I’ve been reading “The Evolution of Human Sexuality” by Donald Symons because the authors of “A Billion Wicked Thoughts” (Ogi Ogas, Sai Gaddam) said it guided their approach to data-scraping porn preferences. The central idea of the Symons book is that regardless of how many unifying shared characteristics there are between the human sexes, evolution has REQUIRED and CREATED differences based on the way progeny are conceived and brought to term. Making a big round ovum, allowing it to be fertilized and carrying it to term, then feeding the infant for a few years, is a time and energy consuming job that gives survival preference to the children of women who do it well.
Symons reported a metaphor that I haven’t heard about before and look forward to pondering for quite a while. A certain kind of toad eats insects. It is not instinctively programmed to discriminate among insects because it might be in places where the assortment available is not the same all the time -- insects come and go -- so what is programmed (hard-wired) is the ability to gobble anything that acts like an insect but then remember accurately which ones are nasty.
The experimenter rolled a bb past the toad. Toad grabbed it and swallowed it. Neither nasty nor tasty. Toads don’t chew -- just gulp, a reflex that seemed in this case to have no result. No feedback. No learning, so as long as the experimenter rolled the bb, the toad grabbed it and swallowed it until Symons said it had become the equivalent of a living beanbag. (I couldn’t help thinking of Donald Trump.)
The toad doesn’t think, “Oh, here’s a spheroidal insect with a shiny shell. Might taste good. Better eat it.” No thought at all. Act fast or the bug will escape. Movement? Down the hatch. Indigestible. Unexcretable. No taste. No poison. Bit of weight. After a while, harder to hop. How much are people like that with information? “INtell,” the spy programs on television keep saying. In those shows it’s never fragmentary, never needs interpretation, never dubious because of the source. It’s a plot device -- makes things go forward.
Here’s a metaphorical use: the radios in small town kitchens and pickups roll out the bb’s and the people stopping for coffee on their way to work jump and swallow. Random statistics. Small tragedies and atrocities that can’t be explained. New meds to cure cancer, arthritis, overweight, failure to be loved.
James Flynn, the moral philosopher, remarks that people get stuck in their high school ways of thinking: what will get me an A, who is the popular person, who is a loser. It’s unreflective, teacher-said-so, I-read-it-in-the-paper, everyone does it. Two philosophical errors are taught in college. One is misplaced concreteness when one begins to think that a symbol is the thing it stands for, so that made-up things become “real,” the way money -- either the paper bills or the numbers on your bank statement -- seem more actual and important than what they will get for you, like food or travel or shelter. It’s a loss of critical thinking. You end up with a shoebox of paper but nothing to eat.
The other one is called “from is to ought.” That is, what a person knows and perceives as always having been that familiar way, believes that’s the guide to how life should be. The two principles are sort of related. In this one the person can’t recognize any potential to change or even that other people in other places might live quite differently. In fact, that idea is scary and may seem like a criticism of what one’s family considers the right thing. It feels hostile to be in an unfamiliar context. How would anyone know what to do, how to act? In fact, if an outsider comes in, the kind thing to do is instruct them how to do things and what everyone knows to be true and right. Might have to apply a little constructive criticism and even forced compliance.
Once someone asked me what I ate for lunch and I said, “beans.” This person, a professional woman, was aghast. “No one eats beans for lunch!” I might have said I ate bb's. No one eats beans for lunch because they eat in cafes and American cafes don’t offer beans that often because most people eat Big Macs. An English person who was accustomed to eating beans on toast would not be able to get that in a cafe here. I expect there are places in the world where people have lunches that are more strange than beans: possibly even insects, though probably not toads which tend to be poisonous, although I read an article about cane toads which have skins just poisonous enough to be hallucinogenic and how dogs had discovered this and went around stoned, hooked on licking toads. Now isn’t that a bb to swallow and keep? Maybe even a ball bearing with implications for our children?
Kenner Swain, my seminary classmate, always asked, “What does it MEAN?” He was into all that semiotic stuff. I think it means that sometimes you just have to empty all the bb’s out of your gut and look around for beans, maybe even try them on toast just to see what other people’s lunches are like. Not that your fav coffee source should start serving up Yerba Maté in gourds with a straw, the way gauchos get their caffeine in Argentina. But if you really WANTED to try it, Celestial Seasonings sells “Roaring Thunder” tea which is the same thing. I suppose you’d have to buy the gourd online. Not much diff from a “go cup” -- meant for travel in a vehicle without sloshing.
Actually, you know, for years a fav lunch of mine has been frozen peas heated up with lots of butter and garlic, but I never tell anyone because it’s just too weird. No idea how that got started. I think once it was all I had, so I ate it and liked it. Be careful what you snap up. Might get hooked. If Kenner still asked “what does it mean?” I would answer that peas are a legume, a pulse, an alternative crop and good for the soil. An alternative to wheat, just in case. Change.
Frozen peas aren’t as easy to mash up with a fork as canned peas, which is one way to eat spheroids without them running away. Do you know this little ditty?
I eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife.
Actually, I like the feel of peas in my mouth, much more sensuous than oatmeal. It occurs to me that peas are seeds -- are they ova? Didn’t Mendel do his inheritance experiments on peas? Sweet peas? Not with honey, I don’t think. If you rolled a pea past a toad, would it get snapped up? Probably. But roll a pea past a wheat farmer and he’ll pretend he didn’t see anything. But even that mythical guy can adapt. After all he finally got used to not being able to “saucer” his coffee to cool it because it comes in a go cup.