Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Evolution, gay marriage, and categories

#1There are predetermined categories, and things in this universe break up into them naturally.

#2There is utter chaos, and we humans categorize things in order to make sense of things.

Those are roughly the two views you'll see out there on what is going on when we humans perceive things to be in one category or another. To keep things simple, the former view is the older one and the latter view is the one that has come to dominate academia, which is one of the dominant reasons that people have come to resent intellectuals.

Obviously, old school religion is sticking with #1. God created categories and he creates us to fit into those categories. Period.

And a healthy understanding of evolutionary biology is only possible if you look at it from perspective #2. A lot of people "believe" in evolution but insist on looking at it from the religious point of view, which is where misunderstandings like the ones we discuss below and at Echidne's blog come into play. The notion that large breasts must have evolved to suit male desire is just a pseudo-scientific retelling of the story of Genesis. First there was man and then there was woman, created to please man. If you remember that "man" and "woman" are categories imposed by humans on ourselves to make sense out of the differences and similarities of bodies, then simplistic understandings like that fade away. After all, "man" and "woman" would be the same creature but for hormone distribution, meaning that it's very difficult to get a handle on what a secondary sex characteristic would be "for".

Many conservative arguements boil down to declaring that the definition of a category has meaning and that reality must bend towards it. Two great examples are the arguments against evolution and the arguments against same sex marriage.

Evolution is a tricky one, because so many bullshit arguments have grown up around it. But I think that two views on it can be generalized meaningfully. The pro-evolution view sees life as fluid and interconnected. Humans are another species of animal that has evolved large brains and language capacities. And of course, there is no way to logically conclude that there's a god in this worldview, not really. If you believe, well, it's because you choose to. And that's fine for Christians who understand evolution--that is the definition of faith, no?

I think that a lot of fundies, more than anything, want the old categories back. You know--the hierarchy, in this order--water, earth, plants, animals, man, God. There are two big things that this model gives us that the evolution model doesn't. First of all, humans are not animals, which is a comfort to a lot of people for some reason. And, more importantly, there has to be a God if these categories are set in stone, because someone had to create the categories and decide what goes into them and also to give the distinction between man and animal some meaning. Because humans have so much in common with the category we deem "animal" and a few differences, we take our similiarities and push them on the category "animal" and take our differences (speech, thought) and create a separate category "God" and view our category as a hybrid category. In order for us not to be animals, there has to be a god.

Institutions are a perfect example of how humans create categories and impose them on chaos. Marriage is wholly a human invention, a way to make sense out of our sexual behavior and relationships. When someone is arguing that marriage "is" a man and a woman, of course, they are arguing #1--that categories exist and we are molded to them. It's an argument that will give way over time, as most lawyers and judges are well-educated enough to understand that marriage is whatever people say it is.

The irony in all this is that gay marriage proponents have perpetuated the notion that "gay" and "straight" are natural categories with distinct boundaries in order to forward the notion that it's discrimination. And conservatives have been shoved into a mightily unnatural position of actually arguing against a categorical distinction, which is what they are doing when they deny that there is such thing as "gay" people. Their argument is still full of holes. While there are no hard and fast distinctions between gay and straight people, that doesn't mean that the categories should be discarded. There's no hard and fast distinctions between married and single people, either, but we still recognize those general categories because they have a function. One function of the categories gay and straight is to understand how one category receives privileges the other does not and rectify that situation.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings--the things I think of while walking in sunshine! Nothing but cats, music, and bad, bad dating advice for the rest of the day, I'm sure.

40 Comments:

Blogger Elkins said...

Excellent points, Amanda.

This may be one of the reasons that I prefer to approach the subject of civil marriage from the perspective of gender discrimination than from that of "preference" discrimination. No matter what one thinks of sex and gender, that binary distinction *is* currently written into our legal codes. People are defined by the law as one sex or the other. Distinction by 'preference' is not given nearly so much weight in our civil code, and while that can sometimes hurt GBLT people when it comes to discrimination, I'm not sure if I think that it wouldn't hurt everyone even *more* for that distinction to become too firmly enshrined.

11/20/2004

 
Blogger B.D. said...

Excellent points. We still have a society that draws distinctions based on race as well, even though there is no logical reason for having done so in the first place. The same is true for gays and straights. It's interesting from a scientific standpoint, but from a social standpoint there is no reason to make the distinction, except for discrimination.

I firmly support a separation of church and state. The government should not enforce social structures, but rather let the citizens decide how to form those structures themselves, then develop policy to assist people in living. As far as marriage is concerned, a majority of people seem to want it, so government supports that option. The problems comes into play when we equate civil marriage with religious marriage.

Hence, I think we need to separate the two and make government support civil unions for everyone and let religions decide how they want to marry people. Sure, it's semantics, but that's what has gotten us in trouble in the first place.

This way, "fundies" (love the term) can have their marriages in their churches as only straight male-female. While other religions can have gay marriages as well as straight ones. In fact, some religious folks support gay marriages, which is to say that the fundies (why do I think of fondue when I type that) want to impose their religious beliefs on to other religions and discriminate against them. Hence, another problem with mixing church and state.

11/20/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there's a third option. The universe was not created but there are patterns in it and we humans try to identify these patterns, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Option 2 assumes that all of the patterns we identify are purely illusion since chaos, by definition, means a lack of order, but our ability to survive is really based on their reality. It's how we know that jumping off a cliff will hurt, eating poison is bad for you, and the sun will come back without having to sacrifice any of our scant supply of virgins. Of course, sometimes the patterns we think we see really are illusions. Things don't really shrink as they get farther away, the Earth isn't flat, and the Pope isn't infallible. Science is just identifying possible patterns and then testing them over and over to see if they're real or not. Religion denies that it can be tested (at it's core) so it can never be validated. I think you're really on to something with the idea that starting with the assumption that order was imposed on the universe from above distorts the thinking of many fundamentalists.
My theory of breasts (what a great title for a paper) and men's attraction to them is really almost 180 degrees out from the idea that they evolved as they did to attract men. I think they evolved to feed babies and men evolved to be attracted to mates who could feed babies. That's why very small breasts are often seen as less attractive. Some see them as inadequate to the task. And, as you note, breast implants do as much or more to make the breasts look firm (i.e. young and ready to feed younguns) as they do to make them look big. I think the attraction for very large breasts is mostly psychological (conflating big with good), which explains why some men like 'em and some don't. (But I'll admit the possibility that such a psychological preference could have added some evolutionary pressure toward bigger breasts as well; a sort of positive feedback loop of boobs.) I'm afraid that this is a theory that will require much more testing to validate.
Mojo

11/22/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

There's no evidence to suggest that bigger breasts feed babies more, so no, they wouldn't be selected. The most obvious thing about human female breasts is not that they are larger than other apes--they are not necessarily--but that there is a greater diversity.

When I say "chaos", I don't mean that you can't make accurate predictions. It's just that there aren't patterns as we understand them without people to witness them.

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