Monthly Archives: November 2010

Disregard females; acquire currency

In a comment on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog the commenter Xena males the argument is made that alpha males in ape troops  perform a useful role in maintaining the “longevity of the troop”, that is preventing other males in the troop causing problems.

Apes do this kind of stuff too. The little upstart adolescent wants something, food or whatever, that the alpha is protecting for good reason, namely the longevity of the troop. So they dance. Little guy takes the goods, alpha beats his chest, throws leaves around, whatever. If the little guy doesn’t respect the alpha’s authority, some alpha primates–I’m thinking baboons specifically, but other species do this, I just can’t remember without googling which others–will mount and assfuck the offender. I shit thee not. The runt does what he does to establish limits and see what he can get away with. The alpha does what he does to prevent WORSE acts of violence, etc. that would destroy the entire troop, but also to enhance his own status and probably to get off too.

Let’s assume that males also perform a useful role in protecting the troop from outside threats as well, so you have this judicial and protectective form of masculinity that seems quite familiar. In the  Masculinities, pluralities and protest post I made the argument that some forms of masculinity are at odds with attaining power in capitalist societies, such as protest masculinities, but also quoted Adam Smith’s description of the way that young men seek “honour and distinction” by becoming soldiers, and his argument that this is a poor trade for young men in an economic sense. Obviously I’m arguing that this honour and distinction is the same as judicial and protective form of masculinity.

I also made a comment in that comment thread,

You can argue that women are limited to around 400 eggs in their life time and this compares to however many million sperm, meaning that supply/demand economics puts greater value on eggs. However no woman has 400 children in her life time. Egg production is not the limiting factor, pregnancy or child rearing are. The ‘value’ of either sex in these biological terms is basically how much energy they put into raising children. It’s a labour-based theory of value. If women solely bear and rear children then the value of their contribution is much greater than men. Any labour that men do increases the value of their contribution. Men can also contribute value that they’ve gained from society, and since human societies have a variety of ways of bestowing value this becomes a fairly complicated exchange.

Property is one way that society can bestow value, honour and distinction another. In an ape troop, or in small communal human societies, individuals are limited to the latter. The introduction of private property to a society allows men to gain power that is no longer reliant on promoting communal interests. So does this mean that it is against the interest of society? Smith says of individuals investing capital, “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it .” It’s not hard to see how such a different conception of value leads to a much more productive society. Rather than men fighting for power amongst themselves, with young rebels pushing the boundaries of the dominant men in society, this effort is put into productive labour, gathering capital and employing that capital in further productive labour. Yet the old archetypes remain, and as I said in my previous post on bodybuilding and heavily muscular male body ideals, “Western masculinity has been increasingly associated with this ideal as other traditional masculinities has been challenged.”

Buddha and Herakles

Buddhism originated from the teachings of Gautama Buddha, a prince from Nepal 2, 500 years ago. He believed in meditation and spiritual uplifting and emphasized right conduct. Right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration is some of the teachings of Buddha that has helped me to stay focused and be disciplined in my sport, bodybuilding.

Wong Hong, Malaysian bodybuilder

After Gautama Buddha died his teachings rapidly spread across what is now India and Pakistan, particularly under the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (304-234 BCE) who converted to Buddhism and followed its teachings in public life, including free university education and veterinary hospitals. His neighbours to the west was the Greco-Bactrian empire, which was the easternmost extent of Greek power in Asia that remained after the conquests of Alexander the Great between the lives of Buddha and Ashoka. In  Mauryan and Greco-Bactrian empires the Greek and Buddhist culture mixed in some interesting ways. Ashoka had many Buddhist edicts written on stone tablets spread around his empire, two existing ones being written in ancient Greek, and one written in Gandharan suggesting that edicts had been sent all the way to Athens. In the sixth century ACE the Gandhara culture produced the two large statues of Buddha carved into the walls of the Bamiyan valley in Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

These statues show the apparent influence of Greek art on Buddhist imagery. Buddha had not been depicted as a person shortly after his death and it’s not hard to see the robed statues of Buddha drawing some Greek influence. North western Indian art has an interesting history of Greek influence, that may have spread into other Buddhist culture. The Greek influence is obvious in the depiction of Vajrapani, which appears to be based on Herakles carrying a lion cloak, however it may have also influenced the Japanese guardians of Buddha, the Nio.

The first two images are of Herakles, first a Roman bronze, then a Greco-Bactrian coin. In both of these Herakles is carrying his lion cloak. The third image is of Buddha with Vajrapani, his protector, who seems to be Herakles. The last image is of a Nio outside a Buddhist temple. The Nio are the Japanese equivalent of Vajrapani. Thanks to Wikipedia.

It’s also obvious that the Greek gods are heavily muscled where most Buddhist gods appear normal. The bodies of Greek gods are considered an ideal within Western culture. The effect of this has been called the Adonis complex by researcher Harrison Pope, who wrote a book of the same name. This was based on his research on men, such as a study on the ideal male body in the US, France and Austria.

Only slight demographic and physical differences were found among the three groups of men. Modest differences were found between the men’s measured fat and the fat of the images chosen. However, measures of muscularity produced large and highly significant differences. In all three countries, men chose an ideal body that was a mean of about 28 lb (13 kg) more muscular than themselves and estimated that women preferred a male body about 30 lb (14 kg) more muscular than themselves. In a pilot study, however, the authors found that actual women preferred an ordinary male body without added muscle.

-Pope et al. (2000)

Which led to research into comparisons with Eastern men showing that they had more realistic ideals.

The contrast between East and West was even clearer when we examined the difference between the men’s estimate of the muscularity of an “average man” in their culture and their estimate of “women’s preferred man” for muscularity. In the three Western countries, this difference ranged from 2.11 kg/m2 (Austria) to 2.46 kg/m2 (United States), but it was only 0.6 kg/m2 in Taiwan. When we translated these findings into conventional terms, we found that American men think that American women prefer a male body with about 20 lb more muscle than an average American man, whereas Taiwanese men estimate only a 5-lb difference on the same comparison.

-Yang, Grey and Pope (2005)

This paper threw up a few possible causes including western traditions of masculinity. Interestingly this paper also found that Taiwanese women’s magazines had fewer images of undressed men than US women’s magazines. A result of this is perhaps higher levels of muscle dysmorphia and anabolic steroid use in the West. When asked about Asian bodybuilders, Wong Hong says,

If you are talking about Asian bodybuilders not American Asians, then there are only a handful of them. If I am not mistaken, there is a new Japanese pro in the IFBB.

So it seems that the heavily muscled masculine ideal is a particularly Western phenomenon, and that even the cultural influence of ancient Greece and modern America hasn’t greatly changed Eastern masculinity. At the same time Western masculinity has been increasingly associated with this ideal as other traditional masculinities has been challenged.


Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang, Peter Gray, Ph.D., and Harrison G. Pope Jr., M.D., M.P.H. (2005) Male Body Image in Taiwan Versus the West: Yanggang Zhiqi Meets the Adonis Complex, Am J Psychiatry 162:263-269

Harrison G. Pope, Jr., M.D., Amanda J. Gruber, M.D., Barbara Mangweth, Ph.D., Benjamin Bureau, Ph.D., Christine deCol, M.D., Roland Jouvent, M.D., and James I. Hudson, M.D., S.M.(2000) Body Image Perception Among Men in Three Countries, Am J Psychiatry 157:1297-1301