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Social evolution can proceed if it causes the genes (and memes) that carry its seeds to replicate better than the competition

Did you know that the biological definition of the “female” of a species is the one which produces relatively few nutrient-rich, low-mobility gametes (sex cells), and the “male” is the one which produces abundant, highly mobile but fragile ones? In human meiosis, the process by which a stem cell divides into gametes, each with only a half set of chromosomes, only one of the ova daughter cells survives of the four, and contains a disproportionate quantity of resources. All four male gametes normally survive in the production of sperm. The way eggs and sperm carry the genetic material of the parent is pretty much identical, except that the egg always carries an X chromosome, and the sperm may carry either X or Y, and which determines the chromosomal sex of the offspring.

In some species, sex switches depending on need. I don’t mean gender roles or behaviors, I mean the ability to produce a different kind of sex cell. Since we are used to thinking of male and female as genetically determined because we know about X and Y-chromosomes in humans, that seems strange, but in those species, sex changes occur if there aren’t enough of one or the other kind of gamete for fertilization to occur (the male gamete finds and fuses with the nutrient-rich female gamete). The fact that this dimorphism is so common across species means it has been successful in many environments too.

Another strategy that is common and therefore must work well in certain conditions is hermaphrodism, where one organism can produce both eggs and sperm, but cross-fertilization is still preferable for the variety of offspring characteristics that result. Variety being a kind of insurance that sets of genes will confer fitness in a variety of conditions. Many plants are hermaphroditic, as are earthworms, ensuring their ability to produce offspring even without contact with the gametes of a different organism, and to combine gametes of any other individual, without any “opposite sex.”

I started thinking about these things when reading a blog I came across which featured a seemingly endless series of posts, back and forth about gender roles, the usual interesting, controversial, socially and culturally constructed viewpoints debated, variously labelled “left,” “conservative,” “moronic,” and so on. There was an utter absence of consideration of biology and biological evolution. All the participants were extremely sharp, sarcastic, opinionated, strong-willed, and funny (except, apparently, for one, who kept being accused of being a troll because he kept posting polite, neutral questions). But all they did was rip apart social norms from previous eras or other societies on the grounds that–this was not spoken but seemed to be implied–they were inherently inferior because we are now enlightened and have a voice and can rise up and right the wrongs… no, that’s not quite it. I think the word that fits perfectly to describe what they objected to was the fact that these norms were primitive. Yes, this is the right word; it means, merely, “closer to the earlier form.” So what our blogger and her commenters were engaged in, in trying to shake off the primitive, was trying to generate evolutionary pressure. Evolutionary pressure often does cause change, a lot or a little, but not always — it can also cause extinction.

If one can use the theory of evolution (change) by natural selection, it should be true that attempts to change social norms only work if new points of view result in higher rates of replication and transmission in the populations in which their views are prevalent, and/or causes other populations with competing (more primitive) views to have a lower reproductive or survival rate. This is both a social (memes) and a biological (genetic) process (social being a subcategory of biological).

Examples of other kinds of social constructs that have been adaptive (read: generating more offspring over the long term and/or out competing other constructs in any given environment): Patriarchical societies where the female steps back to allow a man to go through the door first. Or where man hold the door for women and children. The males getting to sit in the front seats of the car. The idea of the sacredness of virginity. Polygamy, monogamy, matriarchy, monarchy, egalitarianism, infanticide, nuclear families, baptism, literature, mythology, neckties, tattoos, suicide, gender fluidity, and so on. Such traditions result from evolutionary processes such as natural selection, but also a complex mixture of chance, luck, and natural disasters — not all behaviors and social constructs that arise would increase fitness on a level playing field–some are pretty random and persist for random reasons. Evolution doesn’t even lead to anything “superior”–there is no superior in the way we like to think of it–a combination of power over nature, power over inferior races and species, or, as many less “primitive” societies prefer, peace and goodwill, advanced intellect, civilization, and ecological sustainability. Superiority is a relative social idea, while evolutionary fitness, possession of better adaptation, and has to do with replicability under a variety of conditions.

My daughter was commenting today on how strange it was that so many young people seem to think that because gender is a social construct, it must be eradicated. I said that going out to coffee for a chat was also a social construct, so maybe we should eradicate that, too. Social constructs are neutral, as are genetic variations, The proof is in the putting, and we are part of the putters, and can’t get outside the construct in order to objectively judge it. Am I making sense?

Disclaimer: This was an experiment.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2018 in Culture & Society, Ideas

 

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Bowling team member accused of assault and battery

Typical. We all know how bowlers are, don’t we? It just goes to show.

Or,

Surfer Jailed for Drunk and Disorderly Conduct

Lacrosse Players Convicted of Rape

The question I’m trying to raise is why specify sport, except where the perpetrator is a world-renowned athlete, or the crime is directly connected with the sport, as in,

Golfer Clubs Hamster to Death,

Rugby Players Attack Opposing Team, or

Boxer Throws Female Admirer Out of the Ring, Cracking Ribs

Because headline writers count on raising reader interest by playing on stereotypes, so we can feel good about having them confirmed by an independent source.

Here are some real headlines I found, after I got fed one too many radio reports on football players’ crimes. Do these real headlines sound more plausible? Or do you wonder, like I do, what football has to do with the story at all?

High School Football Players Accused of Sexual Assault Make 1rst Court Appearance

Kishawn Tre Holmes & Byron Holt Jr., High School Football Players, Charged In Sexual Assault Case

Steubenville High School Football Players Convicted of Rape are Sentenced

3 Oregon State Football Players Jailed on Counts of 3rd Degree Assault, Disorderly Conduct

Football players are disproportionately represented in such headlines, from what I can tell.

If someone wants to show, with adequate data and good scientific analysis, that being a football player is associated with a predisposition toward violent crime more than any other sport (or along with, say, tennis or curling), they can go ahead and try. But it’s unfair to associate, without explanation, a crime with a sport, as it is with a race or nationality, just for effect. At the very least journalists should consider the feelings of the many upstanding and law-abiding football players (and their relatives and friends) among their readership.

So how about being fair and specifying all sports and leisure pursuits in crime headlines, and see what interesting reactions we can create in readers’ minds?

Diver Smothers Aunt in Fit of Rage

Hurdler Jumps Ship with Smuggled Cocaine

Head of Quilting Association Hijacks Small Aircraft

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Media, Writing

 

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I really don’t know how this came out, but I guess it had to. Is it safe with you?

I have bought the rights to this table and the generic cheer of the barista, for this hour. Weathered and sanded, golden wood table in round, metal-framed windows twice my height face an intersection, drive-thru between. Can’t concentrate on a topic–achievement testing for homeschoolers? Freud’s reality principle? Maybe just a photo gallery post or recipe? Then I am pulled into the music: “Hold me still; bury my heart” I see colors, cars moving, words: “UNITED Furniture Warehouse. BevMo! Big 5 Sporting Goods. Weight Watchers.” Cars on the four-lane in front–vans and mini-SUVs and sedans, earth tones and blue. The boat being pulled toward the launch. The maples and boxwoods lining the drive-thru and along the Wal-Mart parking lot burst with life and still free of wind-blown garbage. Guitar strumming minor chords, “Ohhh…” This one is bow on strings, and I my heart responds at the same time to caffeine, and the entrance into the resounding percussion, full riff of three cords and base line that follows the quiet entry into universal human themes. One of those sure-fire musical formulas for emotional engagement …Can’t…get…taken …in. Sounds like REM, so irresistible. Mental note to look for more music, try to learn some and call up my always-ready-to-jam neighbor friend.

I am two people, if not more. One, she steps back and observes people, society, ideas, and herself–identifying principles, drawing what conclusions she may. The student of life, the note-taker, philosopher, organizer. Filing away notebooks and journals, tagging photos, balancing bottom lines. Out in public, she hopes to drift around anonymously, not see anyone she knows. If she does, perhaps she’ll just make a quiet clicking noise to herself, and pretend not to notice them. As long as she has something to write or read, she’s happy to be alone at her table. Wanting to record, understand, get to the bottom of things and explain. Ideas and truth are the beautiful things. Not tidy conclusions and clear doctrines–wasn’t brought up that way. Deep and insightful things, articulate, intelligent, occasionally witty. At home she gets buried in to do lists and attempts to be a better housekeeper and homeschool organizer, translate ideas into practice. She is easy for me to identify–it’s done by objective observation.

The other one, she’s not so easy to describe–her aura flows along under it all, occasionally comes up dancing, laughing so much she cries, other times keening, or throwing things. Feels for people, falls for people, tired of living behind a veil, ready to brave honesty from others. Lately it seems like she needs more air to breathe, more music for sure. She’s drawn toward morning light, feels fulfilled after working the mixing bowl, has her hands in the soil, stops for bird song, poetry. All the beauty and pain she has ever experienced is still there, resonates in poetry and music, but how is it that so far, no one in her present world really knows her? Fact is, I don’t like her to be known–too embarrassing. But something about her is me, and maybe before I’m much nearer fifty, all the ugly beauty will have to show.

One evening in my twenties I waded into the alfalfa field beside my parents house. Almost dark, clouds boiled up from the earth and now rolling along with the wind currents from the bay. Playing the alfalfa like a piano keyboard on a tilt-a-whirl. Maybe I went there hurt or distraught–I don’t remember, but there was this sense of it not being fair that I couldn’t share the sensations with anyone, as if it was a concert, a great movie or a cheesecake. I could try, like my dad, painter, writer, sharing across a void, but sometimes distant from those nearby. Or I could, like Mom, call, “Come see!” and hope someone really would–come run around, arms up in the wind, and share, really share it all. The hard part was, and is, would anyone see, be able to overlap that sphere of understanding?

Once I started laughing at some funny human incident–I was so tickled I started to gasp, then without warning I burst into tears. Another time I was feeling pain, not even at the bottom of it yet, and I decided, just like that, all done, and swallowed my tears back down. There’s that shift, back and forth, and the gears grind too much, really. That’s all I know for now. So, bring on more music.

 

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