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The Science of Sex

Displacement of Cost

Excerpts from Section 2 of

The Tyranny of Ambiguity

M28DG: Male, 28, Dutch Grower
M28DIW: Male, 28 Dutch Intelligent Wasted
M31DS: Male, 31 Dutch Squatter
M34EEI: Male, 34 Energetic English-Irish

MESS: Mixed Evolutionarily Stable Strategies (JMS)

THE ENVIRONMENT OF AMSTERDAM. The free expression of drives and emotions in Amsterdam was very conducive for the purpose of analysis. Sometimes it seemed that in Amsterdam you could be what you wanted, even if you didn’t like what you were. Or, perhaps, that you could do what you liked, even if you didn’t like what you became. The Dutch seemed to regard a lack of self-consciousness as an attribute, and the expression of basic emotions was encouraged. The consequent shallowness of character might be considered superficial but it did provide for an uncluttered appraisal of the mechanisms of human interaction.

Everything in Amsterdam seemed to be in delicate balance. Being over-enthusiastic was a mistake often made by newcomers – chopping down a small tree which was cherished by neighbours or throwing out a pile of apparently useless bicycle parts which someone had been saving – not realizing that this delicate balance existed. The Dutch were very quick to complain, although it was frequently evident that there was an ulterior motive, even if it was just that the complainant wanted to talk and the issue provided a ready topic. It often seemed that no-one talked unless they wanted something. Many complaints were about noise but the sound of a boat chugging down a canal in the early hours was as nothing compared to a dog barking all night as might be endured in England. The recipients of many of the complaints were the police. There seemed sometimes to be a great deal of selfishness: some people would become immediately and keenly aware if any activity taking place around them might be to their detriment.

FIRST COSTS. The trick of having a drink bought for you whenever money changes hands is an example of how costs can accrue solely from interaction with other people. Two incidents can be related.

In the first, I wanted to borrow ƒ 100,– (100 guilders) from M28DG, and he withdrew it from a bank machine on our way to a bar. In the bar, at a certain time, he handed over the money. Then I was obliged to buy a round of drinks from the cash just lent. This is fine to a point of course and all within the normal scheme of things. However in the second, completely separate example, the ploy was extended.

In Coffeeshop CS2 I was repaid ƒ 25,– by M28DIW, who then gave signals of expectation that I might buy him a drink out of it. The purchase of his drink was extended to one for myself, even though I had not planned to stay and have another. Later it struck me that the cost of the drinks amounted to about 20% of the amount lent. If the loan was for a month one could calculate what the yearly interest would be: it would be higher than any loan-shark and, in the second example given here, the interest in this form – the cost of human interaction – was paid on lending money to someone, not on borrowing it. It might be said that one should be on the look-out for tricks like this but then the cost is merely displaced; one must instead devote attention, expending effort to be on one’s guard against them.

DISPLACEMENT OF COST. A year before, shortly after returning from a trip to England, I met two friends in BIGBAR3, the large squat in the centre of Amsterdam which was the unofficial Squat Headquarters. I told them about the studio work I had been doing in England and they said that they would like to hear the finished results. Fishing into the lining of my overcoat, suspecting that I may still have a cassette tape there, I went to ask the people behind the bar if they would play it, or at least the first track, an aggressive and powerful song about the Lebanon.

To my great surprise the male behind the bar refused to play the tape. I knew what the usual response to this request was at a normal bar: ‘Yes of course we’ll put it on but if we don’t like it we’ll just take it off and don’t get upset if we do.’ Yet here was I, a squatter in a squat bar, asking another squatter if he would play a tape by a band who, coincidentally, was largely made up of squatters. I persisted with my request but the others behind the bar agreed with the original decision.

MORE MESS. If a person is shopping in a market and sees two identical items on different stalls, the cheapest one is purchased; the cost is minimized. If one is superior, but both are the same price, the better one is purchased: the benefit is maximized.

Suppose that a person finds a packet of tobacco on the street; one of the generous Dutch pouches of shag for hand-rolling cigarettes which the Dutch typically carry. Most times a non-smoker finding the tobacco will save it and give it to a friend, not to a tramp he might pass on the street, who probably would appreciate it more. The reason is that some influence or control might be gained from giving it to someone he knows; from the tramp there is no such prospect. In a shop the most dog-eared banknote is often spent first. The value of the crumpled banknote is the same as a new one, but the perceived value is less. These situations illustrate the minimization of cost and maximization of benefit in MESS and its application as a potent working theory.

PRIORITIES AND INSTINCTS. It is generally supposed that humans’ priorities are sex, food and shelter, in that order. People will always try to follow their instincts, because following instincts makes them happy. Then I say that instinct and feelings are synonymous, and that feelings are the engine of behaviour. As humans we are capable of controlling our instincts, but to do so takes effort, so that people will follow their instincts if they are able and avoid inhibiting them if they can.

The most widely adopted human policy is to follow the Path of Least Resistance. It is the course to which most people adhere and instinct, limited by social norms and laws, plays an essential role in that policy.

A short time after the massive old grain store where M31DS lived had been squatted there had been an exhibition there. Candles were everywhere and in virtually every part of the immense building were sculptures and artworks, such as a huge mechanical bird which opened and closed its beak and noisily flapped its wings. People dressed as chess pieces played a real game in the enormous roof space, with the ethereal sounds of drums being carried along the metal pipes which ran throughout the building. Around 30 visiting Russians dressed as white druids and carrying candles formed a procession on the nearby promontory which jutted out over the River IJ; a police boat came to watch.

Since that heady time however things had become rather more sedate, although there were still occasional exhibitions and an annual party. On Sunday mornings a procession of cars regularly passed en route for some religious mission at the end of the harbour; in the summer the worshippers would be greeted with the sight of rows of empty beer bottles standing on the wooden beams outside the main entrance, plus the occasional unconscious squatter who had not quite made it to his bed.

DISTRIBUTION OF GUILT. The incident to be related however took place in the bar at the far end of the building, here known as BAR1. It was a further example of human behaviour in Amsterdam, and perhaps particularly within squatter circles, being very uninhibited and easy to analyze. A somewhat unstable woman living on a boat moored beside the building had a dog which had produced puppies. She was unable to keep all of them so one Saturday she went into the busy bar, then also serving as a vegetarian restaurant, and asked everyone present if they would like a puppy. No-one did, so she returned to her boat, put one into a weighted sack and cast it into the river. She repeated this sequence identically on three consecutive Saturdays.

ANALYSIS OF BIGBAR3 AND BAR1 INCIDENTS. In the case of the refusal to play the tape in BIGBAR3, enlightenment came when it was realized that the bar staff were not paid; they were taking their payment in the form of control. Being able to refuse to play the tape was confirmation of that control. M34EEI, my energetic English-Irish friend, summed up the situation in Amsterdam rather well: “Anyone that has any power, sooner or later will use it or else they wouldn’t know they’ve got it.”

In the second example of the woman drowning the puppies, she was attempting to distribute her guilt, alleviating her conscience by sharing the guilt with the other people in the bar, and by this means reduce her cost in terms of the unpleasant sensations of it.

PROPOSITION 3. Instincts are never annulled they are only displaced.2

COROLLARY. The more directly instincts are discharged, the more psychologically healthy the individual.

DISCUSSION. This also holds on the collective (societal) level.


1. (Edited, web version is abridged.)

2. This Proposition was not contemporaneous but was formalized later when its importance was realized.

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