3D Webs vs Trees vs Billiard Balls

The more we learn about living things, the more support we find for switching our go to metaphors for causation and relationships. A Popular Science article about how genetic sequencing reveals that grey whales are related to baleen whales, that speciation can happen  without geographic isolation, and that once done, speciation is not an end to continued cross-mating and hybridization between species that nonetheless remain distinct has this passage:

But in the case of the whales, who share the oceans of the world, evidence for a process called sympatric speciation—where a progenitor species can create new offshoots in the same geographic space—is much clearer. Evolutionary network analysis takes the tree metaphor and turns it into a complex web, which acknowledges the different kinds of familial connections shown by whole-genome sequencing. Comparing the whole genomes of rorquals shows that genetics is much more fluid than the Darwinian “tree” model, Janke says.

Truly believing in the theory of evolution means changing the way we look at our entire world. Two topics that drive me up the wall because we discuss them in old, Newtonian terms are transsexuality  and cultural appropriation .  

Folks talking about issues surrounding gender, sex, and identity will say something like, “I reject the gender binary of male and female.” Some people will go further and argue that the binary structure is “socially constructed.” One one level this is true and boring: our entire language is a social construct and nothing has any meaning save the shared social one we construct. But on another level it’s just wrong to argue that the existence of people who are neither male nor female in anyway diminishes the reality of the binary nature of sex. Every category in the world breaks down at the edges. Blue whales exist. Grey whales exist. Blue whales are not grey whales, except when they are a hybrid. 

On the subject of cultural appropriation, the bushiness of life makes accusations of appropriation misplaced. Duh! Living creatures near each other in the ecosystem share stuff back and forth all the damn time. White people don’t appropriate the blues any more than trees appropriate the CO2 of humans. That’s how ecosystems work.