The Gift Of Maleness Part 4:


In order to fully embrace the gift of maleness, we need to continue our journey to “know thyself.” This is an ancient injunction goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks or even earlier. It is most widely associated with Socrates who embraced the idea and said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” at his own trial for “impiety.”  Socrates recognized that knowing ourselves and speaking our truth went together. I’ve been working on a new book called The Gift of Maleness and continuing my own journey to examine the roots of maleness so I can more fully embrace what it means to be a good man in today’s world.

In previous articles I explored our 1-billion-year history as males, our reptilian heritage, and what we can learn from the dinosaurs. Now, I want to turn our attention to our mammalian roots. When the earth was hit by a giant meteor and possibly a series of massive volcanoes, the dinosaurs and a great deal of other life was extinguished 65 million years ago. This opened the world to an explosion of mammalian life including lemurs, tarsiers, monkeys, rodents, bats, whales, horses, and many more. Who is your favorite male mammal?

With mammals we evolved complex emotions. In their book, The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions, Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven offer the following thoughts in their first chapter, Ancestral Passion. “This book takes us on an archaeological dig deep into the recesses of the mammalian brain, to the ancestral sources of our emotional minds.”

Based on Jaak Panksepp’s lifelong study demonstrating that humans are part of the animal kingdom, he describes seven the primary-process emotional systems that are part of our mammalian heritage. A stickler for language, he capitalized the systems so they wouldn’t be confused with how we think about these words in common human language: SEEKING, LUST, CARE, RAGE, FEAR, PANIC, and PLAY. Let’s look more deeply at each.


The SEEKING system gets a mammal moving. It encourages foraging, exploring, investigating, curiosity, and expectancy. “Paradoxically,” says Panksepp, “it operates independent of what it might actually find, ‘a goad without a fixed goal.’ It’s like radar that never turns off, or a party guest who keeps scanning the room while holding a conversation, or a web surfer who finds a right-priced pair of Air Jordan 11 Retro shoes on Amazon, but keeps looking.” Panksepp notes that the Internet is the perfect metaphor for the SEEKING system–Endless, endless seeking.”

“When fully aroused, SEEKING fills the mind with interest and motivates organisms to effortlessly search for the things they need, crave, and desire. In humans, this system generates and sustains curiosity from the mundane to our highest intellectual pursuits,” Panksepp concludes.


When the SEEKING system is thwarted RAGE is aroused. Anger is provoked by curtailing an animals’ freedom of action. We have come to see rage in negative terms and associate it with male violence, but it’s a natural part of every mammal’s behavior and has the positive purpose of keeping the animal alive and able to seek and find what he needs. It invigorates aggressive behaviors when animals are irritated or restrained, and also helps animals defend themselves by arousing FEAR in their opponents.

“RAGE helps us defend our lives and our resources,” says Panksepp. “RAGE is not only activated when we are attacked and need to defend ourselves, but also in situations of frustration, when access to expected reward is thwarted, including territorial conflicts.” Certainly, our rage and anger need to be channeled so we can live well with others, but we can never eliminate it.


Lust is driven by the desire for sexual satisfaction. This system energizes us to want to “get it on.” The evolutionary basis for LUST as based on our need to reproduce, a need shared among all living things. Through reproduction, organisms pass on their genes, and thus contribute to the perpetuation of their species. Both males and females lust for sex (otherwise we wouldn’t be here), but different experiences, different hormones, and different brain neurochemistry, create different patterns in males and females.

The hypothalamus of the brain plays an important role in the LUST system, stimulating the production of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen from the testes and ovaries. While these chemicals are often stereotyped as being “male” and “female,” respectively, both play a role in men and women. As it turns out, testosterone increases libido in just about everyone, but since males have a lot more testosterone than females, male lust is more demanding and less discriminating.


The CARE or nurturance system insures that babies are cared for. Where reptiles often laid their eggs and moved on, mammals care for their young to be sure they survive. CARE is the basis for what later becomes love in human beings. Brain evolution has provided safeguards to assure that parents, usually the mother, take care of offspring. Some of the chemistries of sexuality, for instance oxytocin, have been evolutionarily redeployed to mediate maternal care, nurturance and social bonding, suggesting there is an intimate evolutionary relationship between female sexual rewards and maternal motivations. Male mammals can nurture their children, but the drive isn’t as strong as it is in females.


Mammals need parental care in order to survive. When a mammal loses connection with the nurturing parent, they are in danger of losing their lives. The PANIC system energizes the mammal to do everything it can to reconnect with the parent. “Young socially dependent animals have powerful emotional systems to solicit nurturance,” says Panksepp. “They exhibit intense crying when lost, alerting caretakers to attend to their offspring.”

In humans panic attacks can be triggered by any threat of losing a needed loved one. Even as adults we feel dependent on our mates for nurture and support. In males, the jealousy and rage we see is often related to the panic a man feels at possibility of losing his source of nurture and care.


When we think of our human feelings we often associate panic and fear. But in Panksepp’s research on the mammalian brain he has demonstrated that FEAR is a separate system. “The evolved FEAR circuit helps to unconditionally protect animals from pain and destruction,” says Panksepp. “FEAR leads animals to flee, whereas much weaker stimulation elicits a freezing response. Humans stimulated in these same brain regions report being engulfed by an intense free-floating anxiety that appears to have no environmental cause.


The PLAY system is present in all mammals. This is one of the key aspects of Panksepp’s research. He worked with rats and not only showed that they play, but found that it is consistently accompanied by positive, intense social joy, signaled in the rats by making abundant high frequency chirping sounds, resembling laughter.

When animals are deprived of play, they look normal and they eat normally, they’re just not as socially sophisticated. “Animals deprived of play are more liable to get into a serious fight,” says Panksepp. “Play teaches them what they can do to other animals and still remain within the zone of positive relationships.” For males rough and tumble play is part of our heritage. Male mammals love to run, chase, pounce, wrestle, and play fight. Human males are no exception. Boys who grow up without a father often have difficulty with play and are more likely to respond with anger and rage in social situations.

These 7 systems work together and form the basis of our emotional lives that gear all mammals to survive and thrive. When I think of these 7 Systems, I’m reminded of Carl Sanburg’s poem, Wilderness, which begins: There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

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This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.