In case you ever need a Cliff’s Notes version of this blog:
Let’s treat people the same regardless of characteristics they have because of the way they were born. That includes sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, socio-economic status, and probably a host of other things.
I am not a fan of generalization across lines of gender or anything listed above. “Women” do not want to get married. Individual human beings want to get married, and many others do not. “Men” are not only interested in sex. “Asian people” aren’t obsessed with achievement, “poor people” aren’t lazy, “gay people” are not slutty, and “mentally-ill people” are not dangerous. Individuals among them are or are not, and sometimes strong societal and cultural factors play into the likelihood of a member of any of these groups pursuing something in particular or displaying a particular trait.
Look, I’m not saying that biology and neuroanatomy and genetics play no part in determining people’s behavior, intention, and desires. However, in a vast number of arenas, we still don’t understand the ways in which they do influence these things, and the degree to which they do. Every day we learn more and can make better hypotheses and theories, but there is still so much about how our brains and bodies work that we don’t understand. Until we understand it much better, it’s dangerous to get reductive and give carte blanche to these things, or, even more so, to evolution.
See, evolutionary biology is reverse-engineering. Can it be incredibly interesting and informative? Yes. Do we know definitively why every trait evolved the way it did? No. Is everything determined by evolution and biology? Heck no. Can we come up with a lot of plausible-sounding but diametrically-opposed reasons for why specific traits evolved or didn’t evolve? Ohhhh yes.
I am actually (fairly) happy to consider that I’m wrong or uninformed (see post about grammar). I know better than anyone how little I really know. But if you want to bring me around to your point of view about something, you’re best off by acknowledging a combination of societal/cultural and biological factors, by not generalizing across populations that only have one feature in common, and by steering clear of speculative evolutionary explanations. I’ll tell you a secret: I consider emotional appeals particularly strong. An example: A male friend said that he thought women should accept chivalry because it made evolutionary sense that a man would want to take care of a woman bearing his child. Plausible? Yes. But his argument became much, much stronger and more convincing to me when he framed it as: “I, as a person, feel good when I can take care of the person I love, and feel bad when that person rebuffs my attempt.”
Much is made of our differences. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, white people are from Jupiter or something (some big old planet for sure), bisexuals are just confused Mercurians who bumped their heads upon landing on the planet. Whatever. What I have learned from fiction, from non-fiction, from friendships and antagonizing relationships and a quarter-century on this planet (Earth, in case you’re wondering), is that the things we have in common massively outweigh and outrank our differences. I think every single person on this planet would have a better time of life if we would all make an effort to acknowledge that a little bit more. And we can start by doing something we already are hardwired (see, I talk about neuroanatomy sometimes too!) to do: tell, listen to, and read stories.
Seriously, how wonderful is that? Forget scrimping and saving and fighting and toiling. We can start to make this world, if it survives the Mayan apocalypse, a place in which we want to live more than the place it is now just by doing something we already like to do. The answer was here all the time. (Hear that line as an Evita song.)
Happy holidays, everyone. I’m very excited to see my family, give my brother a noogie, and hug some old friends. Probably I won’t do much debating with other people about issues of race, gender, and sexuality. But if I do, my holiday wish is that they’ll keep the discussion within the terms listed above, so we can have as productive a dialogue as possible, and so I don’t just get frustrated and throw a fruitcake against a wall.
Happy winter to ALL. Except those in the Southern Hemisphere. I have no sympathy for you beach-going mothercluckers.