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Monday, July 19, 2010

Polygamy Makes Unmarried Men Criminals?

Canadian scholar Joseph Henrich has some negative things to say about polygamy, polygyny especially. He filed a paper in the British Columbia Supreme Court in a trial over polygamy.

In a hypothetical society of 20 men and 20 women, 12 men with the highest status marry 12 women. (It's always only the highest-ranking men in polygynous societies that get multiple wives.)

Then, the top five take a second wife and the top two men take a third. Finally, the top guy takes a fourth.

The result is that 58 per cent of the marriages are monogamous.

Monogamous in the legal sense, not necessarily in the sexual sense.

But -and this is the big deal -it means 40 per cent of the men remain unmarried.

The mistake here is assuming that those other women would want one of those unmarried men rather than legally sharing the man they did marry (clearly, they didn't as they married the men they did), and that the unmarried men would in turn want to marry them. Some of those men may want to marry men. Why not allow people to marry the person or people of their choice, even if they share a gender or share a parent? Why try to force people to settle?

Also, the system is not closed. There are billions of people in the world and more and more people are reaching the age and status of eligibility every second.

And the studies Henrich cites -from historical, frontier-American research to contemporary work done in countries where polygamy is legal -indicate that groups of unmarried men create havoc.

"For males, getting married (monogamously) is a prophylactic against engaging in crime, social disruption and other socially undesirable activities," he writes.

I can’t believe defense attorneys haven't picked up on this. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client can’t be guilty of this crime. He’s married!” Or is the truth that married men commit crime, too? Come to think of it, maybe the men in the hypothetical community of 40 who don’t get married are violent people. Is it better that they have a wife to beat instead of committing crimes on the street? I don’t want to be the one who tells a woman she can’t marry the man/men or woman/women she wants; rather, she has to marry a less desirable man so that he can take his aggression out on her.

In India and China, where male-biased sex selection has resulted in more men than women, researchers found "bachelor bands that compete ferociously and engage in aggressive, violent and anti-social activities."

Great. So now we not only have to finish our dinner because of the people in India and China, but we can’t marry the people we want because of the people in those countries, too.

Another social harm that Henrich says is consistent regardless of whether researchers use data from 19th-century Mormon communities or contemporary African societies is that children from polygynous families have considerably lower survival rates. It seems polygynous men, rather than investing in their offspring, use their money to add wives.

And this has nothing to do with life on the frontier, poverty, tribal violence, lack of medical care, and a distrust of science?

Canada is ahead of the USA when it comes to the freedom to marry. They should keep moving forward and recognize polygamy. Scholars can be found to oppose any increase in freedom. I ask the court to consider this: If your brother or sister or son or daughter wanted to marry more than one person, would you want them to be denied their happiness?
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