Wednesday, February 27, 2013
SEX: SO OFTEN THE GROUND OF NEGOTIATION
Sex is not necessary for the survival of the individual, but it IS necessary for the survival of the group. Evolution proceeds at the expense of the individual, not the group, unless there are no individuals left. They say that when a primitive Inuit family was in extreme danger and members had to be sacrificed to save the rest, the first to go are the nonreproductive ones -- the old, the barren, and I suppose the gay. The next to go are the children too young to survive without adults -- all the pre-adolescents. Next the men. The remaining women can hunt or travel, but the men can’t have babies. If the women can survive and find a man, or are already pregnant, they can preserve the family line to some extent. It ought to make a good cable game show.
Sex is a means -- not an end. The next generation is the goal. It is the negotiation between the culture and the life map it presents versus the individual and the drive the individual has to stay alive for some purpose (which may very well be the preservation of the group) that presents our most riveting stories. The individual might have their own purposes (Romeo and Juliet) or they might surrender to some other goal (Sydney Carton).
No one had studied the physiology of sex until Masters & Johnson -- the timing and sequence and function of vault walls and epididymus secretions, etc. -- but it wasn’t because of taboo so much as because no one was really very interested in the charts and graphs. They liked the part about the penis camera and the surrogates, because that’s when the culture got into it -- that’s when the taboos and desires and moral parameters came into play. Kinsey attracted a LOT of attention, because he was studying the culture. And Krafft-Ebing was pretty interesting. So was Freud except that now we’re beginning to suspect he wasn’t as attached to reality as he was to his favorite myths.
What cultural strategies can convince people to have no sex at all for the sake of the group or to have sex and skip the obligations to the resulting babies they don’t really want -- in spite of obvious baby suffering? Especially now that the practical means for sex WITHOUT babies exist if people will just pay attention. The answers are all around us.
Sex is not just about the moment, sex is not just about the babies directly, sex is in the brain and brains are dominated by memes, which are cultural. It’s all the surroundings, the implications, the meaning to the individual that makes them do things that are cruel, criminal, and totally unjustified. It’s a kind of insanity, except that when a lot of people share the same insanity -- like the idea that women should have their clitorises excised because it will make them better wives. Then it becomes the “norm.” A cultural insanity. We could make a list: babies sexualized, boys raped, men who think they have to beat up women to show they’re powerful, women who have surgery to make breasts bigger, and so on. That’s us. Crazed.
We can do a lot better. It should be the cultural norm for everyone to have survival basics: food, shelter, health care, infrastructure, education, justice. Nothing fancy. This goal will not be possible. There is not enough cultural consensus and won’t be for a long time, if ever. We are biologically wired to sacrifice those who are stigmatized and we quickly stigmatize any competition or unwanted demands, even troublesome kids. Stigma is not rational or just -- consequently many innocents are and will continue to be sacrificed. We can’t help it unless we can get at the cultural norms.
About five thousand years ago there was a big breakthrough called “writing.” It became a major impact on the world, the foundation of Religions of the Book so that there was more stability, more agreement, more persuasive stories. Right now we have another major breakthrough -- even more powerful -- in electronic imagery and story telling. It’s very fluid and much of it is corrupt culture, but it’s also so vivid and so empathetically evocative, that it has enormous impact. It is cross-cultural so it has the potential of creating a new world-wide understanding of human lifeways.
I’ve been watching the groups of TED.com videos that are packaged together on Netflix. Series like “Brave Neuro World.” “Head Games,” “Ancient Clues” and “Sex, Secrets and Love” offer ways into the future that are nothing less than the reconciliation of physiological sex with new cultural memes, so that the choices don’t have to be tragic and the outcome can be survival for the human species.
But the daily news is even more interesting. Take same sex marriage. Interesting idea. But how about dropping gender from marriage altogether and making it about KIDS -- not sex, but raising healthy kids. The vows would not be to a spouse about cherish, honor, sickness and health, worldly goods -- all that stuff without even mentioning sexual faithfulness -- but rather about the cherishing, honoring, nursing, coaching and protecting of the CHILDREN. And instead of religious godparents, the government becomes the backup and really IS a responsible backup team. Then who cares what gender, color, ethnicity, etc. the two parents are or even whether they produced the babies themselves?
So many of our sexual memes come from trying to guarantee personal power and regime immortality by basing succession and inheritance on biology, which before DNA could only be guaranteed by sequestering/imprisoning the women. Priests had to be celibate to keep them from making their churches into family empires. It wasn't that they didn't have sex -- it was that their children were not entitled to anything. At the same time gradually we begin to realize that the “out-breeding” through mistresses and the pretense that male lovers weren’t often inseminators that has given the European aristocracy health and sanity it would otherwise not have had. They’d have done better to imitate the Tibetans, to take the belongings of the previous Sacred Leader and offer them to babies in order to figure out which child now houses the life of that Sacred Leader. At least it was a practice that selected for healthy, happy, eager babies.
A cultural historian might be able to trace our mixing of sex and religious institutions or our mixing of sexual physiological responses with spiritual physiological responses, which share the same brain spaces. We talk about the spiritualization of eros, but not about the erotic nature of the spiritual. The Song of Solomon could not have been the first metaphorical mixing of lust and exaltation and it will not be the last, but we seem to be in a time that uses the crossover in a dysfunctional way to justify lapses of morality. (“I couldn’t help it! I was in love!!”) It’s one thing to step outside the bounds of legal relationships because of temptations -- it’s quite another to pretend to a child that God is involved in molestations or to use the promise of Paradise to push whole groups into suicide by Kool-Aid.
What is good for some groups is not at all good for every individual. To be able to separate oneself from one’s group identity is a kind of insurance in case you have to make a run for it in the night. On the other hand, sometimes it’s necessary to stand up and say, “Take me! Oh, take ME!” for the sake of the group. It’s all negotiable.