Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Politics of Genetics (intro)

I have discovered that one of the pleasures of having a blog is receiving thoughtful and provocative correspondence from total strangers. The downside is being scooped by one's own comments section! R.L.A. Schaefer of Dubuque Iowa posted a comment on the politics of genetics that anticipates my own thoughts.

His key point to start the discussion: Opinions on the nature/nurture debate are shaped by one's take on Original Sin, with leftists tending to believe in the perfectability of man through social engineering. Conservatives "tend to conclude that humans are not easily changed; thus the potency of nature is in that sense stressed." Thus, liberals are more likely to be skittish about genetic research and its political implications. This fear is made explicit in the lengthy and apologetic discussion section of the APSR article discussed in prior posts.

Conservative vs liberal views on equality point in the same direction. Conservatives emphasize equality of opportunity, and are far more comfortable with Aristotelian notions of justice ("that justice involves treating equal persons equally, and treating unequal persons unequally"). However, the liberal ideal of egalitarianism is threatened by noticing individual differences, especially if they appear to be "hardwired" and not amenable to social engineering. (Group differences are to be celebrated, but only to the extent they are culturally constructed and can be thus deconstructed.)

Finally, the left's (self-acclaimed and somewhat romanticized) historical role in opposing Nazi ideology, which of course included eugenics, additionally points in the same direction. Nevermind the fact that in pre-WWII America, eugenics was a "progressive" idea, endorsed in varying measures by Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Margaret Sanger; even Planned Parenthood has to deftly apologize for their founder. And I think that the left's own fantasy image of itself is a critical determinant of its current reactions to events (see here and here).

I think that these three ideological trends are fairly obvious to those familiar with political philosphy and Conservatism 101; Jonah makes some related points more cleverly in his most recent article. Still, I think these ideas set the stage for much of what I will have to say in future posts on this topic (yet another promissory note!).


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