Minor premise: An organism’s life & survival script never conflicts with its sexual strategy…even if it appears to.
A complicated cultural schematic overlays our behavior: Success hinges on remaining acceptably within cultural mores while acting with sufficient energy and persistence to attain sex. We have always found it necessary to act like better-behaved people than we are, by the standards of whatever culture surrounds us. Culture presses on us from above while the force of desire presses against it from below. It’s another dynamic tension force that sustains community homeostasis.
It also means hypocrisy is structurally essential to us. We have to put on a perfectly innocent demeanor before the world or face disapproval. Even when sex is the objective we must simultaneously try, try, try to get laid while acting like it isn’t all that important to us and we’re sort of over it. It is a required best practice to be split along this line and feign nonchalance no matter how desperate for sex we may be. Perverse as it seems this behavior makes PERFECT sense for humanity. Like so many of nature’s sex settings for us, this one is about restraint and self-control. It’s about being steady and self-possessed; delayed gratification is the only kind we have. So when a male human is very horny and female human is very horny too, they approach each other and pretend they are not much interested in sex. Ladies and Gentlemen, HUMAN COURTSHIP and why it is so awful.
People who don’t worry about being morally perfect make far better sense of this than those who do. We either know what we’re about or at the extreme, we split into a creature of a dangerous naivety whose left hand is worried because it hasn’t heard from the right hand in weeks. In the first case, we are defacto hypocrites, but big deal. Society demands it. Hypocrites are generally more trustworthy, they know what’s going on and therefore have more reliable self-control and limits. In the second case, we believe our own “sheep’s clothing” and are surprised by our behavior when sexuality appears “out of nowhere”. It doesn’t have to be full submersion denial of erotic impulses, for many people brought up in the “rule following” school of goodness, getting erotically worked up is touching the downed power line of guilt and shame. We call these people Catholics.
The even MORE deeply naive will act out sexually in kind of compulsive, semiconscious state and blame the victim or claim a misunderstanding… and believe it themselves. They will harumph with wounded pride at the very idea… Naive moralists will often develop complex and bizarre rationales to forgive themselves their “trespasses”. Apparently, some predator priests convince themselves they are doing LESS harm by having sex with children than with grown-ups…BECAUSE the kids are not sexually mature, so it’s less seriously breaking the celibacy vow than if they were with adults. Notice they are concerned about themselves alone and trying to change the whole subject to theology. After a thousand years of child rape, perhaps it’s time to stop addressing priests as “Father”.
Why are men often such complete asshats about sex?
I hear you asking…Any sexual behavior can be viewed cold-bloodedly as a reproductive strategy. A sexually forward woman or a rigidly moralistic one are both living out a sexual strategy. Irritating men who constantly push for sex definitely get it more often than well-behaved fellows trying to slowly prove their worth (they are pursuing different results in terms of intimacy and relationship, but in terms of raw numbers…). It is an offensive, oppressive yet relatively successful strategy, and their biological imperative doesn’t care who feels badly treated.
Horrifying as it is, even rape can be seen strategically as a selfish, anti-social end run around both the woman’s preferences and societal approval. It’s chilling that some cultures approve of rape or at least treat it as perfectly understandable. In these cultures, rape becomes an accepted reproductive strategy. Such cultures are practically founded upon denying women’s preferences. Cultures like this are virtually always polygynous. Women become goods, hoarded by wealthy, powerful men. Unsuccessful men become desperate and criminal facing this shortage. This is NOT an apology for such behavior if anyone is idiotic enough to imagine that’s my point. This is the harsh reality of a sexual strategy without the reciprocity of true, positive symbiosis. Obviously, rape is a problem even outside of these cultures, but in or out it is a sexual strategy. Ducks routinely rape as part of their sexual strategy. Natural behavior does not equal GOOD behavior. The following paragraphs are explicitly NOT about rape, but about what a male human has to bring with them into life and manage properly in order to successfully pass along their genes. All men are manifestly NOT rapists.
If men weren’t sexually assertive enough to slog through all the disappointment and frustration of seeking out a partner, of which there is plenty, the human race would trail down towards extinction. Individually, biology installs in males an over the top powerful engine of desire, driving toward reproduction. The engine is designed to operate beyond society’s comfort zone but also to yield to community standards. Through our community collective, culture generates a governor, a braking system, suppressing and capping male expression of that desire at levels of intensity more or less acceptable to the sought partner and the community. But it’s never more than ballpark accurate. The culture and both the individuals are dynamic, they can express a range of different comfort zones and reactions. Males have to be assertive enough in whatever kind of culture they are born into to meet a woman and successfully mate. When born into humanistic egalitarian cultures males have to have enough self-control and forbearance to be unthreatening and very indirect… while remaining assertive enough to meet a woman and successfully mate. It’s hardly surprising that males in our culture often look harmless as a lamb and then crack open to reveal something much more like a goat…or even a wolf. It is our extreme cultural naivety that is shocked, just shocked at these scandalous revelations. Men and women are animals with different innate general sexual strategies. A wide range of individual expression does nothing to prove this wrong. Nature’s overall strategy for humans uses a very simple approach… expressed in a million different individual ways. As many genders as we may believe in, gametes are binary…male or female. The expression is very flexible, the function isn’t.
Males um…thrust themselves forward and females accept or decline. This is a biological truism or would be in a world willing to note and accept the obvious. Male behavior does not arise from culture, it is only modulated by culture. It cannot be removed by legal decree or social pressure (it can be redirected, but not replaced). Nor could the corollary female force of having standards, applying brakes and preserving stability: If ordered by the power of law to act more sexually assertive, women would fail. Just as men fail to emulate women and live up to their expectations. Nature is…what happens naturally. Culture arises from human nature as a species product, like spider webs and bird nests to facilitate the survival strategy. It appears 100% of the time that humans form communities and this ubiquity is the evidence in plain sight of the community organism…the collective “as above” to our individual “so below”.
Culture is a self-inflating raft of specifically human nature rules floating on an ocean of nature in general. Culture is like the thin, elegant, and civilized neo-cortex draped lightly across the inflexible, automatic, old brain. It makes possible civilized, flexible behavior, it allows us to delay action and satisfaction but it collapses under serious push back from the old brain. The old brain asserts the ancient survival script’s version of what we must do, while the neocortex raises the question of what we might do. The unequal strength of these two describes some serious limits to human flexibility and the reason we often find ourselves in situations we thought we had learned to avoid. Culture is the wrestling ring where Must and Maybe endlessly struggle.
Nature has pumped us uncomfortably full of desperate desire and need, then dropped us into a wasteland empty of pleasure and satisfaction. Nature doesn’t care if we are unhappy, or if we cause unhappiness. 50K volts of longing and need cycle through our frail systems while we are surrounded with a community full of stern disapproval for sexual acting out by men or women. In short, we are fucked, but not in a good way. The cultural model right now is that pushy and inappropriate sexual expression by men is done because they are just awful people. Any group of people distributes along a Bell curve of competence in areas such as sensitivity to others, self-control, and altruism. These varying abilities to read signals, care about those signals and exercise gentle self-restraint fail more often with sexual desire than other human urges because the pressure is extremely powerful and unrelenting. It isn’t that this behavior is OK due to being natural, but that we should consider this in the same light as we consider poor self-control towards opiates, gambling, anger, ice cream or toxic relationships.
Harm to women is unacceptable but adopting the wrong corrective, the incorrect corrective, is not a solution at all, no matter how emotionally satisfying it may be, or how well it fits the only theory you are allowed to have. The great wrong in our earlier culture that caused women’s liberation to rise up as an antidote was the simple, stupid, cruel idea that “Men Are Normal (and women are not)”: That men were the correct and natural representatives and measure of humanity. Therefore women were viewed as flawed to the extent that they failed to be men. Men’s needs were justified as self evident and women’s needs were weak and foolish. These were not universal beliefs but this poison was on display everywhere.
Culturally today “Women Are Normal”: They are the correct and natural representatives of humanity. Men are seen as flawed to the extent that they fail to be women. Women’s needs are self evidently justified and men’s needs are weak and foolish. These are not universal beliefs but they are on display everywhere, especially through our social media. Power is revealed by what you can and cannot say. “Mansplaining” and “manspreading” receive little pushback, but any such term linking the-set-of-all-women to something negative would be taboo and attract angry wasps. If you are shouted down for disagreeing, the power advantage is not yours. Common sense suggests that neither of us should advance such stereotyping bullshit, it’s beneath us.
Men have always behaved badly with sexual signaling, but let’s be clear…Behaving badly is acting out sexually toward a woman who doesn’t want you. If she does want you, it isn’t behaving badly. I’m not being glib about this or looking for a fight. We move closer to men facing sanctions for misjudging interpersonal energy. It is biologically in Men’s wheelhouse to be foolishly optimistic and wrong about their own attractiveness and women’s interest in them; this is straight out of the male sexual playbook, we are wrong about our attractiveness in order to be brave even to speak to you. If we were realistic we wouldn’t even try. The first line in the male sexual strategy is “You miss every shot you don’t take*”.
In a world where half the people are working out of that playbook, the notion of the male gaze as rape, or flirting as abusive insults those who have been raped and abused and actually gives support to anyone trying to play down the evil of rape. The inflation of harm is bad for society because justice becomes innumerate and arbitrary. If you scrape your knee and call it an amputation you’re demented… if someone else scrapes their knee and you call it amputation you are maneuvering for power.
Men are being folded into a tiny box where they must be and not be everything demanded of them by an unsympathetic Judge. Women, meanwhile are being treated (by “pro-women” forces) as increasingly delicate and helpless. They are seen as needing protection from masculinity itself. The idea of Toxic Masculinity is a cultural poison and the pressure to drink it is becoming a social norm. I think we should have serious concerns about what a tsunami of social media rage is capable of doing to us. Individuals will be punished by moralistic bloodlust, minus Judge, jury or standards of evidence. Those punishing can easily be seduced by the pleasures of anonymous self-righteousness, don’t be naive, it is a dark pleasure on display throughout our history. The mischief of anonymous humanity is sulfuric acid to stability and balance. Institutions that provide stability and process can be lost, and it’s not certain how they can then be regained.
Conclusion: Sex-negative, power-hungry hypocrites are themselves an element of human sexual strategy, God fucking damn it.
If an unwanted behavior has a natural source and it is part of our sex & survival system, we can offer behavioral correctives but not behavioral replacements, we cannot order up men and women with different natures. The voices that like to associate maleness with toxicity have such a thin, inadequate model of humanity that any social policy they promote would be horrid and oppressive. The notion of toxic masculinity is an element of the ultra-ULTRA far left where it becomes authoritarian and vicious. I see it as a mirror image of the extreme right’s endless push to limit women’s freedom. Both these groups are expressions of the sex police, a naturally forming cultural construct to coerce only authorized sexual behavior. It features a will to dominate members of society like a government power, or like the medieval church. They are infecting the legal system from opposite sides. They both want the power of law to suborn the autonomy of men and women. They wish to drag desire itself in front of a show trial and re-educate it to be clean and correct (according to them). They wouldn’t exist if the old brain model of our life script didn’t manifest them.
When someone acts out of bounds sexually and is “caught” doing it we project our denial of that energy in the form of outrage and demands for punishment. The louder our voice, the more we are saying “I’m not like that”, “I would never do that” and “Please don’t come after me, sex police!” and “Harumph, well I never…”.
The forces of sex-negative social control are the cultural “big stick” that the old script has us threaten ourselves with in order to make us stay within the behavioral limits understood as correct, by that ancient script. I sincerely apologize if you strained a muscle reading that sentence. The script itself has no moral outrage, it is a bunch of algorithms. It merely wants our numbers to stay in range. It USES moral outrage like a shock collar against us. Our script programmed a terror of social disapproval into us and threatens us with it whenever it needs a little more cooperation. Cultural approval is the carrot offered by the ancient script to those who “keep it in their pants” as so many wish others would do.
And yet our internal life, the deeply private life we couldn’t accurately communicate to another if we tried our hardest, is overwhelmingly full of sex. We live inside brains that generate an endless flow of wild, horny, shameless thoughts and images. Our inner lives are pornographically sexy and rude, even as our external selves live out the pretense of being nothing like that. “Harumph, well I never…”
We are splashing fountains of eroticism, and the engine of the world is desire. Joy in life is informed and tinted with sexuality, and tastes of it. Yearning is the note that begins every human song and seeks harmony. Our eroticism is a leviathan swimming in our deepest waters. To some, it is a monster in the dark, the evil inside. To others, who catch clear sight of it, it frees a million imprisoned thoughts. Nature placed a pure, raw desire in us to ensure that we are always turning toward each other to make beautiful new things. Meanwhile, there are social movements brewing up new recipes of shame and fear through our culture. They won’t rest till every spoken word of desire hesitates on the lips and looks both ways before risking intimacy. We are developing a cultural HR department bent on reducing us to deferential, risk-averse employees. It is the slow war against the wild in us. We are increasing our self-domestication. Why? Where is this going and where does it end? How well behaved and easily controlled is the average person supposed to be? And to what end?
These oppressive cultural forces are natural too, but remember, natural does not equal good. If humanity is to grow better and different in the ways many of us hope it will, we must first seek out and cultivate the deepest possible wisdom and our highest aspirations, then consider the ways that we might edit a life script. It wouldn’t be editing humanity against their will, it would be a chosen path for those who choose it: A fork in this otherwise circular road.
-* – Wayne Gretzky – Michael Scott