The narrow window; when t is inside this range, we anguish; when outside, things are moot…
Yesterday, James Kunstler wrote a stinging essay Lost In Space , expounding on his view of the various gender topics that have been brought to the forefront of our national discussion. The discussion was lively, with folks bringing up biology, identity, and all topics pertinent. When issues like gender fluidity come up, the issue of changing one’s gender naturally follows. My take on that particular element was this:
A lot of this may be moot in the Long Emergency, as surgery, hormones, resources will be limited. Biological technology does seem to be moving at a fast pace, however, and if it does become possible for people to alter their cells at a genetic level while the lights are still on, then we’ll have an even more interesting set of discussions.
This moot point isn’t just the folks who want to change their gender. In my world, and perhaps in yours, there are folks with diseases like diabetes, thyroid conditions, and high cholesterol who will simply curl up and die if this civilization collapses to something like a pre-1900 society. The first gender reassignment (or gender confirmation, depending on your take on things) happened in 1931, and wasn’t quite successful; a more lasting outcome more in the public eye came out in the early 1950s, with Christine Jorgensen‘s transition. Our society had plenty of resources then, and folks who wanted to have these procedures (although difficult to get), could still get them. Things got easier as time went on, and as procedures and hormones became more refined. Whether you are for or against them, the big key is that society had the resources to allow these pursuits to be realized, and to be realized for many people. In some cases, insurance and/or the government has paid for these procedures. What becomes of these pursuits when resource and supply chains break down? If there a limited number of industrial chemical and biological plants in operation, will they be dedicated to hormones, or to antibiotics? When operating rooms and anesthesia are in limited supply, will societies be performing complex surgeries of these kinds? It isn’t hard to guess what will happen.
What about the improbable (but possible) converse? If it becomes possible for people to edit their own genome, and create virtual X or Y chromosomes, what will happen then? Right now, we are at a cusp; the technology exists to perform these reassignments in a mechanical and chemical way (surgery and hormones) at a cost that is somewhat prohibitive, but not outrageously impossible for individuals or society to handle. What if the technology exists to make people’s original gender impossible to detect without a brain scan? What if a person wanted to remove all traces of gender from their bodies (M to null, F to null, instead of MtoF, or FtoM)? What if brain/head transplants could be realistically done? What if the technology becomes so cheap and simple that you can change your body for a weekend? There are a few science fiction stories (and movies) that have run with these themes. As unlikely as they seem now, let’s not forget that most of us now have incredibly cheap computing power in our pockets that would have seemed impossible thirty or forty years ago. With technologies like CRISPR, biological body hacking may be a reality, and these discussions may seem quaint in twenty years.
There are a few phrases to keep in mind when discussing these sorts of topics, especially in our own chaotic times. Some are obvious, but still should be mentioned:
- Ethics changes with technology (one of Niven’s Laws).
- Energy drives our civilization, technology is a byproduct.
- You can’t get something for nothing.
- If something is unsustainable, it can’t be sustained.
- Physical differences and issues can/may be minimized/eliminated/modified/changed/amplified with technology (gender, strength, height, eyesight, hearing, mobility).
- We overestimate technology in the short term, and underestimate it in the long term.
If there’s one more comment to add here (my general viewpoint being that we won’t have a techno-cornucopian future) it’s that when things get tough, many of these issues may be tossed aside, as most of us will be worrying about food, physical security, and the rest of the items at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid.
What do you think? Is this gender issue stuff (and the concern about it) a transient phenomenon due to a particular time when technology and energy are barely sufficient enough to do these feats? One hundred years ago, these questions were academic. One hundred years in the future, they may be also be academic in the same way (in a world bereft of resources to do these things), or they may be irrelevant, due technologies we can’t even conceive of yet.