Monday, May 14, 2012

Credit Where Credit Is Due: The Elegant Design of Hypergamy

Hypergamy as an instinct causes terrific problems in our society, probably moreso than the flip side for males, the instinct towards polygamy.  But today I'll leave off any such judgment and look at the design of the instincts.

Whether you come at this from an intelligent design/creationist perspective or an evolutionary psychology perspective, you get to more or less the same place.

This is because, if your priors are to expect design, you will see design.  Design and massive amounts of code reuse---cut & paste jobs with a few parameters tweaked, and mutational load providing the metaphor for bugs.
If on the other hand you expect to see evolution and common descent, that's what you'll see---essentially most systems occupying at least a LOCAL maximum of fitness.

So let's look at hypergamy---the instinct of woman to go after the highest status men they're able to keep (and sometimes higher than that).  How does this design work?
When you think about it, this is really a hard problem.  What is high status is a slippery question, and any single person's 'status estimator' is going to be VERY inaccurate indeed.  I mean---what the hell do you do as a designer?  Set the estimator to value physical size and strength?  That'll work for a lot of historical societies, but some work nearly the reverse of that (check out the history of the word 'Restaurant', where for a period, being of somewhat weak and delicate constitution was high status in France, which was the status leader of much of the world).  Set it to evaluate raw economic power?  Again, this is better than nothing, but even so, societies where the richest classes aren't the highest status ones are pretty common.
So how does the neurotypical woman's status estimator actually work?
It works by performing what amounts to a sensor fusion of what she can estimate for a given man, what status he behaves as if he possesses, with a huge correction applied for how her competition (other women) estimate the status of that man.  When you think about it, this is probably the best design you could come up with, given that it has to be relatively stationary compared to the rate of social and cultural evolution.  It comprehends the fact that it is inherently very unreliable, and uses the estimates of its peers to refine its estimate.  And, given the fact that status for men is such a nebulous thing, to a great extent, it's estimates BECOME the reality.  You're not going to suffer much relative to the competition if your estimator is buggy in some cosmic sense as long as theirs is buggy in largely the same ways.  It doesn't have the immediate feedback of reality in the same way that say, a faulty range estimator in your 'fire control' software would.

The design for men to evaluate how attractive a woman is can be, and is, a whole lot simpler.  Essentially, all you have to do is look at her.  This means that the ways of 'hacking' that algorithm have a much lower return, even though the industries that make such hacking products are pretty large.

For women though, the status estimator is a strong, high value target for such social hacking.  All three components of it get worked pretty hard.  Consider, if Tim Tebow were to take a fairly ordinary woman out on a date---something he has done on several instances for young women with massive health problems---would this raise that woman's attractiveness to men?  Obviously not, it might even lower it as a lot of men would presume, possibly correctly, that they couldn't make her tingle anywhere near as much as Mr Tebow.

Now compare that to an exceptionally attractive woman accompanying an average man on a date and presenting the appearance that he was the center of the universe, at least insofar as she is concerned.  Will this raise his status relative to the opposite sex?  I don't think YES is quite affirmative enough.
Those who aren't neurotypical should exercise more humility than is usually the case in their view of neurotypicals.  YOUR algorithms for determining value in the social arena haven't been the subject of thousands of years of people learning how to game them.


Steve Sailer said...


Along these lines, I was fascinated by a recent offhand comment by tech guy Jaron Lanier that nobody has yet written the history of the role of women in Silicon Valley. The impression I got was that very bright, very social ladies in Silicon Valley have introduced a lot of the extremely bright, not very social nerds at the core of successful start-ups to each other, the way salon hostesses in 18th Century France introduced so many of the philosophes to each other. But maybe that's the wrong impression ...

Jehu said...

I agree that a lot of such men used to outsource an awful lot of their family social functioning to their wives. Are marriages of that sort (seriously complementary with heavy specialization) terribly common in Silicon Valley anymore?