by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
Is Joy necessarily fleeting? Is joy imagined in heavenly art as a place only found after death? And even then is it only if we humans (meaning mostly men) make few enough mistakes, despite the everpresent danger of Original Sin? And are further judged by an exacting Deity or his risen son—perhaps more forgiving–as worthy of eternal bliss? Otherwise it seems that only in addictions to endorphin pleasure can joy last overly long. Since Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic humans emerged from the Garden of Eden work seems to be the proper fate of men, perhaps as punishment for being too susceptible to female charms.
We will consider a few issues fraught with significant consequences for our present world. The first of two of these are linked together: Are there differences in the extent, value or manifestations of pleasure between women and men? And second, do the sexes pursue different types of joy or pleasure to some extent?
In Anglo-American culture there is one obvious difference between women and men in the extent to which they manifest outwardly the sensory pleasure and emotional joy they feel. If there is a public celebration of joy such as a birthday or a wedding, the bodies jumping up and down and the faces shining like birthday candles will be women’s. And the wooden fencepost bodies and slightly puzzled or even embarrassed faces will men’s. It’s as if the men don’t like being upstaged by women, but they like even less the possibility that they could be caught on camera (ie caught by people’s eyes) feeling too much joy about something as minor as another person’s happiness.
There are two major exceptions to this characterization of the stonefaced deer-in-the-headlights man and giddy, happily-effusive woman. One is the shouting, cheering, jeering, emotionally explosive crowd in a competitive sporting event, when winning gives both teams’ sets of fans a chance to roar with excitement, exult with success, groan with failure and howl with outrage. These are not mainly dynamics of joy, but the vicissitudes of power struggles, which makes them male-focused and -dominated entertainment.
The second major way that men develop through expressing joy is through using alcohol and other intoxicants, especially marijuana. Though not easily accessible to American teenagers in the 1950s, both have become widespread since then as facilitators of play and pleasure. Teen “partying” and the bar scene in their twenties are the commonest ways for young adults to develop friendly relations, though some religious groups provide alternative venues and guidance for social interaction. In heterosexual gatherings boys rely on alcohol or drugs more heavily than girls.`
There is neuroscience behind the appeal of alcohol and marijuana. Some chemical breakdown products of alcohol in our bodies bond with our endorphin (ie opiate) receptors to provide the same rewards as the endorphins that are released by touch, social interaction, sex and even love. Current research into human cannabis receptors suggests similar facilitating effects for marijuana as well. Both of these plant-based intoxicants provide the same pleasures as close physical and social contact. So jumpstarting our socializing pleasures can act as an inducement for social engagement. But they can also provide a shortcut to solitary self-soothing and self-serving rewards without the challenges involved in more complete intimacy, that is without self-revealing conversations, the growth of many-facetted emotional interaction, and commitment to relationship over time. In practice, these intoxicants often facilitate both social and asocial pleasures at the same time, and this makes them especially likely to lead to addiction. [It is noteworthy that our currently exploding engagement in social relations through social media devices offers similar processes of potential addiction. We will explore this possibility later in another blog.]