Part 2: Safety, Sustenance, and Sex
My new book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound, will be out in September, but you can still read the first chapter for free here. I told my wife, Carlin, I thought this might be my last book since 15 books published since 1983 seemed like a good body of work. But I was surprised when she said, “I think you have at least one more book in you. You should write a book about the gift of maleness. Sharing information about men has been your life work and men and women are hungry to understand the essence of maleness.”
In an earlier article, I talked about the origin of maleness which goes back 1 billion years to the beginning of single-celled male beings in search of a mate. Here, I’d like to reflect on our evolutionary history to focus on reptiles who evolved 313 million years ago, according to Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, in their book, The Universe Story. “The beings who created eggs were the first reptiles. They crowded out the amphibians to become the predominant terrestrial vertebrate.” Modern-day reptiles include crocodiles, snakes, lizards, turtles, and tortoises.
According to Petset.com, the three most popular reptile names for male reptiles are Apollo, Earl, and Bruce. I’ll go with Earl for this article as we explore what it means to be male. There are three things that are most important to Earl. We can think of them as the 3 S’s: Safety, sustenance, and sex. For my friends who are partial to F words, we might say that Earl is driven by his desire to fight, flee, freeze, feed, or fornicate. The behavior that Earl engages depends on the situation at hand. He often finds he has to fight before he can feed or fornicate.
Men often get a bad rap when we focus so much attention on eating barbeque ribs, fighting, or trying to get attractive women to have sex with us. But that’s Earl for you. I’m not saying that we have no control over our desires. If that were true we’d be constantly gorging ourselves when we weren’t fighting or f-cking or trying all three at the same time. I’m just saying Earl is part of our maleness and his desires have to be considered if we’re going to understand ourselves and make good decisions about our lives and the lives of others.
It’s good to remember that every one of us alive today is descended from males like Earl who, regardless of whatever else they may have done, managed to get enough food to sustain themselves to reproductive age, fought off predators and other threats to their survival, found at least one willing female to have sex with, and produced off-spring who continued the cycle.
Our reptilian brain isn’t very social (no one tries to cuddle up with a snake, lizard or crocodile. Though I think turtles are great, I wouldn’t want to get in bed with one). Earl wants what he wants when he wants it and he isn’t much concerned about other’s needs. Earl’s mantra is “me, me, me, more, more, more.”
This evolutionary reality shows up in our brain structure, which was described by physician and neuroscientist Paul McClean in the 1960s and described in detail in his 1990 book, The Triune Brain, and Evolution. The “reptilian brain” includes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem, basal ganglia, and the cerebellum. MacLean suggested that these structures within the base of the forebrain are responsible for behaviors which are present in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays.
We may not always embrace Earl’s behavior, but he lives within all of us, and reptiles did pretty well for themselves. They’re still going strong after 313 million years. Swimme and Berry say that our human lineage came on the scene a mere 2.6 million years ago. I hope we’ll be around as long as the reptiles.
But we do have two other parts of our brain, the limbic or emotional brain, and the neo-cortex or thinking brain. With our added brain power, we are able to move beyond the reptilian asocial brain to one where males provide safety, sustenance, and sexual gratification to others, not just themselves. There are even some studies indicating that the size of certain parts of the brain are related to the number of Facebook friends we have.
We call ourselves Homo sapiens (wise man). We like to think its because of our large neo-cortex and our ability to think and reason. But we don’t want to discount Earl and his desire to fight, feed, and fornicate. We all have an Earl-part in us and we need to honor and appreciate him.
If you’d like to hear more about the new book I’m writing, The Gift of Maleness, drop me a note to [email protected] and put “maleness” in the subject line.
Originally posted on Men Alive.
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