Essays

An eclectic collection of posts on secular topics.

A Proposed Classification System for Sexual Variation

The proposed classification scheme below is based upon the assumption that there are at least four variable dimensions to human sexuality that can and do vary independently of one another.

           Beginning with the first dimension, bodily sex in its physical expression is a biological phenomenon. When considering bodily sex there are at least three considerations. The first consideration is the external morphology that determines what physical characteristics associated with sex are evident. This in most cases will be clearly male or female but will in a small minority of instances be ambiguous as in cases of partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. The second consideration is internal morphology that determines the physiological characteristics associated with sex and that will determine functionality. For example, one can have the external characteristics of the female morphology but lack the internal morphology necessary for reproduction as in cases of complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (see “Speculation on Transgender Conditions“. The third consideration is the sexing of the nervous system, especially brain structures, or neurological sex. Evidence for neurological sex is not conclusive but a considerable amount of evidence suggests that the nervous system is shaped by the degree of hormone exposure and the timing of that exposure See Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences by David C. Geary). In some cases, the hormonal exposure may directly influence the development of various brain structures or in other cases the hormonal exposure may have an indirect effect by activating or deactivating genes related to sexing of the nervous system. Gene effects controlled by triggers such as hormones have only recently begun to receive attention in the new field of epigenetics.

The second dimension, sexual identity, is the subjective sense of one’s sex. The proposal in this classification system is that sexual identity is dependent upon the neurological aspect of physical sex making it too, at root, a biological phenomenon. Sexual identity is usually male or female and is generally congruent with external morphology but can vary. At the extreme there can be a complete disconnect between one’s sense of sexual identity and both external and internal morphology. This is most likely a product of a sexual identity that is the complete inverse of bodily sex. In other instances, the sexual identity can be ambiguous. Ambiguity in most cases is represented by a mixed sexual identity which often presents as a primary and secondary identity rather than a seamless integration.

The third dimension, sexual orientation, is the focus of one’s sexual interest. The proposal implicit in the classification system offered below is that sexual orientation, like sexual identity, is dependent upon the neurological aspect of bodily sex making it too, at root, a biological phenomenon. However, sexual identity and sexual orientation can and do vary independently such that sexual identity does not necessarily indicate anything about sexual orientation. Generally, sexual orientation will be reflected by orientation to external stimuli associated with bodily sex. However, it is conceivable that sexual orientation could be influenced by “personality” characteristics associated with sexual identity. Commonly, sexual orientation will have a single focus but it is not limited to a single focus.

The final dimension is gender identity. Gender is usually either masculine or feminine and its content is socio-cultural in nature. Gender identity is congruent with one’s configuration on the other three biological dimensions. Gender identity, however, is biological only in the sense that it is motivated by the biological dimensions described above, especially sexual identity, but is otherwise socio-cultural (for a possible exception see Beauty Culture). By way of analogy think of hunger. Hunger is a biologically based sense of a bodily status. Hunger motivates you to seek ways of satisfying that bodily status. How the status is satisfied is almost entirely socio-culturally determined. What one eats, when one eats, where one eats, how one eats to satisfy a sense of hunger is largely socio-culturally determined while, at root, having a biological source or motivation. One’s biologically based sense of sexuality, which includes bodily sex, sexual identity and sexual orientation, motivates one to find avenues of expression for that biologically based sense of self. How gender identity is expressed, however, is largely determined by socio-cultural learning.

Probably in the vast majority of cases there is sufficient congruence between the independent variation of the four dimensions to call the outcome “normal” or typical. Even in a typical outcome, there is some range of variation but the range of variation is within limits considered “normal.” There are clearly many instances where there is a lack of congruence between the independent variation of the four dimensions that results in outcomes that are not considered “normal” or typical. The term normal herein is being used in a statistical sense, not in a evaluative sense. Anything that occurs is a natural outcome and should not be evaluated negatively simply because it is outside the boundaries of what is considered a typical outcome.

Of the four dimensions, gender identity is the most complex because of the many potential permutations contributed by the other three dimensions. The four subcategories used for transgender in the gender classification are adapted from The Transgender Phenomenon by Richard Ekins and Dave King. Because gender is socio-cultural, learned and subject to many social contingencies governing its expression, individuals with atypical gender identities are more susceptible to suppression of their motivation to acquire and express their gender identity or identities. Suppression of the social expression of a biologically based sense of self can contribute to the development of various psychological problems such as depression and in extreme cases can lead to suicide.

The classification system that follows is color coded, The coding of each dimension can be sequenced with the other dimensions in a chain while retaining the distinction between dimensions through a distinctive color. By way of analogy, one might think of a human sexuality code like a gene sequence. The chain of codes is analogous to a genotype consisting of four unique genes that describe different phenotypical outcomes. Two examples of dimensional codes are given at the end of each coded dimension and an example of a four dimension coded sequence with a verbal description is provided at the end.

I.              Bodily Sex

               A.             Male (congruent morphology, physiology and

                                neurological sex)

              B.              Female (congruent morphology, physiology and

                                neurological sex)

              C.              Cross-sexed

               1.              External characteristics

               a.              Male external characteristics

               b.              Female external characteristics

               c.              Ambiguous external characteristics

               2.              Internal physiology

               a.              Male internal characteristics

               b.              Female internal characteristics

               c.              Ambiguous internal characteristics

               3.            Neurological sexual explication

               a.              Male neurological sexual characteristics

               b.              Female neurological sexual characteristics

               c.              Ambiguous neurological sexual characteristics

For example: IA or IC1c2a3b describe two different possible configurations

II.              Sexual Identity (subjective sense of sexual self)

              A.              Male (congruent with sex)

              B.              Female (congruent with sex)

              C.              Cross-sexed (full congruence absent)

               1.              Male primary and female secondary

               2.              Female primary and male secondary

               3.              Male/Female balance

 For example: IIB or IIC2 describe two different possible configurations

III.              Sexual Orientation

              A.              Male

              B.              Female

              C.              Male primary and female secondary

              D.              Female primary and male secondary

              E.              Cross-sexed

               a.              Ambiguous external characteristics

               b.              Sexual identity

               c.               Gender identity

 For example: IIIA or IIIC describe two different possible configurations

IV.              Gender Identity

              A.              Masculine

               1.              Hyper-masculine

               2.              Assertive masculine

               3.              Typical masculine

               4.              Subdued masculine

               5.              Hypo-masculine

              B.              Feminine

               1.              Hyper-feminine

               2.              Assertive feminine

               3.              Typical feminine

               4.              Subdued feminine

               5.              Hypo-feminine

              C.              Transgender

               1.              Oscillating (IVA1-5 alternating with IVB1-5 where one is the primary and the other is the secondary gender identity.  A true balance would probably be classified as IVC3)

               a.              Imaginal

               b.              Practicing (subsumes imaginal)

               2.              Migrating (transitioning from (a) to (b) or (b) to (a) below)

               a.              IVA1-5

               1.              Role

               2.              Body (subsumes role)

               b.              IVB1-5

               1.              Role

               2.              Body (subsumes role)

               3.              Transcending (blending IVA and IVB)

               4.              Negating (neutralizing IVA and IVB)

 For example: IVA3 or IVC2

Thus a complete classification of an individual might be: IC1a2a3c IIC1 IIID IVC1

The above classification code describes and individual who is cross-sexed with external male characteristics, male internal physiology and mixed development of sexual identity. This individual has a mixed sexual identity in which the male identity is primary and the female identity is secondary. The individual’s sexual orientation is mixed with orientation to females being primary and to males being secondary. This individual’s gender identity is transgender of the oscillating type in which there is an alternation between a masculine identity and a feminine identity. The secondary sex orientation toward males is most evident during oscillation from the male primary to the female secondary gender identity, which in turn is controlled by the male primary and female secondary mixed sexual identity.

 

 

 

Sex, Gender and Language

          One of my personal peeves is the regular substitution of the word “Gender” for “Sex” on forms and in conversation. While the choice “Sex: Male or Female” when strictly referring to biological or external morphological characteristics is not always accurate, the choice “Gender: Male or Female,”  in my opinion, marginalizes, if not pathologizes everyone outside the normative range (statistically speaking). Below I will outline the understanding of these terms that leads me to see absurdity in the way that they are frequently used.

To keep this post relatively simple, I ask that you read an earlier post that while not exhaustive elaborates in some detail various terms that will be used below, especially as it pertains to bodily sex and gender identity. The discussion below leaves out the confounds of internal morphology, which includes internal sex organs, and genetic sex or what pair of chromosomes one carries in one’s cells. These two confounds are most clearly illustrated in cases of CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity syndrome). In this condition, an individual would be classified as female by the external morphological criterion above. This individual would most likely self-identify as female and would be almost universally seen by others as female. However, this individual will not have internal female organs and will have an XY genotype. A third confound is the growing evidence for the possibility of “sexed” brain functions, which can occur independently of the sexing of external morphology during gestation. This sexing of the brain is probably responsible for one’s subjective “sense” of sex or sexual identity. The sexing of the brain may also be related to sexual orientation independently of one’s bodily sex and sexual identity. Given the imposed limitation, there are three discernible possibilities: male, female and intersex.

Gender is a more complex term and has far more social, cultural and behavioral components to it than apparent bodily sex. Gender identity probably has an underlying biological component affecting one’s sense of sexuality. Gender is often used as if it had a one-to-one correspondence with apparent bodily sex, which is clearly not the case. The most common gender terms are masculine and feminine but these are not all-or-nothing categories and include a spectrum of possibilities.

While sex can be treated as categorical without grossly distorting reality, especially if three categories are used, gender is clearly dimensional. Gender can significantly vary along a somewhat normal (or bell shaped) distribution curve describing a dimension. Clearly, there are numerous potential positions all along this continuum that aren’t being given labels. If conventional classification of someone by gender is the goal one might do better to use a numeric scale where 1 is hyper masculine, 4 is neutral and 7 is hyper feminine.

There is one further complication to gender that must be introduced to make this discussion somewhat complete. The concept of transgender is important to this discussion as well. Presentation of transgenderism can be either overt, covert or both and along both behavioral (doing) and cognitive dimensions (imagining). Overt behavioral presentations can be either public or private. Some variations of transgenderism would not be observable and would only be known through self-identification.

The use of sex and gender as interchangeable terms implies that reality conforms to the following structure:

1.                  Sex:                 Male &                    Female &

2.          Gender:                 Masculine             Feminine

A more accurate, if incomplete, structure would include three categories for sex and three anchor positions on a dimension for transgender. For each combination of sex with gender, the latter will have multiple possible permutations. Please refer to the post linked in the beginning for some of the possible permutations.

What is being illustrated by the above discussion is that sex and gender and especially gender identity is a complex topic and one that is grossly over simplified in the ordinary use of language. Add to this an individual’s sense of sexuality and sexual orientation and the complexity grows exponentially.

 In ordinary verbal or written reference to people by sex, I would favor using labels that conform to how they identify and present. Asking about bodily sex might be relevant under limited circumstances, e.g., for medical purposes. I would be opposed to asking about gender because the meaning of the term is far too complex to be easily queried and would seldom be relevant for most public purposes, including conversational use of the term. I would definitely favor disassociating the terms male and female from the concept of gender because it confuses two different concepts: bodily sex (biological) and gender identity (socio-cultural).

The equating of gender with sex in common language usage is in fact an example of how the modal majority “democratically” attempts to define a public, social reality and marginalize and at worst imply pathology in anyone not fitting the majority stereotype. As Milton Diamond founder of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society has said, “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.” Language is the primary tool for creating socio-cultural reality and how it is used has important implications that should not be taken lightly.

A Libertarian’s Perspective on Abortion

          A lot of arguments over the abortion issue are tied to religion. I think religions can best be characterized as beliefs about insights gained by exceptional individuals. As belief systems, they substitute dogma and ritual for spiritual insight. Thus, I consider religions to be aspects of popular culture that are at best a means of social influence and at worst a method of exploitation. The abortion issue is just the type of emotional issue that religious “leaders” can and historically have used to accrue political and social power to themselves. Up until a few decades ago the hot emotional issue used by many religious “leaders” to garner political and social power was racial segregation. In the future, it will no doubt be something else. I reject any argument marshaled by individuals whose primary motive is probably social manipulation for the purpose of imposing their beliefs/dogmas on people who don’t agree with them.

The next line of argument I’d call a “natural law” argument for lack of a better term. This position argues that any living being capable of self-agency owns his or her life (I’d prefer body) and ethically speaking no one has a right to take that life (I’d prefer appropriate that body). Thus, the debate comes down to one about property rights, which are defended by libertarians, among others. The sticky point in this argument comes in determining when one has achieved the status of a human being and hence acquired property rights to one’s body.

I do not consider a dividing cell mass a human being. It may have the potential to be a human being but so does a skin flake in your bedding, given the development of cloning technology. Until a developing fetus is capable of sustaining itself outside of a parasitic relationship, it is not a realized human being and has no property rights over its developing body. (Note: Mere birth does not convey the status of human being under the definition used, though there is a high probability that the two will coincide, which in no way implies that one causes the other.) In fact, to give such a cell mass property rights is to put its property rights in direct conflict with the property rights of the host of whose body it is an integral part. As long as the cell mass is in a parasitic relationship with the host’s body, it is for all practical purposes a part of the body over which the host, a realized human being, exercises sole property rights.

The only way to prevent abortion is by the appropriation of a person’s body (property) by threat or physical force. A role usually assumed by the state, but certainly not limited to the state. Usurpation of property rights is not limited to the state and can be done by other types of organizations or even by individuals. Those who wish, for whatever reason, to involve themselves in the property decisions of another have only one acceptable means. They may attempt to affect the decisions of another through rational persuasion, if the person is willing to entertain their arguments. They never have a moral or ethical right to impose by force or coercion their belief or preference on another sovereign individual.

On Women as Female Impersonators

          In an interview on C-SPAN, Anna Quindlen used the phrase female impersonators in reference to women and attributed the phrase to Gloria Steinem. Steinem, in an interview in Mother Jones magazine, appears to use the term to refer to the socialization of women beginning at about 12 to 13 years of age. A partial quote “… when you were 9 or 10 or 11, and maybe you were this tree-climbing, shit-free little girl…and then at 12 or 13 you suddenly turned into a female impersonator…”

Allan Johnson in his book Gender Knot argues that feminine gender behavior is a social construct. What Johnson argues is that society is a male-dominated and male-centered social order. In such a social order men operating through social institutions have the power to define social roles. Thus, in his view, the behaviors associated with the feminine gender role are in whole or part determined by men. These behaviors include such things as speech, dress, attitudes and mannerisms to name the more obvious. It is likely that these role behaviors are at root based in biological differences, such as reproductive functions, reproductive strategies, physical attributes like strength and dexterity and possibly differences in brain organization affecting such things as verbal skills and emotional intelligence. Even assuming some root biological basis, socially defined femininity in a male-dominated society will be influenced by what men view as feminine, not necessarily what women might view as feminine (however, see the recent post on Beauty Culture).

Likewise in a society dominated and defined by men, masculinity will also be determined by men. Again, it is likely that there will be some root biological basis for the masculine role behaviors associated with masculinity but how these are articulated culturally has a great deal of latitude, as is true in the feminine case as well. One of the attitudes that masculinity is imbued with in a male-centered society is an orientation toward women as sexual objects, which is a common complaint from women about the social role they have been assigned. Thus, it seems likely that one of the reciprocal effects of “women as sex objects” is a corresponding subset of male defined feminine role behavior. Looking beyond this likely influence on femininity as a socially defined set of role behaviors that articulate gender in a male-centered society, it is unclear to what extent other gender linked behaviors are reflective of female behavioral tendencies whose explication have been controlled by women and to what extent they are influenced by the power of male-centered society to define appropriate gender behavior. Ultimately, social definition of gender roles will be a “dance” between the two biological sexes but one in which men have historically led.

Female impersonation then captures the role played by many if not most women in a male-centered society. That is, acting out the role of male defined femininity due to an unequal balance of social power between the sexes and a lack of a viable alternative. That many women embrace this role construction and even take satisfaction in it does not alter the fact that it is at least in part a male defined construct. There are, however, many women who are not entirely comfortable with this definition of femininity or who resist it both covertly and overtly. The latter are the women most likely to be attracted to feminism as a political movement, which appears to be an attempt to bring into balance the power relationship between men and women. Such a re-balancing opens the possibility for a redefinition of social organization but also leaves open the possibility of simply allowing women, who wish to do so, to participate more fully in the hierarchical power relationships that presently underlie society.

While this latter outcome certainly provides women with greater access to both economic and political power, the former could lead to a transformation of society. Evolutionary psychology suggests that men have evolved to organize themselves into hierarchical social structures that are predicated on status competition, dominance and the exercise of power. Perhaps the quintessential such model for this is military organization. Women who succeed in such an organization must “play the game” and become male impersonators or never make any real progress toward achieving significant organizational power. Whether this is a viable route to social equality remains to be seen. However, evolutionary psychology also suggests that women have evolved to organize themselves into lateral social structures that are predicated on cooperation, mutuality and the exercise of support. Assuming there is a factual basis for this hypothesis, it seems unlikely that most women will find male impersonation and competing in a dominance hierarchy appealing.

If it comes down to an overt “battle of the sexes” over who will determine social organization, it would appear that men have the advantage for evolutionary reasons as is evident from their historical dominance. Thus, it may be that women who simply play the game for personal advantage may enjoy some success but are unlikely to change the system in any substantive manner. On the other hand, if women who are successful at playing the game act as a “fifth column” that undertakes a covert strategy to change organizational structures they may succeed. Women who achieve organizational power should be in a position to plant seeds that could take root and grow into lateral networks in which cooperative strategies are as important to success as competitive strategies. This has potential as a strategy for change to the extent that current circumstances represent conditions in which such strategies confer an advantage on the society that embraces them. Such a society would reflect a merging of organizational styles rather than a dominance of a particular organizational style.

Since the label female impersonator when used in conversational speech most commonly evokes the idea of male to female impersonation, it might be appropriate to make a closing comment on this use of the phrase. There are, of course, men who adopt female gender behaviors, especially those of dress, speech and mannerisms. Many such men consider themselves transgendered and have, to varying degrees, a female sexual identity, which is probably rooted in neurobiology and underlies their desire to adopt to varying degree a feminine gender identity.

Such individuals have at times been the subject of hostile comments from “feminists.” The reason for this might be deduced from the above reflections. It would appear that these individuals are viewed as members of the “oppressive” sex who are reflecting in their behavior some of the most observable aspects of the feminine gender identity that most feminists are resisting to one degree or another. To the extent these feminists see their “mission” as redefining femininity, they find male impersonation of that traditional definition of femininity objectionable. Thus, instead of seeing these men as potential allies, who too are “victims” of a male-centered cultural stereotype, they are seen as possibly worse than men who simply conform to a male-centered masculine identity. These male, female impersonators seem to be a visual taunt or seen as a caricature. The better it is done the more like a taunt is appears and the worse it is done the more like a caricature is seems. In neither case, is it likely that what is perceived is what is intended.

In defense of men who are transgendered, they are exposed to the same models of femininity as are women in this society. That they mimic the prevalent model is no more a failing in them than it is in the typical woman. Further, it is unlikely that mere adoption by such men of the prevalent model is done in a deliberate effort to make either a cultural or political statement to women. Finally, due to the identity conflicts implied by their behavior, they are probably less able to see through the imposed feminine stereotype than is the typical woman. It is unreasonable to expect anything different from such men until a socially viable alternative femininity is constructed by women who see through the stereotype, are dissatisfied with it and can resist being co-opted by the hierarchical power-centered structure of a male-dominated society.

Speculation About Transgender Conditions

[Note: I use transgender in a broad sense and do not limit the term to persons who transition physically into the binary alternative to their assignment at birth (bodily sex). Personally, I make a distinction between sex identity (biological basis), gender identity (requires a biological basis but is largely socio-cultural) and sexual orientation (biological basis). I consider each to be a separate factor in every individual, in whole or part. I also consider these factors to be variable and interactive producing a wide range of outcomes. While some outcomes are atypical relative to the norm, I consider all to be natural outcomes.]

          Incidence data suggests that transgender (TG) conditions have a wider occurrence in males than in females and this post will be largely focused on TG in males. I do not intend to dismiss TG in females, I am simply trying to keep the level of complexity in this piece manageable. Demonstrating biological factors in TG people is unlikely. Such a definitive answer would require experimental research on humans, which would be unethical to perform. Further, a human subjects review board would never allow it even if some scientist or group of scientists had no ethical qualms about performing the research. An animal alternative will not provide a definitive answer because animals aren’t human beings and generalization from animal studies to humans will always be open to challenge, especially in something as unique as human sexual and gender identity.

What is left then? I would suggest that the next best thing to controlled, experiments on humans is what’s often called a natural experiment. These are unplanned, unintentional events that often provide a source of data that would otherwise simply never be available.

For example, there is the case of David Reimer. Reimer was born a male along with a twin brother. Shortly thereafter, the two brothers were taken for circumcisions. The operation on David was badly botched. After consulting with “experts” on sex and development, David’s parents decided to have him surgically modified to be structurally female. From that point on he was reared as a girl and was on estrogen therapy appropriate to developmental needs. At an early age David began resisting his status as a girl and insisted that he was a boy. By the time that s/he reached the age of 14, the parents gave up and explained what had actually happened. From that point forward, David did everything that was within his power to reverse what had been done to him. He subsequently took the name David and lived as a man. Unfortunately, David ended his own life at age 38 (more here). There are apparently a number of such failed natural experiments, but David Reimer is the best known because he decided to allow all the details of his case to be made public.

What this natural experiment clearly suggests is that there is no significant socio-cultural contribution to sex identity. You cannot have a cleaner test of the socio-cultural hypothesis than a young child surgically modified to conform to external female morphology, socialized during childhood as a girl and given estrogen therapy at puberty. Even if one argues that the parents weren’t fully committed to the path they had chosen, the influences marshaled to affect a change in sex identity were far greater than can be imagined under any set of typical childhood circumstances. The likelihood that the parents weren’t fully committed to making this natural experiment a success seems remote. They were convinced that it was possible by doctors who were supposed to know about these things. They chose to embark on the recommended course of treatment. A treatment that for all practical purposes was irreversible once the surgical procedures to remove the male testes and modify the genitalia was completed. They, no doubt, gave the project their best effort knowing that there was no going back. It just didn’t take.

Another natural experiment that has a bearing on some of the issues is that of individuals with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) [more here]. The bodily cells in these individuals do not have receptors for testosterone and do not respond to the hormone. The default morphology in such cases is female. When this occurs in a male fetus, the outcome is a child that is genetically XY or male and whose external morphology is female. Such individuals do not, however, have the internal female reproductive organs. In other words, a male genotype and a female phenotype, at least in most observable respects.

Individuals with CAIS are reared as girls and the parents and the child are often unaware of the presence of the condition until puberty. Many of these individuals do suffer psychological issues when they become aware of their condition but they do not grow up thinking they are male. Further, they almost invariably live as women and follow a typical female life course. They are sexually oriented toward men and usually marry. Many also become mothers and rear adopted children within their marriages. When there are other than temporary identity problems in these cases, they seem to be mostly accounted for by partial AIS (PAIS) in which the male child is born with deformed or incomplete genitalia. In such cases, the insensitivity to testosterone is not total. In some such cases, they may be surgically modified to be female depending on the status of the genitalia.

What this natural experiment suggests is that sexual identity is not a simple product of DNA or genes. The outcome in CAIS is, for all practical purposes, a woman with male genes. These genetic males have female physical features, female sexual identity and a female sexual orientation (i.e., toward males), which seems to be the human default condition. A cell biologist, Bruce Lipton, argues that DNA directly controls nothing and these cases appear to bear him out. Lipton argues that DNA is simply a blueprint for various proteins and that like any blueprint it is not self-activating. DNA in a cell’s nucleus must be turned on or activated before it will respond and produce a protein. What turns it on, according to Lipton, is a signal that is external to the cell. Such signals attach to a receptor on the surface of a cell and cue the cell to send a signal to the appropriate DNA sequence or gene in the cell’s nucleus to activate it. Testosterone clearly seems to be a signaling chemical that can activate sex related genes and modify some cellular functions. In the absence of the external signal, the genetic sex of a male remains unexpressed.

Sorting out the particulars and understanding the mechanisms and the variations may be possible by a careful study of natural experiments. The two types of cases discussed above seem to clearly rule out socio-cultural factors and simple genotype. The answer to the questions about TG in males will probably be found in exploring natural experiments that represent the middle ground between these two types of cases. It appears that the middle ground is probably formed by individuals with PAIS. What seems probable is that, at least, in TG males sex hormones are probably the external cues that activate genes related to sexual identity.

In TG males, testosterone production is adequate for activating the genes that modify the fetus to follow a male line of morphological development. However, at some point or points in development the fetus is either exposed to the wrong hormone, an inappropriate quantity of the correct or the absence of a hormone at a critical time. It seems likely that the critical function gone awry is related to signaling the neurons in the brain and feminizing the fetus’ brain. Several possibilities follow but do not represent an exhaustive list:

1.              The body fail to produce a sufficient quantity of the critical hormone during a critical period of brain development.

2.              Hormone production is adequate but enhanced, blocked or neutralized by some interfering chemical during a critical period of brain development.

3.              There is some interference with the sensitivity of the hormone receptors on neurons by an outside agent during a critical period of brain development.

4.              Hormone production is normal, there is no external agent interfering and the cell receptors are functioning normally but the timing of the hormone release must match closely with a critical period in brain development and the timing is off.

5.              Normally, there are additional surges of hormones in male babies perinatally or immediately postnatally. There might also be a failure of this late surge or variable levels of weakness in it that could affect brain development related to sexuality.

 In any of the proposals above, the outcome is likely to be variable depending on a variety of factors. The outcome could be the gestational default (female sexual identity) resulting in a transgender or transsexual condition. The outcome could also be only a partial conversion of the default female sexual identity to a male sex identity (mixed sexual identity) resulting in a range of TG associated outcomes.

The speculative hypothesis put forward here is that TG males arise from hormonal signaling gone awry. The errant signaling is likely to be related to testosterone, especially too little hormone or weak sensitivity to the hormone at the wrong time. It seems likely that the explanation for TG females might also be found to be related to errant testosterone signaling or receptor sensitivity that occurs too late in the gestation process to affect morphology but could still cause neurons to activate DNA with male sexual identity functions. It seems possible that TG males and females are due to errant androgen biology. In the former, this is probably due to a deficiency of some sort and in the latter probably due to an excess of some sort. It also seems likely that there would be fewer TG female outcomes simply because the default biology is female and should thereby be more robust and less susceptible to errant hormone signaling.

Genetic activation, to one degree or another, of biological sexual identity probably has some biologically based behavioral implications. There is some pretty clear evidence from evolutionary analysis that there are some basic differences in male and female reproductive strategies that lead to differences in behavioral styles. For a person who has some degree of sexual identity associated with the opposite sex, the greatest behavioral impact will be through socialization. Much of socialization takes place through social learning, which is observation based. The most critical factor in observational learning is attention to models. Thus, sexual identity might be considered an attention orienting variable. For example, a male with a female sexual identity, in whole or part, will to some degree be biologically oriented toward attending to female models. This is not unlike the priming that a fetus’s brain receives to focus attention on language models to facilitate acquisition of language in its developmental environment.

The content that makes for femininity or gender identity is largely socio-cultural and will vary by time and place. An individual with a focus of attention for female behavior will through observational or social learning acquire some degree of those behaviors and attitudes associated with the female models in his or her life. The strength of this biological orienting response will affect how strong or weak are the learning conditions. A further impact on the strength of the learning will be governed by whether or not the environment supports and reinforces the learning of feminine content. In the case of TG males, there often will be variability in the strength of sexual identity both for male and female aspects. This should result in variable degrees in the attention orienting response to both male and female models. Combine this with variability in the environmental support for or disapproval of attending to and imitating cross sex models and there exists the potential for a wide range of outcomes ranging from fantasy male femaling (to borrow a phrase from Richard Ekins) to medically orchestrated sex change, which in fact is what is seen in many TG males.

In sum, the hypothesis is that a male’s sense of sex identity is determined at the biological level and is related to hormonal signaling. When this signaling goes awry, TG males (and TG females) result. It seems likely that the errant signaling is related to much or to much androgen signaling at a critical time or selective cellular insensitivity to androgen signaling at a critical time or more generally. The degree to which the signaling goes awry accounts for different degrees of expression seen in actual TG males. That femininity and masculinity are learned expressions of gender identity is, no doubt, largely true. However, it is also proposed that the focus of attention needed to readily acquire expressions of gender through observational learning has a biological basis in one’s sense of sexual identity. Finally, attempts to socialize against one’s biological sense of sexual identity, as in the Reimer case, will be met with resistance and will likely fail.

The Monetary Factor in the 2008-09 Economic Downturn

          To see the role of the monetary factor one must look beyond the present or even the recent past. One could go back to the late nineteenth century or earlier, but the problem really got underway with the creation of the Federal Reserve by the Woodrow Wilson (D) administration in the early twentieth century (ostensibly to prevent recessions — that’s worked out really well hasn’t it?).

This was followed by Franklin Roosevelt (D) taking the U.S. currency off the gold standard (and confiscating gold from citizens) during the depression and thereby significantly devaluing the currency and giving the Federal Reserve a larger financial space in which to operate. Devaluing the U.S. currency in effect inflated the money supply, which allowed paying off government debts and obligations at a discount. The USG agreed to continue redeeming obligations to foreign governments in gold but at the new set price, which significantly discounted the obligations.

The problem really began catching fire with Lyndon Johnson (D) and his Great Society (War in Vietnam, War on Poverty and Medicare), which greatly increased federal debt and obligations. At the time, I recall reading an article in the “New Republic” lamenting the long-term economic effect this was going to have. The effects didn’t take long to catch up as the Richard Nixon (R) administration found itself potentially facing foreign government obligations and demands for more gold than the U.S. had in its reserves. Thus, Nixon was faced with either potentially defaulting on some or all of the obligations or finding a way to appear to be meeting them. Thus, Nixon took the U.S. the rest of the way off the gold standard declaring that the U.S. would no longer meet obligations to foreign governments in gold (implicitly saying we didn’t have the gold to meet the obligations we had incurred). In short, the U.S. dollar became fiat money.

This contributed to the runaway inflation of the 70s and a further devaluing of the currency. The original link between a dollar and an ounce of gold was 1:1. It is currently around 1200:1. It was during this period that a scheme, devised by Henry Kissinger, for tying the value of the dollar to the price of oil by forging an agreement with oil producers to price oil in dollars in exchange for U.S. military support. One side effect of this scheme was to significantly elevate the power and importance of big oil companies. The U.S. government (USG) under both Democrat and Republican administrations has continued merrily on down this path, which can only end in financial ruin and economic chaos. The Russian devaluation in 1998 should serve as an object lesson.

Recent political administrations seem hell bent on achieving “pedal to the metal” speed as we careen toward the immovable wall represented by what appears to be unavoidable insolvency. I’m not necessarily an advocate for tying the value of the dollar back to gold but it needs to be tied to something that isn’t easily subject to political whim. It is after all supposed to be a store of value.

In short, the USG has declared de facto bankruptcy twice. The first time was in the 1930s and the second time was in the 1970s. It appears we’re facing a third episode of de facto bankruptcy, except this time there appear to be no exits from the burning house of cards. Some think it could be avoided by economic growth but the kind of growth required is only found in entrepreneurial dreams. Even leaving aside such an unlikely degree of growth, the tax and other policies that define the U.S. economy mitigate against much economic growth at all. Low economic growth may have a silver lining in that the issue arising at the intersection of ecological degradation and economic growth would be mitigated. 

We will be indeed fortunate to generate enough growth to tread water at or near our current levels. Look at the Japanese economy of the past two decades and you’re probably looking at the U.S. economy for the foreseeable future. The one major difference is that Japan had a huge cushion of private savings to soften their economic fall. Another option would be to simply let the house of cards collapse. This would be very economically painful and disruptive and there is not any stomach for it, especially among the political class. A third option that some see, based on a flawed understanding of the what ended the depression, is massive government spending to stimulate growth, which produces growth in the same sense that “speed” generates energy. What pulled the U.S. out of the depression was not the economic activity generated by public programs and then war time spending but the industrial infrastructure destruction of war that left the U.S. as the only industrially intact economy in the world. The recovery from the depression was thereby produced by manufacturing and exporting goods to the rest of the world, until their infrastructure was replaced and they began competing with us rather than depending on us.

Of course, there is the insane solution, a nice little tactical nuclear war that wipes out a lot of infrastructure around the world but not most of the populations while leaving our infrastructure intact. A somewhat less insane strategy would be to start a nice big conventional war (something along the lines of Vietnam) in the irrational belief that the war will stimulate enough economic activity to bail us out of our mess. At best such a war would provide a temporary distraction while digging the hole deeper. Iraq and Afghanistan won’t do it. Iran maybe?

Immigration Policy

              This country without doubt has a problem with illegal residents. Why? First and foremost is that there are many places in the world that are so politically oppressive and economically impoverished that there is no shortage of people who want to get out and find more favorable circumstances. Second, we have a problem because the U.S. has an immigration policy that is so restrictive that many people despair of ever being able to legally immigrate and decide to take matters into their own hands and ignore the law. Finally, we have a problem because the federal government has shown itself either unwilling or unable to maintain the integrity of the territory comprising the U.S. The latter is a problem that goes well beyond illegal residents and includes problems related to smuggling and security to name two major concerns.

I favor immigration reform and reform that would significantly increase the number of immigrants. Why do I favor immigration reform? The answer is out of self-interest. First, immigrants supply a pool of individuals with little or no stake in the status quo. A regularly renewing pool of such individuals provide the fresh perspective and talent needed to keep the country moving forward. Second, without immigrants the U.S. population is approaching zero growth due to a falling birth rate. Without immigrants the U.S. population will very likely begin contracting within a few decades. Population growth rates below replacement levels are already a problem for many countries such as Italy, Japan and Russia. Further, it is a problem faced in the near future by a number of countries such as the U.S. and China. Thus, many of the countries in the world will soon be in competition for a diminishing pool of working-age adults who want to immigrate. The U.S. has a huge debt, an even larger pool of underfunded obligations and unfunded guarantees that need to be met. These cannot be satisfied with a flat or declining working-age population. In short, we must grow economically or face an economic collapse such as that recently endured by Russia.  Leaving aside, for the present, the issue created by the intersection of economics and climate change.

I application for immigration status should be open to anyone who meets a couple of simple tests. First, the person should be capable of supporting him or herself as evidenced by sufficient assets to do so or by having secured a contract for suitable employment within the U.S. Second, the person should pose no clear threat to civil order or national security. I think immigration status once granted should extend to an applicant’s immediate family, which includes spouse and dependent children but reaches no further. I would place no limits on the number of immigration applications approved each year and would not have any restrictions related to country of origin. I would offer work visas under the same guidelines as immigration (excepting the asset criterion) to anyone wishing to legally work here on a temporary basis.

We have restrictive policies that generally limits immigration and virtually prohibits immigration from some parts of the world. We also have a less than flexible policy about temporary work visas. Given these conditions it is not surprising that we have a large population of illegal immigrants who have made their way here from around the world. Migrants from Mexico, Central and South America probably comprise the majority due to geography but certainly points of origin extend beyond this hemisphere. I do not think it wise to allow this de facto immigration policy to continue to operate. I also do not have much sympathy for people who are willing to flaunt U.S. immigration law, even though it is flawed. I personally know people who would like to immigrate to the U.S. but who are not eligible to apply and who have enough respect for the rule of law not to take the matter into their own hands. If I had to choose between these two types of people, I would favor those that respect the law. However, we do have around 15 million illegal residents in the country so one issue is what to do about them.

It is unlikely that we are capable of deporting 15 million people not to mention the problems this would cause in many cases. For example, in families where the adults are illegal and the children are citizens what is the proper course of action? Personally, I think citizenship by birth granted to children of non-citizen parents in the U.S. is something that needs to change. However, it is the law and those children are not only legal residents but citizens. Because of the complexity of the situation, I favor amnesty for illegal residents whose only legal violations have been of immigration law. Convicted felons should not receive amnesty for violations of immigration or criminal law.

By amnesty I mean forgiveness not legalization. Legalization of past law violations is logically equivalent to making something illegal retroactively. Amnesty should be limited to forgiveness of violations of immigration law. In short, if you are granted amnesty you will not be subject to prosecution for violation of immigration law. Amnesty does not mean being rewarded with a fast track to citizenship and jumping ahead of everyone else in the world who wants to immigrate to the U.S. For example, when Vietnam era draft dodgers were granted amnesty, they were relieved of any risk of being prosecuted. They were not, however, rewarded with veterans’ benefits along with amnesty. So, where does that leave formerly illegal residents who have been granted amnesty?

I think any such resident who is employed should be able to apply for and be granted a work visa good for a fixed period such as three years. This visa should cover the applicant and any dependents in his or her immediate family. Renewal of the visa should be available as a matter of course at the end of the visa period. If such a person wishes to apply for immigrant status and be on track to citizenship, he or she should follow the same application procedures as anyone else in the world who wants to immigrate and become a citizen. If the immigration reform that I favor and discussed above were to be adopted, persons already in the country and holding a work visa would have an advantage in the immigration process. I see no easy way to avoid visiting this injustice upon persons outside of the U.S. who want to immigrate. It is an imperfect world.

The proper venue for getting changes in immigration law is the U.S. Congress. If you want changes in the ground rules for immigration, you should be advocating and lobbying with your congressional representatives. No one else has the authority or power to change the laws in the U.S. All other actions are a waste of time and largely amount to political grandstanding.

I do have a major concern related to Mexican immigration into the U.S., especially in border states. Niall Ferguson, a well known historian who studies economic history, has put forth an historical hypothesis about the causes of the conflicts in the twentieth century. He discussed his hypothesis and the evidence supporting it in his book War of the World. What he argued was that the recipe for conflict has three ingredients. These ingredients include overlapping ethnicities populating a geographic area, economic stress and either an inability or unwillingness by authorities to maintain order. Today one can see these ingredients coming together in several locations including the area where Iraq, Iran and Turkey come together (the Kurd “problem”); the area including the northwestern part of China (Xinjiang) and the territories in northeastern Pakistan (the Uygur “problem”); and the southwestern U.S. and Mexico (the Mexican “problem”). All of these areas, among others, have the potential to become violent. There exists a real possibility that an increase in Mexican immigration into border states could fuel the fires of ethnic conflict. I don’t argue that immigration should be restricted because of this concern but one should recognize the potential and attempt mitigate the factors that could cause conflict to erupt.

I also think that there is a downside to increasing immigration that is often overlooked. While immigration reform would increase the population and expand the tax base, which has some clear economic benefits, it also means growth. For those who are concerned with energy independence, conservation of resources, pollution, protection of the environment and similar endeavors, growth is a significant threat to all of those goals. If one advocates for expanding the population it follows that the economy must be expanded to accommodate the new citizens and the increased birth rate that will follow them. An expanding economy will put additional strains on meeting the goals mentioned. There is an inherent contradiction between increases in population, economic expansion and concern for the quality of life. We may have to choose between economic stagnation and financial chaos or environmental degradation and diminished quality of living conditions. Carefully consider what you ask for because you may get it.

See Also:

Borderlands and Immigrants

Arizona, Borderlands and U.S. — Mexican Immigration

 

Comment on a Klan Rally

 

          The picture above is from a Klan rally held in a small town not far from where I live in north Georgia. I was at first reminded of the Klan rallies that took place during my youth. Regular rallies were held on the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia, east of Atlanta. I recall sitting in my car at a highway intersection waiting to exit onto the highway while a seemingly endless stream of Klan “kars” passed by in route to the mountain and the inevitable cross burning.

 As I considered the current event, which was much smaller than those earlier events, an observation made by a psychologist, Charles Carver, came to mind. Carver’s observation was that if you want to understand a behavior, you must first understand the goal to which it is directed. This thought led to questions about the goal of the Klan and of the protesters present at the rally.

I don’t seriously believe that the Klan thought they were going to persuade anyone to adopt their position on any issue, so what did this small band of men belonging to a marginalized and socially impotent group hope to accomplish? Further, what was the goal of the protesters at the Klan rally? I very much doubt that the protesters thought they were going to persuade the Klansmen to throw off their robes and become advocates for freedom and liberty for all.

If this little “dance” on the Ellijay town square wasn’t about one group trying to change the mind of another group, what then was it about? I think that for the Klan, a true home grown terrorist organization that is now marginalized and socially unacceptable, the rally was primarily about validation. They sought and obtained public attention, which affirmed that they weren’t forgotten relics and could still command an audience by their public presence. The Klan reminds me of youths I’ve observed who know just the right buttons to push to aggravate some adult in their lives (teachers and parents seem to be favorite targets) and take considerable pleasure and satisfaction from having so manipulated an antagonist.

In addition to the self-affirmation obtained from public attention, the rally seemed to me to possibly serve a second purpose — communication. How does a small, isolated group recruit new members and give support to other scattered and isolated groups and individuals of a similar mind? One answer I think is through publicity. The news coverage generated by the event turned protestors and the media into the unwitting accomplice of the Klan in disseminating its message to its kin, “we’re here and we still matter.” In support of this analysis consider this from Scott Atran an anthropologist and expert on terrorism, “Media and publicity are the oxygen of terrorism. Without them it would die.”

Even in this day of digital communication, the context of a public event has significant messaging potential, as all of the “terrorist” groups in the world know so well. A public event, whether a rally or a car bomb, is both a cheap and effective way to obtain an outcome not otherwise possible for such a group. Thus, contributing to a publicity event conducted by the Klan, whether by showing up to protest or showing up to cover the “event” for the media, is to assist the Klan in meeting its goals. Empowering the Klan in stressful and contentious times is especially hazardous because it remains a spark with the potential to become a fire.

What led the protesters to become dance partners with the Klan? Clearly, there was a bit of self-affirmation going on here as well. What better way than a public dance of defiance with a defanged cobra to demonstrate one’s righteousness and moral superiority. The Klansmen in their white robes provided a stimulus to elicit the moral outrage of the most sensitive members of the community — the Klan’s dependable foils. The protestors came out because of the Klan but they demonstrated to affirm their own beliefs and to signify publicly to one another and the community that we are truly good and caring people. The rally also provided the protesters an occasion to identify kindred spirits in the community, form new associations and weave a new thread into one’s personal narrative.

In the end, the Klan cared only that the protesters showed up and the more the better for their purposes. The dance goes on.

Institutionalization as a Factor in Educational Under Performance

              American society throughout the 20th century progressively institutionalized many social functions, including education. The vehicle for institutionalizing education was through the creation of public school systems. Whenever something becomes institutionalized, it becomes a bureaucracy and depersonalized. The function of the institution becomes the responsibility of “experts and professionals” and those served by the institution become “wards” of the institution. My experience has been that “experts and professionals,” contrary to what they sometimes claim, have no sincere interest in input from “clients” of the bureaucracy. Further, institutionalization leads to homogenization of institutional services making them unsuitable for many of those that are supposed to be served. Homogenization results from the tendency to adopt an “assembly line model” with a standardization mentality and the inevitable politicization that comes with institutionalizing social functions. Under such conditions, parents and children alike become passive “consumers” and relinquish their responsibility to the institution and its “experts.”

Along with this institutionalization of America has come a huge tax burden on citizens to fund all the institutions created to serve social functions. Several estimates put the average American family’s tax burden at approximately 50% of gross income when all taxes national, state and local are taken into account. Dual employment has become a necessity for most two-parent families in order to afford a middle-class life style. In such families, much of one income goes to pay the family’s tax bill and the other goes to maintaining a comfortable life style. Single parent families are burdened down with trying to live on a single income in a two-income society. Of course, many families simply collapse under this burden and dissolve into chaos. All of this exacerbates the problems in public education. Parents are too busy with making a living to invest much, if any time, into education of their children. Instead, they readily relinquish their responsibility to an institution that they are paying for through their taxes and that isn’t interested in hearing from them in any case.

What can be done about the situation in education? Obviously, institutionalization of education isn’t going to be quickly reversed though that should be a long-term goal. I don’t necessarily propose that there should be no public role in education but education should at the least be put back under local control with parental oversight. I also believe that much could be done by changing the philosophy of education underlying most schools and teaching. Click here for a piece on educational philosophy.

Choice

There are advocates for simple determinism who would assert that everything we do is predetermined and therefore our apparent choices are really an illusion. From that point of view, we don’t have any choices and all the outcomes that appear to follow from such imaginary choices are predetermined and beyond our ability to influence. In short, the chain of causality that began in the distant past, perhaps with the origin of the universe, set in motion a chain of cause and effects that still continues and will continue into the future. That chain of causality passes through us and determines what we think and do. I think this view takes all meaning from existence and makes life largely pointless, which doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. However, I reject it on existential grounds and advocate for a view based on complex determinism.

Before going into complex determinism, let me say something about free will. The free will counterpart to simple determinism is absolute free will (a.k.a. indeterminism), which means one can by choice affect an outcome that is not predictable from its antecedents. In short, one can do things that violate the principle of causality (a.k.a. magic). For example, I used to challenge advocates of this position to go to the roof of the building and walk across the open space over the street to the roof of the building on the other side. To do this would both violate the principle of causality and demonstrate an outcome by choice that is not predictable from its antecedents. I’ve never had an advocate for absolute free will take me up on this opportunity to demonstrate the validity of their position. However, just as there is an alternate form of determinism there is an alternate conception of free will, which I’ll come to shortly.

The libertarian philosopher Richard Taylor proposed that the way out of the dilemma posed by simple determinism is to recognize human-agency as a primary factor in causation. That is human-agency can alter a chain of causality passing through one and initiate a new branch in an unfolding sequence. This brings us back to free will. In this view, free will is no longer absolute but rather is probabilistic. Complexity theory suggests that in any given situation there are usually multiple possible outcomes, none of which require magic to be produced. Each of these possible outcomes is more or less probable than another. The most common outcome is the one with the highest probability. This is what is sometimes described by the phrase “the path of least resistance.”

However, human-agency through intention and deliberate choice, based on forethought and anticipation of consequences, can influence and change the probability functions of potential outcomes. When I was a professor, I often talked about behavior in terms of what I refer to as the three-legged stool (biological causes, environmental causes and self-agency). It is this latter concept that lies at the root of the notion of the “cooperative alliance” (see Chapter One, page 16) in behavioral intervention that I discuss in a paper on behavior and quantum physics. In short, it is unlikely that one will affect a significant and lasting change in behavior without the active cooperation and collaboration of the subject with the change agent.

As a side bar, I would add that most, if not all, human religions presuppose that the underlying nature of reality is indeterminate and magical (e.g., witness the use of prayer in an effort to produce and outcome that cannot be predicted from the antecedents, i.e., appeals for divine intervention are in effect based on a belief in indeterminism or magic). Herein lies the source of my skepticism about religious claims. As for the existence of God, I can only say that depends on how one defines the nature of God. I see absolutely no basis for an anthropomorphic God and view such depictions as the artifact of a paucity of imagination. If one wants to define God as the ground state from which our universe arose then I can accept that as a possibility whether called God, Quantum Field or by some other name. What the characteristics of such a ground state might be is an open question and might include some of the claims of mystics and other spiritual explorers.

In my view, we do have the ability to make real choices. We can make choices, at least, from among those potential outcomes that are possible given the antecedents. Our choices, reflected in our intention and actions, influence (but do not control) the probable outcomes available in situations in which we are actors. I also think that most of us, most of the time fail to exercise self-agency and simply follow the path of least resistance.