What Nature Intended 

Butterfly sculpture, Hapeville Train Depot Plaza, Hapeville, GA, artist unknown. Photographed 17 April 2016.

To someone trying to reason out why people behave the way they do, homosexuality may seem like an anomaly. Two men together or two women together cannot produce a child, and since the biological imperative for all creatures on earth seems to be to survive and procreate, homosexuality doesn’t appear to play a role in that. For someone who adheres to a philosophy which states that all life was fashioned in the image of a divine creator, people frequently come to the conclusion that homosexuality is against the design of this creator, and yet, humans are not the only species to exhibit homosexual behavior, we’re just the only ones who constantly obsess over it. Remove divine intent from the equation, and we’re still left with the quandary of figuring out what, if any, evolutionary function homosexuality serves. The problem is we’re most likely still overthinking it.

When discussing human behavior, particularly with regard to sexuality, one often speaks of “what nature intended”, and yet, we rarely speak of this when talking about other natural phenomena. If a region is hit by an earthquake or flood, the people there usually don’t interpret that as nature telling them they don’t belong there, though insurance companies might disagree. It’s only in the realm of human behavior that we assume some divine purpose underlies what we do. Trying to figure out why something happens is usually the first step in figuring out how to prevent something from happening, and more than a few people throughout the world would be happy if homosexuality could be eliminated. The question is why?

One cannot simply look at a person and know that person’s sexuality. Men and women who don’t meet society’s standards for masculinity and femininity still choose mates of the opposite sex, while people who conform to the behaviors assigned by society for that gender sometimes don’t. We have already had instances of very masculine male athletes coming out as gay, and feminine models and actresses announcing they’re lesbians. As homosexuality becomes less stigmatized in society, we’ll undoubtedly have more instances of this. We don’t even need high profile illustrations, since pretty much everyone knows someone they thought was or wasn’t gay up until the time that person started dating someone of the same or opposite sex. As with many things in nature, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. It’s society and culture that typically complicates things and we’re responsible for developing and maintaining those.

In patriarchal societies, fathers or other male relatives choose how women will be joined with their mates, and often the strongest and most influential men get first choice, surprise, surprise. In much of nature, however, it’s the female of the species which makes that choice, and the males must put on elaborate displays to attract the attention of willing partners. If one sees a pair of red birds, for instance, the one most brilliantly arrayed is the male, and among songbirds, it’s often the males who sing elaborate songs in order to attract mates. In cultures which tend to be matriarchal, we also see this behavior in humans, males prancing and preening in makeup and brightly colored costumes to attract the attention of their intended brides. Given the vastly different roles played by males and females in reproduction, particularly with mammals, it makes more sense for the female to choose, since she’s taking the greater risk in getting pregnant. Even in patriarchal societies we see vestiges of this, fathers choosing their daughters’ husbands based on who will best provide for them, or which tribal alliances will best insure their survival.

So, what did nature intend in creating homosexuality? Most likely nothing. With regard to biology, nature is a usually a passive force which sometimes gives a species mutations that have no effect on survival unless conditions exist that make that mutation an advantage. The way a given species reproduces is the result of billions of years of evolution and the fact that different species have vastly different methods of reproduction suggests no specific plan was in place from the start. One might argue that homosexuality is one of the curbs nature puts in place to control population growth, but this ignores two important facts. First, the percentage of homosexuals in society appears to remain constant while the population gets larger. Second, and more importantly, people who are homosexual are still capable of having children. Neither the ability nor the desire to have children is affected by one’s sexual preference. True, there are many homosexuals who don’t want children, but there is probably an equal percentage of heterosexuals who also don’t want children. If there is a curb, it’s probably more the lack of desire to reproduce rather than the type of relationship one is in.

Societal prohibitions against homosexuals focus almost exclusively on male homosexuality. Leviticus 18 forbids men from having sex with other men and says nothing about women. It’s not until much later that admonitions for women were added to Jewish law. It’s likely the restriction was put in place because this was behavior observed in cultures with whom the ancient Israelites interacted. It’s known that the ancient Greeks practiced homosexuality, though the specific cultural context is probably lost to us today. It would seem then, that the prohibition has less to do with protecting families or society than with controlling a specific type of male behavior.

Throughout human populations, rape is often a powerful weapon employed in asserting control over other individuals or groups of people. Despite its sexual nature, rape is not about sex, but about demonstrating one’s dominance over another person. In Western society, males who are raped by other males carry a higher stigma than females who’ve been raped, and boys who’ve been sexually abused often receive more attention than girls. Aside from totally ignoring or flippantly dismissing rape allegations by women, authorities take male rape very seriously, believing it diminishes the man’s masculinity. One rarely hears someone dismiss allegations of rape by one man against another with the phrase, “Boys will be boys” though statistics from prisons and other male-dominated endeavors tell a different story. Despite the fear mongering by anti-gay activists, men who rape other men often do not identify as homosexuals, since, again, rape is not about sexuality, but control.

So, it seems the real culprit is not human sexuality, but the need by humans to exert control over others, and that is a perversion of the survival instinct, since those who control the resources have a better chance to survive than those who don’t. We see, in parts of Africa where water and other natural resources are scarce, the highest level of strife, as populations are constantly at odds to try to claim those resources. In the Balkans, while the Soviet Union was still in place, people of different ethnicities lived side by side with relatively little conflict, but once the stabilizing influence of an authoritarian regime was removed, ethnic cleansing soon followed. The challenge for us is not to eliminate homosexuality from existence, since its presence in and of itself has not proven detrimental to the health and welfare of a given society. Rather it’s to overcome the need for humans to exert dominance over their environment and fellow individuals, which has been shown to hinder growth and development, bringing about such atrocities as wartime sexual violence and genocide, and leading to such repressive regimes as Apartheid-era South Africa. Our focus, then, should not be on those who wish to lead contented lives with partners they desire, but rather those who’ll stop at nothing to prevent them.

Communication Breakdown 

 

World Events, High Museum

World Events, 1996, High Museum; Artist: Tony Cragg; photo by G. M. Lupo.


The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. 

–Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

The Internet was once solely the province of academics and researchers; universities communicating with the governmental and military facilities that financed their research; and governmental and military facilities communicating with one another. The type of information it carried was static and highly structured and, since unhindered communication was a necessity, there were few boundaries, and the people using it were expected to know and abide by its rules. As a result, there was little need for security and facilities routinely shared information and files. The very purpose of the Internet was the free exchange of information, laying the groundwork for the massive communications portal it has become

As college students found their way onto the Internet, this culture began to change. The type of information exchanged became more informal and less rigid. Newsgroups began to flourish where people could chat, exchange information, and occasionally seek out nude photos of popular celebrities. It was in this environment where I first discovered the Internet, through an account at New York University, sometime around 1993. At the time, Freenets were springing up at places like Case Western University in Cleveland, and Erlangen in Germany which represented some of the earliest attempts to establish online Internet communities. The first note I posted to an Internet newsgroup was an inquiry about my family on soc.genealogy, and the first response I received was from a guy in Australia, telling me there were Lupos Down Under.

America Online (AOL) was one of the first widespread attempts by a company to package Internet usage and sell it to consumers with no background in the technology. Throughout the mid-1990s, their ubiquitous compact disks provided many experienced Internet users with free coasters for their drinks while allowing novice users their first access to the free wheeling and anarchistic world of the Internet and most didn’t like what they found there. Many of these people had backgrounds in the rigidly structured world of online services such as Prodigy, and found it hard to deal with a platform with no centralized authority which, to many, must have resembled an unmonitored bulletin board at their local supermarket.

It was during this period when the Internet was being overrun by one group of newcomers after another that I began to see it as a microcosm of society at large, particularly with regards to the experience of immigrants. Each new group started with zero knowledge of the existing protocols and etiquette, and usually set off a backlash among more seasoned users, in particular, those who had themselves been newcomers just a few years earlier. When students started using the Internet, the systems administrators who kept the mechanisms functioning, and therefore had the highest degree of knowledge about the portal, found themselves dealing with less experienced people who wanted to set up numerous chat rooms and newsgroups which, in the eyes of the admins, wasted bandwidth. The students, who established the rudimentary elements of what would over the next two decades evolve into social media, resented the intrusion of the first wave of consumers onto the Internet via services such as Netcom and AOL, especially since this included many of their parents, and the term “AOLuser” became a favorite derogatory expression for them. WebTV made it even easier for inexperienced people to get on the Internet, invoking the ire of AOL users, who now considered themselves the experts, just as the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of cities such as New York and Boston resented the influx of Irish, German, and Italian immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, and as many of their descendants now are resentful of Muslim newcomers.

When the World Wide Web first came about in the early-90s, I didn’t like it. Unix browsers at the time were text based without a method for displaying graphics and the whole enterprise seemed designed as a method of collecting links to other sites rather than conveying useful information. Netscape changed all that. The introduction of a graphical interface to the web suddenly made it come to life and demonstrated its full potential for transmitting knowledge. The Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) which made up the web was a simplified form of Standard General Markup Language (SGML) used at CERN, making it relatively easy to master. Before long, websites were popping up all over the place, and businesses were anxious to get pages set up, even if they didn’t understand what the Web was or why they needed to be there. Many of these early pages were little more that fact sheets about the company containing text, with some photos, and a phone number or email link to contact a representative.

The Internet has since become a giant, worldwide, round the clock conversation that anyone with access is free to take part in. Implicit in that, however, is figuring out the rules, and observing the etiquette necessary to get the most out of the experience. Learning to navigate the various social media platforms is akin to learning a new language and culture. Each one has its own customs and quirks, and therefore its own special flavor. For people who spend most of their time on Facebook, visiting Reddit might be a confusing experience, and a considerable learning curve could be needed to understand the culture. Going from WordPress to Twitter would be similar to a novelist switching to writing micro stories. Instagram does not support animated GIFs, whereas Tumblr seems to thrive on them. Nowadays, the free transmission of information which was the bedrock of the early Internet, has led to such problems as identity theft, denial of service attacks, and phishing scams making tighter security a necessity.

Security is not the only dark side of the Internet. One industry which has thrived has been the porno industry. With the advent of digital cameras and video recorders, and quick wireless connections, filmmakers only need a reliable server, a domain name and willing participants to set up shop. It is, perhaps, typically human to create the most advanced communications network ever devised then use it to download and view nude photos and sexually explicit videos. On a more sinister note, terrorist networks such as ISIL use the Internet to communicate quickly and efficiently and to recruit new members.

An even more pervasive threat is cyber bullying and online shaming. Anyone who has ever visited certain Reddit forums, read the comments on a news or political site or fan page, knows of the incendiary nature of some of the posts. Marginalization within society which breeds hostility and mistrust, combined with the relative anonymity of online forums, combine to contribute to the angry and twisted posts some people make. Access to information and the number of public records available make it easy to identify and track an individual and just as easy to post personal details which “go viral” and disseminate quickly. As an experiment, I once tried collecting facts on an individual whose name I overheard at an event the previous evening and the level of knowledge I was able to gain about the person was frightening. In the hands of cyber vigilantes, and an overly eager audience numbering in the millions, information can become a deadly weapon.

Free exchange of information via the Internet has had a profound effect on people in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and this effect is expanding at an exponential rate. Throughout Africa, for instance, people use their phones to share music and videos of their favorite local bands or performers, giving them a global audience. It’s almost a cliché within the United States to see people glued to their wireless devices, oblivious to the world around them. With technology advancing at an increasing pace, the information revolution created by the Internet and World Wide Web in the 1990s, will continue to transform society for generations to come.