Among the many privileges of men, we can mention using the instinct as justifiable reason to some behaviors. But what if this is not instinct? What happens when a social norm is so ingrained in the collective mind that it is easily taken as part of the nature of a man? This is the “Instinct Fallacy”—and here is some more about how it works.
Case A: A male colleague, mid-20s, explaining why he cheated on his girlfriend: “So we were at the club, I had a few drinks, the ‘girl-from the-office-that-happened-to-be-there’ started to look my way, then invited me to dance. You know, one thing led to another and I had no choice. Instinct kicked in.”
I asked if they got naked and just “did it like they do it on the Discovery Channel” right there on the dance floor. He faced me, unsure if I was serious or not, and said that obviously not, they hush-talked where the other colleagues could not see and decided to go to a hotel nearby where the act was consummated. Each with their own car, of course, to prevent any chances of other people connecting the dots.
Case B: Late 50s man, after being arrested for sexually abusing his 9-year-old granddaughter, said he felt “extreme regret” but that she had incited him by “strolling around the house naked and insinuating herself”. In his words, it was instinct, he “did it without thinking”—although the abuse happened several times during eight months and he gave her money after each of the attacks.
Case C: Man finds out that whenever his wife had a manicure appointment, she was actually meeting her lover—her husband’s best friend. When the wife and lover were leaving a motel one day, man closes their path, punches and breaks the car window, grabs her and assaults her. During the whole scene, a friend of said man records the whole scene and uploads it on YouTube. It becomes viral, each post with vicious comments (from men and women alike) about how the “bitch” deserved it.
To set the baseline, there are two core scenarios (not exhaustive) where one can identify the instinct fallacy more frequently:
Mask rational actions as spur-of-the-moment isolated instances – cases A and B
Explain passion-driven behaviors as natural and socially “understandable” – case C
For the first core scenario, it is undeniable that in the vast majority of societies, only men are able to use instinct as a crutch to justify actions that are the fruit of rational decisions. The second core scenario adds complexity to the evaluation because it unavoidably touches the sex-biased social structure, that usually favors or considers men as the standard citizen.
The objective is to be conscious of the gender-bias, as a matter of fact. The instinct fallacy is just one of the ways to translate the unwillingness of men to face the clear uneven reaction society gives to passion-driven behaviors.
A short caveat: although there is a clear religious influence for the “man as standard” social construct, I will steer away from approaching the “religion factor” to avoid further deviation from the main purpose of this article.
As base rule, when a man “explains” himself with the instinct fallacy to his fellow men, he is usually met with conniving smirks, either for identifying themselves with the situation or for fearing peer rejection. Nevertheless, when not calling out the obvious fallacy, we all become silent accessories to the crime.
The external consequences are various and never harmless. For this article, let’s zero in on the main victims of the actions justified by the instinct fallacy: women.
Firstly, by denying our rationality, as other animals we feel no blame or regret of our actions. Since we have no blame, the victim must be at fault. The real perpetrator leaves unscathed without punishment, not even from his own conscience. Added to the number of sexist prejudices that permeate the social norm, this becomes an almost inescapable outcome that even if the man is guilty, the woman usually also is, at least an instigator.
Secondly, the direst factor is that the instinct fallacy escalates supported by two factors: expanding is an inherent characteristic of a lie and escalation is the natural outcome of impunity. In Cicero’s words: “When the habit of wrong-doing is left unchecked, he himself cannot set limit to his shamelessness.”
Summing up, the instinct fallacy is one of our utmost privileges as men. It not only protects us from the consequences of wrong acts, it also enables us to perpetuate the same posture.
To address the root cause, it requires not going against the instinct, but to act against our comfort and social norm. We should actively deny the privilege brought forth by the instinct fallacy and call it out when it is used—be it by ourselves or others. This is one of the ways that we can fight against the comfortable shackles of privilege.