Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » June 2005 » More Male Modeling...

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06/01/2005: More Male Modeling...

The Urge to Win by John Tierney (NY Times) is an interesting follow-up on one aspect of the men’s/women’s issues and debate.

Yet, as I read this piece, it's not so much about competition to Run the World, but men competing with men (and presumably women with other women) for the "Prize" of a marriage partner and on the single criterion of a "male's reproductive sucess."

Too limiting of a definition there: That's more of an inter-competative reproductive scenario which may/may-not have relevance to the overall "competative" personalities of the average Jane or John Doe. Yet it fails to address the fundamental issue of whether the World on the whole would be better served by Feminine model of Cooperative-negotiation versus the Male model of Aggressive-domination.

[Give it a read by clicking the “more” button.]

The Urge To Win

"After I wrote about research showing that women have less appetite for competition than men do, a number of women wrote to inform me that they're just as competitive as any guy. If the tone of their letters is any indication, I have no doubt they are.

Nor do researchers doubt that such women exist. As Danica Patrick showed in the Indianapolis 500, some women can successfully compete with men at the highest level. But why aren't there more of them?

Discrimination is one big reason, because men have traditionally made the rules to suit themselves and keep out women. But if you think that leveling the playing field would eliminate gender disparities, consider an unintentional experiment conducted in the Scrabble world, which is hardly a hostile environment for women.

For a quarter-century, women have outnumbered men at Scrabble clubs and tournaments in America, but a woman has won the national championship only once, and all the world champions have been men. Among the top-ranked 50 players, typically about 45 are men.

The top players, both male and female, point to a simple explanation for the disparity: more men are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top. You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like "khat," doing computerized drills and memorizing long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words.

Suppose you draw the letters AELNRST. A mid-level player could shuffle the tiles for a while and find one or two seven-letter words. If the T in that rack were a U instead, the player might spend a couple of minutes fruitlessly looking for an anagram of AELNRSU.

A champion wouldn't waste any valuable time in a game. Thanks to the thousands of alphagrams he's memorized, he would realize immediately that there are four anagrams in the first rack (antlers, rentals, saltern, sternal) and none in the second.

The guys who memorize these lists have a hard time explaining their passion. But the evolutionary roots of it seem clear to anthropologists like Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.

"Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy," she said, "because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don't get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They're just as competitive with themselves - they want to do a good job just as much as men do - but men want to be more competitive with others."

Evolutionary psychologists see two kinds of payoffs that traditionally went (and often still go) to victorious men. Women have long been drawn to men at the top of a hierarchy (a clan leader, Donald Trump) who have the resources to support children.

And when women pursued what's called a short-term reproductive strategy - a quick fling - then presumably evolution favored the woman who was attracted to a man with good genes, as manifest either in his looks or in some display of prowess. If the theory's right and the unconscious urges persist in women, you can begin to understand why some women wait in hotel lobbies looking for rock stars.

The men who've lost competitions have often paid a reproductive price. Because the few rich winners have gotten more than their share of wives (through polygamy or a series of trophy wives), a lot of guys at the bottom have ended up alone. In both traditional and modern societies, it's common to find more never-married men than never-married women.

So if you're a lonely bachelor at the bottom, it makes evolutionary sense to have more zeal than the typical woman to fight your way up. It has been noted at Scrabble tournaments that some of the best players are single guys with wide-open social calendars. And there are Scrabble groupies - I'm not kidding - apparently still under the unconscious influence of that classic short-term reproductive strategy. They prefer guys who win.

Of course, just because men evolved with an impulse for competition doesn't mean that it still always makes sense, either for society or for the men themselves. Perhaps winning a Scrabble tournament with a $25,000 prize makes you a better marriage prospect. But I'm not sure how many women want to marry someone who spends his weekends memorizing alphagrams.

For Further Reading: The Evolution of Desire by David M. Buss (Basic Books, 272 pp., February 1995) The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World by Helen Fisher (Random House, 377 pp., May 1999) Everything Scrabble by Joe Edley and John D. Williams, Jr. (Pocket, 368 pp., November 2001) Word Freak: Heartbreak Triumph Genius Obsession World Competitive Scrabble Players by Stefan Fatsis. (Penguin, 384 pp, July 2002) National Scrabble Association Do Women Shy Away from Competition? by Niederle Muriel, and Lise Vesterlund (working paper) Performance in Competitive Environments: Gender Differences by Uri Gneezy, Muriel Niederle and Aldo Rustichini (Quarterly Journal of Economics, CXVIII, August 2003, 1049 – 1074) Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (Princeton University Press, 240 pp., September 2003) Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior by James McBride Dabbs with Mary Godwin Dabbs (McGraw-Hill, 256 pp., July 2000)

Karen on 06.01.05 @ 05:16 AM CST

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