In Plato’s dialogue “Symposium,” Aristophanes delivers a humorous speech that provides a mythical origin of sexual attraction. Aristophanes explains the romantic seeking for our complement in someone else, for our so-called soul mate, by imagining that humans were once physically very different: each member of an earlier form of our species had two heads, four arms, and four legs. As in the biblical Tower of Babel story, these creatures tried to storm heaven, and so the gods punished them, not by fragmenting their language, but by splitting each prehuman in two, condemning each of us now to long for reunion with our other half.
Indeed, human sexual attraction is ripe for such satire, partly because of sexuality’s conflict with the modern ideology of individualism. On the one hand, there’s a natural heterosexual instinct, which causes most men and women to bond hormonally with a member of the opposite sex. The differences between the sexes are psychological as well as biological: notoriously, men and women think differently, thanks to our different hormones and evolutionary social roles; moreover, these gendered thought pattern are often opposed to each other. For example, while some female politicians, such as Margaret Thatcher, are just as capable of masculine vices as male ones, women are often noted for their disinclination to fall into the same traps as men when exercising political power. While testosterone-filled, often sociopathic men aggressively compete for selfish advantage in a power hierarchy, estrogen-filled, baby-bonded women use their greater capacity for empathy to cooperate with their opponents to reach political compromises. The point, though, is that most men and women, who are psychologically at odds with each other, are naturally compelled to be yoked with such opponents, to live together as we fulfill our biological “function” of raising a family and preserving our genes after our death.
On the other hand, modern men and women are beholden to the values of individualism, believing we’re each sovereign agents with rights of ownership over our private property, including our own bodies. This ideology is a secularized form of Western monotheism, substituting the rational, technoscientifically creative human for the divine Creator of the universe. Modernists believe that our intelligence, freedom, and consciousness dignify us, giving us intrinsic value and inalienable rights. This atomistic view of human nature glorifies the ego, the self-conscious, logical, and pragmatic side of ourselves that was so instrumental in the Scientific Revolution and that’s celebrated in capitalistic democracies. According to the commonplace selective reading of Adam Smith’s idea of the invisible hand, for example, social Darwinian capitalism is supposed to unleash the unintended altruistic consequences of the practically necessary vice of egoism (selfishness). The legitimacy of this ideology has come into question in our so-called postmodern period, due to hyper-skepticism, feminism, the hollowness of utopian rationalism, and the familiar oligarchic reality of individualistic societies. Nevertheless, the myths of secular individualism are the most influential replacements for those of anachronistic theism. (See Modernism and Postmodernism.)