At its core, civilization is about the control of sexual impulses: the principal difference between ‘civilizedsociety’ and the
‘state of nature’ is the amount of energy devoted to acquiring and maintaining access to sexual partners. In the state of nature, all of the central pillars of modern society ― technology, education, rule of law, etc. ― would be unthinkable, because there is no excess energy beyond the pursuit of sexual interests. Reproductive interests will always take priority over investment in the larger society, and so the only way civilized societies can arise is through artificial control of the sexual market.
Both inside and outside of the civilized state, human sexual interests are pursued in a market analogous to the markets of the commercial world. People use the currency (i.e. attractiveness) that they have to attract the best possible mate. In the uncivilized ‘state of nature,’ the sexual market is essentially uncontrolled: it is a ‘free market’ in the sense that there are almost no artificial constraints which obstruct competition at any stage. Men and women congregate at various points, but there is little concept of ‘family culture’ because people tend to remain ‘on the market’ in the competitive state throughout the whole of their lives. For this reason, there is almost no infrastructure for the purpose of transmitting advanced cultural information across generations.
Modern societies developed because they acknowledged this ‘hierarchy of priorities’ and took the appropriate course of action: they imposed constraints on the sexual market. These constraints were not overly-stringent ― competition still took place, but it was kept within reasonable limits. People were able to focus on building the infrastructure of society without having to constantly worry about future sexual competition. The constraints made it impossible for a relatively small portion of the population to acquire a disproportionate influence over the reproductive direction of the society as a whole.
Even with such restrictions in place (in many cases enforced by law), modern societies still struggled to maintain a stable sexual marketplace; whether conscious of it or not, in their mission to uphold civilization they were confronting two extremely powerful forces which have troubled lovers of order and progress since the days of the primordial ooze: male variance and female hypergamy.
Male variance is one of the more well-established facts in the study of human differences; on virtually every trait worth measuring, men are much more likely to stray from the mean, and so the result is a rather complicated picture in which men are disproportionately represented at both the high and low ends of the spectrum. This is nothing other than nature unfolding as it should: male variance is precisely what keeps our species moving forward.
On the other hand, women are predisposed to select males based on status. This, in essence, is the phenomenon of female hypergamy: to prefer those who have obtained a high rank in the status hierarchy. The traits and behaviors which determine status may shift and fluctuate for a variety of reasons, but what stays unchanged is the fact that male status generally advantages a relatively small number and disadvantages a relatively large number. And, as it turns out, there is evidence that we as a species are predisposed to discourage the propagation of lower status males.
We have arrived at a paradox: civilization requires an elaborate cultural infrastructure which can only be maintained if the vast majority of society members are invested beyond reproductive pursuits, and yet our species tends to discourage most men from reproducing. Bearing these facts in mind, it is easy to see why controlled sexual markets are still chaotic: they are literally beating against our natural instincts!
So, the paradox of civilization is this: The continuation of civilized society hinges on a majority of society members being invested beyond the pursuit of sexual interests, and yet there is evidence which suggests that we are wired to discourage the reproduction of most men.
This is, perhaps, the greatest riddle of them all.