Derbtown

It’s My Column and I’ll Write What I Want To

May 17, 2012

Item. As part of the campaign to get my brain tuned up again, I’ve been reading more fiction—middlebrow fiction this time, Dick Francis to be exact. A friend told me that Francis is good: “Basic unpretentious thriller writing.” So I read The Danger.

Meh. Nicely plotted and without gross faults of style or syntax, but flat, colorless, and not much humanity with which to engage. I pretty much guessed who the perp was, though, so at least the brain cells must be firing.


Item. What are they up to over at The National Center for Biotechnology Information? “Isolation and analysis of odorous components in swine manure.” So if you read the paper, you’ll know why pig poop smells so bad. Don’t you wish you’d opted for a career as a research scientist?


Item. Or if particle physics excites you, here is a cartoon explanation of the Higgs boson.


Item. I’ll admit it—I’m a genetic determinist. With some small allowance for accidents and occasional inexplicable mental events, your genome’s your destiny. I like to think I’ve arrived at this position by long, deep reflection on my own life and those of my parents, siblings, and kids; but that’s probably just a story I’ve made up. Most likely my position is genetically determined. (My position on free will is that at best, some of us have it and some of us don’t. I’m pretty sure I myself don’t.)

Here is reinforcement for genetic determinism from a new set of twin studies:

The results, published in the Journal of Personality, revealed genes to play a much bigger role than lifestyle, with self-control particularly etched into our DNA. Our genes also largely determine how determined and persistent we are. This is important in terms of success, as someone who refuses to give up is more likely to achieve their dreams than someone who throws in the towel at the first hiccough.

(Nice to see the old-fashioned spelling of “hiccough.”)

The opposite of genetic determinism is social determinism, or “blank slate” theory, according to which every trait of the finished human personality is molded by parenting, schooling, or life experiences. Tweak those molding forces—on the assumption that you are wise and learned enough to do the tweaking correctly—and you can end up with any kind of human being you like. Social determinism is naturally popular with social engineers, careerist bureaucrats, and every kind of busybody who wants to tell us how to live. Such people include “progressive” economist Glenn Loury:

I rejected then, and still do, Murray and Herrnstein’s claim that profound social disparities are due mainly to variation in innate individual traits that cannot be remedied via social policy.

People sometimes tell me that my own genetic determinism is a darkly fatalistic recipe for despair. I don’t see it, and people who know me testify that I am quite cheerful and busy in person. As a poet said: “To enter in these bonds, is to be free.” Social determinism, by contrast, is for commissars, bullies, and slaves. So it seems to me.

The problem is that social determinism is the ruling dogma of our age.

 

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