The Brick Wall of Washing Machines

People probably make too much fuss about defining biological sex in terms of its organic components. The term “chromosomes” gets thrown about, maybe because it is commonly used in basic biology education and is consequently a bit more accessible than “gametes,” although gametes are in fact the heart of the matter. Several different chromosomal combinations exist in humans (as abnormalities) besides XX and XY, but gametes come in only two forms – sperm and ova, the component factors of sexual reproduction.

But why does sexual reproduction itself exist, and by extension, why do the two sexes themselves? It is not a given across all species. Quite a few species of plants and some unicellular organisms practise autogamous fertilisation, effectively a slightly modified form of cloning in which the variants of sex are applied to an otherwise identical genetic template. Others, like the New Mexico whiptail, are parthenogenic, meaning that females can produce more females (clones) with no fertilisation at all. Most often this manifests as a “fail safe,” in species such as the Komodo monitor, for environments with a shortage of males. Obligate parthenogens are rare. When it happens, it tends to be the result of an unusually torpid environment combined with some kind of recent fuck-up. In the case of the obligately parthenogenic New Mexico whiptail: it lives primarily in the desert and owes its existence to cross-breeding between two parent lizard species which cannot produce viable males. If its environment changes too much, it is fucked: cloning and autogamy place a hard limit on gene recombination, and therefore adaptation, which is why the latter really only exists in plants and invertebrates, and the dominant presentation of the former is as a “failure mode” in otherwise sexually reproducing species. It is only “practical” in species with extraordinarily high reproductive potential, short gestation periods, sedate or undemanding environments, low metabolic needs, or high mutation rates.

Given this, it is not hard to see where males and females came from. Think of The Sexes™ as a strategy of gene propagation, and then secondary sex differences, in morphology and psychology, as strategies which reflect the different selective pressures the sexes were subjected to and/or subjected each other to (dimorphism). Viewed through this lens, females represent the “default” strategy which began with the oldest organisms (e.g. asexual bacteria): the “incubators,” reproducing through cloning and self-fertilisation, whereas males, the “fertilisers,” are a comparatively recent innovation. The degree of “sex-differentiation load” that falls upon males varies by species according to the aforestated variables in selection. Since females are, as is often noted, the gatekeepers of reproduction, the selection pressures that act primarily on females tend to be similar across species and relate, directly or obliquely, to their ability to bear offspring. For males, the story revolves around the conditions of access to females, which is why the male sex “morph” (form) differentiates itself from the female in completely different ways across species.

Sometimes male and female are barely distinguishable from one another. This is the case for many monogamous avians, whose environments, for whatever reason, do not lend themselves to significant sexual differentiation, which reduces female choosiness, which limits dimorphism: it is a negative feedback system. Other birds, like the crested auklet, engage in a kind of mutually eliminative sexual selection, whereby each sex vets the other for organically expensive sexual ornaments for reasons that are not well understood. In elephant seals, the degree of sex differentiation, just in size, borders on the absurd, although their (relative to humans) feeble brains mean that the possible scope of behavioural differentiation is not all that striking most of the time. Exactly where humans “fit” on these continua of male sex differentiation is something of a relative judgement call, but we are obviously not auklets or crows.

Sexual dimorphism and monomorphism have special behavioural correlates, most of which are obvious. Monomorphic species tend to be monogamous with fairly equal parental investment in offspring and low variance in male reproductive success. Dimorphics tend towards, well, the opposite of those traits. Humans also have a lengthier post-reproductive schedule than most animals, largely because of how long it takes the human brain to develop, which probably limits sex differentiation in e.g. aggression compared with some species that practise effective polygyny, and different normative mating systems between human societies will also affect it notwithstanding other forces such as judicially enforced genetic pacification. There is also considerable variation in these “life history traits” through time: from a time when “childhood” was seldom acknowledged as its own entity and children were expected to be responsible, to the point of execution, for criminal wrongdoing from an extremely young age, to … whatever you would call the situation we have now. Certain kinds of change may be inevitable, in this respect. Other things are remarkably changeless even in the face of new environments.

Human sexual dimorphism is an example of this changelessness. If aliens were to observe the human sexes 100 years ago and now, they would note stability in a range of male and female responses to exogenous stimuli, and note the differences in underlying strategy. Males are the strategy of high risk, aggression, dominance, status-seeking, agency and systems orientation; females are the strategy of low risk, passive aggression, emotional dominance, comfort-seeking, agency by proxy, and social orientation. (A great example of the agency/agency by proxy distinction can be seen in sex-specific antisocial behaviours such as psychopathy in males and Briquet’s syndrome in females.) They would note that human females are the limiting factor in reproduction, but human males are the limiting factor in just about everything else (obligatory Paglia quote about living in grass huts, etc). Intelligence is probably not a sexually selected trait in humans, or at least, there is little good evidence for it, and sex differences in intelligence per se are trivial. The sex difference is in application. Human brain complexity and its antecedents mean that the domain of activities germane to preserving one’s genetic line are rather more elaborate than normal, and since females are the “selector” sex, those tasks, and selection for assiduous task-doing, are upon the males.

There is no real sense in which human beings can “escape” natural selection, because natural selection is the reason behind everything that we are, including the desire (of some) to “overcome” natural selection, whatever that means. However, natural selection has also given us moral instincts and reasoning abilities which, combined with the technologies born mostly of male ingenuity, could allow us to divert evolutionary selection pressures in a way that could never happen without our technology. The crapshoot of genetic recombination, by the lights of human morality, is just that: a crapshoot. At some point, artificial gametogenesis could allow humans to become effective hermaphrodites, even if we still have the old equipment. CRISPR, and eventually full genome synthesis, could render natural recombination processes obsolete, and therefore sexual reproduction itself obsolete. Childhood will increasingly resemble adulthood as we produce children of extremely superior intelligence, and thus, reduce the need for high investment. Male breadwinning social roles will run into a brick wall of automation, or perhaps cloning of the 99.999th percentile most workaholic and intelligent workers. Female homemaking roles will (or have?) run into a brick wall of washing machines. As technology outpaces our obsolescent biological hardware, one seriously has to wonder: how much of the human intersexual dynamic, i.e. behavioural sexual dimorphism, is worth preserving? Maybe we could do with being more like the monomorphic crows.

Alternatively, perhaps one imagines a world of nearly infinite morphological freedom where individuals can modify their own physiology and psychology with ease, unconstrained by sex, like character profiles in an RPG, and where sex and gender, insomuch as they exist, amount to little more than fashion. One may dream.

Unrealistic Adaptations

Of all the mental shortcuts embedded in human languages which impede understanding of mindless processes (such as natural selection), few are more obnoxious than “because.” From this comes a tendency to anthropomorphise, and read all outcomes in nature as if they were ordained by something approximating an “intention.” Religion has to be an adaptation, because the religious (currently) outbreed the irreligious.” The second clause in that sentence is (currently) correct, but the “because” makes it sound as though the current religious selection advantage represents some “design feature” with the desired (by what?) end of promoting reproductive fitness (adaptation). And fitness is where the matter rests. Contrast with the following sentence:

“Under current conditions in which the religious outbreed the irreligious, religion is adaptive.” This statement is of course tautologous, since to say that a trait or behaviour is adaptive means merely that under condition X it gives one a reproductive edge. The term “adaptation,” though, is often applied to traits or behaviours which are selectively neutral or even counter-adaptive in particular environments. Genes which contribute to an overzealous appetite may be fitness-neutral to a subsistence farmer but become obesogenic in the modern world of easily available food. The genes’ carrier still exercises this “adaptation,” but it is no longer adaptive, reproductively useful, except in an environment full of fat-fetishists.

Human society has changed so dramatically in the last two centuries that it would be hasty to say the least to assume that everything with a current selective disadvantage is an “illness” (due to pathogens, mutational load, or whatever). Just as equally, one cannot assume that something with a current advantage exists having evolved by resolving an adaptive problem. Religion was ubiquitous across cultures before the 20th century, yet now the religious fraction represent an ever tinier percentage of the population in many countries, and it remains to be seen just how tiny the “genetic hard core of religiosity” will get before the trend is reversed. If the presence of religion were explicable in terms of fitness benefit, why are the genes not already more widespread? This alone should be enough to tell you that genes (and thus, adaptation) per se had little to do with religion’s evolution.

But apparently this is not obvious to some. Many people are inclined to view adaptations as intricate mechanisms, which by dint of their intricacy are delicate and susceptible to dysfunction, rather like the springs and levers of a pocket-watch. All analogies are imperfect, but this is a useless one. Some traits, and indeed behaviours, are more prone to changing by exogenous insults than others. For instance, a particularly naive person might imagine that in a pandemic of severe endometriosis, whereby female beauty and youth cease to be predictive as indicators of fertility, males would be disincentivised from their sexual attraction to these traits because the attraction would no longer perform its original “functions.” Needless to say, this would not happen. Male callogamy (“attention to beauty”) has proven so reliably fitness-enhancing over the eons, since even before the human species, that it is extraordinarily resilient to any incentive change: selection will always favour a deterministic developmental pathway for such consistently valuable traits. General intelligence is yet another example: the current dysgenic trend is a product of the last few generations and on the order of ~1 point per generation despite ramping up of mutational load globally (we’ll see how long it can last), and almost no non-genetic factors seem capable of depressing its expression to any appreciable degree. Lead looked plausible at some point, but then you remember that Victorians liked to use mercury in their make-up, and yet the 19th century was the most intellectually productive in human history.

Viewed under this light, the “religion as adaptation” thesis looks all the more dubious. Evolutionary forces – selection, mutation, drift, etc – are just as capable of acting on general intelligence and other psychological traits as anything else, hence the well-documented evolved changes in the European peoples since around AD1000: declines in violence, and probably gains in intelligence, culminating ultimately in the zenith of the 19th century. Evolution can indeed happen fast, but not that fast. The bulk of these changes took place over a period of, at minimum, 20 generations, not 2-3, and our intelligence has more or less survived the last 2-3 generations intact. Religion has not. It has none of the hallmarks of an adaptation, but all the hallmarks of a complex socially learned behaviour, maintained by powerful norm-enforcers and epistemic authorities, which has lost currency in recent decades for a variety of reasons, the most commonsense explanation being that it no longer appeals to the educated because the answers it gives are inferior to those of other epistemic authorities, i.e. scientists.

The human capacity for cultural transmission through language makes a nonsense of the notion that anything which is not adaptive, even across all environments, should be impossible to sustain. The most obvious example in Christian cultures is the vow of celibacy, and there are numerous others such as taboos against eating highly nutrient-dense foods, which persist among the undernourished tribes of Papua New Guinea. So too with the European wars of religion, which resulted in millions of young men dying childless in their haste to protect a non-existent natural resource, i.e. God’s favour.

Group selection is another temptation when formulating theories about the origin of religion – the idea that even a behaviour which reduces fitness at the individual level can persist if it provides some advantage at the level of the social group. It is a neat idea, but clearly unworkable in practice. Suppose some cohort of one’s country likes spreading the word of God through warfare – call this behaviour X. They can seize new territory in God’s name and provide new land for others in their group who are not quite so zealous, and this may look like a “success” to the people who reap those rewards, but at the end of the day: the behaviour is still going to diminish because everyone who engages in it is at a massively elevated risk of dying before reproduction. Evolution does not care about states or dominions.

It is understandable why post hoc stories about religion as adaptation are popular, even among well-informed people. Intelligence is not a good predictor of having sensible views where political matters are concerned, since politics is about group loyalty more than anything else. This is why the number of US Democrats who thought immigration was an important social issue declined precipitously in the 2010s when it became the issue “of” the right; what mattered was showing solidarity against rival political coalitions (i.e. the right) rather than the truth. Adaptive stories about religion seem to appeal an awful lot to European traditionalist-nationalists who are hoping to use Christianity as the conduit for some kind of renewed ethnocentrism to uplift the European spirit. The Chinese do not seem to need it, oddly enough. Nor even the Czechs, much closer to home. It did not work for Rome, and it sure as fuck won’t for us.

The Age of Orangutans

There is much talk of incentivising fecundity. It did not work for Imperator Augustus, nor will it for us, for a simple reason: kids are a pain in the arse. And land grants for chavs are probably not the best idea; need I explain why? One must differentiate based on intelligence or education level (a proxy for the former) to avoid pouring money into the sewer, and since no earthly government has the balls for that, we can forget it.

Alternatively, technology promises that which the Romans could scarcely have dreamt of. The demographic “problem” is not low fertility. Only in light of mass migration, which need not be, is low average fertility bad, and selection pressure will deal with that regardless. The problem is that the cognitive elite are infertile. Conversely, would the African population explosion be worrisome if the children all had IQs upwards of 180?

Even if you adhere to an ethical system such as libertarianism and so place all emphasis on freedom from coercion, there is a lot to be said for a state-enforced rewriting of human genetics, perhaps even a global one – setting aside the practicalities thereof. If the rewrite is imposed on all, well, there goes the problem of an inherited continuity of stupid. I am sympathetic to a lot of anti-paternalist intuitions where paternalism is liable to exacerbate a problem or make no odds, but it does make odds when one contemplates a future of regression to the mental acuity of orangutans. There will be no liberty then, nor indeed anything worth speaking of (assuming people could still speak). The desire for paternalism often arises from the knowledge that most people have poor reasoning abilities, but that need not always be, thanks to forthcoming technological interventions, too numerous to list. True, this may not be coming soon. What was that about caring for the long-term?

As per, pessimism is sensible. In the zeroth approximation, bet on China. Beyond that, don’t bother. This is where we are at.

Yangster’s Paradise

“That’s cool, but he has no chance,” was my initial reaction when a friend of mine sent me a link to a story about a candidate who was running for president on a platform of “universal basic income.” Admittedly, I had never heard of Andrew Yang until just a couple of weeks ago and had pretty much already made up my mind to support Tulsi Gabbard in 2020 (though with Bernie now entering the race, her chances have been greatly diminished.) I must say that I feel a tad guilty for dismissing Yang out of hand, since even a brief glimpse of his campaign reveals Yang to be the smartest, most impressive and dare I say, the most serious candidate in this race.

While the other candidates spout vague, meaningless buzzword driven platitudes about “hate,” “privilege” “Russia” and engage in unproductive political theatrics, Yang offers up detailed policy proposals which actually address the most pressing issues of our time. Andrew Yang’s optimistic and solutions oriented approach provides a stark contrast with the rest of the candidates, whose political identities have largely been reduced to perpetual outrage at everything Trump says and does (even in the cases where Trump has embraced traditionally democratic positions, such as peace with North Korea, fair trade etc.)

Yang wisely has chosen to bypass the culture wars almost entirely and instead is focused on crafting complex solutions to actual problems. Rather than pandering to various “marginalized” identity groups, he looks at the bigger picture and remains committed to ideas which can improve the lives of everyone. The other candidates pay only superficial lip service to the issues we face, to the extent they have even thought about them at all. Yang has delved into the nitty-gritty of policy. I’m not even just talking about his “Universal Basic Income” proposal. Just take a gander at the treasure trove of policies presented on his website. This guy has thought of everything. He actually has a real plan. If even 1/3 of Yang’s ideas were implemented, the USA would be a vastly improved country. No other candidate has given any serious thought to the everyday issues that matter to Americans. Just the fact that Yang is promising to ban robocalls would be reason enough to vote for him. Yang’s American Mall Act would help to revitalize, repurpose and preserve many of these culturally important structures.

I like Yang because he combines social liberalism with forward-thinking, transhumanist friendly ideas and bold economic policies, all without succumbing to seemingly obligatory, anti-white racial grievance politics. While the rest of the candidates fall over each other to signal their open hostility toward white people (or some similarly maligned bogeyman) Yang emerges as a genuinely positive force, armed with concrete proposals and determined to make life better for everyone.

Conventional wisdom states that relatively unknown candidates run for office with the aim of getting publicity for their ideas, to draw attention to certain issues and get people talking about them. We live in unconventional times though, when obscure candidates can be memed into political juggernauts overnight. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke and even David Hogg were complete “nobodies” a year or two ago and now find their influence inflated beyond that of household name politicians who’ve been in office for decades. It may seem like a long shot, but Yang can win. His upbeat, affable persona and substantive campaign have the potential to transcend traditional ideological divides and win over vast swaths of the American public. If even the most disillusioned among us can manage to muster up sufficient enthusiasm for Yang’s candidacy, then imagine what people who actually do things could do for him. Andrew Yang for president, for the win.

Introducing… Jostle Magazine

So, as the enlightened / disillusioned ones transition to a “post-political” era, I’ve created a new site, Jostle, for people willing to ascend into abstract madness. “Jostle” is in the literary vein of a 1990’s underground zine but is stylistically modeled after pop publications like Seventeen and Sassy Magazine. The tagline of Jostle is “creating elbow room,” meaning that it intends to open up space in the ether for people to think about whatever, as there is no room for coherent thought and the transmission of concrete political ideas in the world of everyday people. As I’ve stated before, electoral politics strikes me as a pointless endeavor. If one is going to vote, they’d be better off voting for the candidate that has the cooler looking campaign logo. The vast majority of people who vote have at best a kindergarten level of understanding when it comes to the issues. They might recognize a couple of slogans and be swayed by a few generalized statements. There are very little actual differences between candidates anyway, most of whom merely spout vapid platitudes. I don’t see any mechanism for this to change any time soon. In terms of what could be termed political or ideological interests I’m mostly only focused on transhumanism now. The AltRight has nothing interesting left to offer, nor does the post-AltRight, which is mostly just young people attempting to repackage the early 1990s religious right as something new (because they grew up too late to realize that was the sort of thing people were trying to get away from.) The left has nothing to offer either, but I will probably vote democrat anyway, if the candidate is cute, quirky, funny and supports universal basic income for aging mall creeps and notoriously terrible roommates like me. Identity politics is here to stay, but as traditional identities disappear, new ones will emerge to take their place: vampire, fembot, catgirl, pigman, mystery meat, neo-juggalo, legacy human, floating brain in a jar…etc. It’s an exciting time to be alive and in chronic pain!

Behold! the “ubermensch” of tomorrow

Jostle frequently will delve into the realms of “mindless” pop culture and obscure oddities, partially because those are where my fascinations ultimately lie but also to act as a repellent to “Johnny One-Note” political pests. The subject matter of Jostle acts a neuro-tribalist filter. So if your first instinct when reading it is to mutter “What is this bullshit?” to yourself, you’re probably not on my wavelength. So you can either get on my wavelength or go home. It’s cool.

[Of course I will continue to update if and when a political epiphany pops into my head or I feel like going on some drunken Mel Gibson rant (both of which are virtually guaranteed to happen)]