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Swinging both ways 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Swinging both ways
You know those news headlines that grace the beginnings of chapters in books like SIASL, IFWNE? Like, "A hermaphrodite entered and won the men's and women's marathons in the Pittsburgh Olympic games"?

Sounds like RAH, more like real life: http://www.timescolonist.com/health/Sou ... story.html


Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:31 am
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
It would have been a good headline for one of the chapter starts in <i>Stranger</i>.


Fri Sep 11, 2009 4:47 pm
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
I'm continually amazed by the apparent need of the vast majority of people to see both race and gender as simple ways to easily pigeon-hole people. I went to a lecture decades ago at Rice University that talked about the complexity of gender in world cultures. In the lecture they told us that, in Muslim countries, there are entire courts convened to decide the gender of ambiguous individuals, because it is so critically important in those cultures to definitively determine whether someone is male or female. In searching online now I can't find any corroboration of that, but I clearly remember that part of the lecture.

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Last edited by DanHenderson on Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:08 am
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
DanHenderson wrote:
I'm continually amazed by the apparent need of the vast majority of people to see both race and gender as simple ways to easily pigeon-hole people.

Race is trivial at most in categorizing an individual's characteristics - it boils down to a few medical issues associated more commonly with one race or another.

Natal culture is probably far more important. A person of almost any racial heritage would be very different for being raised in any one of the world's hundreds of cultures. And I think you can make generalized statements about an individual raised in a particular culture - statements which may be wrong for that individual, but would be true across any matching sample of significant size.

Gender - as much as some would like to maintain a stance that gender is an unfair way to categorize, there are significant differences between male and female humans and to ignore them is to invoke folly. Look at the vast differences between male and female athletes; were we to remove the division in most world-class sports (track and field, swimming, tennis, most team sports) women would simply disappear from the record books. There are only a handful of sports where women excel; I think that, head to head, women would clean up on all gymnastics performances other than those involving extreme strength (rings come to mind).

I think that men and women are different on a cognitive level as well - which is not to say either is superior, but the evidence is that outside of a zone of commonality, men and women do not think the same way. So there is a place for differentiation between genders - most sports being one of them.

(I think that poor individual from South Africa is going to prove out to have masculine genes despite her exterior plumbing; it is unfair to permit her to compete with biological women because she has a man's build, musculature, endurance and stamina. S/he is not likely to be competitive in the men's field, however. It's a cruel, cruel trick of nature but I don't see any solution that is fair to the sport. Ditto for athletes using technological substitutes for legs - there is no way to make their mass reduction and technologically assisted rebound fair against normally-abled competitors.)

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Mon Sep 14, 2009 4:45 pm
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
JamesGifford wrote:
Race is trivial at most in categorizing an individual's characteristics...

Race doesn't even seem to be a valid scientific concept at all; it's a purely social construct. I read that the San bushmen in southern Africa have more genetic diversity than is to be found in all the people who work in the UN complex in New York.

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Gender - as much as some would like to maintain a stance that gender is an unfair way to categorize, there are significant differences between male and female humans and to ignore them is to invoke folly.

Oh, of course. But with this statement you're sort of making my point. Who is Male and who is Female? There are too many factors, both biological and cultural, to make simple categorizations with any precision for a surprisingly nontrivial fraction of the species. Using binary language regarding the gender of humans is fundamentally misleading.

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I think that men and women are different on a cognitive level as well...

One of my grad school professors (Nancy Goldberger, Fielding Graduate Institute) co-wrote one of the more highly respected books on the subject, Women's Ways of Knowing. I also love Rob Becker's one-man show Defending the Caveman, a hilarious look at this very issue from the male perspective. I'm glad I got to see it three times with Rob himself doing it before he retired and left it to others.

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(I think that poor individual from South Africa is going to prove out to have masculine genes despite her exterior plumbing

You didn't see the news report? Caster Semenya has no ovaries or uterus and she does have undescended testicles.

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Mon Sep 14, 2009 9:07 pm
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
DanHenderson wrote:
Race doesn't even seem to be a valid scientific concept at all; it's a purely social construct.


It's not all social. I can look at photos of Isaac Hayes and Elvis Presley and make pretty accurate judgements about their racial backgrounds without knowing anything about the society they grew up in. Likewise Charley Rangel and Ted Kennedy, or Kim Jong Il and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And social constructs don't wholly explain why a top Kenyan runner, on average, beats a top American runner of Western European heritage at marathon distances.

As James points out, the genetic differences are small, but they are there, and they contribute greatly to race, whatever that is. Eminem and Vanilla Ice aren't black, despite whatever social constructs they have built for themselves.


Tue Sep 15, 2009 7:29 am
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
BillMullins wrote:
I can look at photos of Isaac Hayes and Elvis Presley and make pretty accurate judgements about their racial backgrounds without knowing anything about the society they grew up in. Likewise Charley Rangel and Ted Kennedy, or Kim Jong Il and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

How about Michael Jackson as an adult? Or Barack Obama? Or Essie Mae Washington (Strom Thurmond's daughter)? What about Sally Hemmings and her children?:
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According to Jefferson's records, Sally Hemings had four surviving children. Beverly (b. 1798), a carpenter and fiddler, was allowed to leave the plantation in late 1821 or early 1822 and, according to his brother, passed into white society in Washington, D.C. Harriet (b. 1801), a spinner in Jefferson's textile shop, also left Monticello in 1821 or 1822, probably with her brother, and passed for white. Madison Hemings (1805-1878), a carpenter and joiner, was given his freedom in Jefferson's will; he resettled in southern Ohio in 1836, where he worked at his trade and had a farm. Eston Hemings (1808-c1853), also a carpenter, moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in the 1830s; there he was a well-known professional musician before moving about 1852 to Wisconsin, where he changed his name (to Eston Jefferson) along with his racial identity. Both Madison and Eston Hemings made known their belief that they were sons of Thomas Jefferson.

What fraction of white blood does a mixed-race person have to have before they're considered white?

How about Amos & Andy on the radio? If you can hear them but not see them, what degree of language markers identifies someone as definitively black? (Amos & Andy were 100% white.)

BillMullins wrote:
And social constructs don't wholly explain why a top Kenyan runner, on average, beats a top American runner of Western European heritage at marathon distances.

No, but race doesn't explain it either. "Kenyan" isn't a race. And not even a substantial fraction of people from Kenya can do it, let alone black people in toto.

BillMullins wrote:
As James points out, the genetic differences are small, but they are there, and they contribute greatly to race, whatever that is.

And as I mentioned earlier, there is a tribe in Africa who are all black (they share the same race) who have comparatively huge genetic differences among them. So if genetic differences are important at all, you have to limit it to a very small set of particular genes. But which ones? Only the ones that control the amount of melanin in the skin? What race is an albino with the negroid characteristics of full lips, a broad nose and tightly curled hair? Are redheads an identifiably different race? Some people treat them as such (Google around for the insults cast at "gingers" or even some of Heinlein's comments about redheads). Persians and Arabs consider themselves different races. Can you tell them apart on sight?

BillMullins wrote:
Eminem and Vanilla Ice aren't black, despite whatever social constructs they have built for themselves.

Individuals cannot build their own social constructs in this context; the social construct is built by the culture. Because of our social constructs, we agree that Eminem and Vanilla Ice aren't black. But here we are at skin color again.

Forgive my obstinacy on this subject; it's born of a single semester of Cultural Anthropology in college, which I found fascinating in many respects, and it was Heinlein who sparked my interest in it. Here's an excerpt from the Web site in the link in the previous sentence:
Quote:
There is nothing absolute or real about social constructions in the same way as there is something absolute and real about rocks, rivers, mountains, and in general the objects examined by physics. For example, the existence of a mountain is not contingent on collective acceptance, imposition, or agreement. A mountain will exist regardless of people thinking, agreeing or accepting that it does exist. Unlike a mountain, the existence of race requires that people collectively agree and accept that it does exist. [emphasis theirs] Franz Boas, a physicist by training, supports this view of race best in his work Race, Language, and Culture where he observes that there is nothing biologically real about race. There is nothing that we have identified as race that exists apart from our collective agreement, acceptance, and imposition of its existence.

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Tue Sep 15, 2009 9:12 am
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
Dan, I think you're bending over backwards to make a claim that race is of no consequence in human affairs.

Certainly it is not a primary indicator of ability, intelligence, limitation, or potential - which is the extreme to which racial classification has been taken in history, both modern and ancient. "Those people are differerent, therefore they must be _____" is a universal POV extending back to the earliest scratchings of historical record. (The blank is almost always something negative - but only almost. But then, look at tribal names - self cognomens are always "us, the real people" while second parties are always "them strange barbarians.")

Certainly racial classification can be arbitrary and slippery. Sally Hemings was at least 50% Caucasian, since Jefferson's father-in-law was her father. The other examples you cite are equally elusive - but in the end, the composite racial history can be determined and does have an influence on the individual's history from a genetic viewpoint.

But to say that race has no consequence for individuals and somehow doesn't exist is carrying the argument too far. You're confusing an idealized position with a de facto and not unfactual one.


Tue Sep 15, 2009 9:23 am
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
JamesGifford wrote:
Dan, I think you're bending over backwards to make a claim that race is of no consequence in human affairs.

If that's what has come across, then I have *seriously* miscommunicated! Race has enormous consequence in human affairs. That's intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer. :D All I'm claiming is that the only sciences that can study it are the social sciences, not biology or physiology.
JamesGifford wrote:
...the composite racial history can be determined and does have an influence on the individual's history from a genetic viewpoint.

I'm afraid I'm not understanding what you're saying here. Of course genes make a large contribution to the life experience of an individual. But which genes control race? I claim there's no definitive answer to that question.
JamesGifford wrote:
But to say that race has no consequence for individuals and somehow doesn't exist is carrying the argument too far.

And, again, that's not what I'm saying at all. Race does exist and has enormous consequences... as a purely social construct. We decide based on social rules alone who is Like Us and who is Other.

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Tue Sep 15, 2009 9:47 am
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Post Re: Swinging both ways
JamesGifford wrote:
Sally Hemings was at least 50% Caucasian, since Jefferson's father-in-law was her father.

But when people met her, did they think to themselves, "She's at least 50% Caucasian"? I'll bet not.

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Tue Sep 15, 2009 9:54 am
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