Written by Christopher Kelly
Sept. 10, 2019
Christopher: Well, Stephanie, thank you so much for joining me here at the Ancestral Health Symposium in San Diego. The conference is now officially over. I feel overstimulated and perhaps slightly underslept, overcaffeinated. Do you find that it's like a lot of stimulation, a lot of very salient stimulation? It can be hard to calm your mind when you want it to be calm like right before you give a talk.
Stephanie: Absolutely, Chris. Thanks for inviting me on again. I've been really looking forward to coming back and talking about the next things after our last discussion. Coming to these conferences, yes, overstimulating for sure, the whole time. But it's great.
Christopher: Which is good. It's a good stimulation.
Stephanie: No, I love it. I love it. This is like my favorite thing to do all year.
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. Can you tell us what you told us last time? I'll give you clues. You may not remember. We talked about not wearing shoes, and we talked about -- I don’t know what to call it now. Maybe is male genital mutilation an appropriate term?
Stephanie: I think it is an appropriate term. Not everybody likes to use that term. A lot of people don't like to hear it in that manner, but I mean that's truthfully how I think of it too. So we covered mostly the previous topics that I have dealt with in my disruptive anthropology. So we started with the shoes are not Paleo stuff, so about the barefooting movement and how that relates to our physical development. Did you interview Chris LoRang by any chance?
Christopher: No, I didn't.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Building Your Baby from the Ground Up.
Christopher: Oh, okay.
: Yeah, those guys are super aligned.
Christopher: Oh, man, I've got this exploitation versus exploration tradeoff thing going on here, right? It's super good to go get people that I know are good like you and get them live in person at the event, get a recording like this. But then you miss the exploration part which is, oh, no, I didn't see that guy's talk because I was recording with someone I already knew.
Stephanie: Yeah. You'll have to get them to. Yeah, they've got great stuff. The infant orthotic devices is how they call all the different equipment that people use to try to provide ways for babies to learn how to move better, but they actually work so much better if you don't interfere with anything.
Christopher: Right. Of course. We've just been listening to Josh Turknett talk about the first do no harm approach to education on his Intelligence Unshackled Podcast. That's what Josh argues for is that if you're going to intervene, you better have a good reason to do it.
Christopher: If you're going to wake this kid up to make them get on a school bus, you better have a damn good reason to do that. The same principle might apply here. If you're going to put your kid in a Bumbo seat, then you better understand what you're doing because you're disrupting the status quo.
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. We use those things, and we think that we're operating from some baseline of the norm, but all this stuff is completely not evolutionarily appropriate. It would be much better to use the baseline as what kind of stuff was around? How did we all manage to do this for the last few hundreds of thousands or millions of years or however you want to consider from whether it's just our animal or mammalian heritage or as primates or as humans? We didn't have this kind of things and all of the systems to become excellently adapted existed before we invented any of this stuff.
Christopher: Right. And then you have to ask when you introduce something new, is this improving the human condition or not? And you might argue not. So the same is true of circumcision or, as I said, male genital mutilation. You could argue that the foreskin is not vestigial and it does useful stuff.
Stephanie: Absolutely not. Of all of the organs of the body that have evolutionary pressure on them, the reproductive ones are obviously at the top of the list. We have to operate under the assumption that nature did not waste energy designing the best possible application of ways to accomplish reproduction. So those organs were under as much selection pressure as anything else, absolutely. So just what you said earlier, you better have a good reason, if you think that you know something better, if there's a reason. Obviously, if you have a legitimate pathology that needs to be addressed, then --
Christopher: That's the reason.
Stephanie: Right, then you have a reason. But when you're dealing with if you have a no therapeutic aspect to the intervention and you just want to assume that, oh, well, that's not necessary or --
Christopher: That's just what we do.
Stephanie: -- that's just what we do now, that is a terrible justification for interventions like that.
Christopher: I will, of course, link to that episode in the show notes that you can find at nourishbalancethrive.com/podcastreview. Poke around in your show notes in the application, you'll surely find the links to those episodes.
Last time we spoke, you introduced me to this term, the nuclear family unit.
Stephanie: You hadn’t heard of that before.
Christopher: I hadn't even heard that term at that time. So since then, I've been away and I've read Chris Ryan's book, and that's been percolating for some time.
Stephanie: Sex at Dawn you mean?
Christopher: Sex at Dawn, yes. I believe he has a new one, Civilized to Death, that may actually be out for the time --
Stephanie: Oh, wow!
Christopher: Yeah. It's another really interesting thesis that I'll resist the temptation to get into here. But, yeah, I'd not heard of that term, nuclear family unit, the last time we spoke. Read Sex at Dawn by Chris Ryan, wouldn't shut up about it. The reason I talk about this stuff is like I'm waiting for someone to tell me, "Oh, no, that's nonsense because this, that, and the other. You should just read this other book." I believe there is a rebuttal. Is it Sex at Dusk or something? Nobody I talked to, even people with PhDs, are particularly impressed by the rebuttal and certainly --
Stephanie: I haven't read the rebuttal.
Christopher: I haven't read the rebuttal either. But no one seems to be able to shoot the hypothesis down in any convincing manner that I've spoken to yet. But perhaps we should start, for this conversation, with can you talk about the history of the nuclear family unit? Or maybe you want to choose somewhere else to start? You presented this really interesting idea where it's like, okay, so let's start with the end in mind. What is it that's going to take to optimally support human flourishing, health, education, whatever it is that you think is an improved human condition, and then work backwards from there? Does the nuclear family unit support that outcome?
It's a really good question. But maybe I should just let you choose where you want to start. You want to explain what the nuclear family unit is and the history or maybe somewhere else.
Stephanie: This is a bunch of stuff that I did cover in the talk yesterday, so hopefully, we'll have a link to that one as well.
Christopher: Of course, I'll link to that talk too.
Stephanie: Yeah, I did find Chris Ryan's work really instructive to start thinking about the evolutionary pressures that existed that influenced the way that we evolved socially. Let's see, I mentioned a number of factors about the human species yesterday that we should take into consideration when we're trying to understand what the evolutionary pressures were that created the system we have. Some of those were the differences in male and female reproductive strategies, for example, that women can only produce somewhere around 10 to 20 offspring in a lifetime, whereas men have technically an unlimited capacity just limited by fertile females that they have access to.
The women's minimum investment in offspring is nine months and then to justify the first nine months, you've got to cover the rest of the childhood dependence stage, whereas men could technically drop off some sperm and go about their merry way because, in theory, they could let the women who are already on the hook handle it. Women can't increase their rate of reproduction by slowing other women down, but they can vastly increase the chances of their offspring surviving by getting more caretakers invested in the process. Men could theoretically just conserve their resources. So in order to get men invested in this process, that's part of where this whole social sexual environment evolved that how we use it to do more than just reproduction?
But one of the super key bits is that the length of childhood dependence and this is one of the things that we can observe as the artifact of the evolutionary process that the life stages that we have, including the length the childhood dependence that we have which is that our offspring are dependent on caretakers for at least 10 years, give or take, and if you think about the full extent of development, you could consider it quite a bit longer than that, but I mean, just for bare minimum survival level, let alone getting to reproductive age, let alone getting to the complete maturity of neurological development and all that kind of stuff, the only possible way that we could have developed a childhood dependence stage that lasts more than a decade is with a robust system of caretakers in place.
A single mother or even a mother and a father is in no way a robust enough system to allow for the development of a dependency stage that lasts that long. If you don't have backups, the risk level on the mother dying or the mother and the father dying or any combination thereof or not being able to support the number of children that they might have, there's just evolutionarily no way to come up with a system where you need more than a decade of solid investment and you're relying on one or even two individuals to provide that, it's just ridiculous.
Christopher: Well, could you argue, you've already got one heart, right? If that goes wrong, you're screwed. There's no backup there.
Stephanie: Okay, well, I have to think about that one.
Christopher: But it's true, isn't it, generally, with really important processes in the body? There's quite often backups. There's different ways you can achieve the same result, like if this one fails, it tells you it's important. If there are two of them, that means it's probably important. It's true. It's probably a terrible question. I should let you continue.
I mean, you don't have to look very hard even with modern hunter-gatherers. We've been watching that Bruce Parry visits these modern hunter-gatherers and lives with them for a month, and you see that all the time. The women, they believe that in order to have the various attributes of the men in the village, that she needs to have sex with all of them. That's what they think is those attributes will then end up in their child. If someone goes off hunting, they don't come back, no big deal, we still got six other guys. There's redundancy there. We actually saw that in one of the documentaries. They go out fishing on a canoe with an outrigger and a storm comes in and the whole boat didn’t come back. Some kid is like, they think he's lost his dad, but they're not really sure who his dad is. So it's not as big of a deal, right?
Stephanie: Yeah. I mean, this goes back to this whole consideration of the nuclear family versus the tribe as a reproductive unit. I might have mentioned the last time around, if you think about reproduction, we have this tendency to think of it in a very limited way as if when you give birth, you have successfully reproduced, which is not really the case at all. If that offspring does not continue to go forth and also contribute to the gene pool, effectively you've done nothing for your genetics.
So there's so much more involved in that. In humans, it's because of this extensive period of dependence and the investment that we have, not only just from, say, mothers to children but multi-generationally with grandmothers being invested. I don't remember if we talked about the grandmother hypothesis last time or about menopause. But the fact that women have a life stage, which again doesn't start until mid-'40s, which also says we must have been typically living long enough to develop a separate life stage for that portion of time, but the thought that turning off reproduction could actually be a reproductive advantage is almost impossible to conceive of, unless you realize that the investment and the value that that woman has to her children she's already had and her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, her ability to contribute resources and knowledge and wisdom and caretaking and all that is so much more valuable to her total genetic lineage, which is, at that point, growing exponentially compared to her ability to produce one more child on her arm.
So her genetic contribution, by cultivating and nurturing and contributing to her descendants, is so valuable that it is worth turning off her individual reproduction so that the risk of childbirth and dying at that point is reduced, so that we can keep her alive. She's so valuable to her lineage that she needs to stay alive which, incidentally, brings up one of my other favorite observations about this is that if getting pregnant again was -- or rather there would be no need to turn off reproduction if getting pregnant again wasn't a risk at that point. So that would imply that women over that age are still sexually active. Otherwise, why would you need to shut off this process? I always find that a neat thing to observe as well.
So getting back to this tribal unit thing, and this came up in one of the questions yesterday, one of the biggest issues is how we divide up resources. The thing with the tribe and the pre-agricultural state is you're looking at nomads, you're looking at, for the most part, no long-term permanent living structures, you're looking at people moving around, can't accumulate a ton of property, can't really build permanent places to store it, and resources in that environment are shared amongst the whole group. It wasn't until we started dividing ourselves into individual houses that are now also how we distribute and allocate our resources that things started to change about this.
So that's why agriculture was really the turning point for this as well is that once we were able to stay in one place, build permanent structures, and accumulate wealth and things inside of there, then those houses started competing against every other house. So the resources that are contained within each household, that's how we were dividing it up. And at this point in time, as long as we want to continue living in houses, that's how we're going to operate our resources is your domestic environment.
In particular, what happened with agriculture, I believe, and this is speculation but to me, this is what I think, is that as we were programmed as women to become attracted not only to the physical specimen in terms of the genes that were shown by appearance and physical attractiveness but because we were trying to build this whole system of caretakers, we became attracted to many other features, including the resources that were able to be provided, social status and networking, personality, like all kinds of other features that would represent an improved chance of our offspring surviving, and resources and specifically food was the biggest resource we're dealing with at that point in time.
That was such a huge deal that, with the advent of agriculture, when a single man could go and build a house and create a farm and be able to single-handedly supply a lifetime of support for woman and all of her children, that was mind-bogglingly attractive to hunter-gatherer women. This was like super normal stimuli that we're talking about. We've never had a man who could provide for everything that this woman and all of her children needed before.
So I don't believe that it was the men deciding to rope up the women and drag them into the house. I think the women walked right in the door and said, "Are you kidding? You can offer me this?" "Okay, right, everything I got, you can have it." "Will you give me that?"
Christopher: Have you read Against the Grain?
Stephanie: No, I haven't?
Christopher: Oh, yes, definitely worth taking a look. So central thesis of that book is the grain was the prerequisite to state building. Before then, you think of any other crop like tubers, for example, that grow in the ground, and you don't have to harvest them at a particular time. You can leave tubers in the ground for a couple years, they'll be fine. Whereas grain like wheat, everybody harvests at the same time. It goes into the grain silo, then you have a system whereby you can tax people. Because you have to harvest it, everything's happening at the same time, then you can tax it. Once you got taxes, you can then start building states.
Now one of the interesting things in the book is that the author, I forget his name, doesn't think that this was something that people thought was attractive and that they were probably coerced into this system rather than -- there was no narrative fallacy. There's no kind of people, hunter-gatherers telling each other stories. The hard thing is the hunter-gatherers don't leave a trace. So all of the anthropological data comes from civilized agricultural people that were building -- they were sedentary, right? They were building stuff, and they were leaving stuff in the ground. Hunter-gatherers didn't do that. They didn't leave a mark on the land. So it's like really hard to answer some of these questions.
Stephanie: There was an analogy that I read, and it might have been in the Red Queen, or it might have been somewhere else. The story goes like this: There's a trial going on, and there's a witness on the stand. There's a lawyer standing there. He asked the witness the question. He says, "Did you actually see my client bite off the finger of this other man?" The witness on the stand says, "Well, no, I didn't." And the lawyer says, "Well, then how can you be sure that he's the one who did it?" And the witness says, "Well, I saw him spit it out."
So what I like about this is, even though we can't necessarily go back and witness what happened, we can look at these outcomes and say, well, we went from a tribal environment to living in these nuclear family houses. Something got us from one to the other. So that's where I find looking at, so what were the evolutionary pressures that we were dealing with at the time? And how can that lead from one to the other like that?
So that's where I look and I say, well, what was the evolutionary pressure on women? Was to get caretakers invested in the tribal reproductive unit to support their offspring. So that was the impetus for expanding the use of sexuality beyond just fertilization but as a way to keep the reward system flowing so that men continued to be invested. But that meant we had to be attracted to all those things. We had to be sexually aroused and enticed by things other than just the genes that we were witnessing.
So that had to have been an evolutionary pressure. And that says to me, when a different stimulus like, again, looking at, say, one man who can produce everything that a woman needs, that is just the same way that we've got hyperpalatable foods right now. That's like a hyperpalatable man.
Christopher: Yeah. He never would have seen that in nature.
Stephanie: Yeah, that kind of guy didn't exist in the hunter-gatherer society. There was no single guy that you could rely on for a lifetime of support. With agriculture, that changed. So that meant that the pressures as women that the things that we were attracted to and the things that we were pressured by were now -- we were in a novel environment when agriculture came along, and so our level of attraction to that individual had to be very high. That's what we had been primed to become more attracted to the whole time was the ability of the man to contribute to the likelihood of our offspring's survival beyond just genes.
So to me, that's why I believe that women were absolutely just thrilled to walk in and accept this offer and then say, "Okay, you know what? If you can do this, then I'll live in your house. If I'm going to live in your house and we're going to be sleeping together all the time, I can slowly start to shift this. Okay, don't go visit anybody else's house, and don't sleep with anybody else." So this switching to a system of sexual monogamy and exclusivity in concert with moving into that environment, we signed up.
So that's why I believe that it's imperative to kind of own this on the female side of things to say that -- obviously, it wasn’t us. It was these ancient human ancestors. But if we don't recognize that that is how this patriarchal capitalist system evolved, then we're not going to be able to shift things. So we have to know, we have to accept that, okay, that's how this occurred. And if we want to change it, we need to be able to think about this and not blame men for wanting to overpower and dominate women. We're barking up the wrong tree. We're going down the wrong narrative. We're just going to make everybody more frustrated if we keep treating it that way.
Christopher: Okay. Good answer. So that's your best explanation as to the origins of the nuclear family unit.
Christopher: So how does that support this new model, this new way of living? So you have these really interesting definitions of desirable outcomes. How does the nuclear family unit support those outcomes?
Stephanie: Do you mean the criteria that I was talking about as far as what we want a domestic environment to look like?
Christopher: Yeah. I mean, let's start with the end in mind.
Stephanie: Okay, yes --
Christopher: I want good health. I want to --
Stephanie: Right, right. So we have this background of how we structure our lives that is so familiar to us that we really haven't even spent any time asking the question of what do we want our household to do for us? because we've just assumed, well, this is what a household is, and it just does what it does. We haven’t thought about the fact that we might have specific goals that we could design or orchestrate a household around. The focus of resources being contained within a household has a lot to do with the structure and with the fact that we coordinate and we work together to pull resources with the people that we actually live with as differentiated from the nomadic, tribal, pre-agricultural, communal setting.
If we want to think about what we want to accomplish in that environment, I haven't seen anybody trying to set up a system of what they think a domestic environment should provide, so I proposed a few things. As you mentioned, health, there are a few different factors under health, things that we talk about an ancestral health all the time to be able to support optimal nutrition, fitness and movement, getting sleep, circadian rhythm. So those are a few things that --
Christopher: Appropriate stress management, right? We know that social isolation is basically torture to humans.
Stephanie: Well, that's the very next thing. I believe Julian Abel was talking all about this on your podcast.
Christopher: On the podcast, yeah. He's since been on Michael Ruscio's podcast that was different and interesting too.
Stephanie: So I started off and I mentioned those ones that people are customarily familiar with in terms of ancestral health, but then going into the social elements, as was noted in that podcast, that we're saying that these social relationships are actually the number one predictor of health outcomes, more so than any of those individual choices.
So this is especially why the domestic environment is critical to this because who we live with, who we spend our time with, those relationships is coming out to be more influential on our health than even individual choices we make. It's essentially the foundation of our ability to make those choices is the thing that supports us being able to make better individual choices. So these are really closely linked. We need to see that the fabric of that environment and who we bring together and share it with is critical to our ability to pursue the other health outcomes.
And then the third, so we did health and social criteria, and then the third one was growth because it's also part of interpersonal and interpersonal development that happens. A huge amount of it occurs in the domestic environment and going back to the tribe and everything, the ability to have positive role models in your life when we're constricted only in these households and we have a bunch of different pressures as to why we don't end up connecting as much or spending as much time with either our neighbors or other adult role models. We get very limited by the makeup of the domestic environment, particularly when it's centered just around the nuclear family.
Christopher: Yeah, I think anyone who's ever tried to make different choices than the people that are surrounded with will understand this, right? I'm going to go ahead and eat a Paleo diet, but the rest of the family is still eating whatever, right? That's super hard to try and do that. I'm always very reluctant to recommend it to clients. It's also a reason why we sometimes work with families and I charge different prices. It's not like you can make these changes and not impact the entire family. It's usually what people want is just whether the rest of the family wants it. There's an issue there. Talk about some of the specific factors there in social, community building.
Stephanie: Well, even in our Q&A yesterday, at the end of the talk, a couple of people mentioned that they were only able to accomplish as much as they have in their lives because they had more than just that nuclear family basis. So part of it is the limitation to that. Essentially, it usually ends up being two caretakers, two adults who are invested in the environment, partly because we just have this idea that, well, when you grow up, you go out on your own and you do your thing and you live in --
Christopher: It's the stories, the narrative fallacy, right?
Stephanie: There is that. And in those cases, sometimes people enlist extended families and that was part of what we heard that was helpful for some of those examples that were brought up yesterday. But that also we can see that there may be some improvement just by increasing the number of adult caretakers and who are part of that environment. But the ways that have been suggested before haven't taken into account the other challenges that come from using the biological parents as the nucleus of the environment because there are all sorts of complications that are added on to that, which again people just haven't looked at how this maybe could be done in a better way because it's just been the default thing to do for so long.
So we mentioned the health criteria, the social criteria that I think a domestic environment should provide includes providing for daily companionship, supporting child-rearing, supporting romantic relationships and sexual expression, and encouraging community building. The other criteria was the growth element which was maintaining and passing on knowledge and skills, providing positive role models for other society members, and creating healthy competition to encourage striving for improvement.
So what I did in the talk was I talked a bit about what these criteria are and then looked at the ways that the nuclear family is or isn't meeting them right now, and the ways that trying to get back to a more tribal model might do so better. The model that I'm suggesting is again as long as we're going to continue to divide ourselves up into households, we might do it a little bit differently. Instead of living with the romantic partner who's the biological co-parent of our children, to maybe live with more people but who we're not romantically involved with or who are not part of our main pool of attractive partners, but instead create that domestic environment, the shared resources among either groups of women or groups of men around the needs that they each have, and then by dividing it up that way encourage more connection between households so that we actually can connect with our neighbors more.
One of the really serious pitfalls that I think people wouldn't like very much to acknowledge, and this may be a something that is tough for you as well, is the issues that I proposed that have to do with having your romantic relationship under the same roof and the complications that causes for a number of reasons, everything from what we want to do to foster and to support those relationships in terms of keeping it exciting and fun. When you're living together, you get bogged down in all the mundane bits of everyday life. The time that you spend together is just the default option instead of special time. You end up together in a situation where you're looking for your most comfortable zone where you can relax, which is not conducive to working hard and striving to impress and keep bringing to the table all of the energy and the romance and the seduction and everything.
Well, by promising to stay together forever, you set the stage complacency. There are all kinds of things that when, say, couples therapy, when people try to get help that way, that they're encouraged to try to bring things back to how it was when you were still dating and put in that effort and everything. But if we didn’t --
Christopher: Put your pants on. Put your shoes on.
Stephanie: Sure. If we didn't live together in the first place, then we could potentially keep a lot of that energy going. But then the other thing is, and this is really significant, I believe, in terms of women returning to a sense of sexual empowerment, is we have been brought up for so long with this idea that our key to our future and livelihood and our domestic stability is our sexual choices. So when we go and we move into this nuclear family model, if it's a monogamous relationship, definitely. If it's a more open or polyamorous relationship, then it expands a little bit on this. But we essentially say that we're going to defer our choices based on the impact that it might have on that romantic partner.
When it comes to total sexual liberation for women, I think there is a huge value in the idea that we can make our choices on our own terms at our own pace for whatever reasons we choose, and never ever fear that that is going to disrupt or destabilize our domestic environment because when our sexual choices can do that, can disrupt, destabilize, lead to, well, okay, well, now we might break up, one of us has to move out, there's a huge cost to the, if it's the breaking up, getting divorced, moving out, dealing with child support and custody battles and things like that, the cost of disrupting the relationship is so high that we will make compromises in a relationship rather than being able to stay true to our needs, our wants, our boundaries, the taking care of yourself aspect and the ability to just have freedom of our choices without fearing that that is going to tear apart our home.
For me, personally, I stopped cohabiting with romantic partners in 2016, and that has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I still have one partner that I still am in relationship with that I had lived with before and I no longer live with and that helped a lot. Since then I have other relationship and I don't live with any of them and I'm not planning to and it works better in every way. If people are on board with my lifestyle, then it works great for all of us. If they're not, then they're, obviously, not my people.
Christopher: It seems like a lot of ways in which you could lose people here. You present the problem, and I think intuitively people know that you're right. There's a huge problem. Certainly, you only have to look at the rate of divorce. Look at my parents. It's not really monogamy. It's serial monogamy which is I'm not sure that's monogamy, right?
Stephanie: There's this ideal that almost no one can live up to, and even the people who do supposedly seem to live up to it, if you ask and try to get from anybody, are they as happy and as sexually satisfied in their life as they possibly could be? It's not a yes very often. Even if they've been in a great committed relationship for a long time and they're supposedly the perfect model of nuclear family and monogamy, a lot of the times there are lots of things that they might have wanted in their life that they didn't get. They chose, they prioritized other things, but they may have made compromises.
So a lot of this is really about freedom and the ability to make choices and to experience the most out of life, and at the same time provide for all those needs that we're imagining that we're trying to create with the nuclear family but that it isn't a fulfilling as well as it possibly could. So I mean, that's why I said the first thing to think about is what do we want to achieve? Is the current model doing it? Could a different model possibly do it better?
Christopher: I think, like I said, there's a couple of points where people could drop off. Certainly, the gender segregation part, that definitely raised -- when I talked to my wife about this, that kind of raises an eyebrow like saying, so wait, we would not live together in this new model. I mean, personally, I'm pretty fond of my wife. I like spending time with her. We do well together.
Stephanie: You know, if you two are so happy with that and every single night and day for the next year, one of you is visiting the other one's house and that is fantastic and you're happy with that, there is nothing saying that you can't do that. It's taking away the aspect of where somebody has to actually move out and completely disrupt the existing domestic environment if they want to modify that. If you don't want to modify, if you want to live in this house over here and she lives in that house over there and you guys meet up with each other every day and you continue to swap the -- maybe the kids spend some time with you, some time with her, I'm sure just like it happens now, there is still room to do all of those things. It's just a little bit different in how we segregate resources based on that domestic environment.
So it just means that she would be, if she's living in this house with half a dozen other women, they're supporting that physical space that we've divided because we like houses, we're not trying to get rid of houses, so it's supporting that physical space, and you can support her in that physical space if you want to and you can work together. We have to pick, if we're going to have houses because I'm not trying to argue against houses, I'm saying as long as we want to have houses, we have to pick who we're going to share them with. Right now, we've been doing it largely based on a romantic partner. We could alternatively do it based on different people and separate the romantic relationship from the live-in relationships. We can still do all the same things that we did before. But I mean, you have relationships and friendships with lots of people who don't live in your house, and you don't make the assumption that you can't connect with any of them because they don't share your house.
Christopher: Right, it's not prerequisite.
Stephanie: So there isn't any reason to think that because we are not sharing, we don't keep our stuff in the same building, that we can't spend a lot of time and enjoy all the activities that we always wanted to.
Christopher: Yeah, especially when you consider -- I mean, so this doesn't exist at the moment. It's not like I can go buy some property, and it has the appropriate building structures to where, you know, it's like physically close but still separate roofs, like that just doesn't exist. Go look on the local real estate website, you're just not going to see many houses for sale that would be conducive to this model, right?
Stephanie: I think there actually might be a decent number of -- I've heard that larger houses have been going out of fashion, and so actually the market is improving. I don't know for sure about this. I haven't extensively looked. But I have heard that for a while people were building houses with a lot more bedrooms lately because so many people are living either alone or just in couples. They're not very popular right now. So I actually think the market might be improving for being able to acquire some things that are --
Christopher: Well, it's this following demand, isn't it? I mean, if the demand is there, then the houses will follow, I'm sure. So the second big drop-off point I'm sure that many people listening will be thinking about is like, okay, wait, this is not a monogamous relationship, meaning my wife can just choose whoever she wants to have sex with. That definitely raises another eyebrow.
Stephanie: Why is it that you want your wife to only have sex with you in the first place? What if you both could have sex with whomever you wanted and neither of you were upset by that? I mean, I guess it's hard to imagine. But if we could take this idea that we had to rely on just that one partner for everything, for the domestic environment and shared resources, for childcare support, for long-term being the one who's going to take care of us when we're old, for all of our daily companionship, the idea here is to think about what it'd be like to take that burden off of a single person who's involved with you romantically.
One of the points that I have made, I don't think we said it yet, is that our value to our pool of, say, same-sex, same-gender, nonromantic partners goes up with age, we did talk about the grandmother hypothesis, the value of, say, an older woman to her community of women goes up with her age, whereas her value to romantic partner pool of men goes down with her age. So right now we have the model set up where we're expecting the romantic partner to continue to be the one to support and invest as age goes on. We could alternatively do it the other way and say that actually we're expecting for the community of women to be the support structure for this woman as she gets older because she is going to contribute so much value to that environment. It makes sense to distribute our effort and resources that way.
So if we try to separate those things and think better about how we can represent and reciprocate on the value that's being created within the gender-segregated domestic environment or between romantic partners, we could possibly align these things in a better way that we actually get all of the things that we want in life and it's not such a struggle, the struggle that it is based on the way that we're trying to get all of these things from that one person now.
So I like to look at these questions by asking, what is it that we really want? Because we're looking at so many different levels here. We have the underlying needs that we're trying to get met, we have the ways that we feel based on whether those needs are getting met or not, and then we have the strategies that we are taking on to try to accomplish those things. If we go down to the base of it and we say we look at these domestic criteria that I listed or we say, what am I trying to get out of this? Do I want to have great fun sexual expression during my lifetime, I want to have a support system for my children that I don't have to worry about resources, I want to have an environment that I know that as I grow older I will have care and support and involvement, and I'm not going to be worried about growing old and dying alone?
These are the things that we want to try to accomplish. The point in the examination here is like we're not doing a very good job at achieving any of these things when we're tied to this idea that we have been trying to get it all from the person that we are going to marry. So if we can dig down deeper into what we want to accomplish and not be so hung up on the way that we've been told that we're supposed to do it, I think there's a lot of value in being able to take this apart and come up with other strategies.
Yeah, it goes against a whole lot of the conventions and norms that we've all been brought up with and that we've become invested in, the promises we've already made. I mean, it's not a simple thing to untangle this whole mess. But at the same time, I feel like it's a pretty critical area. Again, looking at the fact that the domestic environment that we live in is such a huge contributor to our ability to achieve everything else in life, whether it's health outcomes or anything else that we want to do and that it's the place where the crux of our social relationships are formed, I think that even though this challenges so many things and is obviously going to make a lot of people uncomfortable and if they're willing to reconsider and think about how this can have a positive impact on individual lives and culture and everything, there's a huge opportunity, but it's obviously going to ruffle a lot of feathers.
Christopher: You're reminding me of what Cal Newport calls the the craftsman approach to selecting a thing, a tool, whatever it is. The crux of it is that you need to do the full cost-benefit analysis. You need to consider all of the costs and all the benefits. In Cal's context, he's talking about I'm not saying there's no benefit to social media, say, that if you look hard, you'll find a benefit to it. So I'm just saying, if you do the full cost-benefit analysis, I think you'll find that the costs outweigh the benefits. So we're kind of on the other end here. It's not like you're saying there's no cost of this. I think there is a cost. It's going to make some people uncomfortable. But when you do the full cost-benefit analysis, if you do the full craftsman approach to the thing, then I think you'll find that it's a net positive.
If I'm honest, when I examine why is it that that makes me feel so uncomfortable, it comes from fear and scarcity, right?
Christopher: I think the woman who is my wife is the only person that could possibly put up with me, so she goes away? We're actually quite the opposite of that.
Stephanie: Even when you say goes away, it's still on this assumption that you think, oh, because I don’t live in the same house as her, she's going to disappear. If she really likes you and you really like her, just because you live next door instead of in the same building, you're probably still going to see each other.
Christopher: Right. So this is second level of fear which is, oh, shit, now I'm going to have to like put my pants on, right? Do you know what I mean? It's like, if you've committed to me, no matter what --
Stephanie: I didn't see you yesterday. I gave a little like, oh, weepy-weepy, cry. Oh, you have to make some effort in your life?
Christopher: Yeah, it's a good point. So the question is, how do you get people from where they are to over there? So it's such a long way away from where most people are in their lives. How do you break this down? What are the steps that I need to take in order to get from where I am today to over there? So at the moment, I would say that I'm highly motivated. We talked several months ago, and I read Chris Ryan's book. So I've been with these thoughts for some time. I'd say I'm very high on the motivation scale but very low on the committed scale. You see this all the time.
Simon Marshall, our performance psychologist, talks about this. He said I'm very motivated to learn how to play the piano. However, I'm committed to doing something completely different on Monday morning. You won't see me playing the piano at 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. I'm committed to something else. So that's how I feel right now with this. It's like I'm highly motivated, but my commitment is very low. I feel like, what are the steps that I need to do in order to get from where I am now to over there? Because then the commitment can come gradually.
So that's what the behavioral science tells us is that motivation comes later with competency. But maybe I'll be more motivated to do this once I'm actually doing it. So in the beginning, you just need commitment. I feel those baby steps to get that commitment are important.
Stephanie: I see kind of two different ways that this could go. You could either get a group of people together who believe in the ideal so much that they want to create the environment, or you could start creating the environment so that other people can witness, wow, that thing is kind of doing something that I like. Now that I can see it, maybe I want to buy into it more.
So that's been a bit of a struggle for me at this point is knowing where to start with that. Personally, I've been not attached to a specific place for a while. Being that Paleo f(x) is in Austin and I have lots of connections there and it's warmer than where I've lived in the past, I've kind of picked that as a place to settle and try to start creating something. I find that using myself as my ideal customer on this and trying to create what I need and what I want, it's easy for me to connect with other women who are single and sufficiently unattached that they are also looking for a support environment to build this kind of thing with me.
So I'm personally trying to go in the direction of bringing some women together to live together and start creating our part of this environment and sharing the idea to see if men are interested in converging. It's possible that if this message can get out in the right way and if we can maybe make a pitch, maybe we can get people who are ready to just create it from scratch. But I'm going a bit the more organic model right now and saying, I'm just going to go and start trying to bring people together.
Christopher: That's a great way to start a starter. Solve a problem you have. Chances are there's someone else out there that has the same problem.
Stephanie: Oh, there are a lot of people who have the same problem. So that's why for people in particular, like I mentioned, women who are not already attached and invested in a relationship, it's not that difficult of the cell to say, well, what if we work together on this? It's a little bit more of a challenge when people have existing commitments and systems that they have set up that they don't want to disrupt. But part of it is that we are so invested in not disrupting the environment we've created that it's so difficult to even look at what could be an improvement. That is part of the whole danger of it is that we've become invested in a system that we really didn't plan very thoughtfully versus creating something that we can get invested in, that we really thoughtfully planned.
Christopher: Yeah, I totally agree. Change is hard, though, right? It's really, really hard compared to being the thing that you've always done. It would be interesting to see what happens to my daughter. She's nearly six now, and she's never seen my crappy processed food, at least not for any extended periods. I think she's going to find it much easier to stick to that than she would -- the problem most people have is like, I've been eating this way for a long time now, and now you're asking me to radically change. That's not easy. If you're successful, then you might see the next generation being brought up in a completely different environment. And then those people are not going to have that same behavior change problem, right? If anything, it's going to be harder for those people. You'd try and sell them on the idea of the nuclear family unit. You're bonkers. That sounds like a terrible idea.
Stephanie: Almost everything that we have talked about from the last podcast to this one, almost all of it could be solved in one generation of just doing things differently.
Christopher: Yeah. I mean, it's a pointy stick for me too because anyone that's tried to raise small children by themselves will know it's hard. I want to go ride my bike. Oh, shit! Now someone has to stay at home and look after. I mean, if we were in a larger group, Julie and I could go back to riding our bikes together. That would be cool, right?
Christopher: There's like all kinds of stuff. And then if Julie really wanted to go back, I mean, mostly she's focused on bringing up our children when they don't go to school. We homeschool. Unschool is a more appropriate term. She's heavily invested in that.
Stephanie: So how much of that adult companionship private time do you ever get?
Christopher: Oh, zero.
Stephanie: Right. So there's all this attachment to keeping the system the way it is, but you're not getting the experiences that you want out of it.
Christopher: Right. So there's pointy sticks for everyone, right? So for the unattached, you've got less to lose. You can just go ahead and make another decision, and you'll barely notice this ever happens. For people like me with young children, you've got this pointy stick that is really, really hard to raise young children or children of any age.
Stephanie: Well, you need to have people who are willing to go into that. If you could get together three or four other couples who are all willing to take the lead --
Christopher: Right, it would be a game changer.
Stephanie: Right. And say, okay, well, the women are going to move in this house, and the men are going to move in this house, and we're all going to take care of the kids communally and effectively. The kids are going to spend some of the time over in this house. And then when the women want to break and when a girls' night out, they're going to send them to your house. When you and Julie wants some time together, then somebody else and either one is going to take care of them. Everybody gets more of a chance to do all the things they want because there's more people involved in this.
This is going back to that thing, as long as we're going to keep houses in the mix as close as we could start to try to move, in a way, that's going to allow freedom to bring a bigger community like this together without screwing it up because if people are going to break up and make decisions and change things that way.
Christopher: Right. By the way, 50% of all marriages end in divorce, so that your chances of making it, even if you do choose to stay, is pretty low. But then you think about the older generation. They've got really pointy stick pointing them in this direction too because who wants to be an empty nester living on their own, trying to figure out what to do with their life after they retire, or worst case, you end up in an old people's home.
Malcolm Kendrick talked about that on the podcast, this crazy situation where you take people who have so much to invest into the younger generations end up being put away in an old people's home, sitting in chairs, arguing over what's on the TV whilst over here you've got these young children that get put in daycare, never the two shall meet. It's just completely bonkers.
Stephanie: It's a travesty and a complete waste of resources. It completely defies all of that idea of passing down knowledge and skills and providing role models and things and that idea, like I mentioned, that those individuals actually are extremely valuable to the younger generation. Yeah, just like you said, we're not bringing them together. But if you end up with just relying on that nuclear pair bond unit as a support system, it eventually is going to come apart in some way. One of you is either going to die or get too old to take care of the other, or something is going to happen or --
Christopher: It just never ends well, right?
Stephanie: That's not a robust system right there. But if you take that environment where that older generation can be supported in an environment where their value goes up with their age, that's a good exchange of energy and resources, and they want to be around the kids. The neoteny effects are excellent, and they love -- I mean, the whole being grandmothers and grandfathers, I don't know, I'm sure there are some people who don't want anything to do with kids, but I think a lot of them would much, much rather be spending time taking care of grandkids and great-grandkids and stuff if they had no choice.
Christopher: Absolutely. So where do the gay people go? I was talking about going to AHS, and I said to the man I was with at the time, "Oh, I'm super excited to see Stephanie Welch talk about this new alternative to the nuclear family unit." I read the title and he said, "Where do I go then? I'm a gay man. Where do I go?" It's a really good question. Where do the gay men and women go?
Stephanie: So the tricky part here is figuring out -- so if the issue is with trying to create support for romantic relationships and sexual expression and part of the challenge is what happens when you want to break up with someone or change sexual partners or something like that and you're living under the same roof, that creates a challenge. Maybe we should just think about that as our baseline and say, well, you know what? If we are going to be dating, then maybe before it gets too late, maybe we should try to arrange ourselves in a way that's going to be more conducive to that.
I don't know. This is one that takes a bit more exploration. I feel like I understand it better on the perspective of how this fits in our evolution, in general, because going back to that tribal reproductive unit, at some point, there's a balance between caretakers and dependents when you're trying to maximize reproduction of a tribe. So it isn't necessarily required for all the adults in such an environment to individually reproduce. Yet because we expanded on the use of sexuality as humans to be more of a social bonding mechanism, we still have all the programming to be sexually active even if we're attracted to the subset of people that we're not reproductively compatible with.
So I absolutely see the placement in the tribe as part of the way that we as humans balance our complete reproductive system. I'm not 100% sure how to answer this question in terms of what best to do with the next nearest model that we can use to support all of these goals. I think perhaps maybe we should ask more of the people that it applies directly to. I can speak to, obviously, the more heteronormative crowd and the portion of the population that this cell applies to. But it is a good question, and I think we need to look into that a bit more to figure out because absolutely we want to be inclusive and accommodate everybody in the ways that best meets everyone's needs. So that is just a question that we need to dig a little bit more on and say, okay, these needs are a little bit different, and how do we fit that into the --
Christopher: Right. Well, so here's where it gets super fuzzy is that I recently listened to Robert Epstein on STEM-Talk. He has done a bunch of research into sexual preferences. What his work, I believe, has shown -- I hope I'm not misrepresenting him -- is that sexual preference is actually an analog scale. We tend to think of it as a bimodal thing. It's really not. When you ask people some very specific questions, they tend to fall somewhere in the middle, like most men have had some thoughts of being with another man, for example.
I would check out that episode of STEM-Talk. I actually poked around on Rob Epstein's site and found the questionnaire. As it turned out, I thought, oh, yeah, this sounds plausible to me. I tried to answer the questions really honestly and I was like a zero, totally heterosexual. But his research, I think, has shown that that's not what's normal. Some people are generally in between.
Stephanie: Yeah, and that makes perfect sense to me too. Again, the evolutionary pressure on it is finding the right balance of caretakers and dependent in the way that the maximum number of genes is going to perpetuate. With that expansion of sexuality, there's absolutely room for all kinds of manifestations of it as part of our social fabric and connection and network building. There's no reason to assume that anything has to be either or or completely binary there. So yeah, that makes complete sense.
Christopher: So what would you have people do next? It's hard, isn't it? I guess the answer is it depends where you're at in the stages of change. Maybe if you're a pre-contemplator, you've never even thought this, or you thought of it and you don't care, then maybe not just percolate on this idea a little bit more, maybe share it with a friend if you're beyond that and you're contemplating. So what would you have people do next? Say I'm a contemplator and so I realized I have a problem, but I haven't done anything about it yet. What should I do next?
Stephanie: There could be a variety of different ways to go. If you happen to be, let's just take you, for example, say you're part of an existing couple and you think, well, okay, what would I need to do to participate in this? Well, like we said earlier, if you had a handful of other couples who also believed in the principles, you could get together and say, you know what? If we really believe in this, if we really want to try out something, we could get together and look at buying a couple of houses and changing up our model.
I've been developing these ideas, and I haven't yet built the thing. I just have the --
Christopher: Oh, my God. You just gave me the idea. It's the meta dating site. It's dating for dating, right? You've got OkCupid. But rather than trying to match you up with a partner, one other human --
Stephanie: Maybe that's it. Maybe this is it. We need to create the matchmaking site for people who believe in this. Yeah, you might be right.
Christopher: I'll do the machine learning. I'll build the recommender system. That would be awesome. I like the trial periods. What do you think of the trial periods? I think this is a really good thing for any type of new relationship. You're not really going to know what it's like.
So I think the interview process for employment is completely bogus. You ask someone some made-up questions, and then you hope that those in some way be reflective of what happens in real life. What works much better is to say, okay, you're hired for the next three months, and we're going to work on this real project together. And then at the end of that three-month period, if you hate me, you can fire me. If I hate you, I can do the same. No hard feelings. I would have thought that something like that might be applicable here. Maybe just start by going on holiday with someone or three other couples that you share a value system.
Stephanie: I can certainly imagine that the domestic environments that we want to create would have the potential to be much more fluid because if you are looking at, say, we've got a house with, I don't know, half a dozen bedrooms or something, it's somewhat interchangeable to say, if you want to have different people move in or out of the space that you have because again you're not having to deal with a breakup of a committed relationship, that's part of the makeup of who's living with whom. All over the place, we have infinite examples of people moving in and out of more fluid environments.
So I think it would be relatively easy for, say, in my environment, since I'm on the female side, to have a woman move in for two or three months and decide if she likes it or not. Because we are making it easier. You're not coming in and promising that you're going to marry us all forever. It isn't that kind of emotional commitment, promises, all that kind of stuff. We're looking for something that's going to meet everyone's needs. I'm hoping that in creating something like that, women are going to move in and just say, "Wow, this is so much cooler than anything I've done before. Of course, I want to stay," or "I want to stay for a while and then I want to move to the same thing in Seattle," or "I want to create one." Obviously, because it's based on physical location, because we're talking about building permanent structures, we're looking at something that does have a physical place to be. So if we're creating this, we should be creating them everywhere. We may have to start with one or a handful of models to this that can be replicated, but the idea would be to have them all over the place.
So instead of just moving in the way they were accustomed to, it's, okay, well, where's the women's building in LA or in Nashville or whatever. Oh, you've got an opening? Great. But just instead of each individual living into their completely separate apartment, you're moving into something that's a multi-person environment intentionally.
Christopher: Well, Stephanie, I think you're onto something really important here. I think this is the ultimate environmental mismatch. It really is. It's also the hardest to solve, but it's definitely the most important. I think your solution, you know, my hat goes off to Julian Abel and what they've been doing in the UK, but let's face it, it's weak source compared to what you've got here really. The idea of a man shed, I couldn't object to it. It sounds like a great idea. I even thought about going over there and doing their training to become a community connector. I think it is. I think they actually have a certificate and everything. But let's face it, it's a band-aid compared to what you've got here. So I think it's very important work.
Stephanie: Our domestic environment is the foundation of everything else we do. We should be looking at that as the basis for how we do everything else. So it's really key. It's really important and foundational to everything else that we do.
Christopher: So Stephanie, is there anything else that I should have asked but didn't?
Stephanie: We covered a lot, Chris, so I think that's probably good for today. And we can just follow up with future media after that.
Christopher: Okay, sounds good. Where can people find you online, Stephanie?
Stephanie: So I do have a new website that's up at recivilizedwoman.com because I've been using the term recivilized since we did this whole civilization thing one way. It's kind of got some flaws. So maybe we kind of want to do over and recivilize ourselves.
Christopher: I like it.
Stephanie: So that's what I'm looking at right now. So there's a kind of same thing going on in the other social media. I think Twitter is short, so it's @recivwoman.
Christopher: Okay. I will, of course, link to those things. Are you going to be at another conference soon? Where can people -- I feel like the medium is the message right? Where can people find you in person? Are you going to be at Paleo f(x) this year or somewhere else?
Stephanie: I'm absolutely at Paleo f(x) every year. I'm using Austin as my base right now, so that's where I've been hanging out. I'm planning on building the first iteration of this thing. We've got Paleo f(x) there. We've got Future Frontiers there. I guess AHS is skipping to '21, so we won't have that one. And then the next conference is probably going to be Physicians for Ancestral Health again. I believe they have in January as usual, but I know that the location.
Christopher: It's been the process. It's in Scottsdale, Arizona, I'm sure. I doubt that would change.
Stephanie: Many times it has been, so they might be sticking with it.
Christopher: The Saguaro Hotel is great, isn’t it? It's a really good location. Excellent.
Stephanie: That's where we recorded the last time.
Christopher: Exactly. Exactly. Well, Stephanie, thank you so much. I love what you're doing. I think you're very brave. I think this is heroic and very important. So thank you so much for everything you do.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Chris.
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