GOR AND EVOLUTIONARY SEXUAL SELECTION by _Marcus_ of Ar
During the time I have been actively writing about Gorean subject matter, I have always steered clear of delving too deeply into the scientific basis for any validity which might be present in Norman’s sociobiological theories. I have done so for several reasons; first of all, there are so many conflicting theories regarding possible biological basis for human behavior that to do so would be to embark on a never-ending exercise in point/counter-point hypothesizing; and secondly, because Norman himself never saw fit to author a scientific analysis of his own work. Where Norman chose not to go, therefore, neither goeth I.
Nevertheless, it was probably only a matter of time before someone encountered some of the generalized, hyper-simplified explanations I have been tossing out on these pages and attempted to rebut them as if they were, indeed, formatted as legitimate scientific theses.
That seems to me to be going a bit overboard, in my opinion. It should be obvious that much which I have written to the pages of the Silk & Steel website, my recently critiqued essay “The Gorean Argument” notwithstanding, was written in a rather off-the-cuff manner. The very verbiage which I tend to use in my essays here is nothing if not casual, sort of a “Hey! Maybe A has something to do with B” approach.
I have never considered it necessary to write a formal scientific point paper in defense of Gorean evolutionary theory, quite frankly because the subject matter is quite voluminous, nor have I bothered to expend the time to publish any of my research to these pages. The source materials are out there for anyone to study, should they seek a greater understanding of evolutionary psychology theory as it relates to human sexual selection strategy. I have therefore left it at that.
Nevertheless, I will now scratch the tip of the iceberg and mention a few points which I feel to be somewhat supportive of Norman’s theories. I realize now that it was perhaps a mistake to leave so much open, in my earlier writings, to the selective interpretation of the reader.
Perhaps a redefinition of some of the primary elements which I have drawn upon in my work here might do much to clarify the mistaken misinterpretation which some have drawn from my writing, in their assertions that Gorean theory seems to be based in some invented pseudo-mythical prehistory in which everyone was the fantasy equivalent of Conan, dwelling in an environment where everyone fought everyone else for the chance to get a bit of nookie. : )
Further, I must admit I find it vaguely insulting that those who have chosen to critique the generalities which I have expressed in essays such as the one mentioned above, actually seem to believe that I have no clue regarding the intricacies of sexual selection in the human animal, of the role which culture plays in that process, or of the various hypothetical models of prehistoric interaction currently being studied by various anthropologists in the field.
When someone approaches an anthropologist (I happen to have more than a few friends who work in that field, so believe me, I know) and asks a question of them such as “Are women genetically programmed to behave submissively to all men?” or “Was physical combat the only pertinent factor in prehistoric sexual selection?” said anthropologists have a hard time taking the question seriously. Because the answer to both of the above questions is a resounding “no.” The process of human sexual selection is, and has always been, much more complex than that. But as long as questions such as those described above are asked of scientists and social scientists, there will continue to be a dearth of understanding regarding what Norman was actually talking about.
To begin: In my opinion, Norman was describing, in his work, not some all-powerful urge for all females to fall down and worship the men around them. Rather, he was discussing a particular peculiarity in engrained human female sexual selective response. Ergo, he was discussing a built-in mechanism which, when not countermanded by societal or cultural intervention, can often result in an extremely powerful physiological attraction of a certain type of female towards a certain type of male. “Submission,” that all-powerful buzzword of the BDSM set, is a series of interactive response behaviors in which that attraction is expressed and solidified. First comes attraction, based in part upon engrained female reproductive strategy behaviors, then, if a particular type of reciprocal bond is established, occurs the onset of “submission” behaviors.
Is there any evidence which supports this?
Norman’s work is similar in many ways to theories which are advanced in Tiger and Fox’s The Imperial Animal, considered by many to be the seminal work on the subject of evolutionary psychology. Norman’s theories seem to be firmly rooted in the scientific discipline known as sociobiology.
For the record, pure sociobiological theory does not assert that all human social behavior is determined by genes. Rather, it states that there are three distinct possibilities:
The Gorean viewpoint holds that of the three possibilities related above, the third possesses the highest truth value: that Homo sapiens, though possessed of a relatively fixed genetic code, retains the ability to evolve. The speed at which such an evolution might occur is hampered by current technological advances and cultural trends which have resulted in much of the human race experiencing an extended period of “survival downtime” wherein basic survival is no longer as difficult to achieve. The speed of evolutionary process tends to manifest itself in direct relation to the necessity of genetic alteration dictated by environmental factors. Hence, in many cases, cultural dictates have outstripped the rate of evolutionary change required to alter the biology of the human race to match them.
There have been quite a few modern anthropological studies, fully meeting the criteria of postulational-deductive science, which delve into the effects of genetics on human behavioral compulsion. Joseph Shepher’s work on the incest taboo and sexual roles, Mildred Dickeman’s studies on hypergamy and sex-biased infanticide, William Irons’ study of the relation between inclusive genetic fitness and the local set of evaluational criteria of social success in a herding society, Napoleon Chagnon’s work on aggression and reproductive competition in the Yanomamo, William Durham’s work on the relation between inclusive fitness and warfare in the Mundurucu and other primitive societies, Robin Fox’s expressed research on the relation of fitness to kinship rules, Konner and Freedman’s work on the adaptive significance of infant development, and James Weinrich’s studies on the relationship of genetic fitness and the details of sexual practice; all dealt with the relationship of genetic encoding to human behavioral function.
One of the most frequently used methods to study genetic effects upon the individual is to compare the similarity between identical twins, who are known to be genetically identical, with the similarity between fraternal twins, who are no closer genetically than ordinary siblings. When the similarity between identical twins proves greater, this distinction between the two kinds of twins is ascribed to heredity.
Using this and related techniques, geneticists have found evidence of a substantial amount of hereditary influence on the development of a variety of traits that affect social behavior, including number ability, word fluency, memory, the timing of language acquisition, sentence construction, perceptual skill, psychomotor skill, extroversion and introversion, homosexuality, the timing of first heterosexual activity, particular sexual preferences, likes, dislikes, and various behavioral tendencies.
Loehlin and Nichols, for example, studied aspects of the environment and performance of 850 sets of twins who took the National Merit Scholarship test in 1962. The early histories of the subjects, as well as the attitudes and childrearing practices of the parents, were taken into account. The results showed that the generally more similar treatment of the identical twins did not explain the greater similarity in general abilities and personality traits manifested between sets of twin, or even in their shared ideals, goals, and vocational interests. It seems evident that these similarities are based in aspects of genetic identity.
Frank Salter, of the Max Planck Institute, was an avid defender of sociobiology and its theories. A particularly interesting read is Daniel Dennett’s work, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, in which he defends Darwin against those who would rewrite him to reflect modern trends of scientific thought. But the validity of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology is hotly debated, particularly by the social scientists, many of whom assert that genetic structure and biological factors have little or nothing to do with human behavior and the resulting development of human culture.
In addition, recently a book was published entitled “A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion,” which scientifically explores the possible biological forces which contribute to male sexuality, based upon the principles of evolutionary psychology. And which makes assertions which seem to be functionally identical to many of Norman’s own, as they appear in the Gor books (I add that that book, even before its publication, came under fire for the politically incorrect nature of many of its proposals. Which is what reputedly happened to Norman, and eventually resulted in his blacklisting and censorship in the late eighties. Apparently there are some theories which scientists are not supposed to propose, no matter what their evidence suggests).
In order to determine whether or not Norman’s arguments in favor of ethical naturalism in regards to human behavior hold any water, and whether or not his assertions regarding the biological basis of human sexual selection have any merit, we must answer the following questions:
Recently, there has been a trend in which many biologists have used Darwin’s principles of sexual selection as a coherent theoretical framework for the study of sex differences across hundreds of studies and across scores of species.
At the same time, social scientists have, for the most part, been studying sex differences from a completely different theoretical perspective: gender roles. That mode of thought suggests that most nonphysical human sex differences are the result of the culturally-mediated social roles that are adopted by boys and men and girls and women. Too often, it seems, this belief that human sex differences are entirely based upon the adoption of such roles has been accepted wholeheartedly, without nearly enough critical observation.
The Mechanisms of Evolutionary Selection
Any event, occurance, process, or environmental condition that in any way influences daily existence, life, death, or reproduction is a potential selection pressure. Each such selection pressure affects the individual whom it affects. In many cases, even slight differences between individuals can determine which of those individuals will survive to reproduce, versus those who will die. In such instances, the process of evolutionary selection is taking place.
Because of this selection, the individuals who happen to possess whatever characteristic influences survival and reproduction will, understandably, survive in greater numbers than their peers. If these specific characteristics are inherited, then the survivors will produce offspring who also possess characteristics different than other members of the same species (conspecifics).
If these characteristics continue to influence life, death, and reproduction in the offspring’s generation, then the process will repeat itself. Over generations there will be an alteration in the selected characteristic: the average individual in the population will have developed different characteristics than those possessed by the average individual several generations earlier.
This process, natural selection, alters species to better fit their ecology. The only requirement for natural selection to function is that the particular beneficial survival trait must vary from individual to individual, and that some part of this variability must have a genetic basis. Under such conditions, selection occurs, whether the trait is physical, physiological, or behavioral.
Behavioral characteristics, in order to evolve, must therefore possess variability, and a genetic basis. Heritable individual differences provide the raw materials for evolutionary selection. Since nearly all features of human anatomy, physiology, behavior, cognitions, etc, display individual variability which is at least partiallyly heritable, they are all, therefore, vulnerable to variable selection pressures.
Still, the process is not as simple as it appears. For instance: particular selection pressures can diminish or erase heritable variability, making them no longer heritable. Therefore, some traits which have shown great selection variability in the past may no longer be heritable (e.g, the genetic pattern which standardizes basic physical elements in Homo sapiens may no longer be prone to drastic change– humans have two arms and two legs, for example, a trait which is inherited but no longer variable on a large scale).
Some human traits that seem to display heritable variability have avoided being subjected to extreme selection pressures, and some variable heritable traits are only subjected to selection pressures when certain conditional modifiers are met, such as adjustment to a particular climate or environment.
The process is always occurring, though what traits are affected depend upon the current level of selection pressure being applied by external forces, which can vary from generation to generation or from one geographical region to another.
Under the correct conditions, the process of selection goes into “sleep mode,” as it were. When food is abundant and predators and parasites are scarce, certain selection pressures which deal directly with survival issues are weak, and most individuals survive to reproduce. Individual differences in survival traits are not particularly important under such conditions.
Once the process of sexual reproduction had evolved into existence, an integral part of the life history of all members of sexually reproducing species was to obtain a mate with whom to procreate. Where this process becomes complex is that factors of individual variability, which result from the gene-mixing which occurs through sexual reproduction, also determines that all potential mates are not inherently equal. This interesting state of affairs gives rise to competition for the most suitable mate, or the greatest variety of mates. The processes whereby mates are selected, and the competition behaviors which result from this, are known as sexual selection.
Sexual selection is a complex, active process that is influenced by numerous factors, among which are various sex differences, the costs and benefits of reproduction, and especially the ecology of the species. There are additional factors which impact upon this process, cultural and societal dictates included.
The necessary dynamics of this process tend to express themselves as aspects of female choice of mating partners, which gives rise to male-male competition over access to mates, or efforts to control desirable resources which females require to support their progeny.
Pay attention, Goreans, because this is important: at its heart, the process of sexual selection is primarily a manifestation of female choice. Females determine what natural aptitudes indicate desirability in a male as possible breeding partner. The males then proceed to engage in competition behaviors which:
Once this basis has been established, and the dynamics of female choice and male-male competition are in place, we may then begin to study the mechanisms which influence the various expressions of the differences between the sexes which relate to sexual selection, be they biological, behavioral, and cognitive. This is where sex homones come into the picture. The body maintains its own internal breeding strategy, and provides the appropriate sex hormones to compel psychological,emotional, and physical behavior.
The majority of sex differences which are present in Homo sapiens are also present in other primate species. One of the most intensely researched area of primate social behavior is the area of male-male competition. Human males, like many other high primates males, compete in certain contexts via physical attack and physical threat, in an effort to establish social dominance over other competing males. Gorean thought holds that these behaviors still occur in the human animal. History and science seem to bear this out.
Depending upon the current environmental dynamic, the place one occupies in this reproductive pecking order can have serious reproductive consequences for individual males. Often, depending upon the context, only the most dominant (alpha) male sires offspring. How social dominance is achieved, however, is determined by the specific structure of the particular social grouping. It may be achieved by one-on-one physical contests, willingness to cooperate within a specific male group, the display of a high degree of intelligence, or even by the social support of females in the group, either the young females or the older matriarchal females.
The specifics of female choice remain, to a certain extent, a mystery, and have not been studied nearly as closely as male competition behavior. Current research suggests that females in most primate species do prefer some males to others, though the reasons for this have not been fully explained, and seem variable. For the most part, it seems that primate females base their choices upon possible risks of infanticide (no one wants to mate with someone who is going to kill your children) and the possible level of social support which the male may provide to the female. In some cases, the overall choice seems to be based upon the level of protection which the potential male mate can provide to the female and her young against possible abuse or attack by other males.
Female-female competition also occurs in most primate species. This behavior, however, seems to be associated with competition among females for resources, rather than mates. Access to high-quality food, for instance, which has long term consequences in regards to the health of the female and her young. This might be seen as an indication that part of the female primate’s reproductive strategy concerns security and longterm health benefits for both she and her potential offspring.
Female choice is an extremely large part of the reproductive “mating dance.” But what about male choice? Where does that enter into the equation?
Male choice is evident among the higher primates, also, and is an important factor in reproductive behavior. Male choice appears to be based on the nature of the relationship between the male and individual females and on implicit reproductive concerns. This is where the possibility that female submissive behaviors influence the male’s choice of possible mate enters the picture.
If certain types of relationship behavior are attractive to the male, then this may well be a factor in whether or not he selects a particular female with which to mate. Apart from any such concerns, male primates tend to seek mates who display signs that they are particularly fertile. There have been studies regarding the development of female human breast size, waist-to-hip ratio, et all, which allude to the possibility that these physical traits may well have been selected for as indications of female fertility.
The most obvious and measurable effect of male-male competitive behavior in primates is the evolution of males who are larger and stronger than females of the same species. The existence of male-male competition in the primate species, and the extent to which it has been practiced, seems to determine how great is the difference of physical size between the two sexes of a primate species. These size differences seem to be far less in species where male-male competition is based upon male-male cooperation within the group.
Here I quote David C. Geary from his book “Male, Female;The Evolution of Human Sex Differences” (for the record, much of the information I have included here is paraphrased from elements of his work):
“The consistent relation between physical sex differences and the intensity of male-male competition allows inferences to be drawn about the likely nature of male-male competition in our ancestors. Beginning with our Australopithecine ancestors and continuing to modern humans, males are physically larger than females. When these patterns are combined with the patterns of male-male competition and female choice that are evident in extant primates inferences can be drawn about the potential pattern of sexual selection during the course of human evolution (Foley & Lee, 1989).”
In most mammals, the male has little or no direct involvement in his offspring. Therefore, the male reproductive strategies of these species tend to be largely involved with simple male-male competition, and the female reproductive strategy tends to concern itself with obtaining the best genes for her offspring (i.e, getting more buck for her bang). Humans, however, display a far greater level of parental investment.
When both parents invest in offspring, and there are differences in the quality of care or genetic make up which the parents provide to their offspring, then the elements of female-female competition and male choice suddenly become much more important. They do not supplant male-male competition and female choice– but they do become much stronger factors in reproductive strategy.
Human sexual selection is highly complex and often varies among cultures and historical periods within a culture. Competition behaviors can be altered by cultural dictates or expectations, along with value systems. For instance, the definition of “success” and “valued resources,” both of which may be important in determining the female reproductive strategy in female choice.
What might have formally been a leadership position in the clan or tribal group may be transposed into having a high paying job, of some other form of social prominence. In addition, the resources which a female seeks to obtain to secure a better future for her offspring may no longer be access to food or tribal resources, but may now be such culturally valued resources as a large house with a four-car garage, a large bank account, etc. Nevertheless, research shows that men who are considered “successful” by their particular culture typically have more wives and children, or at least more reproductive opportunities, than males whose culture determines are less successful.
The fundamental motivating agenda of complex organisms, including human beings, seems to be the effort to establish some measure of control over the social (people), biological (food), and physical (territory) resources that encourage survival and reproductive success. The evolutionary process seems to have selected for individuals who have the means and motivation to obtain some measure of control over the above listed resources.
In primate societies where relatively intense male-male competition occurs, not only are the males larger, on average, than the females, but the males tend to mature later than the females and experience a larger growth spurt during puberty. In species where there is little male-male competition, males are the same size (on the average) than are the females, and they mature at an identical rate. The fact that human beings conform to the larger-male/different-growth-rate dynamic detected in male-male competitive species seems to indicate that male-male competition has been an extremely large part of the human social dynamic during the evolution of Homo sapiens.
Our social arrangements most closely resemble those of the high order simian primates, which are genetically our closest living relatives. This makes sense. It seems to be an established fact that we share a common ancestry with these primates, and if human social behavior is influenced by genetic predispositions in behavioral development, which modern scientific evidence tends to support, then the argument that modern Homo sapiens is still subject to behavioral pressures which were bred into us during our prehistory makes much sense.
It is widely believed that complex forms of human behavior are controlled by polygenes (genes scattered on many chromosome loci), which affect their owner through a powerful array of physical control systems, including elementary neuronal wiring to muscular coordination and “mental set” induced by hormone levels.
What is the relation of genes to culture? Many social scientists discard the findings of sociobiology because they believe that variation in human cultures can have little or no genetic basis. The social scientist is interested only in variations in behavior which are the direct result of the twin factors of culture and the environment. Sociobiology is interested in the more general features of human nature and the limitations that exist in the environmentally induced variation. By studying the features of human social organization and comparing them to the organization of other, closely related, primate species, sociobiology attempts to reconstruct the earliest evolutionary history of social organization and to discover its genetic residues in contemporary societies.
The Myth of the “Submission Gene”
This ubiquitous “submission,” which everyone seems to spend so much time talking about, is too often misclassified as being some kind of miraculous psychological or biological force. But it is not, in and of itself, a specific genetic trait; i.e, there is no single “submission gene” which some people possess, which others do not, and which is passed along from generation to generation.
The same is true for “dominance.” Some people insist upon treating dominant personality trait-packages as the result of some miraculous “dominance gene.” This is about as far from the truth as can be imagined.
I have, in the past, repeatedly been confronted by individuals who either wish to infer that I believe there is some kind of magic recipe for “dominance,” or who insist upon treating what we might call “dominant behavior” as a unique shopping-cart item which one can either be born with, or born without. That is totally ludicrous. Nevertheless, you’d be amazed by how much time I’ve spent trying to explain my take on the causes of dominant behavior to them. Semantics always seems to get in the way, for some reason.
The reality is much simpler. Neither “dominance” nor “submission” are specific identifiable genetic traits in Homo sapiens. Rather, both are categories of personality traits. What we might refer to as “dominance” and “submission” are fairly broad sets of genetic traits, which are either supported or repressed by one’s active culture, which act as survival modifiers. In a procreative paradigm, they can also function in cooperation with one another to generate specific sexual attraction by those who possess those traits toward a particular personality type, or type of individual.
Both sets of genetic traits (as well as countless others), which came into existence in the human animal through natural selection, in response to environmental factors which existed throughout most of human prehistory, give rise to certain genetically engrained behavioral patterns in relation to same-sex competition, and procreative male-female mating strategies.
Currently, much of civilized western society, and a large part of the modern world, is in a state of evolutionary “survival downtime”– ergo, quite often modern man is freed from the rigors of formerly existent selection pressures by his existence in a non-competitive environment where daily survival issues are much less pressing. In such an environment, when food is abundant and predators and parasites are scarce–selection pressures are minimized and most individuals survive to reproduce. Survival traits are not especially important under such conditions.
Still, the gene patterns remain. The genetic preprogramming which formerly supported successful survival and mating strategies still exists, and will continue to exist until such time that Homo sapiens has evolved beyond it, a process which will take countless generations to occur.
It will continue to exert subtle psychological pressures on human behavior, and can result in numerous symptomatic behaviors in which the human animal’s metaphysical culturally induced value-systems attempt to circumvent instinctual response initiators which are a deeply engrained part of the human being’s inbred survival instincts. Old survival and selection pressures will be culturally replaced by new ones, though perhaps far too swiftly for the evolution of the physical and genetic model of the human animal to match.
As long as that situation is in effect, biologically engrained mating pressures and selection processes will continue to manifest themselves in human social interaction. Sexual attraction will remain a matter of survival strategy, and human biology will continue to support the old agendas built into the human genetic imprint.
Submission is not a single behavioral trait; rather, it seems to be a behavioral act and emotional response inspired by genetically engrained survival strategy. Genetic mating pressures and selection pressures have created within the human animal a preprogrammed behavioral agenda in relation to survival issues. In human society, sexual selection is almost universally based upon the choice of the female.
Therefore, when a heterosexual female human being encounters a male who triggers the necessary switches which invoke the ancient survival agenda (health, success, strength, power) she typically experiences sexual attraction. When this occurs, quite often she begins to establish particularly powerful emotional bonds with the male whom she has selected as the attractive mate (bonds which, due to the difference in male vs. female mating strategies, the male often does not share, or experiences in a different way).
In any event, upon consummation of the relationship, the female often experiences a certain psychological “leap of faith” in which she emotionally transfers power over her body into the control of her selected mate, one who has satisfied (to a variable extent) the conditions of her procreative survival strategy.
If the male in question satisfies the conditions of her procreative survival strategy to a particularly high order, i.e he is a particularly smart/healthy/strong/ independent/powerful specimen, then it is the Gorean belief that she will experience a deep sense of satisfaction, an almost spiritual “surrender.”
That is, as I understand it, precisely what John Norman is talking about when he discusses “submission.”
It seems to me that some women would naturally be more responsive to this particular form of emotional bonding than would be certain others. Much would depend upon other external factors, including cultural indoctrination and life experience. But it also seems evident that unless the female in question was possessed of a radically different genetic structure than that possessed by other females, or unless she had been either culturally trained against it or had endured life experiences which served to interfere with her natural response, that this process of response to the consummation of her sexual selection would be almost universal.
This, then, is my personal interpretation of how evolutionary science fits into Gorean thinking. It is my hope that, this having been written, henceforth I will be subjected to fewer indignant responses to some of the more simplistic explanations of basic evolutionary science I have tossed up on these pages in the past.
Then again, a few years back I authored an essay in which I commented that Goreans seem to feel it is beneficial to “control and diminish weaker and less adaptive elements” of their society, at which time I was referring in a rather general sense to the need to deal with criminal and socially maladjusted individuals who fail to contribute to their society. Nevertheless, a particularly paranoid muckraker chose to interpret that particular phrase to indicate that Goreans are Nazis who want to lock up the physically handicapped in concentration camps. So, there is no accounting for willful misinterpretation, it would seem. : )
In any event, the evidence is out there. Go see for yourself. You don’t have to agree with it– the merits of sociobiology are being hotly contested in anthropological and sociological circles at this very moment, and have been for years.
But there seems to be plenty of supporting evidence that our genes contribute to our behavior, and that sexual selection in human beings has much in common with sexual response behaviors in other high primates. And that where those primates now are, we once were. That being the case, what sexual selection behaviors might we still be subject to, from our ancestral past? And might not our current state of “evolutionary downtime” be subjecting us to non-biologically-related cultural pressures, which countermand the dictates of our heritable genetic identity?
You be the judge.
I wish you well!
Male, Female; The Evolution of Human Sex Differencesby David C. Geary
Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexualityby Malcolm Potts And Roger Short
Primate Sexuality: Comparative Studies of the Protosimians, Monkeys, Apes, and Humansby Alan F. Dixon
Darwin’s Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern Worldby Micheal R. Rose
Copyright © 2000 Marcus of Ar, All rights reserved.