Friday, May 1, 2009

Power Tools

It would be easy to talk about abortion here.

Or maybe eugenics, or plastic surgery, or cloning or even stem cells.

If I was going to discuss "Science Without Humanity" and I decided to focus on any of those topics, I'm sure the activity on this blog would spike. All of those topics are controversial enough that it's a pretty safe bet that folks would feel the need to share their opinions.

I'm going to avoid the easy route.

I read quite a few blogs, and one of them I visit is run by a cat who goes by the name of Denmark Vesey. I find his spot interesting because they are often talking about things I'm not familiar with, which means I'm guaranteed to learn something new. We may not agree on a lot of topics, but I don't have to agree with you to learn from you.

Anyway, one of the recurring topics over there is whether there are genetic differences between the races as far as intelligence. It's the whole "nature vs. nurture" argument, but with a lot more big words and obscure studies. Several of the commenters adamantly oppose the idea that race and intelligence are linked, while others think that's the only obvious conclusion. As a tangent from this argument, the cats over there often discuss whether a large scale mapping of human genomes is an undertaking worth pursuing.

See, scientists have already mapped the DNA of several individuals, but it wasn't until recently that a fairly large scale effort was made to look at groups. Of course, when you're talking about DNA, large scale means slightly more than a thousand instead of millions because of the complexity of the work.

Now, some folks are gung-ho about the project and the information it may provide about genetic differences between the races. They point to the medical benefits of such information and just the pure pursuit of knowledge. It all sounds wonderful.

But, other cats are skeptical about any endeavor that seeks to categorize folks by race, and then analyze their genes. I guess it smells a little too much like the early funk of eugenics. After all, there is the question of how people were divided into "races" in the first place, and then there is the question of how information about differences and similarities is going to be used.

See, the problem is that without humanity, or compassion, science can become a pretty powerful tool of evil. Depending on the results of the study, folks may justify longstanding biases and discrimination as being warranted based on the fact that certain "races" are in fact genetically inferior. After all, people have been trying to prove the inferiority of non-whites for generations, and that is the reason why there has traditionally been a pell-mell rush by folks to avoid being classified as "non-white."

Honestly, I don't have a problem with information, and I understand the value of the genome project. What I also understand is the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. I understand how science and scientific discoveries can be twisted and skewed to represent whatever folks want them to represent.

Gandhi warned against the blind devotion to science and knowledge because he understood that without a higher power or calling guiding us, human beings have a tendency to abuse these very powerful tools. I think Gandhi understood that the urge to build temples to ourselves, to create our own person godheads, is only aided by the power bestowed by science.

Mankind has always had trouble controlling this urge since our creation. Many among us have seen science as the perfect vehicle to allow us to assume a spot alongside God. Whether it was alchemy or the dark arts, mankind has yearned for the power that science can bestow upon us, and often using that power to benefit humanity is an afterthought.

I think science is amazing. It's wonderful and awe-inspiring. The possibility of learning how our genes work and how they control our lives is enticing. But, I also understand that until we as humans learn to temper our power with humanity, with ethics, with compassion, we are like little children playing with assault rifles.

And that's deadly.



Deacon Blue said...

Yeah, there is so much value here, in terms of treating disease in particular, since differences between races (or genders, etc.) can sometimes spell huge differences in how a body responds to diseases and even to the treatments themselves.

But at the same time, so much potential for abuse as well.

Not unlike a little think known as nuclear fission. I suspect the impact, over the long run, will be much the same: many advances, and many scares to go along with them...and inevitably, some serious abuse.

Big Man said...


Thanks for being a faithful reader and commenter.

The potential for abuse is really troubling because people have been angling to prove a certain theory regarding races for so long.

Darth Whitey said...

There is no need to fear information. If we can do it, let's do it. We might just learn something completely unexpected along the way.

Nothing will stop people on both sides from parsing the results and making political points but who cares, that is really short-sighted, humanity needs to endeavor to its full potential.

What if the mass of Christians were concerned that we might find traces of life on Mars, thus suggesting that the earth is not the center of the universe and the sole cradle of life as described in Genesis? Would science need to discard the exploration of Mars?

For keeping it human, we'd have to pass legislation preventing insurance companies and the like from discriminating against people based on the pre-dispositions described in the findings. Done, out.

Big Man said...


I think you raise some interesting counterpoints.

However, I think you naively believe that human beings will have the foresight and temparance to do "the right thing" with new information. A brief study of human history leads me to a different conclusion.

Imhotep said...

Big Man, Scientific work is really our life blood, it informs everything that we do, but it's unappreciated, and in some cases disrespected. How else can you explain the reverence for religion? Seems to me that religion is allowed to thrive at the expense of science.

Call me paranoid, but I don't trust white people (most) to be unbiased with any sort of information, scientific or otherwise.
Given that white folks have been lying to poc forever, It's hard for me to trust anything they say. They are still grappling with the idea that they come from a Black woman.

Raving Black Lunatic