Our uniqueness as a species may have more to do with our choice not to decide upon a specific mating strategy than those many other things that we believe are peculiarly human.

We observe the manifestation of heterochrony in society, neoteny and its reverse, through the two social structures that seem to manifest these two evolutionary trajectories. Neotenous, cooperative males and commanding, accelerating females reveal themselves in matrifocal or matristic social structures. A social structure with commanding, accelerated males and cooperative females inclines toward patriarchy or a patrifocal orientation.

Matrifocal and patrifocal social structures come with either commanding, high-testosterone males mating with cooperative, low-testosterone females or cooperative, low-testosterone males pairing with commanding, high-testosterone females.

Over time, in a matrifocal context, with males focused on artistic exhibition as opposed to hierarchical display, society mirrors the hormonal constellation of the cooperative males and commanding females, revealing a constellation of features characteristic of matrilineal, matristic or partnership societies. Society evolves in particular fashions with the female choosing her mate.

In a patrifocal context, with males striving for hierarchical ascendancy, offering enhanced procreation opportunities, with females cooperating with the winners, society mirrors the hormonal constellation of commanding males and cooperative females manifesting in a society with specific features that mirror the hormonal constellation and social structure proclivities of its individuals.

Stephen J. Gould describes the several-million-year neotenous trajectory that the human race has been running. There are physical, neurological, psychological and hormonal repercussions to following a matrifocal or patrifocal path. I’m suggesting that matrifocal bands selected for neotenous males for perhaps three million years, with likely occasional forays into patriarchy. Sometime before the diaspora from Africa, maybe 50,000–100,000 years ago, brains split, language surfaced and culture emerged.

Few societies are exclusively matrifocal or patrifocal but instead exhibit aspects of both. Most societies can be fairly easily situated within one or the other frame by examining how mates are chosen, how sexual selection unfolds. How much choice does a woman have when she chooses or is assigned her mate? Is the ideal male loved or feared?

Social structures and their participating individuals exhibit evolutionary trajectories over time. Societies and cultures mirror these trajectories, revealing their own evolutions, operating according to the same dynamics. Societies, like ancient bands weaving between matrifocal and patrifocal loci, fluctuate between highly hierarchical, male-domination models and societies revolving around a commons with a horizontal frame. In the West, we’ve observed a surge of Indo-European patriarchy lasting almost 6,000 years with infrequent influxes of matriarchy and occasional hybrids birthing unique cultures like the ancient Greeks.

What has resulted, over time, looks like a specific trend. Of course. We are still observing the influence of social structure upon evolution. Anthropic or teleological arguments suggesting that an interventionist god is responsible for the clear and universal patterns we observe seem unnecessary. It comes down to hormones and what attracts us to our partners. It’s about love.

I would suggest that this evolutionary argument undermines a theological interpretation of societal or cultural evolution. Heterochrony, neoteny and acceleration describe species and societal evolution. Biological principles directly apply to social transformation. There are just over 200 species of primates. We’re the ones that can’t decide how best to mate.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Share your wisdom