Monday, September 8, 2008

Was it an AC/DC ice age?

When you're writing a big fantasy novel, trying to give it full justice (not just churn out another hack-em-up story about evil wizards, axe-wielding barbarians, sensuality in exotic locations, battling demons, monsters and ... the usual fare), your mind goes off in some weird and wonderful directions.

Bear with me, while I elaborate! THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is set in a kind of "parallel Earth" which could be contemporary with our time, or could be 50,000 years in the past: it's impossible to tell, because (as I said a few posts ago) the events triggering the shift in the parallel timestreams between their world and ours happened so long ago, it actually decided where tectonics would go, and ocean rising patterns. In other words, even their land masses are different, though it's clearly the same planet: the sun, the moon, gravity, the general climate, animals and vegetation, the human genome ... all the same.

So this world clearly evolved along the same lines (a horse is a horse, a grape vine still produces fermentable fruit ...), so it's a safe bet that the process of evolution itself is the same.

Now, LORDS has a technology about even with Europe's middle fifteen century: steel, textiles, glass, architecture, lathing, intensive agriculture, road building, paper, bookbinding ... no steam or electricity yet, but they know their chemistry.

Setting the technology gives you a good grasp of what the culture would look like, on a superficial level: these people don't dress in bearskins and live in caves; they're well dressed and shod, carry fine swords, live in sophisticated buildings, have domesticated their animals ...

But the development of political structure, mythology and spirituality, philosophy and art, morality and sexuality, are only tangentially connected to the evolution of technology -- and the jury is still out as per the relationship between the two. Does one drive the other? If so, which one is driving? Theories abound, and that's still all they are: theories.

So, going through THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE again ... rewriting, adding to, cutting from, polishing, renaming things according to newly-set lingual rules ... I soon found myself thumping my head against a question which has always been there, for every human being; but few people ever notice it, much less tackle it.

Evolution was designed by Mama Nature to create the best, biggest, strongest, smartest critter, which would inherit the planet. The mechanism of evolution is simple: "sex+time+death" ... critters share chromosomes, raise kids, and proptly kick the bucket to make way for the next generation; repeat process over 750,000 years, and a whole new species will be created.

So, how in the hell did the "gay gene" develop? (This makes the assumption that being gay is genetic ... the research is still unfinished, but something is *probably* going on in a bunch of DNA known as Xq28, we just don't know what (yet) and it's so damned expensive to do this research, it could be a looooong time before we know anything for sure. (And in any case, who wants to know? Am I the only one with the squirmy feeling that if "they" can trace being gay to a gene, "they" can develop a therapy and a "cure" ...?)

The Natural History of Homosexuality is a book you could see on the shelves in another five or ten years -- with David Attenborough narrating its documentary series for BBC2, explaining how Homo Habilis, and Homo Erectus (I kid you not; look him up), Neanderthals and Cro Magnons had a developing society 100,000 years before anyone twigged to the fact that it's sex between men and women that (!) makes babies.

Now, before folks made that fine distinction, what earthly objection could people have had to the fact that maybe 10% of people chose to settle down and build a nest with people of their own gender? Surely, the objection of the community at large to its gay component came about when the god emperors and pharaohs realized that they needed to breed up big, new armies -- it was an era when battlefield deaths could account for fifty thousand men in a single day. Again, look it up. Believe what they show you in ALEXANDER and TROY and GLADIATOR, and so forth.

It makes sense (at least to me) that the god emperors would forbid a person to be gay, on pain of death, because they need bodies for the army. Then along come the "true faith" religions (arising in the exact same location as the god kings with their monstrous armies), and they cemented the whole thing into place. Fast forward 2000 years, and we're still trying to get out from under the yoke of oppression that began when Hamurabi or Ramses, or whomever, had to be able to throw a hundred thousand men into a massive battle -- and then, less than a generation later, do it again.

Where this line of thinking is going, is this: today's surviving homophobia is the result of the empire building in the ancient world, with their cynical, man-made laws which were later concreted in by the "true faith" religions which still set the patterns of our own world.

(The prejudice against, and oppression of, women could be traced to the same root cause: enslave 'em and keep 'em pregnant ... bodies for the army. And also, prior to people knowing that it's sex between different genders that makes babies, there would have been nada, zero, nothing to be gained from oppressing women. Duh.)

Now, against this, you've got evolution still working in the background ... but Mama Nature was never interested in empire building. She just wants to make bigger, better, faster, stronger, smarter individuals. Okay: gays don't have so many kids, but -- Nature being Nature -- the gay component of the community at large is only ever quite small. So the expression of gay genes is restricted to a quite small sub-community which bumbles on happily in the background for millennia...

Until one day something called "the homophobe's paradox" raises its peculiar head. Now ... I'm not sure if I believe a word of this, and it's NOT my idea. But I have to admit, it's worth thinking about because it does make a weird kind of sense --

However, it's not the paradox itself I want to direct your attention to in the following outtake from an article in DISCOVER ... it's the response to it, which nailed the absolute truth with such accuracy, it's as if a searchlight turned on. If I might therefore direct you to the second of these two paragraphs...!

    The model shows that over centuries an effect you might call the homophobe’s paradox has been at work on the human genome: The more intolerant the society, the more likely it is to maintain gay genes. If a society’s conventions keep homosexuals in the closet, then they will be more likely to conform, get married, and have children. This is especially true if gay genes are also responsible for making women more fecund. Imagine, for instance, that for every extra child that such a gay gene–carrying woman has, a gay man can have one fewer and the balance necessary for the survival of the gene is still maintained. The more children he has, thanks to what his contemporaries demand of him, the less evolutionary pressure there is for his female counterpart to have more. “As a society becomes more intolerant, there’s more pressure to have offspring,” says Gavrilets. “The real [evolutionary] cost of being homosexual isn’t too big if you’re forced to have kids.” On the other hand, the more tolerant the society, the more gay men can be free to be who they are, so the more likely they will be childless—and the more difficult it will be for any female in the family to make up for the loss.

    “Bullshit,” says Bocklandt. “A mathematical model is a nice exercise, a mental masturbation about how these things could work, but it makes better sense to do that once we know a bit more. One of the problems that none of the mathematical models take into account is that we have no idea what it meant to be gay 10,000 years ago. We have some idea what it meant 200 years ago but not 10,000.”

      [Source: DISCOVER Magazine - Mind & Brain / Sex & Gender: "The Real Story on Gay Genes" link]

You see the searchlight going on? In a world before the god emperors and the massive armies ... in a world before anyone knew what alchemy made a baby ... in a society where there was nothing to be gained from oppressing women and forcing people to be heterosexual in order to keep up the baby boom, bodies for the army ...

How much d'you wanna bet that about 10,000 years ago, before the dawn of writing (which means we'll never know the truth, because no one was writing it down), there were some wild, exotic, potentially gorgeous societies. Robert E. Howard, who wrote the Conan stories, penned this line: "In the time before the oceans drank Atlantis, there was an age undreamed of."

Woah. I mean, seriously -- woah.

Now, excuse me, if I go get back into THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE!

And now, some completely gratuitous pictures ... because I feel like it ... but you take my meaning, right? (Photos are all production and publicity still from ALEXANDER and acknowledged as such. Click on an image for a larger view.)

And just to make sure your sense of spacetime is thoroughly stuffed up for the remainder of the day:

One final, parting goodie: if you're interested in the human journey, from our ancestral primate beginnings to who we are (biologically speaking) today, don't miss this:

The Journey of Mankind.

Have a good one,

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