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Where Is The Game Theory of Sex Series Going?
A Reflection on Your Comments on The Game Theory of Sex
Last week, in What Makes Men and Women Different?, article 1 of the series The Game Theory of Sex, we explored how not having a uterus has shaped the evolution of men. It quickly became the most commented-on article of the year. In article 2, Other Ways Men Have Evolved to Have More Children, we dove further, exploring the different strategies that men have evolved to access women: short term and long-term mating strategies, how men counter women’s cheating, and more.
Next week, we will jump to the other side: What about women? How have they evolved to optimize their sexual fitness? But first, I want to react to the comments in last week’s articles. They illustrate why I’m working on this topic in particular, and Uncharted Territories in general.
I think this part of a comment from Kelly W encapsulates one of the common reactions to the first article:
Can you please explicitly state what your thesis is of this article series? I feel that would be immensely helpful, as this first article appears headed in a direction of misogyny, racism, and transphobia. Please, what point are you trying to prove? Will it be helpful to marginalized groups?
This helped me understand the fears I was sensing in a few comments. Thank you, Kelly.
Very narrowly answering the question: As I shared last week, this series is focused on archetypal males and females, and won’t touch on LGBTQIA+ topics—mainly because I don’t have anything to add to that conversation yet. For similar reasons, it won’t cover race.
But the broader fear from the comment can be read as: Do you have a hidden agenda to justify sex-related inequality?
I don’t have any agenda besides better understanding topics around the sexes. Society is heavily divided on these topics, and we still suffer a lot from our current conventions around sex, which means we haven’t figured this topic out yet. I want us to understand these topics better.
For that, I think we need to work together to form independent opinions, starting from first principles, because everything that I read either has an agenda, covers the topic superficially, or both.
Where will the series go? I don’t know! And I don’t have all the answers. This is precisely why I do this in public, so we can correct each other where we get things wrong, and nudge each other in the right direction.
You’ve already done this. For example, you corrected my use of womb to use uterus instead. Also, the first article claimed that men have higher pain tolerance than women, but many of you disagreed, and some of you—especially Tom B—helped me figure out that the science behind that claim was flimsier than I thought, enough that I’d withdraw the claim.
Some of you made comments about the role of biology vs culture in shaping behaviors. Are we completely subject to biology? Does culture override it? Something in between? Many fear that the conclusion of these articles will be that we should support inequality because that’s what biology says.
This won’t happen.
Yes, I do believe biology matters a lot. But culture and society can override any instinct. We can build whatever society we want. And I want us to build a society that’s as happy as it can be.
For that, I believe society should be as free and fair as possible. I believe that all humans are created equal, and that we should all have equal rights. I believe culture should enforce that. This is crucial to happiness. This is a value. It is a choice. It is not something set in some code—genetic, sacred, or anything else. We can just choose to decide that every life has equal value and should be given the same opportunities. I do.
Throughout history, humans have been improving on this, but we’re not done yet. We need to tweak and improve our rules. I hope this newsletter contributes to it. This means that my articles will not promote things like misogyny, racism, or transphobia.
But each choice that we make as a society comes at a cost, because humans are not blank slates. We come with genetic baggage that pushes us in certain directions. Many times, the forces of biology and society push in the same direction, like with love, collaboration, or altruism. But other times, biology and society act in opposite directions: What some people want can be the opposite of what others want. The happiest society is the one that best figures out how to reconcile all these forces.
This is why I’m starting this series with biology. There are fundamental instincts that drive us, hidden to us. We need to understand them to figure out which ones we should encourage, which ones we should shape, and which ones we should censure. Through culture and social rules.
So I expect this series to continue with biology, and slowly move toward society and culture.
In the process, I will very likely keep challenging accepted wisdom, because I fear that our current culture around the sexes has shortcomings that don’t allow us to be happiest. I want us to identify these inefficiencies and help nudge society in a direction to correct them.
Here are some questions that I think society is still grappling with, that this process could help clarify:
What causes involuntary celibacy?
Why are so many people without a partner, and not looking for one?
Why do women want more men to hit on them than they do today?
What are reasonable approaches for seduction?
What should we advise young people to do to increase their odds of sexual success?
What is toxic masculinity?
What are the leading causes of divorce?
What types of divorce optimize society’s happiness?
How can married people be happier?
What are the root causes of the fertility drop?
What prevents people from having the number of children they want to have?
What is the relationship between sex and love?
What is the role of monogamy?
How do these things evolve with age? With relationship length? How should society deal with them?
How do gender roles influence happiness?
What causes glass ceilings? How do we break them?
Who defines beauty canons? Should we influence them? Can we? How?
If you think about it, this is what we do with every series: We start with hidden, fundamental drivers of an aspect of society, and then apply the insights gathered to nudge society in the right direction.
GeoHistory is a good example: It’s about understanding the long-forgotten geographic underpinnings of our societies. How mountains, rivers, seas, plains, deserts, winds, and other things have deeply affected us in ways we don’t realize. Geography is the soil, it’s the substrate, it’s the base from which all civilizations have blossomed. Does it mean everything we do is driven by geography? No! In fact, every day geography matters less, and other things like culture and technology matter more. But geography has shaped our culture (and genes!) for ages. We can’t understand the roles of culture and technology, and how they will shape our happiness, if you don’t first understand a force like geography that has pushed us to where we are.
Biology is like geography: Both are the substrates, fundamental forces that have shaped us so far. We can’t figure out where we should go if we don’t first understand what got us here. In Uncharted Territories, we’ve done the same with transportation, energy, and climate change: We explore the fundamentals before their future ramifications.
So this is what you can expect from this series in particular, Uncharted Territories in general, and myself:
I want to help society maximize its happiness.
I believe all humans should have equal rights, because this is a fundamental piece of happiness. I don’t know what all that means in detail, but I want to figure it out.
I’m very curious. I want to learn!
And I don’t have all the answers. So I will always listen to your feedback. In fact, a major reason why I write is to get it.
If we put all these things together, we end up with an article like the first ones in this series: Where we start without conclusions, learning as we go, making a true effort to learn together, trying to help society through intellectual honesty, and steering away from virtue signaling.
What might some of the next articles in the series cover then? They might cover the topics I outlined above, or others along the same lines:
How has sex shaped women, not just men?
What are the limits of the influence of sex on evolution?
Why do women have sex when they’re not fertile?
How have these things shaped seduction across cultures and today?
What can we learn about sex and ourselves from the animal kingdom?
Can this help us understand our kinks?
What does this all tell us about monogamy?
About sex equality?
I hope you’re as excited for the journey as I am.