I read Dennis Sewell’s article on the damaging influence of eugenics on the welfare state with interest and mostly agree with his views.
I read Dennis Sewell’s article on the damaging influence of eugenics on the welfare state with interest and mostly agree with his views. Even in my most right-wing moments, I don’t want to open my Spectator to find articles proposing a selective breeding programme (though, come to think of it, this may have been the idea behind the Spectator Editors’ Dinner — I left around 11, so never got the chance to find out).
All the same, his attack on eugenics, as with many anti-Darwin assaults, seems to focus on the evil done in the name of eugenics rather than the science itself. While it’s true that political scientism has had disastrous consequences, and that Darwin has had adherents every bit as nasty as Marx, that is no reason to decide that Darwinism must never colour our thinking. After all, we don’t refuse to use four-lane motorways just because they were first built under Mussolini.
Is it even right for Sewell to call eugenics a ‘pseudo-science’? Racehorse breeders would be surprised to hear this, as would the judges at Crufts. Will genetics influence policy? I hope not. But we should be conscious that many policies could have genetic effects. One geneticist has suggested the invention of the bicycle changed human evolution by promoting genetic diversity. If this is true, then it is conceivable that the expansion of university education, causing people to choose partners more cognitively similar than before, may reduce social mobility.
Already one effect may have arisen from people marrying their colleagues. There is evidence that certain industries have seen an increase in progeny diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It shows that Silicon Valley, where many offspring are born to two software coders, displays the most pronounced evidence of the trend.
Is this automatically a bad thing? While the genetic purist may think so, a new book intriguingly suggests the opposite. In Create Your Own Economy, Tyler Cowen, himself a self-diagnosed ‘Aspie’ as well as a respected academic and blogger, proposes that mild Asperger’s Syndrome can be an advantage to those born in the information age. Because it creates infovores, and allows its ‘sufferers’ to derive immense pleasure from processing and ordering information, Cowen believes the condition can be as much an endowment as a curse. The deep yet narrow fields of obsession common in Aspies may make for a bad conversationalist in a provincial pub but a valuable guru when that knowledge can be tapped from all over the world. (There are certainly train-spotting websites — ‘Note the revised headlamp farings, characteristic of the later 56b Diesel, seen here after a repaint plying the freight loop south of Runcorn’ — where I would rather read the content than meet the author.)
But before you assume that people with mild autism are beneficiaries of the internet age, spare a thought for one who isn’t. The low-level hacker Gary McKinnon, himself diagnosed as autistic, is about to be deported to the US by our government for breaches of US military networks while seeking evidence of UFO cover-ups. The fact that, rather than holding a trial here, our government chooses to hand to the American penal system a British subject who has never visited the United States seems shameful. When Sting, Stephen Fry and the Daily Mail are agreed on this, we should probably all take note.