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A Historical Theory About the Cambrian Gender Explosion, Part 1
The Culture Wars Part X
"On the sudden appearance of groups of Allied Species in the lowest known fossiliferous strata…" -Charles Darwin
Almost nobody ever really talks about the way Darwin divided humanity up into an explosively large number of races (55 if I recall correctly? I could not quickly find a citation and would appreciate a pointer.). This questionable classification opened the door to pseudoscience that still plagues the culture of scientific institutions—and their relationship to certain halls of power, both inside and outside of public institutions.
Darwin and many eugenicists quickly moved toward notions of racial and genetic superiority. This included an assertion of rareness in abilities of self-governance. The lasting effects of this school of thought on the world have been pernicious, but probably also largely undiscovered. Sadly, the corridors through which power flows are inhabited by those who privately organize hierarchies. They are too dark to easily see down without a permissioned light switch. Such opaqueness threatens all of civilization today; like a poison of unknown consequence.
It is important to remember that those who broker power often cannot distinguish between the novel and reasonable ideas, and the ill-formed notions of the same individual or philosophical circle. The power brokers rely on proxy trust, just as do the uneducated folks. They buy into evolution, but the package unnecessarily included eugenics. They grow overconfident, and the results of their mistakes can be amplified across all of civilization when they choose to be credulously led through realms defined by their own individual blindness.
A Cambrian Explosion
"Some fish were jumping up the beach and into the tree, which struck me as an odd thing for a fish to do, but I tried not to be judgmental about it. I was feeling pretty raw about my own species, and not much inclined to raise a quizzical eyebrow at others. The fish could play about in trees as much as they liked if it gave them pleasure, so long as they didn't try and justify themselves or tell each other it was a malign god who made them play in trees." -Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See
A few hundred million years ago a handful of species felt the Earth was boring, so they tried every survival strategy legally allowed under intergalactic common law, and then made faces til they stuck. We call this era, during which the number of species grew from an imminently countable number into a stunningly chaotic living mosaic, the Cambrian era.
Most of the new species of the Cambrian era failed to survive the grand settling of the rapidly shifting ecological equilibrium. This leads some to wonder if Stalinists were in charge.
Judging by the network news, something similar is going on with genders (and Stalinists may be in charge). A years ago, there seemed to be two primary genders and a rare bucket of "other/intersex" which were synonymous with biological sex attributes.
In 2014, ABC News reported on Facebook's then 58 gender options.
Women's Health Magazine described 12 in 2021.
Healthline documented 68 terms that describe gender identity and expression in 2022.
MedicineNet describes at least 74 as of 2022.
At yourtango, the discrete arithmetic we usually apply to words that fit in a dictionary or taxonomy or even total population statistics is cast aside. There is only a continuous spectrum.
"There’s only one good answer to the question of how many genders there are: Gender is a spectrum, an umbrella term, and there are as many gender definitions as there needs to be for every person to have a label that lets them feel true to themselves."
Scientific American assures us that anything like the use of gender for the purpose of simple linguistic convenience is "dehumanizing".
Ancient Mathematicians and Scientists
"Does progress mean that we dissolve our ancient myths? If we forget our legends, I fear that we shall close an important door to the imagination." -James Christensen
We think of the Greeks as great mathematicians and logicians, almost like these disciplines were birthed there. That's nonsense, of course. It seems intuitively evident that most every advancement of human thought happened through the efforts of large numbers of contributing humans going back longer than any recorded history we can examine. But we simple mortals generally prefer neat, tidy stories with heroes and heroines.
Understand that I don't intend to short Thales of Miletus ("the first scientist"...sorry Galileo, Ibn al-Haytham, and Fauci) his credit due. He is one of my most favorite figures in all of history! Due to all that he learned during his voyages, his travels to Egypt and maybe Babylon were seminal to the rise of Greece as a technologically advanced civilization, and his impact so profound that many a famous thinker became more famous for what they borrowed from him. The Greeks inherited a lineage of thought directly from Egypt, which might be described as one of the best models of civilization that we fail to adequately research and apply. While we don't know how advanced the Greeks actually were prior to Thales, he made it clear where much of his understanding of mathematics was imported from Egypt.
So far I have found no discussion of a gender spectrum among either the Socratic or pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, but that doesn't mean we have nothing to learn from them on the topic. But it does mean that anyone who refers to them as, "a bunch of old white men," is potentially misgendering all of them.
"The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself." -Thales?
One of the several contributions to Geometry attributed to Thales is the simple "fact" that vertical angles are equal. This theorem appears in every foundational Geometry textbook, but the story of knowledge transfer from Egyptian mathematicians to Thales is one of the most instructive lessons in all of math and science due to the way Thales elevated the underpinnings of Geometry. The Egyptians would draw out intersecting lines, then measure the vertical angles to make sure they were equal. This would "confirm" to them the straightness of the lines. In other words, it was taken as a sort of religious edict that the equality of the vertical angles was equivalent to the property of the straightness of the lines.
Not satisfied with such a religious belief about lines and angles, Thales invented what we might call "methodical algebraic thinking" (sorry al-Khwarizmi) to prove the equality of vertical angles under the assumption (axiom) that all straight angles are equal.
Source: A geometry textbook I was working on prior to the pandemonium.
This is not to discount the amazing observations of Egyptian mathematicians, but perhaps to recognize the way clever and utilitarian observations truth became sort of…stale. As knowledge of geometry was passed from one generation to the next, perhaps the lessons were usually accepted as a sort of religion at some point, and so progress ceased. This might have been a matter of cultural trends, or it might have reflected the relationship between the mathematicians (state priests and officials with training in ledger keeping and shapes that related to construction and agriculture) and the mathematics.
Water as a First Principle
"Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash." -Bruce Lee
If you pour water on Fauci, does it become The Science(TM)?
Bruce Lee's Tao of Jeet Kune Do reads like Thalesian philosophy in some ways, and Thales would be a badass name for a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym. Thales sought to explain change in terms of first principles. In doing so, Thales focused on liquids, and specifically water, as the physical form of manifesting change (Dueso, 2009). Had he known of the Cambrian era, he might have considered it like…the Age of Aquarius.
Thales also thought that lodestones had souls, and Bruce Lee never learned grappling technique enough to compete with modern MMA fighters. So, we can appreciate their contributions to the foundations of Egyptian-size pyramids of understanding, but we also have to move forward to achieve new heights as they did. We stand on the shoulders of dead Greeks and Chinese bantamweights.
Is this going somewhere?
Gender Fluidity Observed in Ancient Egypt and Graceland?
"It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." -Voltaire
If it takes Harvard to explain gender fluidity, is it more real to the average American than string theory?
Is that 11-dimensional string theory or 22-dimensional string theory?
I'm not smart enough to know, but I can use the internet to learn about how and why transgenderism became so suddenly a new center of activism and cultural warfare. A few years ago I came across Steven Crowder. I don't really know Crowder's full career, but he seems to have made a name for himself digging into the culture war surrounding transgenderism.
In this particular video (at around the 18:00 mark), Crowder talks with a student defending the separation of sex and gender on a historical basis. The claim includes how distinctions between biological sex and gender go all the way back to ancient Egypt. The lesson was that it is only a relatively recent socially imposed phenomenon in which sex and gender were viewed as identical. In another video, I heard a student fresh from a class talk about how their professor (of Egyptology) pushed the notion that Egypt was a bastion for the gender fluid, or something like that. There is also a section on "Gender and sexuality" on the Wikipedia page for Egyptian deities. It is notably filled with citations from books sources that are hard to track down and will probably never be checked for accuracy (like an attack on time economics?).
This historical claim shocked me, and I wish that I could have heard a body of actual evidence put forth to back the claim that ancient Egyptians distinguished between sex and gender at all. Heck, I'd be curious about evidence that anyone distinguished between sex and gender prior to very recently, aside from the observance that a small proportion of humans have malformed sex organs (intersex). But for now, I'll stick specifically with examining the historical claim with respect to ancient Egypt…
This is not exactly a simple topic. Ancient Egypt was a polytheistic culture that apparently included gods that sometimes masturbated one another into existence. How do we make sense of all this?
Are we supposed to make sense of all this? Gods and goddesses were often borrowed from conquered cultures at least partially as a way of cementing new peoples to their new societal managers. Much can be lost in translation, including humor. I can imagine how I might have sabotaged such a process were I picked up by an alien craft at the age of 17. I might have just made it up as I went.
Alien: Explain to us your religion.
Me: There was a man named Elvis whose blue suede shoes allowed him to ascend a drug-induced death into everlasting life at Graceland. His powers were so great that he could not be confined by Earthly rulers. His scions married men who were really really bad and could walk on the moon.
It's hard enough to understand the cultural icons of the 20th century, much less those who defined life thousands of years earlier.
The Coolest Cats on the Nile
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this." -Terry Pratchett
Egypt's success as a civilization was defined by a relationship between geography and technology. So long as traveling to core of the Egyptian empire—crossing brutal deserts with hungry, thirsty armies to reach the fertile Nile valley—remained technologically difficult, Egypt had no real rivals. The lack of rivalrous pressures on monarchies has often been associated with a "Birds of Paradise" vector of cultural evolution.
In my admittedly limited research into Egyptian culture, I found no evidence at all for distinguished concepts of "sex" and "gender". I don't know how scribes felt about the economy of language involved in carving or painting hieroglyphics, but if such divergent notions existed, we might not have evidence of them. If professors are teaching this as facts with supporting evidence, it's not at all easy to find that evidence in an internet chock full of discussions of sex-gender fragmentation.
What we do have is sparse observation of a word meaning "neither male nor female":
sht ("sekhet" or "neither")
Fertility was valued highly through at least most of Egyptian history as cultural practices and mythology clearly demonstrate.
But Sekhet (or "Sekhmet", which seems to be a fusion of the words for "female" and "neither") was also the warrior deity. Though Sekhmet is commonly referred to as a goddess by Egyptologists, the primary evidence (or offensive, possibly mis-gendering assumption) seems to be Sekhmet's marriage to Ptah. But Ptah, known as a "double being" was a deformed dwarf whose hieroglyphic representation includes a twisted staff and what appears to be a bearded lady with a massive erection (that's actually the generic symbol for "deity").
The ankh often held by Ptah has itself been referenced as a symbol combining both the male and female reproductive organs.
The sun god, Ra, sent Sekhmet, sometimes represented as an "eye" (think surveillance?) on a vengeful quest to destroy mortals who conspired against Ra. This eye [of surveillance] could be used to ward off disease, but in the case of Ra's vengeance created plague and famine. Most of humanity was said to be destroyed in the process, after which Ra quenched Sekhet with beer, apparently sating him/her/it/them.
If this sounds a little eerie to you right about now, you're not alone.
Sekhet is also sometimes translated as "eunuch" and that seems like a raging clue!
Before we go too far (is it too late, yet?), note that eunuchs could simply be those born unable to procreate (intersex) or be the result of castration. Egyptologists have apparently not found direct evidence of castration in reference to the sekhet, but we know that ancient societies tended toward the use of eunuchs to perform certain state functions. These included the keeping of state and royal secrets, and probably also the arts of arithmetic and geometry (which were largely about statecraft in ancient Egypt). Eunuchs were considered to be more trustworthy in particular ways because they were like socially isolated islands, unable to participate in generational transfers of power and wealth.
What would eunuchs do for a state with no threatening rivals?
Rivals can grow from within. It might have even been the case that the Biblically described tension between the Pharaoh and Israelites was the result of growth of the foreign population in proportion to the native population, thus raising the economic cost of monopolistic statecraft.
It is suspected that Egyptian slaves sometimes forfeited their liberty due to committing crimes. The spouses and children of such a slave could also then be slaves. These slaves were lower in society than the conquered peoples of foreign kingdoms. That sounds a lot like the Best Slave Pageant we call "public schooling" today.
From the Brooklyn Papyrus, we learn that Near Eastern men and women were intermingled with Egyptian servants and outnumbered them. Interestingly, they seem to have been more highly regarded then their Egyptian counterparts. This is probably due to the fact that, as prisoners of war or their descendants, they initially belonged to a social stratum superior to that of the Egyptian servants. In fact, the Egyptians of similar status probably came to be slaves due to committing some sort of unlawful act. Hence, some of the Egyptians who became slaves were originally free people who, having committed some sort of illicit acts, were forced to forfeit their liberty, perhaps including the liberty of their spouse and children. It should also be noted that the birth of a child to a slave mother, whether or not the father was free, resulted in slavery for the child. In fact, abandonment of undesired newborn children was not infrequently practiced in Egypt and the Near East, and has also been attested in Greco-Roman Egypt. Though there seems to be no extant documents of such a practice in Egypt, elsewhere foundlings were considered ownerless property who might be picked up to become slaves.
Native slaves were beneath coerced immigrants?
Apparently so. And it is easy to imagine that under such a system, being elevated into the position of a state slave was a big step up.
This might have even followed a difficult life/lineage of debt slavery—something that has become quite contentious in American culture today due to the harshness of college debt in particular.
Another way that one could be come a slave was actually through self-sale into servitude, as several Demotic papyri of the sixth century BC evidence. In reality, this did not result from the individual's free will, but was rather the results of their inability to pay off debt. The creditor therefore discharged the debt by acquiring the debtor as a slave. Not only did the debtor become a slave, but also his children, and in addition, he or she also gave up all that they owned. However, at other times peasants might sell themselves into slavery for food or shelter. This also suggests to us that, unlike slaves of some other societies and periods, those of ancient Egypt were frequently better off than some of the poor, freeman.
Does all this sound a little too close to home?
What we have with ancient Egypt is a complex society that seems to have taken intersex children and made them into slaves to the state—a sort of eunuch function. But we aren't even particularly certain of that, and we certainly don't have a Rosetta stone for interpreting the nuances of cultural norms with respect to any assumed conceptual divergence of gender and sex.