Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Imitatio project: Human nature

The other day I was reading a piece about recent research about women's sexual responses. The research, which is pretty well known stuff, showed that the level of sexual interest women in relationships have declines far more and far more quickly than is the case for men. The conclusion the a number of women journalists writing about it reached was that women just aren't made for monogamy.

Now that is interesting for all sorts of reasons but the thing I want to highlight is the assumption that our moral beliefs ought to coincide with human nature. These writers were saying that we should change our moral beliefs about marriage and monogamy because women aren't naturally inclined to be monogamous. That isn't crazy. Morality should have something to do with human nature.

That said, it isn't hard to think of long lists of things that we aren't naturally inclined to do. We aren't naturally inclined to consider the feelings of others. We aren't naturally inclined to work hard. We aren't naturally inclined to exercise. We aren't naturally inclined to do mathematics. And I could go on and on and on ...

The point being that while it is a positive step to start thinking that the only kind of morality that is worth having is one rooted in human nature, it is silly to make that connection by insisting that we should only be asked to do things that we are naturally inclined to do.

Okay, now let me tell you about something that happened to me this week. Before you read it, though, you have to turn your sneer off. You are no better than this woman and neither am I, so let's think about what her example tells us charitably.

Anyway, this woman tells me that she has broken up with her boyfriend. And I make sympathetic noises and ask her how she is dealing with it. And she tells me she is doing okay. And then she tells me that one of the things she has done to make herself feel better is to get a gym membership.

That's human nature. To suddenly start caring a whole lot about your appearance the moment you are out of a relationship. If you've been paying attention, you'll know that women do this all the time. Not every woman does it, and not every woman does it all the time, but it is something women are naturally inclined to do and you can collect examples of it if you are so inclined.

If you're the sort of man (or woman) who is inclined to smug superiority or bitter hatred towards women, then this sort of thing can fuel your nasty tendencies. But what if you're not? What lesson do we take then? Women are naturally inclined to work hard on their appearance in order to get into a relationship but not naturally inclined to keep it up once they are in a relationship. Some women, of course, do keep it up. What's more, my observations tell me that there is a staggeringly dependable correlation between how hard a woman works on her appearance after she is in a relationship and her socioeconomic status. Such women are generally admired, including by other women. But most women aren't willing to make the sort of effort such women do.

Which is why we all know their they're special.

Which is why I discourage sneering. It's too easy to sneer at the woman or man who messes up. To actually learn from the woman or man who succeeds. That is daunting. And they have the same natural tendencies you and I have.

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