How to solve any (anthropogenic) problem

2008-07-02

Tim Tyler writes a dry ironic piece titled «Destroy the Entertainment Industry» (warning: contains 2 tits). I can’t tell if he’s being genuinely serious or not. His arguments canter along at a nice pace, until suddenly he nukes himself in the foot, by suggesting germ-line manipulation as a solution. Specifically, “If humans exhibit variation in their susceptability to entertainment-induced pathologies, maybe a human can be constructed that is less prone to this type of malfunction”.

Of course, I’m not denying that there is a gene for “susceptability to entertainment-induced pathlogies” (pedants: “a gene for X” is used in the same sense as Dawkins uses it in «The Selfish Gene») (true pedants: “susceptability” is incorrectly spelled in the original source); it may even be possible to manipulate the gene or its hosting population. The problem with this argument is that it’s so universally applicable. So universally applicable that it’s useless. Germ-line manipulation now becomes the crucial new tool in solving any public policy problem (or in fact, any problem at all). People blow each other up too much, that’s a problem. How do we solve it? Germ-line manipulation, simply eliminate the gene for “blowing each other up” from the population.

This turns into a rather amusing game, where when anyone poses a problem, you simply reply with your mantra of germ-line manipulation. Let’s see how it’s played:

People abuse the disabled parking spots in public car parks? Germ-line manipulation solves the problem by removing the gene for “being an asshole” from the population. Too much dog poop on the streets? Germ-line manipulation. Too many stupid blog articles? Germ-line manipulation.

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9 Responses to “How to solve any (anthropogenic) problem”

  1. Nick Barnes Says:

    A key problem with removing a ‘being an asshole’ gene is that we have absolutely no idea to what extent it might be connected to the ‘having an asshole’ gene.
    If either thing existed. Which of course they don’t.

  2. Gareth Rees Says:

    The usual meaning of gene G is “for” trait X is that variation in G’s alleles is correlated with variation in X. In this sense we certainly have genes “for” being and having an asshole.

  3. Gareth Rees Says:

    For example, the SRY gene is “for” being an asshole and it seems likely that some of the HOX genes are “for” having an asshole (according to this paper).

  4. Gareth Rees Says:

    (By the way, I can see why geneticists have adopted this terminology, but it’s horribly prone to misunderstanding. A rhetorical trick common to scientific racists of the Bell Curve variety is to drift from the technical meaning of “gene for X” to the naive misunderstanding of the phrase (i.e. a gene that has sole control over trait X): if challenged they can always point to the technical meaning and say that it’s your fault for misunderstanding them.)

  5. Nick Barnes Says:

    which was the sense in which I meant they don’t exist. There are a large number of genes which are “for” being an asshole, by virtue of being “for” viability. I suggest that those who wish to eliminate assholes by germ-line manipulation should self-experiment, starting with one of these.

  6. Nick Barnes Says:

    Of course in the specialist sense, *all* of the genes for having an asshole are also genes for being an asshole.

  7. Gareth Rees Says:

    warning: contains 2 tits

    The other one being the author of the piece, I presume.


  8. True pedants were distracted from your remarks about “gene for X” by the spelling of “susceptibility”, the comma splice, and (in the next sentence) the superabundance of “so”s.

  9. drj11 Says:

    So they were. Edited.


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