Sunday, February 18, 2018

Catharsis and Enlightenment, Thanks to Art


There is nothing better than art to give us an enlightening perspective on the world. As we dread what is happening in this country, which is now run (into the ground) by a thug president, there are artistic creations that expose an underbelly of life and the lives of those not in the limelight that reveal not only the truth about what is happening to us, but also what is going to happen as younger generations come to the fore. Many of us live in a world of white privilege, academia, middle class blandness, going day to day in routines that may include a week or two here or there, usually to some oasis of nature and luxury. We have no idea about reality or why things are happening as they do. We are clueless, and like the three monkeys on a temple in Japan, we are deaf, dumb, and blind to the world. Two series running now have reminded me of how out of touch most of us are: Ozark, now filming on our street, and Here and Now by the brilliant Alan Ball. Artists are the ones who are most perceptive, the ones who see through the bubbles and fog most of us are lost in. They may use hyperbole to jolt us, but there you are.

"Like" 

Ron Smith and Joseph Mydell




Ozark | Netflix Official Site
NETFLIX.COM




Here and Now
HBO.COM

Will Strong Just why Andre Malraux ended up as Director of the Arts in France.



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Existence Precedes Essence


To be is not, as Bishop Berkeley thought, to be perceived; to be is to do the perceiving.

People are animals by nature; there is no getting around that fact. Humans are mammals. Humans need to eat, breathe, defecate and reproduce, like other animals do. The traits and needs of animal existence, however, do not determine our essence. Aristotle thought that our essence as humans was to be rational creatures, to reason. Nice as it is to think so, there is too much evidence that there are many people who are anything but rational.

The attempt to give us an essence has plagued history. Religion is perhaps the greatest inventor of essences, creating classes of people, castes, racist and ethnic ideas about identity,  and inborn traits of various people. Nationalism, greed, economics, and pseudo-science have complicated the ideas of essence. From religious texts like the Bible, proclaiming that some people are chosen by god, to eugenics and genetic studies of ethnicity, those in positions of authority have attempted to define those who were not. 

The creating of essences also includes gender as well as race. Patriarchal societies have defined women as inferior and dependent on men. Similarly, heterosexuals in power have degraded men who desire men. In all cases the people in power have defined those not in power with some sort of inferior essence that suited their needs and perpetuated their power.

Such misguided concepts of essence have made the lives of many of us not only painful in our attempts to conform, but also have made us despise ourselves for our negative traits. Shame, self disgust, our own sense of self and worth are all diminished by the dominant paragon of humanity the rulers hand to us.  By our very nature, we are told, we are inferior and our essence, therefore, includes the need to submit and serve the more perfect humans above us. 

Never have we needed to resist, to overthrow, to eliminate essence theory more than now. The existentialists have shown us the way. Simone de Beauvoir's profound study of what it means to be a woman in The Second Sex is a brilliant repudiation of the essentialist dogma. Her life-long lover and philosophical partner, Jean Paul Sartre,  spelled out clearly how freedom to become the essence we choose, rather than some essence another gives us, is the basis of the value of our lives, the meaning of ethics and humanism. 

Contemporary evolutionary biology confirms the existentialist insight. Our DNA and the historical make-up of our brains (as well as our minds) are self directed by our experience. We are the agents of our evolutionary development rather than passive to some ancestral need for aggression or past relationships of sex and ethnicity. The essence of womanhood is not motherhood. Each woman chooses this path or not freely. The essence of manhood is not to be aggressive or warlike, to be a father, to be a hunter or a farmer, to have and to hold, whether women or property. There is no essence of manhood. There are no genetic chains of molecules binding us. We choose what we become; for our actions, there is no one else to blame. 

Personally, I feel no allegiance to my race, to my country, to any religious point of view, and certainly not to any ancestors I have. As I said at the start of this short essay, I see myself as an animal with the needs of an animal that are based on survival. As an intelligent animal, reason, education, contemplation and sharing ideas are important to my existence. So, likewise, is my sense of harmony with nature and others. When it comes to ethics, I agree with both Kant and Mill. I think all people could live with the ethical life I have chosen to lead: limited possessions, love, population control, respect for nature, empathy for fellow humans. I agree that the greatest pleasure for the greatest number is a worthy goal of society. That includes respect for diversity of many sorts-- racial, sexual, religious, artistic, and so on. With population control and environmental care, there is no need for aggression, much less war. Reason and freedom lead in that direction. Sadly, however, the essence of humans does not exist, we are not beings who reason. We are condemned to be free, as Sartre put it, free to destroy the planet and ourselves out of ignorance, superstition, and self-absortion. 

--Jameson




Simone de Beauvoir

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Call Me Again




Call Me By Your Name
received Academy Award
nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor today


A decade ago, I published a review of Andre Aciman's novel of passion and first love, Call Me By Your Name. Now, there is a film by the same name. Set on the coast of Italy, the film is as sensual as the novel. It is a dazzling vision to behold. The actor who portrays the 17-year-old narrator, named Elio,  is the remarkable Timothée Chalamet, a perfect embodiment of a young man of intelligence and sensuality arriving at manhood. He falls in love with his archaeologist father's assistant, a graduate student named Oliver, age 24, who is as intelligent and sensual as himself.

The road to bliss is challenging. The two have chemistry from their first meeting on. Yet the awkward first passes are mis-understood or fail to lead anywhere. Both men are beloved of and sought after by young women. Both men feel obliged to return those flirtations. Elio, like many gay men coming of age, experiments with straight sex. There is never any doubt, however, that it is Oliver he longs for. Elio reverses the more usual progression of straight men willing to experiment early on with another guy. But where straight men then go on, more sure than ever, in their attraction for women; in Elio the more powerful and lasting love is for men. Chalamet shows brilliant insight, as an actor, into this deeper need for a same-sex relationship in a young gay man; revealing with subtlety and nuance, the difference between casual sex and friendship with a young woman, and the primal love for a man.

Unfortunately, some of this subtlety is lost in the film itself. The title of the story, Call Me By Your Name, is a vivid and powerful sentence in the novel. It is key to understanding the merging of the identities of the two lovers. They see the other in themselves. In the most profound relationships we take on our lover's identity to a degree. We learn who we are through learning of the other. The thought is further embodied in the scene with the peach. By eating the peach, Oliver consumes Elio's identity, his essential self. The film simply leaves the title as an intimate line unexplained, just as it leaves the peach uneaten. In this respect, the director misses an important key to the depth of the relationship, and fails to see what the title and peach scene tell us about the characters. 

Another difference between book and film is in the character of Elio's father. Here the film makes a great contribution, providing us with a wise and gentle parent who not only understands his son's love for Oliver, but also understands the value of love, even when it is not everlasting, even though it does not endure. Once again, superb acting and direction make the film rise to a higher level of art. As was the case with Aciman's novel, we are given an exquisite, much needed look into the human heart and psyche.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Model Beauty




" ...despite appearances to the contrary, the course of true love never does run smooth." (link to a BBC article)


Today's New York Times details accusations of male models that they were sexually abused by famous photographers. The article is meant as part of the Me Too movement to expose how much those in positions of power have exploited those who worked for them. The problem is pervasive, one experienced directly mostly by women in jobs and careers of all sorts. In more cases than most want to acknowledge, it has also happened to men, perpetrated by both male and female employers. The problem is really not about who and whom; it is about the objectification of some people by other people, the treatment of others as means, not ends. The problem is as old as the Golden rule, as studied as Kant's Ethics, as ingrained in our present society as cell phones.

("Handle so, dass du die Menschheit sowohl in deiner Person, als in der Person eines jeden anderen jederzeit zugleich als Zweck, niemals bloß als Mittel brauchst." - Immanuel Kant  **)


One explanation is that it is a Darwinian example of survival. Males of the species are biologically predisposed to be sexually aggressive. Men butt heads with other men. The one who wins takes his reward. Overpowering the woman leads to survival of the species. Though no one in their right mind believes this literally, it is the symbolic backbone of a theory that males want to fuck females and females want to raise and protect babies. In its most reasonable form the theory is a polite Victorian view of human relations, not unlike Freud's, that people need to suppress their desires, their Id, in order to make for civilization. The good ego properly balances Id and Super-ego, raw instinct and the rules of good society.

Science has debunked this simplistic, deterministic view of the human psyche. Men are not born aggressive, much less sexually aggressive, any more than women are born wanting a protective family that includes children. It is education, upbringing, and society's norms that have shaped our behavior and produced these traits we now find so deplorable. The particular trait I find most egregious is objectification. Our materialistic, capitalistic country is responsible for the mistreatment and abuse we want so desperately to eliminate. 

Take the Times article. Attractive young men go into a career of modeling. The magazines they dream of gracing do the very thing they now complain about, namely, treat them as objects of desire. No one cares who they are or what they feel and think. They are presented the way an expensive sports car is displayed, or a fine home. They are meant to be possessed, not respected. Our society is corrupt to its core. The photographer also sees the model as an object of desire and acts accordingly, perhaps trying to shift the boundary between desire and ethical behavior, but not interested in the person, only the body. This is the same with female models. 

That is not to say that it is impossible for the artist and model to come to a more ethical relationship. History gives us many, many examples of relationships that began in objectification and ended in love. Once objectification becomes subjective, once empathy, compassion, communication, and all the other aspects of friendship and/or love develop, we attain a transcendence of materialism.  The selfish need for things, the selfish need for power, the loneliness of separation from any other human being as essential to our lives, all dissolve. Humanistic values replace material ones; others become existentially real, rather than spokes in the capitalist machine. 

The task at hand, the challenge facing us now, is to resist not only this objectification of others, but to resist as well the selfish need for revenge and treating the agents of objectification as themselves objects of scorn. Forgiveness is difficult. It is also more human, a higher understanding, as those who have forgiven atrocities know. To improve our situation, to eliminate abuse, we have to start with ourselves, our words and actions toward the young, our educational system, the way we talk and act toward others. We have to praise treating others kindly, with respect and compassion. Consider the woman a hospital "dumped" in the middle of the night on the subfreezing streets of Baltimore. How could anyone do this, to treat an ill, helpless, unprotected, almost undressed human being in such a way? This is the objectification I mean, failing to see the person and thinking of a patient as a glyph, a number only. Sexual abusers treat people as numbers also, hence the slang expression.  Let's not make the same mistake in creating a solution to abuse, asking for written consent about specific acts. Is a kiss OK, may I kiss you? Those are not the words of love, they are the words of a materialistic negotiation. When there is compassion, empathy, love... one doesn't need a permission slip to give someone a kiss. 

--Jameson

** Translation of the Kant quotation:


Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year's Resolution 2018


Great Blue Heron, Cape Cod


2018 offers some promise and it offers a warning. The promise for those in our country is that Republicans will lose power to some degree in the fall. Democrats will have some limited ability to guide the ship of state into better waters.
The warning is that complacency and indifference could undermine what limited promise there is. 
Ours is not a future limited to the U.S. but rather a future in which we are a key force, determining by our actions events around the planet. Our capitalistic endeavors, our military, our corporations will shape the Earth and affect every living being.

My resolution for the year ahead, therefore, is to face reality, not turn my gaze away from what is happening globally. Positive thinking, avoiding "being negative" in short, has gotten us where we are. As long as we tell ourselves everything is OK, or will be OK, we contribute to our doom. Catastrophic climate change, pollution, war, over-population and corporate greed are killing people and animals as I write. 


Total Eclipse
photo by Steve Killian

It is tempting to join the greedy and simply live my life as if all were fine. I can fly to Cape Cod, walk in the woods, take close ups of the Great Blue Heron, eat plentiful lobster, and drink champagne. I can listen to romantic love songs live, breathe the fresh ocean air, and ignore the horrors that I know exist in far too many places. Wanting to act, I can change my phone company to Credo, which supports progressive, liberal causes. I cannot save Puerto Rico from future hurricanes, California from more wildfires, Myanmar from ethnic cleansing, Africa and Asia from widespread species extinction, the killing of elephants, the poisoning of fish and birds, the melting of glaciers and the ice at both Poles. Do I think making others aware of the killing of life on Earth by capitalistic corporations and selfish world leaders can make a difference? I don't know. But ignorance will never be bliss as we continue to encounter ever worse man-made disasters.


My resolution for 2018 is almost self-contradictory. On one hand I want to be aware, and promote awareness in others, of what we are doing to this once so beautiful world we live in. Praise the efforts of those who are doing good actions, like building up renewable energy sources, stopping pollution, and protecting animal life. They are the minority. Their efforts may not be sufficient. It is pointless to think that positive action alone is going to save us and our world. To do so just buys into the false positive attitude that turns into complacency and complicity. Awareness is the key.

On the other hand, I resolve to appreciate the beauty that still exists in the world. What makes nature and life in all its diversity worth saving? What makes humanity worth saving-- art, literature, compassion, love, and human rights? Is it possible to stop over-population, despite religion and sexual desire? Is an end to war and nuclear destruction even possible now? Is it possible to be happy in such a world as this without being utterly deluded? 

For me it is not rational or meaningful to dismiss either pessimism or cynicism. I think it is optimism that has made the majority of people ignore how truly horrendous conditions are becoming. If you want to get rid of evil, pretending it doesn't exist is the worst method. Pretending that evil is defeated by being positive is exactly what allows evil to be triumphant. Naivete, religion, greed, self satisfaction, belief in the goodness of an evil, egotistical man brought us our current president. Facing reality, listening to the truth, being aware of the problems facing the world might have prevented our anachronistic, slave-based electoral system from giving us such an ogre. 


We all like an upbeat ending; so let me end with more praise for nature and the dire need to value, worship, and protect it as much as we possibly can.
 "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." --Albert Einstein






Alligator
Savannah Refuge




--Jameson

Thursday, December 14, 2017

12-14-17




This day began in darkness, dreaming of more sleep, a stumble to the shower, and opening the front door to a bright sunrise of orange and black, like a witch etherized upon a table. Seven minutes got me to work where I administered an ACT Test which not only do I not believe in, but abhor for its demand for conformity and competition instead of creativity and cooperation. Repeated standardized tests are killing education as surely as cell phones.
For a few hours I watched stressed and anxious students stare into space, twist and fidget, yawn, look over wistfully at their cell phones we placed on a table, stretch, and finally complete the ordeal of the testing. This was day four.

It was time for the mid-morning meetings in both our houses. As luck would have it, a comedian had spoken yesterday and there had been no discussion of current events. I was able to lead the discussion, beside myself with glee, about the stunning victory of Doug Jones in Alabama. The students pretended to look for news on their cell phones; though their texting gave their ruse away. One student did capture the attention of his peers by mentioning the coming effects of the end of Net Neutrality. I was impressed how so many were opposed to this heinous repeal which happened hours later.

At lunch I walked in the warm sunshine a couple of blocks to Earth Fare and bought $3.50 worth of smoked salmon from the deli. It seemed like a huge quantity for so small a charge. I returned and had the fish on a bagel with cream cheese. Lunch is a great time for banter with students about almost anything. I told them of recent studies showing the negative effects of cell phone addiction on adolescent brains. I told them they could read the whole report on their cells.

After lunch (when I could have left since I had arrived at 7:30 AM), I stayed on for a good discussion in the Philosophy class of Heidegger and Wittgenstein. One student, who is something of a savant, is a bit like Ludwig. He has a good grasp of math and physics, choosing his words and thoughts carefully. It was a productive couple of hours immersed in ontology and the concept of Being, not only from Heidegger's point of view, but going back all the way to the pre-Socratics and Greek philosophy, generally. Later we speculated on what the world today might have become if Alexander had lived to be an old man, if Greek culture, rather than Roman,  had endured.
Another student, who is a remarkable artist, had some new work to share with us. She also gave me a gift of expensive bonbons, with a small art piece telling me to "Keep on Trippin' " and that the 1960s are never over.

I drove home and took a nap. Darryl had cleaned the screen porch, top to bottom, and was napping also. At 5 or so, we awoke and headed to the Colonnade  for the Early Bird specials. Having had fish for lunch, I went for the turkey, and Darryl ordered the pork loin. The place was so packed that we had to wait first in the lounge, having a cocktail before dinner. Perhaps it was the vodka in my Cape Cod, but the restaurant became a satire by Botero. Fat, old, teenaged, gray and gay diners formed parades of people trooping to large tables. Singles, pairs, parties of ten, all congregated in the two large rooms. Darryl made the Botero reference; correcting my appeal to Goya. Not thin enough he had observed, though I thought many of the faces had a look of madness. I felt a kind of euphoria, whatever they all were. After arising at 6:30 AM for four days, I was off work until January something.

Then there was the dessert. The Early Bird specials include it. Dar had apple crisp. I agreed to the ice cream, but only if they added hot fudge. So there it was, one scoop of vanilla, one of peppermint, drenched in hot fudge, along with a hearty cup of coffee. When I was just a boy, earning my sterling silver cross for perfect attendance at Sunday school, Dad would pick Johnny and me up and take us to the Dairy Queen. There I always had the hot fudge sundae. Now, on Throwback Thursday I was having just such a sundae. It was a religious experience, sure enough, sensuous as an orgasm.

What better way to end the evening and begin celebrating the Winter Solstice?

http://time.com/5058769/winter-solstice-2017/



Jameson



Monday, November 27, 2017

PROMISCUOUS MEN, CHASTE WOMEN AND OTHER GENDER MYTHS.



Title:PROMISCUOUS MEN, CHASTE WOMEN AND OTHER GENDER MYTHS.
Authors:FINE, CORDELIA
ELGAR, MARK A.
Source:Scientific American. Sep2017, Vol. 317 Issue 3, p32-37. 6p. 2 Color Photographs.
Document Type:Article
Subjects:EVOLUTION (Biology) -- Environmental aspects
GENDER inequality
SEXUAL selection in animals
DARWIN, Charles, 1809-1882
PROMISCUITY
ANIMAL behavior

THE NEW SCIENCE OF SEX AND GENDER
The notion that behavioral differences between the sexes are innate and immutable does not hold up under scrutiny
ONE OF AUSTRALIA'S MORE PROVOCATIVE ART MUSEUMS, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, recently hosted an exhibition on the evolution of art. Three evolutionary scientists who guest-curated the show offered their perspectives on how evolution explains not just the characteristics of amoebas, ants and antelopes but also the uniquely human endeavor of art. One of these explanations sees art as an evolved trait akin to the peacock's effervescently colored tail, which increases its bearer's reproductive success by signaling superiority as a mate.
Hands up if this scenario conjures in your mind the image of a much feted female artist, famous for fearlessly pushing the boundaries of artistic convention, pleasurably making her way through a series of handsome young male muses? We didn't think so.
The stereotype of the daring, promiscuous male—and his counterpart, the cautious, chaste female—is deeply entrenched. Received wisdom holds that behavioral differences between men and women are hardwired, honed by natural selection over millennia to maximize their differing reproductive potentials. In this view, men, by virtue of their innate tendencies toward risk-taking and competitiveness, are destined to dominate at the highest level of every realm of human endeavor, whether it is art, politics or science.
But a closer look at the biology and behavior of humans and other creatures shows that many of the starting assumptions that have gone into this account of sex differences are wrong. For example, in many species, females benefit from being competitive or playing the field. And women and men often have similar preferences where their sex lives are concerned. It is also becoming increasingly clear that inherited environmental factors play a role in the development of adaptive behaviors; in humans, these factors include our gendered culture. All of which means that equality between the sexes might be more attainable than previously supposed.
FAST MALES, FINICKY FEMALES
THE ORIGIN of the evolutionary explanation of past and present gender inequality is Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection. His observations as a naturalist led him to conclude that, with some exceptions, in the arena of courtship and mating, the challenge to be chosen usually falls most strongly on males. Hence, males, rather than females, have evolved characteristics such as a large size or big antlers to help beat off the competition for territory, social status and mates. Likewise, it is usually the male of the species that has evolved purely aesthetic traits that appeal to females, such as stunning plumage, an elaborate courtship song or an exquisite odor.
It was, however, British biologist Angus Bateman who, in the middle of the 20th century, developed a compelling explanation of why being male tends to lead to sexual competition. The goal of Bateman's research was to test an important assumption from Darwin's theory. Like natural selection, sexual selection results in some individuals being more successful than others. Therefore, if sexual selection acts more strongly on males than females, then males should have a greater range of reproductive success, from dismal failures to big winners. Females, in contrast, should be much more similar in their reproductive success. This is why being the animal equivalent of a brilliant artist, as opposed to a mediocre one, is far more beneficial for males than for females.
Bateman used fruit flies to test this idea. Although the technology for paternity testing did not exist at the time, he inferred parentage and the number of different mates of males and females as best he could. He did this rather ingeniously, by using fruit flies with different genetic mutations, including one that makes the bristles on the wings extra long, another that makes the wings curl upward, and yet another that renders the eyes very small or absent. These mutations are sometimes evident in offspring, so Bateman could estimate how many offspring each adult produced by counting the number of different mutants among the surviving offspring. From his data, he concluded that males were indeed more variable than females in their reproductive success (measured as offspring). Bateman also reported that only male reproductive success increased with the number of mates. This result, he argued, is why males compete and females choose: a male's reproductive success is largely limited by the number of females he can inseminate, whereas a female reaches her plateau with a single mate that provides her with all the sperm she needs.
Scholars mostly ignored Bateman's study at first. But some two decades later evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, now at Rutgers University, catapulted it into scientific fame. He expressed Bateman's idea in terms of greater female investment in reproduction—the big, fat egg versus the small, skinny sperm—and pointed out that this initial asymmetry can go well beyond the gametes to encompass gestation, feeding (including via lactation, in the case of mammals) and protecting. Thus, just as a consumer takes far more care in the selection of a car than of a disposable, cheap trinket, Trivers suggests that the higher-investing sex—usually the female—will hold out for the best possible partner with whom to mate. And here is the kicker: the lower-investing sex—typically the male—will behave in ways that, ideally, distribute cheap, abundant seed as widely as possible.
The logic is so elegant and compelling it is hardly surprising that contemporary research has identified many species to which the so-called Bateman-Trivers principles seem to apply, including species in which, unusually, it is males that are the higher-investing sex. For example, in some species of katydids, also known as bush crickets, the male's investment in reproduction is greater than the female's, thanks to a nutrient-rich package he provides, along with sperm, during copulation. Females thus fight one another for access to males.
The Bateman-Trivers principles also seem to provide a plausible explanation of the gender dynamics of human societies. Women are commonly understood to have less interest in casual sex with multiple partners, for instance, and to be more caring and less competitive and risk-taking. Applying the Bateman-Trivers logic, these behaviors serve to protect their investment. Contemporary advice from Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg to women to "lean in" at work to rise to the top thus appears to be undercut by arguments that predispositions to take risks and compete have evolved more strongly in males than in females because of greater reproductive return.
BREAKING THE RULES
BUT IT TURNS OUT that nature is not nearly so simple and neat as this line of reasoning would suggest, even for nonhuman animals. In the decades since the Bateman-Trivers principles were forged, many of their foundational assumptions have been overturned. One such change in thinking concerns the supposed cheapness of reproduction for males. Sperm is not always cheap, nor is it always abundant: for instance, male stick insects can take several weeks to recover their libido after a lengthy copulation. And more recent scrutiny of the fruit fly's reproductive habits found that males do not always take up mating opportunities. Male selectivity has consequences for females of many insects, because if they mate with a male that has copulated extensively, they risk acquiring insufficient sperm. Scarce or limited sperm is not an uncommon challenge for females, which may mate repeatedly with different males precisely to acquire enough sperm.
In fact, a reexamination of Bateman's data from the lab of Patricia Gowaty of the University of California, Los Angeles, revealed, crucially, that a female fruit fly's reproductive success also increased with her mating frequency, a pattern that has emerged for a great many other species of animals. Furthermore, field studies show that mating for females is not the given scientists once assumed it to be. In a surprisingly large number of species, a significant proportion of females do not encounter a male and are thus unable to reproduce. Nor is promiscuous mating standard practice for males. Monogyny, in which males mate only once, is not uncommon and can be an effective means of maximizing reproductive success.
Insects are not the only creatures that challenge the Bateman-Trivers principles. Even in mammals, for which investment in reproduction is particularly skewed because of the costs of gestation and lactation for females, competition is important not just for male reproductive success but also for female reproductive success. For example, the infants of higher-ranking female chimpanzees have higher rates of both arrival and survival than those of lower-ranking females.
In our own species, the traditional story is additionally complicated by the inefficiency of human sexual activity. Unlike many other species, in which coitus is hormonally coordinated to a greater or lesser degree to ensure that sex results in conception, humans engage in a vast amount of nonreproductive sex. This pattern has important implications. First, it means that any one act of coitus has a low probability of giving rise to a baby, a fact that should temper overoptimistic assumptions about the likely reproductive return on seed spreading. Second, it suggests that sex serves purposes beyond reproduction—strengthening relationships, for example.
Cultural and societal changes further necessitate rethinking the application of Bateman-Trivers principles to humans. The dichotomous view of the sexes that held sway in the last century has given way to one that sees differences mainly in degree rather than kind. Increased female sexual autonomy wrought by the birth-control pill and the sexual revolution has led to marked increases in premarital sex and numbers of sexual partners in women especially. And women and men report largely similar preferences for their sex lives. For example, the second British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, based on a random sample of more than 12,000 people between the ages of 16 and 44 surveyed around the turn of this century, found that 80 percent of men and 89 percent of women preferred monogamy.
Meanwhile the feminist movement increased women's opportunities to enter, and excel in, traditionally masculine domains. In 1920 there were just 84 women studying at the top 12 law schools that admitted women, and those female lawyers found it nearly impossible to find employment. In the 21st century women and men are graduating from law school in roughly equal numbers, and women made up about 18 percent of equity partners in 2015.
RISKS AND BENEFITS
AS WE ZOOM IN from this broad-brush perspective on gender patterns to a fine-grained examination of sex differences in behavior, the familiar evolutionary story becomes even muddier. Consider risk-taking, once assumed to be a masculine personality trait, thanks to its role in enhancing male reproductive success. It turns out that people are quite idiosyncratic in the kinds of risks they are willing to take. The skydiver is no more likely to gamble money than the person who prefers to exercise in the safety of the gym. It is people's perception of the potential costs and benefits of a particular risky action, not their attitude toward risk per se, that explains their willingness to take risks. These perceived costs and benefits can include not only material losses and gains but also less tangible impacts on reputation or self-concept.
This nuance is important because sometimes the balance of risks and benefits is not the same for men and women because of physical differences between the sexes or gendered norms, or both. Consider, for example, the risk of a casual sexual encounter. For a man, the gains include the near certainty of an orgasm and perhaps a burnishing of his reputation as a "stud." For a woman, sexual pleasure is far less likely from casual sex, according to a large-scale study of North American students published in 2012 by Elizabeth Armstrong of the University of Michigan and her colleagues. And thanks to the sexual double standard, her reputation is more likely to be damaged by the episode. Among young Australians, for example, sociologist Michael Flood, now at the Queensland University of Technology, found that the label "slut" retains a stronger "moral and disciplinary weight … when applied to women." Moreover, a woman bears greater physical risks, including pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and even sexual assault.
The lens of different risks and benefits can also clarify the sexes' different propensity to assert themselves at work, as Sandberg has advised women to do. It is hard to see how a young female lawyer, looking first at the many young women at her level and then at the very few female partners and judges, can be as optimistic about the likely payoff of leaning in and making sacrifices for her career as a young male lawyer. And this is before one considers the big-picture evidence of sexism, sexual harassment and sex discrimination in traditionally masculine professions such as law and medicine.
Still, the idea that a nonsexist society could erase the psychological effects of timeless, enduring sex differences in reproductive investment seems implausible to many. A recent article in the Economist, for example, equated the marketing-inspired tradition of the diamond engagement ring with the strutting peacock's extravagant tail, an evolved courtship ritual that signals a man's resources and commitment. The journalist wrote that "greater equality for women might seem to render male-courtship displays redundant. But mating preferences evolved over millennia and will not change quickly."
ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCE
ALTHOUGH SEX certainly influences the brain, this argument overlooks the growing recognition in evolutionary biology that offspring do not just inherit genes. They also inherit a particular social and ecological environment that can play a critical role in the expression of adaptive traits. For example, adult male moths that hailed, as larvae, from a dense population develop particularly large testes. These enhanced organs stand the moths in good stead for engaging in intense copulatory competition against the many other males in the population. One would be forgiven for assuming that these generously sized gonads are a genetically determined adaptive trait. Yet adult male moths of the same species raised as larvae in a lower-density population instead develop larger wings and antennae, which are ideal for searching for widely dispersed females.
If the development of sex-linked physical characteristics can be influenced by the social environment, it stands to reason that sex-linked behavior can be, too. One striking example comes from the previously mentioned female katydids, which compete for the males that bring them both sperm and food, in line with the Bateman-Trivers principles. Remarkably, when their environment becomes rich with nutritious pollen, their competitive "nature" wanes.
The environment is similarly important for adaptive behavior in mammals. Research published starting in the late 1970s found that rat mothers care for male and female pups differently. The males get licked more than the females in the anogenital region because the mothers are attracted to the higher level of testosterone in male pups' urine. Intriguingly, the greater stimulation from this higher-intensity licking plays a part in the development of sex differences in parts of the brain involved in basic masculine mating behavior.
As University of Sydney philosopher of science Paul Griffiths has observed, we should not be surprised that environmental factors or experiences that reliably recur every generation should be incorporated as inputs into the developmental processes that bring about evolved traits.
In our own species, these developmental inputs include the rich cultural inheritance bestowed on every human newborn. And although social constructions of gender vary across time and place, all societies weight biological sex with heavy cultural meaning. Gender socialization starts at birth, and it would only make sense if the ruthless process of natural selection were to exploit it. It may well have been adaptive in our evolutionary past for males to take these and those risks or for females to avoid them. But when culture changes—creating a very different pattern of rewards, punishments, norms and consequences, compared with those in the past—so, too, will patterns of sex differences in behavior.
Thus, the Economist writer was not quite right in stating that human "mating preferences evolved over millennia and will not change quickly." True, they are unlikely to change as quickly as those of katydids, with a sprinkling of pollen (although we suspect that is not what was meant). There is usually nothing simple and quick about creating cultural shifts. But change certainly can, and certainly has, taken place over timescales shorter than millennia.
Take, for example, gender gaps in the importance men and women place on a partner's financial resources, attractiveness and chastity. The very quaintness of the term "chastity" to Western ears today compared with several decades ago speaks to rapid changes in cultural gender expectations. Cross-culturally, women and men from countries with greater gender equity are more similar in all these dimensions of partner preferences than those from countries with lower equity between the sexes, according to a 2012 study by Marcel Zentner and Klaudia Mitura, both then at the University of York in England. Research has also shown that in the U.S., men now place more importance on a female partner's financial prospects, education and intelligence—and care less about her culinary and housekeeping skills—than they did several decades ago. Meanwhile the cliché of the pitiable bluestocking spinster is a historical relic: although wealthier and better-educated women were once less likely to marry, now they are more likely to do so.
Could we, then, see the day when the world's finest art galleries display as much art by women as by men? We certainly shouldn't let Bateman's fruit flies tell us no.
IN BRIEF
The classic evolutionary explanation of behavioral differences between men and women holds that they reflect an evolved pattern seen across the animal kingdom. Many gender gaps, in this view, are thus "natural." But research has shown that many of the foundational assumptions of this account are wrong. Environmental factors, moreover, can play a key role in the development of evolved behaviors. Progressive cultural shifts do not "go against" nature but rewrite it.
MY ONE AND ONLY?
Although promiscuous mating has traditionally been viewed as a male trait that evolved to maximize male reproductive success, scientists have documented dozens of species across the animal kingdom in which females have more offspring when they mate with multiple males.
MORE TO EXPLORE
Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn about Sex from Animals. Marlene Zuk. University of California Press, 2002.
Rethinking Bateman's Principles: Challenging Persistent Myths of Sexually Reluctant Females and Promiscuous Males. Zuleyma Tang-Martínez in Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 53, Nos. 4—5, pages 532—559; 2016.
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—And the New Research That's Rewriting the Story. Angela Saini. Beacon Press, 2017.
Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. Cordelia Fine. W. W. Norton, 2017.
FROM OUR ARCHIVES
The New Social Darwinists. John Horgan; October 1995.
PHOTO (COLOR)
PHOTO (COLOR)
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Cordelia Fine is a professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Melbourne and a Women's Leadership Institute Australia Fellow. Her most recent book is Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society (W. W. Norton, 2017).
Mark A. Elgar is a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Melbourne. His research group focuses on questions about the evolutionary significance of cooperative and mating behaviors and studies the role of chemical and visual communication in facilitating those behaviors.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-new-science-of-sex-and-gender/




Friday, November 10, 2017

Me Too




What is it that motivates one person to sexually assault another? Is it part of the tendency to assault others in general? Is it part of being a bully?

With the Electoral victory of a President who admitted proudly that he grabbed pussy, a tsunami of trauma has swept across the country. We are all suddenly recalling acts of assault throughout our lives. 


When I was in High school
Age 17

Is assault part of our DNA? Some biologists insist that we are more like the chimpanzees than other primates because we are aggressive. Not all primates are. Take the Bonobo. They happily engage, peacefully, in every form of sexuality our religion and our laws condemn, including sex with minors. Masturbation of every conceivable pairing is practiced. 




The Bonobo are among the most peaceful and contented species on Earth. The Dolphins are similar.


When I was a child in elementary school, I recall the aggression of fellow students. I haven't thought of it in years. Other boys used to grab my testicles and yell "squirrel." (going after the nuts). At times it was terrifying, as the grab could be quite painful. Boys also pulled girl's hair if it was long. It was all considered "play."
In our teens a new pressure emerged. Boys were pressured to have sex as much as they pressured girls to have sex. If you did not have sex, you were considered a loser, by both sexes. Our society, and especially our high schools set the stage for harassment. To be men, boys had to have conquests. Girls had their own quandary, to maintain their "virtue," or face the humiliation of being considered easy. Girls wanted sex as much as boys did, for the most part. In my teens I was groped by girls instead of boys. I was as curious and eager to experience sex as anyone, but like everyone else, I did not want to be forced. Nor did I want to force anyone. Since those days long ago, seeing another's displeasure, or lack of interest, was a downer. But mutual masturbation and oral sex with both sexes who wanted it were a joy. (I was 19 before I experienced coitus with a woman, 21 with a man. Both were with people I loved at the time. Both were nothing less than astonished ecstasy.)

One of the qualities lost in today's exposure of trauma is subtlety of process. There is a profound difference between seduction and harassment. Almost no one is writing now about the beauty of good courtship. Take the poem by W.B. Yeats:

Wine comes in at the mouth

And love comes in at the eye;

That’s all we shall know for truth

Before we grow old and die.

I lift the glass to my mouth,

I look at you, and I sigh.


Is saying that to someone harassment?

One of the results of the tsunami of pain is a false extension of blame from a subset to the entire set.


Men harassed me-- so all men are the same-- they are all sexually aggressive. The same follows, it seems, because there are many more cases of blatant assault on women than there are assaults by women on men. Never mind that there are huge numbers of cases in study after study of men being harassed and assaulted by women.

Ever hear of Circe? Ever see Sunset Boulevard? 

So yes, if you want to include groping, I must say "Me Too." Groped by women and men for decades. And I was many times pressured to have sex with others, again both women and men. But I was never raped and never assaulted after elementary school "play." I was fortunate in that I was able to let it go.

Never would I want to diminish the horror of rape and sexual assault. I simply claim that both sexes have committed them. What is needed, I think, is a look at what our society has become. The majority of white women voted for Trump in spite of his shameless bragging of sexually assaulting women. Have we made this behavior of men the norm? Do we reward boys early on for pressuring girls to have sex? have we made girls who simply want to enjoy sex feel ashamed and guilty over their desires? What role has religion played in our fucked up attitudes toward sex? What role do parenting and schools play?


Rape of the Sabine Women (Wiki) ?

OR


Demonizing the other, saying them, not us, is always the easy way out. "I didn't vote for Trump, not my problem." Not My President.

Oh, if it were only that easy. But that isn't the whole truth, is it? Let him, or her, who is without sin cast the first stone. Take a good, long look into your own psyche before condemning entire populations, whole classes of people, before becoming a bigot, a sexist, a racist, a self-righteous asshole.  



Another victim of Sexual assault, whoever commits it, is Dionysus, sexuality itself in all of its beauty and plenitude. 



Jameson

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Gathering of Spirits



Gathering of Spirits



A Gathering of Spirits


Land's End






As the Day of the Dead approaches, I've been considering who I am in terms of those hid in death's dateless night, those who have had an impact on my life.

You may see those spirits I knew personally among these twelve:




Full Deck of Essential Beings from the past :

54 Intimate Spirits (After 1700)

And, from Ancient times to 1650 or so, I give you:

Seventeen Spirits nestled in my Psyche


The dead who live in me-- at least for a little longer. 
From 600 BCE to 1650 CE
Click above or any one below to see all 17:






Jack Jameson