An astrologer friend tells me that this is a time when that which has been hidden will be revealed. Regardless of one’s metaphysical beliefs, that certainly appears true in the case of sexual harassment – a phenomenon prominent in the news these days. This phenomenon is apparently far more widespread than was commonly thought – even touching the lives of respected public figures.
While it is improper to prejudge and condemn someone without a fair hearing, and without knowing the veracity of every lurid detail, clearly, something unhealthy is going on.
What might drive an apparently “normal”, otherwise admirable person to perform such seemingly bizzare, abusive, insensitive, even self-debasing acts?
When it comes to how we relate to each other (and to Nature at large), I believe there are two fundamental forces or drives at work: Biophilic and Necrophilic – that is, love of life versus fascination and preoccupation with death and the power to kill or destroy. (The latter is well-described in psychoanalyst Eric Fromm’s book “Anatomy of Human Destructiveness”.)
With regard to sex, the first is about love, tenderness, nurturance, mutuality, and surprise whereas the latter is about hierarchy, dominance, control, and predictability. The purpose of the biophilic impulse in sex is pretty obvious, however the role of the other is less so. But the sexual manifestations of necrophilia are easy to distinguish: rape, abuse, intimidation, bondage, degradation, sado-masochism, perpetrator/victim and the like.
Erotic fiction writer Anais Nin once noted that when one turns away from tender affection, the darker forms of eroticism tend to become more interesting.
Still, it is puzzling why this should be. How could punishing, humiliating, or even killing someone become erotic? I suspect it may involve an older evolutionary impulse that has become embellished and distorted through our ability for abstract consciousness.
Stanford sociology professor Robert Sapolsky identifies two general types of animal species: “tournament” versus “pair-bonding”. In mammals, these are easy to distinguish visually. In the first, the males are far larger, have greater musculature, sharp teeth and claws. They propagate through aggression, impregnate many females, compete with males, are not involved with care of offspring. With pair-bonders, it’s pretty much the opposite.
Of all species, humans don’t categorically fit in either but fall in the middle – and are capable of both behaviors.
That seems to say much about the whole harassment phenomenon. Being a social species, humans by default would likely be pair-bonders. Yet due to all the cultural mores, codes of conduct, inhibitions, neuroses, religious strictures and other deficits of socialization, a great many men are not successful at pair-bonding. Yet, still driven by hormones to do something of a sexual nature, some will eventually flip to the other relationship mode. (“When called upon to do something one cannot do, one will do something one can do instead.” – psychologist Peter Ossorio)
Then, because humans have great powers of creativity and abstraction – and mixed with a lot of classical and operant conditioning – all of the odd fetishes, perversions, and other practices become layered on top.
We can only hope that, once the torches-and-pitchforks frenzy subsides, all the new revelations and increased awareness will lead not only to better rules and regulations, but also to greater self-awareness and practices that respect and honor each other, and ultimately result in a more benign and compassionate society.