All the Females

Jordan Peterson draws the paradise of a succeful male lobster as follows1:

If you’re a number one, the highest level of status, you’re an overwhelming success. If you’re male, you have preferential access to the best places to live and the highest-quality food. People compete to do you favours. You have limitless opportunity for romantic and sexual contact. You are a successful lobster, and the most desirable females line up and vie for your attention. [ed: cites Janicke et al. 2016 here]

The article from Janicke et al.2 is about Bateman's principle, which states that variability in reproductive and mating success is greater in males than in females. That means, looking at all the males in a population, you'll find huge differences between them: Some have no reproductive succes at all, some have some offspring and some gonna have a lot offspring. The principle is derived from the idea that the different size of gametes (anisogamy) should result in differences in behaviour, morphology and physiology between the sexes by sexual selection. Or in the words of Ah-King & Nylin3:

Traditional sexual selection theory has emphasized female and male behaviours as an effect of anisogamy (Parker et al. 1972) and Parental investment (Trivers 1972). Thus, the classic text-book version of sexual selection is that in most species females have evolved to be choosy and males have evolved to be competitive and indiscriminate.

Janicke et al. (as cited by Peterson) demonstrate that this traditional sexual selection theory holds largely throughout the animal kingdom4:

In conclusion, our study confirms conventional sex roles for polygamous species in accordance with the pioneering ideas by Darwin, Bateman, and Trivers.

One interesting implication if you take Bateson's principle for granted, is that the females are the ones who make the choice. The role of the male, successful lobster on the other hand is to fuck them all no matter what. He has no interest to make a choice.

If the choice is with the females, they might in fact choose the "number one" successful, male lobster. Or in a more formal, scientific language5:

It is generally thought that winners of male–male competition are of superior quality and that it would be in the females’ interest to mate with these males. Thus, dominance per se or traits reflecting it, such as large body size, heavy weaponry and intense signals of fighting ability (such as status badges), are expected to be important cues in female choice.

Or they might not. Sure there are other marks of quality than being a "top dog", as Qvarnström and Forsgren point out:

It is often assumed that dominant males are of higher overall quality and that they can consequently provide superior parental care, as was demonstrated in a freshwater goby (Padogobius martensi). However, the results of a recent study show that in the closely related sand goby (Pomatoschistus minutus), winners of male–male competition did not provide better parental care than losers. Furthermore, in the sand goby, females did not prefer winners of male contests, but instead preferred males that provided good paternal care. As a result, these females managed to bring a larger proportion of their eggs to hatching. Therefore, traits important in male–male competition might not always be the same as those that are important to females selecting a mate.

So, at least in some species, the females defy Petersons reasoning of what would be the "brilliant strategy" for female lobsters:

The female lobsters [...] identify the top guy quickly, and become irresistibly attracted to him. This is brilliant strategy, in my estimation. It’s also one used by females of many different species, including humans.

Qvarnström and Forsgren:

Recent studies suggest that caution should be exercised before assuming that traits selected in male–male competition are also preferred by females.

I agree.

Another interesting implication of Bateson's principle is the indifference of the male lobster. As mentioned above, the role of the male, successful lobster under Bateson's principle is to fuck them all no matter what. He should be interested only in the number of offspring, not in their quality and not in providing paternal care. This means, Bateman's principle is not very compatible with monogamy. Male lobsters have no interist in family values as Peterson wants to make believe:

What if there are hundreds of lobsters, all trying to make a living and raise a family, in the same crowded patch of sand and refuse?

So if you plan to establish a family and take care of it until death seperates you, then you should better be aware that the "top guy" lobster story with all the females lining up to mate you, is going to entail some contradictions with your family plan.

Indeed Peterson endorses family values6:

Here’s a third [ed: principle]: parents should come in pairs.

Even more, other forms are not really viable in Peterson's opinion:

I am not saying we should be mean to single mothers, many of whom struggle impossibly and courageously-—and a proportion of whom have had to escape, singly, from a brutal relationship but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that all family forms are equally viable. They’re not. Period.

So, to draw the picture of the succesful lobster and his "limitless opportunity for romantic and sexual contact" Bateson's principle is good enough for Peterson to refer to. But if it comes to family values -- no word about it anymore ... can we call that hypocrisy?


  1. Jordan B. Peterson: 12 Rules for Life. Allen Lane, 2018, chapter "Rule 1". 

  2. Tim Janicke, Ines K. Häderer, Marc J. Lajeunesse and Nils Anthes: Darwinian sex roles confirmed across the animal kingdom. Sci. Adv. 2 2016, e1500983. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500983 

  3. Malin Ah-King and Sören Nylin: Sex in an Evolutionary Perspective: Just Another Reaction Norm. Evol. Biol. 37 2010, p. 234–246. DOI: 10.1007/s11692-010-9101-8 

  4. There are of course exceptions to the traditional role models connected to Bateson's principle. There is also a gender-neutral model, favoured by Ah-King & Nylin, which aims to reduce bias by pointing out the plasticity of gender. 

  5. Anna Qvarnström and Elisabet Forsgren: Should females prefer dominant males? TREE 13 (1998), p. 498-501. DOI: 10.1016/S0169-5347(98)01513-4 

  6. Jordan B. Peterson: 12 Rules for Life. Allen Lane, 2018, chapter "Rule 5", Principle 3 in section "A Summary of Principles".