Law in Contemporary Society
In our discussions of Veblen's critique of consumerism, we tried to apply his idea of the warfare of waste to things like governments' accumulating arms and students' attending expensive Ivy League institutions. In the spirit of the first question on Professor Moglen's quiz, I think it may be interesting to bounce around the idea of male competition for sexual prowess in the modern context. As we've already rehearsed the theory in class, men try to establish sexual superiority, and in turn social status, over other men on the site of the woman's body--or, more precisely, women's bodies (note the plural). In today's scene of casual dating, nightclubs, and "player"-dom, a male becomes more sexually powerful and more of a "man" as he accumulates more females for short-term dating, sex, or even long-term relationships.

The problem with possibly fumbling this idea of the "modern man" into Veblen's framework is that whereas Veblen's readers can understand why idle affluenza is wasteful, it is unclear what it means to be wasteful when a man is promiscuous. On the one hand, some men may say that it would be wasteful to spend excessive time and money on multiple women if there is an insufficient return of sex and fun dating. Some men may even be callous enough to say that return notwithstanding, spending too much time and money on women would be wasteful (fun as it may be). But on the other hand, just as many others may say that it would be offensive to say that spending a lot of time and money on any human being is wasteful. Then again, we should remind ourselves of the example of increasing one's social capital by means of maid body count. (Maids, too, are human beings after all, and it would not seem unfair to call this practice wasteful.) But unlike the example of the maids, the player's lifestyle may be wasteful in a way other than just being financially wasteful.

Perhaps players' competition is really a battle of waste because of the high opportunity costs of entering into actually meaningful relationships. (For this proposition to work, we would have to first assume what many of us already do, I think--that meaningful relationships are valuable, emotionally and even socially.) And even if, into this calculation of waste, we mix counterbalancing units of utility in the form male self-gratification from meaningless sex and fun dating, it seems that this kind of utility is negligible compared to the lost utility of meaningful human partnerships. The social goal, then, in avoiding this kind of waste and fruitless promiscuity is to invest in lasting and loyal bonds with other human beings in return for other social goods like nurturing environments for children and stable social units in general comprised of two mature, mutually supportive adults.

All this talk of a "social goal," however, is probably too normative of a stance to be coherently forced into any descriptive narrative of social evolution. It could just be as easy to argue that the goal of fighting the male biological impulse for multiple females is elusive. That is--is an everlasting, loyal, monogamous relationship really the most socially valuable configuration of human bodies? (Interestingly, whereas Veblen's narrative actually describes a history of development into an economy of extreme waste, thinking about the sexual male leads us to the insight that the original state of male-female relationships may be the more wasteful point in history--but only if we first impose our modern assumptions about "the meaningful relationship.")

-- JosephLu - 28 Mar 2009

I have some points to offer:

  • First, the idea that male promiscuity is wasteful puts the cart before the horse. At the basic animal instinct level, copulation is not waste, it is the reason for waste. From the point of the gene, from Darwin's view, procreation is an immense reward, as it offers genetic immortality by bringing your genes into the next generation. Waste is what is used to get women attracted to yourself. Of course, promiscuity can be conspicuous as it is, or has been, the sign of the ruling class (think of harems, the king's mistresses, JFK, etc), the idea being that a person being desired by many surely must have something desirable about himself. It's like the line outside of a club.
  • You are correct that for the promiscuous male, exclusive long term relationships create opportunity costs. It is interesting to note that the opposite used to be true for women; given that sex tends to lead to pregnancy, promiscuity was low-reward high-risk. Birth control is too recent an invention to have made a dent in this, which is why we still have the idea of male conquest, women playing hard to get, positive connotations with male and negative connotations with female promiscuity.
  • Fun dating and meaningful relationships are not mutually exclusive. Both dating can be meaningful and relationships can be fun. As for meaningless sex, Woody Allen put it wonderfully: 'Do you really have such a low opinion of yourself?'
  • Investing in lasting and loyal bonds. The divorce rate is at around 50% last time I checked; of the half that do not get married I wonder how many (how few?) are in fact happy. The whole idea of prince charming meeting His One True Love is a very disneyfied version of reality. Moreover, children require love, affection, money, attention and a healthy and caring environment. It does not follow at all that this can only be provided by two persons as opposed to other arrangements, let alone by a piece of paper called 'marriage'. Robert Heinlein gave an example of this in his novel 'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress'.

-- TheodorBruening - 28 Mar 2009


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r3 - 07 Jan 2010 - 23:00:21 - IanSullivan
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