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.”