[W]e must understand that outside the sphere of parliamentarism, as sterile as it is absorbing, there is another field incomparably vaster, in which our destiny is worked out; that beyond these political phantoms, whose forms capture our imagination, there are the phenomena of social economy, which, by their harmony or discord, produce all the good and ill of society. … Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.
—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century
Here’s a story from last month over at Science Made Easy, featuring a nice diagram which is (misleadingly, in my view) called the
Tree of Sex.
What makes a creature male or a female? If you mentioned the X and the Y chromosomes, you are correct. I mean, you’re correct if you ignore most forms of life on this planet. If you actually take the time to examine the lifestyles of different life forms, many of the basic assumptions about sex differences don’t hold.
I am going to try and explain this to you, using the Tree of Sex. This family tree traces the ancestry of sex in all of its weird and wonderful manifestations. Those Pie charts are coded according to the method of sex, and I will be explaining what each of those colour codes mean below.
— Faz Alam, What can we learn from the Tree of Sex?
Science Made Easy (3 June 2014).
You should read the whole article, because if you’re not familiar with this stuff, it’s pretty interesting from a scientific standpoint.
That said, I think that the main thing that this kind of diagram shows is that really it’s kind of a silly and obsolete bit of cultural detritus that we go on pretending that bees and mayflies and fig trees even have
female sexes that way that humans or turkeys (kind of, somewhat) have
female sexes. They have sexual reproduction, sure, but when it comes to the idea of the
sexes of individual organisms, what we’re talking about across all these different species are basically very different biological phenomena. They’re basically very different in what they arise from, structurally, and they’re also basically very different in how they function. Trying to wrap them up with human categories for sexual dimorphism is at this point kind of like imagining that the
queen of an anthill goes around wearing a little crown and ordering ant commoners to do her bidding.
Biological sex is not a natural kind, it is the projection of a social metaphor, and often it’s kind of a misleading or an unhelpful one.
-  Actually, spoiler alert, biological sex is actually also really complicated in human beings and the binary social categories don’t line up all that perfectly with the diversity of actual human bodies. ↩
Here’s an article from Slate that was recently circulating on social media, in which the feminist author Jillian Keenan argues in favor of legalizing polygamy.
Recently, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council reintroduced a tired refrain: Legalized gay marriage could lead to other legal forms of marriage disaster, such as polygamy. Rick Santorum, Bill O’Reilly, and other social conservatives have made similar claims. It’s hardly a new prediction—we’ve been hearing it for years. Gay marriage is a slippery slope! A gateway drug! If we legalize it, then what’s next? Legalized polygamy?
We can only hope.
— Jillian Keenan, Legalize Polygamy!
Slate 15 April 2013.
Of course polygamy should be legal. Every form of marital relationship among consenting adults ought to be legal. If you advocate for the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, you ought to advocate for the freedom of people to marry as many or as few other people as they want, too. FRC thinks this is a reductio for same-sex marriage rights. Actually, it’s a positive reason for everyone to take a more expansive view of sexual and marital freedom.
Regulating marriage is one of the most ridiculous pretenses that the state engages in. The state’s activity in controlling marriage licenses has its historical basis in nothing other than massively invasive efforts to preserve the hetero-patriarchal social status quo (and, in the past, the racial status quo as well), and something that ought to be rooted out utterly. Where there’s no victim, there’s no crime, and where there’s no crime, there’s no reason for legal intervention. (You might ask,
If there’s no reason for legal intervention here, why is there any reason for legal licensing at all? And of course, the answer is that there isn’t. Marriage licenses ought to be abolished entirely. The only reason that states issue them to some people is so that they can deny them to others. To hell with that.)
We have a tendency to dismiss or marginalize people we don’t understand. We see women in polygamous marriages and assume they are victims. “They grew up in an unhealthy environment,” we say. “They didn’t really choose polygamy; they were just born into it.” Without question, that is sometimes true. But it’s also true of many (too many) monogamous marriages. Plenty of women, polygamous or otherwise, are born into unhealthy environments that they repeat later in life. There’s no difference. All marriages deserve access to the support and resources they need to build happy, healthy lives, regardless of how many partners are involved. Arguments about whether a woman’s consensual sexual and romantic choices are “healthy” should have no bearing on the legal process.
The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us.
— Jillian Keenan, Legalize Polygamy!
Slate 15 April 2013.
Fun fact: So under the current copyright law, almost all books held under copyright by their original authors stay under copyright for the entire life of the author, plus 70 additional years after the death of the author. For works of
corporate authorship, the company that owns the copyright holds it for either 95 years from the date of first publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first. To put that in perspective, Paul Avrich’s books on the Russian Anarchists (published in 1967) Voltairine de Cleyre (published in 1978) will become available in the public domain in 2,076 CE — just over 10 years after the invention of warp drive and First Contact with the Vulcans. But at least we’ll be prepared, because the first episode of Star Trek will have finally come out of monopoly a few years before, in September 2061.
Abolish Intellectual Protectionism.
When I was on grand jury duty we were told again and again that we were not to think about the consequences. When people asked what the possible punishment could be – because they clearly did not think the person should go to prison – the prosecutors would refuse to answer. When people had questions about the legality of searches, the prosecutors would tell us that the defense attorney would worry about that. When people asked questions about the flimsy evidence, the prosecutors told them that those matters would get settled at trial – knowing full well the case would never go to trial.
On my better days I tried to focus on just how hard the system works to keep us compartmentalized. Without compartmentalization, the whole system would fail. As obedient as the people in that grand jury room were, had they had the opportunity to determine the actual consequences, I believe many of them would have refused to send people to prison. And I say that knowing that they were almost completely unaware of what happens in those places.
Our lives are entirely compartmentalized. We are pressured to limit our thinking all the time. We study in silos of academic disciplines. We work in factories or offices where we have little idea where our tasks fit into the whole. We draw lines through our work and personal lives so that the filth we do to earn a living might not dirty the rest of our lives. We allow ourselves to be cogs in oppression machines.
We have to stop compartmentalizing. We have to stop taking the easy road of choosing to follow orders because resisting is hard. It isn’t o.k. to just go along.
— BroadSnark, The Compartmentalization of Injustice (9 May 2014)
You really should read the whole thing.