Hawking Up Hairballs

Sunday, July 12, 2009


As those few of you who occasionally check this site know, I haven't been blogging lately. It hasn't been because of sloth, though I confess to being somewhat lazy about it. No, it's because I've started another novel. After finishing Buster Bungle's Big Top, I thought that I would relax for a while. As it's turned out that hasn't been the case. I immediately started on another one, and I've already got 35,000 words of a first draft. There have been a number of times when I thought of composing a blog post, but decided that I'd rather expend the time and energy working on this new novel. Right now, I'm in a lull and have been away from it for a few days, though I plan to start banging away again tomorrow.

I've read a couple of interesting books since I've last blogged. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley was one. He's a damned good science writer and I was intrigued by this book. A lot of people, particularly those of progressive inclinations won't like it. That's because the rightwingers have no monopoly on the denial of reality. Us lefties deny the inconvenient facts as well, like the influence of biology on human behavior. Certain leftists, like Mao said that there is no such thing as human nature, that we are who we are purely as a result of cultural forces. The role of nature is insignificant in relation to nurture. Modern genetics and evolutionary science puts the lie to that.

Take sexual roles as a case in point. Men seek sexual partners that are young and beautiful. They compete with other men for the most desirable women, though this competition may take other forms. For example, there's this remark from the wealthy shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. "If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning." On the other hand, women seek out partners who have status and power. Men will indulge in polygamy if given the opportunity. We all know the stories about the emperors and despots who have had harems. Where circumstances don't permit that, men take concubines or lovers on the side. Women tend to more monogamous, and centered around family. I'm not aware of a single woman ruler who's had multiple partners on the scale of the extravagant despots.

There's an abundance of evidence to support the contention that this sort of behavior is largely a part of our biological heritage. In the first place there's the pure logic of evolution. Those species which have maximized their reproduction have been the ones that have survived. In the case of males, especially among the more highly evolved mammals, that means spreading your seed as far and wide as you can. Since females among the mammals carry their young for so long, they can only maximize their number of offspring by make sure their young survive, which generally means one of two things. They seek the company of other females who band together to raise the young or, as the case with humans, they seek to bind a male to them so that he can help raise the young.

Now, as Ridley is quick to point out, none of this is to suggest that there is an inevitability about certain behaviors. Culture certainly plays a role, and it's impossible to separate the contributions of nature and nurture. To use a nice, little description provided by Ridley, if human behavior is like the area of a rectangle, then nature is its length and nurture is its width. You need both to compute the area of the rectangle.

What this suggests is that we ignore the innate biological differences between men and women at our peril. However, it does not imply that the differences are such as to prevent both from fully participating in all aspects of society. Allowances must be made though. To take an extreme example, there's the question of women in combat. That might not be such a good idea. As has been pointed out, rape is common in battle or, more accurately, in its aftermath. There are also not a few instances of rape by one's own forces in such situations. It's a biological imperative, folks. The logic of the raid is at work. The men band together, go kill the members of a competing tribe or troop, take their women, and impregnate them. Chimpanzees do it, aborginal tribes do it, and so-called civilized men will do it in combat. That doesn't make it right or acceptable, but it is inevitable. All the more reason to make certain that no more wars.


Blogger julianza said...

I agree with everything you've said here. Wish to know how you are doing. My oldest child just got married Saturday. i enjoy reading all of your writing and am going to look for that book. here is my website; www.droppinglikerubies.com. Hope you are well, and that is awesome about the novels. Are they being published?
julie shavin katz, colorado

8:16 PM  

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