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« Behavioral Economics 101 | Main | Women, Men and Decisions »

October 18, 2003

Culture as Mating Ritual


Are you intellectually attracted to reductionist arguments? I must admit that I am. They may be right, they may be wrong, but they tend to be coherent and they often suggest ways they can be experimentally validated or rejected.

Hence I was amused, if not necessarily fully convinced, when I read a recent example of a violently reductionist bent. It is Geoffrey Miller’s essay, “Sexual Selection for Cultural Displays.” It even inspired me to try to test it out.

Mr. Miller’s topic is the evolution of culture. To prepare the ground for his own theories, he first demolishes the fuzzy notions advanced by anthropologists to explain why humans spend time and calories on music, art, storytelling, etc.:

Anthropology textbooks…present many functions for art, music, myth, ritual and other cultural phenomena, such as ‘imposing order on the cosmos’, ‘coping with the unpredictability of life’, ‘appeasing ancestral spirits’ and ‘maintaining tribal identity’. To an evolutionary biologist, none of these even come close to qualifying as reasonable adaptive functions for costly, complex, evolved behavior. In a strictly Darwinian framework, behaviors only evolve when their fitness benefits exceed their fitness costs…The single thing we must demand of any theory concerning the evolution of human culture is: show me the fitness!

Having dismissed the hapless anthropologists, Mr. Miller advances his own theory, which is that culture, in the broadest sense, is a set of mating rituals. Since culture doesn’t really pay in terms of “survival of the fittest,” Mr. Miller suggests that culture pays for the time and energy it costs to pursue it by improving the chances of culturally talented individuals to recruit healthy, intelligent and generally genetically superior mates. (Or perhaps I should say, the strategy of culture pays by attracting lots of sexual partners, which allows the culturally blessed to then be choosy about whom to reproduce with.)
As Mr. Miller so succinctly puts it:

When a young male rock star stands up in front of a crowd and produces some pieces of human ‘culture’ known as songs, he is not improving his survival prospects. Nor is he engaging in some bizarre maladaptive behavior that requires some new process of ‘cultural evolution’ to explain. Rather he is doing something that fulfils exactly the same function as a male nightingale singing or a male peacock showing off his tail. He is attracting sexual partners.

(Mr. Miller’s theory seems to be a variant of the old line: “God invented rock’n’roll so ugly guys could score too.”)

In what manner does culture indicate reproductive fitness? According to Mr. Miller, culture does this by creating a context and a set of rules for artistic displays that highlight differences between one potential reproductive partner and another in terms intelligence, creativity, skill, strength, and health.

Having put forth this theory, Mr. Miller goes on to suggest what it would take to demonstrate the truth or falseness of his theory. If culture functions as an indicator of reproductive fitness, then (1) observable cultural activity should kick in after puberty, (2) increase to a peak during the age of greatest sexual competition, and (3) decline as child-rearing takes precedence over courtship. (He claims that this pattern is shown in study after study of reproductive fitness displays in animals, such as singing in songbirds.) A final prediction is (4) that male activity will be greater than that of female activity. This is because women, as a result of the resources tied up in pregnancy and breast-feeding, make a greater investment of finite resources in each act of reproduction. This gives them a correspondingly greater incentive to be choosy than men, and men a correspondingly greater need to display fitness via culture in order to be chosen.

Does this pattern of cultural "display" actually occur in the real world? Well, Mr. Miller trots out a few graphs that suggest he's not entirely whistling Dixie. I don’t want to reproduce all of his graphs here, but one is derived from the age at which painters produced a painting that got into the Tate Gallery. It reflects a sample of 3,274 paintings by 739 artists who had produced a painting owned by the Tate by 1984 when the artist’s last name began with a letter between A and K. (The graph is a thumbnail, click on it for a clearer look)

G. Miller, Modern Painting Production by Age

This clearly shows the patterns Mr. Miller predicted, with the exception that production of paintings peaks for both sexes at 40, which is a little late in the reproduction game. His theory obviously doesn’t incorporate the notion that in cultural areas that require a lot of apprenticeship, the age of peak production is going to be higher (older) than in areas that require less “education.”

To test if this is true, that is, that a field of artistic endeavor requiring fewer credentials would more closely fit society’s reproductive schedule, I decided to look at popular music.

I picked up a copy of “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I graphed the production of such hits as they appeared in the book (from such Billboard lists as “Best Sellers in Stores,” “Most Played by Jockeys,” “Most Played in Juke Boxes,” “Top 100,” “Hot 100,” “Hot 100 Single Sales,” and “Hot 100 Airplay.”) These lists begin in 1955 and continued through 1999. I included all artists whose age I could determine from the book. I included the first 100 male artists I found, starting with the “A’s” and all the female artists that showed up by that point (34 by count.)

F. Von Blowhard, Top-40 Hit Production By Age and Sex (Blue Diamonds for Men, Red Squares for women)

This chart, as you can see, suggests that popular music production does track society’s reproductive schedule quite closely. Production of Top-40 hits peaks for both sexes at 29-30 years old. Thereafter they decline. I’m not sure how significant the shape of the graph for women’s Top-40 hit production is, as the smallness of the sample makes it possible for individuals to “stick out” in ways that may distort the overall trends. Nonetheless, if this chart is accurate, it would suggest a sort of mini-peak for women in their late teens, followed by a decline and another, major peak in their late twenties. The significance of such a mini-peak, if it is even real, is tough to pin down. The best explanation I could come up with is that a certain percentage of women do seem to mature very, very early in life (certainly far earlier than do men), and maybe this is an example of that.

Well, as a result of this little exercise in primary source material, I can’t really rule out Mr. Miller’s theory. Maybe if you’d like to join in, we can study other areas of artistic production and definitively test this matter. (Hey, my little graph only took five or six hours to gin up.)



P.S. It just dawned on me, the slow thinker, that my graph actually overstates the age at which peak Top-40 hit production occurs. This is because the Top-40 data only begin in 1955, and some of the artists in my sample were born in the 1910s or the 1920s--in other words, they had no chance to get on the pop charts as teenagers, or in some cases before the age of 30. When I sampled male artists born between 1940 and 1960, their "peak production" shifted to the mid-twenties (24-25 years of age). Interestingly, although my sample isn't large enough for definitive conclusions, the sample of men born after 1960 seems to have a later peak, at 27-28 years of age. This would support the Millerian notion that as later parenthood has become more socially acceptable in society, men have found it worthwhile to keep "displaying" fitness by creating successful pop records longer than was considered worthwhile in the 1960s.

posted by Friedrich at October 18, 2003


Very cool. I wonder how easy it would be to do the NYTimes or's bestseller lists...? Or perhaps fashion designers? What about Congresspeople? Their bios should be fairly easy to find, right?

Posted by: Courtney on October 18, 2003 10:43 PM

Damn your chart: I guess my chances of attaining pop stardom really are growing narrow now that I'm pushin' 50. Another hard-to-get-used-to notion. Facts: I hate 'em.

Like you, I find Miller's ideas fun to wrestle with, though maybe more for the ways he makes me disagree or quarrel with him. Which I offer as a tribute: provocative is good!

Despite having nothing but personal experience to go on, I'll let myself quarrel with him anyway. (I skimmed his book "The Mating Mind" -- but it was a good skim, so I'm semi-familiar with his arguments.) I guess my main, purely instinctual hunch is this: I've known a lot of artists, and they haven't been a very procreative bunch. I've read about a lot of artists, including many supersuccessful ones, and as a group they never struck me as leaving behind a lot of DNA. Nothing like what sports figures or politicians seem to leave behind, let alone your average loving mommy and daddy. They tend to live for themselves, their talents and their art, and even when they have kids often (my guess is more-than-average) tend to be neglectful parents. Books could be and should be written about the fates of children of artists, which often aren't pretty. Picasso may have been a testicle-clanking bull of a man, and was much more successful than most at spreading some DNA around, but his kids have shown a remarkable penchant for knocking themselves off.

So I'm skeptical; it seems to me Miller's being too literal in proposing that artists produce art (ie., ruffle their peacock feathers) in order to increase their own reproductive success. Where's his evidence? Studies are needed -- volunteers? -- but I'd be surprised if they showed that artists, even financially successful ones, have more kids than most people do (or that their kids tended to flourish). In fact, I'd bet that studies would show that people who tried to be artists and bailed early actually reproduce far more than people who stick it out in the arts -- because they often bail in order to go have a life, and go have families, something that's often very hard to do when you're leading an arts life. Why? Partly because of the self-absorption, but also because most artists have to work a job to pay the bills and do their art during their non-working hours -- which for anyone leading a normal life would be when you'd be procreating and giving time to the family. Where do you fit a family in?

Also, I wonder what, in Miller's scheme, the point of any woman becoming an artist would be. Actresses, dancers and other performers are often attractive and viviacious -- they don't need to go to drama school in order to attract mates. They often go on stage partly because they're attractive -- but that tends to pull them away from a normal life, and away from being uber-mommies. I'd love to see a chart, for instance, of how many kids pro-level dancers tend to have. Given the ones I've known and read about, I'd bet it's very few -- yet these are some of the world's most fit and attractive women. And I've never yet heard a guy say, Y'know, I fell in love with her and wanted her to be the mother of my kids because she's just such a damn good painter. It's hard for me to see how doing art stuff would give a woman any procreative advantage at all. For a woman performer, the potentially-childbearing years are exactly the years during which she pretty much has to make her mark professionally -- something that makes taking time out to be a mommy even more costly than it is for most professional women.

But like you and Miller, I think there's clearly got to be some evo-function to the art thing. What could it be? My own, no-reason-anyone-should-pay attention hunch is that it might help to think less about advantages making art confers on the individual artist and think more about the advantages that the existence of art might confer on the species (or tribe) more generally.

Music makes people dance and fall in love. Paintings enrich experience and provide social occasions. Etc etc. My feeling is that the arts make life more seductive, enjoyable and worthwhile; that, having consciousness, we need that (otherwise we get depressed) and have developed a taste for it; and that as a consequence tribes throw off X percentage of people who devote themselves more to creating culture than to the usual procreative activities in order to supply the tribe with the cultural bolstering and nourishing they need and want. They're supplying the tribe with cultural DNA rather than physical DNA, in other words -- that's their contribution.

My hunch is that it has more to do with tribal and species survival than it does with the individual's. That populations have found it effective and semi-efficient (for whatever reasons) to throw off X percentage of people to do the creating-culture work -- and for the sake of the population more generally, not any specific individual. The population (and not necessarily the individual artist) gets the survival benefits.

Um, er, I'm struggling here to say something easy, which is that I'm thinking of the population as the entity whose survival and evolution and flourishing is being tended to, not the individual artist.

Anyway, like I say, I have no evidence at all for this, but it's certainly a hunch I enjoy entertaining, and that helps me get through the day. What's your hunch?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 18, 2003 10:47 PM

Hey Michael, I like your hunch, and it would seem to jibe with the fact that a disproportionate number of homosexuals end up in the arts, would it not?

Posted by: Felix on October 19, 2003 12:06 AM

It would, actually. I often think of the culture-crowd and homosexuals as humanity's R&D department. I usually prevent myself from saying so out of fear of being found un-PC. But I don't know: Do you suppose it is an un-PC thought?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 19, 2003 12:46 AM

Courtney: I'd be thrilled, simply thrilled, to publish your research once you spend the hours to put it together!

Michael: I'm not a rigorous enough thinker (or at least I'm not in a rigorous enough mood to be sure) but it sounds to me like you are arguing a theory that is awfully akin to the "group selection" theory that kind of got blown out of the water back in the early 1960s. Whether or not that's true, allow me to point out a few notions:

(1) The fact (if it is one, I'd like to see statistics) that "hardcore" artists don't reproduce much is really beside the point; if a lot of "pseudo" or "weekend-warrior" artists or even just "art majors" can use art to highlight their reproductive fitness, the strategy is still a success. The "hardcore" artists may just be (evolutionarily speaking)losers who don't know to quit when they're ahead, even if they are the creme-de-la-creme in terms of their artistic talent and commitment. I remember John Lennon saying that the reason guys went into rock was "to get a little extra" and that it didn't matter if they were a superstar or just some guy in a bar band--it worked just the same.

(2) Miller's theory actually is pretty good at explaining the presence of gays in the arts. While their reproductive fitness is in the cellar (a fact that isn't helped or hurt by their activity in the arts), their social life is almost certainly improved...remember Miller's point that the artist is trolling for sexual partners, advertising his/her creativity, intelligence and general charm.

(3) Although it's not in Miller's essay per se, I was checking out a book on prehistoric art, and it pointed out that modern attitudes toward "art" (like the distinction between art and craft, like the emphasis on the expression of individuality, like the disdain for conventional skill, etc., etc.) would have made exactly zero sense to ten zillion generations of "traditional" practitioners of the arts. Hence, what we see around us when we consider the figure of The Artist may constitute only a weird, possibly temporary, hyper-development (i.e., the "Romantic" artist as cultural superman) of a broadly human tendency that's played a role in sexual selection forever--even if it doesn't seem to work in the contemporary world. In other words, let's not let the exact contemporary world dictate our theories here, as certain recent developments may be essentially misleading.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 19, 2003 1:17 AM

P.S.--Hey, Felix, why don't you comment on something like my "Follow-Up: Preserving the Rainforest" posting?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 19, 2003 1:31 AM

Friedrich -- I felt I couldn't really comment on your follow-up because it was little more than a link back to the original post, in which your thesis about territoriality is placed rightly as just one element among many. On its own, it looks a bit silly (think of vast amounts of Canada and Alaska which are uninhabited, for instance) but in context it's slightly less silly. Then again, in context I'd also need to go into a lot of detail about why Brazil can't possibly spend $40 billion on infrastructure anywhere, let alone in the Amazon; why the idea of the First World spending $50 billion a year on leasing rainforest is patently ridiculous; and so on. So in a fit of laziness, I just decided to leave the whole thing.

Posted by: Felix on October 19, 2003 12:35 PM

I agree that rock stars definitely are strutting their reproductive allure. This all seems to tie back to that link about the "ladder theory" from your fashion posting. (Guys with unusual talents or jobs get more women...).

BUT...I doubt John Lennon is much of an expert about the sexual success of being a Beatle vs. being in a bar band. His personal charisma is part of what MADE the Beatles who they were, and therefore, I'll guarantee ya Lennon had more mojo for women even when he was in a bar band than the average bar band guy. And, being in a band alone never did much for had to be a GOOD band. I had to like the music. And he still needed to be cute (in my eyes). I think "being in a band" is a great showcase for other qualities...I'm not sure just being in a band imbues qualities on you that you don't have. At least not all that much. I mean, I keep thinking about Phil Collins...

Posted by: annette on October 19, 2003 12:53 PM

I confess I've always felt like I was missing something where Miller's ideas are concerned. (Partly at the moment because I'm trying to recall them from a skim of his book a couple of years ago, but partly at the time too.) If he's simply saying that art gives some people a chance to make displays of sexual fitness -- well, I dunno, that seems kind of basic and obvious. So does driving an expensive new car.

I seem to recall though that he was arguing a couple of other points too. One was that this led to greater reproductive opportunities (and results), and the other was that this, crossed with the effects of sexual selection, helps explain the wildness and extravagance of what we have culturally.

I don't have much problem with point number two, although it seems to me to take place on a general-cultural level more than a personal-and-sexual one. Point number one, though, I'm skeptical of. It just hasn't been my experience that artists, successful or not in financial terms, have many kids. A few do, but many don't -- I don't know of any studies, but I'd be willing to bet that artists have fewer kids than average. The artists I know (and the artists I've read about) have had many fewer kids than, say, the people from my middle-class high-school class, nearly all of whom have average-to-large broods. Bach had a flock of offspring. But Beethoven? Mozart? Schubert?

Having some art prowess is certainly often an attractive thing and may have some romantic allure. I just haven't seen the evidence, or any evidence, that it has a big impact on the spread of DNA. No doubt there are many studies I'm unaware of. Does Miller cite any in the paper you looked at?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 19, 2003 2:30 PM

Maybe generally artistic behaviors do enhance reproductive fitness, just not in combination with the obsessiveness required to be really successful—or even to believe you can be really succesful— in the arts. And both may be useful for those who are slightly to the right of the big lump in the bell curve, but not so useful at either tail.

That said, I confess the reason I started getting serious about writing poetry was that I got kissed more.

Posted by: Michael Snider on October 19, 2003 4:59 PM

A) Wasn't there a fine post in an early topic about boredom and spinning wheels?

B)How reliable is a chart based as much on distribution and the chart critera as on what people truly want to buy?

I'm sticking with culture as mostly what we do because we're fed and don't have much else to do. Mostly, I'm just saying mostly.

Posted by: j.c. on October 19, 2003 5:26 PM


You wrote: "(2) Miller's theory actually is pretty good at explaining the presence of gays in the arts. While their reproductive fitness is in the cellar (a fact that isn't helped or hurt by their activity in the arts), their social life is almost certainly improved...remember Miller's point that the artist is trolling for sexual partners, advertising his/her creativity, intelligence and general charm." Maybe I'm not following you and Miller, but doesn't Miller's argument work only if a propensity toward cultural activity is heritable? Miller's point isn't merely, as you suggest in the comment I've quoted, that the artist's cultural output is an aid to getting laid, it's an aid to having offspring, many of whom must inherit this propensity toward cultural activity. Right? Otherwise, I don't see how Miller's thesis is a biological evolutionary thesis. But if what I've just said is right, then I don't see how Miller's thesis fits at all well with the high representation of gays within the arts. If Miller's thesis says little more than "Rock was invented so that ugly guys can get laid, too," then despite the fact that getting laid is a biological function, the explanation is not really biological in the Darwinian sense. Instead it's cultural and teleological rather than mechanistic. And despite all the pseudo-teleological talk that Darwinian's engage in, an explanation is not Darwinian if it isn't mechanistic.

Posted by: Mike Kelly on October 19, 2003 8:28 PM

You know what just ocurred to me - I think Mr. Miller's theory has validity, but he's barking up the wrong culture tree. What is culture? Purely, it's group interaction, right? So, yes, art can be representative of culture, and can be interaction (in the case of music starts) - but art is hardly the ultimate expression of interaction. If you think of culture in terms of social interaction, then I think everyone could agree that teenagers are *highly* social animals, and that as we age, we generally become less and less social. (Fewer sit-ins, rallies, concerts, less clubbing, etc.) What do y'all think?

Posted by: Courtney on October 19, 2003 9:52 PM

If there were un-PC thoughts who of us would escape hanging.

But since there are un-PC statements a rope is being woven for all of us somewhere at this present moment.

Posted by: vanderleun on October 19, 2003 10:50 PM

Charts cool though.

But don't get hypnotized by anything that can be included in a Powerpoint presentation.

That way lies madness.

Posted by: vanderleun on October 19, 2003 10:51 PM

Mr. Kelly:

As this was the second post that I cribbed from the work of Mr. Miller, I didn't want to bore everyone by including the same discussion of reproductive fitness signaling that was a big part of the previous posting, which you can read here. In essence, participating in culture is a form of sincere signaling, in which young males or females engage in calorie-burning cultural activity that doesn't have a conventional survival benefit. The purpose is to demonstrate that they are sufficiently fit that they can engage in this behavior and still survive. The behavior, of course, is tailored to show off heritable characteristics like intelligence, coordination, health, strength, creativity, etc. But there is no intention to advertise a heritable propensity for culture, per se. A cultural elite is not being bred; a survivable elite, which uses culture to advertise its genetic strengths, is what is on offer.

If however, you've opted out of the reproductive cycle, you could still use culture to show what a creative, interesting, intelligent person you are, thus undoubtedly helping your social (if not your reproductive) life.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 19, 2003 11:53 PM

You all will enjoy Charles Murray's new book "Human Accomplishment," which uses extremely sophisticated objective methods to determine the 4002 most significant figures in world history in the arts and sciences and then rank them in order of eminence. I'm trying to talk Murray into publishing his lists on the Internet or on a CD-ROM so others can investigate new questions about the creative without reinventing the wheel of coming up with a new list of people.

Murray, by the way, uses the age 40 as the date of "flourishing," which, at age 44, I find depressing.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 20, 2003 3:43 PM


I guess I'm still not getting it. The way you've just described Miller's thesis, it seems simply to come down to "It's a good way to get laid." But doesn't his thesis have to express more than that? Doesn't it have to fit into the following general model: The persistence of X is to be explained. X is a heritable characteristic. Having characteristic X makes one more likely to have offspring (than if one doesn't have characteristic X?), and those offspring will tend also to have characteristic X. Thus, characteristic X will tend to persist. Characteristic X makes it more likely that one will have offspring because it demonstrates one's fitness (because it is an "expensive"--in the biologist's sense--characteristic that does not enhance one's survivability, yet one can survive even while exercising characteristic X).

So, I don't see how Miller's thesis works well with the high representation of gays among cultural object producers.

Consider your final sentence, "If however, you've opted out of the reproductive cycle, you could still use culture to show what a creative, interesting, intelligent person you are, thus undoubtedly helping your social (if not your reproductive) life." If Miller's thesis comes to little more than this, then it hardly strikes me as being very original, and it's only minimally Darwinian. I think people have known for centuries that cultural object producers are interesting and creative and that being one will therefore help one get a sexual partner (as well as get money, friendship, praise, and all sorts of other things that we find desirable). But if the sexual partner isn't one who is going to help you pass down the genes that make one likely to be a cultural object producer, then how does the fact that being such a producer helps you get sex work toward explaining the persistence of cultural production--at least in an evolutionary-biological way?

To give strong support for Miller's thesis, by the way, wouldn't one need to compare how successful cultural-object producers are at finding mates to the average population? Also, how does Miller's thesis help explain people's interest in viewing or hearing cultural objects? Doesn't it at best only explain men's interest in producing such objects and women's interest in such objects' producers?

Posted by: Mike Kelly on October 20, 2003 4:24 PM

Mr. Kelly:

I should perhaps make it clear that the application of Mr. Miller's ideas to the presence of gays in the arts is entirely my thought, and that if you have difficulty with this notion, then I must claim responsibility.

I believe I follow your idea that if being good at the arts is the result of inheritable qualities, then one of the things being bred for, so to speak, is being "good at the arts." So far so good. To apply this notion to the presence of gays in the arts, however, wouldn't seem to work, for obvious reasons.

The non-applicability of the genetic part of the theory to gays is only an objection if you assume, which I'm guessing you do, that gays have superior genetic gifts for the arts. I, personally, doubt that they do. The predominence of gays in the arts would seem, to me, more a matter of having the resources to devote to such a career, given that they do not have the necessity of investing resources in offspring.

Hence, as far as my claims on behalf of this theory for gays in the arts, it really does come down to a notion that being good at the arts is a good way to advertise for lovers, full stop. If that seems idiotic, I am the party responsible. I may well be wildly misrepresenting Mr. Miller's ideas; I would be interested in his opinion on the subject...but it is one I do not know.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 21, 2003 2:34 AM


(I hope you don't mind my using your first name in addressing you; Mr. Blowhard won't do it since there are 2 Blowhards around here...I guess maybe I should call you Mr. von Blowhard, which would avoid ambiguity...)

My assumption, maybe faulty, was that Miller's thesis did assume a genetic proclivity among those who regularly engage in the arts. It seemed to me--still does--that his explanation requires that for at least most of those engaged in the arts, there must be some genetic proclivity to do so. That, I assume, would include gays. On the other hand, his thesis certainly doesn't require that all those engaged in the arts have a genetic proclivity to do so. Perhaps gays, or at least many of them, are among those who don't have such a proclivity. Actually, though, I guess all that's required by Miller's thesis is that a reasonable number of non-gays be engaged in the arts, that their engagement enhance their chances of reproducing, and that there be some genetic endowment among some of their offspring for further artistic production. (Sorry--I'm thinking as I type, which leads me to ramble a bit.)

To clarify one point: I haven't been arguing that the presence of gays in the arts disproves Miller's theory (though, unless I'm still misunderstanding his theory, I think it would be disproven if _only_ gays were engaged in the arts); instead I've only been arguing (1) that his theory isn't lent any support by the fact of gays' presence, and (2) to the extent that his theory is taken as an explanation not of the arts' persistence but rather as an explanation of why some people might be interested in engaging in them (namely, to gain sexual partners), there's nothing terribly new about it (and it overlooks a lot of other plausible motives for such engagement).

I'd still be interested in hearing whether, in addition to trying to explain why heterosexual men may be interested in producing works of art, Miller's theory attempts to explain, say, heterosexual men's interest in viewing or hearing works such works. (Again thinking as I type and so rambling: I can see how Miller's theory might help explain why there seems to be a gay proclivity for enjoying the arts: gay men, I assume, tend to respond to many of the same sexual cues that heterosexual men respond to; and further, I suppose, that's why gay men would engage in production of the arts--hey, I think I'm starting to come around to your viewpoint on this! Still, I can't see why there would be such a disproportionate number of gays in the arts.)

Posted by: Mike Kelly on October 21, 2003 10:37 AM

Maybe I missed it, but no one has mentioned the obvious.

If you're really good in the arts, you never need to have kids at all. YOu'll live on forver as a Name, a Movement, a place in the Canon and the dustless world of muesuems and textbooks. Kids are a low-risk, low-gain attempt at immortality


Posted by: Jleavitt on October 21, 2003 2:08 PM

Mr. Leavitt:

Living on as a 'meme' is interesting, but for at least 4 billion years the game has been to live on as a gene. Large numbers of such entities have, in fact, celebrated their 4 billionth birthdays; do you think it would be wise for them to quit at this point in the game, and commit their survival to the mere memory of oh-so-forgetful human beings? I ain't so sure.

And even Michelangelo, who stands about as good a chance as anyone I know of achieving immortality as a meme, was ferociously fixated on making sure that his one surviving relative, his nephew, made a good marriage and produced offspring. He, at least, regarded the survival of the Buonnaroti family as more important than his own fame.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 21, 2003 4:45 PM

So, now that I finally have a nephew of a brother, who will carry on the family "name", I can just relax about that winning-the-Nobel-Prize-thing coz the family name will live on??

Phew. Maybe your chart just means that people who haven't become Michelangelo by a certain age just give up and hope the family name living on means something!!! It reminds me of a comment by Woody Allen. "I don't want to achieve immortality though my work. I want to achieve immortality by not dying."

Posted by: annette on October 22, 2003 5:39 PM

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