Home > Morality > Miley Cyrus and Human Pair Bonding in Equilibrium

Miley Cyrus and Human Pair Bonding in Equilibrium

I don’t know much about, or follow, Miley Cyrus.   Still, since Twerk-gate, I’ve been asking myself what the phenomenon of Miley Cyrus teaches the rest of us about ourselves–and perhaps about her future.

In particular, the question that I want to ask is this:  Is Miley a Madonna, or is she a Marilyn Monroe?  Here’s what I mean by that.   Both women used sex to enhance their fame… but they each ended very differently.   I suppose that Madonna could still end badly, but it certainly seems as though she has ended her career rich and as well-adjusted as any of us… probably better than most, in truth.   Marilyn Monroe, on the other hand did not.

Yes, really, I’m going to use Miley Cyrus to talk about game theory, because I am just that much of a geek.

My point is not to get moralistic here, but instead to explore the issue of human sexuality as dispassionately as I can.  I want to use these two women to explore the subtleties of human pair bonding, in particular I’ll present the skeleton for a model of evolutionary game theory which predicts two likely outcomes (Madonna and Marilyn) from a “promiscuous” strategy (as opposed to monogamous) and then I’ll attempt to place Miley in one of those bins.

Why Pair-Bonding?

I’m not an anthropologist, but my understanding of the current state of understanding human pair bonding as an evolutionary adaptation is basically this:

  1. Increasing brain size in hominids put a great deal of evolutionary pressure on human reproduction:  Any mother will tell you that it’s very difficult to pass the head through the birth canal.
  2. This evolutionary pressure led to human births at an earlier state of development for the baby.   This is also true, to a lesser degree, in other apes.
  3. Hence, evolutionary mechanisms which facilitate child-rearing will be strongly selected for… in humans, that generally means that parents will bond as a couple.
  4. That is:  Sex allows humans to “imprint” (“fall in love”) with our partners, so that offspring can be raised by two parents instead of one.

That’s the basic story.   Of course, I doubt I need to convince anyone who might read this that humans are not quite so monogamous as this story implies, but more monogamous than other animals.  Supporting this hypothesis, there are other monogamous apes who are in fact more likely to be monogamous than other mammals as the outline above would predict.   So, the large brain => monogamy story outlined above likely has at least some truth to it.

Eusocial Polygamy?

Then, there are our closest relatives: chimpanzees… actually, the closely related Bonobo, a species famous for its promiscuous nature.

The point I wan to make with this is that the Bonobo uses sex as a means of communal rather than pair bonding.   Sex is the glue that holds the society together (diffuses conflicts, welcomes newcomers, etc), a kind of eusocial adaptation.   Think about it:  if none of the males can be certain who fathered which kids, they have the incentive to cooperate in the rearing of all the group’s offspring.  Forget about having two parents, in this social setting, everyone has a dozen parents.

Two Evolutionary Strategies

So, consider this hypothesis:  humans are not monogamous pair-bonders, but rather our sexual tendencies are a “mixed” evolutionary strategy between these two extremes.  We are, primarily pair-bonders, but at some rate, people are born with the polygamous pair-bonding gene.  Which is to say that some of us are born psychologically better prepared for communal child-rearing and polygamy and others for pair-bonding and monogamy.

After all, humans really do exhibit some eusociality and are obviously not entirely monogamous.   What if there is just a little Bonobo in each of our psychic make-ups?

Madonna and Mixed Strategy Child-rearing

Now, I’m getting closer to my original question.   First, though, I need to take a slight detour and ask what the difference is between a strategy which is a deviation from the equilibrium strategy and a mixed strategy which is a part of the equilibrium.

In this case, the hypothesis is that there are some individuals with a eusocial polygamous attitude toward sex as part of the equilibrium strategy.   These individuals are born at a constant rate, and their existence is part of the glue which holds the society together… and it is for this reason, that we’d expect these types to be tolerated by society and reasonably well-adjusted (i.e. no worse-off psychologically than the rest of us).

It is these types that I’m calling Madonnas.  Madonnas use sex to smooth over social situations.   They are built, psychologically, to not only handle many partners but also the social shunning that goes with it.   Part of my hypothesis is that these types have a very social view of children and child-rearing… the real Madonna is also famous for her adoption of African children which suggests to me a very eusocial attitude on her part toward child-rearing.  I am simply hypothesizing that the existence of people like her are a part of our genetic make-up and show up regularly in healthy societies.

As an aside, let me state that I am implicitly imagining evolution acting on both the structure of society, the genes of the individuals within it and the psychology of those individuals.   All of those things are passed on to children, and so we should regard them all within a single evolutionary process.   The promiscuous are shunned in most societies to reinforce the more common pair-bonding strategy, but polygamy to some degree is allowed in all societies, as is a collective responsibility to child-rearing… and our genes give all individuals some propensity to be either type (depending on of psychological upbringing) with our willingness to help raise the offspring of others a result of the delicate dance between all these forces.

That’s the mixed strategy that I have in mind, and the women I call Madonnas are an integral part of it.

Deviants and Marilyns

Of course, our society’s “genes” really exist in a continuum.  So, a deviant is someone whose make-up is outside the norm.    That is, they are mutants; although mutants here includes their psychological make-up within social structures.  When these deviants are of the promiscuous variety, it is entirely possible that they are not built, psychologically, to handle the social stigma that comes with that position.  This is what it means to be a mutant in my setup.

Let’s call them Marilyns… society reacts to all promiscuous types the same way, they are shunned, but the Marilyn type (unlike the Madonnas) can’t handle it because she’s not carrying quite the correct genes (or upbringing) to have the psychological make-up to shake it off.  We might hypothesize that her life is always at risk of a kind of downward spiral of sex, social stigma and substance abuse: she is a player in the evolutionary game who refused to play by the rules and is worse off for it.

So which is Miley?

That’s a good question.

On the one hand, her (to me) desperate attempts to capture fame and attention are prima facie evidence that she has strong eusocial tendencies which might suggest she’s a Madonna type.

Somehow I don’t think so, though… from what I know of her behavior there is a certain recklessness to Miley (apparently she’s spitting on people now) which suggests to me that she doesn’t think much of her audience.   That would suggest deviant (in the game theory sense) to me.   I think she’s a Marilyn and if I’m right about that, it’s only a matter of time before sex tapes and drug abuse become the story.

Poor Miley… let’s hope that she ends up better off than the real Marilyn.

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