"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Darwinian Advantage - Working Both Sides Of The Street And Winning On Both

Betsy Ballard was emotionally and psychologically a perfect gender balance.  Her male and female sides were perfectly poised, enabling her to be both aggressive and pursuing, and collaborative and patient.  Her particular talent was an unerring ability to choose where and when to apply each.   She could be coy and demurring with men when it was to her advantage; imperious and demanding with female subordinates when order and authority needed to be restored; ladylike at the Cosmos Club, a bit more sexually forward at Fever; cute and casual at company picnics; and brutally honest with men.

The transition from female to male was an easy elision.  She was as sexually fluent as a polyglot who could speak three languages at a conference table without betraying his native tongue.  No one in Betsy’s office even noticed her transitions. Her younger colleagues had all been brought up to assume gender neutrality – i.e. there was no such thing as gender difference.  Men could be soft, considerate, and understanding; and women could be tough as nails.  The idea of a mannish woman or effeminate man had disappeared from their social radar, and the idea of parsing sexuality to categorize and limit it was unheard of.  Betsy was also so adept at her craft – applying one or other sexual side of her personality while never altering her fundamental character – that no one ever noticed the difference.

Beautiful Black & White Photos of Women in Old-Fashioned, ca. 1940's (7)

Betsy had realized her talent early on.  Even as a child she understood more than her classmates how to manipulate others using her very unique sexuality.  She had male teachers wrapped around her little finger, and female ones intimidated by this precocious, demanding, willful child.  She was friends with both boys and girls – a tomboy on the playground, chipper and funny in the doll house.

As an adolescent she could be as catty and wicked as her girlfriends.  She could play up to those boys who wanted a girly girl but also run with jocks.  She was good at watercolors (for some reason a girl thing) and at math, always a boy’s corner.   No one noticed how she played both sides of the street.

Betsy Ballard was a genius at understanding the basic, fundamental differences between men and women; familiar with the zeitgeist of gender fluidity but completely dismissive of it; and a canny, intelligent schemer who instinctively sensed weakness and vulnerability and had no qualms about exploiting it.  Men would always fall for women’s allure and femininity; and women would always look for men with authority, confidence, and control.  While there was no thing as psycho-biological gender spectrum, the range of sexual responses within traditional maleness and femaleness was broad indeed.  Betsy’s canniness was never more evident than her ability to mark people on it, and use their own, personal and individual sexual character to her advantage.

This special perceptiveness was not limited to sexual character.  Betsy understood that sexual behavior was simply a subset of a larger, equally predictable human behavior.  Human nature, hardwired and universal was aggressive, territorial, self-interested, and amoral.  People despite their outward uniqueness all behaved according to these simple Darwinian rules.  It didn’t take much to understand that no one was exempt and that behavior was always predictable; so it didn’t take much to anticipate it before it happened.  Moreover Betsy knew exactly how to provoke a predictable reaction – when it was to her advantage to elicit an unfortunate comment, to sow seeds of doubt about competence or honesty, to praise and  support to gain an ally.

In these secular matters like sexual ones, few suspected her lack of principle or ‘centeredness’.  In her colleagues’ eyes she always acted with probity and rectitude.  The fact that she seemed to always get her way was not surprising, they said, given her ability, charm, and wit.

Darwin’s theory in popular understanding is all about evolutionary supremacy – the incremental genetic changes that confer advantage – but adaptation is as essential.  There are certain animals that evolved to a perfectly adapted state millennia ago and have remained virtually unchanged since.

The raccoon is a perfect example.  Intelligent, adaptable, resourceful, and canny, this animal will be one of evolution’s survivors once we are long gone. It has remained unchanged for a millennium, changing habitats, food sources, climates, and shelter when it became necessary. It avoids dog fights, ram-rutting, the tooth-and-claw of the high plains, and thrives without notice.

Image result for images raccoon

The cockroach has an even longer pedigree, one calculated in the millions not thousands of years. The insect is lackluster.  No bright butterfly wings, no stinger, no flight, speed, or particularity.  It just goes on and on in kitchens, barns, basements, and the wild. It is at home anywhere.  It takes advantage of what is before it.  It is not limited by choice or preference.

Betsy Ballard was unique because she combined both of Darwin’s theories.  She was as adaptable and as opportunistic as the raccoon, but as strong and dominant as the alpha of her own species.  She was unconfined by traditional morality and acted no differently than animals who followed their instincts and genetic programming; but she was human – if not superhuman – in her ability to manipulate the existing genetic preconditions of others.  She was a perfect √úbermensch.

Image result for images darwin

There were some who criticized her for her lack of moral commitment.  She seemed indifferent to important social causes.  Global warming, the glass ceiling, minority rights, or income inequality meant little to her.  While she was respectful of law, order, and prevailing norms, she was uninterested in reforming them.  She was only interested in using them to her advantage.  She was adept and versatile, navigating around social conventions and moralistic proscriptions, never judging them for their value but only as impediments.  History was nothing if not a predictable, repetitious playing out of the same behavior within the same social conventions and according to the same Darwinian rules.  What was there to value? What was there of ‘higher’ value.

Manipulation does not mean dishonesty.  Betsy was never duplicitous, deceitful, or untrustworthy.  Playing by the rules was the best way to take advantage of them.  She carefully avoided even any suggestion of questionable behavior.  In fact she never needed to resort to anything else.  People were willing, complaisant, and vulnerable enough without any chicanery. 

Just as Betsy avoided any engagement in community affairs, she avoided personal engagement as well.  Marriage was one socially approved convention which she could never use to her advantage.  It was far too principled for any real individual expression.  She had her share of affairs – uncompromising, mutual ones with no expectation or commitment – and even as she got older never sought solace in pairing.  In fact the thought never occurred to her.  She had no regrets about her untethered life, and was quite willing to die like a squirrel or a raccoon unnoticed under leaves and dead branches.  Convinced of her evolutionary superiority, unconcerned about leaving a genetic legacy, and indifferent to a social one, she would die alone but completely satisfied.

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