Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Genetics, Information Technology and Politics

I recently came across the below comment on a post at Bodil Zalesky's blog, "Genetik och informationsteknik" (Genetics and Information Technology). The original post is about the article "Levande gener, döda metaforer" published in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, October 13th 2005, by Håkan Lindgren (co-editor of a small but significant Swedish cultural magazine, Agamemnon), that is about the interaction between genes and environment in regard to human behaviour.

I found the comment on the matter extraordinarily important, concerning the controversy about Gaderummet as well as the authorities' and society's ongoing discrimination and oppression of certain groups in general, and very well put. I want to thank Marita, the author, for her permission to translate her comment, and post it on my blog. Thanks also to Bodil Zalesky for bringing about the contact.


Comment on "Genetik och informationsteknik"
Originally posted by Marita, October 15th 2005

I see, that which I am going to say, is a very personal view. Just as a warning.

Throughout the history of mankind, some minor groups always have regarded themselves as being of "the right kind", and the rest of mankind as a pitiful, ignorant and bad mob. Socrates told his adepts, "to think righteously is great, to think independently is greater" and instantly, "the right kind" decided, that they didn't want an independently thinking mob, and Socrates was forced to empty a cup of poison. The Romans separated themselves into Patricians ("the right kind") and Plebeians.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the men of the church regarded themselves as being of "the right kind", while the wealthy, privileged, who were hardly affected by the church's oppression, of course always have considered themselves being of "the right kind". The church's oppression and feodalism kept the mob in its place ( just as one or the other outbreak of the plague, of course) - in some countries, learning to read was forbidden on penalty of death. (This also applied to black slaves in America.)

Renaissance came with a big sigh of relief, though only for "the right kind". Very little changed for the mob. Flogging, death penalty, witch trials, the Inquisition, poverty, famine, active service... All this yields control.

The Age of Enlightenment starts to emerge, and now scientists are beginning to be part of "the right kind". Everything is to be explained in scientific terms, there is no longer a God, only nature, plants are classified into their own gendersystem, the church is attacked, the law of gravity is put forward, etc. Mercantilism starts to organize and control the mob. Scientists and the wealthy believe, they have the right to perform experiments and sacrifice the mob - unlettered and considered less worthy, hardly of fully human worth as it is. The idea about the unspoiled human, "the noble savage", emerges. The stress, though, is not on "noble" but on "savage". Why "the right kind" wipe out the indigenous population in the conquered countries in America, Africa and South America. "Savages" aren't considered of having any human worth.

Romanticism, remarkably enough coinciding with the arrival of industrialism, creates a new "right kind" - the artist, who can interpret God's voice and will in his art, preferably in a state of opium-intoxication. While the smoke of opium lies heavily among the artists, a new society is established for the mob, where people are packed, dense, dense, in row houses and forced into the industry. Tuberculosis, lice, annoyance, famine, the loss of dignity - all this thrives in the worker quarters. In order to keep the infuriated masses under control, "the right kind" establishes - local pubs and other places with serving rights. Drinking skyrockets - and so do industrial accidents.

Realism then describes this misery, and it is the first time that the mob actually appears in its own right in the world of books. The workers' miserable conditions, work houses (sort of almshouses) and children's homes, angel-makers and diseases are written about. Of course, it aren't the workers themselves writing, but "the right kind", i.e. those with a sufficiently high education and the right background to see the whole society as a system. With the best of intentions, research is started to see if there possibly exists a superior race, if criminality, mental illness, drinking etc. may be diagnosed in the mob before they break out. Skulls are measured and Darwin is listened to. For the good of the race, mentally ill people, people with Downs Syndrome and gypsies, who are regarded as being especially threatening to a functioning society, are sterilized. Phrenology arrives at the conclusion, that the bigger a person's head, the bigger is the brain and thus the intelligence. Europeans' heads are quite big - especially the male ones that are measured. Authors write in furious despair, that it maybe are the miserable social conditions which cause criminality.

Yah, we now move toward our own age. During the 30ies and 40ies, workers and states themselves write about their situation - from the inside. We have a period of escape from a reality marked by war and other misery, and fantasy and sci-fi is written. We send up rockets with men, who, later on, set foot on the moon. Towards the end of the 20th century science makes remarkable process, in every field. "The right kind" have created a society for the mob, that is inhumanely hard, joyless and controlled. Criminality, suicide, mental problems, stress-related diseases, overuse injuries caused by monotonous work - all this increases. "The right kind" get busy explaining, and to their help there's gene technology. We don't measure skulls anymore, don't ask ourselves about environmental influences - we want an explanation, and preferably an excuse. Components in the genes of man (the mob) desperately are searched for which can explain, that this "worse kind" isn't to be blamed for being criminal, mentally ill, stressed to pieces etc., since their second-rate behaviour is programmed in advance in their genes. Programmed is a good term, because it sounds this modern in the age of computerization. Just as a computer, a video and a DVD are programmed, man, too, has been programmed in his genes. If genes for cancer, diabetes or other disabling diseases which may break out in the future - or not - can be found, insurance companies can become informed, and the mob with deficient genes will have to pay higher premiums - if at all they can get insurance. That society is inhumane, is of no concern, even politicians now think that absence due to illness is too high and lasts too long, so, the deficient individuals are stressed to pieces even more, by threats about their benefit being removed. This is of no importance, since the deficient ones belong to "the worse kind", and "the right kind" will manage, no matter what. They have money, a good income, a lot of power, good positions in society, ancestors, connections, a good education etc., and their genes are absolutely not defective. "The right kind" tells "the worse kind" not to regard themselves as a group with the same dreams, rights and goals, but as individuals. Machiavelli already had figured out, that to achieve total control one has to divide and rule.

Something like this: "The right kind" invent whatever they can to control and keep down "the worse kind". For now it is gene technology. Which it will be in 20 years, remains to be seen, still, the system is resiliant.

(translated from Swedish)


In a follow-up comment, Marita states, that "science has never been able and will never be able to predict an individual's future, just as little as it can say anything about what being human means. It is of no importance, if we do research into the composition of genes, count bumps on people's head, or measure their skulls. Overall, we become everything we can through interaction with others, no matter what the rules of genetics tell.

(...) I have a very bright and positive view of what single individuals can achieve, but a pitch-black, negative view of whereto humanity as a whole is on its way. Man as a container of predestinated genes to me is an absurd thought, maybe even a little weird."

I agree.

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