Now I must decide whether this is a girly sort of hat, so I should make something blue and perhaps Viking-ish for the boy twin, or if it is a boy-type hat, so I should go with a pink lacy thing for the girl, or if it is a neutral hat, and I can make another neutral-type hat and not start stereotyping the little darlings while they are still tiny.
I was surprised to learn from Dawkins that there are hundreds of species that don’t bother to have any males. And there are apparently a bunch of books, all written by men, discussing whether, from a biological standpoint, males are worthwhile or not.
This discussion followed a discussion on race. Now, I am sure that you know that the concept of race is a Victorian one, completely outdated in the social sciences and without any foundation in the natural sciences. But, as Dawkins, points out, we humans are still able to determine race quite easily, even though it doesn’t exist.
Human beings have almost no genetic diversity — we are all so similar to one another, compared with other species, that it is apparent that there was some kind of Noah-like situation in our relatively recent history when our population must have gotten very small and resulted in severe inbreeding. The differences among what we speak of as “races” (those of us who do) are so slight as to be biologically unimportant. In the U.S., where there is a high level of intermarriage, the whole idea of classifying people by race is laughable.
But, Dawkins points out, the few differences that there are among different “races” of people are all highly visible. Most of us can look at a headshot of an individual, even in America, and make a stab at guessing their ethnic background.
Dawkins uses Colin Powell as his example. I am influenced in this by the fact that both my husband (not an American) and my children have frequently been subject to wrong guesses about their ethnicity. I think that this supports Dawkins’s later point, though, by the sheer fact that people continue to guess, and indeed, when there are forms to be filled out, to argue over it.
I am not making this up. I have stood there in the office where you get vaccinations, arguing with the clerk who wants to write down that my child is Hispanic. There is no shame in being Hispanic, but there is also no point in writing down that a child is Hispanic when he isn’t. The same child also had an argument on the schoolbus in kindergarten when the bigger kids were telling him he was Native American.
“I’m an Indian,” he said when he got home and told us about this, “because I have bright brown skin.” We had to explain that he couldn’t be an Indian if no one else in the family was.
But I digress.
In physical anthropology class, we learned that visible differences among human populations were a response to environment. Northern people developed pale skin so they could get more vitamin D from the sun. People in windy places developed eye shapes that provided some protection from wind. Apparently this is not supported by the evidence. We have no important responses to environment. The only differences we have are the ones that allow us to discriminate.
We are in this like grasshoppers (yes, Dawkins has gotten around to insects) who can tell their own in-group from the outgroup by the pitch of their stridulations. Grasshoppers use this information to avoid mating with the outgroup.
Dawkins implies that having some visible distinctions in facial features allowed our ancestors to avoid inadvertent reproduction with people who might turn out to be at war with us or something. Since humans, unlike most other creatures, have a really long bringing-up relationship with offspring, it might even be good to avoid inadvertent reproduction with people who don’t share our language and culture, and might be inclined to wander off with their hunter-gatherers and the kids just when our agricultural society needed us for the harvest.
Obviously, the very idea of inadvertent reproduction presumes a very early human.
And so we are left with just enough differences to allow us to discriminate against one another pointlessly, now that inadvertent reproduction is hardly an issue.