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

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Sexual Pursuit, DNA, And The American Male–The Wolf Will Never Be Tamed

Henry Parsons was a regular at the Stingray Oyster Bar, named for the famous oyster of the lower Chesapeake Bay near the York River – plump, less briny that those from the northern Bay near Chincoteague and the Atlantic Ocean, but with a particular minerality appreciated by the watermen of the River and oyster aficionados in Norfolk and Richmond.  

Henry loved the Stingray not only because of its wide selection of oysters (the fish monger was from Hood Canal in Puget Sound and had spent summers on Cape Cod overseeing the purveyance of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine oysters to the best restaurants in Boston), but because of its servers, young women from Tucson and Minneapolis, single mothers finishing their degrees in cosmetology and hospital nutrition, who were ingenue, eager, and happy to attend to the area’s well-to-do.  Henry was old enough to be their grandfather and in fact shared photos of his young grandson with Stingray’s young mothers. He enjoyed the familiarity and friendship of a neighborhood bar, tipped generously (in return from being generously comped each time he came in) and liked the banter with shuckers, maître d’s, and greeters.

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Yet to be honest, he went there only for the young women behind the bar.  There was intent behind the family pictures he showed, his engaged interest in their schooling, their children, their hometowns, and their distant husbands.  At his age, there was little likelihood of any further relationship.  Not only was there the unspoken rule of the client-server social firewall, but there was age, that awful, ugly, hateful reminder of the end of the tunnel.   The older he got, the more he desired the young women behind the bar; and the more he appreciated their perfect skin, their smiles, their coquettishness, and their interest, the more he thought that perhaps this one time illusion would morph into something palpable, and he would bed Tiffany from Gaithersburg.

Dostoevsky noted the horrible irony of man, created in the image of God, insightful, intelligent, creative, instinctive, and resourceful, destined to live but a few short decades, and then be consigned to the cold, hard ground of the steppes for all eternity; but Henry felt the even more painful irony that men were created with a sexual urge to last a lifetime but with only a few short years to consummate it.  Men desire women from puberty until the day they die.  They may regret leaving their long-suffering wives, their children, and their grandchildren; but their only true regret is love lost or never pursued. 

We all die alone, remarked Tolstoy, commenting on the fact that in one’s final hours the ministrations and attention of loved ones mean nothing, given the enormity of facing all eternity.   It is not those left behind who matter, but those who were never even given a chance to exist. 

It was particularly hard for Henry to meet Tiffany.  Although ten or more years older than Nabokov’s nymphet Lolita who had an innate sexuality that few girls have – sexuality without even knowing what sex is; an instinctive desire to attract men, to be taken by them, and to ultimately to control them – she had the same instincts, but matured over many relationships.  She understood male desire, interest and intent regardless of age.  Her dark looks,  part Colombian, part Turkish, and part Middle East  recalled former Parsi lovers.  She was irresistible.  The irony became insufferable.

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Young men always live within old frames; and if older men never look in the mirror they never have to reconcile the two. So Henry went to the Stingray to eat oysters, to chat with Tiffany, and to imagine trysts and assignations with her.  He would drive her home from work, cook dinner for her while she put her three-year old to bed, talk about her life, his loves, and his interest until, after she checked on her young daughter, they went to bed.

His wife of many years, his censorious adult children, his colleagues and friends, his minister, aged aunts, and old mentors meant little.  As the Coleman Silk character in the Phillip Roth book, The Human Stain, says about his affair with a much younger woman, “She is not my first love, nor my best love; but she certainly is my last love. Doesn’t that count for something?”.  Why shouldn’t an improbable love complete Henry Parsons’ life?  And why should any attempt to pursue if not consummate it, regardless of outcome, be considered with any less respect?

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Henry was neither an ingenue nor a frustrated lover.  Given his life of rich sexual adventure and satisfaction, he should never have regretted his past nor desired Tiffany with such longing; but as a man, he was defined more than anything by loves missed, escaped, or ignored rather than loves satisfied. 

The Hustler, a film based on the book by Walter Tevis is a tale of moral redemption, the final accounting of a man without principle.   In an early scene in the movie, Eddie’s partner, left in a hotel room  with ‘a car and a hundred bucks’ after Eddie’s loss to Minnesota Fats returns to see him and asks Eddie to go back on the road.  “I’m broke, Eddie”, he tells him.

CHARLIE All right. That's what I want. A poolroom with a little handbook on the side. I'm getting old.

FAST EDDIE Lay down and die by yourself. Don't take me with you.

CHARLIE Just like that?

FAST EDDIE Yeah, just like that!

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Yet after Eddie’s lover, Sarah, commits suicide – a refusal to live in a world as venal, corrupt, and immoral as that of Eddie and his manager and driven to moral despair by them – Eddie says: “ I traded her in on a pool game, Bert. If I take the money, she never lived. She never died. We both know that's not true. She lived. She died.“

Men’s lives are not so melodramatic.  Women are won and lost without consequence.  Affairs found out and reconciled.  Risks run and avoided; and in the shuffle moral principle is lost.  Men are no different from Eddie Felson.  The same obsession, the same immoral pursuits, the same indifference to consequences.  Few have Eddie’s moral redemption.

Yet can men be blamed? Were they not created with an innate, irrevocable immorality? Biology is indeed destiny as Freud suggested and ratified by James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA who said, “We used to think that our fate was in our stars. Now we know, in large part, that our fate is in our genes.”  Does not male sexual pursuit, hardwired and ineradicable but essential to the species trump moral judgment and therefore exonerated?

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Since it is hardwired, male aggressiveness cannot be tamed by interventionist educational programs, scientific revisionism, or progressive blandishments.  All that can be expected is a stand-off between competing armies.  Just as animals fight when they can win, but retreat when they sense they cannot, men exhibit the same instincts for victory and survival.   The product of such behavior is no less than Darwinian survival of the fittest.  In other words, there is neither an upside nor a downside to male aggressiveness.  It simply the genetic code of XY animals.

Of course not, say feminists.  While such predatory urges may be part of male DNA, they have no legitimacy.  The equally endowed traits of human rationality and moral judgement are far more important and what distinguish us as a higher evolutionary species.

Yet male sexual pursuit, although characterized as a lower, primitive impulse generated from the simplest and least differentiated part of the brain, the hypothalamus, is immutable, powerful, ineluctable, and permanent. Women cannot possibly understand the likes of Henry Parsons.

At this point in his life Parsons was less concerned with the morality of immorality of his past life, only reconciling – as Tolstoy tried to do – the meaningless of it with an even more meaningless but frightening death.   His pursuit of women, as vain and hopeless as it might be, was the best validation of life.  Nietzsche had noted that the expression of pure will was the only validation of life in a meaningless world.  Sexual pursuit despite the result, was at least an affirmation that he had lived and was living.  Morality in the face of mortality was irrelevant.

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The feminist notion of ‘toxic masculinity’ and the insistent desire  of women to tame male aggression is but a passing fancy.  Many men are wrongly self-critical.  Maybe, they reflect, they should become more sensitive, caring, dutiful, and responsible. 

Have feminists turned the country into a nation of sissified wimps who value feeling over reason? On the one hand, feminism has changed men’s discourse, at least in public where they nod approvingly at news reports about glass ceilings, rape, abuse, and discrimination.  On the other, men in private share none of these sentiments. They know that biology and human nature have not changed since the Paleolithic.  Men raid, kill, and pillage.  Women cry a lot, like to share their feelings, and want strong men as partners.

The wolf is unlikely to be feminized and Henry Parsons and all men like him will think of women, sex, and sexual conquest until their dying day.

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