Flesh and Blood, Genetic and Non-Genetic Influences

Three Cheers for Genetic Discrimination!

On facebook, Niles Bliss made some comments about genetics and human behavior that are worth describing. He phrased the same belief in a number of different ways, but this one line sums up a good deal of Niles’ philosophy

It is wrong to treat one group differently due to genetic factors.

Of course, this comment is absurd on two different levels.

Whenever people discuss genetics on facebook, it’s a good bet that they’re discussing race, sex, vaccination, or homosexuality. Another comment by Niles makes it clear this is once again the case [emphasis mine]:

Denying someone the ability to take part in an institution, i.e. marriage, because of a
genetic factor
, i.e. enjoying sodomy (or the females only equivalent), is morally wrong
. The POA vs. Marriage is not the issue. You can keep it. The issue is being treated as a full-fledged member of the species instead of some sort of aberrant embarrassment. Neither polygamy nor Mormonism/Islamism is determined genetically, so there is not the same moral consideration. I do not believe in cultural relativism, and if your religion must have multiple wives, go to a government that is cool with it.

To break this down, Niles is asserting two common, but mistaken, ideas

1. Some widespread variant human behaviors are “determined genetically”
2. It is ethically wrong to discriminate against genetically-driven traits.

“Determined Genetically” Means That You Can’t Avoid The Expression of the Trait Without Killing, Dismembering, or Lobotomizing the Subject

When people say “determined genetically,” they mean that 100% of variation of a trait within a population is caused exclusively by genes. There are some diseases that operate like this, but not many. Certainly I am not aware of any complex societal traits that are “determined genetically.”

Given the influence that nutrition has in early development, I am not even sure that something as “simple” as earlobe-shape is “determined genetically.”

Non-genetic factors in our development include social environment, nutrition, epigenetic load, and pathogenic load.

Discriminating Against People For Genetically-Shaped Traits Is Both Fun, Easy, and Morally Virtuous

Here are a list of some traits with large “genetic components,” that is, given similar environments, most of the variation in these traits by age 30 or so will be the result of variation in DNA

1. Political Orientation
2. Religious Ferver
3. General Intelligence
4. Creativity
5. Future Time Orientation
6. Openness to New Experience
7. Conscientiousness
8. Extraversion
9. Agreeableness
10. Neuroticism
11. Some forms of Schizophrenia / Psychopathology
12. Skin Hue
13. Height
14. Build of musculature
15. Fatty tissue distribution

The only way you are having any fun in your life if you are not discriminating on any of these traits is if you consider the lack of control you now have over your life as “fun.”

(I am exclude homosexuality here because I am unaware of a study showing that > 50% of variation in expression of that trait by age 30 is predictable based on knowledge of blood relatives. I did not, however, research this before writing this post, as my whole point is that not discriminating based on genetic tendencies is ridiculous)

Discrimination Is Right? Wrong? Something Else?

“Discrimination” means treating different things different, and different people differently, based on features that are meaningful.

Many traits with large “genetic components” are meaningful in our lives. Tendency to crime, beauty, personality, political orientation, skin hue, fervor, etc., all matter to us in meaningful ways. Traits without the same obvious genetic component — which political party you belong to, which Church you worship at, perhaps even your sexual orientation — also matter.

Human beings are not disembodied ghosts. Nor are we soulless corpses. We have bodies. We are made of flesh and blood and spirit, clay and the breathe of life.

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