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Civilization, Time, Sexual Rhythms and Conflict

by Johan Galtung
31st of October 1997

For the last 25 years I have been working quite intensively on civilization theory.  I have tried to develop some understanding of six major civilizations in terms of their hidden codes for seven major domains, space and time, knowledge and nature, self and society, and the transpersonal.  In so doing the category of carrier, Träger, portateur becomes important: the concrete material, or symbolic, manifestations of these cultural codes that in turn serve to carry the civilizational code through space and time, and other media.  I work with about twelve of those.  But this is not the place for 6x7x12 or about half a thousand explorations.

         I shall limit myself to three civilizations: Occident I, the present highly expansionist version of the Occident in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic space; the Indic civilization partly defined by the conglomerate referred to as Hinduism; and the Sinic civilization in the daoist-confucian-buddhist space.

         I shall explore only one dimension: time; and more partcularly time rhythms.

         And, in doing so I shall use only one carrier of the civilizational message: sexuality, not, for instance, food.

         But let give a reason for this exercise.  I work on civilization theory to understand better how civilizations shape conflict, war and peace, development and the environment.  Again, I shall limit myself to some remarks on conflict.  And adding up all of this we get the title of this essay: civiliztion, time, sexuality and conflict.  What is the relation?

         To start at one point let me quote Philippina prostitutes talking about their professional situation.  From their point of view American men were the ideal customers, very quick, 3-5 minutes each.  Europeans took a little more time, particularly French and Italians, but still acceptable.  The catastrophe were Chinese men.  Put it in, some motion, out again, a little rest, enjoyment, in again, some moves, out again and so on, for half an hour, even an hour. With the pay being per piece, not per hour, they reported escaping when a Chinese male was observed on the horizon, flocking around the Americans.  From a trade union point of view the problem could be solved by renegotiating the tariffs, having time limitations per piece and a number of other strategies which I leave to the reader to work out.

         However, nothing of this changes the age-old tradition of Chinese fucking as reported by Western sailors after field studies in Chinese ports: lasting longer, distributing the climax over time in undulating, sinusoid patterns, with some built-in irregularity, chaos, for fun.  A rhythm more like female sexuality, less peaked, less bounded in time with a clear beginning and a clear end right after the climax.

         In German "der Mensch ist wie/was er isst" expresses the idea of food as carrier of civilization  perfectly. Note the isomorphism between Chinese food and Chinese sex: long lasting, many dishes with the same dishes reappearing, no clear climax, undulating, no clear order.  As opposed to the classical Western meal building up to a climax from light to heavy dishes and wines, finding release in a light desert.   Needless to say American food is not like that.  It is, predictably, simply fast.

         For sure there is a deeper Oriental time concept underneath, often referred to as "cyclical" or "pendular", although spiraling would be better. There is goal-directedness, toward fulfilment.  Correspondingly, the time concept of Occident I is badly captured by the frequently used term "linear". Seven phases can easily be identified in Occident I time: paradise, paradise lost (fall), darkness, awakening, growth, crisis and then apocalypsis or catharsis (paradise regained).  The prominence of biblical time in the religions of the kita'b is obvious.  Talk about "linear" time captures at best only phase 5; today basic in what passes for economic theory (not reality) in Occident I.  One little point in passing: crisis is just as much a part of Occident I as growth, precisely in the Chinese sense of danger and opportunity.

         Translation to Occident I male sexuality is easy. There is the sated post coitam male, falling out of that state of bliss relatively quickly, roaming around vaguely dissatisfied, to be awakened/aroused. From that point on, literally speaking, growth, build-up to climax.  However, then comes the crisis, the crisis, known to every male there ever was, at least in Occident I: what next, the catharsis of orgasm or the apocalypsis of impotence, be it before or during the entry into the female receptacle of those exercises; particularly toward the end of coitus, with paradise in sight?  Will I make it? Dramatic, to say the least!

         A drama repeated zillions of times.  The Leitmotif is male vulnerability; facing the woman, physiologically ready for sex almost any time.  She can make sex business, he not, except as passive gay.  To control sex he monopolizes sexual initative. But then he should at least perform, zweimal der Woche!

         From this angle the Chinese approach can be seen as an anti-apocalyptic/impotence strategy.  Make it last, enjoyment all the time, maybe not la petite mort, but so what?  No nervousness, no speeding to get the answer to the "will I make it" question.  No thrill derived from the specter of impotence since the moment of ejaculation becomes less important. But again, so what?         

         Being, as the saying goes, a lesbian man, loving only women, with some knowledge, not much, of female sexuality; possibly more than directly available to non-lesbian women.  Generally speaking women are more similar to Chinese than to Occidental males; a good reason for Occidental females to take Chinese lovers, not having to whisper or shout through the nights, "not so quick, dear - -".  Of course, Occidental time cosmology may be imitated, pretended or superimposed. But basically female sexuality is wholistic, unbounded in time, deep, multi-peaked.

         Enters Hindu, or more precisely Tantric Hindu sexuality, so vividly depicted in famous places in India, and in the paintings upstairs in the Potola, in Lhasa, Tibet.  Man and Woman, often sitting, very, very close, face to face, he inside her, deep, deep, with training even through the cervix and into the uterus. And then, what happens?  No movement. Union is not sought tbrough the effort to synchronize male and female orgasms, probably more meaningful in the Chinese than in the Occidental model. The Union simply is; there is a oneness of the bodies, supposedly spreading to the mind and the spirit. The American may ask, where is the action!  The action is spiritual, and the spirit needs time. The body is the helper; working its way through the mind.

         Philippina prostitute comment: nothing short of catastrophic.

         By now an effort has been made to describe six types of sexuality: male and female, and then Occidental, Chinese and Tantric. The thesis is that both in the Chinese and Tantric versions male and female sexuality can become not only similar but identical; moreover, that Occidental female sexuality, in general certainly not Tantric, is more similar to the Chinese.      This isolates the male in Occident I and puts them, or us, in a less than flattering light.  One aspect is the inattention to female time, more than bad enough, to be developed below.  Another is the suffering he causes to himself, or rather the joy he forsakes, through the process of racing toward the answer.  And a third aspect is what this means in terms of his behavior in general, outside the sexual encounters, if we now assume that der Mensch ist nicht nur wie er isst, sondern auch wie er f----   In other words, the basic thesis of this essay is that sex is one of the ways through which we learn about time, and that time cosmology is one of the factors influencing how we live our sexuality and the rest of our lives.  Rather trivial, how could it be otherwise?  We engage in sex a couple of thousand times through our lives, not quite so often as we engage in food, but probably more intensely. In so doing we absorb, deep down in us, three points about time, about kairos, not merely about khronos:

[1] that time can be asymmetric, irreversible, or be symmetric;

[2] that time can have a clear beginning/end, or be unbounded;

[3] that time can be linear/dramatic, or spiralling/relaxed.

The first horns of the dilemmas are seen as more typical of the Occidental male, the second as typical of female and Chinese-Tantric sexuality. Of course, reality is less clear-cut.

         Starting with the first point above: there is something obvious about it.  Male sexuality, as usually practised in the Occident, makes beginning and end sharply different.  Inserting a hard and relatively dry penis is different from extracting a limp and wet one.  But the real test of the arrow of time is whether the process can be run backwards, and most would probably agree that even the most talented Indian yogi would have some difficulties scooping up the semen from the vagina, sucking it back to where it came from, neatly separated in its ingredients, ending by extracting that hard and dry penis.

         However, in no way does this mean that the male is condemned to abide by the arrow of time from here to eternity. Detach the ejaculation from sexuality, or distribute both ejaculation and orgasm more evenly over time, in smaller portions, and the end starts looking more like the beginnning, and both of them more like the middle, like a piece of Gregorian, Chinese or Indian music. Male sexuality practised this way could be run backwards, and the experience would be approximately the same.  In other words, time would lose it arrowness, become reversible, meaning that we might be able to experience it both ways at the same time, meaning more richly.  Or, which may come to about the same, we may experience time as aufgehoben, as a standstill, time as timeless, no doing, no having, no becoming, just being. Tantric.

         In saying this the extrapolation to female sexuality should not be taken lightly.  But I take the risk of assuming a higher level of reversibility than for the proverbial Occidental male, keeping in mind that female sexuality can also be shaped culturally into patterns reminiscent of standard male patterns.          Two lovers meet, in any civilization: they have both been looking forward, feeling forward, to the encounter, deep in their selves.  There is no indication of much gender and culture difference here.  But later on, downstream the river of time: maybe females of all cultures have a richer and more lasting digestion of the feelings accumulated in their bodies, possibly combining with the many and complex rhythms of the female body tied to ovulation and menstruation, gestation and birthing, lactation. In short, male sexual time is more bounded, female sexual time more unbounded. The male is easily aroused, any prostitute and many others know how to do it, and easily satisfied; especially when living on single-peaked, hard, time.

         At this point many may feel called upon to rescue this much maligned Occidental male. However, there is worse to come; this is only the prelude. But first two small remarks.

         Thus, there is no assumption of perfect correlation between gender and type of sexuality, or country and type of sexuality.  What has been described are ideal types in the Weberian sense, not correlation tables.  Cross-gender, cross-civilizational research on sexuality is certainly called for; obviously it cannot be done by researchers from only one of these six types.      Moreover, there is no assumption of any diachronic, linear causality from pattern of sexuality to patterns of politics in the fields of, say, conflict, war and peace; development and environment.  That would be too occidental.  The epistemology here is more synchronic, seeing sexuality as member of a family of isomorphic manifestations of the same code. The hypothesis; der Mensch f---- wie er isst is obvious, but not apodictic.

         To repeat, there is no assumption of causality in a linear, mechanistic sense.  But I do assume that sexuality, like food, is habit-forming and that the patterns acquired sediment into the individual and collective subconscious. Human beings are capable, subconsciously, subliminally of pattern recognition, perhaps as opposed to computers that are much better at serial operations.  A sexual pattern richly endowed with time cosmology is sedimented and added to experiences acquired from other carriers; not only food but also the organization of matter and symbols in habitats, in art and science, sport and leisure etc. If the messages are in the same direction, meaning that all patterns acquired from the carriers are isomorphic, then the conclusion seems clear: people act accordingly, even without knowing why.

         Having said this, what type of behavior would be isomorphic to occidental male 000behavior, using knowledge of one member of the family of occidental Erscheinungen to draw some conclusions about some of the others; knowing that many occidental males today are both orientalizing and femalizing (not the same as womanizing)?

         First, Occidental male sexuality is institutionalized, even internalized inconsideration, egocentrism, egoism; by imposing male time on female time, or simply by giving a damn, enacting male time cosmology with no concern for what happens on the other end.  Do that a couple of thousand times and it hardly fails to sediment as a pattern deeper down in the crevices of the mind; unknown and ignored, irretrievable by the spirit. The male may derive some comfort from females treating him the same way, going for separate rather than joint pleasure, thereby training females in the same autistic patterns and reinforcing the males.

         Second, in conflict, would such males not speed up toward a crisis, well knowing it may all go very wrong, rather than slowly distribute whatever energy there is, as constructively as possible, over a longer time span?  And would they not be trained in seeing crisis merely as "a part of the game", as unavoidable; life is like that?  Of course to be overcome, but then precisely through male prowess; like in a lovely little war?

         Third, in development, would such males not speed up growth, toward crisis, hoping for a soft landing, but avoiding female, softly spiraling, satisfaction-dissatisfaction development?

         Fourth, in environment, would we not expect males treating females that way to be insensitive to nature's rhythms and needs?

         More particularly, the isomorphism makes Occident I male sexuality and war each other's metaphor, as can easily be illustrated using that orgastic exercise, the Gulf war, as an example.  Peace is not Paradise; Paradise is to win, to have conquered, not the woman, but the fear that sex could go wrong. The woman is only the stage on, or in, which this drama is enacted. But having won once is not enough. There is still the risk of impotence, of agonizing defeats, like a ViêtNam war, even the syndrome this was the last fuck and it failed.  So kick it! But real tests need real enemies, and if reality is insufficient for a real test of prowess, the enemy, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, can at least be made out to be ten feet tall in media propaganda.

         So, of course the young pilots, the studs, watched their porno on board the aircraft carriers before jumping into the cockpits (interesting term).  And of course they released their phallus-shaped bombs, smart (another interesting term) enough to find the holes in the bunker, to penetrate, not only once but even twice in the same hole; gang-rape in other words.  Sowing the seeds of death.  And Mutla Ridge was the final stage on which this drama of kicking the impotence was enacted, not smart, no holes, more like Onan at work; spreading B52 death all over.  All of this at the time of His choosing, monopolizing the initiative again after that singular August 2 1990 reversal of initiative.

         Of course that was entirely unacceptable, not only because Hussein was stepping on that jugular oil vein, but also because he took initiative. In short, he simply did not understand that initiative belongs to Man = West, if not it may go all wrong. Needless to say, Islam being as much a part of the Occident as the West, Saddam Hussein probably shares this idea entirely.

         Conclusion 1: hang on frightened occidental males, so afraid of failing the test, this sign: Dangerous.  Handle With Care.  But don't give up on him; he is not necessarily a lost case. There could still be much to learn.  For instance from women, and from non-occidentals. The task of liberating men is difficult, perhaps particularly men growing up in de-feminized protestant West, Christianity being problematic enough if not in addition deprived of the mild, gentle, if not exactly sexy, Maria.

         Conclusion 2: "Achilles and the Tortoise".  Like for "David and Goliath", I feel some pity for arrogant Achilles and Goliath, doomed to fail.  The metaphors bring up "Man and Woman" as well as "Occident and Orient".  Both Woman and Orient are now on the ascendant after centuries of suppression by Man and Occident. They demand parity, not the superiority feared by Man/Occident. Can Occcident I, individualistic/competitive, accommodate that?

Appendix:  Excerpts from Ravi Kumar, Tantra Asana

-Power can be activated and transmuted into a conscious reality by the practice of Tantra Asana.  Correct application is most important, for only when the body is perfectly attuned, can it experience and sustain the full intensity of this Cosmic State. Rather than subdue, Tantra teaches us to realize and harness the potential of the senses.  Sexual instincts, an all-pervading urge is the physical basis of Creation, and also of Man's evolution.  -Sex is the Cosmic Union from which every thing and every being arises.  Its importance demands its fulfilment.  The psychic counterpart of this bodily intimacy is a fusion of minds. If no effort is made to induce orgasm by genital friction, then the sexual interpenetration creates a psychic interchange. The union itself is a great liberation and it is this which becomes Cosmic Awareness, not the physical act of sexual intercourse- - -

-Sexual union is one of the Tantric ways for man and woman to direct all of the mind's functions towards 'One-pointedness'. This union, because of its high intensity, can fuse their consciousness with that of the Cosmos. As the Kundalini rises, bodies lose their physical function, and the minds of the participants merge into a state where the worshipper and the worshipped become One. They dissolve their being into the Absolute, rejoicing in their knowledge of their Oneness. The retention of sexual energy- -transmutes the sex forces into a potency so tremendous that the psychic current is liberated. Individual identity is lost in open intuitive contact. At this moment body and soul become One, as physical pleasure is transformed into the subtle inexpressible Joy of Liberation.