The Future of Human Nature

by Steve Sailer
National Post


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As we all know from watching old science fiction movies, humans will evolve into hyper-intelligent, 97 pound weaklings. Our descendents will mutate into androgynous pencil-necked geeks barely able to hold up their basketball-sized brains. And as Steven Spielberg demonstrated in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., highly evolved species are also altruistic pacifists. Of course, the same sort of movies forecasted that in the year 2000 we'd all helicopter to work in our one-man autogyros. So, we know the future ain't what it used to be, but what will it be?

One thing that's certain is that we will evolve, and at a much faster clip than the not-insignificant rate of genetic change we are currently experiencing. "You can't change human nature" has been one of the wisest of adages, but its days are numbered. The genetic, pharmaceutical, and computer revolutions are about to radically accelerate the changing of human nature. Indeed, by Y3K, humanity may have begun to break apart into separate species as interstellar colonists use genetic engineering to adapt to extraterrestrial climates.

But before we can think about the future of human nature, we have to understand what "human nature" is. Logically, it's the opposite of "human nurture." At one extreme of the nurture-nature continuum is culture, at the other extreme are genes. But there's also a large gray area in the middle.

For example, the steroids that transformed Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson from skinny, shy, and slow to burly, surly, and fast were cultural inventions to mimic the effects of the gene variants Ben wished he'd been born with. Plastic surgery, Prozac, and alcohol are other ways we manipulate our bodies, brains, and behavior. We will invent many more. For instance, computer-brain interfaces, like the one that recently enabled the blind patient known as "Jerry" to see large letters, will ultimately be perfected, someday giving our brains remarkable memory and computational powers. In this essay, however, I'll focus on just that most natural example of human nature: our genes.

Unfortunately, most thinking about human nature has been confused and politicized by the widespread assumption that -- despite ample evidence to the contrary -- "natural" always equals "good." Thus, opinion-mongers love to proclaim that whatever they're peddling is natural, and whatever they deplore is artificial.

The value most approved of by 20th Century intellectuals was "equality," so most recent thinking about human nature has been deformed by attempts to prove that the manifold diversity that is such a blatant aspect of human nature is somehow not natural. Thus, "progressives" denied the very existence of human nature, attributing all inequality to baneful social conditioning. Margaret Mead, the celebrity anthropologist, summed up the fashionable dogma: "Human nature is almost unbelievably malleable." If nurture overwhelms nature, then everybody could be prodded into equality. Indeed, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot tried to do exactly that. Although they murdered scores of millions, their egalitarian police states ultimately failed because ornery old human nature endured.

Even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, Harvard evolutionist Edward O. Wilson brought the on-going "rediscovery of human nature" to general attention with his 1975 book Soiobiology. Of course, much of the wisdom that evolutionary thinkers laboriously rediscover had never been lost by non-intellectuals, such as your grandmother, who made these truths about humanity the basis of her nagging. So far in 2000, for example, evolutionists have won worldwide headlines with the following stop-the-presses findings: 1. Women like taller men. ("So stop slouching like a slob, young man!") 2. Rapists are often motivated by sexual desire. ("So stop dressing like a slut, young lady!").

However, the inevitable conservatism of sociobiology made it so many enemies on leftist-dominated campuses that anthropologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides found it expedient to relaunch sociobiology under the new, improved brand name of "evolutionary psychology." In a brilliant marketing ploy, they spin-doctored evolutionary explanations into academic acceptability by pronouncing themselves the truest True Believers in equality. They portrayed human nature as almost monolithically uniform, and proclaimed that science should only study human similarities.

Yet, except for identical twins, no two humans' genetic codes are the same. So, exactly whose genes were they going to study? Stumped, the evolutionary psychologists responded with name-calling: Interest in human differences was deemed evil, or tedious, or insensitive, or just not done. This conservative egalitarian party line soon had many smart people parroting silly ideas. For example, one evolutionary psychology bestseller concluded " differences between individuals are so boring!" Since most highly-educated people are infected with the Platonic virus that makes them prefer to think in terms of nonexistent abstract certainties rather than reality's fuzzy probabilities, few challenged the new orthodoxy of a homogenous human nature. The evolutionary psychologists themselves, however, soon found that while egalitarianism was a useful cover story, it was a largely useless methodology for learning about humanity. Ironically, but not surprisingly, evolutionary psychology has become primarily the study of sex differences. Why? Because knowledge consists of contrasts. For example, yesterday the National Post reported the controversial finding of a so-called "suicide gene." Its existence was inferred by contrasting the genetic codes of the suicidal to the non-suicidal.

Information can be boiled down to that most basic of contrasts, the ones and zeroes of digital data, but it can't be boiled down further to all ones. So, if we want to learn much about human nature, we're going to need to compare different kinds of humans: male and female, sick and healthy, young and old, smart and stupid, gay and straight, tall and short, black and white, and so forth. They all deserve respect as manifestations of human nature's rich diversity.

Grasping this realistic perspective on the varieties of human nature, we can now think about our onrushing ability to manipulate our natures without succumbing to the vapours. For we already have been diversifying our own genetic code. For instance, adults were uniformly "lactose intolerant" until cattle were domesticated within just the last 10,000 years. Fortunately, Darwinian selection can work so fast that in ethnic groups with a milking tradition (e.g., Danes or Dinkas from the Upper Nile), most adults now possess a gene allowing them to digest milk comfortably. In other words, just as our genes influence culture, culture rearranges our genes.

So, how will humanity choose to re-engineer its genes? Will we follow the sci-fi movies and equip our children with huge heads, spindly bodies, and politically correct personalities?

The crucial question is: "Who is this "we" who gets to choose -- the parents or the state?" Individual parents could only finesse their offspring within the genetic limits imposed by what Charles Darwin called "sexual selection." For what parents want most from their children is grandchildren. Parents will thus design their children to outcompete same-sex peers in attracting the most desirable spouses, in order to produce the most desirable grandkids. So, most parents will be satisfied with only moderately higher IQ's. Why? Although much larger brains would probably be required for gigantic increases in intelligence (as shown by our brains being three times the size of our ape ancestors' brains), having a head the size of E.T.'s just isn't sexy. Nor will a gentle personality, like that of children's TV host Mr. Rogers, make your boy a babe magnet. Thus parents will balance the lip service they pay to having wiser and kinder spawn against their need for more sexually desirable descendants, just as feminists denounce sexual harassment and rape but can't get enough of that sexual harasser and accused rapist Bill Clinton.

In contrast, a government can attempt to impose its favorite ideology. It could try to ban genetic enhancements. But that is unlikely to work, since the payoff to individuals from having the kind of body and personality that the opposite sex lusts after is so great. Recall the 1992 health panic that lead to the U.S. government banning silicon breast implants. Yet, from 1990 to 1999, the annual number of breast augmentations still sextupled from 41,000 to 255,000.

No, to prevent parents from buying black market gene enhancements to make their progeny more alluring, a government would have to excise the incentives by mutating the masses via mandatory eugenics. A hardnosed regime that wanted to conquer the world by quadrupling its subjects' average IQ would have to genetically reengineer its young people to find themselves strangely attracted to paramours with bloated brains as massive as the Elephant Man's. Similarly, a feminist government out to free women from the "beauty myth" would need to delete the male genes that make men appreciate shapely breasts. A pacifist state would have to redesign women so they stopped getting aroused by dangerous men. An egalitarian regime would have to tweak women so that they viewed unemployable losers as Mr. Right. In short, something close to totalitarianism would be necessary.

Otherwise, free-market eugenics will brings us a human race that's the utter opposite of the sexless, altruistic eggheads of the sci-fi movies. Note how many affluent California families are holding their little boys back for a second year of kindergarten. This is so their sons will be bigger, stronger, smarter, more athletic, and more socially dominant than the other kids in their classes. How much do you think these couples would pay for the genetic enhancements that would allow their scions to continue to rule as alpha males as adults? In Beyond This Horizon, the great Robert A. Heinlein's prescient 1942 novel about a genetically engineered future, the world is populated by highly intelligent but extremely sexy people straight out of a Hollywood casting call. The men are manly and the ladies lovely. The men are so macho in fact, that no gentleman would be seen without his gun, and duels are fought daily.

Obsessed by equality, bioethicists and other intellectuals today fret most that the new genetic technologies will let rich parents buy their kids higher IQs. Yet, considering the coming tidal wave of testosterone that the same techniques are likely to unleash, I suspect we're going to need all the smarts we can get to keep the bellicose boys of the future from blowing up the world just to hear the bang.

Steve Sailer ( is the president of the Human Biodiversity Institute.











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