Archives for posts with tag: sexuality

Virginia author James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) wrote comic romances (a term perhaps less confusing than “romantic comedies”) on a set of themes. One of these themes is expressed in the idea that there exist women too beautiful for many men safely to look at.

In The High Place: A Comedy of Disenchantment, young Florian espies the sleeping Melior (ensorcelled in a castle ensconced upon a High Place) and it unsettled his life, sending him into a flagrantly immoral life of lust, murder, and (in the end) world-shaking cataclysm.

In Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, the title character — having been given a temporary visage of youth — finds himself with the opportunity to remove a sleeping Helen of Troy’s blanket, but cautiously refrains. This restraint allowed him to return to his normal life as a pawnbroker, and bargain with Koschei the Deathless for the retrieval of his wife from distant realms, to take up her former position as his nagging partner.

Mere fantasy? The peculiar obsession of a perverse mind?

I doubt it.

Sexual selection is powered, in great part, by enticement based on beauty. Flowers are beautiful, the peacock’s feathers are beautiful, and so can be women (to varying degrees). The more beautiful the more likely to attract the bee or the mate, and thus the greater the beauty the more likely they are to procreate, thus spreading the world with more beautiful beings. In some species it is the male that displays the more elaborate enticements to mate, the peacock and peahen being a prime example. In Homo sapiens, it is the woman who attracts chiefly by physical beauty — and the men more moved by that beauty. But, admittedly, among humans the variety of sexual attractions and sexual strategies makes everything vastly more complicated than a themed story.*

But this is a major force in life and its evolution, not a mere technical display, an acquired habit of culture, as so many of today’s trendy people pretend to believe. Lust for — and enchantment with —  sexual beauty is built into our psyches, well, most male psyches, anyway, as amply demonstrated in science and literature. And it rules, often with the whip hand. Beauty suffuses nature, and the lust for beauty spurs life to continue. Further, because it runs so deep, it can be as (or more) powerful than the drive for mysticism, for the numinous.

Carl Gustav Jung suggested that organized religion exists to curb the unsettling power of mystical experiences. By formalizing the Divine, and limiting it to certain rites, places, times, it allows for mundane life to continue.

Traditional marriage and family life did something similar. The mundane curbs the sheer transcendent power of Beauty. To prevent destruction.

Nowadays, the most beautiful of women are plucked from obscurity, farded to perfection, and paraded about for all to see. This alone — with instantiations from modeling, to acting, to pornography (which some would say and was once widely believed were all allied arts) — may be a major factor in modern culture . . . to the unsettling nature of family and community life.

If Cabell were right, this modern development leads to disaster for some men, and perhaps a problem for many men as well as most women. The disaster might be a bit more humdrum than the one perpetrated by Florian.

Behind all the romance, irony, symbols, and elegant prose, Cabell’s philosophic argument was that the natural curb for this aspect of sexual bedazzlement is marriage: one woman to one man, quickly followed by motherhood and fatherhood, thereby speeding up the process known to all: nature’s universal answer to all enchantments, including life itself. Decline and Death. Mother Sereda bleaching all. That suffices to dull the beauty in life.



* Of course there are anomalies, outliers to life’s main story. Gay men and lesbian women look on the world of beauty and sexuality rather differently, each. And certainly confirmed bachelors like me have a different perspective on the story than do married men and, of course, women. But the central story will always be the one that directly carries on the regeneration of life. We outliers must recognize our place. And when society bends to the outlier, to make their stories central, as it seems to be doing now, we can expect cataclysms. Brave New World was not Utopia.

I just watched a neutral presentation of interviews with college students about the difference between sex and gender. Poor kids. They have been taught sanctimonious theory, and can regurgitate it upon demand, but the Rousseauvian nature of their goofball ideas they have no comprehension of.

Sex is a huge subject, and everything I hear from young folk strikes me absurd and unscientific — and based upon political pressure and ideological need, not upon biological reality.

I believe that we live in a new age of a rampant fear and hatred of the biological reality of sex.

It is a sort of mirror image of the traditional fear of sex.

Whereas the old fear was based on the notion of the consequences of action, and the centrality of the idea of responsibility, the new fear is based upon a notion of cosmic fairness, and the centrality of identity (what we used to call personhood).

In olden times, religion was the dominant institution of social control, and people imagined that their selves, their persons, were ghosts stuck in the icky machinery of biology. Fearing being trapped in the consequences of unrestrained sexual passion — disease, death, children one could not provide for — the traditional sex fear expressed itself in a euphemestic manner of speaking about the subject, with extensive social pressure to refrain from sexual behavior except in limited circumstances, socially valorized.

In modern times, political government is the dominant institution of social control, and people imagine that their very selves, their identities, are social constructs imposed on the malleable matter of the brain’s tabula rasa. Today’s taboos center around protecting a person’s expression of what used to be called (incessantly so, by women) their “sexuality.” This expression is said to be their “gender,” which constitutes the sum total of their desires, affects, self-regard, and choice in pronouns.

Both models strike me as absurd. But at least the older paradigm recognized the inherent power of carnality.

Postmodernity sucks, and “gender” theory — its shiniest, newest offspring — is cretinous.

My advice to the youngsters? Forget your “gender.” Sure, folks make hasty judgments and may express biased expectations about you based on your sex. But have a little gumption. Construct your own life according to your own lights, and deal with your biological heritage prudently, and not as a slave either to tradition or fashion.

Be individuals. Persons.

Grow up.

Amongst rodents, the more crowded the population, the more homosexual acts researchers see.

Statism in human populations goes up sharply in the most crowded areas of cities, where people live closer together and in greater numbers.

Conclusion: The State is so gay.

This is a joke, but it is interesting to see how more acceptable homosexuality is in cities compared to rural areas. Further, at present, the more unashamedly statist party in America, the Democratic Party, is more resolutely pro-gay rights and (at present, and amongst whites) for gay marriage. And the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly the party of cities.

Of course, “homosexual acts” is not the same thing as “being gay.” To be a man and yet sexually attracted to men and not women is different from being a man and occasionally satisfying sexual desires with men and not women.

I have gay male friends and relations who are resolutely gay. I have others who seem to be bisexual, and for whom homosexual behavior versus heterosexual behavior is not a matter of orientation so much as of supply and demand. (This appears to have been the case with economist John Maynard Keynes, who was famously and openly gay before World War I, but married a ballerina as the boys went off to fight the Germans.)

It is obvious that sex as such exists to enable procreation. That’s its primary biological and evolutionary function. Human beings do not reproduce asexually: even test tube babies are the result of the union of a sperm and an egg, and only when cloning is perfected will our vegetable love grow and grow, vaster than empires and all that.

So homosexuality and homosexual acts appear to be aberrations from a natural point-of-view. But we need to tread carefully, here.

Life is not a close, tight system. There’s a lot of messiness to biological processes, as anyone who has gutted a fish, blown mucus out of his nose, or engaged in coitus can tell you. In the human animal, the enticements to engage in sexual behavior depend mostly on sexual arousal, which in males is more of a visual nature than in females of our species. Let’s simplify arousal, for analysis’ sake: let’s admit of two main types, visual and tactile, and then concentrate only on the visual. Of course, many other factors are important for both sexes (and no, I’m not going to descend into idiotic usage of the term “gender”). But prescind them out of our model, at present.

Visual beauty arouses sexual interest. Female beauty arouses male interest, and male beauty arouses female interest. The beauty associated with each varies, but studies have shown quite a lot of even cross-cultural similarities. Beauty is our imputation to orderly arrangements of parts to whole, and the orderly arrangements include bilateral symmetry, absence of blemishes, and certain consistent proportions, all of which have been lovingly studied in recent years. (I’m assuming the reader has read at least some of these studies. No citations, for now.)

The interesting thing, here, is that for arousal to lead to heterosexual coitus, with a chance at impregnation and childbirth, the female must respond (not in every case, since rape exists, but in most cases) to male beauty, and the male must respond positively to female beauty (and not in every case, since male arousal is often quite object non-specific) . . . and these beauties are not the same. What are the mechanisms that would lead a male to find the female sexually attractive and the male not so attractive? And what are the mechanisms that would induce the similar, but reverse response in the female towards the male?

Whatever those mechanisms are, we have no a priori reason to believe that those mechanisms of innate and automatic response will always hold. Surely the mechanisms, whether genetic, epigenetic, hormonal, dietetic, familial, social, etc., would sometimes misfire, allowing males to be aroused by male beauty, and females to be aroused by female beauty. Possibly the mechanisms are limits on perception: Males receive some stimulus to blind them to male beauty; females receive some stimulus that blinds them to female beauty. Perhaps it is similar to the nurture-based incest taboo, the blinds most siblings to the sexual charms of each other.

This is no doubt why taboos on homosexual conduct have been in operation in many societies, to counter-act the loose programming of whatever the mechanism is.

And on the face of it, since people want pleasure first and foremost, and children only secondarily (that is, even the most procreative sexual couples tend not to limit their sexual activity to just those times when the woman of the couple can conceive), the fact that there would be homosexual activity in society is not at all a shocker, nor is the fact that some people reverse nature’s norm and find themselves aroused only by members of the same sex.

This is the theory I developed at age 15, anyway, when I first read about homosexuality in a magazine. It puzzled me, but I immediately set upon to make some sense of it.

Unlike most people around me, I didn’t immediately judge homosexuality (or bisexuality) socially corrosive. The paranoia attached to the homosexual taboo struck me as historically based on accident and Darwininian selection (I could see how groups that tabooed homosexual acts would produce more people, and — if said groups also had other good socially co-operative ideas — could outstrip other groups in population productivity).

I also saw anti-homosexual paranoia as based on the psychology of loathing.

When I was young, I liked to make the distinction between hatred and loathing. And since those days of my youth, psychologists have advanced the theory of affect, the basic affects of the soul, which include dissmell and disgust. It’s easy to find in sexual acts a huge component of loathsomeness. We tend to react against the stench of feces and the mess of urine and feces, with some revulsion. Some of this is innate, some of this is learned behavior. And children, growing up, are definitely taught to manage their waste with constant admonitions of “yuck.” Then comes puberty (or earlier, in some kids) and an interest in sex, arousal in sex. But hey: Sex is “all about” (it seems) those disgusting private parts, with their strange odors and secretions, their close proximity to excretory organs.

Every human being must handle the transition from managing one’s biological waste (as “yuck”!) and then quickly backpedal to manage one’s interest in sexual fulfillment. It’s not always an easy transition. And hovering above each individual’s own transit towards maturity are the natural and learned responses to YUCK. Before one fucks, one must accommodate yuck.

And the easiest way to do this is to elicit the power of taboo, including in-group/out-group psychology. The kind of sexual activity I like is good and natural and beautiful — the very paragon of spiritual delight and natural order, decreed by heaven! The kind those people over there engage in is disgusting and smelly and an affront to nature and heaven, a pitiful descent into hell!

So it goes. That’s as natural as is homosexuality or bisexuality. Nature allows for a lot. But society? The trickiness of using “nature” as a guide enters here. Nature is a horrorshow as well as the source of beauty and rarefied joy. Nature, in fact, is something we have to garden, something we as human beings inevitably set to weeding.

Some folks insist that it is homosexuality that must be weeded out. But considering that human sexual orientation solidifies in childhood, and that the child him or herself can hardly be responsible for its exact specifications, means that an anti-homsexual stance would be awfully cruel. And is.

Besides, homosexuality has its place in nature, in terms of genetic advantage. Mere population productivity is not enough to ensure the survival of the species, or of a family genetic line. It turns out that having non-sexually reproducing males and females in clan and tribal living aids in social cohesion and child survival. Weird uncles (and I am one, even if I am not exactly sexually aberrant) have their utility. Many studies have shown the genetic advantage of homosexual non-reproducers in families and clan systems. This theory has even been put into math.

So, what is “gay”? The inversion of normal (and I don’t think this is a horrible word) sexual orientation and arousal and behavior has not, historically, led to the destruction of the human race. Indeed, evidence suggests to me that the benefits to homosexuality, for the general population, far outweigh the cost of reproduction loss. Less babies may lead to better babies.

How? Well, take one example: musical composition. An amazingly high number of the greatest 20th century composers and musicians have been gay, or at least bisexual. This fact would have disturbed old Charles Ives. But composers as different as Aaron Copland, John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Ned Rorem indicate the utility of homosexual men, at the very least. America’s greatest philosopher, George Santayana, was also gay (though how much he practiced his attraction, I know not).

And this helps explain why I have had so many gay male friends, past and present — and why some of them who have not been gay have been mistaken for gay: they are creative, intelligent, aesthetically refined individual who are a pleasure to be around.

But my joke, how unacceptable is it? “The State is so gay….” It’s a riff on a weird meme of our time, where “so gay” has become to mean “fagotty” but not homosexual.

And yet, the state does invert some natural inclinations and desires and taboos.

Bullying and predation and parasitism are obviously wrong, worthy of taboo. And yet the state exerts its power with coercion and by coercion, and is, in modern times as well as historic, the exemplary institution of bullying, predation, and parasitism, with none other even in close competition. Somehow, in politics, people’s moral orientation becomes inverted when exposed to others in tight quarters. Bullying is bad: so the State shall save us . . . and bully us. Thievery can’t be tolerated . . . and yet the greatest expropriator is that same State. Parasitism is a horror . . . and yet the people (the folks in cities, anyway) cry for subsidy, which sets up classes of some folk totally dependent on other folks for their involuntary support.

So, yes, the state is the living embodiment of some kind of inversion. But sexual inversion (the old term for homosexuality) doesn’t seem very much analogous to sociality inversion, where the demands of living close to others overturns the norms of sociality.

It seems a stretch, and not a kind stretch. A great joke of our time — “to say that ‘politicians spend like drunken sailors’ does a great disservice to drunken sailors” — shows the limits of a common analogy, but this sad joke fails to live up to that incisive wit. The State is not gay. It is not cheery. Nor warm and cuddly. Nor ebullient. It remains the coldest of all cold monsters, in Nietzsche’s words, “Coldly it lies; and this lie slips from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.’”

The State is a liar. The State is not the people. It does not represent them. It does not reify them. It does not deify them. The state does not even control them. It is a juryrigged institution of bullying, predation, and class warfare. It corrupts the people by pretending that when it buys off one class, and then serves another, that all parties gain. They do not.

That mutual gain takes place in markets, and in communities. But not within the confines of the State.

The State is Yuck. But that may be my own disgust showing.