Thursday, October 30, 2014
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Sexy Culture

Why is there culture? What motivates people to write poems, paint, or sing? Most people engaged in these activities would respond with answers like, “because I like to” or, “because it fulfills me,” if not, “I feel obliged not to waste my talent.” They tend to believe that culture reflects the existence of a soul type, or that it's an expression of humans’ intelligence and creativity.

Natural science – as so often – has a more mundane answer, one that has to do with natural selection. In his seminal work on evolution, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, Charles Darwin used the much-cited expression “survival of the fittest.” Most people find it easy to understand that being especially strong or fast, or able to withstand hunger, heat, or cold, can increase the chances of survival. Intelligence also falls into that category. But to squeeze cultural excellence into the group of characteristics defining “the fittest” is not so easy and requires some leap of faith.

In his later work, Darwin introduced another selection criteria that may be just as important, but which has received much less attention: mating preference, or sexual selection. His reason for doing so was to explain male peacocks’ obviously hindering tail feathers and male lions’ apparently useless manes. These characteristics would reduce rather than enhance the bearer’s chances of survival, but obviously they prevailed in generation after generation. Thus, Darwin argued, they must increase the probability of more offspring by making the males more attractive to female mates.

As Darwin did not believe that pure aesthetics would guide female peacocks and lions in their choice of mating partners, he had to find a rational reason for females’ preference for males with hindering characteristics. The very fact, he reasoned, that these features make life harder signals to prospective partners that individuals who can do reasonably well with them have an especially good genetic set-up and are thus likely to produce strong offspring. They should therefore be preferred mates.

Evolutionary biologists have since taken the concept further. If someone can do difficult things, not only carrying peacock tail feathers or a long dark lion mane, but also things that require much practice without contributing to physical fitness and survival, and yet stay alive, that individual must have especially good genes. They are therefore sexually attractive.

Culture – at least the culture we are proud of and don’t sneer at – is highly elitist. We admire the best, and only the best, according to some cultural and time-dependent standard. It does not help much to sing pop songs or opera arias in the bathroom. You must be able to draw a listening and cheering crowd to qualify for the elite.

Likewise, the amateur painter does not increase her or his attractiveness much compared to a van Gogh or a Picasso. The same goes for writers. A vanity press autobiography does not bring you to the top. For that, you have to be a Nobel laureate or at least the author of a couple of well regarded books. The bottom line is that while many are called, few are chosen. Reaching the top requires not only talent and luck, but also a lot of practices – that is, time wasted from the point of view of survival.

Sport is in this respect also a form of culture, albeit one that is often sneered at by those engaged in pursuits like classical music or serious literature. Most sports certainly contribute to physical fitness – as do some other expressions of culture, such as ballet – but what we admire in a player who can do extraordinary things with a ball is a technique that is utterly useless outside the playing field and has taken thousands of hours of practice to bring to perfection.

Here, of course, it’s only the best that become local or national heroes. To be a devoted football or basketball player in the lowest series brings ridicule rather than fame. It must be hard and require enormous effort to acquire the unique skills that mark the superstar and earn societies’ respect and admiration.

Following this reasoning, what makes the poet, the painter, and the singer attractive is uselessness combined with the difficulty of their activity. The harder and more futile the activity, the better and more sexually attractive is the performer. Naturally, self-awareness of this underlying wish to be sexually attractive is not required. The mechanism works all the same. The poet, painter, and singer may think they do what they do for more high-minded reasons, but scientists know otherwise.

Hey, science is hard, too! But, in line with the logic of natural selection, to become sexually attractive, the scientist only has make sure that the results of his or her work are useless.

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  1. CommentedArne N. Gjorgov, MD, PhD

    To Arne Jernelov
    Project-Syndicate (P-S)
    E-mail: Message box
    Skopje, February 13, 2013

    Re: Corrupted ‘Sexy Culture,’ P-S, 2006-Feb. 18, 2013, and Rule of Women with Mastectomy in the Future, according to ‘Amazonia-the Future Where Women Rule,’ 2010. Comment.

    Dear Prof. Jernelov:

    Although belatedly, some comments to your article of ‘Sexy Culture’ may still be relevant, even after seven years. It seems that Darwin was right in not believing that “pure esthetics would guide… certain female animals..(peacocks and lions)..in their choice of mating partners.” Apparently, Darwin was trying to find ‘rational reason for female’ preference for males with hindering characteristics,’ because he (Darwin) reasoned that ‘these features make the life harder signals’ (indicators, markers) for a good biological / physiological ‘set-up’ for mating and survival.

    The mating preference or, consistent with Darwin, ‘sexual selection,’ by making males more attractive to female, is interpreted in ‘Sexy Culture’ as ‘increased probability of more offspring,’ only, i.e. as a rational reaction (of the animals and for humans, as well) for future events. The possible benefit (prompt or enduring) for the recipient, the attracted female, was not considered.

    Yet, the misperception of an inconsequential, recreational (sport) sexy culture seems critically challenged by the results of a hypothesis-testing research study and the corroborated evidence of a highly significant association of condom-use and the development of breast cancer in (married) American and other women. Besides the definition of an (indirect) causal factor of the on-going, unabated breast cancer epidemic globally, and the potential of primary (non-chemical) prevention of breast cancer as an epidemic disease, the inferences indicated that marriage along with sex, love and family is a profound biological union, with strong physiological impact upon partners, especially woman, which may be an addition to the conventional definition of marriage as a psychological, social, economic and legal unit. With the birth-control methods and new technology, specifically condom-use and withdrawal-practice barriers, and glorification of male infertility, the sex culture became not the same as it used to be: the chances are that sex is corrupted and annulled in a robust manner. The man behind the condom is not the same man with capacity of biologically protecting woman, and the woman is not the same woman in her sexual response. Obviously, Mother Nature has not adjusted humans (and perhaps other mammals) to sterile mating.

    The on-going breast cancer epidemic reflects the misunderstood biology of intimate (sexual) microenvironment and primordial reproductive biosystem of woman-man relations. The condomization of female sexuality has been defined as an (indirect) causative factor of breast cancer as an epidemic disease, along with other specific disorders in women and girls. The policy of condomized control of female sexuality and the newly understanding of the (long suspected) harm of depravation of biological, vital and strong intimate drive / needs of women, was slow in coming for policy correction of the grave risks and injuries imposed upon the half of the population, women and girls. Today’s sexy-culture research seems still imperfect to value (with denial) the condom’s impact upon the health, lives and happiness of women and girls everywhere.

    With due caution of possible error, the following comment is made under the assumption that a similar way of thinking of a simple sex culture is prevailing in the new author’s study, “Amazonia-The Future Where Women Rule” (review of), from the Institute for Future Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. Perhaps mystified by the persistent, all-encompassing, and official policy of promoting feminism and its alluring promises, the story seems to be an attempt to project analogy between the unproven mythical past and the uncertain future of feminism as a predetermined social structure. The analogy makes a hint (the commercial subtitle) of ‘gender equality’ both in mythical times of Amazon female-warriors for women’s rights, and the same onslaught of resolute, Amazon-like, anti-men women in the future, coming true. However, the young and beautiful Amazon warriors are women with mastectomy, the only women in the Greek mythology depicted with this defect. Perhaps by no accident, the ancient people observed and made legends of the one-breasted mythical warriors as women who rebelled against ‘men-dominated society,’ who excluded men from their women’s habitats, and made wars against them. What seems missing in the predictive story of the future women’s rule is that the future is today! The legend of exceptional, independent and brave women of Amazonia is alive and present today all around, with women and girls with breast cancer along with myriad other female gender- (sex-) specific diseases and tumors in the communities. The story of the attractive Amazon ‘feminists’ from the mythical folklore may in fact carry an opposite message about the women’s rule: Being imperfect, due to the one-breasted deficiency and pain, the mythical story may bear witness early on of the reality of women’s independence from men and bravery apart from them that is not the life-sustaining strength in overcoming the biological destiny, potentials and healthy survival of a woman.

    Respectfully yours,

    Arne N. Gjorgov, M.D., Ph.D. (UNC-SPH, Chapel Hill, NC)
    Author of “Barrier Contraception and Breast Cancer,” 1980: x+164

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