Lady of the Flies

April 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

Love on the flyPeople are frequently interested in my romantic situation (husband in Florida, boyfriend in over his head). It is peculiar and not without advantages, though the good stuff tends to add up while the bad multiplies, but the oddest thing that’s happened, and this concerns me as a writer, is that I’ve wrung so much drama from the past 9 years (or it’s wrung me; I haven’t always been the prime mover of the theatrics), that sex, love and romance, while still powerful in my life, are no longer the heavyweights in my imagination. I’m far less curious about what other people are up to, about the ‘mystery’ of someone’s marriage or arrangement. I don’t think I know everything—I just think I know everything that matters to me.

And having said such a vainglorious thing, I’m not sure if I want to be right or wrong about this. It’s nice to think the future holds surprises (she said tepidly, sitting in a hardback chair on the stage, hands folded in her lap, as abysses yawn and monsters stalk), but then surprises aren’t always nice, are they?

From one of my favorite science blogs—this is about flies—

“The influence of crowds can even sway a female’s decision based on completely arbitrary factors. To show this, Mery dusted two groups of males with either green or pink powder, creating bodies that no female would ever come across in the wild.  She placed a voyeur female in a glass tube, and in an adjoining tube, she put a coloured male and a second virgin female. Inevitably, the two flies mated, providing a sex show for the lone female to study. Later, the couple were replaced with another pair – a male of the other colour, and a female that had recently mated and wasn’t up for it. 

After all this voyeurism, Mery gave the solitary female a choice between pink or green males. She found that the female was twice as likely to mate with males from the colour that she had seen having sex before. If she watched green males getting lucky, she favoured green males; if pink seemed to be the colour-of-choice for other females, she went with pink. If the partition between the two tubes was opaque, so she couldn’t see the neighbouring shenanigans, she didn’t have any preferences for either colour.”*

Fashion always wins. The other woman knows something you don’t. We’re all confused about what we’re supposed to find attractive. Choose your lesson.

It’s interesting how science, which would never have advanced so far so fast without our hyper-rational, individualist civilization, is quickly tearing down the intellectual foundations of same. The human brain, not much more advanced than the fly brain, is impulse-driven, fast and sloppy, and expert at making up justifications after the fact. This is the rule, not the exception. Economists have just learned this; it’s a big eureka moment for them. No wonder the market doesn’t work! People are nuts!

Reason and considered choice are on the way out as the trusted foundation for human behavior. We can handle this for now. Scientists can genially say they don’t believe in free will, in the self, or even in consciousness, yet have no problem using those sturdy constructs to function and thrive. Apples and oranges, they say. My work, my life.

Because they are scientists, and not writers or artists, this isn’t hard for them; they tend not to have spent so much time hanging around with their demons. They haven’t given them names and histories, or ceded them territory; haven’t created symbiotic relationships to coax a win from a lose; they haven’t, in short, fooled themselves that they’ve corralled their irrational side into a binding agreement (renegotiated every one to three years).

Once those of us with the big crazies stop believing in progress of the emotional kind, in incremental acquisition of control, once we realize we’ll always like the guy with the pink dandruff if the other females do, and no power in heaven or on earth cares, or thinks it’s fate, or is saving us jewels of happiness for later—then I think we’ll storm the laboratories, grill the scientists for dinner along with their experimental animals, and erect temples to Asmodeus (lechery), Beelzebub (gluttony), Leviathan (envy), and Belphegor (sloth).

And the whole thing will start again in several hundred years.

* Ed Yong, flies get the buzz on sexy mates from each other



Tagged: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Lady of the Flies at Mostly in the Afternoon.


%d bloggers like this: