I’m a beta male and proud of it. I’ll let the alpha males swagger around and show off their strength and (in Dixie) act like their big trucks prove their virility even if paying for them drives them into bankruptcy. In contrast, I live in a world of quiet intelligence and keep my finances from disaster. Let the alpha males have their alpha females; I like beta females just fine, not the least of whom is my wife, who is as quiet, intelligent, and responsible as I am, if not more. My wife and I have not spent one moment wishing we were alphas.
You might think it would be fun to be an alpha male. But, in nature, alpha males experience a lot of stress because they have to constantly fight off the other aspiring-alpha males. Only in human harems can the alpha male sit back on his cushion and relax as his eunuchs guard him. Elephant seal alpha males lose up to half their weight during the breeding season, not by producing sperm (which are cheap) but by waddling around all day and all night (which is also day in the Arctic) fighting off the challengers. Their cortisol levels are much higher than those of the beta males.
(Photo by A. Friedlaender)
Beta males sometimes save the species. In nature, sexual selection favors alpha males who develop outlandish adaptations such as huge antlers. And the alpha females love it. Sexual selection favors ever more and more outlandish adaptations. One might guess that this process would go on until the males could not even lift their heads, and the species would go extinct.
But this is not what happens. While the alpha males are butting their horns together and injuring each other, the beta males are hanging around the outskirts, so to speak, and they have some action with the beta females. Many of the females in the alpha male harem have some action with the beta males, since the alpha male can’t be everywhere at once. By the time Mr. Alpha has waddled around to chase away the beta intruder, the female has already welcomed his sperm. And if the alpha adaptations ever do become so outlandish as to, it would seem, crash the species, the beta males are always there to step in and do the job.