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Monk genes

September 12, 2022

Anthropologists at University College London studied villages in the eastern Tibetan plateau, where a young son often is sent to a monastery. They found:

Men with a brother who was a monk were wealthier, owning more yaks. .. Men with a monk brother had more children than men with non-celibate brothers; and their wives tended to have children at an earlier age. Grandparents with a monk son also had more grandchildren, as their non-celibate sons faced less or no competition with their brothers. The practice of sending a son to the monastery, far from being costly to a parent, is therefore in line with a parent’s reproductive interests.

Cornelisz._van_Haarlem_The_Monk_and_the_NunI’m a bit leery of an interpretation that is strictly biological. Human institutions have to serve some of their stakeholders to survive. It’s not surprising that sometimes aligns with reproductive benefit. But neither should we expect that always is the case. Despite the title of this post, there is little reason to suspect there are genes for monkhood. (Cite.)

The painting right is a 16th c. depiction of a monk and nun, by Cornelis van Haarlem.

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