In the wild, chimpanzees, our nearest primate relatives, are a randy bunch — mating indiscriminately, females accepting many sexual partners and males warring to be among the chosen.
Then somewhere in great antiquity, as our common rootstock began to diverge, the hominid mating habits underwent an important change.
Around 3.5 million years ago, according to recent studies by American and British evolutionary biologists, primate promiscuity gradually began to give way to monogamy — a transition with immense influence on what sort of creatures we humans are today.
A prominent feature in The New York Times’ Aug. 6 science section detailed in laymen’s terms what drove the process.
For one, early males found that only by remaining in a stable relationship could they protect their mates, and especially their offspring — their hope of a genetic future — from marauding competitors.
Also, as they became more competent as hunters and gatherers, they were able to provide their young with greater quantities of protein-rich meat — thought by the researchers to be a tipping point in intellectual development.
By sticking around and protecting and feeding their offspring, read one highlighted paragraph in the article, early men may have aided the disproportionate growth of the human brain.
Thus, monogamy is owed much of the credit for the fact that the brains of modern humans are larger than those of any other land mammal.
But that also raises a question. If the practice of monogamy leads to enhanced intellectual development, does a slip backward into polygamy — or the indiscriminate conjugal unions that seem to be favored by so many current politicians — cause the brain to shrink?
Are the dalliances of Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and their ilk doing worse than just causing humiliation and private pain — worse even than fouling the political landscape?
Could they be rolling back the evolutionary clock to a time when men wore animal skins for shirts and had brains no bigger than a possum’s?
If so, be sure to vote for the other guy on the ticket.