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February 04, 2005

The Turning of the Tide

Glenn Reynolds points to Alyssa Ford's essay on the political realignment likely to follow the rise of genetic engineering, but she's about 3 years too late to the party for this is has been discussed quite frequently on this blog. Perhaps, Glenn and Alyssa should come and vist here more often. While those on the Right have labeled their mavericks as EvolCons and I'm not sure that the Left has yet come to the stage of labeling, Ford frames the schism as Biopolitics.

Biopolitics, a term coined by Trinity College professor James Hughes, places pro-technology transhumanists on one pole and people who are suspicious of technology on the other.

Godless hit this topic, as have my other co-bloggers many times, but this is the earliest instance I could find, dated April 11, 2002:

Fearless and Soulless have made excellent points about the cloning debate currently underway in Congress. If you read the article, what's interesting is that Democrats and Republicans are on both sides of the divide. This debate crosses ideological barriers and one cannot easily pigeonhole the positions of those for or against. I believe that this is a prequel to the coming political realignment that will follow the advent of human genetic engineering.

[ . . . . ]

While radical nurturists have political power now, all the censorship in the world will not prevent people from making their children more intelligent once such a service becomes available. If a single country makes intelligence engineering legal, people will flock to the clinics in that country to modify their unborn children and then return home. After all, what can the US government do to women pregnant with genetically modified children? Force them to have abortions? Prevent them from returning to the country? Tattoo their children with a "modified" label? Leaving aside the practical difficulties of detecting a subtle genetic change, any such "remedy" to offshore child engineering will never pass an American legislature. A ban will therefore be futile and short lived.

Once we can artificially increase intelligence and change behavior, I predict that three factions will emerge. The first will be a commingling of the far right and the far left. While the far right's embrace of eugenics has been well documented, the far left may appear to be strongly opposed to such a notion. I submit that this is simply an illusion. Fundamentally, Marxism is committed to the reshaping of man through radical changes in the environment as promulgated by Lysenko. However, such radical changes were never enough to alter the nature of man. As E.O. Wilson famously said in reference to the evolutionary success of ant colonies, "It would appear that socialism really works under some circumstances. Karl Marx just had the wrong species." It is thus the bulwark of human nature that has served as a barricade against extremism.

In my opinion, the reason that "genetic" is a bad word in universities today is that it is synonymous with "immutable" and is thus anathema to extreme nurturists. Once genetic engineering is demonstrated to succeed, those who opposed IQ testing and sociobiology out of pique over the "unfairness" of inborn differences will change their positions overnight. The last barricade will have fallen. Even the human genome will become a potential playground for extremists, and we will have to closely watch their actions.

The second faction will be a union of the Luddite factions of the left and right. Those who oppose science because it contravenes religious dictum or because it is "patriarchal" or arrogant will find common cause in opposing the new technology.

Finally, the last faction (which I count myself as a part of) are those who can think soberly and scientifically about the possibilities of genetic engineering. I find it unlikely that this these factions will work out their differences without a major international conflict.

The release of the HapMap data which is already showing diversity between population groups is likely to be the start of the ideological realignment. The acknowledgement of diversity, in all its forms, will be followed by the engineering of enhancement and it is at that point that matters will reach a flashpoint for the Dogmatists will try to wield their political power to put the genie back in the bottle and seek to suppress the legions of soccer moms who want to give their children a leg up in the world.

Many regular commenters here take on the brave fight and try to introduce the topic of Human BioDiversity in their travels in the Blogoshere. We've noted that the topic meets with varying degrees of approval at different blogs so I thought it would be illustrative to look at a political cladogram of the blogosphere that focused on the realignment.

Political Cladogram_resize.jpg

After the realignment I see four subgroupings forming two sides of the new political spectrum. The Progressives will be an alliance of the Libertarian Right, bloggers like Megan McArdle, Rand Simberg, and Glenn Reynolds who value freedom and liberty and would be against state intervention in human procreation and the New Liberals, bloggers like Butterflies & Wheels, Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman and Matthew Yglesias (unsure of Matt after his performance on the Summers flap) whose aim in politics is to use the state to help individuals and who would likely embrace genetic engineering as a vehicle to remediate many social problems and push for government funding for the disadvantaged.

Opposing the Progressives will be the Dogmatists. This side of the political spectrum will see a heretofore unthought of alliance between the Religious Right and the Race, Gender & Culture Warriors of the Left for whom political identity is impossible without an enemy to battle against. The Religious Right will be comprised of anti-evolutionists who simply couldn't tolerate human intervention in what they see as their god's perogative and these bloggers are represented by The Evangelical Outpost, Tacitus, Hugh Hewitt, Donald Sensing and Ben Domenech. The Leftist contingent will be comprised of bloggers like those at Crooked Timber, Daily Kos and Atrios who share the Marxist perspective of shaping mankind through ambitious social and political efforts and can't abide the notion that substantive differences are the result of evolutionary pressures.

Once we venture beyond the blogosphere there will of course be broader polical movements, as Ford points out in her essay, that will make the blogosphere realignment be just a minor curiousity.

The times, they are a changing, and I expect that the HapMap data will be the start of many people's awakening to the new reality, the new prospects and new hopes that await us, that is if we can survive the political battles that will result as the science is turned into engineering. Look to the soccer moms for they will portend the future.

Addendum from Razib: There is a lot here to comment on. First, I would point to this piece by liberal science blogger Chris Mooney. Note how Chris is skeptical of attacks on GMed food (full disclosure, I'm a fan of tinkering with God's handiwork). My post "Hard Seculars" vs. "Cultural Creatives" comments on what I believe is a real fracture within the Left that is not talked about nearly as much as the techno-libertarian vs. religious social conservative fault line on the Right. Peter Kreeft in First Things offered the radical & traditionalist as well as the liberal & conservative dyads. Though politically liberals & radicals and conservatives & traditionalists are the straightfoward coupling, on an interpersonal level liberals & conservatives and radicals & traditionalists might be more intelligible in terms of their ultimate aims. The anti-capitalist rhetoric you see occasionally at Chronicles Magazine (the paleoconservative movement magazine) as well as pro-free trade opinions of conventional liberals like Brad de Long are symptons of this phenomena. Finally, the tone of magazines like Ad Busters to me is more redolent of Far Right screeds and paeans in favor of the Ancien Regime than the optimistic liberalism that is an outgrowth of the Enlightenment (a project of "Dead White Men" as some at Ad Busters would no doubt observe).

Posted by TangoMan at 12:56 PM