Tuesday, June 28, 2016

You and Me or Aedes?

In his 2012 book, Merchants of Despair, Robert Zubrin traces the antihumanism movement, beginning with Malthus, who claimed that population grows exponentially while productivity grows arithmetically; on to eugenics; on to the Nazi Holocaust.  These movements advocated getting rid of excess people.  Malthus urged, “We should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases and those benevolent but much mistaken men who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders.”  The eugenics movement sterilized the surplus population;  the Nazis killed them.  Zubrin then explores antihumanism’s modern incarnations, population control and radical environmentalism.
The current incarnation of antihumanism, the school of thought that the balance of nature must be preserved at the expense of human beings, is alive and well. The June 2016 Smithsonian Magazine has an article detailing how genetic engineering techniques could bring the Aedes aegypti mosquito to near or complete extinction.  Since more than a million people die every year from diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever, and Zika virus, transmitted by these bugs, it would seem like a no-brainer to get rid of them. Not so fast say those who value the balance of nature over human flourishing.  From the comments to the article:
Vera Gottlieb says: “As pesky as these critters may be, they are part of the chain of life on this planet.  We are all interconnected and we should NOT upset this balance.  We have already messed up enough.”  Does Gottlieb believe that respect for the interdependent web of life takes priority over respect for human beings?
DV says, “Kill all the mosquitoes and we wipe out the bats, frogs, and numerous bird species.  If we don’t, Mother Earth will come up with some other way to quell the human infection.”  Human INFECTION?  Are human beings no better than Zika virus?
The most outrageous of the commenters, Patturk, says, “Eliminate the diseases and instead contribute to an even greater population explosion of humans, leading to more wars over dwindling resources such as fresh water and  more humans killing each other.  Hmm, death by mosquito or by war.  When will we learn that nature knows best?  Why is so much effort put into curing death?  Or, more humans living longer, crowding out other species until all that’s left are people, sheep, pigs, and cows.  Great idea.”
Is it a better idea to let millions of human beings die of preventable diseases?  Shades of Malthus, the original antihumanist, who likewise recommended not treating diseases.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sexual Dimorphism Denial

The UUWorld Summer 2016 “Families” page suggests that leaving gender specific pronouns out of our speech will ensure fair treatment for all genders. According to the article, girls and boys would not be limited by their gender in such a culture.
Let’s examine a historical example of this thesis.   The Chinese language does not have gender specific pronouns – “he” and “she” translate as “zee.”   Nevertheless, for a thousand years in China, girls were subjected to the cruel and crippling practice of foot binding.  Deliberate disabling is limiting, to say the least. Foot binding was outlawed for the first time in 1912, but continued in the remote provinces.  There are a few surviving elderly women with bound feet, although the last store selling “lotus” shoes closed in 1999.
Due to Western influence, written Chinese began to distinguish pronoun gender in 1917  even as the foot binding custom was decreasing.  It seems gender specific pronouns are not linked to gender-based oppression.
Politically correct or not, a few plants and most animals, including humans, come in male and female, a phenomenon called sexual dimorphism, the technical term for gender binary. The female provides quality gametes; the male provides a quantity of gametes.  The reshuffling of traits at fertilization helps the organism adapt to changing environments.  For instance, bananas, which reproduce asexually, were predicted in 2003 to become extinct in ten years.   https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17723784-800-going-bananas/
Animals have sex; people have sex and gender – the feeling of being masculine or feminine.  Usually sex and gender coincide, but if they don’t, individuals like Ben (trans boy featured in “Families”)  should be treated with kindness and fairness.  Nobody should be forced into doing something because “boys don’t” or “girls have to.”
Many years ago I met a young person whose sex I could not determine.  I felt disconcerted at first.  How should I relate to this person?  Then I realized since I wasn’t dating this person what did it matter?  Maybe at some future time when everyone can be bisexual and attraction depends on the personality of their date, physical sex won’t matter except to get sperm and egg together.
Pronouns are irrelevant, but denial of sexual dimorphism by not using “he” or “she” is as unscientific as climate change denial.