On Biological Essentialism

There is a common belief that science is always advancing, always pushing our society forward. Scientists are defenders of truth and reality. “Fact” is objective, and it doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings. People falsely believe that science is a driving force of culture but is also somehow separate from it, above it. The reality of the situation is that the relationship between science and culture goes in both directions. The scientific research that takes place is only possible because of the material conditions our “best and brightest” find themselves. The research that scientists choose to do is driven by the wants and needs of themselves and the people around them, particularly the people who fund them. Perhaps most devastatingly, supposed scientific research is used as a way to justify and perpetuate the social relations of existing society.

Science is not a function outside of society that guides it. Instead, like everything else, it is a dialectical process that happens within society, being shaped by our social relations much more than it shapes them in return. This is not to say that everything science tells us is inherently wrong. It is to say that we should question the basic assumptions made by popular science and try to parse the objective from the subjective. Don’t just separate the facts from the lies. Separate the facts from the things those facts are being used to justify. A common tactic of bourgeois science, both today and historically, is the idea of biological essentialism.

Biological essentialism is the belief that certain qualities (gender, sex, race, etc) are inherent, biological, objective, and indisputable. Scientists put people (and animals!) into categories and draw distinct borders where none truly exist. This is then used to justify, to explain away, the oppression and material conditions that exploited groups find themselves in. Any states these groups exist in are simply seen as their natural place. “It is not the uneven development of material conditions and social relations that have landed each group where they sit! It is a natural hierarchy, based on ‘objective’ differences! Don’t blame us, blame nature!” You can see where this becomes a problem. It is a way to absolve those in power of guilt that is rightfully theirs and rationalize subservience and passivity for the oppressed masses. It is “natural” for you to be dominated and possessed.

Race

This essentialism controls much of the discourse in the Unit£d $tat£$ of Am£rikkka. While people laugh off the old justifications for racism, like phrenology, they flock to new forms of “scientific racism” in droves. It has become rather popular since the 1990s to believe in what is called “The Bell Curve.” Proponents believe that intelligence, measured in IQ, is hereditary. They then extrapolate that conclusion and use it to justify the idea that certain races are just naturally less intelligent, naturally unequal. Despite shaky research, a clear motivation to justify racial injustice, and the fact that IQ is a really stupid concept, large numbers of people latch onto this belief and form political opinions based around it. So called “intellectuals” give platform to this gibberish and celebrate it’s sloven creator as some sort of “brave” “rebel” who is just looking for truth. These people fall right into the trap! This science only helps to support the racist culture they grew up in, and if beacons of knowledge like Sam Harris—Don’t laugh!— think there might be something to it, well then who are we, lowly citizens, non-scientists, to dismiss it? They believe scientists are only out for progress, and so they are blind to the reactionary and counter-revolutionary!

“The Bell Curve” is but one step in a long history of scientific racism, but a lot of the moderates out there will spot it right away, recognize it for the propaganda it is. Don’t think yourselves immune. There are many other “subtle” ways in which this racist essentialism envelopes public opinion. How many of us believe that black people are naturally more athletic than other races? Despite black over-representation in sports being clearly caused by social and not biological factors, this is still the narrative that is pushed. Black people are “naturally” just “physically superior.” As has been pointed out by others, this stems from an attempt to make black people appear more primal, less civilized. “You know, why don’t we have the physically superior ones do all that hard labor?” Myths of black super-physiques, insatiable sexual drive, and aggression are used to dehumanize them. These same myths are used to de-feminize black womyn, to make them seem as if they are not “proper” or worthy of respect. Again, these are racist beliefs that culture has convinced you are bound in nature, born from biology. These are just some examples, but the point should be clear by now.

The truth? “Race” is a social construct. It isn’t realIt’s a made-up label. Race was an idea that emerged as a way of rationalizing things like colonialism, slavery, and imperialism. All the bourgeois science that seeks to show “differences” between the races is only doing so to maintain those systems, to continue rationalizing oppression and exploitation. The biological essentialist view that race is inherent is completely unfounded. To put it as bluntly as possible, the idea that there are “races” is racist.

Sex & Gender

Similar essentialist ideas can be found in discussions about sex and gender. Bourgeois science has, for centuries, pushed the idea that sex and gender are inherent. Recognizing some of the oppression this justifies, modern liberals have attempted to separate the two terms. While gender is more and more being recognized as a social construct and not a biological one, sex is still seen as something “natural” or “objective.” What these petty bourgeois miss, is that sex as a concept is invariably tied to gender, inseparable from it, and attempts to say that “sex is objective” are inherently attempts to say “gender is objective.” Sexual essentialism is a way to justify sexual roles, and thus it justifies gender roles.

The counter-revolutionaries of the “intellectual world” recognize this inherent social binding. Liberal moderates give them ground, and they continue to march, using the “sex is objective” argument as a gateway to argue that gender and social roles are inherent. They say that womyn belong in subordination because they are “smaller” or “more emotional” as an attempt to anchor these claims in biology. This goes to the point of using biology to justify r*pe and sexual abuse. Upon research revealing that 1/3 of womyn experienced depression as a result of sex, and that this dysphoria was linked to social and psychological stress, biologists quickly rushed to explain away this data as some sort of inherent problem of womyn’s biology. Claims were made like, “After orgasms in females, dopamine drops so rapidly that they experience depression as a result.” Which seems absurd once you know how infrequent female orgasms are and how frequent post-sex depression is. Also, men experience a similar drop, yet they seem largely passed over by this phenomenon. Instead of fixing the social and psychological stress that actually causes these things, scientists instead began producing pills to help womyn maintain arousal and cope with their dysphoria. By pinning the social experiences of womyn on their biology, they can justify not solving social issues. They can make abuse the victim’s fault. As pointed out in one of my favorite articles, “Apparently, we are more willing to encourage womyn to drug themselves into thinking they want to have sex than we are to question the nature of sexual relations.”

The mistake of the “progressive” is not going far enough, not recognizing that sex too is a social construct. The real sum of our scientific research to date actually disproves this essentialist view pushed by most scientists and accepted by most people. “Biological” sex is a spectrum. Research has shown that chromosomes, hormones, and other sex indicators vary massively across the population. Some experts in sex differentiation are even now arguing that “biological sex” is so loose, so diverse, that it is best understood on an individual level. Every person can be understood as their own unique combination of “sex traits.”

Not only “can” they, but they should. The enforcement of a false sex binary is simply a way to justify existing oppression. As stated before, it justifies the reinforcement of sexist gender roles, but it also justifies other forms of bigotry. The Trump regime has recently attempted to use biological essentialism to write transgender identities out of existence. They are working to define gender and sex as biological and binary. This is being used to justify denying people homes and jobs, proper medical treatment, and protection by human rights organizations, all on the basis of having a gender identity that disrupts the essentialist binary. I feel the need to stress once again, nothing good comes from the reduction of people into arbitrary biological categories.

Animal Rights

Up to this point, we have been able to dismantle biological essentialism by proving that the “biological differences” pushed as it’s foundation are imaginary. What we are now going to discuss is the failure of biological essentialism even when real and measurable biological differences are present. As I said earlier, “Don’t just separate the facts from the lies. Separate the facts from the things those facts are being used to justify.”

No reasonable person is going to make the argument that humans are biologically identical to other animals. We are, certainly, distinct and different species. This is a fact. Unfortunately, some people believe that this fact gives us some sort of divine right to do whatever we want to with our fellow earthlings. They use these biological factors to justify their belief in a hierarchy. This falls apart when approached with a very simple question. What biological factors determine something’s worth?

What about walking on four legs means that you are inherently worthy of torture, r*pe, and murder for the enjoyment of someone who walks on two? Sure, a biological difference does exist. But how does that difference justify abuse and oppression in any way? This argument is expanded and given much greater scope by the argument from marginal cases. This argument has three basic steps.

  1. “If we are justified in denying direct moral status to animals then we are justified in denying direct moral status to the marginal cases (of the human population – KK).
  2. We are not justified in denying direct moral status to the marginal cases.
  3. Therefore we are not justified denying direct moral status to animals.”

To put it in simpler terms, if we are allowed to kill animals for not meeting a certain criteria, then we must be able to kill people who do not meet that same criteria. The problem is that no real line can be drawn between all animals and all people. Pigs and cows have extremely complex psychology and more emotional and practical intelligence than infants. Would anyone honestly advocate we farm and eat infants? You can spin this around in your head all day, but no justifiable border can be drawn to separate off the humans from the non-humans entirely. You can never rationalize the killing of other animals without simultaneously rationalizing the killing of some chunk of the human population. Biological essentialism fails again, not because there isn’t a biological difference between the groups being discussed, but because the conclusions of hierarchy that are drawn from those differences are nonsensical. Differences exist, but they are unhelpful.

Away From Essentialism

The truth of why each oppressed group inhabits that space is found through an analysis of their current and historical material conditions. Social relations lead to the oppression of certain races, sexes, classes, and species. Attempts to explain these in terms of “natural” or “biological” factors are misguided, unhelpful, and ultimately only serve as a way to legitimize the exploitation these groups face. Biological essentialism is a counter-revolutionary approach to reality. It is a way to stifle progress, slow movement. There is no room for it among those who wish to truly change this world. We do not seek “science” to justify our oppression. We seek revolution to end it.

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