Friday, December 26, 2008

Nature Versus Stupidity

Of all of the things that one figures that we'd be done with, the Battle of the Sexes used to rate high on my list. Less so these days, especially after having read online stories about the sex trade fueled by human trafficking here in the United States, and yet another in what seems like a never-ending series of murder-suicides triggered by yet-another jackass who decided that if HE couldn't have his ex-wife, no one could.

I read an article in the Economist (dead-tree edition) that gave a Darwinian take on (among other things) why men are sexually unfaithful and violent. Nothing new - there was an edition of the Joy of Sex that I had for a human sexuality class (Sociology 269, natch [I'm still impressed they got away with that]) some twenty years ago that referred to "men's rape instincts." But no-one, it seems, likes that explanation for things. Either men feel that it reduces them to unthinking and monstrous automatons, or women feel that it lets men off the hook for the evil that they do. But is the other explanation, that men are simply unwilling to live with the rules that they themselves (mostly) created to govern society, any better? I don't know who benefits from the idea that many men are willingly mean-spirited and rapacious.

The fact is, that biologically buttressed or not, people are responsible for their actions - after all we aren't animals. This is the whole gist behind Caesar Milan's "Dog Whisperer" shtick. The dogs simply respond to a given stimulus - it's the people who have to do things differently to drive changes in their animals' behavior, and it is the people who are finally accountable. So why do we accept responsibility for dogs, but not for ourselves?

One way in which men and women are similar is that both groups tend to close ranks in defense of each other, mainly to avoid group de-legitimization. But one way to create a more harmonious society is to be more willing to castigate individuals who act in ways that we've determined are unacceptable. Men don't consciously order up women who've been unwillingly trafficked as mail-order brides (I still don't get that) in a vacuum. They do so within the context of a small group of peers who might actively support that action, but also within a much larger group that knows, but simply pretends that nothing amiss is going on. By the same token, no-one, despite how outgoing, friendly and devoted to his church he is, suddenly decides to murder his ex-wife, her parents, and bunch of uninvolved partygoers out of the clear blue sky one day.* He does it, because, despite whatever positive traits he might have, he also shares with others the opinion that a woman who comes into his life is somehow his property, and any stirrings of independence on her part threatens his self-image and status, and exists within a greater society that encourages, if not actively promotes, that broken way of thinking.

This isn't to say that if the rest of us adopted the properly disapproving attitude, that such things would go away. Sometimes, you simply have to realize that the answer to "Whatever happened to Crazy?" is that it moved in next door to you, or that you started dating it. But most people who pull this kind of garbage aren't crazy. They think that what they're doing is right. And all too often, we let them think that, and then look around telling ourselves we have no idea where they got the idea from.

* Personally, I'm still waiting for the interview with a neighbor who says, "Yeah, we knew that guy was a psycho. We had a betting pool at work as to when he'd finally snap. Asshole cost me 50 bucks."

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