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

Gerold Firl (
28 Nov 1995 12:30:32 -0800

In article <49c34p$> (Tim Benham) writes:

>Gerold Firl ( wrote:

>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?

We're speculating about speculations here, but I'll see if I can come-up
with something plausible ... but first, note that *any* arbitrary conflict-
resolution system has some merit, in that it decreases violence within the
group. Perhaps the rapid evolution of artificial weaponry (sticks, stones,
spears, etc), without a concommitant development of defensive systems
(shields or armor for example) artificially inflated the value of conflict-
resolution systems.

We should also keep in mind the question of penis-inflation in general; at
some point in our evolutionary past, hominids were selected for large penis
size. We don't know when, how, or why, but it did happen. Margolis and
Sagan, in _mystery dance_, report the speculations of an anthropologist
(smith?) who has suggested that h. erectus lived within a highly-sexual
bonobo-type community where sperm-competition selected for heavy-duty
testicles and an industrial-strength delivery instrument. Within this
model of female promiscuity male reproductive success depends, in part, on
semen-delivery. Selection favors the large tool. Here, the conflict-
resolution instinct based on penis size may relate only to sexual queuing.

>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.

Yes, although if we imagine a small social unit based more on the family,
then the advantage of using a somewhat arbitrary measure of status, such as
penis size, becomes more clear. If males were to base their decisions on
(essentially) fighting ability, then ultimately a fight will be the arbiter
of status. This could be very damaging to the group. When chimps contest
for dominance, injury is rare. A serious fight would be damaging to both
parties. But for humans, who can kill at a distance, this deterant is not
so significant.

>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.

I didn't explain that very well - my point was that the IRM for an
instinctive reaction is often based on a minimal set of sensory inputs.
These instincts can be easily fooled. Tinbergen shows figures describing
tests of the territorial reaction for male sticklebacks; in the breeding
season, theie belly becomes a fiery red, and they become very territorial.
A male stickleback will be provoked by even a very crude "model" of a
rival. It can be a flat disc, red on one half and drab on the other, with
an eye on the midline, and it may elicit a more ferocious reaction than a
real fish.

The instincts are generally activated by a very specific set of inputs,
which means that under artificial conditions they can be stimulated by
something that bears scant resemblance to what they're "looking for".

>: 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".

Thanks for your thoughtful response - I hope I've done a better job of
communicating this time. And I realise that sexual attraction is not a
"phallic-dominance reaction"; I was trying to give an example of how
evolution has developed means by which the instincts of others can be
manipulated advantageously. Most flowers offer their pollinators a
reasonable quid pro quo - food for pollination. These orchids get off
cheaper by manipulating the mating response. The analogy was that ties
manipulate the deference-response.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf