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am 21. Februar 1999
The first part of the book is an independent 262 page exposition of homosexual, bisexual and transgendered animal sexuality. If you want to know what the birds and the bees are doing when Jerry Falwell isn't looking, this is the place to find out. Don't expect to find traditional family values in these pages. What you will discover instead is that animals aren't doing it for Darwin, they are doing it for fun. There are amazingly detailed descriptions, pictures and illustrations here of animals having all kinds of sex (that will amaze you), and most of it isn't for procreation.
More interesting to me, though, is the speculation on the sexual origins of language and culture in chapter 2 and the devastating examination in chapter 3 of bigotry in the biological sciences in over two hundred years of observations of animal homosexuality. Bagemihl shows, for example, that in science as in society, there's a presumption of heterosexuality. Field researchers have commonly assumed, with no independent verification, that whenever they see a pair of animals engaging in what appears to be sexual behavior they are observing a male-female pair. Conversely, whenever they observe a known same-sex pair engaging in behavior that would be classified as sexual between a male and female, they classify it in some other way. This protocol largely precludes the gathering of data about animal homosexuality even when it's being observed. In some cases, though, it resulted in published studies being repudiated as much as 20 years later when it was discovered that what was presumed to be heterosexual behavior in a population was really entirely homosexual. (It's an interesting fact that in some species heterosexuality has never been observed by scientists even when they go to great lengths to observe it over periods of many years.) Also, a lot of animal homosexuality that has been recognized as such has simply been excluded from the published reports. As a result, there is still widespread belief among scientists and the public that animal homosexuality is rare or nonexistent. People will believe otherwise after reading this book.
Chapter 4 looks at the attempts to explain away animal homosexuality and chapter 5 considers arguments on the other side that try to attach evolutionary value to homosexuality. Bagemihl rejects all the proposals on both sides, demonstrating the weakness of all the explanations and typically showing that they are plainly inconsistent with the evidence of animal behavior. Finally, he arrives at the question that the reader has been waiting for for almost 200 pages: "Why does same-sex activity persist--reappearing in species after species, generation after generation, individual after individual--when it is not 'useful'?" His answer is not to show that it is useful, but rather to treat the plain existence of homosexuality as a reductio ad absurdum argument against the biologists' assumption that only traits that contribute to reproduction will survive (i.e. are useful). In pursuing this line of thought Begemihl offers interesting descriptions of animals that are nonbreeders, animals that suppress reproduction, animals that segregate the sexes so that reproduction can't happen, animals that engage in birth control, and animals that engage in other nonreproductive behaviors. He also shows that a lot of the sex that actually occurs is not for reproduction, but apparently for pleasure. All of this he believes calls for a new conception of the natural biological world.
The last chapter describes some ideas for a new paradigm, which he calls Biological Exuberance and I must say that it is much less convincing than the rest of the book. It is interesting nonetheless. Much of the last chapter is a description of the myths about animals of native North Americans, the tribes of New Guinea, and indigenous Siberian people. When I started reading this chapter I began to wonder if I had accidentally picked up a different book, but in the end he makes a connection between the myths and biological reality. In fact, he shows that some of these myths contain more facts about animals than you can find in any scientific text. Some of the most bizarre of the myths turn out to be true.
So where does it end? In mystery. "Our final resting spot--the concept of Biological Exuberance--lies somewhere along the trajectory defined by these three points (chaos, biodiversity, evolution), although its exact location remains strangely imprecise." "Nothing, in the end, has really been 'explained'--and rightly so, for it was 'sensible explanations' that ran aground in the first place."
That's not a very satisfactory answer to my mind, but the book is nonetheless a source of many interesting phenomena and ideas. I enjoyed it greatly. I expect most people who read this long book will do as I have done--read part one completely and then selectively read about some particular animals in part two. The second part is an encyclopedia of the queer sexuality of approximately 300 species of mammals and birds. An appendix contains a long list of reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, spiders and domesticated animals in which homosexuality has been observed.
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am 28. Januar 1999
Rumi would clearly identify this body of work as an act of worship. I had the privilege of seeing the book in it's developmental stage and was very impressed by the contribution it makes to behavioral biology and to the debate over the origin of sexual expression. I was also impressed by the commitment of its author to stay true to his vision of a completely documented exposition of sexual diversity in the animal world. I am even more excited to see the original conception in print in all its fascinating glory! This book will change the way you view animal (and human) sexual behavior!
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am 6. Mai 1999
This book is a PERFECT balance between vivid, detailed descriptions of specific case studies in wildlife, and poignant, clear-thinking reflection on what the data MEAN (and doesn't mean!) Dr. Bagemihl neither advocates nor opposes a human gay-rights agenda with his scientific documentation. In fact, he himself reminds the reader to be careful about how this data to occur in animals, it is considered to be 'natural' and therefore acceptable in humans; if it is thought not to occur in animals, it is considered 'unnatural' and therefore unacceptable in humans... "Any careful consideration of the logic behind [this] will show, however, that this line of reasoning is flawed. As many people have pointed out, humans engage in a wide variety of behaviors that do not occur in nature, from cooking to writing letters to wearing clothes, and yet we do not condemn these activities as 'unnatural' because they are not found among animals... "...We also use our biology and anatomy in ways that 'nature did not intend for them to be used' without ascribing a moral value to such activities. As James Weinrich observes, the tongue's primary biological purpose is for the act of eating, yet its use in acts of speech, bubble-gum-blowing, or kissing is not therefore considered 'unnatural.' In addition, many things that do occur spontaneously in animals--diseases, birth defects, rape and cannibalism, for example--are not considered to be 'natural' or desirable conditions or behaviors in most humans..." This is merely one example of the sharp analytical commentary that Dr. Bagemihl has laid upon his volume of rich and manifold encyclopedia entries regarding animal sexuality. Biological Exuberance is an absolutely honest look at what occurs in nature, written with integrity and clarity, and is a must-read for any teacher or student of zoology
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am 24. Mai 1999
This book is like a much better researched Kinsey report of a subset of the animal kingdom. The author did a LOT of careful review of the literature to piece together many data putting the lie to the commonly-held belief that animals are either never same-sex directed OR are only that way b/c of strange circumstances. The author very carefully examines the marginalizing that has occurred in this exceedingly common set of same-sex behaviors and sets things right. I found most interesting the psychological aspect of the book, where he observed and put into context the most common reasons for scientists' omitting or marginalizing homosexual animal behavior. Parts of the book can seem very exhaustive, however. It is NOT a quick read. It does, however, repay close attention. I wish every fundamentalist would read this book and wrap their minds around the phenomenon of widespread bisexual and homosexual behaviors of many diff. types in the "lower" animals.
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am 11. Mai 1999
Anthropology, geology, and even most all religions have all "updated" their views on the way the world works, based on our ever-unfolding knowledge and new discoveries. It's time that zoology has done the same! In Biological Exuberance, Bruce Bagemihl exposes the data that cries out for a new acceptance and understanding of animal behavior.
In the first part of the text, he systematically builds a case for "updating" our views. He explains why we can no longer continue believing that the very core of animal nature is based on scarcity and reproduction. By compiling the reports written by hundreds of scientists all over the world who have been "into the field to peek under the rocks," Bagemihl demonstrates without question that we must awaken to a new set of theories about wildlife, if we are to remain honest with the facts. A most interesting portion of this work is his uncovering of several reasons why these reports have been misused, overlooked, edited for content, or simply "tucked away" over the course of history. The last section of this part of his book is a dance into "the possible," in which he eloquently proposes some modifications we ought to consider to the traditional evolutionary theory. He has titled the book after these revolutionary ideas, and declares them merely a starting point for a dialogue he hopes he has initiated.
Seemingly unending descriptions of individual animals compose the second part of the book. Bagmihl has created the world's first sourcebook for future reference on the subject. (Try asking any librarian for a book on animal sexuality! This one's the only one you'll find!)
This book has been reviewed in dozens of mainstream city newspapers, in TIME Magazine, and has been featured in many radio programs across the U.S. All that I've seen are outstanding reviews. This book has become a gift from my heart to many of my friends and relatives. But sadly, I have a deep suspicion that Bagemihl's work might only become truly popular--first in the academic fields--long after we have all passed on.
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am 9. August 1999
Dr. Bagemihl presents us with information neglected or even suppressed for decades. The book is somewhat repetitious and longer than it might have been, but the author is determined to break through barriers of denial and resistence and to establish the scientific basis for his presentation. He does so convincingly and challenges the scientific establishment to a new examination of the facts and a letting go of cultural prejudices regarding human and animal sexuality. A extremely important book.
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am 5. April 2000
The thing that particularly fascinated me about this book was the broad array of variations in physical gender found in animals. For many animals (e.g., hyenas, bears) a significant percentage of their population at any time is made up of intersexed individuals. Nature is both more strange, and more wonderful, than we usually perceive. The book was a real eye-opener.
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am 15. Juni 1999
I must admit that I find some satisfaction in being a thorn in the side of the homosexual fantasy, but I do apologize to all the honest readers of Bagemihl's work for exposing this "manual of gay opinion" for what it is. Although the second half of the book might serve as an excellent reference for students of ethology (and as a sidebar to one reviewer, there are many, many texts about animal sexual behavior on the shelves of the libraries I frequent; I suspect many from before the reviewer was born), the first half of this text is nothing more than opinion, or what would be termed "observational science." Most unfortunate is the fact the Bagemihl's opinion is actually a second-hand opinion, dependent on the first-person opinions of original observers. I do see that such an extensive volume could be a labor of love, since the homosexual fantasy does not separate sex from love or vice versa.
As to whether or not homosexual behavior occurs elsewhere in nature, is there a true biologist, especially wildlife biologist, that believes otherwise? Every American farmboy can tell stories of observed homosexual behavior. Although it may seem a small step for Bagemihl to jump from adaptive homosexual behavior to homosexual orientation and lifestyle, this is truly a "giant leap for mankind." If one accepts Darwinian evolutionary theory, then at the species level all behavior serves one purpose: survival. Survival of the species depends on reproduction--asexual or sexual, and sexual reproduction exhibits a myriad of sexual behaviors all designed to enhance survival, specifically survival of the fittest.
Most of the behaviors Bagemihl references have been described as enhancing reproductive success, e.g. female bonobo copulation prepares females for future mating and increase fertilization success (and may even stimulate male bonobos, thus enhancing copulatory success). I will admit that there is little hard core, or "conclusive" science to support these interpretations, but the point is that all Bagemihl does in this voluminous text is offer a different interpretation based on his opinion (or a minority opinion if you will). Other interpretations are based on far more knowledge, experience, and collective reasoning.
Proposing consideration of modifications to traditional evolutionary theory based on his interpretation of other workers observations is a real travesty. If we were to modify our assumtions, hypotheses, and conclusions regarding evolution every time someone had an alternative perspection, evolutionary theory would be about as valuable as the theory of genetic predispostion to sexual orientation. We cannot construct science to fit any particular "perspective", such as the homosexual perspective, or it is no longer science, but politics, which is where the argument for homosexual equality should remain. At least in the political realm it is a valid argument. In the scientific realm, it has no ground on which to stand.
Because of the very unscientific nature of Bagemihl's interpretation, I strongly suspect this work will go the way of the early 90's so-called genetic research on the origins of homosexuality--quickly and quietly discredited. It is unfortunate that the discrediting of such works in the scientific community does not receive anywhere near the media attention and fanfare that the original release of such garbage receives.
To sum up, let me say that Bagemihl's work proves absolutely nothing and is more a product of a fertile imagination that of scientific rigor. Bagemihl does present a convincing argument, but he DOES NOT present any conclusive proof of anything. He is much more the marketer than the scientist. Homosexual behavior may (I emphasize "behavior" and "may") have adaptive significance as far as survival of the species. Most ethologists accept that humans do have bisexual behavior tendencies. However, sexual orientation or sexual lifestyle are human choices and deserve psychological interpretation, not biological. Rather than psychoanalyzing wildlife biologists and ethologists, Bagemihl should consider the psychology of the homosexual lifestyle, which in humans includes an emotional element not present in other species, because it is this choice, not homosexual behavior, that flies in the face of evolutionary theory, reproductive strategies, and ultimately, species survival.
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am 8. Juni 1999
Don't want to repeat the many excellent comments, but maybe comment on the significance of this book. As was noted, we can't just model human behavior on animal behavior, sometimes because it is disgusting, but mostly because there is no "animal behavior." !! Each species is different, as you will discover while reading this book.
However, the book succeeds BRILLIANTLY at presenting the sexual landscape from which we emerged. We are mammals, you and I. We are primates, or at least evolved from primates. And it is now absolutely clear that we evolved from other creatures who had all kinds of exuberant sexuality in their lives. The phony old model of animal "husband-and-wife" entering Noah's Ark is demolished forever.
A wonderful book!
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am 7. Februar 1999
Absolutely brilliant and meticulously researched. This groundbreaking work should dispel many half-baked theories about homosexuality as exclusively human and 'unnatural'. Particularly relevant in today's charged climate of anti-homosexual bashing
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