February 21, 2003
Your life or your fathers?

A short article in the latest Wired summarizes some modern positions in the environment or inheritance debate, i.e. the big question of how much our life determines our selves and how much is predetermined by our genes.
The derogative term for this kind of writing is list journalism - sacrificing form and substance both by simple hoarding on facts without conclusions. But as lists go, this is quite decent. First of all there is a nice off-hand conclusion about the failure of politics in the networked world, broken down in micro-discussion taking in place in 'ever more precise ideological niches' as it is. Secondly the summaries on what some of these micro-discussions mean in terms of really basic questions like this one is well done, tying very diverse questions about freedom, sexuality, economics and technology together by their different attachments to this basic question.

My big brother, who is a sociologist, would probably - taking cues both from the history of philosophy and some empirical work he has done on Bourdieu's concept of lifestyle claim that the rift in the debate is an even deeper one, with fractions why are philosphically materialist on one side and fractions who are philosphically idealists on the other. The idealists would come out in favour of the genetic explanation as some kind of 'destiny' - an externalized source of meaning, whereas the materialists would favour the environmental theory as a source of rationalized behaviourism.

The list Johnson puts forward indicates how the everyday politics of the issues sometimes turn these things upside down: Religious conservatives have a hard time with the science of genetics and say 'nature' - but surely their nature is really much more akin to the genetic explanation with plenty of predetermined moral behaviour only not by DNA but by divine virtue. On the other hand gay-rights activists trying to give homosexuality a grounding deeper than mere behaviour (which one could then debate as more or less 'natural') are embracing genetic predetermination even though you would expect them to favour the argument for personal freedom.
Economists, environmentalists and feminists on the other hand are right on track in their lifestyle niches.

Posted by Claus at February 21, 2003 10:22 PM
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