[LMB] social-biological just-so stories, was OT: Women in Fantasy Settings

Lois McMaster Bujold lbujold at myinfmail.com
Mon Jan 28 09:03:10 GMT 2013

[LMB] OT: Women in Fantasy Settings
Damien Sullivan phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu
Mon Jan 28 06:54:41 GMT 2013

On Sun, Jan 27, 2013 at 01:57:35PM -0500, T Neill wrote:

 > I would say that rape is more about an abuse of power than about sex.

-xx- Damien X-):   Is robbery more about an abuse of power than about 
getting stuff?

LMB:  Eh.  The way this whole modern lexicon for discussing a very old 
problem consistently fails to get anywhere suggests to me a mistake 
deeper in the framing.

Non-reproductive mounting (and reproductive mounting, for that matter), 
with or without violence, is a bio-social dominance gesture in many 
primate species including all the chimpanzees (that would include us.)  
This points to its being something that's happening on the universal 
biological level in humans.  (Which the behavior's universal social 
spread seems to bear out.)  It's not culture, except insofar as culture 
is invented to serve biology.

So trying to make a cultural patch for a biological glitch isn't going 
to work until the biology (including social biology) is accurately 
understood and correctly framed.

I'm not even sure one can call it a biological glitch; rape works often 
enough to get genes into the next generation that evolution is perfectly 
fine with it.  (Evolution, alas, works to maximize babies, not 
happiness; except that of course expresses the mechanism backwards.  
Anything that works to maximize offspring will be preserved, and any 
happiness or unhappiness that occurs along the way is irrelevant.)

What this is all about, at root -- past the risks of pregnancy, spread 
of disease, and potential injury up to and including death -- is 
status.  On both sides.  Which is an _immensely_ powerful drive in human 
behavior.  Loss of status in a social group can kill one, in all sorts 
of ways, and that has been true since before we were humans.  
Insufficient sense of a comfortable status from at least _some_ source 
in one's life makes for a deeply unhappy person. Status-emergency -- the 
often irrational and violent behavior that occurs when someone feels 
their status threatened -- is responsible for more depressing newspaper 
column inches than any other thing I can think of.

I should explain my term, which has a more general applicability than 
just the issue of rape.  "Status emergency" is of my own coining, but 
drawn from the things I've read on such ideas.  (There may well already 
be another term invented to cover it.)  It describes or shorthands the 
highly emotional disruptive behavior of someone who is not actually 
under any real physical threat, but who acts as if they are.

So: a guy beating in the windshield of his ex-girlfriend's car is 
having, or acting out, a status emergency.  He's trying to "even the 
score", and bring his internal sense of status back into what he 
experiences as equilibrium.  (Or the woman slashing her cheating 
boyfriend's tires; this is an equal-opportunity bit of human crazy.)

Now mind, the girl cowering _in_ the car is having a _real_ emergency.  
Do not get these two things mixed up.  One person's status emergency 
very _frequently_ becomes another person's real emergency, however; 
that's sort of the point.

Somewhere in this mix -- the basic programming for the sexual act that 
goes back to before we were _mammals_, and the social biological 
programming from our Common-Ancestor-to-Paleolithic days surrounding 
status and status calculations -- rape happens.  It does not follow that 
we are all are fated to a race for the bottom, Social-Darwinist fashion. 
   Culture exists not only to serve biology, but to control it.  Most 
people don't actually _want_ to live like chimpanzees, thank you very much.

Glumly, I suspect we'll only get rid of the behavior by making abortion 
in cases of rape not merely allowed, but mandatory, world wide and 
universally, for maybe, oh, a hundred generations.  (I'd think genetic 
engineering on the gamete, as opposed to the organism, level would cut 
in sooner, though.)

Meanwhile, the floor is open for suggestions for what to do to make 
things better for the rest of us while we wait.  (That's where "cultural 
change" comes in.)  But consoling yet inaccurate constructions of Why 
Guys Do That aren't going to be much help for a foundation.  (Especially 
given that it's not just guys, for starters.)

Ta, L.  (Much too late at night to be sure of my coherence, above, but I 
shall post anyway.  Take it as a hypothesis in progress.)

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