Dude and Dude: Choice

Originally posted by O Ceallaigh on the discontinued blog Felloffatruck Publications, 22 January 2007. Reposted here with updated links in support of a retrospective currently ongoing at the Dude & Dude site.

“Dude! Look here!”

“Do I gotta?”

“No. You got a choice. You can choose to have a sulky roommate.”

“Riiight. Call me Hobson, huh? No thanks, I’ll stick with Dude. But ok, what is it this time?”

roe“This sticker. And a whole bunch like ’em. They’s all over the web. All about a woman’s right to choose.”

“What the hell’s that about? Of course a woman’s got a right to choose. If she didn’t, you think I’d be standing around here wasting my time talking to you?!?

“Har de har har, dude. You wouldn’t know what to do with one if she did choose you, the poor chick.”

“Same as you, dude. And you didn’t answer my question.”

What? You, the almighty Answer Dude, the great He-Who-Talks-To-O Ceallaigh, doesn’t know that today’s the 34th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade?”

“The abortion stuff? No wonder, then. O Ceallaigh said his last words on the subject months and months ago. And he’s sticking with them. He ain’t said a word to me about this.”

“Well, his last words sure don’t seem to have stopped anybody else. Must have been real effective. If people cared for each other … What does he take us for?”

“Dopes?”

Hoo! You’re being subtle and indirect today. Why don’t we, anyway?”

“Huh? Care for each other? Like you do for me? That would take care of the population problem faster than you can say weapons of mass destruction. But it’s all about biology. Ever think about acorns?”

Acorns?!? Are you nuts??

“Stop it. You’re cracking me up.”

“Not me, dude. You don’t need no help. You want me to send for the shrink now, or after you finish your story?”

“Empty threat, dude. Shrinks don’t work for what you can pay ’em. So you’re stuck with acorns. Every oak tree makes a ton of ’em, right?”

“I ain’t seen any on a spruce yet, I’ll give you that. So?”

“So how come we ain’t three miles deep in oak trees?”

“Um …. squirrels?”

“Blind pigs. Very good, dude! It’s ’cause something kills damn’ near all the acorns. You think that tree’s got a right to choose?”

“Sure. If it wants to go extinct.”

“So who’s having all the babies?”

“Um … poor people who can’t be sure their kids are going to make it?”

“So they have lots on the chance that some will survive. If they don’t have to pay for them, so much the better. And who’s doing all the pro-choice arguing?”

“That would be … rich people?”

“The ones who are pretty damned sure their kids are going places, so they don’t have to have a lot of ’em. And can afford the technology so’s they can screw without getting screwed.”

“That don’t explain the Pope.”

“The dude who sold out his blog can’t understand the biggest pitchman of all time? If the guy in the mitre weren’t haulin’ in so much dough speakin’ for the poor and tellin’ ’em what to do so he’ll keep speakin’ for ’em, he just might be able to do more about stoppin’ ’em from being poor.”

“Geez, dude. You said it was all about biology. But you’re making it sound like it’s really all about … about …”

“Power?”

“Yeah.”

“That the real issue’s not rights but money, who’s got it, who ain’t, and how are those who ain’t got it gonna get it?”

Yeah!”

“The poor really do understand democracy, y’know. One person, one vote …”

“Riiiight …”

The Dudes should know better than to mess with politics. But, they’re the Dudes. If they did know better, they might be able to get chicks. As some commenters on the post “Dude and Dude: Choice” point out, they managed to get themselves stuck into some heavy stuff this time.

Why? Because, to this amoeba, it seems a no-brainer that a woman should have full choice over what comes into, or goes out of, her body. Yet, it isn’t a no-brainer. Duh. And I wanted to explore what I think are reasons why it isn’t, and why We the People persist in going round and round about this issue without coming to anything more productive than name-throwing and other kinds of power plays. Perhaps it’s because there are layers to the problem that don’t normally show up in the average protest march.

Hence, acorns. You’ll just have to judge for yourself how nuts I am.

The “acorn” story actually is well known to those who study the evolutionary and population biology of species. The story goes something like this; please forgive me for oversimplifications, and for refraining from turning this “key” into a dissertation with the multiple pages of references your college prof would (properly) insist upon.

A long-lived species has X amount of energy to spend on reproduction.  “X” is pretty much a constant.  It can be diminished (obviously), but it can’t easily be increased.

The species can spend this energy on a lot of offspring, but only at the cost of offering those offspring minimal protection from the evils of the world. Or, it can invest energy in offering sufficient protection to the offspring so they have a significantly increased chance of making it to adulthood and (critically important) reproducing themselves. But, only at the cost of having fewer offspring.

The oak tree is a good example of the “lot of offspring” approach. On the other side? Raise your hand. Some people would call the former an example of “r” sexual selection, the latter “K” sexual selection. (There are other names for this sort of thing, and plenty of variations on the main concept. The literature is miles deep. Crede expertum.)

Across life, there is an essentially continuous variation in the balance between “lots of offspring” and “lots of protection”. Even within a species there is variation. Which is a good thing, because it is this variation upon which evolution works. Without it, I wouldn’t be the only amoeba here.

It’s pretty well known that there’s a strong correlation between the prosperity of a human community and its birth rate. In general, the higher the level of wealth, the higher the percentage of children who survive to reproductive age (and themselves reproduce). And the lower the birth rate. The lower the wealth, the lower the survivorship, and the higher the birth rate. Wealth tends to support a “K”-type reproductive strategy, poverty an “r”-type. Same kind of thing happens in other species.

There’s a further wrinkle when the reproductive strategy involves internal fertilization (you can go there yourselves, after class, with the partner of your choice). In the absence of additional factors, such as transferrence of embryos to the male as in seahorses, or social structures that equally distribute parental care burdens, such as in some cichlid fish and in humans (we’ll be coming back here), there is a tension between what works for the male and what works for the female.

The male, being unsure that his contribution to the gene pool is actually getting anywhere, increases his chances of having offspring that are really his by spreading himself around. The more, er, seed he can sow, the better. In such a case (and remember, I’m oversimplifying here), the male is an “r” strategist.

The female, who knows exactly where her gene pool contributions are, increases her chances of productive offspring by not spreading herself around, by making the best possible mate choice and investing that precious X amount of energy in nurturing a few offspring well. She is a “K” strategist.

Now, let’s add social status to the mix. The high-ranking male is able to invest in whatever it takes to ensure that those kids are his, and therefore is more likely to buy into the woman’s reproductive strategy. I did say “more” likely – after all, if the male is really high ranking, and can afford to cover the costs of multiple partners, he will. This, I propose, is where mistresses and harems come from – and why Muhammad, in the Qur’an, permits a man to have four wives. Only four, only four. And only if he can provide equally (and presumably beyond adequately) for each one.

The low-ranking male is far less likely to be certain of his reproductive output. He will have a far greater incentive, in compensation, to “spread himself around”.  To guard jealously any strategy or system that increases his chances of at least getting a baby into the world, which just might make it to be a deadbeat dad in his own right.

And (here comes, at last, the point), he will be both thwarted and threatened by “pro-choice” strategies put in place by women – who are already likely to be poorly disposed to accommodate him. Willingly, anyway.

So threatened, in fact, that he will happily pay for a speaker, a group, an organization, that will support his point of view and at least give him the appearance of keeping his, um, access open. The Pope, for example. Or the President.

This, I think, is why this seemingly senseless argument won’t go away. It really is biology. If we paid more attention to this evidence of our own continuity with nature, and applied ourselves to its conclusions (like, addressing world poverty as a principal means of achieving sexual equality and “choice”), we might stand a chance of, at last, stopping this squabble and devoting our energies to more productive pursuits.

Like dealing with global warming. What? Oh. Sorry.

– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

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