Mayflies and the Biological Imperative
In the movie The Sixth Sense, the tag line was “I see dead people”. On those occasions when I wander into one of Bangkok’s entertainment zones, I think to myself, “I see mayflies”. I’ll explain.
A mayfly, at least in the adult stage, lives for a few hours at most. They don’t even eat. All they do is try to find the opposite gender and mate before the clock runs out. One goal, that’s it, then it’s non-existence (or Mayfly Heaven for the pious amongst them). It’s life boiled down to its pure essence.
Take Occam’s Razor to the concept of human existence—strip away all the noise, fluff and delusion—and what remains is the core purpose of life: more life. Put it in clinical terms and it’s ‘propagation of the gene pool’, or as my title says, the biological imperative. We’re mayflies, existing merely to replicate, driven by it in fact.
It’s what we do. It’s why we are. Life is a tautology: We are, so we can be.
We do like to dress it up, however, and make it more than it is. That we’re all just mayflies, brought into being for the sole purpose of bringing more of our own into being, can be a bit unsettling. Life has to be more than that, doesn’t it?
We bend over backwards to find greater meaning, and damn if we don’t fool ourselves. We create gods who are ostensibly putting us to some sort of test which, if we pass, will allow us an eternal existence that likely would prove a colossal bore if we gave it any clear thought. We procreate, then find meaning in raising offspring whose purpose will be……..to procreate and raise offspring. We endeavor to achieve something memorable, partly in the hope it will grant us a kind of immortality, but also to make ourselves more attractive as a partner in procreation. Again, that’s the biological imperative at the heart of human endeavor, even if we don’t admit it. Maybe we think we’re altruistic and hope our efforts better society, but that, too, has as its ultimate goal procreation of the species.
The reality—harsh if one needs more, but not so bad if one can look for the gift hidden in it—is that we do whatever it takes to maintain the illusion that existence has a purpose other than the obvious. The illusion has benefits, because one of the traits we possess as living entities is the ability to enjoy. Cradle to grave may have only one ultimate end game, but it doesn’t prevent us from smelling the flowers along the way.
In a convoluted, Rube Goldberg-esque sort of way, that brings me to Bangkok and its infamous entertainment zones. We’re driven into this milieu by our biological imperative, even if we’re thinking much more of the process and less about nature’s intended result of what we’re in the mood to do.
In our modern society many have come to frown upon the male side of the biological imperative, when in point of fact it is merely the mirror image of the female drive our very same society tends to elevate to sainthood. ‘Madonna and Child’, an image common to almost every culture on Earth, is supposedly the ultimate representation of pure human love and Earthly duty, but truth be known, it is the exact same thing as the monger who cannot stay away from Billboard A-GoGo. It’s the equivalent drive—gene propagation—in both genders, even if it manifests itself differently. It’s instinct, nothing more. Society tends to venerate one while lambasting the other. It’s uncomfortable to equate the two, because it’s a stark reminder of life’s sole aim, and how it expresses itself in gender behavior.
There’s an inherent unfairness (my opinion) to the Universe in how it metes out fertility between the genders, and that is likely why we tend to have differing views on maternal instinct vs mongering. Given that the ultimate goal is gene propagation, females are severely limited, in time and physicality, in their reproduce-ability, and their ‘admired’ maternal behavior reflects that finite capacity. A woman, if pressed, might be able to produce a dozen offspring in her lifetime, give or take a few. She also is driven to nurture them, lest she fail at life’s job. Males, on the other hand, are virtually unlimited in their ability to spawn, and their ability lasts from puberty to senility. A male, albeit an irresponsible one, could do a dozen in a couple of hours if properly stimulated. At Billboard many men could do a dozen in twenty minutes. Life ain’t fair (and all bars are not created equal).
Job requirements also were not meted out fairly. For each act of reproduction, the female is faced with roughly nine months of everything from morning sickness to bloating to constant general discomfort. She pays a harsh price for her moment of passion. Pregnancy is an attack on her body from which she may never fully recover. It impacts her physically, emotionally and often financially. Some societies will even penalize her for life if the child is born out of wedlock.
The male has it infinitely easier. It takes anywhere from half a minute to—if he’s a true connoisseur of the act—a few hours to do his job. The most egregious bit of unfairness is that every single second of the male’s job is fun. Damn fun.
Now some women might argue that they have the better deal because they actually bring new life into existence. Again, the belief that child bearing is anything special is merely instinct: females are hard-wired to believe it’s something glorious, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Ask a million males if they would want to go through pregnancy and childbirth, and perhaps a few masochists would raise their hands, but the overwhelming majority would say “F^ck, no !”
Let us put aside the clinical coldness and cynicism in this piece and move on to the ‘gift’ part of existence. We do have the ability to enjoy. We can take pleasure in the illusion that life has meaning beyond self-replication. We can build things. We can let our senses explore the world…eating good food, listening to music, seeing a sunset or taking in the proverbial scent of a flower. Gaining knowledge merely for the sake of knowing. Building friendships that last a lifetime.
More germane to this website is that we can also appreciate a beautiful face or the delightful combination of curves, nooks and crannies that our gender opposites possess, and we needn’t be obsessed with the ultimate goal being gene propagation, at least not as our conscious aim.
Our masculine drive is the gift that keeps on giving. We all eventually reach a point in life where the pile of collected memories becomes taller than our stack of dreams. This could serve as a definition of middle age, or as Alec Guiness remarked on the River Kwai bridge to Sessue Hayakawa, ‘when one realizes one is nearer the end than the beginning’. Even at midlife, however, we still have the ability to appreciate the well-turned ankle or the proud backside not yet victim to the unrelenting pull of gravity. We can be a decade or two older than the women at Billboard but find every bit the joy gazing at them as we did when we were twenty. If we can realize that what drives us is natural and instinctive, and not prurience or immorality, then we can enjoy every moment of it without any guilt. Hopefully such pleasures never get old, because it truly is one of the sweetest gifts of existence.
Just be nice to the women who move or titillate you, as they are on the same journey we males are, but (in my opinion) have a much tougher go of it. We have the ability to be polite and respectful to those who share our time and space, so there’s no excuse for not behaving that way. Allow all their due dignity. It makes everyone’s journey more pleasant, and even increases the odds for performing the biological imperative. That’s as persuasive a reason as any to be respectful, if goodness alone isn’t enough.
In the end, I can accept that I’m just a mayfly—albeit a mayfly with benefits. See you at Billboard.