Dragon Mating Patterns
A thought on human mating patterns. After an aside on Creationism.
One thing I hear rather too much about is the Evolution-Creationism "debate". I put "debate" is in quotation marks because the two sides aren't really arguing with each other; they are just repeating their position and claiming the other side is evil/stupid over and over. Personally, I have held a lot of positions on this, although never (that I remember) either of the 2 main ones. At present, I am claiming that I have a Biblical right -- indeed a duty -- to avoid "myths and endless genealogies" because "such things promote controversy rather than advancing Godís work" (1 Timothy 1:4).
On the meta-level, I expect that we will eventually reach a future where both theories have been adapted and fiddled with until they both explain the observed data perfectly. Or, if things go badly, the data will be adjusted as well. This has been going pretty well over the last couple decades, with the Intelligent Design movement injecting science into Creationism and Evolutionary Biology adding final causes to evolution, but it isn't finished yet. There are still a few differences in the predictions.
All this is important because my thought for today depends on one of these differences. Specifically, it only works with Creationism. I'll mark it when I get there, but I thought I should warn you first. (Also, it gives me a chance to state my position on the "debate", which I haven't had a chance to do for a while.) And now, on to a far-too-long essay about sex.
A lot of Christians today like to complain that the modern world has gone sex-crazy. It's not a new idea. C.S. Lewis mentions this in Mere Christianity, which was written during the Second World War (although not published in its present form until a decade later). Augustine said the same thing in his Confessions, written during the waning days of the Roman Empire (I forget exactly when). This probably goes back to Jesus and later Paul, who declared, contra Judaism, that raising a family was not essential to a godly life, and could actually interfere with it (see Matthew 19:10-12, 1 Corinthians 7:1-8, 32-35).
I am not so sure that there is anything so wrong here. It is true that we put a lot more effort into this stuff that, for example, wolves do. On the other hand, there are plenty of species on the other side as well. I see plenty garden plants that stay covered so in flowers (their sex organs) that I can barely see the leaves all summer. And this year our 4 (successful) zucchinis plants produced such a big crop that we almost ran out of containers to freeze them in. On the animal size of things, we have ants and bees, were one queen lays a whole colony's worth of eggs. On consider black widow spiders, where the I have read that male actively encourages his mate to eat him after the act. Apparently the extra food greatly increases the chance their spiderlings will survive.
Another, somewhat better, argument is that the modern West assigns a much higher importance to sex than more primitive cultures do. Having never lived in a primitive culture, I don't know if this is true, but it certainly seems plausible. A successful hunting expedition for primitives may be the difference between food and starvation. For us, it's just worth bragging rights, so it makes sense we care less. As I once heard it put,
More generally, the modern West is a society unique in history. We have found a way to satisfy most of people's bodily desires so well that we just sort of forget about them. Some people do have problems (e.g. food for college students), but it rarely gets to the point where it kills someone. Given that, from our bodies' point of view, everything else is going wonderfully, I don't find their suggestions surprising. Based on things like food availability, this is a wonderful time to reproduce like crazy. Contraception (including NFP) has only made this worse. Children are in short supply, and a body's standard way of dealing with this is -- you guessed it -- to turn up sexual desire even higher.
- Third World Problem
- I am hungry and there is no food.
- First World Problem
- I am hungry and I can't get the food because my sister's friends are standing in the kitchen and they might look at me.
On the other hand, bodies seem an awful lot like animals to me, and we are not (merely) animals. We are people. We understand things they don't. For example, there are environmental concerns these days that mean quadrupling our population each generation might be a bad idea long-term.
More importantly, we can have goals that our bodies don't. We do things with our lives besides spread our DNA around as widely as possible. For example, someone might want to get rich. Personally, I don't approve of this. The desire is fundamentally competitive (since "rich" is a comparative term), and so only a few people can succeed at it. More importantly, from a Christian standpoint, the fundamental goal in greed is to show yourself better than others, and replacing an animal failing (lust) with a diabolical one (pride) is hardly an improvement. (Yes, I got that idea from C.S. Lewis.) I suspect the change from a non-competitive focus (raising children) to a competitive one (high-status jobs) is why feminism has made women (statistically) less happy.
Of course, we could focus our attentions on a better goal. Mother Teresa would be a good example here, with her life of love, helpfulness, and general do-gooding. I assume that that is the sort of thing Jesus was hoping for. It is worth noting that while Mother Teresa was an avowed celibate, that isn't actually necessary for doing good in the world. Plenty of people manage to make the world a better place without that (including lots who are thoroughly unchaste as well). Even Jesus and Paul both stress that celibacy isn't for everyone.
Going back a bit, however, we still have a problem. Most people don't exactly notice it. Or in another sense, they do, but they want to make it even more so. Nevertheless, the question bothers me. Why is human mating so ineffectual?
On one level, the answer is simple. Sperm have a long way to go (compared to their size) and they are really stupid. I think they just have to blunder around until they hit an ova by chance. And the womb is pretty big, so it doesn't happen a lot. Beyond that, female humans have a "heat" cycle, just like female chimpanzees do, except that it is hidden. In consequence, most sex can't even theoretically conceive a child because there is no suitable ova. There. Science to the rescue.
Except... no. That isn't really the question I was asking. That's "how" and I was asking "why". The last part, especially, makes it clear that all this is for some purpose. It's not just that sexual desire is "morbidly inflamed" (as C.S. Lewis put it), there is something else going on here. What is it?
For a while, I thought I had figured out an answer: It's a crude defense against rape. For an evolutionary perspective, a rapist is a poor mate because her won't help raise the child, and thus a defense is a positive adaptation. For a Creationist view, it could be same, or it could just be God being nice and trying to stop gender relations from getting too unbalanced: "Yes, Eve, this will be hard on you, but I don't want it to be that hard". See, I told you at the beginning that the two theories give the same answers.
More recently, however, I had to give up on my theory. To rape a woman originally meant to kidnap her, force her to work like a slave, and rape her (modern sense) repeatedly over a long time. Often the rest of her life. ("Rape" has the same root as "raptor" which referred primarily to the carrying off part.) Why would a man do this? Because her "natural defenses" have made it the only viable way for him to reproduce with her. Now we know that a good defense does not make you worse off than would be without it, so I am pretty confident that this is not the "why" we are looking for.
At that brings us up to my thinking as of yesterday. Before I get to my new idea, however, we need to take a bit of a detour.
Lately I have been revising my Mom's new book. It has dragons in it (as characters), and their sexual patterns are very different than ours. After reaching sexual maturity, we have the ability to mate whenever, while the dragons have a rut season in the summer (like deer, who have one in November). We mate frequently (about twice a week for an unmarried couple, slightly higher if married), while the dragons (including males) only mate at most once per year. And while human sex rarely conceives a child, dragon sex always conceives one egg. These aren't arbitrary constraints either; they come from her other book (Draco's Child).
There are two main effects of this. The first is that sexual desire only really works for certain short, fixed periods. This is part of why, as I have noted elsewhere, the dragons keep wanting to spread out where they don't have to deal with each other. But it's the second part that interests me.
The desire to mate, when it comes, is considerably stronger in the dragons than in us. Our bodies know that, even if they miss their opportunity today, they can try again tomorrow. And given our sexual ineffectuality, it's probably not a big loss. For the dragons, however, it is different. Their bodies know that when they reach the full rut state (which presumably involves pheromones from the opposite sex) they have less then a day to mate. If they don't, they have to wait another year before they can get another chance. As a result, they go half-crazy with lust, making them do some rather stupid things to satisfy if. And if they can't (e.g. males/females numbers are unequal), lust morphs into berserker-level violent rage.
Every year there is chaos. Every year dragons die. I was thinking how unpleasant it would have to be to have to go through that, and how that maybe stuff like this is why so many aliens are so human-like. Admittedly there are a few along these lines (e.g. Vulcans in Star Trek TOS:Amok Time, the Makiem in Exiles at the Well of Souls, the modified humans in Glory Season, arguably the Gubru in The Uplift War), but I haven't seen any that take the idea in the same direction.
Then I had my realization. Reproductive desire has to be really strong; evolution selects for it above all else. Even survival can be abandoned (as in Black Widow spiders) if necessary, but reproduction must never be touched. As I once saw it put, the only reason to survive is to reproduce. And this is what we see. Every species on Earth is completely dominated by reproduction.
Except one. Us.
Now, unfortunately, we come to the point where Evolution and Creationism part company. I am going to need a Creator for this next bit. I need Him to be designing things with goals that evolution cannot reach.
The human drive to reproduce is powerful. Very powerful. So powerful I suspect that it (along with the matching drive to care for our offspring) shapes much of civilization. And sexual desire weighs on us all the time. It might stop for a few hours here or there, but it always comes back. I doubt it has left me alone for 24 hours at a stretch since reached sexual maturity. It's always there. Even when there is nothing I could do about it. Even when there are no women nearby. Even when it makes no sense.
What does that accomplish? What this means is that, although the desire to mate is always there, it never gets as strong as it could. Or to put it another way, it is as weak as possible at its strongest point.
It's as if Someone had spread it out across my life as evenly as possible (excluding long-term trends). As a result, we can deal with it. We can focus on more important things, like truth and righteousness. Or, if we so choose, on amassing wealth and crushing our enemies. It gives us our chance to really be people in all our good and evil, instead of just smarter animals.
Don't get me wrong here. We need sex. Falling in love teaches us about generosity, seeking the good of others, and indirectly, commitment. Stable couples (with or without children) provide us with our first and best defense against both atomizing individuality and controlling collectivism. Sex itself plays a big role keeping couple together and provides an experiential argument that the joining of many to become one does not stop with us. Most importantly, it produces children. Society needs a steady supply of them to survive. Raising them teaches much about duty and cooperation and dependency. And that is how new souls enter the world, to carry on the cycle.
We need sex, yes. But it can do a lot of collateral damage (as the modern West is finding out). And strangely, by thinking about it more we make that damage less.
Blessed be He.
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