Darwin, Mallory and civilization

In The Descent of Man Darwin discusses our evolution through natural selection and also examines the changes wrought by “sexual selection,” changes differentiating the sexes like those in bird plumage but also across many flora and fauna.  His meaning by sexual selection seems to be that these changes may affect natural selection indirectly but there is no reason to think they would increase their frequency in the gene pool otherwise.  He cites several differences between the males and females of Homo saoiens and goes on to present anthropological studies about how strong men ‘get’ and keep desirable women, so weaker men ‘get’ none or have the undesirable ones from which to choose.  (He has already discussed the males greater initiative in seeking a mate).  He then adds, “With civilized people the arbitrament of battle for the possession of the women has long ceased; on the other hand, the men, as a general rule, have to work harder than the women for their joint subsistence.”  The latter clause about work is now classed a bad “oops”.

It was the first clause about civilization caught my eye.  Thomas Mallory wrote M’orte d’Arthur” in the late 1400s; it was the first rendering of the Arthurian legends in English and contributed to the development of chivalry and noblesse oblige and knightly valor.  In it one knight, Sir Tristram (as brave and virtuous a knight as ever there was, excepting maybe Launcelot himself) is challenged by another knight to a contest for their women–the winner to take the more desirable one and the other woman would have her head cut off (now that’s chivalry).  Of course this other knight put the ladies to contest first.  Sir Tristram’s lady (now there is a whole other tale) was clearly the winner, so in his primacy Sir Tristram cut off the other lady’s head and the other knight’s after he refuses to yield.

Darwin’s writing in 1878, Mallory 1485; during this time some civilizing change happened.  Now between Darwin and human mating today?.  Though words may change, the tune remains the same. There seems another evolutionary change at least culturally in that women now have a more equal status and are not marital property of the husband as they were around Darwin’s day.  At least in some countries.   And so we travel on.

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