Sex at Dawn, pp. 200-250 (one more week to go, and I'm still not dead!)

5 million years ago I dated a very nice kid who went to St John’s College in Annapolis, MD. From him I learned “Johnny Swing” (an ultra-easy style of swing dancing), the cup game, and this song, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Here is the relevant verse:

The state of nature’s character we know from good report
To be very solitary, nasty, brutish, poor and short,
So we’ll give the sovreign all our rights and all the guns and forts,
And then we’ll all survive.
Ratify the Social Contract, (3x)
And then we’ll all survive.”

And then he dumped me on my ass on our 13th mensaversary, which caused me to I turned into a puddle of insanity and despair (I was 21), which in turn caused me to stop applying to grad schools, and as a result of that ended up at the only school I was accepted to (of the two where I applied): Indiana University, where I got a job at the Kinsey Institute. So that was lucky.

Reading S@D, this song has been stuck in my head for 5 week, because the authors of S@D have taken Hobbes’ “solitary, nasty, poor, brutish, and short” as scripture, and they dedicate chapters to each. Pp. 200-250 begin with “short.”

And I really, really wanted to skip it. But I didn’t. Nor, however, did I take careful notes.

I’ll just say that if you’re interested in learning about human lifespan, read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mother Nature. All the interesting science, critically presented, with none of the dickwaddery of S@D.

P. 212, we see at last the beating heart of the naturalistic fallacy:

To have concluded, as we have, that our species has the innate capacity for love and generosity at least equal to our taste for destruction, for peaceful cooperation as much as coordinated attack, for an open, relaxed sexuality as much as for jealous, passion-smothering possessiveness … to see that both these world were open to us, but that around ten thousand years ago a few of our ancestors wandered off the path they’d been on forever into a garden of toil, disease, and conflict where our species has been trapped ever since… well, this is not exactly a rose-colored view of the overall trajectory of humankind. [emphasis original]

We’re doing it wrong, they tell us. And by “it” they mean being human. If only stupid agriculture and stuff hadn’t gotten in the way, we’d all be so much happier.

Never mind that agriculture – and, indeed, culture, with its self-herding morality – is just as natural to us as us cooperation, affection, and pleasure.

p. 213-4 raises the question of how we can know what happened in the environment in which we evolved for a long time – generally the Pleistocene. As I mentioned in last week’s post, we don’t need to, and we’ll be able to make some educated suggestions when we have mathematical models of the interaction between sexual physiology and culture, but if you’re interested to know more about standards of evidence I’ll point you once more to the work of philosopher of science Elisabeth Lloyd’s work and, very briefly, the view of ecological inheritance:

In fact, hominids have been modifying their environments for at least 3 million years, and a more correct view of human evolution would entail simultaneous evolution of the human and its environment, the latter consisting of artifacts and concepts that can be learned and improved. The organism is viewed then as part of the
environment and changes in each occur during the trajectory of evolution. The changes wrought by an organism in one generation may change the environment to be faced by the next generation; this is an ecological inheritance.

(God you guys, the science is just SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING than S@D makes out!)

Chapter 16 is about what genital size has to say about our evolutionary history/“innate” reproductive style. I have yet to find a careful and reliable meta-analysis on this subject (know of one? link to it below!) and, as S@D notes, authors to date have given conflicting views, so I have not yet formed an opinion on this subject. I’m sufficiently untrusting of these authors’ reasoning ability by now to rely on their assessment of the evidence – and I know for SURE that testicle size, sperm production, and penis size are not indicators of personality.

Chapter 17 is about the shape of the penis and what factors influenced selection of its highly specialized shape. Again, I would love to see an impartial and scholarly summary of this research that avoids such statements as (p. 238) “Use it or lose it is one of the basic tenets of natural selection” (emphasis original). Not it isn’t; just ask my male dog’s nipples. I will only specify that if you got far enough along in life to be reading this blog WITHOUT learning that there is far more to human sex than reproduction, then on behalf of the educational system and scientists everywhere, I apologize. There is, indeed, “a wide world” (p. 242) of sex outside reproduction.

Chapter 18, p. 246, basic misunderstandings about the nature of human female sexual desire as spontaneous rather than responsive, grounded in a misapprehension of sex as a drive (it’s not a drive, it’s an incentive motivation system). There is an interesting and complex conversation to be had about this, but I won’t waste it here.

p. 249 It’s true that Victorians were wrong about orgasm, as they were about nearly everything to do with women’s sexuality. But I dread that this is leading to some claim like women “need” (p. 150) orgasms. Uh-oh.

Is my fatigue showing?

Nearly there.