Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching a series of lectures by the psychologist Jordan Petersen, in which he explains the function of the male dominance hierarchy and its relationship to sexual selection. These evolutionary psychology concepts have clear implications for those of us who would like to improve our own success with women, but can be a bit opaque to the lay reader. I’m going to make it more accessible.
Genetic testing of modern humans has led scientists to estimate that historically about 80% of women and only about 40% of men have been able to reproduce successfully. If you’re wondering how the sexes could be so mismatched, it means that every reproductively successful man impregnated two women on average.
A woman can only be impregnated by one man every nine months, at maximum. Whereas one man could theoretically impregnate a thousand women during that same timespan. Since the number of men and women is about equal, this makes female reproductive capacity far more scarce–and thus far more economically valuable–than male reproductive capacity. This means that women are the primary agents of sexual selection.
What that means, in English, is that women are in general a lot more picky about choosing men than men are about choosing women. It also means that as a man, the deck is stacked against you. This means that you are more likely than not to FAIL at having sex with women. That is, unless you can get into that top 40%. Average won’t cut it.
The Dominance Hierarchy
So how do women choose which men are worthy of their scarce vaginas? The answer, curiously, is that men choose themselves. They do this by way of a dominance hierarchy. A dominance hierarchy is a natural, spontaneous ordering of males from most dominant to least dominant. You can envision a dominance hierarchy as similar to a corporate org chart. It is pyramid shaped, with the CEO at the top, the other executives under him, the middle management under them, etc., until you get to the grunt workers at the bottom.
All species of social animals have some form of dominance hierarchy. For some animals, this hierarchy is ordered according to a single factor, such as physical size. This is the case for the elephant seal, for example. A male elephant seal can determine his place on the hierarchy very easily. If he is the largest male, he is the alpha, and he is entitled to all the females. If he is not the largest, then he is a beta male, and is not entitled to mate with the females. If a beta tries to mate with a female, the female will loudly protest, and the beta male risks being physically harmed by the more powerful alpha male. Therefore the beta male elephant seal has an instinctual fear of trying to mate with females, since doing so would put his life in jeopardy.
The human dominance hierarchy is far more complicated than that of the elephant seal, but shares the same basic functioning. Every human male instinctively knows his place in the dominance hierarchy, and our subconscious minds guide our behavior and feelings accordingly in various situations. Approach anxiety, for example, is our instinctive reaction to the prospect of hitting on a girl to whom we are not entitled, given our place in the dominance hierarchy. It is the same as the aversion felt by the beta male elephant seal that keeps him from mating with the females.
Also like the elephant seal, a woman’s interest in mating with a man is determined by his place on the dominance hierarchy. A man who mates with a woman by force is similarly punished by higher ranking men. And in more primitive cultures, even hitting on a woman to whom a man is not entitled is grounds for physical punishment. In modern society, such men get by with the rather minor punishment of being called “creepy” by onlookers and other such displays of social disapproval.
But unlike the elephant seal, the human male dominance hierarchy is quite complex. And one man is likely to be a part of multiple dominance hierarchies at the same time. Some hierarchies are clearly delineated. A CEO is the alpha male in his company’s dominance hierarchy. The Head of State of a country is the alpha male in his country’s political structure.
Other hierarchies are less obvious. A rock star or a movie star may be high in a dominance hierarchy, despite perhaps not having anyone formally working for him. Dominance is determined by a number of factors beyond formal authority. Physical size, strength, wealth, fame, intelligence, attractiveness, creativity, personality, and a variety of other characteristics can factor into a man’s place in a dominance hierarchy.
So how does anybody figure out who is where on such a complicated hierarchy? The answer is that we place ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We each have a deeply ingrained perception of our own status, and we size up other males and compare ourselves to them. We do most of this on a subconscious level.
If you are a typical guy, and you find yourself face to face with a famous rock star, you are instinctively going to judge his place on the dominance hierarchy as higher than yours, and you will act in a way that is deferential to his higher status. Similarly, if you are face to face with a beggar on the street, you will naturally expect him, being of lower status, to defer to you. We defer to those whom we deem higher status than ourselves, because deferring is easier than getting into a fight we are likely to lose, or risking alienation by society as a whole.
Your subconscious mind will make this comparison with just about every other man with whom you interact. Most of the time the comparison will be less obvious to your conscious mind. But your subconscious is extremely observant. It will pick up the tiniest cues from another man’s posture, vocal tone, movement, word choice, body language, etc. to make this determination.
Sometimes it is not immediately clear which man holds the higher position. Let’s say you and another guy both judge yourselves to be higher status than the other. In this case it largely comes down to conviction. If you are more convinced of your higher status, he will pick up on that from your body language, and will reassess your status as higher than his own.
The subconscious minds of women are also very adept at determining men’s place on the male dominance hierarchy. Women are attracted to men who have a high position in the hierarchy. You’ve probably heard a million times that the most attractive characteristic in a man is confidence. This is basically true, but I’m going to be more specific. The most attractive characteristic in a man is his own conception of his high position on the dominance hierarchy. This looks a lot like confidence.
And it shows. Men have been trying to fake confidence (i.e. a high position in the dominance hierarchy) in the presence of women for millennia. This is very difficult to do, because women are very adept at deciphering tiny signals and can instinctively spot fakers. There is a feedback loop between confident body language and actual confidence, however, so consciously learning alpha male body language can still be useful (perhaps I’ll go into this in more detail in a subsequent post).
The importance of our place in the dominance hierarchy leads us to the obvious question: where does our conception of our own position on the dominance hierarchy come from? This where it gets tricky. Our subconscious mind has built our self conception on the accumulation of our entire lifetime’s worth of experiences, including during childhood. A kid who was bullied in school, abused by his parents, or rejected by other kids may well grow up to have a rather negative conception of himself. Even if he becomes rich and good looking, he may still carry this negative self-conception as a relic of his formative experiences.
If you’ve ever seen a tall, handsome, well-dressed guy timidly try to start a conversation with a girl and get coldly rejected (happens all the time), something like this is the issue. And it only compounds itself. Every time he gets rejected, it reinforces his assessment of himself as low on the dominance hierarchy. It’s a very difficult cycle to break.
So is it possible to improve your subconscious conception of your own place in the dominance hierarchy? The answer, thankfully, is yes. Your subconscious generalizes from examples. You need to give it new examples that show that your position has changed and you’ve managed to move up to a higher position on the dominance hierarchy. As luck would have it, I’m going to tell you exactly how you can do this.
Step One: Realize that hitting on girls is not actually dangerous
Before you can start focusing on success with women, you have to get rid of your fear of trying. If you are naturally a beta male, as most men are, you are going to have some anxiety when hitting on girls. You need to accept your fear (which is totally normal), and face it.
Do exactly what you are afraid to do. Go talk to women. The more uncomfortable it makes you, the better. The less alcohol involved, the better. I have a great program to gradually ease you into it, which you can find here.
You will almost certainly get rejected a lot at first. That’s ok. Your purpose in this step is simply to show your subconscious mind that nothing truly bad happens when you hit on girls. If you live in a modern Western society, nobody is going to come chop your head off because you talked to a girl to whom you were not entitled. The more your subconscious sees that there is no real danger, the less anxiety you will have around attractive women.
Step Two: Convince yourself that you are attractive to women