18 May 2007

Men (or Why Farts are Funny)

"Teenage boys, goaded by their surging hormones run in packs like the primal horde. They have only a brief season of exhilarating liberty between control by their mothers and control by their wives."
- Camille Paglia

There is a reason why farts are funny. They remind us that we're oddly constructed beings. We're the curious juxtaposition of soul and scrotum, brain and belly - part animal and partly aspiring to something cerebral or spiritual or anything that might exist in the gap between molecules rather than being reducible to mere molecules.

We rather fancy the notion that we're a higher life form and then the unbidden fart volunteers itself and we're forced to laugh. The fart is a reminder that whatever it is that we call self or consciousness, it rides uneasily atop an animal only partly tamed and little understood.

Between 15 and 25, our hormone count is about double our IQ. It is a wonder that we males are able to converse at all - and no wonder that young women find us so perplexing. “I tried to talk to him but he just grunted. Is something wrong with him?”

Researchers once performed a study of a young man who'd had the two halves of his brain severed. The right and left hemispheres could no longer communicate directly. Although this had stopped seizures, it provoked odd symptoms. The researchers flashed messages to one half of his brain and then asked the other half to explain what he was doing. They'd flash a message, "Stand up" to the right eye that beamed into the left hemisphere (if I remember this correctly). He'd stand up. The researchers would then ask him why he'd stood up. The problem here is that the right hemisphere responsible for articulating and delivering a response to this question had no access to the "Stand up" sign - was clueless that this had even happened since the image had been beamed into the left hemisphere. Nonetheless, the right hemisphere got right to work busily generating a perfectly plausible reason for standing up. "I was going to walk into the house for a Coke," it would say, making no reference to the sign. One has to suspect that men go through their entire life in some variant of this pattern – impulsive action quickly followed by a plausible but irrelevant explanations. Our lives a Geek drama of hormones acting out and the frontal lobes trailing after, busily making apologies and explanations to aggrieved or curious parties.

This is probably one reason that men are credited with so many breakthroughs. Too often caught daydreaming about sex or barbeque or sports, men are practiced at spontaneously generating a response that has little basis in fact or precedent. We riff. On occasion we create something in the process, a theory that holds up and finds application outside the narrow domain of our own personal lives.

I'm frightened by the possibility of cloning. There is a reason that a woman looks dreamily into the eyes of a man and murmurs, "Oh baby." Trying desperately to see past our bulk and whiskers and dumb jokes and these minds prone to hormonal hijacking, they say "baby" as a reminder to themselves about why they are with us. At some level, every woman has to wonder about subjecting herself to a species who would blissfully live in a environment unsafe even for bacteria, and gladly make conservation about only their own obsession without feigning the least interest in the legitimate concerns of the woman. Once women no longer need us to reproduce, I imagine that we'll quickly die out, no longer needed for our participation in the best fifteen minutes of a pregnancy.

Don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends are men. It's just that I wouldn't want to live with one. Again.

I once heard someone use that quaint phrase, "he married up," in reference to a guy we knew. Of course he married up. That's what it means to be heterosexual. We marry up. We get to live with females. One argument against same-sex marriages is that the men would lose the baby on the night of the big election or big game, misplacing the bassinet in their distracted excitement. And they would be unlikely to realize their mistake until days later.

We wildly discount the role of hormones. We do things for reasons unknown even to us and then the right-brain kicks in, generating rationalizations, explanations, and plausible excuses. But we're all living atop an uneasy truce of competing forces - the id, ego, and superego all staring warily at one another as we navigate our way in the world. Yet the three all speak different languages: the superego pondering particle physics, the ego whistling a tune, and the id making mud pies in the corner. It is not just that the forces uneasily live together – it is that they don’t even have a translator between them to make sense of one another.

Without women, we'd still be sitting in caves regaling one another with those hilarious stories about the last mammoth hunt when fat Charlie was stepped on and died with such a funny look on his face. Men get lots of credit for historical advances, but I suspect that civilization was something imposed on us by our wives and mother, without whom we'd likely think farting a form of music.

Given all this, we really have little choice. Rather than see our lives as a tragedy of misplaced expectations, we struggle to do something – anything –that distinguishes us from other animals. And whenever we have enough success to begin to feel like we’re something important, the fart intrudes. Our sense of self-importance disappears like dispersed gas molecules. What else to do but laugh?


David said...

What kind of comments are you expecting to this diatribe Ron-O?

Ron Davison said...

I write a bit about farts and you call it a diatribe (definition, a thunderous verbal attack). An intentional pun?