June 24, 2011

open letter to be posted on nobabies.net
Scott Adams, creator of the “Dilbert” cartoon 

Dear Scott Adams:
I suspect the flap over your comments on men behaving badly is a reflection of how much your marvelous cartoon is loved.  I tend to say things (stand by) that I regard as being far more offensive and nobody cares at all.  That is not because I would wish to offend even an enemy but because I lack your light touch.

Huffpost says that you have declared men to have a natural instinct to rape.  But so far as I can tell, out of context of course, you have said that some men behave badly because our basic instincts are frustrated.  I thought that this was something from 7th grade psychiatry and no great novelty.  You gave a nice list of bad behaviors, in which I take it one of your gadflies said you equated tweeting with raping.  I don’t think you did that.  What you did not do was to say just what male basic instincts might be, and neither did the person sent to torment you.  So I thought I’d give it a try. 

Along with desire for food, water, air, safety and companionship, I can think of three male instincts.

  1. Mate for life.  I’ll bet you didn’t expect that one.  Offended yet?  There was an article in the journal Nature a few years ago entitled, “An Advantage of Promiscuity.”  Either the headline writer is less than clever or is a master of irony.  What had been discovered was that there are two kinds of primate when it comes to immunity: some have robust immune systems and some have puny ones.  It was already known that socially there are two kinds of primate: some mate for life and others are promiscuous.  The second discovery was that the promiscuous primates had the vigorous immune systems and the others had the weak one.  The final observation was that humans have weak immune systems.  The headline writer concludes – although the article did not – that promiscuity is good because it gives us a good immune system.  Of course that is ridiculous.  It is like saying there is an advantage in getting your teeth knocked out because you can get really nice dentures.  When I look at the facts, it seems to me that we are biologically set up to mate for life.  We simply are that kind of primate.  To say the contemporary society has messed that up is an understatement. 
  2. Marry kin.  Yep.  This time I can give you the references.  [R. Sibly et al., Science 309 607 (2005).  A. Helgason et al., Science 319 813 (2008).  R. Labouriau, A. Amorim Genetics 178 601 (2008). R. Labouriau, A. Amorim Science 322 1634 (2008).] The first puts together more than a thousand serial field counts of birds, fish, mammals and insects and finds that the smaller the population the greater the growth rate and that this is not related to the environment.  The second finds that among Icelanders, the nearer kin a couple are the more children and the more grandchildren they will have.  The final two offers supporting data from Denmark.  In other words, salmon that fight their way to their natal brook, penguins that march for days to the old family mating ground now under miles of ice and most human societies excluding only the current global one and the Inuit, are all doing the same thing.  They are mating with kin and benefiting from the increased fertility.  Again society has done a job on us.  In fact the demographic consequences are already catastrophic in the developed world with the rest of the world not far behind. 
  3. In a war reverse 1) and 2).  This one stinks to high heaven, and I don’t like it.  But let’s follow the logic.  Suppose you are in a little tribe like almost everyone was for almost all of the human experience.  You are involved in ceaseless warfare with all the surrounding tribes.  This is to be expected.  It is a way to keep members of your little band from mating with outsiders, which behavior would lead to your extinction.  But you would like to win.  So your band has had a little success and beat up the other tribe and scattered them.  You are dutifully slaughtering every child, man and old person you find.  Now you find a woman.  Of course you could just kill her.  But there is a more odious way to hurt that tribe.  Make her pregnant.  If the other tribe kills her when they find out, or kills the baby, it will be a terrible blow to their morale since that would be the antithesis of everything society is about.  If they let the child grow up among them, that child will mate but will have decreased fertility and so will the offspring of that child.  Largo (opposite of “presto” meaning fast), in the long run you have eliminated several people who would have been a threat to your descendants. 


Although the first two points are supported by published science, the third and most troubling is pure speculation, and I would be happy to relinquish it in return for any substantial counter argument.  However there are a couple of clues.  One is that the number of college girls getting pregnant is highest in September and then declines as the semester wears on.  It has already been suggested (sorry, no reference) that the boys on going to school are in invader mode and behave like an invading army.  After a time they feel at home and behave like the generally decent guys they really are.  

The second clue is that in a stressed society the last people who get to eat are the fertile females.  Any society that doesn’t take care of the women and children is on the quick road out.  So a woman of a losing tribe will have a characteristic appearance.  She will be skinny.  She will be dressed skimpily.  She will be tanned form exposure.  She will have red chapped lips from exposure.  She will have dark shadows under her eyes from stress. 

That of course is the standard glamour pus look.  Women spend lots of time and money trying to look like someone who is set up to be raped by the conquering warrior. 

I trust you find this line of reasoning offensive.  I certainly do.  But it does seem plausible.

Of course women probably have an overlapping set of instincts.  The first two have a strong biological underpinning and women ought to share them with men.  There ought also to be a third instinct, keep those children alive.  Not being a woman, I should not speak for them but their record is pretty good in that regard. 

I’ll post this on my website in a few days.  If you have any comments or questions of course I am at your disposal.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

I am pleased to say that Scott Adams has been courteous enough to acknowledge getting the letter.  Thank you.

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