Every few months we get a blazing headline about a breakthrough in genetics that will allegedly lead to super babies. This one from a few months ago is a good example of the genre. It makes for a catchy headline. Of course, the story is never as claimed, as we are not close to creating a race of mutant super babies. Instead, science is creeping up on the ability to do some very narrow gene editing to eliminate well known genetic defects. In fact, a lab has just successfully edited a viable embryo for the first time.
This is a huge step in science, but we are nowhere near close to creating the master race or even making small changes in real humans. The most recent research on human intelligence, for example, identifies 50 genes that correlate to IQ. That’s a lot of combination to sort, assuming that is the whole set of genes related to IQ. There’s also the possibility that other traits are indirectly related to those genes. Even something as simple as hair color can get wildly complex, so we will not be decanting babies anytime soon.
While we are nowhere near close to making super babies, this is one step down the road toward altering the foundations of human existence. The ability to inexpensively alter DNA, even in very simple ways, will lead to better food and better medicine. Imagine a treatment that alters a pathogen such that it attacks cancer cells in the human body. It sounds outlandish, but that is essentially what your immune system does with disease. Of course, the ability to “correct” genetic defects will have an enormous impact on human health.
It’s easy to fall into the science fiction fantasy stuff when thinking about these topics, but small things can have a huge impact on human behavior. Improvements in sanitation, food production and basic medicine greatly altered the human condition. Just look at the impact of life expectancy. If lifespans were still as they were a century ago, things like pension costs and health care would not be topics in politics. It is because we can live, and live vigorously, into our 70’s that these issues are now major topics.
That’s why this gene editing technology is such a big deal. Up until very recent, the consensus in science was that we were generations away from having the ability to edit human DNA. All of a sudden, the future is now and the rush is on to be the first to alter an actual human embryo and bring it to term. It also means that science will suddenly shift from the purely theoretical to the practical. The first guy to figure out how to fix defects in something as frivolous as purebred dogs will become very rich and very famous.
There’s another aspect to this that is probably more important than the potential impact on human biology. What this technology is doing is bringing to center stage a truth about humanity that our betters have been trying to suppress for generations. That is, what we are is what we inherit from our parents. What they are is what they inherited from their parents. Each of us is the result of thousands of generations of breeding. Our physical and cognitive traits are the result of that long ad hoc experiment.
At a basic level, people know this. Anyone who is familiar with human children knows that they look and act like their parents from an early age. But, people don’t think to hard about this stuff and our rulers work to keep us from thinking about how this scales up. If a white man is the result of thousands of generations of white people, that means the African is the result of his ancestors evolving in Africa. It’s not a long walk from there to accepting that race is real. That’s why this thinking is a mortal sin on our age.
This becomes increasingly difficult when it becomes more common for a doctor to use ideas and techniques from genetics to better serve his patients. The old gag about race is that race is a social construct until you need a bone marrow transplant. Not a lot of people have that talk with their doctor, but imagine a world where everyone has a genetic realism talk with their dog breeder. When you know Rover had a known defect in his breed fixed by a vet at the canine gene clinic, talking about biological reality gets a lot easier.
As people come to accept the reality of gene editing, even if it is just to make better dog breeds, it is much more difficult to maintain the mythologies of the blank slate. Once people come to accept that things like IQ and personality traits are determined by our genes, the blank slate is finished. Even if people don’t accept genetic determinism, they will accept testing for IQ and personality traits to fill engineering positions. In other words, strides in genetics will restore a more sober understanding of the human condition.
This is the negation of the core belief of our ruling elite, but it is telling that our rulers seem to be going in the opposite direction. As science makes clear the realities of human biology, our rulers scream ever louder to the contrary. Instead of simply ignoring the new information, they are waging pogroms too root out anyone not fully committed to their biological denialism. Every week were treated to some new scandal where a heretic is brought forth and punished for acknowledging reality.
It’s common to compare our current age to the scientific revolution. Galileo is a compelling figure. That does work at some level, but what we are really experiencing is something like what happened in the Roman Empire, prior to Constantine. As the people began to embrace the new religion, the rulers tried to crack down on it. This only made the new religion more popular. The great insight of Constantine was to recognize the strategic advantage that was available to the first ruler who embraced the new religion.
That’s probably what awaits us. Science is moving along faster than the the current throne and altar cabal can follow. Some clever politician is going to embrace biological realism and ride it to victory over the prevailing orthodoxy. The first politician to say “Of course men and women are different” and not get run out of town will be the snowflake that sets off the avalanche. Regardless, breakthroughs like CRISPR are about to shake the foundation of our culture. The blank slate’s days are numbered.
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