Target the natives for genetic enhancement
our goal is to make them thrive
So says one "Max"of Brave New Worlds. Max's pop-utopian doggerel depends not only on a big, stupid generalization (and thus a fallacy), but racism of a nearly Mengele sort. Which natives are those? All non-caucasians? Does McMax have the data showing the breakdown of scores of various ethnic groups on various tests, across the world? Nyet. It's really not even worth criticizing but brings to mind a few topics still current in the nature/nurture debate.
Richard Lewontin has offered some fairly intelligent criticism of what we might call naive genetic determinism. The Lewontin/SJ Gould faction had issues--they at times drift to a sort of ivy league marxism --but they at least understood that Darwinism and genetic determinism might pose a danger to human liberties. Winston Churchill had no problem quoting Darwin as justification for his eugenics plans (as did a few nazis). To say that genes cause everything (or most of everything) does not necessarily imply one supports eugenics or a Final Solution, but there does seem to be some relationship: most eugenicists of whatever political view have relied upon a notion of a superior race (usually caucasian), and that alleged superiority was supposedly owing mostly to "genetic factors". That's not to deny Darwinian evolution whatsoever, but to question its application to ALL human activities (especially higher sort of language, mathematics, or Justice). That said, Darwin probably knew less about genetics than the average high school biology teacher. Mendel and others developed the science of genetics a few decades after Darwin's demise.
Contingencies suggests genetic determinism usually functions as a sophisticated "naturalist fallacy", really. Consider the usual mafia melodrama, with some mamacita saying of her bad boy son-- after he shoots up some cops, etc-- that he's got his papa's sicilian blood (irish, scottish, italian, african, whatever). That's a typical variety of "folk psychology": not merely the character is inherited but nationality, according to many primitive cultures. That's been proven to be mostly nonsense. There might be something like shared characteristics--probably due to appearance, language, political/historical factors, etc--but the grand generalizations about race and nationality are not supported by evidence. Conditioning matters, greatly. Caucasian chess players most likely made generalizations about latinos or hispanics until a cuban, Capablanca, defeated the greatest chess players in the world, most of them caucasian or jewish. Capa. was not born a grandmaster, of course (though hereditary factors played a part, indirectly, at least: ie good chess players, like good professors generally come from nice bourgeois homes. That doesn't mean that the bourgeois are "better"--perhaps more fortunate, or for that matter, more successful predators).
The most violent eugenicists, and in some ways racists, were geneticists who said, "Genes dominate everything, and if there are differences between groups and how rich they are, how much power they have, it must be in the genes." Only for a short period, during the Second World War, when the consequences of that ideology in the national socialist state in Germany became clear, did people back off that. When I was in high school during the Second World War, we got a pamphlet saying there really aren't any important differences between races, and so on; but that disappeared when the war was over. Within ten years of the end of the war, [genetic determinism] had come back again. Biologists in general are biological determinists. That has a very powerful ideological effect, because they speak to reporters, they talk on the radio, they have TV interviews, and they push over and over again the determinism of the gene.
My wife and I went yesterday to the Berkeley Art Museum, and there we saw an exhibit called "Gene Genesis." The poster for that exhibit, which is all over, has a quote from Jim Watson. And what does the quote say? It says, "We used to think our fate was in the stars, but now we know it's in our genes." Now, I mean, that's rubbish, you know, but that's what's pushed; and if you're a Nobel prizewinner like Jim, you get all the more credit for it.
So scientists had that ideology that as organisms, we are governed, body and soul, by our genes.
Secondly, more broadly, scientists want to make claims for the importance of what they do in the general sense. So Jim Watson wants to say, "You should support work on the genome, because after all, everything that's important in life is determined by genes." And that's not ideological; that's purely political. That is a crass way of trying to increase and guarantee the support of research.
The same is true for medical research. We're told over and over and over again that if we do this research people's lives will be saved. People will be cured. Well, obviously, medical cures do arise out of some kinds of research; nobody can deny that. But promises are made of an extreme sort which do not correspond to actual truth. This guy [William] Hazeltine, who is the head of one of these private genome organizations, finally said what everybody wanted to say but didn't have the nerve to say. He said, "Death is nothing but a succession of preventable diseases." Well, if death is nothing but a succession of preventable diseases, then if you give us enough money, you'll live forever. Now, no sensible person believes that. But that's the kind of appeal that is made. "Give us more. Give us more power, give us more money, and we will not postpone your death; we will prevent it."
There are a lot of sick people in the world. Most of them are sick, ultimately, because they're underfed and overworked. That's not the case for Americans. Most Americans are sick because they've lived a long time, and their machines are breaking down. You know, the transmission goes, and then you need a brake job, and so on. There's a tremendous public demand -- people are in pain, and there's a demand to relieve that pain and relieve that anxiety. Science cashes in on that in a very cynical way by making promises that can't be kept.
(to be continued...)