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According to this morning's newspaper, while the government's Human Genome Project is loping along, hoping to finish mapping all of the human genes by 2005, a private company just announced a three-year plan to get it done, and done cheaper, too. It shouldn't surprise us, I guess. Say what you will, capitalism does get tasks done quick and cheap. If there's money to be made, they'll find a way.
And there is money to be made in genetics, that much is clear. It's the promise of the future, isn't it? I just finished writing a book on genetics (Katz Rothman 1998) and so perhaps I'm a bit obsessed by the whole thing, but it does seem to me that there isn't a human problem, from addictions to zygote production--including alcoholism, poverty, war, aggression, depression, risk taking, race and racism, sex and sexuality, and every possible combination--that hasn't been placed within the framework of genetic understanding. That framework is presented to us as if it were the opposite of sociological thinking, everything crammed into some absurd nature/nurture debate. In the real world, it's not like that: Genes "for language" end up producing languages that are mutually unintelligible, the DNA explaining a potential, a capacity that is most extraordinary in its creativity. Nurture is our nature.
But genetics, not society and social policy, is the key we're being offered to the brave new world. We're going to get ourselves a better, healthier new world by making us some better, healthier people. Can genetics get us to the wonder world of perfect babies, living long, longer, longest disease-free lives? Can we create "better" people--whatever better might mean to us? …