Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GENETIC TAILORING REDUX....Both Ampersand and Very Very Happy have responded to my post about genetic tailoring yesterday. Ampersand also has a lively discussion going on in the comments section, so check it out.

This is a big subject and there's a lot to talk about, but I think a large part of the reason I have a relaxed attitude toward the concept of genetic tailoring is that I don't really think there's a big distinction between natural genes and artificial ones. Artificial genes will still get passed down the same way as natural ones, recombining with other genes to produce random results, and environmental factors will continue to play a huge role in how those genes are expressed.

I think there's also an unfortunate tendency on the left to shy away from the subject because of its past. The eugenics movement of the early part of the 20th century is scary stuff, and conservative attempts to portray blacks as genetically inferior have made liberals suspicious of any talk about genetic components of personality characteristics.

This reaction is understandable, but I think it's misplaced. Rather than opposing the technology along with its potential benefits it simply means we need to be careful how it's used. In its early stages, when gene therapy will be expensive, its use will probably be too limited to have widespread societal effects. Later, when it's cheaper, I imagine it will be available to a large enough segment of the population that it might well act to break down barriers of class and race, not strengthen them. And keep in mind that if we oppose things simply because they are not initially available to the poor, then we might as well oppose pretty much all new inventions.

One more thing: I'd be careful about drawing conclusions about which personality characteristics have genetic components and which ones don't. The evidence isn't all in yet, and there's no question that environmental cues will always play a big role, but I think we're going to be surprised at just how many subtle personality traits end up having some genetic component. It's probably best not to be too dogmatic about the subject at the moment.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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