Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gender: What does this mean?

Earlier I wrote about the battle of the sexes due to differences between men and women. Although there are differences there are far more similarities between us biologically and socially. However, our cultural attitudes pressure us to believe that we are similar and different regardless of our biology.

There are those that believe that we are similar, such as feminists, and that we are capable of developing the same way depending on how we are raised and our interactions within and between groups. The only difference is that we have different genitalia which makes us look physically different from each other. Others believe that we are so different because of our roles in society and because of our physical nature, a notion that has been formed by the men for the purpose of oppressing women for their own personal gain.

The problem with these notions is that they do not include a biological perspective which really weakens these arguments. Also, although humans live in groups and societies this does not mean that particular groups reflect how individuals develop biologically. The environment does have an influence on the development of human beings, both female and male, but so does our evolutionary history and we cannot disregard this fact when we are discussing gender and equality. We are human beings whether female or male and we do have physical, developmental and chemical differences but that does not mean that our capabilities are so different.

The Y chromosome is in fact not quite different from what it was for tens of millenia. Because males are quite competitive in their behaviour when females or resources or revenge is a concern many of them were not able to prolong their genetic line (Y chromosome) compared to others that were more successful such as Genghis Khan from the Mongolian region. Some men had many descendants and others had none leaving us with a small number of distinct Y chromosomes. On the other hand, a larger number of women had a more evenly distributed number of descendants, since there was less competition and instead chose the best-quality males, leaving us with a larger number of distinct mitochondrial genomes (Pinker, The Blank Slate, pg. 347). This evidence illustrates one of many biological differences between men and women.

The real underlying issue though is that the minds of men and women are thought of to be so different that both sexes are incapable of being successful at the same things. Some people believe that men think more about justice and rights while females are more compassionate, nurturing, and empathetic to others. I beg to differ. Men are not from Mars nor are women from Venus. They are from Africa where they evolved together as one species. Men and women have all the same genes except for a small number on the Y chromosome and their brains are so similar. They have the same general levels of intelligence which help them to experience the physical and living world in the same way and they both experience similar basic emotions.

But of course there are differences which can be noticed by the opposite sex but are also manipulated into being major differences by society which make people think that we are much different than we actually are. Men have a stronger preference for having multiple partners and they are more likely to compete aggressively over stakes great or small. Men are taller than women on average and men are better at mentally rotating maps and objects. Men also have a greater tolerance for pain and a willingness to risk life for status and attention. In contrast, women are better at remembering landmarks and the positions of objects. They are more dexterous and have better depth perception. They are better at reading facial expressions and body language and have a better memory for verbal material. They also experience basic emotions more intensely, except anger, have more intimate social relationships, and are more empathetic toward their friends, though not towards strangers (Pinker, The Blank Slate).

Putting aside these differences it is important to understand that men and women are very much alike in our genetic make-up and it is our biology which governs how we develop as men and women. We do not have to put ourselves in different categories to identify our strengths and weaknesses and our differences. Instead, we need to embrace these minor differences in order to accept and compromise with one another. We should not let our differences overpower what we truly want in our lives which is the satisfaction of our emotions and desires. Rather than hinder each others strengths, we should help each other harness them because that is how we have evolved. Men do not only need to be the hunters and women gatherers but rather we are both capable of achieving these tasks, especially in Western culture. We are not so different and we should not let anyone lead us to believe otherwise.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Self-Deception: To Believe What We Are Not

It is true that people live in a world of self-deception. They remain aware that it is possible to be deceived by another person-- a family member, a coworker, or a friend-- so they try to ensure that they are not taken advantage of or fooled. They know that if they are deceived that they will have to reap the costs of their error in judgment. It is sort of like a part of the human radar in order to avoid people that are dishonest and greedy--- a social behaviour that was used long ago by our ancestors to do the same for the protection of their families, tribes, territory, and resources.

Deception is prevalent in society among relatives and non-relatives. It takes effort and energy to maintain a straight face and charm in order to deceive others. Whether the deception has to do with telling a lie to get away with something or take advantage of someone the individual has to almost believe their own deception to outwardly give an impression of honesty and genuineness. Not only do they deceive others but they subconsciously deceive themselves. It becomes increasingly difficult for the person to distinguish between what is real and what is superficial and where to draw the line.

It is not easy to understand self-deception from the point of view of a human being. We constantly judge ourselves while judging others and adopt or develop stereotypes in order to understand other people. None of this seems to be based upon our biological nature but rather shaped by our culture. We feel that we are more or less right about our judgments about ourselves and others but we are simply not. We tend to hold biases about different things (i.e. politics, race, gender, age, beauty, wealth, happiness, etc.) that make up part of our moral sense. These biases do not necessarily make up who a person is but instead reflects what society as a whole believes. These beliefs are emphasized in the media in order to get the attention of individuals and mold their opinions--- it is a form of deception. We pick and choose what to believe based on societal 'norms' and in turn deceive ourselves by accepting different biases without really understanding the ideas.

There is truly a cycle of deception which exists in society and it causes human beings to continuously deceive ourselves. Although it is important to detect when someone is being deceptive it is also important to understand that deception exists in all parts of society whether it is in government, business, media, social interactions, religion, education, it is everywhere.

We cannot simply believe something without knowing the basis of the idea or belief. There needs to be a means to understand society. One credible method is to look to science and evolutionary psychology for an understanding of human nature and why our thoughts operate in such a way. We are no more than a biological species with feelings and thoughts but we cannot believe that the basis of our moral sense comes from something beyond our biological limits. In that case, we are simply deceiving and confusing ourselves and driving us further from reality-- from what is true in the realm of our nature. We are only hurting ourselves when we believe what we are not.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reciprocity in Society: Returning the Favour

It's quite interesting to see how individuals behave and socialize within a group of other individuals of no relation to each other. It is quite a different story when individuals interact within a family or circle of close friends and relatives. The major difference is that in a group of non-relatives individuals have expectations of the others that requires reciprocity and equality.

It's no surprise that when someone asks for a favour that they are expected by the other party to return the favour so there are no hard feelings between the two. When a favour is not returned it is easy to understand what happens. The other party feels like they have been taken advantage of which leads to feelings of anger, resentment, and disprespect. It is hard for them to forget what happened to them and it becomes harder for them to give out favours if they feel that they will not get one in return. The person who has not returned the favour most likely has a record of this kind and feels that regardless of hurting feelings they have gained something without giving something. However, within a group, a person with such motives cannot last long without being punished for their actions. Their behaviour can spread throughout the group as they continue to do this to others. They gain a reputation for being stingy and dishonest and eventually cannot gain favours from anyone in the group. The individuals in the group that continue to return favours are the ones to gain more in the end because more people are willing to help due to their reciprocity. This is why most people realize the importance of reciprocity within a group or society because it is a way for them to gain trust and loyalty from non-relatives and maintain good standing.

Perhaps the idea 'be good to thy neighbour' has lasted for so long among societies for the very reason of reciprocity. It really has nothing to do with the mythical belief of karma but instead has to do with fostering bonds between non-relatives in order for there to be reciprocity, especially in times of need. It is not always certain that an individual will be near their family and friends who will help them in any case more or less so it is imperative to have an alliance with others. But good will only come for those who are willing to return the favour or they may end up in the court of law.

Laws are important to have in a society of non-relatives that give and receive favours. In a large society an individual can never be certain if their favour will be returned when they are not familiar with the backgroud and behaviour of the other party. They may pay for a service or make a large purchase on something and never be given what they expected. They may provide a service for someone and never receive payment. There are so many ways in which individuals can be taken advantage of and never see reciprocity in society which is one of the main reasons why there is a justice system. Laws help to maintain reciprocity among socieites of individuals who have no relation to each other. They help to maintain a balance of giving and receiving favours among and between individuals in order for there to be peace and altruisim.

Altruism is an emotion that is innate in human beings and that is why there is recirpocity. An individual may want to help someone in need but would like to know if the other person would do the same for them. It is simple. Or is it? People may want to show altruism to others even if the other party is helpless but they would require some sort of guarantee that there is some sort of benefit for them.

But what happens if the other person cannot return the favour because they are poor or sick or helpless? Does this mean that they are not altruistic or choose to not be altruistic? Where do we draw the line here? In a democratic system of laws and rights how do we help people that cannot return the favour? Some societies around the world are controlled in a dictatorial manner where there are a few individuals who run the show. They take the profits of a working society and divide the funds disproportionately so they get the bulk of the earnings. The rest of society has to settle for their share without question and without fair reciprocity. In other societies people who are in higher income brackets pay more to the government through a tax system. People in the lower income bracket pay less but they also may be entitled to more social services funded solely by the tax system. Although it seems like the higher income earners do not see many direct benefits comapred to the lower income earners but it may be indirectly benefical in that there is added stability in society (i.e. less crime, poverty, and sickness). It is almost always necessary to have some form of a people's government to enforce laws within a judicial system in order to foster reciprocity in a society. In many cases it is the government that becomes the party to only receive favours and brainwash society into believing otherwise. But that is a another story.

Reciprocity is important within a group because it allows non-relatives to be altruistic and respectful to one another. It is hard to know who to trust to return a favour in a society of strangers. But if people who are altruistic teach their children about reciprocity and what it is to be respectful and honest then more people can begin to share this common and innate quality with one another and maintain a 'good' society without all the mythical jargon.