R. A. Fisher hypothesized runaway sexual selection in 1930.

“The two characteristics affected by such a process, namely plumage development in the male, and sexual preference for such developments in female, must thus advance together, and so long as the process is unchecked by severe counter selection, will advance with ever-increasing speed. In the total absence of such checks, it is easy to see that the speed of development will be proportional to the development already attained, which will therefore increase with time exponentially, or in geometric progression. There is thus in any bionomic situation, in which sexual selection is capable of conferring a great reproductive advantage, the potentiality of a runaway process, which, however small the beginnings from which it arose, must, unless checked, produce great effects, and in the later stages with great rapidity.” (Fisher, R. A. (1930) The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. Oxford. Clarendon Press, pp. 136-7.)

David Brin in 1995 posited a relationship between runaway sexual selection and neoteny in humans, emphasizing two-say sexual selection. Geoffrey Miller in 1994 outlined runaway sexual selection in humans without an emphasis on maturational delay or neoteny. In other entries on these pages, you’ll find my hypothesis that runaway sexual selection in humans is closely tied to social structure, with females picking the best male dancers in a matrifocal context, males who are cooperative and highly neotenous. Brains grow quickly to be able to achieve exponential increases in facility in dance while the females mirror the runaway process, as women require extra synapses to appreciate the nuances of the art. Unfolding over thousands of generations, this process slowed down as language bridged from gesture to speech, brains split and males became valued for their ability to line up words and achieve goals. Brains started growing smaller 25,000 years ago. The runaway ceased. Patrifocal societies emerged.

Runaway sexual selection serves well as an explanatory principle revealing the origins of humans. Tying runaway sexual selection to social structure suggests that these same principles may apply to how society transforms.

Runaway sexual selection is closely associated with females picking males as males compete to achieve procreation opportunities, females becoming encouraged by that process to become more discriminating as genes for both sides of the process get carried forward. Over the course of the 20th century, we’ve seen a dramatic return to matrifocal social structure in the West with woman’s suffrage, the adoption of the Pill, women’s rights, abortion legalized, more women in the work place, women in academics, having children later, child care, etc. The ideal man has changed. Macho is out.

Women are choosing men that potentially provide them a life characterized by her feeling loved, strong and secure. Men are being chosen for qualities not highly valued in the West until recently. In addition to being providers, the men need to be cooperative, attentive and good with kids.

Not unlike the last time around, runaway female sexual selection has been engaged. Only this time, it’s not females picking males because they’re good dancers, it’s females picking products that they are drawn to and males picking products that they feel females will be drawn to. The runaway consumer economy is a direct manifestation of a return to a matrifocal society, only the unique productions of culture have become the focus of our attentions.

Female and male consumers have become consumed by the dance of exercising choice amongst an avalanche of products provided by corporations specializing in creating, producing, advertising and dispensing whatever a consumer might delight in. Instead of dancing, we adorn. We drape our lives in products.

We discriminate without discrimination.

Corporations maniacally provide.

Upon first observation, it would seem that the runaway sexual selection feedback loop would be between consumers on one end and corporations on the other. Indeed, sensitivity to nuance on the consumer side encourages a proliferation of products on the other that further encourages focus on specifics. This is the overt manifestation of an extremely sudden resurgence of female choice in a matrifocal social structure, with males struggling to compete with each other to display to females that they, too, are sensitive to nuance.

And so it ends.

During this period, we’ve seen blended qualities of both patrifocal and matrifocal frames of reference. We’ve been living in a hybrid society. In patrifocal societies, males control female procreation, seek dominance over competitors, collect stuff to ensure survival and pass it down to sons. Controlling, collecting and staying on top are features exhibited by the established powers in our society, those fittest that have survived in a patrifocal frame of reference. It is they that have been urging that we can’t have enough stuff. Their time is ending.

With the return of the female paradigm, there will be an inevitable collapsing of hierarchy and an end to a consumer economy. It has already begun. If given the choice and time, females will choose beauty over stuff. The men that get chosen as partners will be the men than intuit a woman’s aesthetic and satisfy. We’re on the road to bigger brains, once again.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 at 8:10 am and is filed under Biology, Neoteny, Sexual Selection, Social, Social Structure, Society. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. Andrea Learned on November 11, 2008 4:20 pm

    I have not studied sexual selection nor do I have quite the passion for evolutionary theory that you have, Andrew – but as an expert in gender trends in marketing, I found this discussion fascinating.

    Women may be directing these shifts (and I agree that they likely are) but once men try it – won’t they too get more out of being a provider/love/childraising mate in addition to being a sexual partner? In the same way, won’t brands eventually figure out ways to serve the greater aesthetic expectations of women so consuming WILL go on – but just in a more refined/less-is-more manner?

    I definitely see all consumers scaling back on purchases due to this awful economy, but I also see it as a great chance for brands to re-set, with this beauty-over-stuff theory in mind. Thanks for your post!

  2. jesse on October 28, 2009 12:28 pm

    Hello, I am nobody of major achievement, and I have had no education yet I have compassionate curiosity, a human trait that may well be the next to go in evolution, and i wanted to share my opinion. This old-fashioned turning instinct into profit game will never be outdated. There will always be a way to take advantage of human nature no matter which direction our evolution takes us. Just like any animal we have a mating dance, but ours is ever-changing to keep up with whats marketed to us. Major corporations have a monopoly on the human race. Corporations are run by people who are also using basic survival instinct, for it is human to take advantage and to manipulate. Also, the entertainment industry has a defining role in the way that sex is perceived. Another point i wish to make is that beauty is stuff. Makeup, surgery, clothes, diets (which hold too numerous a product to count) are all things.

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