Tagged: delayed gratification

XXX The Science of Sex III

Some further remarks in the discussion of Robin Baker’s Science of Sex (XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX).

Male Masturbation: Is Self-Control Advisable?

After having presented Baker’s view on masturbation, I would like to stress that the model I had outlined on my side is not, to the best of my knowledge, alternative to his view but rather complementary. Baker explains the strategic value of male masturbation in the context of sperm competition, that is mainly for men already involved in regular sexual activity. On my side, as I was thinking on this matter, I had in mind some particular view I had met several times expressed by representatives of the medical institution (for instance in the media), namely that, generally speaking, masturbation stops when people start having regular sexual activity. Keeping this notion in sight, I was led to limit the scope of my reflections to young men masturbating during the period from puberty to regular sexual intercourse.

The first thing to stress here is that, if Baker is right, then the medical discourse alluded to is far off the mark and no accurate picture of reality. According to Baker’s results, male masturbation does not occur much, in fact, if the time elapsed between two intercourses is short, for instance three days, which is the median interval for couples having routine sex (see XXIX), but when the interval increases, the likelihood that the man will masturbate increases also. So, in the mean statistical condition, it is true that men having regular sex do not masturbate as a rule, but we are not entitled to translate this statement into the generalization that men do not masturbate as they engage in routine sex, because, first, not all couples have sex at the rate of the mean interval, and, second, a couple that tends to follow the mean pattern yet may vary in intercourse frequency, so the situations predicted by Baker to have the man masturbate must be numerous enough.

We are confronted here with two different views emanating from scientific authority. Knowing what has led Baker to his conclusions, I tend to adopt his point of view. I am even willing to explain the diverging opinion by relying on Baker’s own theory. The medical discourse that I have many reasons to consider, at least in my country (France), as mainstream, for having met it expressed several times and consistently, with no objection from nowhere, could be another, and most awful, instance of that spiteful hypocrisy at the root of the popular prejudice against masturbation. That it is expressed from men of science should come as no surprise – although it is much regrettable – because men of science are still men, often enough. The profound thinker Bakunin said: “We recognize the absolute authority of science but reject the infallibility and universality of the representatives of science.” (in Dieu et l’État; my translation from the original French).

In the same way as Baker did not hesitate to hold his views against what I perceive as a scientific consensus (but I may be mistaken as to the extent of that opinion among physicians and biologists), I for the present stick to my own view that the popular prejudice against masturbation is not altogether devoid of reasonable ground. First of all, let us stress that popular morals, as Kant call it, is, as the philosopher said himself, the very same as practical reason, and as a consequence one is allowed, provisionally, to regard its prejudice against masturbation as practical reason too – not to mention the fact that Kant expressed negative views on masturbation explicitly. We shall not discuss Kant’s views here, however, because he and I may differ in our reasons. As I believe I made clear in XXVIII and XXIX, my advocation of some masturbation refrainment is not intended as a norm for living an ascetic life but as a practical advice to reach one’s sexual objectives more quickly and efficiently, if this be possible, in an environment where no whorehouses are left.

The main point is that temporary constraint makes good effect on surrounding women. I tried to put it in biological terms reminiscent of pheromones and like phenomena, but my theorizing goes not much further (for more details see Science of Sex I & II). However, another reason may come in handy, because it is consistent with findings of evolutionary psychology, namely that refraining from masturbation would indicate to women a capacity to self-control and hence likelihood of high status in the foreseeable future. Indeed, one fact that seems to hold true is that women, as they look for a mate, are particularly receptive to status. This, by the way, has a number of implications: “Males have the potential to reproduce at a much faster rate than do females, and the reproductive success of males (unlike that of females) is limited mainly by mating opportunities. Because mating opportunities benefit males more than females, and because higher status males get more mating opportunities, selection on males tend to strongly favour the ability to succeed in status competition.” (Price & Johnson 2011).

According to the longitudinal Stanford marshmallow experiment, children capable of self-control, later in life get higher SAT scores and better educational attainments, which mean higher socioprofessional status. In this experiment, several children were asked to wait a few minutes alone in a room, with a marshmallow conspicuously displayed on a table. They were told they would be given two marshmallows if they did not eat the one on the table before the adult returns. This is a measure of self-control. Those who delayed gratification, and got two marshmallows instead of one, got higher SAT scores and so on later in life. The experiment is a confirmation of a preconception deep-rooted in popular morals.

If a woman, therefore, can perceive that a young man, whose later status in life can only be guessed so far, is capable of self-control, then, due not only to the recent results of the marshmallow experiment, which she may know, but also, and perhaps primarily, to a deep-rooted popular conception, then she would evaluate his future status as being high and thus be more willing to become his girlfriend in the present – as a good investment for the future, perhaps. Of course, there must be many different clues of future high status, one’s being the son of a nabob representing another rather safe bet for instance, but none is to neglect, I suppose.

As to self-control, there certainly exists many ways for a person to assess it in another person, and had the designers of the marshmallow experiment been smart guys they would have collected as many data on the children’s psychology as possible, which they perhaps did. It is my belief that a young man able to withhold masturbation for a while distinguishes himself in other ways, but he would not distinguish himself as much were he not withholding masturbation for a while, because then he would be… a wanker. Sorry for the circularity… You know what I mean, don’t you?

And, again, as I already warned (XXVIII), there still is the risk for the young woman that the self-controlled guy turns a Kantian philosopher rather than a smart organization man. Well, but maybe she can do something about it.

High Status, Reproductive Success, and the Organization Man

As Baker, and other behavioral ecologists, assure us, high-status men make more children than low-status men. “Even in contemporary Western society high-income men have more biological children than low-income men, whereas among women the opposite is true (Hopcroft 2005; Nettle and Pollock 2008).” (Buunk, Pollet, Dijkstra & Massar 2011). & “Men worldwide exhibit more risk taking, promiscuity, and dominance behaviors, and those who achieve positions of status have superior access to mates and enhanced reproductive success.” (Browne 2011).

Before we turn to other Darwinians holding a diametrically opposite view (and ‘tis a bit strange that I should have to talk of views when trying to determine what lies before our eyes, which should only call for sight, and not views), let us be precise. According to the first of the two quotes above, high-income men sire a significant number of children that single low-income women and/or low-income couples are raising, presumably at the latter’s own expense.

In XXIX, I quoted the scholar Laura Betzig stating that industrialization put an end to extent reproductive inequalities in favor of high-status men – as a consequence, she surmises, of technical specialization. Another instance can be found in Deirdre Barrett (Harvard Medical School): “Despite our instincts to claim yet more objects, land, and possessions, the wealthy and powerful no longer have more offspring.” (Supernormal Stimuli, 2010, p. 170). Barrett advances birth control as a cause, an hypothesis Baker has extensively discussed and disproved (see XXIX). She adds: “The controversial 1994 The Bell Curve … outlined research indicating one indisputable fact. People doing less well by most criteria – IQ, years of education, money earned, a stable family unit, and the like – now produce the most offspring. In the developed world at least, the vast majority of children who are born will survive. If their parents aren’t able to provide for them, people with more ressources will contribute or outrigh adopt them. The offspring of the less successful survive to reproductive age, and pass along their genes at a faster pace than anyone else.” (ibid., p. 171). That book, The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray, is called by Barrett controversial, because, beside some discussions on racial matters, it is a reformulation of a view that I believe used to be commonplace among Darwinians decades ago as they described their own time, namely that society would be jeopardized by its own impediments to natural selection; and it is controversial because twentieth-century totalitarian regimes are alleged to have drawn practical conclusions from that view. This is not what we shall discuss presently. I wanted to call the reader’s attention to two diverging ways of construing our current reality by scholars otherwise holding the same Darwinian tenets.

I have already brought a few elements to this discussion, to which I refer the reader. What can be added here is that as, according to the marshmallow experiment, self-control correlates positively to educational attainments and high status, the view that high-status men inseminate relatively more women unlawfully (if not illegally) than low-status men, more lacking in self-control, strikes one as a little odd.

What definition exactly the authors of the different studies cited give to high status may be a point to consider in the present confusion. Another line of argument in The Bell Curve is that college degrees have become the main accessway to high status in today’s societies, contrary to the past. Other studies show that our economies are organization-driven, and high-status men are for the most part organization men, selected for their degrees. Cut-throat competition is now the specializing of the shadowy middleman or small businessman, some of them indeed making fairly considerable earnings without a college degree, but for many an observer this class of man is under threat of extinction, and at the very least does not represent the current economic elite.

Among these small businessmen, one is likely to find a fair deal of uneducated and at the same time well-off men – because uneducated, likely to lack self-control, and because well-off, in a position to take advantage of status differences in order to increase one’s reproductive success. But the organization man is another breed: he could not have got his degree without some ability to defer gratification, and he could not work in a pyramidal, hierarchical, gregarious organization without maintaining self-control at a fairly high level. The organization man has much in common with the Jesuit (perinde ac cadaver).

As I am writing these lines, I am asking myself, in what fairyland I think I’m living, so I’ll stop here because I have not enough data to keep slandering small businessmen and extolling corporate executives.

As to the small-business scale, though, many a startup nowadays is the offshoot of some university professor or student, or of a clique of such, who took advantage of the cocoon provided by their academic institution to develop their ideas and business plan completely proof to market pressures, and then enter the market to bust competing businesses. Such cynicism I have dubbed varsity capitalism. Even on this scale degrees tend to be the norm.

What can be said as a parenthesis is that if self-control is a clue of high status in the foreseeable future, then the theory of the two swords, by which medieval Papacy claimed all power on this earth, that is the legitimicay that both the mundane and spiritual swords rest in her own hands, is not completely unwarranted. Out of the world, which is the monk’s place, means at the top of it: by controlling your passions, you rise above the world of passions, and above is a dominating position. The solid chain of philosophers that have discredited political claims by the Church makes it foolhardy to try to justify these claims today. Yet, these philosophers themselves, as far as is known from their biographies, practiced the same passion- and self-control relied upon by Church clerics, and some of them extolled the virtues of monastic contemplative life. Their indictment bore upon the doctrine rather than upon the ethics. As to the doctrine, it probably evolved in part from the natural need of strong incentives in order to tread the way of asceticism, incentives not needed by more strong-minded philosophers. An early form of such incentives may be the claim to charismata and magic powers, which in turn might be nothing but the inner strength evidenced by the man capable of self-control.

A last word on these mystical objects. Why asceticism, in the first place? It may be that it was important in the past, as ressources were scarce, to be able to delay gratification and develop self-control, that is to be able to put up with scarcity. But, make no mistake, if it was advantageous in the past because of scarcity, it is still advantageous today, because of abundance. It is a new breed of ascetics that will survive the obesity epidemics.

Sex Conditioning

Whatever may be the true relationship between high status and reproduction in our societies, Darwinians, as a rule, very much minimize the possibilities of conditioning. Yet, the very idea of ‘conditional strategies’, that is of the genetic program translating into alternative behaviors depending on the characteristics of the environment, warrants, as it is in men’s power to modify their environment, extreme voluntarism and interventionism in the political field, rather than the laissez faire seemingly advocated by the great bulk of Darwinians. A quote from Jean-Paul Sartre will provide some light in the matter: “[The antisemite] being, like all other men, a freedom in situation, it is his situation that must be thoroughly modified: it suffices to change the perspectives of choice for the choice to alter … freedom decides upon different bases, according to different structures.” (my translation from Réflexions sur la question juive). Compare with Baker’s definition of conditional strategies: “Conditional strategies are the main causes of differences in behaviour, not only between individuals but also between cultures. Different geographical regions, different periods of history, provide different environments with different opportunities and risks – such as variations in risk of disease – thus triggering different behaviour. As a result, cultures differ in what are considered to be societal norms for parenting. Natural selection was in fact the architect, but culture is a plagiarist and invariably claims to have thought of the rules for itself.” (BW 291-2). I do not know whether Baker read Sartre, but had he not I wouldn’t blame him, for it is evident that what the literary Sartre calls freedom is, no matter how much in situation, determinism. But the idea is the same, and Baker’s own conclusion is not quite warranted either, I believe. We have at our disposal a power on our environment (not to mention purposeful breeding or genomic intervention), the environment that will determine in the last resort, through the mechanism of conditional strategies, our behaviors. How we shall use this power, we are bound (or free, if you prefer) to decide in the abstract.

Human agency itself is environment and shapes human behaviors, especially through conditioning technologies. In the sixties, Stanley Rachman allegedly conditioned people to be sexually aroused by the sight of boots, and sexual fetishim is a well-known phenomenon. Some of these deviations may be so overpowering on the human psyche that they completely impair reproduction. It is my belief that we are living in a media environment contrived as a conditioning technology impairing human reproduction. Under one of its guises, I have named it silver-screen conditioning (see XXVIII). The contrivance has a momentum of its own and it is leading to the overriding of genetic life. The main impetus is provided by our production apparatus and its reliance upon the satisfaction of secondary needs, beside primary, biological needs. Basically, our media, as a sales force, advertise products and services that satisfy secondary needs, via an appeal (including subliminal) to primary, namely sexual urges, with the effect that a massive sexual fetishism is induced toward gadgets and logos. It is not, as many evolutionary biologists and psychologists will contend, that Rachman’s guinea-pigs want the boots because the boots will enhance their mating success: they want the boots because they are aroused by them and they do not care about their mating success at all. Current Darwinian view on the motivations of consumption is far off the mark, or rather it is already superseded. We have been conditioned beyond reproductive purposes.

In XXIX, I have contended that only a collapse of technological civilization could preserve genetic transmission. Such a collapse in the future is not to be excluded, due to the influx of populations extremely averse and hostile to the mass-conditioning which the Western man is subjected to. Alternative scenarios may involve ‘structural overloading’ (Stoddard) or blackout.

Otherwise, the medium is the message, and the message is: Goodbye, humanity.

January 22, 2016