Multicellularity, male privilege and also I need $10 million.

I watched the vid of my colleagues here at FtB, Matt Herron of Fierce Roller and PZ Myers of Tentacly Overlord infamy, discussing some very cool science-y stuff about the evolution of multicellularity. One of the most interesting takeaways for me is that it had long been thought that evolving multicellularity would be an exceedingly rare and difficult jump to make. But it has been discovered, only in the last five to ten years, that this is actually relatively easy and common:

Matt (@3:51): I think there’s been sort of a natural assumption that it has to be difficult. And maybe it is difficult to evolve a complex multicellular organism, with lots and lots of cell types and tissues and maybe even organs, because that hasn’t happened very many times. But Rick Grossberg has a paper where he argues basically what we’ve found, which is that at least the initial steps towards a multicellular lifestyle really aren’t that difficult. It’s happened lots of times that we know of, at least a couple of dozen times, and probably more because in a lot of cases these things don’t leave any fossil record. It is surprising, compared to what people thought five or ten years ago, that multicellularity evolves so easily, but now we’ve seen it in several of these experiments. And in a lot of cases it happens within just a few hundred generations.

OMG cool, right?

Then they touch on the intersection of philosophy and biology, and specifically the question of what exactly constitutes an individual organism, as opposed to, say, a colony of creatures that appear to function as one. I don’t know about you, but this kind of stuff really gets my beanie spinning. I am reminded of my unfortunate encounter with a species known as Physalia physalis, a.k.a. the “floating terror,” a.k.a. the Atlantic Portuguese man o’ war, which I would henceforth (and forevermore) refer to as a “sea squirrel.” Despite its similarity in appearance to the common jellyfish—an individual multicellular organism that will also sting the everloving shit out of you if given a chance—it turns out that the Sea Squirrel™ is actually something very different:

[T]he Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which, unlike jellyfish, is not actually a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals called zooids or polyps. These polyps are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are unable to survive independently, and therefore have to work together and function like a so-called individual animal.

Mind: blown.

These weird little fuckers are carnivorous, wielding their wickedly venomous tentacles to paralyze prey (e.g. small fish), and to inflict upon barefoot beachwalkers excruciating pain even after they are long dead (the sea squirrels, not the beachwalkers).

Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live organism in the water and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the organism or the detachment of the tentacle.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention an interesting cephalopod angle here. Blanket octopuses are immune to sea squirrel venom, which is an amazing enough trick to evolve. But these cephalopods go waaaaaay beyond that: they rip the venomous tentacles right off of those critters (hopefully while mocking them mercilessly), and then they carry the tentacles around with them to wield as weapons for defensive (and possibly offensive) purposes. Now that is some serious next level shit, blanket octopuses! I mean, can you just picture that? Because I sure can!

Octopus Wielding Sea Squirrel™ Tentacles Against Douchefish.
©Iris Vander Pluym
8′ x 11′
(oil on canvas)
$10,000,000.00

But! I digress. As beanie-spinning as all of this clearly is (as evidenced by the foregoing blather), it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post.

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Why I despise religious leaders, conservative Democrats and The New York Times, Reason No. 918,287,499.

[CONTENT NOTE: abortion rights.]

If I had known it was a link to the Times, I never would have clicked on it. But in my defense, I was reading a decent if lightweight article about Rep. Maxine Waters [h/t Alyssa] elsewhere, when I happened upon this passage:

Waters’ forthright condemnation of right-wing media came as a relief—and a rallying point—for Democrats sick of mainstream articles urging them to abandon abortion advocacy, or talk less about trans rights, or stop speaking out against sexism and racism. Critics have argued that these moves are necessary to broaden the party’s appeal and win back white working-class voters who swung from Barack Obama to Trump, and are credited with winning the election.

What fuckery is this? I wondered. How and why would “mainstream articles” possibly justify such demonstrably counterproductive nonsense?

So I clicked on “abortion advocacy.” And down the NYT rabbit hole I went.

Fuck.

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And it’s not even my birthday!

[CONTENT NOTE: misogyny including slurs, racism, violence against logic, incoherence, banality, Nazis, sex toys.]

I had almost forgotten about this, what with all my squirrel monitoring duties and sofa painting and suchlike. But buried in my inbox was a gift from the WordPress gods in the form of two consecutive auto-moderated comments, written in response to a post I wrote back in July about the harms of benevolent sexism, and purporting to offer “an opposing viewpoint.”

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Conservatives ruining everything as usual, this time in Michigan.

[CONTENT NOTE: sexual harassment, assault and rape.]

Well this is an interesting story:

The battle over Michigan State University’s women-only lounge began with a rival school’s male professor.

Mark Perry, who teaches economics at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus, had stumbled upon a news story about the 91-year-old room in MSU’s sprawling student union. “They’d written about what a great space this is for women,” Perry said. “They can go in and take a nap and not be worried about being bothered.”

So a d00d professor at a different college read about this great space for women at MSU, a place where they can relax and study without worry of being harassed by—let’s be clear here—men. And he said to himself, “Wow, I’m so glad for the women of MSU. I wonder how I can help institute the same thing here at University of Michigan?”

Hahaha. I’m just kidding.

He figured it couldn’t be legal. Banning men from a taxpayer-funded study area, Perry thought, could violate Title IX, a federal law meant to protect gender equality on college campuses. So he contacted the school. Nothing changed. He sent a complaint to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in June, but the department would not accept it because Perry had not personally endured discrimination.

Professor Perry’s Civil Rights™ were totally being violated at a different university where he neither attended nor worked. Won’t someone think of the discrimination this man did not endure?

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Dear d00d who insists that no I’m wrong, that was a compliment.

[CONTENT NOTE: sexism, discussion of gendered violence, sexual assault and FGM.]

I recently posted this meme, sent to me by a d00d friend who meant for me to take it as complimentary and funny. I explained why it was neither.

williamgoldingquote

William Golding
British Novelist, Playwright & Poet
1911-1993

I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men. They are far superior and always have been. Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she will give you a baby. If you give her a house, she will give you a home. If you give her groceries, she will give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she will give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit!

I linked to my post on Facebook. And the very first comment I received was this:

D00d: It’s all true. Women aren’t equal to us, they have a whole lot more sense in any number of respects, not limited to Mr. Golding’s list.

This core concept, the concept of women as creators and peace makers, is why we need to get many more women into roles of leadership ASAP, before the patriarchal societies of the planet destroy our species.

As you might imagine, there followed a bit of back and forth—my Facebook friends are feminists, pretty much by definition—excerpted below.

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Not funny. Not a compliment.

Dear d00d who is a dear friend and sent me this today:

williamgoldingquote

William Golding
British Novelist, Playwright & Poet
1911-1993

I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men. They are far superior and always have been. Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she will give you a baby. If you give her a house, she will give you a home. If you give her groceries, she will give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she will give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit!

Now I know this is supposed to be funny, and undoubtedly meant as a sincere compliment. But, but, but…

BLECCCCCH!

Note that Mr. Golding’s role here is that of provider: the generic “woman” is the passive recipient, whose calling (duty?) is to accept what she is given and from her labors—generally unpaid—create value that inures primarily to his benefit.

No thank you.

See, with the exception of that whole sperm/baby thing? Men are perfectly capable of performing these traditionally feminine-coded actions (and others), and are in fact engaging in them more and more as they come to reject the suffocating confines of artificial binary gender roles themselves. More to the point, many, many women are incapable of or utterly uninterested in all of the aforementioned traditionally feminine things, including having anything whatsoever to do with sperm and/or babies.

Unless we are speaking strictly about reproductive capacities, and to a lesser extent certain effects related thereto (e.g. hormones in utero), no sex or gender is innately superior or inferior to any other, in any way. To suggest otherwise—yes, even “jokingly”—perpetuates a view of gender that harms both sexes, but has a disproportionately harmful impact on women.

Contra Golding, I am not “pretending” to be equal to men. I am asserting that this is demonstrably true, as both a factual matter and a moral one. I am just as capable as a man of achieving greatness and doing good as I am of failing spectacularly and causing harm. And I am demanding to be treated accordingly: as an equal human.

Much love,
-The Most Humorless Feminist in All of Nofunnington*

*sig shamelessly stolen from Melissa McEwan.

_________
P.S. It is not lost on me that my response here may well be perceived as Golding’s “ton of shit” in response to “crap.” So be it. But I would never bother responding at all if I believed that to be the case. I think of it as responding to crap with sunshine. :D

Jerry Coyne at BHA 2016—Part 3: Yes and hahaha no.

UPDATE: WordPress apparently black holed a few of sentences re: Purvi Patel (and some formatting tags). I fixed it—I think.

(Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

[CONTENT NOTE: While this post contains no graphic descriptions or images of violence, it does mention: rape, sexual assault and violent abuse, including against children; mental illness including suicidal ideation; hostility to consent, bodily autonomy and agency; sex- and gender-based discrimination.]

To briefly recap: While atheist Big Willie Jerry Coyne is notoriously prone to poo flinging, he also said some very interesting things in his Darwin Day lecture at the British Humanist Association (and elsewhere). I transcribed a few sections of his talk because I’d like to have a handy link to it to help shut down the font of incoherent nonsense that is conservative movement atheism. I also thought some readers here just might (a) find some of this talk as worthwhile as I do (see Part 1), and/or (b) enjoy my documenting Coyne’s insulting, dismissive, nearly comical obliviousness to his privilege (Part 2).

Part 3 focuses on a section of the Q&A wherein Coyne manages both to say some more really cool stuff, and then go into full mansplain-to-the-feminists mode and pull a classic Dear Muslima.

CAUTION:
POO FLINGING AHEAD.

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Signs of the times.

On a lovely day this weekend, I went for lunch at an outdoor waterside bar in a small town in Northern Maryland where my mother lives. Part of the, uh, decor comprised three signs, all hung on the bar within a few feet of each other.

L: pinup-style drawing of apparently topless smiling woman from collar bone up with text that reads "MEN, no shirt no service, WOMEN, no shirt free drinks!" C: silhouette of animal featuring large antlers with text that reads "Every hunter loves a big rack." R: "WANTED: Good Woman, Able to Clean, Cook, Sew, Dig Worms And Clean Fish. Must Have Boat and Motor. PLEASE SEND PICTURE OF BOAT AND MOTOR."

L: pinup-style drawing of smiling, apparently topless woman from collar bone up with text that reads “MEN, no shirt no service, WOMEN, no shirt free drinks!”
C: silhouette of animal featuring large antlers with text that reads “EVERY HUNTER LOVES A BIG RACK.”
R: “WANTED: Good Woman, Able to Clean, Cook, Sew, Dig Worms And Clean Fish. Must Have Boat and Motor. PLEASE SEND PICTURE OF BOAT AND MOTOR.”

Now I get kitsch, I really do. And I love pinup art, especially my friend’s photography. And I’m not exactly humorless—well, at least not for one of those horrible feminists, anyway.

But here’s the thing.

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