A political sociology of the sexual act would show that, as is always the case in a relation of domination, the practices and representations of the two sexes are in no way symmetrical. Not only because, even in contemporary European and American societies, young men and women have very different points of view on the love relation, which men most often conceive in terms of conquest (especially in conversations between friends, which give a prominent place to boasting about female conquests), but also because the sexual act itself is seen by men as a form of domination, appropriation, ‘possession’. Hence the discrepancy between the probable expectations of men and women as regards sexuality -and the misunderstandings, linked to misinterpretation of sometimes deliberately ambiguous or deceptive ‘signals’, which result from this. In contrast to women, who are socially prepared to see sexuality as an intimate and emotionally highly charged experience which does not necessarily include penetration but which can contain a wide range of activities (talking, touching, caressing, embracing, etc.), men are inclined to compartmentalize sexuality, which is conceived as an aggressive and essentially physical act of conquest oriented towards penetration and orgasm. And although, on this point like all the others, there are of course very great variations according to social position, age -and previous experience -it can be inferred from a series of interviews that apparently symmetrical practices (such as fellatio and cunnilingus) tend to have very different significance for men (who are inclined to see them as acts of domination, through the submission and pleasure obtained) and for women. Male pleasure is, in part, enjoyment of female pleasure, of the power to give pleasure; and so Catherine MacKinnon is no doubt right to see the faking of orgasm as a perfect example of the male power to make the interaction between the sexes conform to the view of it held by men, who expect the female orgasm to provide a proof of their virility and the pleasure derived from this extreme form of submission. Similarly, sexual harassment does not always aim at the sexual possession that seems to be its exclusive goal: in some cases it may aim at sheer possession, the pure affirmation of domination in its pure state…
…If the sexual relation appears as a social relation of domination, this is because it is constructed through the fundamental principle of division between the active male and the passive female and because this principle creates, organizes, expresses and directs desire -male desire as the desire for possession, eroticized domination, and female desire as the desire for masculine domination, as eroticized subordination or even, in the limiting case, as the eroticized recognition of domination” (Bourdieu, 2001: 20-1)
BOURDIEU, P. 2001. Masculine Domination, Stanford University Press.
State accounting practices are quite flimsy when it comes to measuring a country’s impact on the environment. The national figures on greenhouse gas emissions that we often hear bandied about exclude emissions from imported goods and international shipping and flights – known as “international bunker fuel emissions” – which are reported separately (UNFCCC, 2013).
Claims towards more efficient use of natural resources or ‘resource productivity’, which are used to support important claims of ‘decoupling’ resource use from economic growth, are similarly inept. In calculating how much material is used up in an economy state economists:
“take the raw materials we extract in our own countries, add them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtract our exports, to end up with something called ‘domestic material consumption’” (Monbiot)
What’s missing from this are the raw materials in other countries used to manufacture the imports. When these are included rich country claims to recent improvements in “resource productivity” prove false. In fact a country such as the UK is shown to have been “becoming less efficient in its use of resources”prior to the financial crisis (Monbiot).
Here is a link to three short animated introductions to sociology to whet your appetite for the greatly undervalued discipline and upset the purists at the same time. The three shorts are narrated by Alain de Botton – philosopher and TV presenter – and refer to the work of three classic and highly influential sociologists: Durkheim, Weber and Adorno http://www.openculture.com/2015/06/animated-introductions-to-three-sociologists-durkheim-weber-adorno.html
Traditionally when economists talk about human behaviour they generally displayed a belief (or tacit presumption) that humans are rationally calculating individuals who weigh up the pros and the cons before deciding. Nowadays, with the recent economic chaos pointing to the seemingly vast expanse of human stupidity, there appears to be a lot of economists leaning towards the irrationality of being human. Simplistically many of them latch on to pseudo-scientific explanations from hunter-gatherer anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists (I have blogged on the problems with these approaches in a previous post).
David McWilliams fits the latter class of economists. His recent article is uncritically built around the notion of peacocking or “signalling” which in evolutionary anthropology amounts to the display of males to females which symbolises how they would make a good mate. In our consumerist society this has transformed -as the story goes – into “costly signalling” where people purchase brand new luxury cars to display their strength as an eligible mate.
Such anthropological theorizing is based generally on circular reasoning. The usual narrative is that everything to do with human behaviour is built around some hard-wired evolutionary patterns from our ancient past. Any behaviour pattern observed is then explained by inventing some ancient occurrence that no one was around to witness. The real problem is that the influence of thousands of years of civilization, social institutions and culture gets ignored.
The reality is there are plenty of people who avoid sending out such signals (why if they are supposedly evolutionary hard-wired that way?). Those that do send out signals, their peacocking practices might well have originated with societal structures such as consumerism, the types of ‘rewards’ and status recognized by a capitalist consumer-obsessed society and an education system built around meritocracy (while ignoring underlying inequality) – also the educational system lacks the higher order critical learning which would possibly have enabled ‘consumers’ to become active ‘citizens’ and see through the bling and malarkey. Stronger communities and institutions which encourage relationships based on how you treat people, as opposed to what you have, might also go a long way towards unravelling this kind of superficiality.
Such evolutionary theorizing is problematic to politics and society for if its presumed that behaviour is ‘hard-wired’ and the societal influences involved are written out of the narrative then there really is not much hope for genuine social change. Even worse! believing human beings to have fixed natures can be used to justify existing social injustice. For example the belief we are driven by a very narrow form of individual self-interest, is one such form of this thinking that allows Rand followers to wish the worst on the most vulnerable in society.