I want to start with Bananas. Did you know that 95% of the bananas we eat today are clones? Farmers found that instead of relying on the unpredictable and messy method of sexual union to produce fertile fruit, new banana plants could be created asexually from root cuttings. Once given the choice, consumers too decided they preferred their banana experience unmarred by seeds. Today the banana industrial complex is a vast, genetically identical, global monoculture with rows of banana clones lining up to give from their bodies that we may slice something fresh on our Weetabix…
The problem with monoculture is that when pathogens — parasites or predators — find a way to exploit one individual, they will have created a successful strategy to exploit all the others too. This is not a hypothetical intellectual curio, banana plantations worldwide are currently under siege from Fusarium oxysporum, ‘Panama Disease’.
This is why we go to the trouble of having sex.
Even though it’s an onerous process of partners and competitors, very few complex life-forms forgo it. Asexual reproduction is just too dangerous. Millions of years of evolution have proved that a population of clones — all walking in genetic lock-step — can be too easily decimated by an enemy who has found their collective weakness. Wisdom has shown that it’s worth the extra effort to mix things up and bake in some diversity…
Humans are unique(ish) amongst Terran life-forms in that Sex is not the only mechanism the species has for passing on diversity. In addition to genetic, sapiens also has cultural transmission—we may have a third too, technological, which can probably still be counted under ‘Cultural’, but is increasingly its own self-sustaining domain…
People are a hybrid of biological programming and cultural behaviors. Looping back to bananas, sex and evolution will make sure each individual is a diverse, heterogeneous mix of both. Every individual will be a unique combination of capabilities, drives, ideologies, predilections, perversions, beliefs, fetishes and taboos. Some of us will be selfish; a few of us will be evil.
The dominant liberal thinking today, however, must deny any genetic origins of variation because it believes that in order for us to create an equitable world, we must consider each new individual a blank slate. All variation in abilities must be introduced through culture because only culture can be changed; biology cannot—at least by anybody who has learned anything from the twentieth century’s dirty dabbling with eugenics.
Genetic determinism of any significant degree—for example in behavior or cognitive ability—would seem to threaten a legitimate utopian aspiration.
How can we all be equal if some are born advantaged?
Such a world view is undeniably generous and optimistic; every charitable person should hope that biology ensures all gifts are equally distributed between individuals, sexes and population groups —
— but of course, biology doesn’t care about happiness or fairness. Evolutionary algorithms run on the population-scale and produce quite horrific amounts of collateral damage at the level of the individual. It is likely, therefore — and entirely uncontentious in the scientific community — that across the gambit of human abilities, genetics grants some Sapiens a head start.
The inherent unfairness of this genetic ‘original sin’, coupled with a less than angelic human nature, can – and has – lead to exploitation of the weak by the strong.
Luckily, over the past millennia, we have been able to reject some of the worst outrages of our genetically inherited, biologically programmed, impulses and have taken matters into our own rational hands.
Human history can be seen as a gradual deprecation of genetics-dominated, hard-wired behaviors and their incremental replacement by more humane culturally curated programs.
How much of the original hard-wired programming is still running?
We cannot survive without our biological genetic blueprints. Culture may make us fully human, but without biology, we are nothing but a thin soup of carbonated water and trace minerals. Yet liberal thinking must insist that the cultural layer is doing all the heavy lifting and that any biologically hard-wired drives are vestigial relics, no-longer relevant to the functioning of society.
We should — [of course!] — aspire to better ourselves and continue to seek a more equitable world, but many of the low-hanging fruit have already been plucked. The topics we need to make progress on today are hot-button issues which go right to the heart of what it is to be human. They confront head-on the primitive urges, which —though perhaps buried — still have veto control over our emotions and behaviors.
Worse still, these hard-wired routines, being primitive reptilian evolutionary baggage, are not very smart and can easily be tricked and manipulated by any individuals not ideologically committed to insisting they don’t exist…
Ideally, laws and norms should complement or overrule the underlying biological programming. For example, we don’t [yet] need laws to force people to have sex and make children, because, for the majority, the hard-wired biological drives take care of that; but we do need laws to stop people killing each other, because unfortunately Homo sapiens are wired for violence and we need civilizing laws to keep us under control.
Designing policy based on the assumption that we are all created psychologically identical and that there is no such thing as innate biology—or if there is, we can ride roughshod over it without consequences—is naive, dangerous, and ultimately bananas!