Charles Murray predicted that the political left will be the standard bearer of the new eugenics. On the contrary, argues Marek Kohn, in a competitive market society, genetic manipulation will be a nightmare for the left, with a growing gap between the gene haves and have-notsby Marek Kohn / May 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
One thing in the millennium’s favour was that it provided the perfect opportunity to discharge the irrationalist head of steam which had been building up in the west over the last 25 years. Can we now, perhaps, look forward to a new era of reason? We certainly seem to be entering a period where reason in its most productive form, science, will enjoy an intellectual ascendancy, thanks to its own spectacular dynamism and to the lack of conviction for other ways of changing the world. But reason and good sense are not the same thing.
Charles Murray’s essay, published in Prospect last month under the title “Genetics of the Right,” illustrates what may be in store. By the end of this century, Murray predicts, we will pretty much know it all. As he puts it, “we will be approaching biological truth” about “many aspects of human nature and their social implications.” Referring to EO Wilson’s book Consilience, he anticipates the dawn of joined-up knowledge in which neuroscientists understand the brain, molecular biologists understand “which genes do what,” and a new, scientifically rigorous analysis of human behaviour will explain the shape of culture and society.
In Consilience, Wilson himself foresees that the social sciences will split: one part fusing with the humanities; and the other “folding into biology.” In other words, the useful part will be absorbed by natural science; the rest will be mere literary criticism. The philosophers have interpreted the world-the scientists, however, will explain it.
To support his 100-year timescale, Murray points to the pace at which scientific knowledge is being gathered. It is true that knowledge is being generated in large quantities: tools now exist for examining the genome, or imaging the brain, whose potential is only beginning to be tapped. But scientific progress can be very uneven. If fusion power research had gone as well as gene sequencing technologies, we would now have electricity too cheap to meter. The 1990s, designated by the US Congress as the Decade of the Brain, did not produce a neuroscientific counterpart of cloning. And the thousands of neuroscience research papers have to be set against the billions of neurons in the brain.
Data for the human genome have proved easy to gather. For Murray’s confidence to be well-placed, however, there will have to be steady progress on the difficult part: turning data into knowledge. So far, progress has been…