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Marrying Down

Sometimes the NY Times is beyond parody.  This months "Life-form of the Month" in the Liberal "paper of record" are ciliates.  The article tells a fascinating story about these one-celled organisms.  That's not what caught my eye, however.

What stood out was how the Times chose to frame the story for its readers.  The paper focuses on sex.  Here's the lede paragraph:

When it comes to sex and reproduction, mammals are ultra-orthodox and, frankly, rather dull. Individuals are either male or female, no one changes sex and there are never more than two sexes in a species. No mammal reproduces asexually -- by budding off a small piece of itself, say, or by splitting down the middle and growing a new individual from each half. Nope: among mammals, offspring are always produced by sex. That is, an egg fuses with a sperm to produce a child that is genetically distinct from both parents.

By contrast with mammals, ciliates are more interesting.

Ciliate sex is peculiar in several ways. For one thing, reproduction and sex do not happen together. When a ciliate reproduces, it does so asexually, typically by splitting in half and growing a complete new individual from each piece. So: where there was one individual, there are now two.

In and of itself, asexual reproduction is not especially strange -- many organisms, from aphids to sea anemones, do it at least from time to time. The weird stuff happens when ciliates get sexual.

In ciliate sex, two individuals arrive, and two individuals leave: no eggs are fertilized, no offspring are produced. But by the time the two individuals go their separate ways, a massive change will have come over both of them: they will both have acquired a new genetic identity.

Fascinating stuff in and of itself.  Let's leave aside whether it is proper to call it "sex" when we're talking about one-celled organisms.  The way the story is framed, both on the home page and in the story seems to suggest that we humans are missing out on something because, like all other mammals, we have only two sexes, and we reproduce in a routine way.  In other words, it's better to be a lower species than a higher one.  Writers and editors for the Times, it seems, are not comfortable being human. 

Today's lesson in societal decay.

Categories > Men and Women

Discussions - 4 Comments

Wasn't there an earlier post on here about Liberals being humorless?

Come on. This is stupid. It's an article that looks into a very interesting reproductive process and shows how radically different it is from the one we are all involved in. That makes it interesting.

Anyone who sees this author as seriously telling their readers that "it's better to be a lower species than a higher one" or "that we humans are missing out on something" (so, I'm talking about you here, Richard) is either being willfully ridiculous or unnecessarily polemic.

So thanks for pointing out the article. Why are you being so stuffy?

I think this is hilarious (and revealing)! Humor usually is revealing.

It's funny because this is the logical conclusion of the standard opinion that sex is "no big deal" and sex and reproduction are "just another bodily function." If you take that sort of thing too seriously, why wouldn't ciliate sex be something to be marveled at by way of contrast and, even, envied? I mean . . . new genetic identity?

If sex and reproduction are just bodily functions--not necessarily involving anything higher than that-- then I suppose our way of doing them is rather unimaginative. Probably even Tiger Woods or Mark Sanford couldn't say that they'd acquired a new genetic identity as a result of one of their encounters . . . though I'm thinking that, about now, new identities might be very useful to them. I guess they'll have to use their brains to get those . . .

My daughter is in public high school and is managing to be herself in a bad crowd. "Being herself" includes resisting the sexual advances of those around her, male and female. My question, "What happened at school, dear?" all too often includes a recitation of the advances she spurned. At this point, if she just waits for irresistable attraction I will be very happy. The kids she knows couple based on "liking" and sometimes not even that. It takes huge reserves of nerve to resist the peer pressure. For the first time in her life, I appreciate her huge reserves of nerve. In this circumstance it looks like great moral strength. Everyone is "doing it" in high schoolthese days and the problem is that all adults, even the parents of these suburban high school teens, assume they will be "doing it" every chance they get.

Before coming to NLT this morning, I read the following from the WSJ:
by Megan Cox Gurdon on a current phenomenon (not actually evident among my daughter's new friends) of this; "Girls save themselves not for marriage but for the prom." as there is still some longing, by girls, anyway, for some specialness in the sex act.

My daughter's latest outrage is over the fact that sex ed. is going to be taught in her history class. "Not even Biology!" She loves history class and sees sex ed a great waste of the class period. In addition, they tell her that the penis-model of choice for the condom unrolling at her school is the banana, which students are expected to eat after demonstrating condom proficiency. Such programs (the school says this one is abstinence-based) seem designed to break down modesty and promote public sexuality.

"Please, get me out of it!" I am begged and I will.

Sex-ed, though without condom play, happened at our house a long time ago. That was not a "how-to" course, and actually happened gradually over the years and in response to situations and questions and meanderings of conversations. Morality came with it. My children have never had another teacher with the moral authority to teach that. My daughter insists that the kids in her class are far beyond needing any further sex-ed of the physical sort, that having happened for them in different ways years before, that the whole thing is an ugly joke. For them, morality had nothing to do with it.

Birth control, pills especially, have given us something roughly like ciliate-style coupling, where sex and reproduction do not necessarily have to be related. As Gurdon points out, human sexual coupling used to be something rather intimate. Given what my daughter tells me about her high school classmates, public coupling, impromptu amateur real-time pornography, is the way of the next generation. If you don't like the fact, just close your eyes.

I thank God my daughter is looking for something intimate, romantic and who knows, maybe even stuffily including a product of unique new genetic identity of the traditional human sort. She says the better sense of self starts at home and that one of little bits of motherly morality I gave her (sex-ed?) that keeps her resistant what could be the daily grind is the image of her girlfriends making themselves little better than human Kleenex, catching the drips of the world.

Great post Kate. Personally, I thought it was hysterical that “Matt” couldn’t see Richard’s tongue firmly planted in his cheek with this post.
However, the most striking part for me was that an article in the NYT (!?!?) of all paces avers that “Individuals are either male or female, no one changes sex and there are never more than two sexes in a species.”
What happened to “gender-neutrality”, “trans-gender-ism”, bisexuality and all that junk?

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