Eros, Thanatos, and Sunday Afternoon

Eros, Thanatos, and Sunday Afternoon

Part 3 of a series based on Vanessa Woods’ Bonobo Handshake   Across the River and Into the Trees One day last summer my son came home from a birthday party covered with bruises, bleeding, and looking very proud of himself.  Happily examining his wounds in the bathtub, he explained that he’d been playing paintball, which was actual combat with kids shooting at each other. The bullets splattered paint on you, and they really hurt. And it had been the happiest day of his life.  Within a week, I’d somehow agreed to drive a car full of 12 year old boys to play paintball.  We pulled in to the parking lot, which was filled with men and women and kids of all ages wearing camouflage and toting weapons.  And an hour later, outfitted with a mask and fatigues and armed with a paintball gun loaded with bullets, I was marching up a muddy hill with my team on the way to a battle. It was every bit as exciting as my son had portrayed it.  The adrenaline, the instant camaraderie, the fear of being hit with a paintball.  The thrill of seeing the other team first come over the hill, bent on our destruction. Reality intervened quickly.   Hit in the shoulder in the first 3 minutes, I was required according to the rules to evacuate myself to a neutral spot.  The adrenaline wore off, and I sat down exhausted.  The other team swept us from the field.   The next battle came, and I was again eliminated early.  Again we lost. At that point, our team was assigned a late arrival – a...
Empathy’s Magic

Empathy’s Magic

Part 2 of a series prompted by Vanessa Wood’s Bonobo Handshake. Part 3 will follow shortly, after which we’ll return to our main subject. Photo credit:  pedrosimoes7 via Creative Commons   Empathy and Its Impediments When my daughter was seven, our nanny Irene got married and moved to Florida.  This was a big loss for my daughter, who for the next several weeks would wander around the house saying “I miss Irene” to anyone who would listen.   She drove us all crazy. One morning I remember in particular. I was hurrying to finish breakfast so as not to be late for work.  My daughter was by my side, telling me as always how much she missed Irene.  I was dividing my attention between trying to console her and trying not to spill my cereal. I remember telling her about how I knew how hard this was for her, how she could call Irene in Florida tonight, how just wait she would feel better some day, and so on – everything I could think of.  But nothing seemed to help. Then suddenly, as if by magic, I had a flash of memory — of a woman in college whom I’d pursued unsuccessfully, who had been with me briefly then called the whole thing off.  I remembered days of long lonely walks through campus, feeling half alive.  I looked in my daughter’s eyes, the memory still painful after all these years. “I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m really sorry.” After that, for the first time in days, she sat quietly by my side and let me eat my breakfast. Saved by the magic of...
Sex in the Wild

Sex in the Wild

A New Twist on the Apple At a recent informal meeting of New York City sex therapists to discuss his new book Sex at Dawn, psychologist Chris Ryan played us a videotape showing a bonobo orgy. The tape was several minutes long.  It showed a small crew of cute little apes cavorting in the grass in all possible heterosexual and homosexual variations.  He explained that this was a bonobo “quickie.”  There didn’t seem to be a lot of orgasms.  Each encounter was just a few quick strokes, then on to the next partner. Ryan explained that the group sex we’d just been watching had been prompted by someone throwing some apples into the midst of the group. The part about the apples didn’t make any sense, until he explained to us more about bonobo society. Bonobos like apples.  They like them a lot.    As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to do bonobo research without a supply of green apples to motivate them to do the experiments. But they like group harmony most of all.  And the sudden appearance of the apples in their midst immediately raises the threat of discord.  Who will get to eat the apples? If these were chimpanzees, the strongest males would immediately claim the fruit.   There would be a fair amount of shoving, and possibly some bloodshed. But bonobos are so communal that the tension produced by something so precious as an apple in their midst must be dispelled by a gesture of community. In this case, everyone gets to cool off with a little sexual comfort from their neighbor. Then, self-interest replaced by a certain yummy...