Monday, May 18, 2009

Spiritus Animalis

I sometimes wonder why there are so few books about the experiences that come with working in academia. What makes professional science so interesting is that each academic field creates its own little world (or better: a model of it) inside the big Ivory Tower, and then fills it up with the most extreme characters imaginable (often close to caricatures of stereotypes).

My own work covers research topics ranging from philosophy to psychology, sociology, biology and engineering (I love my job). Accordingly, I attend scientific meetings regarding each of these fields. And each time I return from one of them (like this week), I wonder about the cultural differences and idiosyncrasies that have evolved for each discipline.

To put it bluntly:
The number of assholes you encounter in academia is directly proportional to the increased technical nature of the field.

[Note: I am talking about the type of asshole behavior that roots in inner insecurity and lack of true dominance, i.e. being mean for no obvious reason (other than some chicks to impress)]

You see, while philosophy conferences tend to be laid back and chill, there is a good chance that someone will bitch about your work at psychology meetings and the atmosphere is outright aggressive when science turns into engineering.
Why is that?

I believe that almost all of our behavior is shaped by the need to procreate.

"if you allow time for taking off clothes, making some phoney gesture of affection, having a bit of banal conversation and getting dressed again, the amount of time spent actually having sex is about eleven minutes.' Eleven minutes. The world revolves around something that only took eleven minutes."

Or, as Benedict Smith put it in "Sauce":
"'Are you qualified to fuck me?' is what each of us are asking and attempting to ascertain each and every day of the week, each minute of the hour, and each second of each minute."

It follows from that that if men behave like dicks, it is because they adapted to an environment that favors dick-ish behavior (to get sex).

And, if the proportion of jerks in one social setting is higher than in another, it must be because there is even more to win and less to lose by adhering to the "self-obsession of narcissism; the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behaviour of psychopaths; and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism. (aka the "dark triad" that turns women on)"

While it is likely that there are more than one factor at work, I believe that it is not a coincidence that there is a correlation between the number of women in each academic field and the prevalence of assholes.

The less women there are in a social setting, the more aggressive the males.

You might expect the engineering field to be overpopulated with socially inept nerds who have given up on women - and there is some truth to that. But, as long as there are young female students present, there will be testosterone flowing.

Many of these gray haired men were shunned by their peers during childhood and adolescence. They had to pay a high price for their extraordinary intelligence and wide range of interests. They sat quietly in the corner for most of high school and college, daydreaming about the "cute girls" around them; just to find all romantic fantasies shattered by some "jocks", who "scored" those very same "hot chicks".
Again and again, these brainy guys would fail in their shy attempts at getting a girlfriend - or keeping them, given the male competition of rugged "go-for-its" who seemed to be anything but what mom had told them is attractive to women.

So how come these juvenile nice guys turn into adult dicks?

Well, once they become distinguished professors they finally are someone in social terms - a respected chief or head of a laboratory, research institution or university. And with the power and prestige that comes with that (restricted to their small little world of the field that they are experts in, of course) - there time has finally come.

Young female students suddenly pay attention - even find them attractive. The power and coolness that comes with age is overshadowing the effeminate qualities of their sensitive, intellectual minds.

The nerd come prof finally gets laid - by the same young girls who did not even acknowledge his existence some decades ago. There is a something akin to a "groupie" culture in academia. It is an environment in which "brainy" equals alpha.

Accordingly, there is an interesting social dynamic at scientific meetings. It is a mating market where elderly men meet ambitious and insecure young female students. The competition between these older guys is real and sexual in nature (even if they don't realize).
And that produces assholes.

[I will let you in to their secret:
It is easy to become dominant in academic discourse - by remaining destructive.

You can profit from the fact that nothing is certain (and as the joke goes - even that is questionable) by being critical all the time.

Answering each and every claim, ingenious as it may be with a nonchalant "Yeah, right." attitude guarantees you a win. You will come across as a critical thinker with a disciplined, stern, inquisitive mind by simply questioning everything that is being said or shown.
Plus, people tend to get defensive when someone gets offensive. Thus, they will start qualifying themselves to you and thus become submissive instead of disarming you with an offensive "Well, what do you think?" counterattack.]

Now, most men I know do not want to be assholes. Accordingly, among guys trying to get better with women there is a tendency in seduction to distill "whatever is attractive about assholes" from being mean and cruel. Likewise, women say they like assholes for "what comes with it" (confidence etc.), and not the asshole-side itself.

So, is the solution really to be a "strong, masculine man" rather than a "jerk"? Is it possible to take on all the "positive" traits of assholes while remaining a nice guy at core? To be dominant but friendly? To become a non-supplicating gentleman?

I postulate that this is possible, and it will get you far. But not all the way.

There is a reason that fierce competition between men (such as on a scientific meeting with many powerful men and few young attractive females) turns even nerds into world class assholes.
A strong, confident, independent, non-reactive, powerful man is attractive. Very attractive.
But, a genuine asshole is will always be (even) more attractive.

It might not be politically correct. We might not like it. And it does not mean you have to be an asshole to be good with women. Yet, at least when it comes to casual sex, women prefer narcissistic, asocial, cunning men over anything else.

It is the principle of the supernormal stimulus. What assholes do is taking the strong Man and exaggerate everything that differentiates them from unattractive males.

Women dream of strong, independent, powerful men. They love them. But they do anything, literally anything when they get fucked by an asshole of goatse proportions. And it gives them the most (sexual) pleasure.

Women know this (even though they hate to admit). But they have cannot help themselves. It is like in the joke where the scorpion stings the frog that carries him over the water:

"He tells me over and over that he loves me so He gives me love that I never got from you He loves me too, his love is true Why can't he be you

He never fails to call and tell me I'm on his mind And I'm lucky to have such a guy; I hear it all the time And he does all the things that you would never do He loves me, too, his love is true Why can't he be you

He's not the one who dominates my mind and soul And I should love him so, 'cause he loves me, I know But his kisses leave me cold

Women have a thing for evil men. Men will conform to the female ideal (I consider the opposite trend we are witnessing in the wake of feminism to be a fad).

The academic world is just a model for what is happening to a lesser degree in society as a whole.

Given that - can you imagine what this world would be like if women preferred nice guys over bad boys?


  1. First off, sounds like a great job...hiring?

    "I will let you in to their secret:
    It is easy to become dominant in academic discourse - by remaining destructive."

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The more specialized and erudite the field, the greater the defense of "property rights" so to speak.

    In academic fields, especially at research institutions, each prof stakes his entire career, his entire being on a small set of ideas, and the more focused the field, the more assholes you're likely to run into. like master dogen's 2 assholes (ha, read that one again), and as you pointed out, they gain by destroying the ideas of others.

    nice post.

  2. i picked up on this in my master's classes. the first few lectures I attended outside of class, and more specifically the jockeying that following in the "stand around and chat" time afterwards was eye opening. Things turned vitriolic in an instant. Thanks for the quote btw. Glad the book had at least a few worthwhile observations.

  3. Women have a thing for evil men. Men will conform to the female ideal (I consider the opposite trend we are witnessing in the wake of feminism to be a fad).
    Also the value of a given (alpha/beta) reproductive strategy is inversely proportional to the proportion of its adherents. Acting in contravention to the fad will always get you ass. If 90% of men were alpha having beta provider qualities would (shudder) be more attractive than it is today.

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