The Continuum of Life

I have a lot of feelings and beliefs about many things. But to keep things to a rational, biological, scientific level, I’d like to delicately approach a few subjects. Those are evolution, veganism, and abortion. Wow, did he just say those three? Yeah, I did. But hear me out.

As a scientist, its not hard for me to say that a creature is a wholly, new and different creature at a certain point in life. Its a creature that takes two organisms to create. Its not just one, mothering creature that is wholly responsible. It takes two to tango.

Humans give up half of each chromosome pair to make up gametes, that is sperm and eggs. What is so interesting is that these chromosomes are tightly bound into big bundles, like noodles twisted around each other. This folding is unique in that the specific DNA code physically causes the folding to happen in a certain way. In order to separate a pair of chromosomes, there are enzymes that allow the chromosome to unwind, and actually become cut and reunited again to help the unwinding. Similar things happen when they come together upon fertilization, aka after getting busy. This process undergoes recombination where not only reconfiguring of the DNA takes place, but actual mutation and crossing-over that shares traits with parents, but also makes the organism uniquely its own.

We see this take place in nearly all of life, eukaryotic life, where organisms have a double membrane around the nucleus. Basidiomycete fungi that become mushrooms and other such basidiocarps do this as well. Its really strange because fertilization is delayed. The two gametes (N) come together to form a temporary N + N structure. Eventually, the N’s unite and you have a unique creature. This is different from humans and most other organisms. But at the time the N + N forms a 2N, this act of recombination occurs making it a wholly new creature, different from its parents. That is when  “new” life begins. It is completely different and unique. It is a prime example of how this miracle of “new” life begins.

What gets twisted up in all of this biology are the sociological, cultural, and religious contexts where we all, as humans, have innate biases. One time, I was riding with coworkers to do corn research on the University South Farms. It was a very hot day and I noticed some black cows grazing in the pasture. I commented on how much hotter is must feel to them since they absorb more heat with their black color, whereas a white cow would reflect the rays. Its the same reason why a runner in an Ultramarathon in the middle of Summer in Death Valley is wise to wear pure white reflective clothing. Yet one lady coworker of mine was greatly offended with my comment. She said I was racist for saying that. Huh? I’m a Native American brown dude and I’m racist? OK. Sometimes, you can’t say anything that is totally scientific if it goes against the narrative that runs in another person’s mind. Even with facts thrown in their face, you still get called racist or sexist or whatever people like to call each other. I was just stating facts about the physics of light reflectance. Racial overtones was the furthest from my mind.

Believe me, I’m the biggest animal lover there is. Its why I became a biologist. Actually, my Ph.D. is in plant pathology, so I love plants too. Plants have feelings too. I love all of life. But there are also facts of life. When a male lion attacks and kills a weaker female gazelle, it isn’t because a lion is racist or xenophobic or misogynistic. Its because it was hungry. The lion is a carnivore and there isn’t anything wrong with that. It eats meat. Nobody is trying to convert a lion into vegetarianism. The lion isn’t hateful of gazelles; it doesn’t wish it to have a bad day; the lion just happens to have it as its natural prey. Just like the gazelle doesn’t hate the grass or other plants it eats. It isn’t eating plants for the fun of killing them. It is hungry.

But somehow, we’ve projected our own emotions and biases onto the animal kingdom. I had a debate with someone about this before. They said they won’t eat something because it has a soul? Huh? First of all, if we have evolved to be no better than the animals, then how do we get to decide which plant or animal has a soul or not. And if we don’t believe in God anyway, then why do we care about souls? She said, because animals with a central nervous system have a soul. Forgive me, but how do you know? When I look into my dog’s eyes, how do I know what it is really thinking? When my dog digs up a nest of bunnies and systematically kills every bunny, do I know what its thinking? My dog doesn’t “hate” bunnies. She doesn’t think that every bunny needs to be wiped from the Earth. Its in her innate nature to hunt and kill. It has nothing to do with racism or hate. My dog isn’t evil because she kills bunnies. Its her nature.

So how do I impose my beliefs and biases on the animal kingdom? And how do some animals, aka humans, get to decide what I believe and what my innate nature needs? How do they get to decide in the continuum of life when its OK to kill its own human life? Is it 3 weeks, 6 weeks, or 48 weeks in the womb? How do we get to decide that? We know its a new and unique creature. In the continuum of evolution, why do we get to decide where the cut-off is? So its OK to kill a human embryo or a spider or a weed in the yard, but its not OK to harvest a deer or a farm animal. Alaskan Natives, who happen to have very long Winters where they live, had and have an ability to process meat and fat in their bodies differently. They live off of a very low plant food diet. Its how they survive since they don’t have a long growing season for plants. If you were a subsistence dweller, you couldn’t go to them and tell them to be vegetarians. They would quickly die out because that food is not available to them. Its a matter of survival in those conditions. They aren’t evil because they live off of seals, whales, elk, caribou, and moose. It is how they survive. The same is true of any organism who has evolved to live in the arctic, hot deserts, jungles, and islands in the ocean. They can’t run to the corner store for chickpeas, kale, and kombucha. They adapt to the resources that are available. Otherwise, they die.

What gets so confused are the yuppies who live in big cities who have never had a garden or lived off the land who don’t have a clue where food comes from and how it is processed. They go to the grocery store and Starbucks, but don’t really have a clue. I completely believe these ideas were borne out of ignorance. And I don’t mean “ignorance” as a pejorative. I mean, they don’t know biology, other cultures, or things beyond their own protected lives. All they know is what celebrities on TV tell them. And because that is the cool thing to do, that’s what they do. They are stuck in fashion, the latest flavored water, and the coolest trends in hand bags. They can’t open a book and think for themselves. Because we cry “sexism” and “misogyny” and “F* the Patriarchy”, we no longer see an embryo as a new living creature. We see it as expendable as an appendix or a tonsil or a 2nd kidney. Its a throw away and unnecessary part of our own body and not a new living creature. Its our own biases that ruin what biology tells us.

The strings of life are long; like links in a very long chain. How does this animal, humans, get to decide where that chain is cut? Whether we are 2 weeks old in the womb or 100 years old walking the Earth, who are we to decide? How can we impose our non-scientific, social, religious, and cultural norms on all of life? We can’t. That is, unless we believe a certain way. And even my own beliefs condone what biology tells us. Whether we believe we are the stewards of the Earth or if we believe we a no better than the animals, the rule of life still holds true. Soul or no soul. Precedents lie in the plant and animal world. Biology doesn’t lie. Its up to you to decide where your own personal biases direct you.

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