The Masculine Imperative

And you take your reward… you take your reward.

—-Jack Donaghy

It is popular to speculate about why male politicians politicians
rise to power only to throw it

with philandering. I think the question says more about the questioner
than anything. What’s surprising is not that powerful men sleep
around; it’s that some of them don’t.

Chances are if you’re reading this you’re of a intellectual bent, like
me. When you or I think about pursuing political office, we think
about it in terms of a plan to effect some particular change, such as
fixing healthcare. “Maybe I should run for office”, we think, “then I
could fix things”. Then we go back to writing code or whatever other
creative work we enjoy and kick ass at.

Meanwhile, the guys who kick ass at getting elected are, by and large,
cut from different cloth. They are professional achievers: they pursue
office as a career choice, as an end in and of itself. They are, to
use a somewhat overburdened terms, alpha males.

I read an interesting

recently that pointed out that the vast majority of men in human
history never fathered children. You and I have far more female
ancestors than male:

Of all the people who ever reached adulthood, maybe 80% of the women but only 40% of the men
reproduced. Or perhaps the numbers were 60% versus 30%. But one way or another, a woman’s odds
of having a line of descendants down to the present were double those of a man…Most women who
ever lived to adulthood probably had at least one baby and in fact a descendant alive today. Most men
did not. Most men who ever lived…left behind no genetic traces of themselves.

The way human society evolved, dominant men did the majority of the
impregnating. If you wanted to be something other than an evolutionary
cul-de-sac, you had to go out from the tribe, do something remarkable
(and probably dangerous) to gain status, and then come back and take
a bunch of wives, or concubines, or just get laid a lot.

Human societal rules have changed, but instincts haven’t. The guys
that are born with the urge to power
are driven by the same biological imperative their prehistoric
ancestors carried: acquire wealth and status, then pass on your
successful genes to as many woman as possible.

I can even see this a little bit in myself. As a man who is
reluctantly becoming something of a go-getter, I’ve found that after a
successful day—-writing code, making book promotion deals, launching
a new project—-there’s an instinctual voice in my head saying “OK,
time to have a drink and get laid!”. And the really interesting part
is that if I don’t obey that urge, I quickly find myself slipping
into depression and questioning whether there’s any point to what I
do—-even though I’m surrounded by the family I do all those things

I could be alone in this, but I suspect not. I’ve come to believe that
we men have a biological need get a sexual validation for our
achievements. The age-old formula of “achieve success, then procreate”
is wired into us.

I think we’re fooling ourselves when we pretend we’ve civilized these
instincts out of ourselves. Powerful men screw around because they are
driven to do so: the same instinct that pushed them to work so hard to
get elected, propels them, once they achieve great status, to pursue
every healthy-looking woman they see. The surprise is not that the
powerful are promiscuous; it’s that some of them aren’t. When a
politician doesn’t have a wandering eye it means one of two remarkable
things: either a “thinker” has actually found his way into power; or a
“go-getter” has truly mastered himself and his natural inclinations by
sheer force of will.

And any psychologist will tell you that suppressed urges always pop up
in some other, often uglier guise. So ‘ware those politicians who have
mastered their own libidos…

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One Comment

  1. Stefan Becket June 13, 2011 at 12:38

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