According to evolutionary theorists, our brains are thousands of years behind the times. We are wired for the world the way it was, not for modernity.
One way this shows up is in our eating and exercise patterns. Humans used to take an average of 17,000 steps per day just to survive. If a hunter killed a huge moose, he and his people would gorge on it, packing as many calories in as they could since the opportunity might not come again soon. Since the lifestyle of early humans required an extreme output of energy, they were also hard-wired to conserve their vigor and vitality.
Now with the same wiring, we are still conserving our energy, only walking an average of 7,000 steps per day and packing in the calories when food is available, which is constantly, causing massive amounts of diabetes and obesity. Nevertheless, we have to fight with our wiring through discipline since we know what is good for our health. We cannot use our brain propensity as an excuse, but it is a mitigating circumstance that sheds light on why so many struggle with being sedentary and overeating.
Likewise, thousands of years ago, the overarching agenda for man was to spread his seed and populate the planet. Men’s brains still have that agenda; his brain hasn’t caught up with the need for less people on the planet.
In an article by Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist known for his work on social rejection, belongingness, sex differences, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, aggression, consciousness and free will — what a list — proposed that men have a fixed, biologically-determined sex drive that is relatively insensitive to context. Most women already know that from some of their experiences with men.
Women’s sexuality is far more influenced by cultural factors such as education, religion, current mores and the quality of the relationship with a chosen partner.
According to Baumeister, Men are still way back there with a non-selective sex-drive thousands of years old, and women fit in better with the times. Recently, I asked a man who I went to school with what he remembers from New Paltz College in the sixties. “Very little,” he joked. “All I really remember is constantly searching for someone who would sleep with me!” Men have sex in the brain and on the brain probably a good part of the time.
Does this explain some of the more benign behaviors reported recently in inappropriate contexts, such as off-color jokes, telling a woman she is beautiful?
I am not making excuses for the horrendous extreme toxic masculinity of Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and others. But, I have changed my mind again from the last column I wrote on this subject. Nuance is required and all behaviors do not deserve public denouncement, humiliation, destroyed careers and ruined families. But, I do believe the way men are biologically can, in less severe circumstances, be a mitigating factor not an excuse. They can change. Most of the men I know have a sense of respect and decency, which is the trigger that brings that latent wiring into active positive behavior.
It is not only rich powerful men who rape and assault with a sense of entitlement. It can be any man, without the moral compass to override his own desires and need for domination.
A deluge of suppressed anger is coming out in torrents. I have yet to speak to one woman or girl who doesn’t have a story to tell. All are serious. Many constitute crimes. Mine also.
Although I have been writing this column since the 1980’s and have been told many times “I put myself out there,” that has always been the perception of the speaker and not my opinion. I write about what I know and oftentimes that has been my own experiences.
Now that I am “putting myself out there,” I have five “Me too” stories beginning from when I was 12 until 20, all chargeable crimes. Writing this was an experiment. I wanted to understand the reluctance women have to publicly tell their stories.
Even 50 years later, this paragraph took courage for me to write. Sadly, questioning one’s own culpability even when victimized as a child never fully goes away.
But, we do have to be cautious about overreacting, spreading a net so wide that it catches decent men who need to apply discipline and perspective to meet long overdue standards of behavior.
Can men catch up?
In Umoja, Kenya the women don’t think so. They have given up on men entirely. Previously, they were not allowed to own land or livestock, were considered property of their husbands subject to beatings, and forced marriage with the elders, rape and domestic violence.
They left their tribe, settled in a remote region, built their own homes, raised food, owned property and livestock, and in addition created a lucrative cottage industry making beaded jewelry for tourists.
Around the clock, females guarded the village from any entry of, or attack by men. Eventually the men stopped coming. A woman could choose a “boyfriend” and invite him to the village for the sole purpose of procreation, but then he had to leave.
What can we do here?
I can’t see the women of New Paltz leaving and setting up camp in the Ramapo Mountains. We may not have the skills to build huts out of cow dung, but we can sling some if we have to, especially true for the young women.
What is the solution? If a portion of the male nature is biologically determined, what is to be done?
In Umoja, the women have started a school filled with healthy thriving boys and girls educated together in equality. In addition to reading, math, science and English, social justice is taught from the beginning.
Many elements of our brains have wiring that will not serve the best interests of society: greed, warfare, territoriality, maniacal self-interest is in there, as well as cooperation, love and empathy. It’s up to us what gets our attention and practice. We become what we practice. We lose what falls by the wayside due to lack of practice. It is a fallacy to assume the phallic part of a man is his totality and he is destined to be in its lock grip. It is a worse fallacy to believe the worst parts of our nature have to prevail.
I have been hurt five times by men and helped thousands. As we witness this huge cultural shift, I am optimistic change will come. There is more to all of us than biology.