Saturday, February 26, 2011

Social And Mating Behavior

A friend at church - quite obviously a parent who has watched her own children go through adolescence, as you shall see - refers to the large collection of teenagers congregating between the doors and the parking lot as The Mating Circle. I had had a similar idea before I had even heard she had said that, comparing them to flocks of birds in season: preening, flying off in small groups only to return, strutting, decked out in bright plumage. It is both appalling and charming, really. They can't seem to help it. They just do this. Like cranes or marmots or Red Handed Howler Monkeys, as soon as they become sexual able, regardless of whether they are conscious of any sexual interest, human children start displaying their genetic fitness and access to resources by leaping around, exposing fleshing, banging into each other, and trying to exclude others.

To those who immediately protest that there are other, less primitive qualities being displayed, I roll my eyes. Yes, of course this is an oversimplification, a cynical prism with which to view Princess and Junior. But as we spend our entire conversation about youth discussing them through the prism of encouraging responsibility, and planning for the future, and instilling values - as if they were reasonable creatures instead of those who we would make reasonable - can we just take a moment to drop the polite pretense that we use to try and instruct them and face what we are really up against? They just fall into this frightening behavior and they are completely unaware of it.

There was a South Park episode (Season 6: Episode 10) in which Bebe is the first girl to develop breasts, and suddenly all the boys in the neighborhood are playing outside her house, bashing each other, competing, acting like orangutans - and they have no idea why. They just do. The South Park creators are still politically correct enough to portray Bebe as having considerable insight into what is going on, but this is ludicrous. Anonymous, commenting on my Where Have All The Good Women Gone? post, described a young girl with half a skirt as if she knew what was up. Doubtful.

Think of her as a type of wren. She does this, and she doesn't know why. This is why girls argue with their mothers - well, some mothers, anyway (I hold the mom in that comment more responsible). The mother looks and says "You are communicating to every male of our species "I want to mate." The daughter responds in outrage that this is not so, she is just trying to be fashionable, so as not to be unpopular. To her, the general social minimum, set by the other young wrens in the flock, means that she absolutely cannot dress like her mother. She does not see her own mating display, she sees that it is far less than those Other Girls, who she disapproves of as much as you, Mother.

Also boys, crashing into trees for no apparent reason, BTW. Same thing. And it strikes long before actual puberty, when they still find girls icky. Nature prompts them to display pre-heroic behavior as a warmup for horrible societies in which 14 year old boys actually do have to be heroic.

I'm about to bring the water level up to the throat, boys and girls, so those of you young 'uns who feel you have seen through this and are above it, beware.

The Mating Circle is also a Social Circle, of course, which is what makes it complicated. The social circle aspect pushes you to fit in with your age cohort, which in historical terms is as important as fitting in with your family and the larger society - maybe more. When your life expectancy is 40 and no one has enough to leave an inheritance, the people who you will go into battle with, or work with, or bear your children in the company of, or will still be alive when you take sick at age 25 and your kids are still under 10, are a more precious resource than the parents who are telling you that your skirt is too short or the swimming hole is dangerous. Fit in, but stand out. It's hard to be young, and parents who see that your biological imperatives have to be modified for a society that requires you to pass algebra don't simplify it. We battle against mighty forces.

The circle is complicated in much more subtle ways. The girl who stands aloof because she is an academic, who won't lower herself to be like the (shameless) other girls - just another type of plumage, to attract males of the subspecies she prefers. The girl helping her mother with the lemon squares instead? Same thing. Just a different plumage. The boys hanging around the electronic equipment discussing new technology? It's a subset of the social circle, with an unconscious eye to the mating circle.

So all you Arts & Humanities girls, so taken with the boys who really "get it" about what the New Woman is all about - they are just doing whatever it takes to get laid find a suitable mate, just like all those tiresome rednecks shooting at bottles. (The latter are just looking for a different type of wren.) It's just the plumage for your subspecies. As good A&H males, they have learned, with no consciousness of the act whatsoever, what attitudes help them fit in with the A&H tribe, and what A&H girls like.

I don't fault them for that, not only because I was that guy, but because they aren't calculating sociopaths. All the young of our species look out over the territory and sense at some deep level where their best chances are. The problem is that they calculate this through a primitive prism of Life Expectancy = 40. Adults have to inject, from earliest years, that they will actually live to be 100 and live in a culture that requires them to find a job and keep it, so passing in your Civics homework is valuable. The kids that appear from our perspective to understand that are actually only the subspecies which has discovered that A's are a plumage I can acquire better than most, and attracts a subspecies that has no interest in guys who can ride a mechanical bull. Those guys discover other types of masculinity displays, such as cross-country skiing or being a back-to-the-lander who knows how to make and market organic maple syrup. It's the same thing. And the femininity displays of the girls in that tribe are emphatically not eyelashes or fawning and giggling - those disgusting displays are for another, inferior subspecies - but are present nonetheless.

And lest you think I am criticising you for this, remember that I raised my sons to be attracted to this alternative femininity precisely because it is not prom queen style. (Be wary, though. In distancing yourself from that, you can cut yourself off from the obvious in favor of the rarefied. The village idiot knows that what generically attracts women to men and men to women never really goes away, and must be relied upon. Assistant Village Idiots still need to be reminded that the exalted qualities "above" the primitive are not separate from, but founded on, the primitive. Moderns think otherwise because they hope something other than reality is true.)

All this grim cynicism will be tied into the Book of Proverbs in the near future, BTW. God is very realistic as well as very righteous. We give lip service to thinking Him far more righteous than we, but secretly hold the view that we are more realistic. Not so. This was all foreseen long ago.

For those who think I am wildly overstating this case, consider: the girls I dated in high school and college, including my bride of 34 years, would be at the far extreme of distancing themselves from the stereotypical goddesses of popular culture of the day, and I at the far extreme of demonstrating that I was not of the hypermale stereotype of same. Yet they all, even though they had no interest in sex (at least with me, which I will compliment myself by thinking was faintly generalisable), wore thigh-high dresses or smallish to very-small two-piece bathing suits, addicted themselves to historical romances, or otherwise let feminine display leak out - and I, sensitive, androgynous, and artistic male, nonetheless took insane physical risks, pretended to a high pain threshold, and wore my jeans spray-paint tight. As did all their friends and my friends in the AP and eastern college culture we inhabited.

Just for fun, look at your local middle-school through college acquaintances through those eyes this week. Even the denial of masculine and feminine roles is but the embracing of them in another form, unconsciously displaying the number of blinks that their subspecies of firefly mates with.*

*The reference is to Madeline L'Engle's Arm of the Starfish, in which Kali Cutter, a wicked temptress by Christian YA fiction standards, attempts to deceive Adam by convincing him she is not really in league with her evil father, but is good and wants to be on his side. A female character, who sees through Kali, warns Adam that firefly subtypes blink their proper number of times to attract a suitable mate - there are two-blink and four-blink fireflies - but that when none are available, they blink a different number of times to attract the wrong type, which they eat. Our two older sons grew up on the analogy of firefly blinks - that subspecies identify themselves by blinking a certain number of times, and one should stick to girls who gave off the right number of blinks. We didn't stress that part about being eaten by false-blinkers.


Larry Sheldon said...

I like it.

But after raising 3 girls (middlest just past 40), I'm not as sure as I used to be that we had as much to do with the outcomes as we thought we did.

Texan99 said...

The key to happiness, then, would seem to be to achieve consonance between who you really are and what is attractive to the ideal object of your affections. That's assuming that you have some confidence that the person who would be attracted to you, would in fact be a good mate for you.

Sam L. said...

Ah, the miasma of hormones hovering o'er!

I have spoken with middle-school counselors.

Vennessa James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dubbahdee said...

I presume you have read "Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan. Your post as a mammalian take on his basic vegetable thesis.
I recall thinking, upon first seeing Brittany Spears first video, "That girl either knows EXACTLY what she is doing, or she has no idea." I now suspect that "knowing" is not merely cognitive. There is a bodily, chemical, electrical knowing that is the more primitive knowing upon which cognitive knowing is founded. Yet the cognitive knowing may remain consciously unaware. Nevertheless, the primitive still informs.
Deep waters.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, the "knowing" is an ambiguous term in such cases.

I should state that social and mating behaviors do not exhaust the description of motives in the young. There are still all the common motives we discuss in their presence - desire for completion or mastery, curiosity, desire to please adults, duty, etc. It's just that the motives in the post suffuse so many other actions.

And this may be especially true among those who deny it. Insight too soon can be a painful thing.

Which leads me to another speculation: would it be good for them to know, or is this developmental stage, where boys and girls can see it in others but not in themselves, psychologically necessary?

kyp Belligerent said...

Psychologically necessary, no; I simply think it simply can't be seen until you've been removed from it a few years. My parents, wise as they were, told me these things when I was a youth, and my learned and educated self rejected them. I dressed as androgynous and asexual as possible! How could that ever be interpreted as mating display?

Well, of course, it attracted the boys and girls who found confidence, intelligence, education and natural, unmodified beauty to be attractive, and I really didn't have a clue how intentional all my dress really was until much later in life, when I realized those were precisely the kinds of people I wanted to attract.

On some level, of course, I was carefully and meticulously tailoring my coloured hair, my baggy jeans and my devil-may-care attitude. But I was aware of nothing more than an attempt to make myself unique-while-still-socially-acceptable. The only teacher here is time, and observation of the next generation of youths, preening and scampering about, looking just as silly as I did while doing so.