Thursday, March 13, 2014

"On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration"

Non-human animals (and plants) have implicit purpose to their lives: to leave descendants. Those living things which failed in this task aren't around any more.

One might wonder why this doesn't apply to humans as well. We're social creatures, so why don't we organise our politics and social organisation to maximise the descendants of those genetically closest to us? In the jargon, this is known as maximising inclusive fitness.

A while ago (2003) an academic, Frank Salter, wrote a book exploring the political consequences of taking inclusive fitness seriously in human affairs: "On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration": it was a dry, academic tome although obviously highly controversial.

I agree with this review at Gene Expression, excerpted as follows (by David Lowry).
"Salter argues for ’the importance of genetic continuity as an end in itself (p.24)…the process of genetic evolution is certainly the ultimate cause of our existence (p.25)… From an evolutionary perspective…genetic continuity is the ultimate interest of all life, since it has priority over other interests (p.26)… The ultimate interest is reproduction, the goal towards which all life is shaped through natural selection. Adaptive information carried in genes is transmitted between generations, and is therefore an ultimate interest (p.341)…’ So, according to Salter, genetic interests are very important. In fact, more important, or at least more ’ultimate’, and therefore deserving ‘priority’, than any others.

But Salter believes that most of us are unaware of our full genetic interests, and in particular our ethnic interests: 'changed environments have effectively blinded us to large stores of our genetic interests, or to put it more accurately, for the first time situated us where we need to perceive those interests and be motivated to pursue them (p.31)… ethnic genetic interests are usually very large [in aggregate] compared to familial genetic interests (p.66)’.

Salter’s book is aimed at bringing these neglected ethnic genetic interests to our attention and exploring their implications for social and political issues such as immigration, birth rates, and inter-ethnic marriage"
So what does David Lowry think of this?
"My short view is that, as Bentham famously said of ’natural rights’, the whole idea of ’ethnic genetic interests’ is nonsense on stilts. While reading Salter’s book I kept getting vague reminiscences of something else, but it took me a while to pin down what it was: General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, with his paranoid ramblings about our Precious Bodily Fluids.

"But vulgar abuse is no substitute for reasoned argument (or vice versa), so here are some more considered criticisms:"
Gene Expression's criticism which had occurred to me with most force as I read the book was this:
"The doctrine of genetic interests is inherently backward-looking and conservative. In contrast, the eugenic position is that we are able to make value judgements about what characteristics are desirable (such as health, intelligence, and beauty) and undesirable (such as stupidity, mental illness, and physical disabilities) and then to take reproductive decisions based on those judgements. Of course eugenics is controversial, but many of those who might feel vaguely sympathetic to Salter’s approach would also feel vaguely sympathetic to eugenics, and they should at least be aware of the conflict between them."
If we could genetically improve our offspring to eliminate harmful mutations and to increase perhaps their physical, cognitive and social capabilities .. which of us would decline? So enlightened genetic progress is something which humans can potentially sign-up for, in contradistinction to every other species.

Professor Salter's model is instructive but not one to buy into.