08 March 2018

Are men necessary? (a semi-unserious thought exercise)

Within decades, humans will be using technology on a large scale to guide the development of our species according to our own will and desires, as opposed to being at the mercy of nature and biological evolution as we always were before.  I've already written about mind-machine integration (the integration of computer technology into the human brain to enhance human intelligence, memory, etc.), curing aging to radically extend the healthy life span, and so on.  But I sometimes wonder if other modifications to the species might be considered and adopted by people in the future.  Specifically, might they decide that the male gender creates more problems than it's worth and that the species would be better off without it?

This wouldn't be as difficult to do as one might think.  Sex-selective abortion has already led to a shortage of females in places like China and India.  Choosing the gender of children before conception is already technologically possible.  Once the decision was made (by a future world government, or by women collectively, or whatever), the eradication of the Y chromosome from the species would be a straightforward process.

Viewed dispassionately, it's not hard to see how the arguments would go.  The overwhelming preponderance of violent and aggressive behavior is committed by males, and this is not just a matter of enculturation -- it's true in virtually all human cultures, the hormonal and genetic basis for it is well understood, and gender differences in violent behavior run closely parallel in most primate species.  Most men are not violent, but most violent people are men.  It's intuitively obvious that an all-female environment would be much safer than a mixed-gender environment, and some countries have begun to experiment with small-scale things like women-only cars in commuter trains to reduce the incidence of harassment.  For most of human history the male propensity for violence did serve a purpose -- defending communities against outside aggression.  But that outside aggression mostly originated with males of rival communities (technology long ago reduced non-human animal predators to a negligible threat), and today defense and deterrence are achieved with high-tech weaponry which women are just as capable of operating.  In the modern world, it's difficult to see that male violent tendencies have any value at all to offset their enormous cost.

It could be argued that males in the mass are a drag on progress in other ways.  Males are far more likely to vote for reactionary political forces, for example, to the extent that those forces would hardly even be viable if only the female vote were considered -- our own 2016 election being an example.  Most militant religious extremists are men, as are social totalitarians generally -- among the fundamentalist Christians in the US who obsess about limiting women's access to birth control and abortion, the most aggressively determined of them are mostly male, and the pattern is similar in other religiously-conservative areas like Latin America and the Middle East.  Almost no women seem to have any interest in restricting men's reproductive choices in an analogous way.  It's true that some women are hostile to abortion and birth control, but in most cases they're acting under the indoctrination of patriarchal religions, without which it's unlikely that they'd hold such attitudes.

Again, it could be argued that some of this tendency is socially inculcated and not innate -- but when we see a pattern replicated across a wide range of cultures, and almost no cultures in which the pattern is absent, we're justified in at least a strong presumption that its roots are genetic.  Most primate social groups are characterized by a male dominance hierarchy in which males compete to rise in status and power, with females mating mainly with those who achieve the highest dominance level (thus unwittingly selective-breeding males for dominant behavior).  It's not hard to find examples of the same pattern in human societies.  Despite our higher intelligence, biologically we're just another primate species.

Humans will soon be using genetic engineering to eliminate genetic disorders from the species.  One could imagine a future society viewing masculinity as just one more such defect, best eradicated.

Aside from occasional tongue-in-cheek suggestions, the concept of an all-female society has sometimes arisen in science fiction, most often in the form of a trite variant on the harem fantasy (male astronauts or whatever, ecstatic at finding a whole planet of "available" women), or sometimes depicting such societies as being like regimented ant colonies, although there's no reason to think women have a particular preference for such systems -- if anything, historically it's been highly militaristic societies (which are usually heavily male-dominated) that show the most insect-like regimentation.  A more serious effort is the fictional planet Whileaway created by author Joanna Russ for her 1972 short story "When It Changed".  After humans initially settle the planet, a native plague wipes out the male colonists; the female survivors go on and build a viable society, and after several centuries the situation comes to seem quite normal to them.

Would anything essential be lost by eliminating males from the species?  To address the most obvious point, gender differences will soon cease to be necessary for reproduction.  Work is already being done on enabling individuals of the same gender to combine genes to produce offspring.  Admittedly this would make reproduction dependent on advanced technology, thus risking extinction if civilization ever collapsed to a primitive level in the future -- but such a collapse seems vanishingly unlikely, and with radical extension of human lifespans, reproduction will become less critical to survival anyway.

There's no reason to think that men have any special abilities that women inherently lack, aside from physical strength (perhaps an all-female world would suffer greater wastage of food due to all the jars that nobody could get the lids off of).  Women have shown the ability to achieve as much as men in intellectual fields, once the barriers to participation are removed -- indeed, in many advanced countries more women than men are pursuing higher education.  Even in science and mathematics, areas still widely believed to be a basically male preserve, women are making inroads.

There's some evidence that males show a greater deviation from the average, a wider and flatter bell-shaped curve -- so that most of the great geniuses of history have been male, as are most of the severely mentally retarded.  But science today is increasingly advanced by large-scale cooperative projects rather than by individual geniuses, though the latter still do make their contributions.

In trying to come up with reasons why a future society might not decide to eliminate males from the species, I'm really left with only one objection that might carry the day.  If the opposite proposition were being considered -- eliminating women from the species -- everyone would immediately point out that men would not want to do so because most men are heterosexual and would feel sexually and emotionally deprived in an all-male world.  In an all-female world, heterosexual women's sexual and romantic drives would similarly be left without an object.  Not being a woman, frankly I'm completely unable to judge how important a consideration this would be.  Would it outweigh all the problems the existence of males creates?  Would sufficiently-realistic virtual reality provide a satisfactory replacement for actual sexual experiences?  Would women in different cultures come to different conclusions?  Remember that the majority of the population lives in non-Western countries where male dominance still takes harsher and even murderous forms, which would still be a recent memory when the question was being considered.

I have no idea whether this will ever actually happen, or even ever be seriously debated as an option for the world.  It's a concept which has intrigued me on and off for years, though.


Blogger Pinku-Sensei said...

This is an appropriate post for International Women's Day. Did you know that was today?

I also referred Nebris, with whom you were arguing on my blog, to this article. He has been thinking about this topic for decades. I think he might be more productive discussing this topic on your blog than arguing about doping on mine. He's also a transhumanist, but might be more open to alterations of humans being allowed in competition than might be sporting, pun intended.

08 March, 2018 17:49  
Blogger Donna said...

"perhaps an all-female world would suffer greater wastage of food due to all the jars that nobody could get the lids off of"

:-) !!!

My husband introduced me to the joyful handy jar opener too.

09 March, 2018 13:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Pinku: I had actually completely spaced on that when I posted it. Maybe it is appropriate, though.

Donna: :-)

11 March, 2018 05:52  

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