Monday, September 04, 2006

Justice Cruz, Manolo Quezon and “A Natural History of Sex”

I have belatedly followed the brouhaha between Justice Isagani Cruz and what he believes are gays’ role in society and the response of some of his critics such as, “The Explainer” Manolo Quezon.

In a democracy, ideas are open for debate and I know that a respected jurist like Mr Justice Cruz knows what the limits of freedom of expression are. But while Justice Cruz and Mr Quezon have a right to their opinions, I’ll dish out some of my own.

Natural scientists and social scientists will have to really define what being gay is. Under the cold logic of Darwinian sexual selection, is gayness functional? What does “functional” mean? Now before I inflame some people, it would be best for them to read Darwin’s “Descent of Man”.

But reading Adrian Forsyth’s “A Natural History of Sex” may be a good starter. I found this book in the really, really bargains pile at the recently concluded Philippine Bookfair in Manila. Forsyth is a leading biodiversity scientist based at the Smithsonian.

Now the whole idea of sex in the animal, plant and bacterial kingdoms have been always controversial since we tend to relate how they do it with how we do it. Fortunately or unfortunately there is diversity in sex and how to do sex. This is probably Nature’s joke on our preconceptions. And Nature’s joke is the stuff that makes cocktail parties bearable and fun.

Neo- Darwinian sexual selection while intuitive rests on the idea that we should be able to pass on our genes at all costs. All our evolutionary advantages are geared towards maximizing reproductive success, thereby and consequently maximizing reproductive fitness. This is where the question of being Gay really lies. For under classical Sexual Selection, gayness makes no sense.

Homosexuality in the animal kingdom is the subject of much research. Much of the research has become ideologically coloured. For the natural scientist, is gayness biological? And if it is biological, what fitness does it confer? In science, we practice our profession under a current paradigm. And in this stage of scientific history, Darwinian sexual selection is the paradigm. The job of scientists is to document instances that are exceptions to the paradigm. And this is where some of the gayness research has focused on lately.

Of course, there are documented examples of homosexual behaviour in animals. The question is whether this leads to a more successful heterosexual strategy or something else.

Many scientists believe while there are observed homosexual behaviour these tend to prepare the animal for eventual heterosexual behaviours. Most of these “gays” are adolescents who are yet to compete on the sexual selection arena. This is the “gay developmental” hypothesis. The adolescents lose their gayness once they are mature and able to compete for sex.

The reason why this gay research needs to be addressed is that homosexuality in animals may have evolutionary continuity for humans. This is a central tenet of Darwinian Evolution. However, the subject has become politically sensitive for obvious reasons.

But then along, the whole concept of “gay” is something human. I don’t think a parrot who mounts a same-sex parrot would think he is gay. Thus the idea of using this animal gay research to defend the thesis that gayness is normal is wrong. Under the cold logic of Darwinian evolution, there is no such thing as “normal”. Without teleology; evolution cannot be limited by moral or ethical bounds. The only “end” of evolution is itself. Animals may practice infanticide and even terminate pregnancies. This is to maximize reproductive fitness. Most humans gay and non-gay would abhor these as abnormal. Devout believers of religion may be aghast to learn this. But it happens in nature and there is no moral colour to it.

I do appreciate the opinions of Justice Cruz, although I disagree that in his latest response to his critics, he labeled “gays” as feline. I think this is a disservice to cats. And for Manolo Quezon and other likeminded critics, name calling and taking logical flipflops do no good for the honest discussion of homosexuality.

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