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Saturday, March 04, 2006

"Our Inner Ape"

Yesterday, I went to a lecture given by the renowned and highly influential primatologist, Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape. Among other things, he argued that most of the study of the evolution of behavior has focused on antagonistic interactions, promoting the idea that evolution favors competition, aggression, violence and dominance. But, there's a whole range of behaviors that have been ignored because of this, including "cooperation, reconciliation" and altruism. He is right, of course, that those types of behaviors have received less attention, but I just assumed this was partly because the people who study those behaviors tend to assign human attributes to their subjects and the rest of us have trouble taking it seriously. So, when de Waal talked about cognition in capuchin monkeys, the anthropologists all creamed their panties, while the ethologists just rolled their eyes. I, personally, think there are huge problems with giving animals human characteristics in the context of research. In other contexts, though there's a 50/50 chance that it'll be just as annoying...but it's alright on rare occasions.

The reverse is even more frustrating: analyzing human behavior based on what we know of animals, which was one of the main points of this lecture and his recent book (linked above). I tend to have a visceral reaction when people say things like "humans are supposed to be (fill in the blank) because (insert generic primates) are that way." Behavior is hugely diverse, even among our closest related primates, for one thing. And, I think, human behavior is even more diverse and accounting for all of the social/ economic/ political/ genetic/ emotional factors that contribute to making us individual seems too impractical and impossible to even try.

However, under certain circumstances, I am willing to concede that there are things we can learn about ourselves from animals. De Waal told a story about a chimpanzee, Yeroen, who was displaced from his alpha position. Later, Yeroen teamed up with a second male, Nikkie, and together they took the leadership back. Yeroen helped Nikkie maintain the position, and in return, Nikkie let Yeroen reap the benefits of holding a high position (insert video of Yeroen getting it on with a female, while Nikkie sat by and watched...yes he watched). In an effort to argue for our inner ape, de Waal dared to make the comparison between the Yeroen/ Nikkie relationship:

to another more familiar King/ Kingmaker relationship:

and I must say, he's definitely got a point here. I can see the resemblance now. Maybe I'll have to rethink this whole anthropomorphism thing...maybe.



Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If looking like Paris Hilton is your goal...

...you might be a bad feminist. (Apologies for the bad Foxworthy reference.) By owning a pair a playboy bunny panties, you might be a female-male chauvinist pig...if you're female that is. If you are male and own panties...that's called something else. Ariel Levy writes:

Women had come so far, I learnt, that we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the frat party of pop culture where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If male chauvinist pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we would beat them at their own game and be female chauvinist pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavoured to banish good for women? Why is labouring to look like Paris Hilton empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star - a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place - going to render us sexually liberated?

Time out. Too much imagery. Who the hell wants to look like Paris Hilton? I always felt sorry for her because she had the misfortune of looking like herself...slightly amphibian, but with too-close-together eyes. If we are going to lend ourselves to objectification, I think we raise the bar a little higher than that. Ok, time in:

If we believed that we were sexy and funny and competent and smart, we would not need to be like strippers or like men or like anyone other than our own specific, individual selves. That won't be easy, but the rewards would be the very things female chauvinist pigs want so badly, the things women deserve: freedom and power.

Oh, believe me, I agree wholeheartedly. But the problem is not that there aren't other options available. It's just that no one takes them. I think most women (excluding co-eds with IQs moderately equal to their bust size) would agree that they don't need to adhere to the status quo to feel sexy or sexually liberated. The problem is finding partners who agree with them. All the cool kids stick with the chauvinist "sexy means looking airbrushed" tactic.

That said, I think there is a major cultural attempt to disguise rampant sexual objectification as feminist liberation. Ladies, if you want to go to the male-target strip clubs, or if you like to kiss other girls, that is completely your business and more feminist power to you. But if you do these things just for approval, get your goddamn head out of your nipple tassels and realize that the joke is on you... ... ... and you are a bad feminist... ...



Monday, February 27, 2006

A Step in the Quadrupedal Direction?

I'm a little behind in my extra-curricular science reading, so this is about a week old, but it's still bizarre:

An editor of a noted scientific journal says he has discovered a genetic defect that seems to set back the clock on human evolution by more than a million years.

Its victims walk on all fours and mouth a primitive language, the scientist reported. He added that the syndrome may literally undo eons of evolution, and thus reflect with some accuracy what our ape-like ancestors were like.

The researcher, Uner Tan of Cukurova University Medical School in Adana, Turkey, has posted an online video clip of an affected woman walking on all fours, her face blurred.

So, I hate to display my ignorance because there is really so little of it. But has anyone ever heard of World Science? It looks like a science tabloid site.

But I guess if the anti-Evilutionist crowd believes the Discovery Institute, why wouldn't they believe World Science? Think about it, ID-ers: the story really explains a lot. From The Huge Entity:

'Backward' humans: "...were not aware of time and space. For instance, they did not know where they live (which country, which village, which city)." - link

Bush comparison: "Wow! Brazil is big."

"But we've got a big border in Texas, with Mexico, obviously - and we've got a big border with Canada - Arizona is affected." - link

...

'Backward' humans: "...were mentally retarded..." - link

Bush comparison: "I understand small business growth. I was one."

"I know that the human being and the fish can coexist peacefully."

Commenting on the name of a reporter's son: "Can you imagine if my name had been Mungo Bush?" - link

I'm still holding off on the celebration until we finally locate the mutation that makes people watch Bill O'Reilly.


How Do You Dispose of 6400 Tons of Mustard Agent?

Well, if you're the U.S. Army, you burn it:

Incineration is the only method being considered for destroying more than 6,400 tons of mustard agent at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TCDF) according to a senior executive for the U.S. Army at TCDF.
...
[The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah] would prefer that the Army use a neutralization method to destroy the agents. "Neutralization is a safe, proven method for destruction of mustard agents. Its low temperatures prevent the formation of dioxins, and heavy metals like mercury can be segregated from the waste stream and not released into the air," reads the press release.

Neutralization was used by the Army to destroy a mustard agent stockpile in Aberdeen, MD.

Read the rest at the Tooele Transcript Bulletin Online [Link]. Even to the casual observer (and I'm among them) this is a reprehensible plan. Chemical neutralization, i.e. converting the chemical weapon into a more disposable form, is the safe alternative. If the Army goes along with the current plan, they might as well dump a few tons of mercury into the Great Salt Lake for good measure.