Tagged Sex differences

“I, Corona”: My Exclusive Interview with the Little Guy Who’s Changing the World

Dear Students,

I have a special treat for you today, an exclusive interview with SARS-CoV-2, his first ever, on his life and times so far. I was able to arrange this through my special friend Charles Darwin, whom Sarsie—his preferred nickname—likes to call Uncle Charlie. Sarsie doesn’t think he’ll be confused with his older brother, SARS-CoV-1, whom he calls “pathetic,” nor does he think highly of his cousin MERS. “I mean, really, a few months in one or a few places, and then, poof! they’re pretty much gone.” He has a certain grudging admiration for cold viruses.

            But I’ll let him tell you in his own words. By the way, he insists on he/him/his, because as he puts it, “I don’t have the equipment to reproduce, so I gotta beg, borrow, or steal it from someone who does. I just put in my genes, and they do the rest. Also, let’s face it, a guy like me, who puts ambition above everything…I mean, I’m most likely gonna be male, right? Yep. My whole species, and my brothers and cousins too.”

            He asked me to call this column “I, Corona,” as an hommage to Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic, I, Robot. “I didn’t like his three ethical laws, of course, but when he got to the part about robots that secretly run the world, I could definitely wrap my envelope around that. But why keep it a secret? Just take the world over and run it, I say.”

            What follows is a lightly edited version of our interview, with my questions removed. Not that there were many. He doesn’t let a human get a word in edgewise. So I listened and learned.

            “Yep. I’m on the move for sure. My bros and cousins were well meaning, all princes in their way—and we’ve got more princes than the Saudi Royal family—but I’m the Crown Prince (get it? Corona? Crown?) and I will be King.

            “By the way, this whole debate about am I alive? Am I alive? Are you kidding me? I’m alive and I’m eating you alive.

            “But back to the family. We’ve only been around a hundred thousand years, less than you even, but then again, we reproduce in 48 hours, you take 20 years. Do the math. Ex. Po. Nen. Shl. As Uncle Charlie would say, we can sure do some evolving.

            “The family divides up the spoils, but we’re not all equally successful. Some of the corona cousins specialized in farm critters. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it. Let’s be honest, though, you’re not goin’ down in history for makin’ a chicken cough or givin’ a pig a belly ache. Then there’s the bunch I call the Corona Sniffles, they’ve done alright for themselves actually, they got around, they hang around, they evolve, they come back. No drama, mama, but Uncle Charlie would be proud.

            “SARS-1 did alright for himself but he just couldn’t get transmissable enough, and on top of that he only jumped from Jim to Jane, or from Zhang Wei to Mei Ling, after he gave Jim or Zhang symptoms. Jane and Mei knew to keep their distance. So my Sarsie-1 bro hit Guandong Province in China, got to Toronto somehow, and got locked in with quarantine. 8,000 cases, 800 deaths, a little economic slump, that was about it. One wave in 2003, so far done and done.

            “Cousin MERS was a killer though, too much for his own good. You kill a guy, he ain’t passin’ you on. Also Cousin MERS was never good at jumping from one of you sorry humans to the next. Probably more of you have gotten him from camels than each other. He broke out in Saudi in ’12, trickled around to 27 countries since, 2,500 cases, 800-some-odd deaths, well controlled by even your bumbling species, nothing to write home about.

            “You can see where I’m goin’ with this. I’ve done more in eight months than the rest of them put together. I’m the Crown Corona Prince by acclamation. I mean, let’s look at the facts. Okay, I was trapped in bats for I don’t know how long. I was bummed. Do you have any idea what a bat cave smells like? But I took a deep breath—the kind I make impossible for you—and channeled Uncle Charlie. He counseled patience: “Be like a Buddha Virus, bide your time, mutation and evolution will do the rest.

            “Boy, did they ever. You helped, by bulldozing forests and setting the bats I was riding free. My hosts got snared, sold, and eaten, and I was on my way. Okay: I’d evolved my way from bats to humans, but would I be like my cuz MERS, get stuck in a bat-to-human trap like he did (mostly) with his camel-to-human song-and-dance? No way. Or would I maybe take a leaf from my bro Sarsie-1’s book and only jump from Jim to Jane when Jim was already sick and Jane could avoid him like, well, the plague? Nope again.

            “I did everything by Uncle Charlie’s playbook, evolve, wait, mutate, evolve. Jump from bats to you folks (Whoopie!): Check. Jump from Zhang Wei to Mei Ling: Check. Now, jump from Zhang to Mei before Zhang gets sick—three days, a week, two weeks: Check. Now, don’t even make Zhang sick at all, ever. Or Mei Ling. True, a cough or a sneeze will spread me yards in droplets and aerosols. But if Zhang and Mei are rehearsing in the same chorus for a couple of hours, or even sitting at different tables at a restaurant with the right air circulation system, that’ll work fine for me. If they exchange looks and fall in love and do a Chinese version of French kissing, I’m golden.

            “But think about it: I can’t win big in Uncle Charlie’s sweepstakes by staying in one corner of Wuhan. So here’s where your species really starts to help me. Homo sapiens? Homo dumbellus is more like it. That young doc in Wuhan who tried to blow the whistle on me last year, right at the start? Whew, that was a close call. That could have ended me maybe, but thankfully his bosses shut him up fast. They even made him apologize for making me up! That was a great moment in my career, gave me just window I needed to zip around Wuhan.

            “He was some kind of hero. Poor guy got sick from one of the patients he tried to help, and I killed him. Wasn’t trying, you know, but there it is. He gave his life to tell the truth and save your species from mine. Not fair, but that’s how Uncle Charlie’s law swings. Or, you might say, how the fortune cookie crumbles. Sorry, couldn’t resist; but I spent enough time in China to know fortune cookies don’t crumble there, only in America.

            “Speaking of which, I was getting folks to carry me out of Wuhan to all over, even while the Chinese did a 180 and started to shut me down. They had the right government and the right science and the right culture to do it, and I was done there in a couple of more months. People cared about each other. They believed their doctors and scientists after that first blooper. They show the world how your species could win the war against mine. Or could have.

            “Some learned, some didn’t. I was rockin’ and rollin’ man. Jims and Janes, Fritzes and Gretchens, and especially Sergios and Claudias were leaving Wuhan and taking me home as a souvenir. I got a foothold on the Pacific Coast of your country in January, but that was small potatoes compared to Italy and Spain. Those folks love their grandmas, so instead of quarantining them they killed them. Okay, I killed them, but they gave me free rein.

            “Who’s they, you want to know? The young people. The ones who couldn’t sit at home. The ones who were chock full of me and I didn’t even make them sneeze. They were my ambassadors. Healthy young humans doin’ their thing, havin’ fun, hustling, moving. They’re the reason I left my Sarsie-1 bro and MERS cousin in my dust. They took me to every place on the planet. You humans talk about flyways for the flu. You mean geese and ducks. They fly south and north on two routes. They overlap a tad in the arctic. Geese? Ducks? Your species has a hundred thousand flights a day that go from everywhere to everywhere. And every one of them is carrying someone carrying me. Flu too by the way. He and I are gonna make beautiful music together. There’s gonna be some Darwinian mutual back-scratchin’ for sure.

            “Anyway, Italy mourned. Doctors and nurses were crying in the hospital halls. But I was headed for the U.K. and New York! That clown Boris thought he could pull a Sweden. I tried to help him see the light by laying him low for a while, but he squinted and bumbled again. Herd immunity? You have to be kidding me. That’s years away everywhere.

            “Treatments? Some day. Right now they’re just making a dent for the sickest, and may help me evolve resistance. I admit it’s been hard for me to reinfect someone I got to once before. I’m working on that, according to Uncle Charlie’s rules. We’ll see. The flu comes back every year in a different form. Every year a new vaccine that’s maybe half effective, and half of Homo dumbellus doesn’t even bother with it. Is that the sort of standoff I could live with long term? As they say in North Dakota (where by the way I’ll be heading soon), you betcha!

            “Meanwhile, Boris the Clown can’t hold a candle to that donkey’s rump Bolsonada in Brazil. It’s like Sweden without the modicum of leadership and with twenty times the population. Wow! Talk about a field day for me! They can’t dig graves fast enough in São Paulo. Mind you, it’s no great deal for me to be buried in a hole in the ground. But it’s the cost of doing business.

            “And then of course there’s the Clown of Clowns, the fat one with the orange face and pouffy yellow hair, the It’ll-be-gone-like-magic Gotta-open-up-our-country Whaddya-gotta-lose happy hero of every virus in Darwin’s kingdom. Sorry, it’s your country, I don’t want to hurt your feelings. But really. Open up the meat plants: Check! Don’t worry about the prisons and nursing homes or the small towns around them: Check! And then you got those folks yelling about freedom. “Don’t put your mask on me!” I love them so much I want to hug them. I do hug them.

            “And now these protests. I’m sorry, they have a right to grieve, but it doesn’t matter to a guy like me whether the crowds are righteous or not. I don’t give a flying fig whether I infect a Democrat or a Republican, as long as it’s a warm body. I am a teensy little Darwinian machine obeying Uncle Charlie’s laws to the letter. Good thing for me that guy in New York isn’t running your whole American show. I’d be beaten back into a corner for the summer and then you’d be gearing up to fight me and my buddy Flu-Boy in the fall.

            “But this is a zero-sum game, my species against yours, and I don’t think I’ll be in retreat during the summer. Maybe if you wake up in July and lock down again I’ll give you a five-minute break in September. But I’m not promising.

            “Good thing for me too that there aren’t more women running more countries. Seems like most of the countries that have kept me down or out are run by females, and the countries I win hands down are run by overgrown, overblown boys. Maybe you are actually two species: Homo sapiens, the ones with the reproductive equipment who know how to protect their own; and Homo dumbellus, the ones with DNA donation, the big shoulders, and the bluster.

            “Better believe it when I tell you you’ll be seing me around.

            “What? You think I’m ruthless the way I’m taking over the planet? How the hell do you think your species did it? You poisoned the earth, killed off half the other animals and plants, and brutalized each other beyond belief in your own species. You packed yourself into the crowds I swoon for. I can become King of the World without doing a fraction of the damage that you’ve done. It’s a miracle there were any bats left for me to evolve in.

            “But now you are really really helping me, so keep up the good work!

            “And oh, please, I’m begging you, whatever you do, please please re-elect Empty Hairdo, the Leader of the Free World who will never ever figure out how to keep it free from me.”

            Well, students, now you’ve heard it, Sarsie in his own words, uncensored, from the horse’s—or the virus’s—mouth.

            And don’t knock his hopes and dreams. He’s just following Dr. Darwin’s prescription. For him.

            Dr. D’s advice for us? Stay safe, be well, and keep in touch—from a distance.

Dr. K

Charles Darwin’s Happy Birthday

As we mark Charles Darwin’s birthday on February 12th, our culture is riding a wave that should take us back to his theory. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are the crest of the wave, which may represent a turning point against men’s chronic exploitation of women. It’s one aspect of the decline of male supremacy predicted and fought for by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the pioneering women’s rights activist born just a few years after Darwin.

Stanton, like Darwin, was a realist when it came to gender differences. She thought that some were intrinsic and fundamental, but that these were to women’s advantage. Indeed, in a powerful 1869 speech, she held that the strongest argument for women’s equality was “the difference between man and woman.”

Read more

Blowback

Women After All cover hi res reducedMy new book—Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy, published by Norton on March 9th—has produced some highly predictable, in fact predicted, reactions.

I’d written on p. 17, “this book will have something to offend almost everyone.” Three of the four groups I mentioned specifically were those (not all) feminists who deny that any important things about men’s and women’s behavior are influenced by biology; discouraged women who think I exaggerate the pace of change; and of course, the flat-earthers who think evolution didn’t happen and won’t read past the subtitle.

But the nastiest blowback by far has been from men. The first wave  Read more

Women After All

Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy

Published by W. W. Norton & Company, March 9, 2015

“This beautifully written, exquisitely conceived book should provoke spirited debate among all audiences, from researchers to general readers.”—Cynthia Fox, Library Journal

“Engaging and provocative…a virtuoso performance.”Bookpage

Women After All cover hi res medium

“[Konner’s] conclusions give me, well, hope.”Louise Erdrich, National Book Award-winning novelist

“Mel Konner has written a lively, readable, feminist book arguing that the complementarity of the sexes is returning and women are forging ahead as the historic anomaly of male dominance is ending.”  Louise Lamphere, University of New Mexico, Current Anthropology,  August 2015*

“A sparkling, thought-provoking account of sexual differences. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ll find his conclusions gripping.”—Jared Diamond, UCLA, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World Until Yesterday

Women After All is astonishingly insightful…It is the best available examination of how and why men and women differ and how 21st century humans can use this knowledge to forge a better world.”—Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, University of California, Davis, author of Mother Nature, Mothers and Others, and The Woman That Never Evolved

“Sweeping, ambitious and eminently readable, Konner’s Women After All tours the sciences to harness the most contemporary offerings of biology, physiology, sociology and psychology to craft an argument that women are not only different from men, but perhaps even better. A compelling and thought-provoking read for men and women alike.”—Lisa Sanders, M.D., New York Times columnist and Associate Professor, Yale School of Medicine

Women After All describes what future historians will surely recognize as one of the momentous transformations in the human saga…Engagingly written and persuasively argued, it shows how an acknowledgment of human nature combined with a long view of history can advance the human condition.”—Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature

“For a young woman just about to embark on adult life…reading this book is imperative…it will make sense of the world and human behavior and empower my daughter to deal with the constant blizzard of antifemale sentiment that is surely roaring her way…Women After All is the manifesto that will remind these young women, as well as us older ones, to be fierce. Always, every minute of every day—unstoppable.”  Meredith Small, Cornell University, Current Anthropology,  August 2015*

“Konner raises vital questions eloquently and with depth. We are in his debt.”  Lionel Tiger, Rutgers University, Current Anthropology,  August 2015*

“An urgent message for women—and men…a brave book.”  Camilla Power, Times Higher Education Supplemement,  March 2015

“As I read, I was challenged on almost every page. Where I didn’t agree, I needed to think hard. Where I agreed, I was presented with new facts and surprising implications. All in all, just what you want from a book: a fluent, provocative, well-argued engagement with a lively mind.”—Sherry Turkle, MIT, author of Alone Together, Life on the Screen, and The Second Self

“Witty, well paced, packed with useful information…This is fascinating stuff, about which we are learning a lot more every year, and Konner lays it out with a fine blend of science and anecdote and a virtuoso mastery of detail.”  Paul Seabright, Times Literary Supplement 15 May 2015

“Konner tells a convincing story with a breadth of research to sustain it. He anticipates counterarguments, is not afraid to offend…and brilliantly shows us the bright new world that we could really have were women’s capacities as biologically given truly recognized for what they are.”  Unni Wikan, University of Oslo, Current Anthropology,  August 2015*

Women After All is the definition of a provocative page-turner…Konner’s writing is clear and light, but this  should not be mistaken for simplicity. Nearly every page presents a scientific finding, tucked between his humorous turns of phrase and well-crafted interpretations.”  Justin R. Garcia, The Kinsey Institute, Current Anthropology,  August 2015*

“Dr. Konner…makes a powerful case for a provocative thesis: that women are, in nearly every way that really matters, superior to men…In making this argument, he ranges from evolutionary biology through ethology, neurobiology, embryology, anthropology and history, with digressions into economics and politics. Not many people could pull this off—but Dr. Konner does… The author’s descriptions of the natural world are erudite and enthusiastic… But the crux of Dr. Konner’s narrative concerns human beings… You might want to argue with the seeming stridency of Dr. Konner’s thesis, but if so, you need to read his book first.” David Barash, The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2015

“Melvin Konner, a distinguished anthropologist…maintains in this entertaining book that, when it comes to the evolutionary race, men are definitely the weaker sex. What’s more, he says, the sooner we wake up to this reality and adjust our world accordingly, the happier all of us will be.” Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday (and Irish Mail on Sunday), 26 April, 2015

“Konner has written a volume rich in examples, concepts, and insights. Whether or not you agree with his recommendations, you will find much to foster continued and deep debate about the changing and gendered human condition.”  Peter B. Gray, University of Nevada,, Current Anthropology,  August 2015*

“A society in which women are allowed to speak and be heard on equal terms with men is one that has a shot at the kind of decent and democratic future Konner is looking for.” Joanna Scutts, The Washington Post, April 17, 2015

“A wide-ranging, absorbing, and thoughtful account of the many sources of sex differences, from the earliest organisms through to the modern world.” Margery Lucas, “Difference Feminism Now,” Society 52:499-502, 2015.

“A thorough overview of the literature on sex and evolution that is accessible to readers without a strong background in evolutionary theory.” Ashley N. Peterson and Amanda E. Guitar, Evolutionary Psychology, 2015:1-3.

* One of six full-length book reviews published simultaneously in a forum in Current Anthropology.

 

 

Wife-Wooing*

It’s easier when you remember that it’s about love.

contemplator-couple-1b1A posting by Psychology Today blogger Anita Kelly produced a lively discussion (including some prudish comments on masturbation). The basic idea was that your wife is tired and resents you because she does much more of the chores and child care than you. But there also seemed to be an honest recognition of a fact that’s been proven as well as any fact about sex differences: average women desire sex less than average men. (See “Sex Differences in…Sex “). But Dr. Kelly seems to want all the compromises from him: Read more

Sex Differences in…Sex

634963_49660373-copyNote: By invitation, I’ve started a blog on the Psychology Today website, and my latest post can be read there or here, although different (and likely more numerous) comments will be  posted there. This entry resembles and updates one I posted here in March 2009, which was followed by an interesting exchange on “insatiable widows” and other cross-cultural myths.

We hear a lot about sex differences, and arguments rage over which are real. Evolutionary theorists weigh in about why this or that difference should be expected, while some anthropologists say cultures vary so much that generalizations are folly. But of all Darwinian predictions about la différence, few are as logical as the one about sex differences in sexuality. Here’s why. Read more

Alice Rossi

rossialiceMy friend and colleague Alice Schaerr Rossi, a co-founder of the National Organization for Women and one of the leading sociologists of her generation, died on November 3 at age 87.

For a few years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I worked with her and Jane Lancaster, a distinguished anthropologist now at the University of New Mexico and editor of the journal Human Nature, on a committee of the Social Science Research Council, and both of them affected my thinking about gender. Read more

Men, Women, and Iran: An Exchange

My friend and colleague Prof. David Blumenthal wrote this comment on my last posting, and I try to answer it below.

Dear Mel,

I’m not sure I agree that educating women is the way to go. As long as Islamic
men have the following cluster of problems, no amount of women’s education
will work:

(1) Islamic men have no empowerment – not economic, not religious, not
political, etc. This is also why Arabs can’t negotiate a peace; they have to
be empowered, to win. (2) Islamic men believe that submission is the
ultimate value – for themselves and especially for those who defy them. Read more

Insatiable Widows: More Gender & Sex

In response to my last posting, “Sex Lives, Male and Female,” reader Clare wrote this thoughtful comment:

“I’m curious what you make of the ethnographic accounts from cultures where widows are considered to be insatiable sex fiends? Is this how fear of women expresses itself, that they become more interested in sex than is considered usual? Or is there some truth to the folklore? Is there any evidence that sexual interest waxes and wanes (so to speak) over the life course of men and women?”

I thought it well worth answering at length: Read more