Here is an alt-righter struggling with scientific understanding:
When I first came upon the argument that “culture is a racial construct” last year, I was pretty horrified. I saw this as a re-gurgitated Nazi talking point that was clearly unfactual.
But like other longtime taboo topics such as HBD, eugenics, and White identity, I’ve seen this theory pop up over the past year in some shocking places. First, a scientific magazine revealed that orcas genetics’ are affected by culture and vice versa. Then, I started seeing normies discuss this talking point in comment sections in the Wall Street Journal and even NY Times.
Finally, a liberal academic has thrown himself into the discussion. Bret Weinsten, a Jewish Leftist who most people here know as the targeted professor of the Marxist insanity at Evergreen University, posted this tweet yesterday: “Sex is biological. Gender is cultural. Culture is biological,” and then this one today: “Culture is as adaptive, evolutionary and biological as genes. You’re unlikely to accept it. But if you did you’d see people with 10X clarity.”
This is a pretty remarkable assertion coming from someone like Bret Weinstein. I wonder if the dam will eventually break and rather than being seen as incredibly taboo, this theory will be commonly accepted. If so, it’s probably the best talking point you have for America to prioritize its demographics.
What is so shocking?
This line of thought, taken broadly, has been developing and taking hold in the mainstream for more than a century. Social constructionism was popularized and spread by the anthropologist Franz Boaz. I don’t think this guy grasps what this theory means nor its implications. That “culture is a racial construct” goes hand in hand with race being a cultural construct, which is to say we understand the world and our own humanity through the lens of ideology, in the sense used by Louis Althusser. As applied to the ideology of pseudo-scientific race realism and gender realism, claims of linear determinism of singular and isolated causal factors are meaningless because research has shown that all aspects are intertwined factors in how we develop and who we become.
Bret Weinstein makes three assertions: “Sex is biological. Gender is cultural. Culture is biological.” I don’t know what is his ideological position. But he sounds like a genetic determinist, although this is not clear since he also claims that his assertions have nothing to do with group selection (a standard reductionist approach). Anyway, to make these statements accurate, other statements would need to be added — such as that, biology is epigenetics, epigenetics is environment, and environment is culture. We’d have to throw in other things as well, from biome to linguistic relativism. To interpret Weinstein generously and not taking his use of ‘is’ too literally: Many things are many other things or rather closely related, if by that we mean that multiple factors can’t be reduced to one another in that they influence each other in multiple directions and through multiple pathways.
Recent research has taken this even further in showing that neither sex nor gender is binary *, as genetics and its relationship to environment, epigenetics, and culture is more complex than was previously realized. It’s far from uncommon for people to carry genetics of both sexes, even multiple DNA. It has to do with diverse interlinking and overlapping causal relationships. We aren’t all that certain at this point what ultimately determines the precise process of conditions, factors, and influences in how and why any given gene expresses or not and how and why it expresses in a particular way. Most of the genetics in human DNA is entirely unknown in its purpose or maybe lack of purpose, although the Junk DNA theory has become highly contested. And most genetics in the human body is non-human: bacteria, viruses, symbiotes, and parasites. The point is that, scientifically speaking, causation is a lot harder to prove than many would like to admit.
The second claim by Weinstein is even more interesting: “Culture is as adaptive, evolutionary and biological as genes.” That easily could be interpreted in alignment with Richard Dawkins theory of memetics. That argument is that there are cultural elements that act and spread similarly to genes, like a virus replicating. With the growing research on epigenetics, microbiome, parasites, and such, the mechanisms for such a thing become more plausible. We are treading in unexplored territory when we combine memetics not just with culture but also with extended mind and extended phenotype. Linguistic relativism, for example, has proven that cultural influences can operate through non-biological causes — in that bilingual individuals with the same genetics will think, perceive, and act differently depending on which language they are using. Yes, culture is adaptive, whether or not in the way Weinstein believes.
The problems in this area only occur when one demands a reductionist conclusion. The simplistic thinking of reductionism appeals to the limits of the human mind. But reality has no compulsion to comform to the human mind. Reality is irreducible. And so we need a scientific understanding that deals with, rather than dismisses, complexity. Indeed, the tide is turning.
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Intersex in history (Wikipedia)
Intersex people have been treated in different ways by different cultures. Whether or not they were socially tolerated or accepted by any particular culture, the existence of intersex people was known to many ancient and pre-modern cultures and legal systems, and numerous historical accounts exist.
Third gender (Wikipedia)
In different cultures, a third or fourth gender may represent very different things. To Native Hawaiians and Tahitians, Māhū is an intermediate state between man and woman, or a “person of indeterminate gender”. The traditional Diné of the Southwestern US acknowledge four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man. The term “third gender” has also been used to describe hijras of India who have gained legal identity, fa’afafine of Polynesia, and sworn virgins of Albania.
Whether or not they were socially tolerated or accepted by any particular culture, the existence of intersex people was known to many ancient and pre-modern cultures. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote of “hermaphroditus” in the first century BCE that Hermaphroditus “is born with a physical body which is a combination of that of a man and that of a woman”, and with supernatural properties.
In European societies, Roman law, post-classical canon law, and later common law, referred to a person’s sex as male, female or hermaphrodite, with legal rights as male or female depending on the characteristics that appeared most dominant. The 12th-century Decretum Gratiani states that “Whether an hermaphrodite may witness a testament, depends on which sex prevails”. The foundation of common law, the 17th Century Institutes of the Lawes of England described how a hermaphrodite could inherit “either as male or female, according to that kind of sexe which doth prevaile.” Legal cases have been described in canon law and elsewhere over the centuries.
In some non-European societies, sex or gender systems with more than two categories may have allowed for other forms of inclusion of both intersex and transgender people. Such societies have been characterized as “primitive”, while Morgan Holmes states that subsequent analysis has been simplistic or romanticized, failing to take account of the ways that subjects of all categories are treated.
During the Victorian era, medical authors introduced the terms “true hermaphrodite” for an individual who has both ovarian and testicular tissue, “male pseudo-hermaphrodite” for a person with testicular tissue, but either female or ambiguous sexual anatomy, and “female pseudo-hermaphrodite” for a person with ovarian tissue, but either male or ambiguous sexual anatomy. Some later shifts in terminology have reflected advances in genetics, while other shifts are suggested to be due to pejorative associations.
The Gender Binary Is a Dumb, but Relatively New Concept
by Bethy Squires
So when and why did doctors move from one sex to two? Many scholars set the change during a time known as the “long 18th century”: 1688-1815. This time period covers the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and the period of political revolution that followed. It was during this time that many ideas about man’s inalienable rights were conceived.
Before the long 18th century, Western societies operated under feudalism, which presupposes that people are born unequal. Kings were better than lords who were better than peasants, and this sense of betterness extended to their physical bodies. “Aristocrats have better bodies, bodies are racialized,” says Laqueur, summing up the idea. “The body is open and fluid and the consequence of a hierarchy in heaven.” Specifics of this corruptible flesh are of less consequence than our souls. We were all servants in the Kingdom of Heaven, which set the hierarchy on earth.
This idea of a natural hierarchy was challenged by the thinkers of the Enlightenment. We see it in the Declaration of Independence: All men are created equal. But it was also understood that women and people of color couldn’t possibly have been created equal. Therefore, it became necessary to conceive of innate biological differences between men and women, white and black. “As political theorists were increasingly invoking a potentially egalitarian language of natural rights in the 18th century, ‘woman’ had to be defined as qualitatively different from men in order that political power would be kept out of women’s reach,” writes Karen Harvey in Cambridge University Press’s Historical Journal.
Sexual difference becomes much more explicit in medical texts once women’s anatomy gets its own words. […] What follows in the long 18th century and into the Victorian era is a solidifying of masculine and feminine as diametrically opposed. When doctors followed humoral system, it was understood that everyone was a little hot, a little cold, a little country, a little rock and roll. Women were frequently represented as hornier than men. But once everyone has to be shunted into a binary, women are rendered passive and disinclined to sex. “Historically, women had been perceived as lascivious and lustful creatures,” writes Ruth Perry in the amazingly titled academic paper “Colonizing the Breast.” “[B]y the middle of the eighteenth century they were increasingly reimagined as belonging to another order of being: loving but without sexual needs.” Men are horny, therefore women must be the opposite of horny.
Nonbinary and genderfluid people of the 21st century can gain some comfort from the notion that sex and gender divisions weren’t always so rigid. But that understanding is nevertheless tinged with the knowledge that the sexes, fluid though they were, were still ranked. Someone was still coming out a winner, and yet again it was whoever was most masculine.
Gender Role (Wikipedia)
Several studies have been conducted looking at the gender roles of intersex children.
One such study looked at female infants with adrenal hyperplasia, and who had excess male hormone levels, but were thought to be females and raised as such by their parents. These girls were more likely to express masculine traits.
Another study looked at 18 infants with the intersex condition 5-alpha reductase deficiency, and XY chromosomes, assigned female at birth. At adult age only one individual maintained a female role, all the others being stereotypically male.
In a third study, 14 male children born with cloacal exstrophy and assigned female at birth, including through intersex medical interventions. Upon follow-up between the ages of 5 to 12, eight of them identified as boys, and all of the subjects had at least moderately male-typical attitudes and interests.
Dr. Sandra Lipsitz Bem is a psychologist who developed the gender schema theory, based on the combination of aspects of the social learning theory and the cognitive-development theory of sex role acquisition, to explain how individuals come to use gender as an organizing category in all aspects of their life. In 1971, she created the Bem Sex-Role Inventory to measure how well an individual conformed to a traditional gender role, characterizing those tested as having masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated personality. She believed that through gender-schematic processing, a person spontaneously sorts attributes and behaviors into masculine and feminine categories, and that therefore individuals processes information and regulate their behavior based on whatever definitions of femininity and masculinity their culture provides.
While there are differences in average capabilities of various kinds (E.g. better average balance in females or greater average physical size and endurance in males) between the sexes the capabilities of some members of one sex will fall within the range of capabilities needed for tasks conventionally assigned to the other sex. Eve Shapiro, author of Gender Circuits, explains that “gender, like other social categories, is both a personal identity and a culture set of behaviors, beliefs and values.” […]
Ideas of appropriate behavior according to gender vary among cultures and era, although some aspects receive more widespread attention than others. R.W. Connell in Men, Masculinities and Feminism claims:
There are cultures where it has been normal, not exceptional, for men to have homosexual relations. There have been periods in ‘Western’ history when the modern convention that men suppress displays of emotion did not apply at all, when men were demonstrative about their feeling for their friends. Mateship in the Australian outback last century is a case in point.
There are huge areal differences in attitudes towards appropriate gender roles. In the World Values Survey, responders were asked if they thought that wage work should be restricted to only men in the case of shortage in jobs: in Iceland the proportion that agreed with the proposition was 3.6%; while in Egypt it was 94.9%.
Attitudes have also varied historically, for example, in Europe, during the Middle Ages, women were commonly associated with roles related to medicine and healing. Because of the rise of witch-hunts across Europe and the institutionalization of medicine, these roles became exclusively associated with men but in the last few decades these roles have become largely gender-neutral in Western society.
The myth that gender is binary is perpetuated by a flawed education system
by Jeremy Colangelo
Sex and gender are much more complex and nuanced than people have long believed. Defining sex as a binary treats it like a light switch: on or off. But it’s actually more similar to a dimmer switch, with many people sitting somewhere in between male and female genetically, physiologically, and/or mentally. To reflect this, scientists now describe sex as a spectrum.
The more we have learned about human genetics, the more complicated it has revealed itself to be. Because of this, the idea of binary gender has become less and less tenable. As Claire Ainsworth summarizes in an article for Nature, recent discoveries “have pointed to a complex process of sex determination, in which the identity of the gonad emerges from a contest between two opposing networks of gene activity. Changes in the activity … can tip the balance towards or away from the sex seemingly spelled out by the chromosomes.”
by Claire Ainsworth
Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD2.
When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body. Some studies even suggest that the sex of each cell drives its behaviour, through a complicated network of molecular interactions. “I think there’s much greater diversity within male or female, and there is certainly an area of overlap where some people can’t easily define themselves within the binary structure,” says John Achermann, who studies sex development and endocrinology at University College London’s Institute of Child Health.
These discoveries do not sit well in a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms. Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person’s legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female.
“The main problem with a strong dichotomy is that there are intermediate cases that push the limits and ask us to figure out exactly where the dividing line is between males and females,” says Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies biological sex differences. “And that’s often a very difficult problem, because sex can be defined a number of ways.”
How science is helping us understand gender
by Robin Marantz Henig
Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion, XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.
Today we know that the various elements of what we consider “male” and “female” don’t always line up neatly, with all the XXs—complete with ovaries, vagina, estrogen, female gender identity, and feminine behavior—on one side and all the XYs—testes, penis, testosterone, male gender identity, and masculine behavior—on the other. It’s possible to be XX and mostly male in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology, just as it’s possible to be XY and mostly female.
Each embryo starts out with a pair of primitive organs, the proto-gonads, that develop into male or female gonads at about six to eight weeks. Sex differentiation is usually set in motion by a gene on the Y chromosome, the SRY gene, that makes the proto-gonads turn into testes. The testes then secrete testosterone and other male hormones (collectively called androgens), and the fetus develops a prostate, scrotum, and penis. Without the SRY gene, the proto-gonads become ovaries that secrete estrogen, and the fetus develops female anatomy (uterus, vagina, and clitoris).
But the SRY gene’s function isn’t always straightforward. The gene might be missing or dysfunctional, leading to an XY embryo that fails to develop male anatomy and is identified at birth as a girl. Or it might show up on the X chromosome, leading to an XX embryo that does develop male anatomy and is identified at birth as a boy.
Genetic variations can occur that are unrelated to the SRY gene, such as complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS), in which an XY embryo’s cells respond minimally, if at all, to the signals of male hormones. Even though the proto-gonads become testes and the fetus produces androgens, male genitals don’t develop. The baby looks female, with a clitoris and vagina, and in most cases will grow up feeling herself to be a girl.
Which is this baby, then? Is she the girl she believes herself to be? Or, because of her XY chromosomes—not to mention the testes in her abdomen—is she “really” male? […]
In terms of biology, some scientists think it might be traced to the syncopated pacing of fetal development. “Sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy,” wrote Dick Swaab, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam, “and sexual differentiation of the brain starts during the second half of pregnancy.” Genitals and brains are thus subjected to different environments of “hormones, nutrients, medication, and other chemical substances,” several weeks apart in the womb, that affect sexual differentiation.
This doesn’t mean there’s such a thing as a “male” or “female” brain, exactly. But at least a few brain characteristics, such as density of the gray matter or size of the hypothalamus, do tend to differ between genders. It turns out transgender people’s brains may more closely resemble brains of their self-identified gender than those of the gender assigned at birth. In one study, for example, Swaab and his colleagues found that in one region of the brain, transgender women, like other women, have fewer cells associated with the regulator hormone somatostatin than men. In another study scientists from Spain conducted brain scans on transgender men and found that their white matter was neither typically male nor typically female, but somewhere in between.
These studies have several problems. They are often small, involving as few as half a dozen transgender individuals. And they sometimes include people who already have started taking hormones to transition to the opposite gender, meaning that observed brain differences might be the result of, rather than the explanation for, a subject’s transgender identity.
Still, one finding in transgender research has been robust: a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to John Strang, a pediatric neuropsychologist with the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Gender and Sexuality Development Program at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.
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Transgender history: Ancient History (Wikipedia)
Transgender History: Trans Expression in Ancient Times
by Mercedes Allen
52 Queer Gods Who Ruled Ancient History
by Jacob Ogles
Ancient Civilization in Iran Recognized Transgender People 3,000 Years Ago, Study Suggests
by Ariel David
A Womb by Magic – Transcending Gender, Transcending Realities
by Maria Kvilhaug
A Brief Biography of Elagabalus: the transgender ruler of Rome
by Alexis Mijatovic
A trans soldier in the ancient Roman army?
by Tom Sapsford
Were there Transgender People in the Middle Ages?
by Gabrielle Bychowski
Intersex in the Middle Ages
by Sandra Alvarez
Impossible Hermaphrodites: Intersex in America, 1620–1960
by Elizabeth Reis
Transgender Acceptance in Indigenous Cultures Worldwide
A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures (PBS)
A Third Gender Identity Has Existed for Centuries
by Katie Moritz
The Third Gender in Native American Tribes (UCSB SexInfo)
A Third Gender Among Indigenous Peoples
by Doug George-Kanentiio
Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders
by Duane Brayboy
The ‘two-spirit’ people of indigenous North Americans
by Walter L. Williams
Native American tribes recognized a gender separate from male and female it was called – “Two-Spirits”. They weren’t seen as homosexual among their tribe
by Goran Blazeski
The Disappearance of the Two-Spirit Traditions in Canada
by Hamish Copley
Gender roles among the indigenous peoples of North America (Wikipedia)
Hombres Mujeres: An Indigenous Third Gender
by Alfredo Mirandé
Colombia’s indigenous transgender women live freer lives working on coffee farms
by Kenneth Dickerman
The transcendent bissu
by Sharyn Graham Davies
A Brief History Of Hijra, India’s Third Gender
by Sridevi Nambiar
Why terms like ‘transgender’ don’t work for India’s ‘third-gender’ communities
by Max Bearak
The Splendor of Gender Non-Conformity In Africa
by Shanna Collins
Unspoken facts: a history of homosexualities in Africa
by Keletso Makofane
6 thoughts on “Is the Tide Starting to Turn on Genetics and Culture?”
Erik Garnas wrote a post about sex and gender:
And here is my response:
There is a context that matters. Simplistic notions of biological essentialism and genetic determinism are far less plausible than some previously assumed. Most of our genetics isn’t even human but rather microbial. And we now know the immense power of epigenetics and neuroplasticity. In terms of the topic of this post, we also know that there is a lot more middle ground between binary categories of sex and gender. That isn’t to say many people fit stereotypes, even as it is simultaneously true than many others don’t. This is so even on a genetic level as it turns out people carrying multiple DNA is a lot more common, sometimes multiple DNA with separate XX and XY chromosomes. Think about that!
Similar patterns are seen in psychological differences as well. There is no singular binary of personalities where everyone can be divided between two types, not even along the lines of sexual differences. Take Myers-Briggs testing that does find most women test as Feeling types and most men as Thinking types, but nonetheless 30-40% of the population doesn’t fit the general pattern which is far from insignificant. This relates to political ideology and parties. Women are disproportionately found in the Democratic Party, although interesting men are equally divided between the two main parties. Unsurprisingly, research has found liberals to have the most stereotypical feminine profile and libertarians the most stereotypical maculine profile, but it is conservatives who are strongest in their defense of a binary gender worldview.
There are gender differences, even if not entirely binary. But that still leaves us with plenty of questions and doubts about what causes those differences, as anthropology and social science research show the power of factors external to the individual. As we all know here, diet and lifestyle has an immense influence on biological development in general and neurocognitive development in particular. For example, autism seems correlated to numerous health conditions involving food and additives, and autistics also have higher expression of intersex identity.
Gender identity is at least partly cultural. We know this as a fact for other cultures have entirely different gender ideas, labels, and social roles. Some cultures have multiple genders, none of which perfectly match up to Western ideology. That isn’t to say one can’t also clarify patterns across cultures, but the point is the differences are as interesting and telling as are the similarities. Linguistic relativism, among much else, might help enlighten us. The language we use about gender has a powerful effect on how we perceive and think about gender and how we act accordingly. There are entire areas of academic debate about what is and is not universal within human nature. It’s not that one side of some presumed debate is right and therefore the other side wrong. It’s quite possible the entire frame of debate, such as nature vs nurture, is misleading or unhelpful. Maybe there is a third option.
Let me demonstrate how culturally mired is this debate. If you come from a culture that has a strong binary view of gender roles, there is a higher probability that your ancestors raised wheat than millet or sorghum. The agricultural system becomes embedded within culture over millennia. Consider your views may have little to do with the science, as these cultural patterns were established long before science. To whatever degree gender is shaped by culture, there is no doubt that our beliefs about gender are shaped by culture. There might even be an epigenetic component to this. What we call ‘culture’ might be a lot more complex as intertwined within our biological nature, what Daniel Everett calls the “dark matter of the mind”. So, the more interesting question might not be whether you are right or wrong in your beliefs but, instead, why do you believe what you do. Sex and gender is a useful area to take this inquiry, but obviously it touches on every aspect of our humanity and society.
The Invisible History of the Human Race:
How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures
by Christine Kenneally
“Nunn found that if you asked an individual whose ancestors grew wheat about his beliefs regarding women’s place, it was much more likely that his notion of gender equality would be weaker than that of someone whose ancestors had grown sorghum or millet. Where the plow was used there was greater gender inequality and women were less common in the workforce. This was true even in contemporary societies in which most of the subjects would never even have seen a plow, much less used one, and in societies where plows today are fully mechanized to the point that a child of either gender would be capable of operating one. […]
“The implication of these studies is that the way we see the world and act in it—whether the end result is gender inequality or trusting strangers— is significantly shaped by internal beliefs and norms that have been passed down in families and small communities . It seems that these norms are even taken with an individual when he moves to another country. But how might history have such a powerful impact on families, even when they have moved away from the place where that history, whatever it was, took place?”