Survival of the Sexiest

The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece on social Darwinism, mainly showing that social Darwinism has far less to do with Darwinism than it does with Herbert Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest.”  Commenting on this piece HERE, Adam Robbert sums it up nicely: “There has never been any validity to social Darwinism and the very fact that Darwin’s name has been attached to such nonsense is a historical travesty to say the least.”

Levi Bryant makes a related point in a recent post HERE, where he likewise discounts the idea that evolutionary theory is fundamentally about survival of the fittest.  “It really ticks me off when people characterize the core idea of evolution as “survival of the fittest“. That’s not true at all.”  Is there are better phrase available than “survival of the fittest”?  Yes!  ” The core of evolutionary theory is survival of the sexiest!” 

Exorbitant sexiness is the name of the game.  Levi gives the great examples of birds of paradise, who clearly expend more energy on sexiness than on survival.  “If survival is a value at all within an evolutionary framework, then it’s because it allows critters to stick around enough and get fat enough to get it on. The important thing is getting it on.”

This reminds me of Elizabeth Grosz, especially her recent work, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art.  Using Irigaray, Bergson, and Deleuze alongside Darwin, Grosz highlights the importance of sexual selection in evolution, according to which evolution is about becoming otherwise through the exorbitant manifestation of sexual difference, which is to say, getting it on.  I like the phrase “survival of the sexiest.”  It’s definitely been around for a little while (as a glance on any search engine will indicate).  It’s a quick and helpful slogan for evolutionary theory, and I can also see it becoming the title for a TV show, something like The Bachelor meets Survivor.

Along these lines, it could be helpful to think of ecology as the study of relationships not simply between organisms and environments, but between orgasms and environments.  Object-oriented ecology becomes orgasm-oriented ecology.  I think I remember Roland Faber writing on the orgasm-organism in terms of Whitehead, Deleuze, and apophatic theology.  I’ll try and say more about this orgasmic ecology another time, because it’s funny, true, and sexy.

6 thoughts on “Survival of the Sexiest

  1. I like Grosz’s work as well as this notion of “survival of the sexiest” if for no other reason it begins to transcend the heteronormative assumptions of gender.

    1. Indeed! Queer ecology is on the rise, in Grosz and in a lot of the object-oriented folks as well. Levi Bryant, Tim Morton, and Michael O’Rourke have each been making helpful contributions in the struggle against heteronormative phallosophy.

  2. Sam,

    Not sure if I recommended this book to you yet or not, but STS and Science and Literature scholar Richard Doyle recently published “Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noosphere.” It covers a lot of territory, but some of its most creative moments emerge during Doyle’s discussion of human symbiotic evolution with psychedelic plants. He suggests that psychedelics are rhetorical adjuncts, functioning to generate “flowery” language which then becomes a factor in sexual selection. One of the more fascinating and novel books on psychedelics (he prefers to call them “ecodelics”) I’ve read in a while.


    1. Cool. I heard about Darwin’s Pharamcy at the AAR last year, but I still haven’t gotten around to looking at it. I remember hearing a little bit of Doyle’s ecodelic stuff in a MAPS bulletin a few years ago. Seems like helpful research, and it’s just nice to see somebody appreciate the profound implications of Darwin’s account of sexual selection.

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