The Troubadour Theory

This theory is a variant of the Producer/Parasite theory.

Consider super‑tribe civilizations, for which we may take the ancient Mesopotamian as our model. A large city is surrounded by a sprawling countryside devoted to farming. Within the city is a society of "government employees" who report to the king. There is a strong division of labor within the city. There are jobs for collecting taxes from the farmers, recording tax and other government transactions, settling disputes, construction of buildings, roads and irrigation works, manufacturing (cloth,  pottery, household wares, etc), commercial transportation of goods from the point of production to the shop‑keeper, commercial sale of goods, entertainment (music, dance, story‑telling), and waging war.

The concentration of wealth always increases the temptation for theft. Thus, other ways of making a living appeared that were not sanctioned by the king and his government, such as internal corruption, highway robbery, high seas piracy, and other socially parasitic activities. 

I want to categorize all of the above lifestyles, sanctioned and unsanctioned, as "sedentary" or "adventurous." The warrior has a sanctioned "adventurous" lifestyle. It is important to realize that warriors are measured on many "fronts." The most obvious measure is during combat with other warriors. In a similar way the highway robber and high seas pirate are measured during their frequent conflicts and dangerous lifestyle.

Before making the central point of this section, I want to invite the reader to think about what the strongest evolutionary force might have been facing mankind during this era? Was it invasion by barbarian tribes, environmental destruction due to use of natural resources, natural disasters, predation by other animals, overpopulation and the deterioration of inadequate infrastructure? No, it was none of these! The greatest threat to super-tribe life has always been disease pandemics! 

Diseases brought from distant places can decimate a population if the people have never been exposed to the pathogen. It can be assumed that a small fraction of any large population has a genetic immunity to every new disease. It is a fundamental principle of genetics that some individuals will have a better pre‑adaptation to any conceivable new challenge or threat, regardless of how novel or old it is. For this reason we can argue that sometimes only a small fraction of a population will survive the experience of wandering into foreign lands where new diseases exist.

The era of kingdoms brought the threat of disease to its people as never before! The threat went in both directions. Invading armies carried their homeland diseases with them, and diseases in the lands being invaded would infect some of the invaders. Diseases were carried in both directions by more than invading armies. Migrants, traders, and any of the many new categories of itinerants were "vectors" for disease. One way or another, every large population center was at risk, no matter how great were its civilization's technical or military achievements.

Now, consider two hypothetical female inclinations under these conditions: 1) be sexually interested in mating with "adventurous" men, or 2) remain disinterested in the "adventurous" men while maintaining a loyal monogamous relationship with their husband. To the extent that women were inclined to be of one type or the other (and assuming that all other factors were equal), which type would have yielded more offspring surviving into adulthood? The answer is obvious: the better strategy for women is to cuckold their husband by feeling attracted to "adventurers" when she’s most fertile (Haselton and Gangestad, 2006). These “calculating” cuckolding women will have a greater genetic legacy than the "faithful" women!

Female choice refers to the influence of female preference for mating choice. Female choice refers to any action taken by a female that is likely to influence which male makes her pregnant. It may take the form of influencing who she marries, or it may take the form of who she mates with outside marriage ‑ i.e., with whom she cuckolds her husband. Both types of choice, choosing a husband and choosing a cuckolding partner while married, will affect the success of her offspring. On first principles (evolutionary ones), the genes will have "something to say" about such behaviors. Female choice requires that women pay close attention to the males who can be observed. Females should be measuring them for "what they're good for" ‑ from the perspective of her genes. All of this measuring, of course, will be automatic, and usually subconscious. But the woman who fails to evaluate men from her genes' perspective will be a failure as a woman.

A surviving warrior must not only have good genes for physical endurance, he must also have genes for an immune system that can deal with the germs that are out there in neighboring lands. It is just a matter of time for diseases in foreign lands to arrive at the doorstep of large settlements. Women who mate with adventurers and bear their children are likely to do their own genes a favor; for they will be hitch‑hiking with a winner in Man's greatest battle ‑ the battle with viruses and bacteria. The pirate who comes into port, has a legitimate lust, for his immune system has been measured and it has survived exposure to diseases on foreign shores. The troubadour travels with a similar right to women's hearts. And to a somewhat lesser extent, so does the common rogue and scoundrel, who is too easily excused by being portrayed as cute or naughty instead of parasitic! And now we see the glimmer of an explanation for the mild and ineffectual condemnation of scoundrels.

How ironic, that the most parasitic of men should take on the role of exploring "immune system mutation space" to find solutions to near‑future threats of bacterial and viral infection, and thereby appear to enhance the chances of a civilization's survival. Their role as unwitting pathfinders in the invisible war with the microbes can be lauded on this basis; but let us not be blind to the consequences of the rest of their genetic heritage. By this strange dynamic one parasite creates another; the microbial parasite creates the socially parasitic rogue.

I am perilously close to accusing women of being influenced by their genes in unthinking ways, about which they haven't the faintest clue of explanation. Surely, Ruth Westheimer was not driven by deep thought when she wrote (1986, pg. 21) that "Most married women want pirates, or something like pirates..." and "Here is a good marriage fantasy ‑ to imagine that your nice steady husband, who never inconveniences you by being arrested or a fugitive (sic), is really a dangerous criminal..." She never explains why such fantasies should work. I just did!

If ancient kingdoms, like those producing such civilizations as the Mesopotamian, the Egyptian, early Greek, and the Roman, rewarded women carrying genes that caused them to be sexually attracted to soldiers, pirates, troubadours and scoundrels, then how might these genes have fared in subsequent eras? Diseases have ravaged Europe on many occasions since the kingdoms and empires created the conditions from which this curious female behavior originated. The Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and even the Renaissance ‑ have yielded up impressive episodes of spreading disease and death. The Black Plague reduced both China and Europe's population by almost 30% in the 14th Century. The European explorers in the New World brought diseases that killed perhaps 90% of the indigenous population. The driving force is unabated, so presumably women's adaptive response is undiminished.

What evidence do we have, besides Ruth Westheimer’s fantasy, that contemporary American women continue to practice a female choice that favors rogues? I will cite two examples.

Several paternity test studies in the U.S. and Canada show that 9 to 20 % of offspring were not fathered by the mother’s spouse. This would seem to be an important statistic, yet there is essentially no discussion of it in public. It is an unnoticed elephant in the room. This would rank as one of women’s best kept secrets if it wasn’t also true that men are universally vigilant about any sign that their wives are interested in another man, and when there is evidence of this interest men are universally jealous.  This shows that men fear being cuckolded by women who wish to hedge their genetic bets by mating with other men, including traveling scoundrels with apparently good immune systems.

Additional evidence for the notion that women are attracted to traveling scoundrels can be seen in contemporary styles and fads: such as teenage girls' swooning over the barbaric antics of "rock stars," today's equivalent of the more romantically portrayed itinerate troubadours, the box office success of movies with angry young rebels (modeled after unlawful highway robbers), and the popularity of superficial, airhead movie muscle heroes. Even the new fad of wearing baseball caps backwards (when not riding a motorcycle) seems pathetically ridiculous and inexplicable without reference to this theory's payoffs to men for appearing to be unruly motorcycle‑riding roustabouts.

There is evidence that this female fascination with rogues is modulated by cultural or economic conditions. The Great Depression in America seems to have produced a healthy regard for gentlemen "producers." This anomaly extended throughout the World War II years, and into the Fifties. Then, during the Early Sixties, the apex of American civilization, the preferred type began to shift to the rebellious, shiftless, social parasite. The new culture produced such epithets as egghead, nerd and workaholic. The generation that "saved civilization" from Hitler begat a pampered, spoiled generation notorious for its ingratitude and self‑absorption. Well‑mannered movie heroes like William Holden, Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn were gradually replaced by the likes of Arnold Schwartzeneger, Bruce Willis, Madonna and Roseanne ‑ which is where we are today! If there's a pattern here, what could it mean?

When "times are tough" it pays to set aside whimsical and immature frivolities and become serious about commitment to hard work. At these times the over‑riding benefits of men who are adult in their attitude, and capable of achievement, give them an advantage over immature, irresponsible rogues. But when times become "easy" the things men are good for changes, and parasitic men become relatively more valuable. Women's values adjust to the times. If the genes that govern women's subconscious behaviors are capable of making this distinction about men and can adjust their preferred type, then these genes would confer great competitive advantage over those women who cannot do these things.

There seem to be two ways to achieve a change in the temperament of a society. The fastest way to achieve a change in outward behavior relies upon female choice. Women are sensitive fashion watchers. They sense the "times" in ways that almost defy logic. Whereas men must sense a storm beyond the horizon, before it can be seen, women must sense a change in social climate before it occurs. Their response to a sensed change is to cuckold their husbands to different men at varying rates. When women make their "preferred mate choice" other women notice, and this speeds the shift. But men also notice these shifts, and they attempt to imitate the preferred male type. In just one generation we have seen a shift away from men wanting to be perceived as Producers to preferring to be perceived as Parasites.

The second way a society's manifest behavior can change is through a change in gene frequency. Once the dynamic of "female choice" has accomplished a shift, the stage is set for gene frequency change. Gene frequency changes are slow. The conventional wisdom is that evolution is so slow that noticeable changes require tens of thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands of years. This conventional wisdom is ridiculous! The American Indian evolved from an Asian in less than 10,000 years. Darwin's finches change beak size in one generation! People with social agendas wish for slow change, and their beliefs are sadly influenced by their wishes. Try thinking in terms of "a few generations" for significant change when social pressures are great! A fruit fly study by Teotonio and Rose (2000) shows that a change in environment can produce an almost complete switch from one gene allele to another in as little as 10 generations. For humans, a generation is about 30 years (Pang, 1998). So consider the possibility that "the way men are" (genetically) can change during the course of a few centuries!

Female choice can be the "switch" that initiates the start of a gene frequency change. This is an efficient mechanism, since it causes immediate change, which in the past must have been adaptive most of the time, and then it secures this change for the long‑term by adjusting gene frequency. The only problem with it in more recent times, during the past 10,000 years, is that it's a process that can kill a civilization.

These speculations can be used to make predictions. If women are capable of shifting their preferences in men, then the genome must also change (i.e., co-evolution of genes and culture). A new instability appeared with the introduction of rogues into the equation, which had its greatest impact when civilizations arose. For when rogues dominate paternity for generations, because women are (unconsciously) seeking to protect their offspring from civilization‑transported pathogens, the short‑term benefits of immunity from disease is accompanied by long‑term penalties of fewer producers and more parasites that threatens a civilized way of life.

In other words, we should expect that an “Age of Achievement” powered by the labor of Producer Men, and leading to the creation of civilization, should be followed by an "Age of Culture‑Clueless Rogues" who not only cannot sustain civilization but who are by temperament inclined to destroy it! Over long timescales, the dominance of Producers and Parasites must alternate. But whereas Producers create an opportunity for Parasites, by creating the conditions that render them viable, the other half of the cycle will be much slower. After Parasites destroy a civilization, a much longer time is required for its reconstitution by the now‑rare Producers. The ebb and flow of the rise and fall of civilizations may thus have the rhythm of slow rise and fast fall.

After two millennia where is the greatness that was once Rome, Greece and Persia? Today's residue of the Roman Empire is the Mafia, modern Greece is a dysfunctional country and Iran is currently ruled by the Koran. Notice that places that once gave rise to the world's greatest civilizations are now dysfunctional societies. If the human genome creates women who prefer to mate with producer men when times are bad and parasitic men when times are good, then it is close to inevitable that civilizations that rise will later fall.

Women Speed a Civilization’s Fall

In the previous speculation women play the role of "enhancers." To use a term from chemistry, women are “catalysts” since they speed the process of change by selecting from among the wide range of men who present themselves for consideration. Their choices tilt the direction of evolution to favor their fashion‑obsessed taste. They do this by exercising "female choice," or rewarding men who match their fickle preference by carefully choosing their secret paramours. It is not necessary that women change their preference for husbands, since they should always want a maximum of paternal investment. Their preferences should rather be expressed in who they prefer for extra‑marital matings and how frequently these matings occur.

The producer/parasite theory for explaining the rise and fall of civilizations requires that there were many changes in tribal wealth during the Pleistocene. The troubadour theory for a civilization’s decline requires that population density and migration rates have fluctuated many times during the Holocene.

Sometime in the mid-Sixties I commented to a friend that we had just witnessed the apex of Western civilization, and I still agree with that assessment. In stating that the Sixties were the best of times, I now understand that I meant they were best for Producer men, and that a switch was about to occur. All the new male fashions, which men copied because women preferred such men, fit the pattern of a civilization that was shifting from one that rewards the Producer to one that rewards the Parasite.

It’s not that men and women live more fulfilled lives by doing what they do; we all have no say in what we do (notwithstanding "free will"). As always, the “winners” are the genes, for they make us this way, that they may prosper ‑ at our individual expense! I am suggesting that the thing we call “civilization” is an artifact, or unintended consequence, of a competition between the genes, a competition in which their “gene carrying machines” lumber across an illusory stage where the protagonists mistake themselves for real players in life's drama. And I am further suggesting that the rise and fall of civilizations is driven by a script the genes have prepared for their machines, a script that recognizes when it is optimum for the lumbering machines to produce and when to parasitize. And finally, I am suggesting that women play a crucial role in causing a civilization to fall.

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