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Recalling The Forever War

March 27, 2016

Haldeman_Rambo_2016In Orlando for ICFA 37, I had the pleasure of exploring the latest bizarre biology with Gay and Joe Haldeman, Cat Rambo, Sherry Vint, Jeanne Griggs, Sandy Lindow, among others. From tree networks to jet-lagged bacteria, it was the most fun at breakfast I’ve had in a long time. An unexpected bonus was remembering Joe’s The Forever War. Unfortunately Joe’s pic didn’t come out on my phone, but there are plenty of him out there in Google, including this one along with Gay (who, next to Cat, did come out on mine.)

Back in 1974, The Forever War  was ahead of its time in presenting a partly-positive view of genderless society; and also a plausible model for evolution of a eusocial colony (such as ants or mole rats) or even a multicellular organism. The story is told by a soldier Mandella (which I always thought referred to Peter, Paul & Mary’s song) in a Vietnam-like war that goes on across the light-years for no clear reason. Over the centuries, society encourages same-sex relations in order to curb overpopulation, until finally only a few heteros remain to reproduce. In biology, analogous trajectories  have led to evolution of eusocial insects, in which only a few queens and drones reproduce. And in microbes you can trace analogous evolutionary paths to multicellular life with a soma and germ line.

The notion of same-sex society to limit human population seems quaint today, with gay marriage and all kinds of tech-assisted reproduction. But a closer look gets more interesting. What our Western society does encourage today is androgeny, cross-gender, and cross-careering, with inevitable postponement of reproduction. Heteros increasingly use the non-reproductive sexual practices invented by gays. And yes, most Western countries are declining in population. In the US, our native-born population is shrinking, but the decline is offset by immigration. Are we outsourcing our breeding to war-torn countries that feed us refugees? Maybe we should treat them with a little more respect.

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