[Paleopsych] Steve Sailer: If Race Research Is Banned Now, How Will We Cope With A "Brave New World"?
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Sun Jun 26 18:32:02 UTC 2005
If Race Research Is Banned Now, How Will We Cope With A "Brave New World"?
Steve Sailer Archive
By Steve Sailer
Through genetic selection and modification, we will be soon be able to
transform human nature, for better . . . or worse.
Some find this exciting. I find it mostly alarming.
The good news: we still have time to figure out what the physical,
psychological, and social impacts of these gene-altering technologies
might be - by studying naturally-occurring human genetic diversity.
The bad news: we won't fund research into existing human
biodiversity - because it's politically incorrect.
Genetic engineering, and associated technologies such as neural
implants, is explored in two new books.
Microsoft programmer Ramez Naam, author of More Than Human:
Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, never seems to have
met an idea for fiddling around with our genes that he didn't like. I
find his optimism likable even though I don't share it. Unfortunately,
the numerous small errors of fact in his book saps confidence in his
In contrast, Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau - known to
VDARE.COM readers as author of the provocative The Nine Nations Of
North America - can't seem to make up his mind in his upcoming
Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds,
Our Bodies--and What It Means to Be Human.
Garreau evenhandedly interviews futurist cheerleaders, like inventor
Ray Kurzweil, who takes hundreds of nutritional supplements
daily as part of his plan for living forever, and doomsayers, like
Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, who fears that
genetically manipulated germs could wipe out all of humanity.
(The inaptly named Joy strikes me as a Gloomy Gus. But, just in case
some apocalyptic catastrophe does transpire, it would make sense to
pay a couple of dozen military families to live for two year stretches
at the bottom of a Kansas salt mine, from which, if the worst were to
happen, they could eventually re-emerge like Noah's family to
repopulate the planet.)
What Naam and Garreau can agree upon is that the post-human age will
be here Real Soon Now.
I'm not so certain. Medicine progresses slowly these days. But I
am sure that that it's time to start getting serious about whether we
want it or not.
The situation oddly resembles the political impact of immigration.
When I first started writing about immigration, it was widely assumed
that the Hispanic share of the vote had become so huge that it was
political suicide to try to cut back on immigration. Yet closer study
showed this was far from true.
For example, in the overall 2004 exit poll, the un-massaged
Hispanic share of the respondents turned out to be only 5.9 percent,
far below the 8 or 9 percent forecast by Michael Barone.
Similarly, when it comes to human bioengineering, the future hasn't
yet gone through the formality of taking place.
We still have time to figure out what we want to do and what we don't.
But how? Answer: By studying honestly the human genetic diversity
we see all around us - and learning how it already affects
Unfortunately, political taboos against the study of human
biodiversity retard this crucial work.
Occasionally, I get emails telling me I'm foolish to worry about the
long term effects of immigration because genetic engineering will soon
give us all IQs of 1,000 ... or we'll live forever ... or robots will
take over and enslave us ... or nanotechnology will make us all
richer than Croesus ... or nanotechnology will run amok and suck all
the life out of everything on Earth ... or ...
But technological trees don't always grow to the sky. Consider the
rise and fall of the Transportation Revolution. From the development
of the steamship to the moon landing took less than 170 years. Smart
science fiction writers like Robert A. Heinlein assumed that this
progress would continue.
Yet, in the last quarter of a century, the greatest breakthrough in
transportation technology has been, what, the minivan? The Concorde is
dead, the Space Shuttle is teetering ...
Nor do technical revolutions always arrive on time. Medical gene
engineering of humans has been much slower to become usable than many
assumed a decade ago.
One problem: getting the effectiveness to risk level high enough.
Operating on humans isn't like engineering corn or mice, where you can
throw away your mistakes.
Another difficulty: although there was a vast amount of publicity back
in 2000 about how the genome had been "mapped," we still don't know
what most genes actually do.
Moreover, while a few diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and
Huntington's, are the result of a single bad gene, the big bad
illnesses seem to have other causes. Indeed, Darwinian logic, as first
enunciated by Gregory Cochran, suggests we might have been
focusing too hard on finding heritable genetic causes for diseases. In
the words of top British genetic journalist Matt Ridley, "Your genes
don't exist to kill you."
A new report called "Microbial Triggers of Common Human Illness"
from the American Academy of Microbiology supports Cochran's insight
that many diseases that are assumed genetic may more likely be
triggered by germs.
That's because natural selection would tend to eliminate harmful genes
in us, but pathogens evolve at least as fast as our defenses against
Your genes haven't evolved to make you sick, but to give you
capabilities to survive and reproduce. So genetic technologies might
be more suited to enhance skills than to cure illnesses.
Yet some capacities are likely to require many genes working together
in complex ways, so the payoff from altering a single gene would be
small. Superstar cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has said,
"I think an Achilles heel of genetic enhancement will be the rarity of
single genes with consistent beneficial psychological effects."
Considering the intricacy of the human brain, this is particularly
likely to be true of intelligence, which would make engineering higher
Conversely, single genes often have multiple uses, which means that
genetic engineering could often have unfortunate side effects.
For example, back in 1999, Time Magazine ran a cover story called
"The I.Q. Gene?" about how Dr. Joe Tsien had genetically
engineered "Doogie" mice to have superior memories.
But subsequent studies showed the Doogie mice (named after the
supersmart TV character Doogie Howser, M.D.) are also more
sensitive to chronic inflammatory pain, which isn't a trait you'd
want your children to possess.
Farmers have been modifying their barnyard animals' genetic
frequencies for thousands of years through selective breeding. One of
the many interesting aspects of the new book Animals in
Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
by animal sciences professor Temple Grandin, who is America's best
known autistic, is how she documents some of the weird things that
go wrong when breeders emphasize a single genetic trait.
For example, don't expect Lassie to figure out anymore that the
way to rescue little Timmy from the quicksand is by extending a
long branch to him. Since WWII, collie breeders have been trying to
give collies narrower and narrower snouts because they look so darn
elegant that way. Unfortunately, they made their skulls so narrow
there is no room left for brains. Collies are now dumb as a box of
Side effects can be more unpredictable and even nastier. In recent
years, as chicken ranchers have bred for more meat on their birds,
they've had to deal with an unprecedented rash of rooster sex
murderers who kill hens.
In humans, Cochran has pointed out that torsion dystonia, a
hereditary illness which puts about 10 percent of its sufferers in
wheelchairs at an early age, may be a side effect of intense selection
pressure for higher IQ. In one study, the average IQ of patients was
So parents may not rush into genetic engineering their children quite
as fast as the futurists expect.
Futurists--being smart, nerdy guys--generally assume that the most
desirable human trait is IQ.
But we can look right now at racial groups with higher average IQs,
such as Northeast Asians and Ashkenazis, to get some idea of
the social impact of high IQ.
Higher IQ groups tend to exhibit positive social patterns such as low
crime rates and high wealth creation rates. Unfortunately, what Amy
Chua calls "market dominant minorities" haven't always been looked
upon favorably by the masses. Top IQ researcher Linda Gottfredson
points out in her important article "What If the Hereditarian
Hypothesis Is True?" that "Virtually all the victim groups of genocide
in the 20th century had relatively high average levels of achievement
(e.g., German Jews, educated Cambodians, Russian Kulaks, Armenians in
Turkey, Ibos in Nigeria)."
Among average people, it is not at all clear that intelligence is
considered as desirable as desirability. I suspect that most parents
would choose attractiveness over intelligence for their children,
because being able to outcompete your peers for the best spouse is so
important, especially in making grandchildren, that looks matter
Heinlein might have been the first thinker to explore some of the
In his prescient 1942 novel about a genetically engineered future,
Beyond This Horizon, the world is populated by fairly intelligent
but extremely sexy people straight out of a Hollywood casting call.
The men are manly and the ladies lovely. The men are so macho, in
fact, that no gentleman would be seen without his gun, and dueling has
made a major comeback. The strict code of etiquette that limits when
these square-jawed bravos are allowed to blast away at each other
inspired Heinlein's famous remark, "An armed society is a polite
As insightful as the best science fiction writers are, we can learn
the pros and cons of a higher testosterone future society right now by
examining the social behavior of current racial groups with higher
levels of male hormones and stronger male hormone receptors,
such as African-Americans.
But, that kind of research on naturally occurring genetic diversity is
largely taboo. Instead, we will probably walk blindly into the era
of genetic engineering.
Good luck to us all. We're going to need it.
[Steve Sailer [email him], is founder of the Human Biodiversity
Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His
website www.iSteve.com features site-exclusive commentaries.]
69. mailto:steveslr at aol.com
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