quote for today

I'm voraciously reading two related books: One is Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man; the other is Francis Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future. Both seem to be very valuable books, though not everyone will find them interesting. Here are brief synopses (synopsi?): Gould is trying to debunk the idea that intelligence is a "real"--meaning concrete or meaningful--concept. According to him, IQ tests and similar ways of ranking are more harmful than helpful and play into the whole idea of biological/genetic determinism. Fukuyama is also critiquing the idea of biological/genetic determinism but looks at the possible (and in some cases already happening) outcomes of policies allowing (or not forbidding) eugenics, genetic "therapy", manipulation, and actual engineering--e.g., designer babies, replacement body part "farms", etc. His central question is "what is human nature and if we are fiddling with it, what does that mean?" Quotes from each: "Determinists have often invoked the traditional prestige of science as objective knowledge, free from social and political taint. They portray themselves as purveyors of harsh truth and their opponents as sentimentalists, ideologues, and wishful thinkers.... Since biological determinism possesses such evident utility for groups in power, one might be excused for suspecting that it also arises in a political context.... After all [the argument goes], if the status quo is an extension of nature, then any major change, if possible at all, must inflict an enormous cost--psychological for individuals, or economic for society--in forcing people into 'unnatural' arrangements.... Or, as Condorcet said more succinctly a long time ago: they 'make nature herself an accomplice in the crime of political inequality.'" --Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man 1981, reissued 1993, pp. 20-21. "In Brave New World, religion has been abolished and Christianity is a distant memory. The Christian tradition maintains that man is created in God's image, which is the source of human dignity. To use biotechnology to engage in what another Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, called the 'abolition of man' is thus a violation of God's will. But I don't think that a careful reading of Huxley or Lewis leads to the conclusion that either writer believed religion to be the only grounds on which one could understand the meaning of being human. Both writers suggest that nature itself, and in particular human nature, has a special role in defining for us what is right and wrong, just and unjust, important and unimportant. So our final judgment on 'what's wrong' with Huxley's brave new world stands or falls with our view of how important human nature is as a source of values." --Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future 2002, pp. 6-7.


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