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#1 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 12:36 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This is a spin off thread from a thread about how mothers evolved to breastfeed, whether we evolved to know the fathers of our children and things of that nature.  

 

It occurred to me that I used to have a greater understanding of evolution than I do now...probably because I have evolved to have some sort of diminished brain function during breasfeeding. irked.gif

 

I remember having a better understanding, for instance, that evolution doesn't evolved to make us "better" for instance...but I can't even phrase this well let alone formulate a good picture of this idea. 

 

Can we talk about understanding evolution and the different ways we can think about it and apply it to our lives? Especially when we think about how we have evolved as parents and our roles in the family? 

 

Articles and links appreciated as well. 


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#2 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 02:29 PM
 
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Are you taking about evolution of species, which is adaptations that occur over thousands/millions of years, or the personal growth and change that some people use the word "evolution" to describe? You bring up both in your post, but they aren't the same thing at all.

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#3 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 02:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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The first one. ;-)  And I don't mean "how" it happens exactly - but that I think I tend to misunderstand some of the deeper stuff like the fact that evolution isn't about "better" but that it just "is". I'm sure that doesn't make sense. 

 

What I'm getting at is some clarity of when we talk about how humans evolved and what that means in terms of how we think about what's meant to be (according to evolution or nature)...

 

I've read some really clarifying articles on the subject a while back that made me realize how many assumptions I had made about evolution and how ill-formed my ideas about it were. 


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#4 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 02:52 PM
 
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Evolution is mostly about who is most successful at passing on their genes.  So the highly intelligent, financially successful, creative people who choose not to have children....they're not contributing to the future gene pool of the species (although with our species, other types of contributions are valuable too). The reprehensible pimp who produces ten kids with ten different women....he's very successful from an evolutionary perspective.
 

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#5 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 05:22 PM
 
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It is true that natural selection does tend to weed out individuals that are unfit for a particular situation (for example, one type of finch in the galapagos islands evolved to have larger beaks during a time of drought, when the finches with larger, tougher beaks were able to eat seeds that weren't normally part of their diet, and more available than the smaller seeds during the drought).

 

But this doesn't necessarily mean that species are marching up a ladder of progress, they are adapting to changes in their environment. Evolution is linked more to the environment than to progress. What is "better" today was not necessarily "better" a million years ago, kwim?

 

btw, what a great thread! I stillheart.gif evolution, I was an anthro/psych major in college and can talk about it all day. I actually recently re-read one of Richard Leakey's books prior to visiting the Field Museum in Chicago. I also stillheart.gif that DD's most favorite thing at the Museum was the replica of Lucy, the Australopithecus fossil.

 

Here are some resources:

Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind by Donald Johanson

The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran

The First Human: Ann Gibbons

Our Inner Ape: A Primatologist explains why we are who we are by Frans de Waal

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins

Anything written by any Leakey smile.gif

 

PBS Evolution

Field Museum

Understanding Evolution - Berkeley

Tree of Life Project

Becoming Human

Darwin Online


 

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#6 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 05:40 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Oh, yay!  I was just checking out some of those links from a Google search. Love that the Berkley site is named after my thread. ROTFLMAO.gif

 

So, here is an example of a specific thing I'd like to get my head around. Many years ago I read an interesting book that was looking at gorillas and their culture and then trying to apply some of what we know about gorilla life to humans. They talked about how female gorillas would covertly mate with more than one male so that there would be other males in the group who had some protective instincts over the baby. They were trying to make some comparisons for how humans the evolved in this way. Though, as I say this it sounds more like anthropology than evolutionary science, ha? 

 

How about this...we all have some vague idea that human infants are born so young because our pelvis needed to be smaller so we could walk upright. This made babies dependent on us for longer than they are in most of the rest of the animal kingdom. What does that evolution say about parenting. 

 

What about the fact that mammals have evolved with the female (always?) breastfeeding - the origin of the term mammal. What does this say about the role of the father in various species? Is this driven by evolution, instinct and then followed by culture? Can we say that women evolved to be the primary caregiver of their young? Does this imply from an evolutionary standpoint that this is "good"/"right"? 

 

Where does technology come into play? For instance, we were not evolved to fly but we have used technology for flight. What happens when such a large percentage of births, for instance, take place in the hospital? Does technology eventually drive evolution? Hasn't it already? Even back hundreds of thousands of years?  From an evoloutionary perspective this is neither a good thing or a bad  thing, correct? It just "is"?


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#7 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 06:09 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Or in other words, is what we evolved to do an indicator is what we should do? From the perspective of evoltionary science?

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#8 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 06:18 PM
 
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Read - "Mothers and others" & "Mother Nature" - by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy -
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#9 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 06:40 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Yes! http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/classes/WI12/COGS1/readings/04-COGS1_Deak-Social_Infant_Hrdy_2001.pdf

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#10 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 07:25 PM
 
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Or in other words, is what we evolved to do an indicator is what we should do? From the perspective of evoltionary science?

"Should" as in morally? No. Science is descriptive, not proscriptive. Trying to extrapolate morality/ethics from evolutionary science is the fallacy of "deriving an ought from an is". Just as it makes no sense to say "Ducks have beaks, therefore it is immoral for ducks not to have beaks", it makes no sense to say "Humans evolved to be monogamous/promiscuous/heterosexual/homosexual/social/selfish/religious/attached to their infants/carnivorous/vegetarian, therefore it is morally correct for humans to behave that way".

 

If you mean "should" as in "it'd be sensible", then in many cases, yeah, probably. If humans evolved to eat meat, it makes sense a vegetarian diet might be ill-suited, sub-optimal or downright damaging (of course, that applies to humans evolving to eat a vegetarian diet, too - not sure what the current theory on that one is). If humans have been raising their infants in a certain way since the dawn of time, it's probably a good idea to think twice before radically altering that approach.

 

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Does technology eventually drive evolution? Hasn't it already?

I read an interesting book about reproductive technology - A Child Against All Odds, it was called - in which the author speculated that reproductive technology might well be helping create a race of infertile humans. Historically, the genes for low motility/mobility, short luteal phases, malformed uteri and so on would not have been passed on as often, because... duh... infertility. But now scientists can help the weakest sperm penetrate an egg by drilling a hole in the zona pellucida, and other such "unnatural" ways of helping "unfit" genes get passed on, future generations may become more and more reliant on technology to conceive.

 

That isn't necessarily disastrous, but it does mean the infrastructure, legislation, money and so on would have to be in place for all future generations. And it could lead to interesting social issues - ie, theoretically, at some point only the upper classes might be able to afford to reproduce. From the "perspective" of evolution? Well, evolution doesn't have a perspective. It's neither bad nor good, scientifically speaking, because science isn't about "bad" and "good". Those are philosophical concepts.


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#11 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 08:09 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks, Smokering!  So from your perspective how would you discuss a comment like this, "Women evolved as the primary caregiver of their infants," is this something (if we were to assume that were "true" from at least one perspective of evolutionary science) that would indicate that it's a good idea for mothers to continue being the primary caregiver? 

 

I feel as though the argument "this is what we were evolved to do, behave and etc." is a common one and I'd like a better grasp on how to fit that way of thinking into the scientific perspective. 


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#12 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 08:22 PM
 
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So from your perspective how would you discuss a comment like this, "Women evolved as the primary caregiver of their infants," is this something (if we were to assume that were "true" from at least one perspective of evolutionary science) that would indicate that it's a good idea for mothers to continue being the primary caregiver?

It might be, although in that case there's plenty of harder science available to support the idea that mothers should be their babies' primary caregivers. I would trust current, repeatable research on infant neurobiology, mother-baby hormonal interactions, the benefits of breastfeeding etc, over theories about how prehistoric humans used to behave, which (obviously) no scientist has directly observed. A lot of those theories smack of wild guesswork to me.

 

If society, biology or any other factor has changed significantly enough since "back then", the evolution of women as primary caregivers may not be relevant to the current desirability of that social structure. But again, you'd need to define "a good idea". A good idea in that it is more likely to advance the continuation of the human species? A good idea for women's lib? For promoting strong family bonds? For producing mentally, emotionally and physically superior specimens of humanity? Again, these are philosophical questions, not really scientific ones. A radical feminist's idea of what constitutes "a good idea", child-rearing-wise, may be very different to the idea of a pediatrician, a child psychologist, a dictator trying to breed a super-race, a person who believes in God-appointed gender roles, etc.


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#13 of 95 Old 01-10-2013, 08:36 PM - Thread Starter
 
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#14 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 07:21 AM
 
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I think that "primary caregiver" would need to be defined. I'm not sure that it can be said that mothers "evolved" to be the primary caregiver, especially without a clear definition of what that means.
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#16 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 07:37 AM
 
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I recently read The Moral Animal and it made my little heart go pitter patter. The book was specifically about how humans are often unaware of the ways in which they are trying like heck to propagate the species. It's innate. They will in fact actively lie and claim the opposite of what they are doing if that is what it takes to pass on their genes. 

 

I do not believe in a God who guided the slow evolution of the species. I just don't. I think that the way we evolved was often an accident and there is no particular reason to feel loyalty to things that were required and appropriate at a different point in time. Once upon a time in my life it was a good idea for me to sit down every morning and file my nails to sharp points and walk around with pockets full of rocks and hold a big stick. A lot of people wanted to beat me up. At this point in time that is no longer true--I probably don't need to continue those behaviors.

 

Once upon a time it made sense for my ancestors to walk around heavily armed. They lived in areas where they had to hunt their food and deal with potentially dangerous wild animals. I don't have to own weapons. Things changed.

 

For me when you start getting into the functions of the body (as opposed to external behaviors) it's harder. We certainly evolved to do things a certain way--but why? Are those reasons still important? Like the way humans have an unholy practically uncontrollable addiction to sugar and simple starches. Once upon a time wanting an endless amount of those things was good--we hardly ever found them and it was useful to gorge yourself when the fruit was in season. Now... not so much.

 

But of course this started with breastfeeding. ;) I am not a biological essentialist. I believe that breastmilk is the food our body adapted to and is indeed the food that is what human babies should eat until they transition to table food. However, once upon a time we had an entirely different cultural set up. There was more woman to woman help that just doesn't exist in most modern cultures. Humans did not evolve to do mothering the way it is being pushed in the US right now. So given that we are already far from our so-called-natural environment... that means that things need to change.

 

I'm also not nearly as worried about people being perfect as some people are. We have more heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc because people don't die in childbirth or by being eaten by bears or malnutrition nearly so often. People have to die. I feel the current obsession with bodies being absolutely in perfect condition for over a hundred years completely bizarre. That is not what our species evolved to do. It just seems... excessive. We are all going to die. We are all going to experience pain. Why is this something that people have such a problem with?


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#17 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 07:39 AM
 
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I read an interesting book about reproductive technology - A Child Against All Odds, it was called - in which the author speculated that reproductive technology might well be helping create a race of infertile humans. Historically, the genes for low motility/mobility, short luteal phases, malformed uteri and so on would not have been passed on as often, because... duh... infertility. But now scientists can help the weakest sperm penetrate an egg by drilling a hole in the zona pellucida, and other such "unnatural" ways of helping "unfit" genes get passed on, future generations may become more and more reliant on technology to conceive.

 

 

I have a friend who is currently pregnant with the third generation infertility treatment baby in her family. I have 100% been supportive of her taking measures to get pregnant but the back of my mind wonders what the long-term consequences are going to be for a species who needs that much intervention in order to keep going.


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Historically and anthropologically speaking, it is women as a group that have been the primary caregivers. The whole, "it takes a village" thing. It is the collective action of (mostly) women that weaves together to raise a child, not necessarily one woman on her own (like most Western nuclear families these days). It has always been more common, until very recently, to have extended family living together.

 

I don't believe parents are meant (evolutionarily and culturally speaking) to care for children without any social support. Otherwise, we would have evolved to have 6 arms, lol! That lack of social support and extended family can lead to stress and burnout...and is also why forums such as this are so popular. wink1.gif Of course, close proximity to family can lead to stress and burnout too...of a different kind! twins.gif

 

I also agree with Smokering, yes, there may be scientific evidence that supports the mother's role as primary caregiver. But that is only side of the coin. So, maybe it is a good idea, evolutionarily speaking, for women to be the primary caregiver. But we don't live our lives with the sole purpose of evolving our species. whistling.gif That is where the philosophy comes in. For someone promoting gender equality, it's a good idea for the primary caregiver to be chosen not based on gender, but other factors, or have both parents be equal caregivers, completely negating the role of a 'primary' parent. A government's perspective on child-rearing is a whole other focus: one of the nation's primary functions is ensuring the safety of its citizens. As this applies to children, it means protecting children from physical and mental harm, and promoting child rearing practices that lessen the likelihood of delinquency. So a government (via the court system), would likely not view an abusive mother as a great primary caregiver, and give little credence to any scientific evidence to this effect. It all depends on the perspective! 


 

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#19 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 07:44 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I think that "primary caregiver" would need to be defined. I'm not sure that it can be said that mothers "evolved" to be the primary caregiver, especially without a clear definition of what that means.

For this I would say the current (eta:) "stereotypical stay-at-home-American-mom" definition. So the questions wold be: 

 

  • Is it an accurate statement that mothers evolved to be the primary caregiver? 
  • If so, how do we apply that information to current parenting philosophies? 

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Holy cross post...  Lots to read but I've got to run - carry on with such an intersting convo...


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#21 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 07:47 AM
 
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I think that "primary caregiver" would need to be defined. I'm not sure that it can be said that mothers "evolved" to be the primary caregiver, especially without a clear definition of what that means.

Since men have non working teats, women must feed the young or they perish. Think about that, every child born before 1930 or so had to be fed literally by the "milk of human kindness" or they died!

Same for other mammals, the moms have the milk. The dads may assist in child rearing but the mama makes milk.
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#22 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 07:55 AM
 
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But wet nursing/cross-nursing has been common forever. It is not true that ones own mother must feed you.

 

The coolest thing is about 10% of men can lactate. That makes me very happy. :)


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#23 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 08:08 AM
 
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What about the fact that mammals have evolved with the female (always?) breastfeeding - the origin of the term mammal. What does this say about the role of the father in various species? Is this driven by evolution, instinct and then followed by culture? Can we say that women evolved to be the primary caregiver of their young? Does this imply from an evolutionary standpoint that this is "good"/"right"? 

 

 

 

This is one of those scientific mysteries I wish we knew the answer to. As far as I know, scientists still have no idea why mammals evolved the way they did. Likewise, the reasons why humans evolved to have a shorter breasteeding period when compared to other primates.

 

Some researchers have hypothesized that lactation actually pre-dates the origin of mammals. One of the keys to understanding the evolution of mammals likely lies with the Synapsida, a vertebrae group that goes back 300 million years. Non-mammalian synapsids help us understand the evolutionary history of many of the distinctive features of mammals, such as the shape of their skull and occipital lobes.


 

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#24 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 08:09 AM
 
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Right, and then we get into the definitions of "man" and "woman", "male" and "female" - which have totally been mediated and socially constructed across cultures and over time. 

It's not as simple as "these are the facts", "this is just how nature works", etc etc - we're no longer capable of viewing these things through a "pure" perspective, if indeed we ever were.

 

Like I said in another thread: read a couple pages of Kate Bornstein (or Leslie Feinberg, or...), and *then* come back and post here.  orngbiggrin.gif

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#25 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 08:16 AM
 
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Like I said in another thread: read a couple pages of Kate Bornstein (or Leslie Feinberg, or...), and *then* come back and post here.  orngbiggrin.gif

joy.gif Kate Bornstein!! luxlove.gif


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#26 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 08:56 AM
 
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But wet nursing/cross-nursing has been common forever. It is not true that ones own mother must feed you.

 

The coolest thing is about 10% of men can lactate. That makes me very happy. :)

 

Exactly! Hence my earlier point that primary caregivers are historically a community, a group, of (mainly) women, rather than a sole person.


 

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#27 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 08:58 AM
 
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Love Kate!  I had the privilege of taking a full weekend workshop with her and her partner.  And we went to the same undergrad school!

 

:ahem: Now back to the actual topic...

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#28 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 12:00 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't believe parents are meant (evolutionarily and culturally speaking) to care for children without any social support. 

 

When I think about what it would take for me to be most successful from the standpoint of evolution, social support is way up there, that's for sure. My gut tells me that even if mothers of their own babies were evolved to be the primary caregiver, we did not evolve to do that in the way it "primary care giver" means to most people in the US. I also think about what I feel would be best for my children today and it doesn't feel like an primary connection to mother that excludes a close connection with father, aunt, grandmother or whatever is ideal. I know that with my first we had a connection and an isolating lifestyle that meant she was far more attached to me than my second who grew up with a more comfortable father (same man just a more comfortable with parenting the second time around) and a large extended family. So, for me I think I would have had more children if I was somewhat less of the primary caregiver AND I feel like my child would be better off with a larger base of support. This goes to what feels "natural" and I can say that it feels more natural to have a lot of people around and more evenly appointed provider roles. 

 

I guess for me it doesn't make much sense to pick apart small parts of what we know about human evolution to back up some parenting philosophies - especially if we're disregarding how they fit into a greater picture (like how humans lived in groups or whatever). 

 

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Originally Posted by philomom View Post

Same for other mammals, the moms have the milk.  

I do wonder about that. I realize that for humans women tend to be the ones who make milk (even though I too love the stories of lactating men!) but I did wonder about the rest of mammals. We watch a lot of nature shows around here and wouldn't be surprised if some males of the species were the primary lactating parent. I'll link if I find one..

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Originally Posted by rightkindofme View Post

joy.gif Kate Bornstein!! luxlove.gif

So, Kate Bornstein - another example of "the more I know, the less I know".  I've had some vague idea of folks who don't identify with "male" or "female" gender but think the idea of gender being far more fluid than we currently think about it to be really interesting. I wonder if there are any human cultures throughout history that had a more fluid concept of gender? 

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Originally Posted by nyssaneala View Post

 

Exactly! Hence my earlier point that primary caregivers are historically a community, a group, of (mainly) women, rather than a sole person.

I really enjoyed that first article and thought it was really eyeopening. I'm going to go back and read it again. 


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#29 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 12:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I thought this was a really interesting way of looking at evolution in general and a good example of what we've been talking about re: male lactation: 

While the males could in theory improve the chance to pass on their genes by improving the feeding their offspring by male lactation, most of them have developed other strategies such as mating with additional partners.

 

I like how the wording of in a way strips away some of the morality/cultural stuff from the idea. This implies that we could have evolved as a species to have "both" winky.gif sexes lactate more readily than they do now but the the theory is that the path of taking additional partners was taken instead. 


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#30 of 95 Old 01-11-2013, 04:25 PM
 
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There have been cultures in history that respected third sex people. Some native American tribes viewed them as holy.

I have been very blessed to be close with several transsexual activists. It is a whole world out there that is hard to find unless you just happen to meet the right people. smile.gif

My advice may not be appropriate for you. That's ok. You are just fine how you are and I am the right kind of me.

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