Bastards -- long (Was: how many bastards are there, anyway?)

Lars Eighner (
4 Sep 1996 00:44:36 -0500

In our last episode <50ht97$>,
Broadcast on alt.folklore.urban,sci.anthropology
The lovely and talented (Bryant) wrote:

>In article <>, Lars Eighner <> wrote:
>>[bryant asked how husbands react to their wives' infidelity in an unnamed
>culture described by Lars...]
>Lars replied:
>>He is delighted, especially if there is some prospect of offspring.
>>The biological father's family will almost certainly attempt to
>>ransom the child. Most of these societies are 1)chronically
>>underpopulated and 2) dependent upon a very labor-intensive
>>economy. The husband gets to keep the child or he gets the offerings
>>of the biological father's family. In either case, he will be
>>wealthier and the biological father's family will be poorer.
>1. You fail to demonstrate that the emotion of jealousy is absent in this
>culture, whatever culture(s) it/they are/may be. Only that men will,
>when hard up for resources, pimp their wives and ransom other fellows' sons.

Of course men are jealous, but of their lovers, not their wives.

Being cuckolded is a bad thing only if children are viewed in the
contemporary urban light, as burdens. Where children are assets, why
should anyone object if some other fellow wants to provide him with
more assets? You fly into a towering rage if you discover someone
has deposited $10,000 in your account?

All of your arguments seem based on this modern perspective of
the woman finding some steady, stick-in-the-mud to marry who
will support the children she has by the hot young stud.

While this may well be an accurate description of heterosexuality
in the American suburb, its universal applicability is highly

Where children are not merely progeny, but are very real economic
assets -- where there is chronic underpopulation and complete
dependence on labor for economic production -- it is more the
case that women bestow their procreative potential on the
steady, sticks-in-the-mud and their lineages and give the
good time Charlie's no more or less than what they bargained
for: a good time. After all, they don't know what genes are:
they do know a son is a source of labor and a daughter will
bring a nice bride-price. Charlie's genes may get a boost,
but Charlie is poorer not getting to be pater to his children.
Charlie does have some hot dates, and after all, that is
what he is interested in.

What is it that is bought with the bride-wealth? It is not
sexual services. It is not the woman herself. It is the
right to her procreative potential. Dudly Dull's lineage
will make extreme sacrifices -- they will all go in to hock --
to raise bride-wealth so Dudly can get a wife. They don't
do it because they think it will clear up Dudly's skin
condition. They don't do it out of charity. They don't
do it because they get tired of hearing Dudly whine about
not having a date on Saturday night. They do it so they can
get to call Dudly's wife's children "one of us." If she
is already pregnant, if she already will bring to the
marriage a couple of kids, the price may be very steep indeed.

They aren't worried whether Dudly's genes will survive for
twelve generations. They need help in the fields now and
this is the only way they can get it -- not now, but in
seven or eight years. This is not to mention those societies
in which the women do all the work and the wife will be
an immediate pay off -- those societies in which the men do
essentially nothing but drink beer and talk about cattle --
you know, societies like in East Africa and Texas.

Someone has to raise the millet to make the beer.

The idea that the woman will get this good-providing Dudly
Dull to be her husband does pretty much overlook the fact
that for most women in most societies in most of history
(and one can speculate -- most of prehistory) women chop
the wood, haul the water, grow the millet (sometimes the
men will exert themselves to take charge of brewing the
beer once the millet has been threshed), gather the fruits
and nuts, and so forth. Where men hunt, their sometime
bounty is not the staple that the group survives on.

Oh, okay, the men will defend the women from the wild animals
and the nasty rapists -- which is what all of the
neighboring peoples are. But wait a minute -- if she is
selecting a warrior to protect her, who looks more like
a warrior, who has the Conanesque qualities she desires?
Is it Dudly Dull? Or is it Goodtime Charlie?

>If real, this is, however, a nice potential example of how emotion can be
>suppressed. 'Very human ability.

As above, of course, people are jealous of their romantic lovers.
There certainly is no question of any human emotion being suppressed.
The idea that husband and wife are to be expected to have a
romantic interest in each other is a very recent occurrence.

Does the word "ethnocentrism" mean anything to you?

Your question is based on the entirely local assumption that
husband and wife will "love" each other, in your entirely
local definition of "love." So if some husband is not
jealous of his wife, he obviously is some bizarre alien being
who has suppressed normal human emotions. Maybe he is
Mr. Spock or maybe he is some ignorant savage, because of
course the only truly human pattern of human relations is
the familiar one that prevails locally -- you know, among
people like us.

But their lovers are the same as their spouses only coincidentally.
Marriage is too serious a business to leave to something
so fickle as romantic love. It is a business. It is the only
business. The homestead is not just where people eat and sleep
and watch The Simpsons. It is the factory, the school, the
hospital, the old folks homes, the data archives, the storehouse,
the bank, etc., etc.

The whole lineage will have to be
involved in raising the bride-price. Naturally they want some
input into this investment. They take the precaution in many
cases of arranging the marriage -- sometimes before the parties
to it are born.

The very idea that romantic love should be a basis for marriage
is an extremely recent arrival. Sure, it is a sort of plausible
idea in an urban-industrial situation. But it doesn't work very
well. The correlation between divorce rates and belief in
romantic marriage is remarkably strong.

>The ransom bit is strange, though; how do the families of the extra-pair
>male copulator know the kid is theirs, and not the husbands??

Because these societies are not equipped with No-Tel Motels.
Everyone, including the husband, knows who is seeing whom.
Of course they don't know for sure, no more than every women
is always sure herself who the father of her child is. It
doesn't matter. If they are successful in ransoming the child,
it is theirs. That is what counts. That one of their guys
was keeping company with her is the basis of their suit.
But if they sue, the actual paternity of the child is immaterial.
Not all of these groups have a perfect understanding of the
facts of human reproduction anyway. Where the seed is thought
to be entirely of the female and the male part a matter of
cultivation, it is not a question of the child being of either
of the males, but that our guy has been cultivating this other
guy's field and we have to see if we can salvage something of
the situation by buying the crop.

>(Again, with feeling: This request for information is not meant as an
>insult or challenge. It is just a request for information! Honestly.)

This stuff is so basic -- my freshman texts are long gone and
that is where these citations are. I can find the citation for
how many spears an Azande might expect to pay as bride-wealth for
his male wife. But as for what bride-wealth is -- who ever expects
to be asked to document that?

At any rate I am typed out for the day. I'll see if there isn't
something around the house that will fit the bill. What text
do they use for the kinship and marriage course at unm, anyway?

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