This doesn't affect the point of your article, but I was thinking that it may account for some details of Ali's behavior: Specifically his touching you may have been the most intensely pleasurable sexual experience he had during that year. I remember reading a letter to an advice columnist from a young woman, "In high school I though boys had special nerves in their hands ..." Which of course, boys do -- if they touch skin that has the typical female layer of subcutaneous fat, it activates their pleasure center. (This is not maladaptive. As some "pick-up artists" say, properly graduated touch increases a woman's attraction to a man.) So while all of the "global" questions you raise remain, beware that Ali's specific actions may have mostly been motivated by the emotions of the moment, rather than in subservience to some overall societal plot against women. (That last idea is remarkably common in the US.)

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This is such an excellent piece, and the first of yours I have read. Definitely subscribing for the “to be continued”

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Jun 19·edited Jun 19

Have you read Lorenzo Warby's substack ever?

I think he does a good job explaining the framework of the civilizations of Islam and Christianity.

The basic idea is that Islam is essentially preserving the pastoral tribal culture which is inherently chaotic and (when the tribes are paternal) male sexuality reigns supreme, whereas Christianity is preserving the farming, Greek-Roman culture, in which the community, government and church reign supreme.

To me, the greatest wonder is the fact that Islam has maintained such a chaotic culture for so long, and in some ways seems to be gaining the upper hand over Western culture. I guess this is testimony to the fragility of the Western government-centered and community-centered culture.

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I have read some posts by Lorenzo. In general, he is a too wild thinker even for me. But I definitely agree with his ideas about the origins of Islam and Christianity. Christianity originated in a much more complex society than Islam and that is clearly showing in the core teachings of the respective religions. Religions become what people make of them. Individual Muslims or groups of Muslims who want to excert self-mastery can definitely use aspects of Islam for that. But it is also possible to interpret Islam as basically a collection of laws that are supposed to make tribes cooperate better.

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Jun 21·edited Jun 21

I definitely agree with everything you wrote. I certainly never meant to imply that there aren't good Muslims or that Islam doesn't have valuable teachings.

Where I differ is that I don't view everything through the prism of progress to a more complex society. Rather, I view these religions as emphasizing two facets of human nature. Islam is about recognizing the hard to control, chaotic and tribal part of human nature and learning how to master it. I think the acknowledgement of this facet of human nature is something that is missing from Western society. This was the intention of my final sentence.

I think this is latent in much of your writings about evolutionary psychology and the need for high fertility. It seems that Western society has succeeded in creating an extremely high-functioning complex society. However, they seem to be failing in shaping a functioning lasting form of humanity.

(From a Judaic perspective too, I view these 2 religions as having distinct roles which are necessary for the development of human society.)

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>>From a Judaic perspective too, I view these 2 religions as having distinct roles which are necessary for the development of human society.

I have thought about that: If Christianity his the from-within, individualist religion while Islam is the rule-based religion, what is Judaism? From an outside perspective, Judaism looks as rule-focused as Islam. Would you say that Judaism represents both worlds at once? (That wouldn't be very strange, given that both Christianity and Islam have obvious roots in Judaism).

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>> Would you say that Judaism represents both worlds at once? (That wouldn't be very strange, given that both Christianity and Islam have obvious roots in Judaism).

I feel like this is a rhetorical question. Wouldn't you say that it would be strange to think otherwise, given that both Christianity and Islam have obvious roots in Judaism?

The real questions are what is behind a "rule-based religion", what is behind a "from-within, individualist religion", why each religion chose their specific aspect and what it means to synthesize the two.

Is this what you are asking? Is this the conversation you are interested in having?

The truth is that I was leading to this discussion in my previous 2 comments. However, I feel uncomfortable pushing the envelope on this. I added that final sentence hesitantly and therefore put it in parentheses. I am not looking to push my own religious perspective here. But I am very interested in getting your opinion on this approach, to the extent that you are interested.

Do you follow what I wrote in the last 2 comments (together with what I have written elsewhere)? Do you agree? Do you understand what sort of synthesis I am aiming for?

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Jun 23·edited Jun 23Author

No, no, it wasn't a rhetorical question. I really am this naive. I know rather little about Judaism, partially because I have read too little about it and partially because it is a both complex and a bit introverted religion. I have been wondering for quite some time how Judaism relates to the different foundations of Christianity and Islam. When I saw that sentence I thought like 'Bingo! I can finally ask that question to someone who can give a relevant answer.'

Whenever I encounter an expert of any kind, I try to ask questions when possible. It is a bit naive, but it teaches me things. Maybe you are not an expert of Judaism in Lakewood. But for me, you definitely are.

Edit: On topic:

>>Do you follow what I wrote in the last 2 comments (together with what I have written elsewhere)? Do you agree? Do you understand what sort of synthesis I am aiming for?

I think I'm only halfway there. In some sense I understand what you mean and in another sense I think I'm missing some parts of your line of thought that will probably become clearer to me later.

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I apologize for those parts about ignoring me. I only saw your edit after I wrote my response.

I am working on a response for the main part that I think you are probably missing. However, it is hard without you expressing which part you get and what you feel you are missing.

On the other hand, perhaps you are right that this is something that must be developed as part of a larger picture.

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>> because it is a both complex and a bit introverted religion

I think the second follows the first. We are introverted because our religion is complicated and details of it are often taken out of context. We generally are not willing to open up too much to strangers unless we see that they are really searching to understand and are willing to do what it takes to learn.

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I really shouldn't have written that. I am very sorry if anything I write comes off as patronizing or sharp. In general, I am accustomed to sharp Talmudic dialectic, and it may show in my writing.

The question you asked was an astute question. In fact, it was a bingo moment for me when I saw the question. (More on that later.) And your search for knowledge is impressive, certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. (As Jews we are taught "Who is a wise person? The one who learns from all people. Tractate Avot 4:1 https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/14545.5?lang=bi&p2=Pirkei_Avot.4.1&lang2=bi)

The truth is that I responded this way mainly to bring out that I consider this the logical conclusion, though perhaps a Muslim or Christian would differ. (I originally added the word almost, but I dropped it before posting.) I guess just asking this question acknowledges the extent to which Judaism is "the original (Abrahamic-monotheist) religion" which the others borrowed from, which then invites a host of other questions.

Now for full disclosure on my side. I wouldn't call myself an expert on Judaism. However, after the October 7 pogrom I wrote an essay on this exact topic. It was based almost entirely on Biblical and Rabbinic sources. When I later saw Lorenzo Warby's writings it was a bingo moment, and again when I read this essay, and once again when I read this question.

Back to the topic at hand. I would like to make one more attempt to formulate my thoughts on this issue. I am very interested to know whether you agree with me and to what extent. However, if you would like to ignore me, feel free to do so. And if you feel I am veering from the topic of the post to discuss my religion, please, please let me know.

There are 2 issues here.

The first is that a rule-based religion is too simple a definition, even as simplified definitions go. I think your essay here does a better job defining the roots of Islam.

Christianity has (or had) rules that Islam didn't, i.e., against divorce and cousin marriage. So, the true contrast is that Christianity stressed individuality and self-responsibility (including faithfulness to one's marriage vows), whereas Islam recognized humans' chaotic and tribal nature, and instituted rules so this nature will not go out of control. Obviously, there are historical reasons for this, but that doesn't necessarily mean that these 2 memes don't have lasting valuable memes.

(Judaism is somewhere in the middle regarding divorce. Additionally, the laws of Judaism are not primarily intended to be memorized as in Islam, or to be modified as necessary by the church. Rather, the ideal is for everyone to internalize Talmudic logic so they can issue their own rulings and live their lives in this spirit.)

The next part is that I believe that Western society today is failing not merely because they have not yet developed a high enough level of civilization but because they fail to recognize the basic chaotic and tribal nature of humanity. Ignoring that and focusing on creating the perfect state leads to a welfare state and a feminized society with little space for humanity to thrive in its natural state and little incentive to invest in fertility. And the eroding of memes that remind one of the natural human tendencies to chaotic behavior can cause problems, as Arnold Kling mentioned in his blog post when referencing this essay. Therefore, I think society today needs to find a synthesis of these 2 memes.

I assume you differ with this last part, as it doesn't seem to fit with the evolutionary ideas you depicted in your most recent essay. On the other hand, you do believe that religion will inherit the world. I am very curious to understand your position on this, but if you aren't interested or feel our views are too far apart on this, so be it.

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This is all superb but I have two small things I'd like to add that I was told in Lebanon, the first by a taxi driver and the second by a scholar: One, "the only thing sicker than Arab politics is Arab society" and two "the only western idea Arabs have ever found attractive is Nazism."

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Interesting -- my initial reaction was "There are a lot of religions in Lebanon, these people criticizing Islam, were they Muslim, Christian, or what?" But I re-read it more carefully, and you say *Arab* and all Lebanese classify themselves as Arabs. So it wasn't some guy snarking about The Other Religion.

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Have you ever read Theodor Dalrymple's "Life at the Bottom"? particularly this essay? https://www.city-journal.org/article/tough-love-3

It is... kind of disturbing to me how much of that book seemed to be repeated in your observations here.

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Yes, I read it just a few months ago. Most of all I found the criticism of women's taste in men interesting. Now women are widely accused of being picky. In the early 2000s, when Theodore Dalrymple wrote that book, they were (rightly) accused of being too unpicky before having children with lower-class men.

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I've read some of Dalrymple. My read of this concept (and it is likely biased by my pop-science reading) is that lower-class women are picky, they just don't choose men based on their earning potential and willingness to support a wife and children.

Rather, they have more of a taste for men who are physically strong and dominant over other men. I attribute this to an environment where children are more economically supported by state benefits than by fathers but protection against violence is more provided by an aggressive patron male than the state's police.

Though I don't trust this conclusion until I track down considerably better descriptive sociology about the subcultures in question.

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Were there enough decent, non-violent, faithful potential husbands for lower-class women in the early 2000s? Or would some women have ended up with the violent and untrustworthy men regardless of pickiness, if they didn't want to stay single?

I definitely believe that women do select violent men because they prefer violent men. But I also suspect that there is a real lack of potential good husbands. Especially in some environments.

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I think there's probably a class difference there in pickiness. I just found it fascinating that the lower classes T.D. observed seemed to be resorting to the same tribal behaviors you described in this article as societal breakdowns have occurred. It fascinates me.

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That is extremely fascinating. I have a finished, or close-to-finished, unpublished draft about the phenomenon you describe. Your comments make me feel a bit motivated to publish it.

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I look forward to reading it!

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You’d make an incredible professional anthropologist, but we all need good tools to use. With all due respect, please read more updated anthropology books, and ones from a variety of different theoretical backgrounds.

Also, please look at the very serious ethical charges that have been levied against Napoleon Chagnon (I wasn’t there, so I don’t know). Does this invalidate his research? I don’t know.

Sincerely, a professional anthropologist

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>>please read more updated anthropology books, and ones from a variety of different theoretical backgrounds.

I would love to! Any specific suggestions?

>>Also, please look at the very serious ethical charges that have been levied against Napoleon Chagnon (I wasn’t there, so I don’t know). Does this invalidate his research? I don’t know.

I have looked at them, and written a bit about them here https://woodfromeden.substack.com/p/violent-enough-to-stand-still

I have also read Kenneth and David Good's respective memoirs. They consider themselves ideological (and, in Kenneth's case, personal) opponents of Napoleon Chagnon. Still, on a concrete level, they report similar incidents from Yanomamö culture.

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Tove, I admire your openness to ask this. I was the slightest bit concerned that you might interpret my critique as aggressive (but I didn’t think you would). And I would more than happy to send you a list of suggestions! It’ll be a week or so, but I will definitely send it. Be well, and til soon!

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This post makes me see the tremendous value in the commandments not to commit adultery and not to covet your neighbor's wife. Not only is it terrible for the woman who is Subjected to men's desires at the expense of her own safety--but the endless squabbling over women prevents societal flourishing. Muslim cultures also have the ten commandments, why have the commandments had less power to control male sexual impulses?

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Men are crazy.

Backwards Islamic culture is simply the worst way to give them a blank check to behave.

Then those countries fail and they invade Western societies, which should have never happened.

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Why would Muslim cultures have the Ten Commandments? They’re not in the Quran.

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Islam claims to respect and accept the teachings of the OT, though with modifications.

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I found this essay - and the comment thread conversation it generated - absolutely fascinating. And it left me with this bizarre thought: imagine if this conversation was taking place on some prime-time Western politics chat show/discussion forum (something like BBC Question Time).....what would the audience make of it?

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If it were about Duke lacrosse players, for instance?

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There would be screeching accusations of racism from the third world migrants who invaded Western countries to live off benefits while playing the victim.

Importing third world Islamic migrants to the West has been one of the most destructive policies ever implemented.

Who is behind it? Why can't it be stopped? Those are the questions to ask.

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So this is an article I've waited for from you for a long time. More than once, Mrs. Apple Pie and I privately speculated that you "spent too much time in the Middle East" when we'd see your articles about male sexual jealousy. But I don't think we expected such a very well written piece!

I will grant that it's *possible* that this kind of honor culture completely dominated by male lust is indeed a phase every culture has gone through. And I agree that this de-facto enslavement of women has played a massive role throughout hundreds of thousands of years of prehistory, which is how women ended up with domestication syndrome ( https://thingstoread.substack.com/p/how-did-humans-domesticate-themselves?utm_source=publication-search ). But at the same time I think human societies are far too varied for this kind of thing to have been an inevitable phase that all human societies passed through, and I'm confident that your claim that "All societies before the 20th century oppressed women" is wrong.

Definitely the routine oppression of women is uncommon in individualist societies at either side of the agrarian collectivist pit, whether you're talking about modern Western society or the !Kung. I like this quote by Patricia Draper, which I think does a good job at getting what I mean:


"The point to be developed at some length is that in the hunting and gathering context, women have a great deal of autonomy and influence. Some of the contexts in which this egalitarianism is expressed will be described in detail, and certain features of the foraging life which promote egalitarianism will be isolated. They are: women's subsistence contribution and the control women retain over the food they have gathered; the requisites of foraging in the Kalahari which entail a similar degree of mobility for both sexes; the lack of rigidity in sex-typing of many adult activities, including domestic chores and aspects of child socialization; the cultural sanction against physical expression of aggression; the small group size; and the nature of the settlement pattern.

Features of sedentary life that appear to be related to a decrease in women's autonomy and influence are: increasing rigidity in sex-typing of adult work; more permanent attachment of the individual to a particular place and group of people; dissimilar childhood socialization for boys and girls; decrease in the mobility of women as contrasted with men; changing nature of women's subsistence contribution; richer material inventory with implications for women's work; tendency for men to have greater access to and control over such important resources as domestic animals, knowledge of Bantu language and culture, wage work; male entrance into extra-village politics; settlement pattern; and increasing household privacy."

Once you fall into the agrarian pit of what Draper describes as "sedentary life," there's definitely a much greater chance women become chattel slaves. But even collectivist cultures like Egypt with their stultifying inequality had unveiled women and female pharaohs. Culture is incredibly varied.

Unfortunately I suppose that to justify why I'm so insistent that culture is so varied, and why this line of thought you're fleshing out here is fascinating but only part of a much larger story, I'd have to write several posts of my own, which I definitely don't have time to do right now!

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Jun 14·edited Jun 14

I think you would find the book "Myths of Male Dominance" by Elanor Burke Leacock interesting. She challenges the idea that females were oppressed throughout history and documents it with numerous examples of pre-agricultural cultures with egalitarian gender relations. Quite an interesting read.

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Jun 13·edited Jun 13Author

>>I will grant that it's *possible* that this kind of honor culture completely dominated by male lust is indeed a phase every culture has gone through.

I think it is much more complicated than that. In the absence of law enforcement, SOME kind of honor culture is inevitable. But the Middle Eastern kill-your-sister culture actually seems rather specific. I assume that all societies go through phases of honor culture. But honor doesn't have to be linked to gender oppression much at all.

>>I'm confident that your claim that "All societies before the 20th century oppressed women" is wrong.

It depends on the definition of gender oppression, I guess. I think that I can confidently say that I have no reason to be envious of the women of any society in any part of the world at any time in (known) history. Indeed they lacked both modern obstetric care and Substack, but I'm also not envious of their gender roles. Wherever I look, women seem in a worse position than me.

>>Culture is incredibly varied.

Indeed it is. Finding any meaningful patterns at all is a very difficult sport.

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Over the long term this type of [honor] culture would not create an environment that would actively select for female choice. Female choice would only survive in an allotype that was super-picky enough to successfully avoid the choices of others (family selection or the random strangers' choices). If this was the case in the neolithic it would explain by inertia a birthrate decline by the super-picky who have more choice to ignore. ... This is very simplistic, and so probs wrong.

Given the window of fertility is a small part of the life one has to allocate resources to over decades, there are other opportunities seen as better bets (except they are not as so many childless feel it was a mistake they made without knowing they were making a choice at all....)

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TL;DR That environment would select for not having children at all, i.e. it would not select for women to choose to have children.

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This brings up a thought I have had before.

Which is that one way to see the change of social norms in recent years (ok, I’ll say it: woke stuff) is simply the result of women reaching a sort of critical mass of numbers and power in many workplaces.

The rules of behavior must be renegotiated once men and women are constantly working together as more or less equals.

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It's difficult to make sense of an entire different cultural style, like an honor society. Without remembering that we are looking at an evolved product that serves many purposes that are invisible to us. We focus on how this changes for instance the relation between the sexes, but there are deep other effects that may contribute to its durability and worldwide of popularity that have nothing to do with it.

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Continuing on your commentary of Western Proto-Indo European cultures, Tacitus's Germania (98 AD) describes the marital culture of early Germanic tribes leaning toward monogamy, even before Christian conversion.

"They are almost unique among barbarians in being content with one wife apiece - all of them, that is, except a very few who take more than one wife not to satisfy their desires but because their exalted rank brings them many pressing offers of matrimonial alliances."

While women have relatively relaxed clothing restrictions regarding the exposure of skin, adultery is reportedly rare, and punished severely:

"The dress of the women differs from that of the men in two respects only: women often wear outer garments of linen ornamented with a purple pattern; and as the upper part of these is sleeveless, the whole of their arms, and indeed the parts of their breasts nearest the shoulders, are exposed.

Their marriage code, however, is strict, and no feature of their morality deserves higher praise[....] Adultery is extremely rare, considering the size of the population. A guilty wife is summarily punished by her husband. He cuts off her hair, strips her naked, and in the presence of kinsmen turns her out of his house and flogs her all through the village."

It appears that even in relatively primitive phases of Western European culture, we can see an culture of greater male complacency with monogamy. Still, there is heavy punishment for adultery, but discouraging women from committing adultery doesn't seem to require as much concealing and guarding them from unrelated men.

Part of this is that when monogamy is the norm, the dynamic of many single men competing for scarce women is weakened, but we also see that marriage is delayed according to Tacitus, which suggests a culture of sexual restraint in adolescence (early signs of the Western European marriage pattern):

"The young men are slow to mate, and thus they reach manhood with vigour unimpaired. The girls, too, are not hurried into marriage. As old and full-grown as the men, they match their mates in age and strength, and the children inherit the robustness of their parents."

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Some thoughts:

One factor among the Yanomamo is that they have essentially no wealth. So whatever advantages a man possesses at a moment can only be made into long-term value by producing more children at about that time. I note that the Maduzi have herds and land, which will induce men to have a longer-term attitude.

I suspect that among Arab men, attempting sexuality when alone with a woman is considered to be necessary for masculinity. You describe Ali's behavior, but he doesn't seem to have been disappointed or discouraged by your constant rejection of him. Indeed, I am amused at the thought that he might have been terrified if you had seemed to accept his advances, as his culture would make him consider that it would be starting a potentially deadly conflict with Anders. Also, what is considered acceptance and rejection is always subject to cultural norms. I remember Chagnon's statement "The Yanomamo [men] do not take no for an answer if it is not seething with rage and hatred, which after six months, it is."

I am also reminded of my very short attempt to learn French from a set of casette tapes. After a while, I noticed that most of the sample conversations were between a man and a woman, and they mostly were superficially structured as attempted seductions, whatever the actual topic was. It led me to wonder if French culture simply values such conversational forms per se. Indeed, I once read a news story that claimed that French election campaigns are conceptualized as being similar to seductions, and how one presidential candidate had failed to seduce the voters and thus lost the election.

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>>You describe Ali's behavior, but he doesn't seem to have been disappointed or discouraged by your constant rejection of him.

Unfortunately he was. It just took some time, but over the months the mood soured between us because of my lack of intention to have sex with him and his lack of acceptance of that decision. And Anders clearly wasn't terrifying to him (they even met, eventually, although without speaking with each other): I guess that according to Arab norms, man who allows his girlfriend to travel alone can't be a very terrifying person. In general, people didn't seem to expect that much chastity from women either. When I said that I was engaged, a typical follow-up question was: "But do you have anyone here?"

I have read a book about that annoying French phenomenon. If I could only remember the name of it. It can have been "What French Women Know" by Debra Ollivier. But I'm not sure.

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To your first thought: Interesting! My ignorant general theory is that almost all "conservative" (in this case, heavy restrictions on women) social values are inversely correlated to wealth. If your society is barely surviving, you need to heavily minimize intra-group conflict, maximize population growth, maximize availability of stronger members for defense - all of which leads to women being treated... not so great. But if you have built a far wealthier society, where intra-group conflict is less destructive, you have other methods of increasing the wealth of society other than population, and strong defense already, then your society can afford better social conditions for women.

But you point to a specific mechanism: if a guy has physical wealth beyond, uh, "reliable reproductive options", then he can jealously guard *that* wealth, and barter it for marriage opportunities. A society rich enough in this way can now afford more liberal social conditions for women, because that's tautologically what we'd call the situation when people jealously guard their land/cows/crops, heavily restricting their "freedom" - and then use that wealth to convince women (or their families) to let them marry them, and indeed the women are partners in building/investing in that wealth, rather than *being* it.

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Great read! Would be interesting to extrapolate this to the future. When form of competition and cooperation would be drastically different

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