sexual selection04 Mar 2006
Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is being challenged by a new theory:
The Stanford group says sexual selection theory wrongly models interactions between the sexes as competitive. The group has a new theory, social selection, which models mate selection as a cooperative game where parties seek to maximize group welfare.
Darwinian sexual selection is a theory of conflict: It asserts that men and women have different goals in terms of what they look for in a partner. Males want to have sex with several females in order to create as many offspring as possible, while females want to have sex with very few, high-quality males, who will give their eggs the best genes.
This is one of those theories that is considered a “Dangerous Idea” because once introduced and accepted, it takes on a life of its own, setting the tone for centuries of social institutions operating on those assumptions, e.g. social Darwinism. It’s a lot easier to live and die by “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game” if you are confident it’s genetically prescribed. It’s interesting to see this particular idea challenged.
Large portions of our social and economic history are predicated on assumptions of a Hobbesian “state of nature”, where competitive “kill or be killed” selection is the rule of the land. And yet, there’s a growing body of evidence and theory that suggests there’s plenty of room and justification for cooperative advantage in genetic selection. This in particular is one book on that topic that looks interesting.