Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Question For Serious Sci-Fi

I've found sci-fi pretty dull since William Gibson stopped writing any. Gibson took the point of view that things were changing so quickly that near-term sci-fi goes out of date before it's published, and far-term sci-fi lacks sufficient constraints to ever hope for relevance, context, or predictive accuracy. I'm paraphrasing, and may be putting words in Gibson's mouth, but this is at least my general impression of his reasons; and I've seen similar concerns voiced elsewhere.

Anyway, I recently read Sex At Dawn, an examination of sex from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, and vice versa, which revisits, revises, and categorically obliterates the usual stereotypes of human sexuality as understood from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, and in the process completely discredits the pickup artist clich├ęs of alpha males and "displaying higher value." From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, monogamy and marriage are very recent and unusual phenomena which run counter to the fundamentals of human sexuality.

This is a great question for science fiction to take on. There are at least two very interesting interpretations, both potential goldmines of controversy. Monogamous marriage developed alongside agriculture as a way to manage the effects of reproduction on economies. The first controversial interpretation is that monogamy is a destructive maladaptation, like agriculturally derived diets. The second controversial interpretation is that monogamy is a powerful technology which, in supporting the economics of the agricultural era, enabled humans to take over the world and become the planet's dominant species.

Obviously, both interpretations may be correct, and yet one brands monogamy a harmful thing, while the other names it a hero.

The non-monogamous mating patterns of tribal hunter-gatherer societies also pose very interesting questions because of the Snow Crash prediction that post-industrial society fragments and becomes tribal. If such a process is already underway, one would expect some decay in the institutions of monogamy in the world today, and of course anecdotal evidence for this is easy to find, most obviously in the history of the 1960s and 1970s and the very high divorce rate.

However, it seems overbold to call post-industrial society truly tribal, as it is not and will not be possible without education, technology, and many other systems not native to the tribal model and probably not sustainable under it. Therefore you have this very interesting dynamic of society becoming more tribal-ish but never really tribal per se, and this interesting conflict of monogamy the destructive maladaptation versus monogamy the world-changing innovation. The potential for controversy, complication, and pure human drama here is absolutely immense, as you already know if you've ever made the immensely time-consuming mistake of asking a polyamorist to describe their relationships in detail.