Phi Beta Cons

Re: The Hookup Culture

I too found Charlotte Allen’s survey of the dating scene informative, but I have to say I’m weary of this alpha-male/alpha-female model for human behavior being shoved on us by sociobiology. It is reductive and it also changes as circumstances change. At first sociobiology seemed to underwrite the idea of a hard-wired human nature, resistant to remaking by “progressive” social engineers who wanted to fashion new versions of male and female, according to feminist or socialist or whatever ideas. This is where conservatives found it appealing. It seemed even to give a natural basis to marriage: The woman was monogamous by nature and wanted protection for her children; the man was polygamous by nature but wanted to know the children were his so he’d agree to a monogamous relationship. George Gilder’s whole thesis about men and marriage was that women would civilize men by demanding that they enter this kind of covenant.  

But then Francis Fukuyama in The Great Disruption declared that traditional sexual mores would never return because society had learned to manage sexual freedom and its effects — single motherhood, divorce, serial and multiple sexual partners, the whole thing. What was that about being “hard-wired”? Behavior that had developed through eons of evolution was changing in a few decades? So now there is this newer version of our “hard-wired” behavior evolved through eons of evolution, that women are not monogamous at all, but ever ready to move on to a better mate, to an alpha male, or to a bigger alpha male, when one comes along.

Indeed, our prehistoric female forebear now sounds more like the single mother with children from more than one partner, or the divorced mother with a generous settlement who can exercise her sexual freedom in a new version of “having it all,” instead of the canny old-fashioned girl who spots and snares her man. The change in the theory came from observing female behavior at present and fitting the evolutionary model to it.

When female behavior still seemed to be defined by searching for the one man with whom to have a family, which persisted well into the sexual revolution (indeed, women having sex before marriage was often perceived to be the price to pay in order to land a man), we had the monogamous model. Now another kind of flamboyant, sexually promiscuous behavior is seen among some women, and so the theory is revised to fit that.

This is not scientific, and it’s also not useful in building a good society. And it certainly doesn’t support conservative values. This is what happens when people lose their belief in the transcendent and must rely on the limited observation of the senses and the unenlightened power of reason.

One thing is for sure, though. The campus dating scene has become a zoo. Wendy Shalit may have been the first to call attention to what by now has become routine, and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons may have been the first widely read fictional treatment of it. See Shalit’s review of three books on “coming of age in America,” pace Margaret Mead, two of which cover the college scene.   

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