Human knowledge is carried in quivering hands. What remains aloft is typically that which requires no courage to bear. Fortunately fields such as agriculture or medicine don’t often attract accusations of heresy, and so have enjoyed relatively unbroken arcs of advancement. In contrast, understanding the behavior of those things that peer out from our mirrors is a discipline always fraught with recriminations. And as a result, it is one frequently dropped as the accused take flight.
This fact becomes clear as recent research–awkwardly and with downcast eyes–increasingly validates knowledge of the human condition that was likely understood with greater clarity in the Iron Age. And so our scientists are engaged in an endeavor so precious it makes me wonder who will be the first to suggest our capacity to navigate the great flat ocean in floating wooden vessels. Though I suppose mentioning the latter won’t yet get anyone fired or imprisoned.
I’ve read three articles recently on the uncomfortable emerging body research that finds a large and unequivocal genetic component in human traits and behavior. Perhaps one day this fanciful technology will allow us to turn wolves into domesticated pets, but let’s not turn so quickly to speculative fiction.
I glossed over the first two of these pieces without my interest suffering much pique. Watching libs struggle to maintain their sand castles only inspires on a very dull day. But seeing a third example of hand-wringing in rapid succession gave an indication of how much they are now chaffing at the friction between irresistible science and immovable dogma. The sacred Tabula Rasa is falling to tatters. And that’s enough to tease a sneer from a corpse.
One of the fastest growing fields in science still makes a lot of people very uncomfortable
I’m fairly sanguine that no readers here will experience a moment’s discomfort, and so should feel completely at ease absorbing the problematic news that follows.
Think of someone whose political ideology leads them to ignore and groundlessly reject science. Typically, this often describes those on the right of the political spectrum, where climate change, women’s reproductive health, and even evolution are routinely dismissed.
We’re the smart ones, we’re the smart ones, we’re the smart ones…
That amusing little preamble represented the desperate affirmations of a man who’s about to jump out of an airplane. That it’s still sitting on the tarmac makes the situation no less daunting for those whose heads have never risen above ground-level conformity. Watch your step.
But a massive and fast growing field in science—behavioral genetics—has a huge body of conclusive evidence that, at first reading, seems at odds with left-wing ideology.
I hardly think that’s possible. So we just better move on to the second reading if the author knows what’s good for him.
This week, Robert Plomin, professor of behavioral genetics at King’s College London, published a paper showing that a child’s educational success can be predicted by their genes.
The notion that success at school could be so influenced by genes is uncomfortable for those who uphold the view that anyone can do or achieve anything they put their mind to. But Plomin’s paper is far from the only publication showing such results. Meta-analysis of 61 twin studies shows that genetic variation accounts for 66% of educational achievement at primary school level.
66% is a significantly lower number than what honest intuition would suggest. But even that is a highly uncomfortable solvent on those sand castles.
Of course breeders of pets and livestock have understood the primacy of genes long before they had a notion of what a gene was. It was no particularly large intellectual leap to grasp that living things borrow heavily from their lineage. Perhaps the farmer of antiquity was surprised the first dozen times that a calf came out of his cow rather than a litter of rabbits. Though I imagine he caught on quickly.
From there it was off to the races. Before long, Alaskan Inuits learned that no matter their upbringing, pups from a pair of pomeranians are not useful in bearing a sled at distance across the ice. Just as two vampire bats don’t produce offspring capable of producing a Washington Post column. Or maybe I’ll think of a better example later.
At any rate, we accept that breeding creates substantially differentiated and discernible traits in sexually reproducing creatures, or we retreat back into comfort.
And, disquieting though that may be, twin studies have time and again highlighted other aspects of ourselves that seem to be shaped by genes. Nancy Segal, evolutionary psychologist and behavioral geneticist at California State University who has written several books on twin studies, says the research suggests that about 50% of individual differences in personality are affected by genetic variation.
Disquieting also. Frankly, it’s alarming for anyone.
Though these scientific findings could be alarming for anyone, the seemingly deterministic perspective seems to contradict the left-wing emphasis on the role of privilege in any person’s success.
So the findings contradict concocted privilege theory even though they’re alarming? That’s quite a logical stretch. Maybe if they were only disquieting it would be a more rational thesis. It all makes me wonder how ghetto black kids could have a 40 inch vertical leap, while the extravagant privilege of white athletes typically purchases an elevation far more modest. Why doesn’t white privilege generate more NBA players? Is playing bouncy ball for $20 million/year beneath them?
But life results aren’t all genetics. The author justifiably points out that wealth also plays a role.
There is, after all, no doubt that the environment plays a massive role in our personal achievement…In the UK, those who went to private school make up just 7% of the population but almost a third of parliament. Money, which often brings access to a stable home, small class sizes, and excellent education, undeniably buys success.
Money buys success. Though from where does money come? It reminds me of those who claim group differences are the results of culture and not race. From what does culture spring?
I’m inclined in both instances to think genetic predisposition largely creates the environment that researchers use to deny genetic predisposition. And I think “largely” is about the most accurate description anyone is likely to produce for some time.
But though the scientific findings in molecular genetics don’t directly contradict this, many who care deeply about the effects of privilege seem to flinch at the research. I’ve spoken to people with no knowledge of the scientific literature but a strong political perspective who insist that such studies about the role of genes simply cannot be true.
The author is growing disquietingly honest here. Note the somber indulgence to what he concedes are emotional children. Many who care and strong political perspective. This is how you pat the heads of hysterical imbeciles before conceding they are invincible to the obvious.
The piece continues at length in much the same manner, even introducing an additional adjective so as to not succumb to repetition: unnerving. One quote being particularly so.
The left-wing view is that everyone’s born the same and you can make everyone achieve the same way. From genetics research, we’ve shown that’s not true.
Of course little of this will resonate with those of a “strong political perspective.” Reason isn’t an effective counter to religion. And men are moved far greater distances by heart than head.
Which leaves us dealing with our own determinism: liberalism is faith-based politics. But that doesn’t mean it can’t by laughingly mocked with its own Flying Genetics Monster.