In the last couple of years the US Far Right seems to be suffering from a full-blown gender panic attack. Their outrage at any deviation from “Leave it to Beaver” family roles and gender models is apparently boundless — and punitive — and puzzling.
The so-called “party of freedom and small government” seems intent on restricting freedoms and intruding legislation into citizens’ most private business. State legislatures captured by far-right Republicans have been busily passing laws against abortion (including “morning after” pills), against drag shows, against gender affirming care for minors, against the inclusion in school libraries of any book treating gender variance positively or even-handedly or at all… and they have their eyes on bigger prizes, like a blanket ban on contraception and overturning the legality of same-sex marriage.
A US Supreme Court newly stacked with far-right judges has overturned the landmark Roe vs Wade decision which protected abortion as a private choice. Right-wing activists describe women who have (even early-term) abortions as “murderers” and some seek the death penalty for those women. They describe their position as “pro-life,” while their draconian abortion bans endanger the lives of women suffering from nonviable and pathological pregnancies… and they vigorously resist any effort to rein in gun violence, which in the US has become a leading cause of death for children.
Right-wing activists claim that drag queens — and gay people generally — are all “groomers” trying to “recruit” children. They are full of anxiety about children’s well-being in particular. Yet at the same time, far-right legislators pass laws denying underage girls the right to an abortion in cases of rape (even incestuous rape), or oppose laws establishing a minimum age for marriage.
The hypocrisy and inconsistency strike liberal/progressive onlookers as incomprehensible — absurd — perhaps even insane. But there is a method to the apparent madness.
At first glance it may seem like dementia — random, flailing panic and rage, on so many fronts and with so little logic; but if we take a step back, it does come into focus as a coherent platform. It’s neither random nor inconsistent. There is, in fact, a common theme that unifies and makes sense of it all — the moral outrage, the regressive legislation, the vindictiveness and hatred.
The common theme is a passionate determination to eradicate any influence that might in any way distract from, or restrict, maximum reproductive activity.
Call it, if you like, the Politics of Yeast.
Put yeast in a Petri dish with some nutrients: it will consume and multiply. In fact, you might say that all yeast ever wants to do is make more yeast. It will do so until it runs out of nutrients, at which point the whole colony will die.
All of life wants to create more of itself, from yeast and microbes on up to more complex plants and animalcules, to larger and even more complex mammals, including primates… including our own ingenious selves. In the case of most animals, that’s pretty much all they want to do. Their lives are bounded by the famous Four Effs of evolutionary theory.
Humans, however, can have other priorities. In fact, one definition of human might be “the animal that cares about things other than the Four Effs.” Humans not uncommonly care more about art, or learning, or their careers, or achieving satori, than about making more humans. This is pretty much what it means to be human.
Humans are sometimes wise enough to look realistically at their situation and conclude that becoming a parent is not the best decision at the moment. Humans — unique among mammals as far as I know — practise abortion and contraception to prevent unwanted births, rather than (as some other animals do) eating their unwanted or unsuccessful young or simply abandoning them to starve.
Humans care about more than just making more humans as fast as possible. Humans, in fact, are (potentially) smarter and more interesting than yeast.
But right-wing politics in the US today is essentially the politics of yeast. All their moral panics come back around to Petri-dish priorities.
Abortion and birth control could reduce the number of live births, so they must be made illegal and women who use them must be severely punished. Gay people (in the imagination of right-wing homophobes) don’t have children and form families, so homosexuality must be punished and suppressed: everyone must be straight, get married, and have lots of children.
Humans must make as many more humans as possible, so it’s only logical that girls should be married as young as possible — so they can be impregnated as early as possible, and bear as many babies as possible. Hence, rightwing legislatures are unwilling to impose an age threshold on heterosexual marriage. They openly support the legality and morality of adult men marrying girls as young as 14 — even as they freak out over the imagined “grooming” of young people by gay adults. The progressive mind, founded in human rights theory, sees a staggering inconsistency here; but from the point of view of yeast, there is no inconsistency.
Some trans people may elect to have surgeries which render them unable to reproduce; therefore — if you think like yeast — those surgeries are “abominations” and should be restricted. Particularly, parents should not support in any way a trans child’s discovery of their internal gender conviction, or help that child to “pass” or get gender-affirming care. To the yeast-like rightwing mind, that is “neutering” or “castrating” a potentially reproductive human. Removing any human from the breeding pool is to them an unforgivable crime. [Unless, perhaps, it is a “racially undesirable” human, like hundreds of American women of colour who were sterilised without their knowledge or consent.]
If yeast were capable of emotions and opinions, perhaps one yeast cell would passionately hate another yeast cell that didn’t divide and multiply. Perhaps it would feel that the non-reproductive yeast cell was a traitor to the Holy Yeast Cause, was badly letting the side down. If it felt that the nonconformist cell might influence others to choose likewise, its dislike might become panicky and even murderous. Given that all yeast ever does is multiply, that in essence it is what yeast is for, perhaps that would make some sense.
But among humans — who are, in theory, far more complicated than yeast and capable of forethought, deliberation, regret, and choice in the matter — it seems odd.
It seems all the more odd given that, historically, almost every complex civilisation has evolved and maintained a substantial subculture of celibate religious devotees — a well-defined and sometimes costly social mechanism whereby a substantial percentage of the population can opt out of forming families and breeding. Rightwing American Evangelicals do not spend a lot of their time fulminating against Catholic (or Buddhist) monasteries or nunneries (but give them time, they may get around to that!). They reserve their rhetorical thunder, legislative influence, and personal bullying and intimidation for individuals, not historical/religious collective institutions, whom they perceive as threatening the replication of their genes.
A fanatical insistence on maximising human breeding potential seems well beyond odd and barrelling into catastrophically stupid, on a planet whose biosphere is already badly frayed and collapsing under the weight of almost 8 billion humans. Here again, the comparison with yeast seems unavoidable; yeast will multiply with the same enthusiasm in each generation, including the last generation for which there is sufficient nutrient in the Petri dish. Yeast will multiply itself right into the brick wall of resource depletion and die-off.
Many other more complex animals will do likewise: they are genome robots, programmed to reproduce with unmoderated enthusiasm regardless of circumstances.
The homophobia, the misogyny, the trans-bashing, all make more sense when we regard those political attitudes and agendas as deeply and simply animal, beneath a thin veneer of human language and politics. If humanity is to survive and thrive — and not hit the brick wall of r-selected breeding behaviour, the big crash — we need to come to terms with limits, learn foresight, separate sexual pleasure from compulsive reproduction… grow out of our animal fixation on the Four Effs. The history of progressive politics is essentially this process.
Nature offers us the simple, successful, and time-honoured primate social organisation of one alpha male bully dominating a harem of breeding females and beating the crap out of any male who challenges him; but we invent things like… the rule of law, companionate marriage, diplomacy, fidelity, family life, human rights, freedom, democracy. Rather than the time-honoured and brutally efficient ancient system of slavery, we invent… cooperatives, wage labour, unions, workers’ rights, safety codes, machinery, retirement funds. Rather than the ancient and time-honoured (and brutally efficient) tradition of forcing women to bear a child every year until worn out (at which point the practically-minded husband acquires another young wife, to ensure he has enough living offspring to overcome high infant mortality rates), we invent… medical care to reduce both infant and maternal mortality, birth control, abortion, contraception, the idea of motherhood by choice and planning.
You get the idea: with each of these innovations we move a little further away from a “state of nature” or purely animal existence, and a little closer to something we might call “human” or “civilised.” We move a little further from focusing exclusively on the propagation of the DNA of alpha (and lesser) males, and a little closer to a world of human rights, a free association of (somewhat) equals. We cease to value each other only as machines for the mass production of more humans, and instead honour the many other ways in which we contribute to society. We begin to recognise that people with minor genomic variances from ourselves are nevertheless real people, just like us.
We tolerate non-reproductive persons, variations in gender, and variations in parentage. “Illegitimacy” ceases to be a lifelong stigma because social standing isn’t wholly predicated on the documentable DNA transmission of dominant males. When paternal DNA transmission is not the sole key to social legitimacy, there is less perverse incentive for men to keep women as prisoners or slaves to ensure no other male gets near them. And so on. We become more civilised, as we become less like genome robots, as replication becomes less and less the central and overwhelming obsession of our lives.
As we value priorities other than the Four Effs, human priorities, social priorities, abstract ideals… as we begin to believe in “rights” and individuals… the absolute power of alpha males over underlings, women, and children is slowly eroded. And our lives have purpose and meaning outside of brute reproduction.
The problem with today’s Far Right is that they want to move only so far along that path, and no further.
They’re happy to retire the archaic harem and replace it with a one/one “sacramental marriage” — in theory, anyway; it’s notable and becoming notorious, how many rightwing male church leaders and cult gurus are eventually exposed for using both the female and underage members of their congregation as a harem.
They are willing to move past the absolute power of the single dominant alpha male over his territory; they like the idea of the rule of law, and individual property rights, and voting for leaders rather than being ruled by the divine right of hereditary kings. But they still want to preserve the absolute power of men over women, and the ancient tradition of forced pregnancy and childbirth.
Their support for individual freedom only goes so far, only extends to men of property in a system of “fraternal patriarchy”. Freedom for women, freedom for the gender-divergent, freedom for children to be anything other than genome robots obediently replicating Daddy’s DNA — that for them is a bridge too far.
The Far Right wants to maintain animalistic priorities in a semi-human society — to go halfway towards a genuinely civilised humanity and stop there.
Their policies and rhetoric are hateful, but not inconsistent. They know what kind of world they want. They want some people to enjoy some of the advantages of being human, while still cherishing the fundamental priorities of … yeast.
 If anything, it seems to me we should honour non-reproducing people for their non-contribution to our population crisis. By contrast, GOP lawmakers in Texas proposed to enact major tax benefits solely for hetero couples who have lots of children.
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