Sexual orientation, altruism, and epigenetics: Is this a ruse for “second class citizenship”?

Recently, the “Gay Tribal Elder” Don Kilhefner aired a Ted video by James O’Keefe, “Homosexuality: It’s about survival, not sex.”

The talk at first attempts to explain why homosexuality persists in practically all populations at a consistent level (roughly 3-10%) despite the obviously low reproduction by gay people, and in the face (especially in the past, and today in authoritarian cultures) of discrimination and persecution.

The general explanation is that sexual orientation (and probably gender identity, which is at odds with biological gender (transgender or even gender fluidity) much less frequently than homosexuality) is directly related to turning genes on and off with chemical messengers, largely generated when the bay is still in the mother’s womb.  This is called epigenetics.  It is this process which favors the development of homosexuality in a population of humans and other social mammals.

If you look at the natural world, with social carnivores (and perhaps many primates like bonobo chimps, and maybe some whales and dolphins), it seems to be common that not all of the males reproduce or get their genes propagated.  There is often an “alpha male” dominance (lion prides, wolf packs).  This might sound like a Machiavellian “survival of the fittest”, which seems offensive to consider today (remember the debates on eugenics early in the last century and where that led).  But there may be another reason:  in animal social groups or extended families, the survival of the tribe as a whole is enhanced if some adult members specialize in altruistic behaviors for the rest of the members of the group rather than in propagating their own genes.  A similar model also applies, as O’Keefe argues, with social insects, like bees and ants.  This raises another question in my mind, about distributed consciousness capable of transcending and surviving an individual member’s own mortality;  that’s an idea I’ll come back to again in a future post.   O’Keefe argues that in most of these animals, chemical messengers turn on and off various genes, influencing future behavior.  In a matriarchal ant colony, a queen can determine the “personalities” of individual workers (warrior or forager) by selecting their food when the young are still larval.

So it is in human families.  When a mother has several children (especially several sons), the brains of later born (younger) kids are likely to get different chemical stimulation in utero.  Part of the reason is to prevent overpopulation (too many mouths to feed, although on the frontier you needed a lot of kids for labor in the past).  But the other reasons is to provide altruistic backup for family members who do bear the kids and future generations. It does seem true, later born sons are more likely to be gay.  And sometimes among identical twins there is discordance, which suggests an epigenetic influence.

My own case is unusual, as I am an only child.  Indeed, my own college expulsion in 1961 after admitting “latent homosexuality” to a college dean (after prodding) now sounds motivated by the idea that I was announcing a “death penalty” for my parents’ hope of a future lineage, which might matter in religious or spiritual matters (again, I’ll cover later).

I was also an example of the “sissy boy” syndrome. While that expression was a popular myth in the 1950s and Vietnam-draft 1960s, in general it does not turn out to be true of the gay male community as a whole, when you talk about cis gay men (not trans).  Gay men, for example, can play professional sports, an idea that the big leagues must embrace. (Baseball will probably have a trans relief pitcher some day, but that’s another matter.) What seems remarkable in retrospect is that, at least in cis gay men, sexual orientation (attraction) is linearly independent from all other physical expressions of what we perceive as “masculinity”.  That’s really apparent on most gay disco dance floors, where lean masculinity seems to be celebrated. (Milo Yiannopoulos is dead right about this.)

As my own adult life unfolded, independence became a paramount value for me, particularly as an answer to otherwise possibly clinging to people.  For long stretches of years, I lived in other cities far away from my parents and their social groups, and developed my own “real world” contact groups, long before social media.  That seemed to be what an adult was supposed to do.  I did, necessarily, have a double life, until after retirement, where work and personal relationships and personal cultural expression (even publications and books) were separate.  That became normal.  Publicly recognizable personal accomplishment, whether winning chess games from masters or publishing books on issues like gays in the military, became a primary virtue;  family, having or adopting and raising children, became viewed as an afterthought.  I viewed the rest of the “straight world” this way.  When I was working, I thought everyone felt this way, particularly for my own lens of “upward affiliation” in personal relationships.  I got a taste of “otherwise” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, but I really didn’t have to come to grips with this until my own mother’s heart disease and decline, as well as the “social” values that were pushed on me in retirement, where salesmanship (even outright and aggressive hucksterism), rather than content production, became the new expectation.  Manipulation, driven by tribalism, seemed to replace individualized truth-seeking.

O’Keefe’s video seems to imply that gay people (equates to non-procreative) are expected to stay around home to be the backup for the rest of the family when things happen. Indeed, this was often the case in previous generations especially for spinster women (not so much gay men). With there being fewer children today, the childless (as I found out the hard way) are more likely to become involved in their parents’ eldercare for years.  In some families, childless people wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies (like in “Raising Helen” or the series “Summerland”), sometimes as a condition of a will.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that, while rarely enforced (with a notorious 2012 situation in Pennsylvania) can undermine the independence of childless people.

Likewise, in the workplace, in many areas with salaried (non-union) people, childless people sometimes wound up doing the unpaid overtime for their coworkers who took family or maternity leave (DADT-1 reference).  This happened to me sometimes in the 1990s, and has contributed to the movement today for paid family leave (or at least parental leave). I was the person with the disposable income would could be leaned on for sacrifice.   Sometimes I was feared as someone who, with fewer responsibilities, could work for less (“gays at a discount” was a common insult in the 1990s) and lowball the salaries of others.  That sort of thinking at one time had even affected the thinking of the military draft, when John Kennedy wanted to allow marriage and fatherhood deferments (dashed by the Johnson buildup in 1965, although student deferments remained until 1969).

So I have to see O’Keefe’s views, at least in my own life, as a call for second-class citizenship.  But that may not be the case for people who necessarily experience life through surviving as a group or tribe together.  Many tribal societies (most notably in the Muslim world) are ferociously anti-gay and want every adult to share in the responsibility of having children (as do some evangelical Christians, for example).  O’Keefe shows that these ideas, however religiously driven, don’t promote the long term welfare of the group.  Biological immutability seems relevant.

On the other hand, the whole idea of marriage equality, in my own perspective, has been about “equality” for those like me who remain topological singletons.

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017. At 12 noon EDT)

Firing of Google engineer for internal “manifesto” highlights problems with speech and the workplace, vs. “identity politics”

The recent “free speech” meltdown on the Google campus has a few angles to it that deserve exploring, and compare to some of my own past.

David Brooks, the moderate-to-conservative “moralizer” on how we can be good as individuals, called for the resignation of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, after the dismissal of Google software engineer James Damore, 28, who distributed an internal “manifesto”   I enjoy reading Brooks, who for the most part is about where John McCain would be on a lot of issues and on how elected officials should behave.

Brooks points out that it is reasonable to discuss statistical genetic differences between identifiable groups of people (by gender, race, geographic origin, maybe sexual orientation) while maintaining that in employment (including the military) and public accommodations people should always be treated equally as individuals.  Well, practically always.  I don’t think a female could hit home runs the way Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge can.  But I do think that some day that Major League Baseball will have to deal with the controversy over having a (female-to-male)  transgender relief pitcher.  (And, by the way, professional sports leagues have to be totally with it on the idea that sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity are all very different things.)

Before moving on from all this, I’ll add that my own youth (born 1943) created a world where conformity to binary gender roles was seen as essential to fitting into the group and carrying one’s own share of the common risks.  Later, individualism took over my life, and discrimination became less urgent personally. But when external coercion happens, it gets important to belong to the “larger group”, so smaller groups (even “intersectionality”) start to matter.

Yet, Pichai and the identity politics crowd apparently would hear none of Damore’s pedantic provocations, which made him seem aloof to the real world.  Somehow, even bringing up biological statistics invited enemies of various marginalized people in these groups.  We’re all the way back to the demonstrations against Milo Yioannopoulos and the whole ridiculous Leslie Jones fiasco.

Damore’s 10-page memo has been called an anti-diversity “screed”.  The language may seem tedious to some, analytical for others, or maybe a joke (I remember the Pentagon’s “123 words”  — “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” etc. by comparison, indeed the “mouthful of words” that Randy Shilts had so much fun with in “Conduct Unbecoming”).  His comment on empathy is interesting – people really do need emotion for “Staying Alive” (like John Travolta).  It’s also important to remember that biology relates to the likelihood of having kids and family responsibility, which Google has wisely tried to defuse by offering paid parental leave, regardless of gender. Vox published a “Big Idea” page that “ladysplain’s” the issue of sexism in the technology workplace.

It’s important to remember that this was an internal memo;  it was published online only after it became controversial.  I once got into some minor trouble at work in 1992 for sending a SYSM (a mainframe email program within a data center installation) criticizing others for copying software disks, possibly illegally (in the days with the Software Publishers Association was starting to audit companies for possible copyright and software license infringement). Indeed, some of the security and legal controversies today had their predecessors of the pre-Internet old mainframe world of the 70s through the 90s. Let me add that from 1972-1974 I worked for Sperry Univac (Unisys) which for its time was one of the most progressive companies in hiring female engineers.

What can be more troubling is when someone posts controversial material online on his own dime with his own social media account, blog, or hosted domain, and others find it through search engines.  I’ve already discussed how this played out with a fictitious screenplay I had posted when I was substitute teaching (July 19, 2016).   There was a situation in my IT career where I transferred to another location because of the possibility of a perceived public conflict over publishing my book involving gays in the military (May 30, 2016 link).

In the early 2000’s we saw human resources people write articles on proposed “blogging policies” at their companies.  I think when someone has direct reports or underwriting responsibilities, there is a real risk that if someone finds opinionated material online even written at home, a hostile workplace issue can come up.  I had written an article explaining this back in March 2000 as Google was starting to make me “famous”.

Here’s a story about a writing conference in Minneapolis canceled because of the “lack of diversity” of the presenters.   I lived there 1997-2003 and went to some events sponsored by the local National Writers Union.  I didn’t run into this then. Ditto for a screenwriting group.

The recent reports that Google canceled an employee town hall over external threats and targeting, are disturbing again and remind me of the unrest over campus appearances by Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray.

(Posted: Friday, August 11, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Update: Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 6 PM

James Damore has his own explanation in the Wall Street Journal of his firing here.

The New York Times has a detailed story today about how the internal memo gradually became more public involving internal tools called Memegen and Dory.  The “leak” appeared partly through Breitbart, which reports that WikiLeaks has offered Damore a job.

The Washington Post has an op-ed in Outlook Aug. 13 by Fredrik deBoer, “Corporations are cracking down on what employees say, even outside of work“.  He cites examples, like a stadium worker for criticizing the Philadelphia Eagles on Facebook, or a military contractor fired for publicly supporting Barack Obama. Digital technology has made second lives impossible.  This may have helped overturn “don’t ask don’t tell” but it can gradually erode the “right” of people to speak for themselves and send them running to organizations and lobbyists begging to be paid to speak for them.

Other people’s children

I saw a Facebook post recently from Arvin Vorha, a mathematics educator and Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Maryland, which read “If you didn’t produce a particular child, your financial responsibility to that child is zero.”

Oh, is that the real world?  How often to childless people wind up raising the kids of siblings after family tragedies? (That was the premise of the WB series “Summerland” that started in 2004.)  Or there is the premise of “Raising Helen” where raising a child is a requirement for a inheritance, although that sounds fair enough.

There is also a practical issue that, for a family or for a “people”, having children and being able to raise them is an important capacity.  A lot is said about population demographics or “demographic winter”, especially by the alt-right, which warns that populations with foreign values (read Muslim) will take over the political lives of western countries because they have more kids and at younger ages, without waiting for ideal circumstances (education and perfect job) according to narrower libertarian notions of personal responsibility.

In the workplace, at least back in the 90s, there were a few occasions where I worked overtime without pay when someone else had family issues or was having a baby.  How does that play into the paid family leave debate?

And then, when I talk on Facebook about how cheap my own health insurance was when I was “working” in my long track IT career, and I was flamed about my own privilege, for having my establishment employers subsidize my insurance with tax-free benefits. Well, they could have paid me more instead,  Then the flamethrower wrote something like “You must not have kids.”

Right, not having procreative intercourse with the opposite sex is indeed an indication or moral inferiority, a lower deserved size in life?  Is that what this means?  Is that what the equality debate is about?

Indeed, the backside of the demographics debate is the “cost” of eldercare of an aging population.  I found out two decades ago how easily I could be “conscripted” into this world, and then play the privilege card by hiring immigrant caregivers.

Then there are all the debates about race and genetics, which some see as offensive (Wade’s “Troublesome Inheritance” and Murray’s “Bell Curve”). But it seems that things cancel out if better-educated people have fewer children.

I do have to add one extra detail:  Susan Collins (R-ME) has mentioned “my” idea of using reinsurance in the revised health care play (to cover pre-existing), and Rand Paul (R-KY) wants individuals to have the same bargaining power by getting together as employees of big companies or union members today. Trump, as a businessman, has to have pondered these ideas, right?

Here’s a legacy post about the demographic winter issue, referring back to a 2007 “Manifesto” (decree from “on high”) by Carlson and Mero, “The Natural Family” as well as Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle“.

(Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

Trump may go mainstream on paid family leave debate and make it gender-neutral

There are a couple of wrinkles in the debate over workplace benefits, not only health insurance but paid sick leave and now paid family leave.  And many people are finding that their jobs, as independent contractors, offer no such benefits.

Lydia DePillis has a typical story in the Washington Post back in 2015. “She thought she was entitled to maternity leave.  After asking for it, she lost her job.” Many jobs in information technology are filled by staffing companies, where the employee is paid a “salary” with benefits from the staffing company.

Often there is some overtime (there is an hourly formula) and often there are per diems for travel.  But clients (very often state and local governments as well as the federal government) need the work to be done.  It’s much harder to make a practical case for paid family leave in this environment.  This is the job market I became familiar with throughout the 2000’s after my “layoff” at the end of 2001.

Today the Washington Post also has a story by Danielle Paqeutte reporting that Donald Trump may be considering the idea that parental leave should be gender neutral after all.  Previously, he had wanted to make only maternity leave mandatory, up to six weeks, paid for by unemployment benefits.  Now his advisers are more sensitive to gender discrimination and want to offer it to fathers, and conceivably to adoptive parents.  Paying for it may be more difficult.

I’m left personally with pondering the way that parenthood and having children became an “afterthought” in my own thinking.  That meant, for example, I was totally unprepared for the eldercare episode that would happen in my own life.  It’s really an important life activity, but the way we go about it, from a moral perspective, is disconnected from everything else.  Parenthood is a good way to become connected to meeting the “real needs of other people” in a more continuous manner.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 10 AM)

Implementing paid family leave is harder in a hyperindividualistic society

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Yes, it is certainly true that the United States seems to look bad compared to almost the entire rest of the developed world when it comes to paid maternity leave, slightly less so for paternity and for other family leave needs like eldercare. “Thinkprogress” has a revealing chart here.

So, as I usually do, I must pour cold water on all these pleas for common sense help for mothers of young children, and say that the United States, more than almost any other country, is an hyperindividualistic culture where people bear the responsibilities for their own chosen behaviors.  If so, history is inconsistent, but that’s the direction we’ve been heading.  But it’s fair to ask, then, why didn’t we have (and expect) paid maternity leave, at least, back in the 1950s when society was supposedly much more family-centered? A lot of the issue then just had to do with the position of labor.

Paid family leave is certainly a feel-good thing, but it needs to be “paid for”.  The political Left assumes capitalists can pay for it out of their “profits”.  Businesses say they will have to charge higher prices.

Of course, larger, more progressive companies have started offering paid parental leave on their own, most notably in the tech sector.  That is out of self-interest:  they need to keep their best talent.  Generally, they offer the same leave to new fathers as well as mothers, and often offer it for adoption.  (Mark Zuckerberg made a big show of this for Facebook when his pediatrician wife had her first child.) Some may offer it for eldercare.

The question, then, is should states or municipalities (like San Francisco and Washington DC) require employers to offer it?

My own feeling is nuanced.  Paid parental leave that covers both fathers and mothers (and covers adoption) is “fairer” by gender than paid maternity leave alone. Leave that covers eldercare is still fairer to the childless, who may wind up with disproportionate share of responsibility (see my post on filial responsibility, May 12).  But leave that covers more people (in the name of equality) costs more.

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I think that Washington DC is on the right track with this, in proposing the idea of an “insurance premium” payroll deduction to help pay for the benefit.  Everyone would pay the same premium, except that it could be made progressive with respect to wage (or waived for the lowest wage workers). Charging a premium makes the worker conscious that there is an issue that doesn’t have an easy solution that is always “fair”.  (Indeed, Donald Trump used to say, “Life isn’t fair” on “The Apprentice”). A worker knows that he or she is more likely to use the benefit if he or she does something to deserve it.  The idea could encourage more couples, or in some cases single people (and this includes gays, lesbians and transgender) to adopt children, probably a social development that is needed (although that’s another discussion).  However, Hillary Clinton was reported by Time as against the use of a “consciousness-raising” payroll tax to help pay for the benefit.

One other problem connected with paid leave is how salaried or exempt employees are treated.  In many cases now, if an key employee is out for parental leave, other workers simply do their work, often without being paid extra, even working on their own time.  That may change now for lower paid salaried workers, who according to a recent Labor Department rule now must be paid overtime. Fox News called this development a “career killer” .  In October 1993, I spent an entire weekend in the office on production problems after end-of-month when the scheduled person was on maternity leave.  I did not get paid for the time, nor did I ask to be.  I simply “lowballed” workers with heavier family responsibilities.  Then I would learn my lesson with my own mother’s situation a few years later.

Some companies try to offer alternatives to parental leave for associates without children. But then, logically, there is no inherent benefit for becoming a parent. You can’t have it both ways, but you can only pretend to.

Many people, aghast at the idea of evaluating mom’s leave benefits through the lens of “moral hazard“, will see this issue of one of social solidarity, about living in a community and sharing some longterm goals rather than in the narrower sense of fairness related to one’s own actions.  European countries are used to seeing things this way. It’s interesting to note the response of the public to mothers’ crowdfunding their own maternity leave (NBC Today story).

I’ll share this second video by a young woman who discusses “unintended consequences” of making paying for maternity leave alone mandatory.

Note that she correctly describes the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act as providing for unpaid family leave (which can include eldercare and is gender neutral). She also notes that many employers prefer married men but unmarried women, which can bear on sexual orientation discrimination at least indirectly.

There is another related concept, which social conservatives sometimes discussed in the 1990s (like in Henry Hyde’s “Mom and Pop Manifesto” in Policy), called the family wage, which in theory is enough pay to allow a family with two children or so to live on one income.  The far left tried to push this idea in Spokane, WA recently, as in this “Triblive” article by Colin McNickle, Aug. 25, 2015, calling it a “progressive cancer”. The concept is discussed in Chapter 5 of my first DADT book.

(Published: Friday, May 20, 2016 at 12:45 PM EDT)

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Update: July 5: Ezra Klein on Vox goes back to the subject of paid maternity leave alone when he relates the story of a thought experiment on Mothers Day by Cardstore.

Update July 9:  David Brooks pens an essay “The Power of Altruism” which would seem to defang the idea that the childless should be so concerned about paying for other people’s children (OPC), or other people’s relationships or sexual intercourse (stripped of community context).  Elinor Burlett had gone there were her 2000 book “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless“, although she fielded the idea that the willfully childless “cheat the system”.

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Update: August 4, 2016

The Foundation for Economic Education has an article by David R. Henderson, “How paid family leave will backfire on young people.”