Saturday, 31 January 2015

Germaine Greer, Test Tube Babies And Lesbian Lizards

I always hoped I wasn't going to turn into one of those people who goes on and on about Germaine Greer and how she's ruined everything, but to be honest, I have some respect for her but get the feeling that her beliefs are not internally consistent.  And sometimes she comes out with stuff which is just not on.

The reason she comes up now is that she recently spoke at the Cambridge Union to defend her position that transphobia doesn't exist.  However, that isn't what I want to discuss right now so much as another position I seem to recall she's espoused at some point.  Now this is not about personalities, so at this point I will leave Ms Greer behind and concentrate on the issue of reproduction, and to some people I'm afraid this is going to sound really hackneyed.

The apparent origin of patriarchy is the ownership of the means of reproduction rather than production as in capitalism.  Since women generally own the means of reproduction as parts of themselves, males having a merely parasitic role in the process, the male gender/class seeks to control them because they need things like cannon fodder and people to work in the fields.  In order to get round this, it might seem to make sense to remove the means of reproduction from men or to free women from the burden of reproduction.  There are two main ways to do this, although of course they can be combined.  One is to develop an artificial uterus and harvest sperm and egg cells somehow, then grow babies in that artificial environment so that women are no longer subject to the negative impact having to bear the physiological burden of reproduction might be seen as placing on them.  This approach, which is called ectogenesis, is of course not currently technologically feasible, but if it's considered desirable the fact that it isn't done might be more to do with the issue of spending too much time developing technology to destroy people rather than create them.  Even so, it's not particularly close.  Artificial wombs exist which are able to support the kind of mammal which we are for maybe two days or so, and the early phase of development is also doable outside the body, but the interval between the two is still very long and requires a real uterus inside a human body.

The other side of the equation is much easier and was solved centuries ago.  Artificial insemination is quite easy and hardly needs a huge technological infrastructure at all.  The only bit of equipment it really needs is a syringe, and that was invented many centuries ago by Native Americans, probably a very long time before in fact.  It doesn't need a complex system of technology around it.  It can be made out of a hollow tube and a piston, because this is only like administering an enema, not like intravenous drug injection.

The problem with ectogenesis, if it becomes possible, is that it seems that it would have to exist with a complex technological infrastructure, and that would seem to entail a concentration of power, in other words authority.  That authority can of course be abused.  Therefore, if this is essential to overcome patriarchy, it would seem to replace it with an equally untrustworthy authority capable of curtailing freedom through the threat of withdrawal of the capacity to reproduce, although in that situation it might be that people no longer consider themselves parents in the same way.  However, if that is so, there's then the problem of institutions working, perhaps bureaucratically, to control the nurturing of children.  Consequently, to maintain autonomy we probably also need to retain reproductive systems.

It might not actually be so though.  I'm about to mention a certain subject of reproductive ethics which I think may need a trigger warning  and ROT-13:  Va fvghngvbaf jurer nobegvba vf fvtavsvpnagyl pevzvanyvfrq, nygubhtu gur fvghngvba vf bcra gb rkcybvgngvba gurer ner znal crbcyr noyr gb pneel gurz bhg eryngviryl fnsryl.  This is without a formal infrastructure, so it can be done and possibly the thing to concentrate on is not so much how to construct a working artificial womb as how to put together a system whereby conception and development can occur safely outside a female body without exploiting anyone or anything.  That system would involve a complete cultural, social and emotional revolution.

Artificial insemination is an entirely different matter.  This can be done without high technology but doesn't essentially involve social change.  It's simpler and more achievable but it doesn't change the world without other changes happening.

Ultimately therefore, I think that the possession of a functional reproductive system for those who want to use it is a form of empowerment, as it is more likely to give the owner a degree of control over the future development of society than one which is controlled by an authority of some kind.  At this point I am reminded of certain species of lizard:

The lizard in the middle, Cnemidophorus neomexicanus, is a hybrid of the species on either side, and like many interspecies hybrids such as mules, there is no phenomenon whereby gametes meet gametes to produce viable offspring.  However, unlike many other hybrids of this kind, Cnemidophorus neomexicanus is fertile, and always female.  She lays eggs which hatch out to form new individuals, all of course female.  Interestingly though, these lizards do actually mate with each other.  It's thought that this mating behaviour stimulates ovulation and enables them to reproduce even though they don't fertilise.  In other words, they sort of make a behavioural contribution to the future of their species.

The advantage of reproduction without sex in general is that if a single individual, though perhaps not of this species, finds itself alone in an environment, she has the power to populate that habitat with her descendants, and that power is in her own body.  Hence these lizards are both an example of the power of reproduction and the way in which homosexuals make a positive contribution to society.  Lesbian lizards.

There is another aspect to this though.  Not everyone chooses to have children, and the decision to have them, where it is a decision, needs to be considered in the light of all those who have consciously opted out of doing so, or for that matter those whose circumstances have led to not having had them.  I am not one of these people of course, and I can't speak for them although I could easily have been and have a lot of respect for them for a variety of reasons.  They have their own reasons or life histories which have led to this and those stories are not mine to appropriate or distort.  That said, parents and non-parents do not simply genetically contribute to the future of the species because we are not solitary and we are cultural and social, so we potentially provide sustenance to the species and other species in all sorts of ways.  The fact that the contribution is supportive or memetic in nature shouldn't lead to anyone being perceived as inferior.  Also, that's still quite a reproductive bias unless I also add that that is simply one interpretation of the nature of culture.  Another interpretation is simply that we all contribute to society and culture and just forget about the issue of parents and children entirely in this culture, which is also fine.