. The wise ancient Greeks were allowed to take in a lot of women after devastating wars, even though it was later banned. Once again, the goal is adequate procreation.
Polygamy has important social implications for women (contrary to popular belief about their humiliation and slave position). In many patriarchal societies, a woman, just married, retains «normal status» and receives «normal» maintenance from her husband. Note that in Islamic countries, with legalized polygamy (significantly restricted in modern times), a man is allowed to have up to four wives and concubines (as much as he can support). For the Maasai of Tanzania, with traditional polygamy, divorces are rare. Betrayal of a wife becomes much easier to forgive and, by assuming a new wife, it is better than having to divorce and return the cows that were offered as a dowry previously.
From a biological point of view, polygamy has had a negative impact on the gene pool of humanity. Geneticists talk about reducing the diversity of male chromosomes. In our societies, this phenomenon is also observed, as the children of one father from different women appear more similar than children of one woman from different fathers.
Polyandry is prevalent in Tibet, Sri Lanka, with the Eskimos and others. In Tibet, one woman takes a husband and several brothers. There is a simple explanation for this. There is very little land in Tibet and if one were to allocate a piece to each brother with separate families, the genus would not survive. A woman comes into the house of her husbands and they can continue to handle a large plot of land. Still, polyandry is ultimately limiting reproduction because the woman does not give birth to as many children as several wives would if each brother married someone different.
What can we be?
Should polygamy be considered as a real alternative to monogamy in the Western world and as a variant form of the family? On the one hand, such legalization would open up the opportunity to live independent of norms and restrictions when it comes to relationships. Non-standard families would be allowed. In principle, the UK, Norway, Australia and New Zealand have done so already. In these countries, there is legal recognition of polygamous marriages if they are created in countries whose laws allow them to exist. Still, would the legalization of polygamy help Europeans? (By the way, the percentage of men prone to monogamy is 5% and for women, it is 20% max.).
You can not grow a dwarf arctic birch instead of an olive tree under your window. So, too, can men and women who have grown up in traditional households, though secular, (but impregnated by Christianity culture with its taboos, codes and behavioural stereotypes) choose what they wish to decorate their life with in terms of relationships. One thing is clear and that is that it is far better to be open and honest than to have to sneak around on the wife with a mistress. Neither of the women is being respected and if children are involved, it is even more unpleasant and unfair. Aside from children, there is also often a house and common property to consider. Certainly, the mistress is left out in the cold. He has the status of a family man already. Polygamy may simply be a reasonable extension of this.
So, instead of a lover, the «other woman» comes into the house of the other wife (wives?). In this case, there may be feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. There may be disagreements on how to divide the children, the land and the marital bed. What if there are two men with one woman?
Monogamy definitely has its drawbacks, not the least of which is boredom and routine. Polygamy may have those elements of excitement that people are seeking. It may actually save the day for some couples who may have lost that spark in their marriage.
In modern Western society, there is an active search for new forms of intimate relationships. From life-long singles to polygamy, the alternatives may surprise you and they may become commonplace in the not too distant future. Only time will tell. The history of mankind has been generous with its surprises and paradoxes.