Re: The Origin of The Cravat (Was: Are Ties Phallocarps?)

Tim Benham (
27 Nov 1995 10:15:53 GMT

Gerold Firl ( wrote:

Hello Gerold, nice to see you are still contributing your interesting

: In article <48h9ir$> (Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx) writes:

: >And I still don't think the tie was a phallocarp in the first place!

: Can you explain why?

: It appears to me that several contributors to this thread have not really
: understood Tom's original hypothesis, which suggests that the tie may
: activate an instinctive male dominance reaction based on penis size.

This whole phallocarp theory, of which Diamond seems to be the principal
popularizer, makes no sense when viewed in evolutionary terms. How could
there be an instinctive male _submission_ reaction based on penis size?
What possible selective advantage could there be in submitting to another
male simply because his penis is larger than yours? The penis is not a
natural weapon, nor an indicator of ability in combat. Certainly there
are far better indicators a male could use in deciding whether
submission is the appropriate course of action: relative social
status of the competing males, the other male's record in previous fights,
his size and apparent strength, his apparent confidence and dexterity
in manipulating his weapons. I think a male using such considerations
would do much better on average than one who based his decisions
on penis size.

: For instance, Lennart asked why the tie would be discreetly hidden beneath
: the jacket, and just flaccidly hanging there, if it was part of a phallic
: dominance reaction. To understand how this works, some background in the
: research of otto tinbergen (_a study of instinct_, I believe) would be
: helpful. Instinctive reactions depend on the detection of a particular
: class of sensory inputs, which are sometimes mediated through fairly
: sophisticated, high-level mental processes (such as the detection of a
: verbal "attack") or which may satisfy the detection criteria through a very
: mechanistic pattern-match. The curious phenomenon of the "supernormal
: stimulus" is instructive: a classic experiment demonstrates the effect with
: the nesting plover.

The relevance of the concept of a supernormal stimulus and the story
[elided] of the nesting plover to Lennart's objection is hard to
see. Lennart was complaining, in effect, that the tie was a
_sub_normal stimulus - much less phallic than the real thing.


: Getting back to ties, and Lennarts question, the trick within western
: cultural parameters was to activate the phallic-dominance reaction without
: explicitly trying. Certain orchids achieve pollination by convincing a
: particular species of insect (males, of course) to try and mate with them;
: the deception is accomplished with very simple cues. Assuming that Tom's
: hypothesis is correct, and I think it deserves a more complete hearing than
: it has so-far received, the tie operates analogously.

This analogy invites ridicule. I will refrain but point out that human
males are not insects and that sexual attraction is not a
"phallic-dominance reaction".

People who like this sort of thing
will find this the sort of thing they like.
Tim J.Benham