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Wednesday, December 01, 1999The coming fight for genes
Researchers are learning how to turbocharge evolution in laboratories all over the world
The imminent birth of Canada's first "designer baby," a child whose embryo was screened before implantation in its mother to make sure it didn't suffer from the genetic disease cystic fibrosis (National Post, 11/29/99), reminds us that the evolution of the human race is about to accelerate almost unimaginably. Thus, we can no longer afford the comforting illusion that evolution doesn't really apply to humanity.
An illustration of a child.
Charles Darwin is a secular saint to much of the well-bred, well-read public. While they may not know the details of Darwinism, they do know that if rightwing fundamentalists are against Darwin, then they're for him. And on the principle that your enemy's enemy must be your friend, nice people with nice liberal arts degrees assume that Darwin scientifically disproved all those not-nice ideas like sexism and racism. Not that they've personally read Darwin, but Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould (author of "The Mismeasure of Man") has assured them that that's what Darwin meant. Or, to be precise, that's what Darwin would have meant if only he'd been as enlightened as Stephen Jay Gould.
Having reviewed Darwin's enemies on the right, ("A Miracle Happens Here," 11/20/99 - posted at www.iSteve.com), let me now consider his enemies (and false friends) on the left. Ironically, while the religious right engages in futile attacks on Darwin's theory of what animals evolved from, the left and center clamps down upon Darwin's theory of what humans evolved to.
These intellectual disputes produce real victims. Stalin even shipped the Soviet Union's Darwinian geneticists to the Gulag. And though Western scientists typically enjoy more rights than that, our traditions of free speech, academic freedom, and scientific inquiry didn't stop the former Attorney-General of Ontario, Ian Scott, from ordering a lengthy police investigation of the U. of Western Ontario psychologist Jean-Philippe Rushton. His supposed crime? Publishing a Darwinian theory of the causes of human biodiversity. And others, such as biologist Edward O. Wilson and psychologist Arthur Jensen, have been the victims of assault, threat, firing, censorship, character assassination, and non-stop harassment.
Why is unfettered Darwinism so subversive of the reigning political pieties? There is a paradox bedeviling Darwinism today that begins with its needless war with religion. The equal worth of all human souls has been one of the most popular, influential, and beneficial of all Christian beliefs. It inspired many of the great humanitarian achievements in Western history, such as the abolition of the slave trade. Science can neither prove nor disprove spiritual equality -- a defect in a scientific theory, but a blessing in a religious doctrine. By contrast, the literal interpretation of Genesis that the world was created in 4004 BC was eminently refutable, as Darwin demonstrated.
Although the Darwinian demolition of Old Testament fundamentalism was logically irrelevant to the question of whether all souls are of equal value to God, it made the whole of Christianity seem outdated. Thereafter the prestige of evolutionary biology encouraged egalitarians to discard that corny creed of spiritual equality - and to adopt the shiny new scientific hypotheses that humans are physically and mentally uniform. And that eventually put Darwinian science on a collision course with progressive egalitarians.
For Darwinism requires hereditary inequalities. The left fears Darwinian science because its dogma of our factual equality cannot survive the relentlessly accumulating evidence of our genetic variability. Gould, a famous sports nut, cannot turn on his TV without being confronted by lean East Africans outdistancing the world's runners, massive Samoans flattening quarterbacks, lithe Chinese diving and tumbling for gold medals, or muscular athletes of West African descent out-sprinting, out-jumping, and out-hitting all comers. No wonder Gould is reduced to insisting we chant: "Say it five times before breakfast tomorrow: … Human equality is a contingent fact of history" -- like Dorothy trying to get home from Oz.
Darwin did not dream up the Theory of Evolution. Many earlier thinkers, like his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and the great French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck, had proposed various schemes of gradual changes in organisms. Darwin's great contribution was the precise engine of evolution: selection. Lamarck, for example, had believed that giraffes possess long necks because their ancestors had stretched their necks to reach higher leaves. This stretching somehow caused their offspring to be born with longer necks. Darwin, however, argued that the proto-giraffes who happened to be born with longer necks could eat more and thus left behind more of their longer-necked children than the proto-giraffes unlucky enough to be born with shorter necks.
And what selection selects are genetic differences. In "The Descent of Man," Darwin wrote, "Variability is the necessary basis for the action of selection." Consider the full title of Darwin's epochal book: "The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." It is hard to imagine two words that could get a scholar in worse trouble today than "Favoured Races." But that term is not some deplorable Dead White European Maleism that we can scrape away to get down to its multiculturally sensitive core. Not at all: "Favoured Races" is Darwin's Big Idea. For if we didn't differ genetically, selection could not act upon us. We would still be amoebas.
There is much chatter lately that because we can never all agree on the exact number, names, and members of the various races, therefore "Race does not exist; it's just a social construct." Darwin knew better. Although races are indeed fuzzy, extended families are even fuzzier, yet no one denies their reality. In fact, a race is not just like an extended family, it is an extended family. A race is simply an extremely extended family that inbreeds to some degree. In turn, a species is a race that inbreeds virtually exclusively, typically due to reproductive incompatibilities with outsiders.
The human race is definitely one species -- the most widespread single species of all the large mammals on Earth. Yet, we are also almost endlessly subdividable into partially inbred races, each with recognizable genetic tendencies. (That's why forensic anthropologists can rather accurately deduce race from DNA left at crime scenes). According to Berkeley anthropologist Vincent Sarich, no mammal exceeds our species in physical variation, except for dogs and a few other artificially selected animals.
Another paradox: the unity and diversity of the human race are not contradictory ideas. In fact, considering the vast range of geographic and social environments found across the face of the Earth, the only way we could flourish in so many places yet retain our unity is to adapt endlessly. To stay one species, we have to be many races. Note well, however, that Darwin wrote "Favoured Races," not "Favoured Race." Darwinism is no brief for some purported Master Race. It proposes not that one race is superior in all things, but that all races are superior in several things. That is how it accounts for the glorious diversity of life.
Here again Darwin clashes with the left. While "diversity" and "equality" are both considered Good Things by multiculturalists, that does not make them synonyms. They are antonyms. The more environments we have been selected to adapt to, the more trade-offs selection has had to make. Thus the meaningless it is to boast that your group is supreme overall. But the more implausible it also is to expect all groups to be identically favoured in each particular setting or skill --whether it is engineering, charisma, running the 100 metres, or stand-up comedy.
For example, over the 6,000 or so years that New World Indians have lived 12,000 feet up in the Andes, individuals with genetic variations useful in that harsh environment -- e.g., larger lungs -- have left more descendents than their less gifted neighbors. These barrel-chested Bolivians, however, are no longer favored when they descend to the Amazon, where the local people have evolved a slighter form better suited for a hot and humid rain forest.
So what did Darwin say specifically about diversity? In "The Descent of Man," he wrote, "... the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other -- as in the texture of hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even the convolutions of the brain. But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of difference. The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatization and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotions, but partly in their intellectual faculties. Everyone who has had the opportunity of comparison must have been struck by the contrast between the taciturn, even morose aborigines of South America and the light-hearted, talkative negroes."
Darwin wouldn't be surprised to learn which race had invented rap music.
The true nature of Darwinism is not merely an academic question. For we are moving, with alarming rapidity, from the Age of Darwin the Scientist to the Age of Galton the Inventor. Sir Francis Galton was Darwin's even more ingenious half-cousin. (Their common grandparent was, not surprisingly, the brilliant Erasmus Darwin.) While Darwin was the hedgehog with one great idea, selection, Galton was the fox with innumerable notions large and small. Galton has as much claim as anybody to being the father of statistics, the dog whistle, fingerprinting, the systematic study of human variation, and the best way to cut a cake so it won't go stale. Darwin, however, inspired Galton to devise one enormous idea glittering with promise and ominous with danger: eugenics. That's the attempt to create a better human race by augmenting the slow and uncertain processes of natural and sexual selection with artificial selection.
Humans have always lusted for favoured genes for their future children. (Trust me on this one, because I know -- I was turned down for a lot of dates.) Today, however, researchers are learning how to turbocharge evolution in laboratories all over the world.
In the first half of the 20th century, eugenics in action largely meant governments sterilizing or murdering people they didn't like. (Lenin, Stalin, and Mao slaughtered even more tens of millions in the name of equality than Hitler murdered in the name of inequality. And, as Aleksandr Solzenhistyn has pointed out, the doctrine of "class origins" transformed "egalitarian" mass murder into ethnic genocide since there is no sharp line between family and race.)
Today, however, eugenics consists of couples voluntarily choosing to create life on their own terms. Jews have largely freed themselves from the scourge of Tay Sachs disease through genetic testing. Lesbians comparison-shop the Internet for just the right sperm donor. Couples at risk for passing on hereditary diseases to their children are choosing to implant in the mother's womb only a genetically-screened embryo. High-IQ Ivy League coeds are selling their eggs to infertile women for $5,000 apiece. Dr. Joe Tsien made the cover of Time magazine by genetically engineering mice with better memories. These breakthroughs are only the beginning. Galton's Age will see far more.
While today's free-market eugenics is infinitely less sinister on a day-to-day basis than yesterday's totalitarian eugenics, its ultimate impact could be far greater. The very nature of the human race is up for grabs. Should we therefore ban voluntary eugenics? Regulate it? Ignore it? Subsidize it? To decide, we need to understand the social impact of the various possible changes in our gene frequencies. Fortunately, we have a huge storehouse of data available to base predictions upon: the vast amounts of existing genetic diversity. Unfortunately, we now discourage scholars from examining it.
For example, during the media firestorm following Dr. Tsien's genetic engineering breakthrough, many worried that rich people could someday pay to have their kids' IQ's enhanced. Would having more smart people around help or hurt society as a whole? (I suspect it helps, but then I'm prejudiced: In 1997 some high-IQ cancer doctors saved me from a painful death.) There are lots of ways to study this, but none of them are politically correct. For example, we can investigate whether high-IQ immigrants hurt or help society compared to average-IQ immigrants. Canada discriminates more in favor of intelligent immigrants than the United States. Which country has benefited more?
Yet an awareness of ethnic differences in IQ suggests that the rest of us may have less reason to fear the artificially bright children of the future than they will have reason to fear us. After all, high IQ minorities have frequently had to endure murderous pogroms. Besides the Jews in 1933-1945, there were the Armenians in 1915, educated Cambodians in the 1970s (on 'egalitarian' rather than 'ethnic' grounds) and the Overseas Chinese as recently as 1998.
Progressives and Third Way centrists are likely to initially insist on outlawing human genetic engineering. Already, professional activists for the disabled worry that genetic engineering will put them out of business by reducing the number of disabled peoples. Feminists and gay male leaders will also soon grow concerned that allowing parents to select embryos will leave them with fewer followers. This is because free market Galtonism will increase the gap between the sexes. Parents will select for square-jawed, ambitious, high testosterone, first-born sons, and lovely, nurturing, high-oestrogen, latter-born daughters. Why? What parents want most from their children are grandchildren, and high-achieving sons, such as business executives, produce far more grandchildren on average than high-achieving daughters. Further, parents will want loving daughters to take care of them in their old age.
Thus, boys will become more masculine and girls more feminine. This will probably reduce the number of homosexuals. Although you are not supposed to say this, scientific studies have confirmed the obvious observation that gay men are more effeminate on average than straight men, just as lesbians tend to be more butch than straight women. And since the major feminist groups, like the National Organization for Women, are to a large extent fronts for lesbians, libertarian eugenics fundamentally threatens institutionalized feminism.
A ban, however, would drive genetics labs and fertility clinics to Caribbean freeports. Still, as shown by President Clinton's recent heroic victory over that Sudanese aspirin factory, with enough cruise missiles NATO could likely Tomahawk the Cayman Islands into submission. China, however, would be harder to bully. Unencumbered by post-Christian ethics, the Chinese government recently passed a pre-1945-style eugenics law calling for the sterilization of "morons." If China pursues genetic enhancements while the West bans them, the inevitable result within a few generations would be Chinese economic, and thus military, global hegemony. Thus, those serious about preventing genetic engineering should start planning a pre-emptive nuclear strike on China.
However, the left is likely at some point to flip from opposing voluntary Galtonism to demanding mandatory re-engineering of human nature. Feminists, for example, will decide that instead of parents designing their daughters to appeal to men, the government should redesign men to better appreciate women like themselves. This logic will also revitalize collectivism. Socialism failed, in part, because it conflicts with essential human nature. So, why not change human nature to make Marxism possible? And what better response to the intractable fact of human biodiversity than to eliminate inequality at the genetic level? What could be more equal than a world of clones?
Such speculations illustrate the necessity of our learning soon how genes actually affect society. Our only chance of foreseeing the potential world-shaking impact of Galtonian selection rests in the honest, unstifled study of Darwinian selection. God help us if we don't start helping ourselves.
Steve Sailer's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the President of the Human Biodiversity Institute.
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