Is Sexuality an Irrational Tragedy?
The Porcupine Argument
Although it isn’t possible to select what it is we sexually desire, it is at least possible to be aware of how our thinking is overtly influenced by archaic evolutionary programming. The amount of time and energy sexual desires have cost people is vast. Our otherwise beautifully curious, exploratory, artistic, scientific, productive minds are often greatly distracted by an out-dated, arbitrary behavior that in-and-of-itself achieves relatively little. By analogy, we can’t choose what foods we crave yet we intelligently resist the evolutionarily-descended drive to over-consume simple sugars. We choose not to view our sexual desires the same way, instead allowing them to reshape our lives and — in some cases — dominate the foundation of our priorities. Is this not a tragedy?
Dan Bilzerian’s intentionally-designed lifestyle is one clear example of what the dominance of sexual desire over the foundations of one’s priorities can produce.
Here’s the full Porcupine Argument thought experiment:
Imagine you’re nothing more than a conscious mind floating around space checking things out. You have neither history biases nor presuppositions to influence your thinking — you’re definitely not human. Exploring your way through an active solar system you notice a planet with a viable biosphere colonized by intelligent beings. This species has organized itself into a perfectly civil society with one peculiar trait: every citizen has a sexual attraction to porcupines. These porcupinilians (porcupine-loving civilians) spend some time traversing their planet’s forests seeking out a porcupine to call their own. For the porcupinilians, porcupine fondling produces euphoria; done just right, the behavior’s climax stimulates asexual reproduction.
Otherwise, the porcupinilians go about their daily society-building, science-endeavoring, art-producing projects, distracted only from time to time by the thought of their porcupines, the fondling act, and variations on it. Societal norms, laws, and class-structures have been shaped around porcupine relationships for generations. All feels ordinary from within.
Jogging your memory, you realize you’ve encountered a similarly strange society on a neighboring biosphere a few hundred light-years away. You kidnap a porcupinilian and give them a front-row seat to the strange behavior this otherwise regularly civil society embraces. Inhabitants here are born as one of two nearly identical varieties mainly differentiated by the sexual organs between their legs; one type possesses a rod-like fleshy appendage, and the other a mushy, slimy cavity. Mushy cavities are repeatedly penetrated by rod-like appendages producing a white viscous fluid and euphoria; done just right, the behavior’s climax stimulates sexual reproduction.
After showing off this phenomena to the porcupinilian you ask it, “Do you feel as though you’re missing out on the pleasure and satisfaction humans derive from their rod-like appendage insertion into mushy-cavity activities?”
The porcupinilian exclaims, “No! That was vile and disgusting.”
You return the distressed porcupinilian back to its home planet and ponder the results. If humans knew about the porcupinilians’ porcupine fetish, would they feel like they were being deprived of the pleasure and satisfaction of the porcupine-fondling act? Almost certainly not. Never having experienced the condition, they wouldn’t feel like they were missing out.
Suddenly, the force that brought you into existence interrupts your train of thought. It informs you that in order to self-propagate, you must choose to adopt a fetish of your own. You’re presented with three options: porcupines, rods-and-mushy-cavities, or theoretical astrophysics.
You: “I can choose theoretical astrophysics as my fetish?”
The force: “Yes.”
You: “Fantastic! If I have to choose a fetish, I’d rather choose one that also has some value in-and-of-itself — something I might choose to do anyway. I’m really glad that’s an option! I might rather not have a fetish at all if it had to be something arbitrarily weird and time-wasting. It’s too bad the humans and porcupinilains don’t have that choice.”
The force: “Theoretical astrophysics it is. Out of curiosity, can you see yourself choosing to self-propagate without any fetish at all?”
You: “Definitely! It’s actually rather weird that you’re forcing me to pair a fetish with self-propagation. I can see that for the humans and porcupinilians it’s an immutable artifact of their evolutionary history, but for myself the decision to propagate is entirely independent of my possessing sexual compulsion.”