The most externally obvious, and thus controversial, aspect of Gorean philosophy is the concept of Natural Order. It is, for better or worse, what Goreans are known for, if they are known. It is also perhaps the most misunderstood, even by those professing to be Gorean.
Natural Order has two aspects. The first is a somewhat incindiary term for the application of Evolutionary Psychology to gender and sexual relationships. In short, Evolutionary Psychology is the application of the principles of natural selection to human psychology, that is, looking at the evolutionary pressures on humans over their history and how they would have impacted our psychological as well as physiological development.
The general consensus in the scientific community on the “nature vs. nurture” question is “both, and it’s complicated.” Many aspects of our behavior are biological in origin, with a thick layer of social and cultural conditioning on top of them (which have their own highly complicated evolutionary pressures). Those biological behaviors have been shaped by millions of years of evolution, and have shaped (both psychologically and physically) males and females in different ways because a division of labor aided in the survival of the species.
These differences are by no means absolute, but show a clear gender-biased trend. Specifically, they show a bias toward dominant, protective, tenacious males and submissive, nurturing, multi-tasking females. Displays of those behaviors by one gender tend to trigger a sympathetic mirror response in the other. That such trends sound eerily like the “traditional gender roles” oft derided in Western culture today is a sign not that they are antiquated but that there is some validity to them; if such gender differentiation was so common throughout most of human history, perhaps there is something more to it than an oppressive conspiracy.
The scientific basis for that claim is present, but not conclusive. For instance, one study conducted in Canada on D/s and S/M interests showed a surprisingly high degree of interest across genders in activities that suggest an unequal power dynamic. While both genders reported interest in all activities in large numbers, there was a very clear bias toward men expressing dominant/aggressive interests and women expressing submissive interests.
Similarly, many studies have shown that what is most attractive to men, on the whole, is signs of fertility and high estrogen, which generally express themselves in what are usually considered “feminine” attributes. Conversely, women are attracted to signs of successful provision; the cues for that may vary between cultures but the theme is the same. The exception is while they are ovulating, when their attraction shifts to signs of fertility in the form of high testosterone, which also generally express themselves in traditionally “masculine” appearance and behavior.
Historically, societies in which life was more fraught and death closer to hand tended to be more strongly male-dominant, while those that had more abundant and secure resources tend to have a more equal status for men and women. The same pattern can be seen today amongst many primates. Humans evolved, of course, in very unstable conditions in which our wits were our only meaningful defense mechanism (as we lacked claws, saberteeth, thick hides, or other natural weapons). That undoubtedly impacted the evolution of the human psyche.
To be sure, a handful of studies do not a scientific consensus make and any generalization of human behavior is fraught with risk. The science at this point can best be summed up as “inconclusive, but there’s definitely something to it.”
The other, related aspect of natural order, as Goreans understand it, is that of hierarchy. Dominance and leadership hierarchies are natural and normal among most mammals, especially primates. Most groups, left to their own devices, inevitably develop hierarchies, even if informal ones. Those hierarchies are not always formed along the most practical lines, but they will form. (The essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” explains this dynamic in more detail.)
Goreans embrace and accept the nature of hierarchy, and that some will lead and others follow. Following is not disgraceful if it is natural and appropriate in context; not everyone can, or should, lead. Without both followers and leaders the chances of anything getting done is close to none.
Combining these two concepts, Gorean culture is, openly and unabashedly, male-dominant. Male-dominant, however, does not imply misogynistic. There are many women involved in the Gorean community who are well-respected, but understand that Gor is patriarchal without shame.
In the books, this clear dominant/submissive dichotomy is taken to a hyperbolic extreme, up to and including legalized, chattel slavery. In the books, perhaps 2% of the female population is said to be slaves, most of them happily so, and an even smaller percentage of the male population are slaves, mostly POWs and criminals who resent their status. Despite that, the overwhelming majority of the female characters seen in the books are slaves, and happily so (at least by the end of the book). They are simply more fun to read about.
The extremes, of course, are of more interest to those unsatisfied with the state of their environment. As a result, it is estimated that somewhere around 2/3rd of women involved in the Gorean community consider themselves slaves. Unlike the books, of course, this is consensual slavery with their full and enthusiastic consent.