quote for today

i've been reading so much fiction lately--enthralled with Sallinger's Franny and Zooey at the moment--and it's hard to find good quotes there. seems better to quote that whole story somehow. but in the midst of that, i've been picking at harvard geneticist richard lewontin's Biology as Ideology. it's not a long book, but it takes a non-Christmas-season attention span. i'll have to try harder now that it's january. anyway, it's a very valuable book, and really gets down to the heart of the matter when looking at how our ideas of DNA and the popularly accepted doctrines of science shape our social values. here's a little quote: "A Story in Textbooks" "The claim that all of human existence is controlled by our DNA is a popular one. It has the effect of legitimizing the structures of society in which we live, because it does not stop with the assertion that the differences in temperament, ability, and physical and mental health between us are coded in our genes. It also claims that the political structures of society--the competitive, entrepreneurial, hierarchical society in which we live and which differently rewards different temperaments, different cognitive abilities, and different mental attitudes--is also determined by our DNA, and that it is, therefore, unchangeable. For after all, even if we were biologically different from one another, that in itself would not guarantee that society would have given different power and status to people who are different. That is, to make the ideology of biological determinism complete, we have to have a theory of unchangeable human nature, a human nature that is coded in genes. ... "The problem for political philosophers has always been to try to justify their particular view of human nature. Before the 17th century, the appeal was made to divine wisdom. God had made people in a certain way.... But modern secular technological society cannot draw its political claims from divine justification. From the 17th century onward, political philosophers have tried to create a picture of human nature based on some sort of appeal to a naturalistic view of the world. Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan, which argued for the necessity of the king, built a picture of human nature from the simplest axioms about the nature of humans as organisms. To Hobbes, humans, like other animals, were self-enlarging, self-aggrandizing objects that simply had to grow and occupy the world. But the world was a place of finite resources, and so it necessarily would happen that humans would come into conflict over those resources as they expanded and the result would be what he called 'the war of all against all.' The conclusion for Hobbes was that one needed a king to prevent this war from destroying everything. "The claims that organisms, especially human beings, grow without bound and that the world in which they grow is finite and limited are the two basic claims that have given rise to the modern biological theory of human nature." --Richard Lewontin, Biology as Ideology (1991). pp. 87-88.


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