Friday, May 4, 2012

Mother Nature

As Sarah Hrdy puts it in her excellent book, after which I've named this blog post (see an excerpt here), "Underlying tensions between males striving for quantity and females for quality (a simplification I will clarify later) are as old as humanity."   Yeah, so, we've heard plenty of times that it's men's evolutionary imperative to sow wild oats and women's to keep the home fires burning.  After all, this dichotomy is one strong reason for our evolutionary success.  I've done enough science in my life, plus this blog is supposed to be fun...  So I'll leave the long-winded arguments to people like Hrdy and Ryan and Jathá.  I'm here to say that there's substantial truth in the wild oats/home fires model.  But also that there's rather more similarity between the sexes than our shitty socialization has led us to believe.

Let me turn to a little anecdote based on my own ancient personal history.  The first time I lived in Nicaragua was at the high point of the illegal U.S. contra war.  Eugene Hassenfus, the arms-running pilot who was free-lancing for the CIA, was shot down in November 1986, at which time I was working on farmerworker health and safety for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health in León.  I watched up close and personal how that single event blew the lid off the Iran-Contra scandal.  Given my tender age at the time, I was as young as many of the young Nicaraguan men who served in the Sandinista army army in the '80s.  The consequences of that became very clear to me during my second stint in Nicaragua, 1999-2000, when there was clearly a shortage of men my age.  Estimates of casualties during the contra war range from 50 to 200K, in a country of 4 million (albeit with some 1 million living abroad thanks to extreme economic desperation). The war was devastating and by and large it was young men who died. 

Now bear with me as I recount another anecdote, about the bar on the south side of town where my lover during my second stint in León would sometimes take me.  According to him, everyone knew about this place, where married men who take their liaisons to lunch before packing them off to one of the sex hotels on the bypass for a little afternoon delight.  I remember once spotting a journalist friend of mine there who I knew in his public life (meaning I also knew his wife, father-in-law and children), with a woman who was definitively not his wife.  With both of these men later on, after I worked out the math, I tried out my argument.  For simplicity's sake, it went roughly this way: for our generation there was a shortage of some 100,000 men in a population of 1 million, meaning there were about 4 men to every 5 women.

Now Nicaragua tacitly accepted, or even benignly encouraged, men's "true nature", so I spent a fair amount of time trying to puzzle out exactly who all these women might be, that were providing the abundant cads and bounders the opportunity to sow all those wild oats? Because I had a hard time coming up with more than a ratio of about 1 and a quarter women per man.  I presented the only three possible options I could see.  First, there were a handful of single women happily servicing far more men than those men were servicing women. Second, there were a lot of prostitutes busy servicing all those Nicaraguan men. Or finally, those men's own wives were giving them a darn good run for their money.  

This brings me to an interesting digression, which is that Giles Tremlett in Ghosts of Spain cites the statistic that one of every 17 Spanish men has been to a prostitute. And this number pales with respect to the estimate of 39% in this horrifying article my ex recently sent me. I can feel a blog post detailing the pathology of sex in Spain coming on, but for now I'll limit myself to saying that my current housemate, who is a non-monogamist of the strongest sort and the first time I have thought I could be friends, actual friends (!), with a Spanish man, tells me, "en España, no follamos" -- in Spain we just don't screw.

Returning to the state of affairs in Sandinista Nicaragua, I can guarantee you that men, even if they wanted to, just didn't have the money to do much patronizing of prostitutes. And though I'm sure there were some happy single girls in circulation, it seemed to me always that there were more unhappy ones who wouldn't have much of anything at all to do with these men. So you see, I always ended up back at the conclusion that the girlfriends and wives, no matter how sedate and even virginal they seemed, had to have been up to their own tricks. Needless to say, these men didn't care too much for my arguments!

Although I've believed since my late 20s that I myself am not monogamous, I think that gradually throughout my 30s, it became clear to me that humans in general probably aren't.  Books like Open Marriage and The Ethical Slut in my 20s, which seemed to imply that non-monogamy was a lifestyle choice were replaced by The Third Chimpanzee and Mother Nature, that seemed to imply it is a biological imperative.  In my circle of intellectuals, I've initiated a debate as to whether we can separate our true nature from our socialization.  I think yes; but many of them think no. When I asked D. if we have fatally lost our way, she said "We have ..., indeed.  And we may be very old (or dead!) when the old order dies."

Now the problem is, I'm an American. You know:  land of the free, home of the brave.  This means I'm constitutionally incapable of accepting that there's no solution to this problem.  And so I'll just have to keep chewing away at the whole puzzle of what needs to be done.  Stay tuned to Sexless Berlin.  Although the blog posts may seem to come far too infrequently for my biggest fans, I'd like to think I'm delivering far more quality than quantity these days.

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