Re: Fwd: [evol-psych] Charles Murray: Deeper into the Brain

Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 17:46:17 MST

Robin forwarded a provocative article by Charles Murray:

>National Review
>January 24, 2000
>We, Homo sapiens, are about to learn how to alter human nature at roughly
>the same time that we finally learn for sure what that nature is.

I have to say, though, that overall I thought the tone was thoroughly
obnoxious. Murray sees the world in rigid ideological terms of Right
vs Left which IMO will not have that much relevance as we move forward.

He is no doubt right that we will learn a great deal about human nature
and the determinates of behavior over the next decades. But he describes
these revelations almost purely in genetic terms. He focuses on what
we will learn about what our genes have to say, ignoring what we will
learn about memes, culture and other environmental influences.

And he basis his analysis on groups and classes:

>We will learn for
>certain such things as that women innately make better nurturers of small
>children than do men and that men innately make better soldiers than do

Leaving aside Murray's smug assumption that science will confirm his
personal preferences, his logic is very questionable. Maybe what he
says here will be true, in some sense, but as Murray recognizes later in
his article, the knowledge we gain will not be expressed in these terms.
Our knowledge will be far broader and at the same time far more specific.
We will be able to take an individual and, given knowledge of his brain
state, background and genetics, say whether he would make a good nurturer
or soldier.

It is unquestionably true, and I am sure Murray would agree, that even if
his assumptions are correct, some men will be better nurturers than many
women, and some women will be better soldiers than many men. But this
is not consistent with his claim that the Right will be vindicated over
the Left:

>Regarding these and many other human characteristics impinging on
>marriage, the upbringing of children, and the enforcement of social order, I
>am predicting that the adages of the Right will usually prove to be closer to
>the mark than the adages of the Left, and that many of the causes of the Left
>will be revealed as incompatible with the way human beings are wired.

Won't this evidence for diverse individual differences justify the
Left's desire to let women be soldiers and men be homemakers, if
they choose? It was the conservatives who fought for the old order
where each individual's choices in life were largely determined by his
social groups. The liberals were the ones who attempted to open the
system and let everyone have equal opportunity. I don't think it can be
considered a victory for the Right to have scientific proof that some
women are suitable for combat, but there seems little doubt that this
is what will happen.

And last I must object vehemently to his claim that the Left will
support eugenics. This is a transparent bit of mud flinging, a vicious
rhetorical swipe at his enemies by linking them with Nazi ideology.

It is highly questionable that the Left will embrace human genetic
engineering, and that they will support government policies to force
everyone to be engineered, as Murray claims. In fact we see the opposite
today, as opposition to all forms of genetic engineering comes mostly
from the environmentalists, with the religious right joining the cause
when it comes to human experimentation.

Murray even admits that people, if allowed to choose freely, will want
to give their children enhancements, and he is willing to endorse this
if it does not go too far:

>The popular
>voluntary uses of gene manipulation are likely to be ones that avoid birth
>defects and ones that lead to improved overall physical and mental abilities.
>I find it hard to get upset about that prospect.

By his logic that makes him a eugenicist. Somehow he neglects to point
this out.

At some level I have to give Murray credit. He's an old man and he's
trying to come to grips with changes which will redefine what it means
to be human. But he can't help but continue to fight his old battles.
Like many people who write about the future, he is really making a
statement about the present. He can't resist the temptations to take
jabs at his opponents, and ultimately that is all he has done here.


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