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Why Would "Social Genetics" Have a Place in Leftist Thinking?

Naomi is an autistic artist, writer, and blogger in the Midwest. Their writing career started with anime reviews.


What is the value of knowledge about your DNA and where it came from?

Well, out of curiosity, I did my DNA and found out I was from exactly where you'd expect: England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, France, The Netherlands, and 1% of my DNA was even from Finland. I expected to have more German heritage based on family stories, but other than that there were no major surprises. I didn't feel more complete or anything.I look like a northern European and got a test handed back to me that just confirms that I am one.

I was almost disappointed to find no slave or Indian ancestry in my mix. I think a lot of white people want to look for a way to have a culture they can celebrate, so they get into their DNA studies and genealogy studies looking for a way to feel more special than merely "white".

I enjoy Celtic music, I celebrate Celtic pagan holidays in addition to "Leprechaun Day" - even though as an environmentalist, I have concerns about dying the river green, and did not enjoy the drunk commuters clogging the subway stations for the big parade, but I digress. I have Celtic heritage, and only a distant, haunted sort of connection to that ancestry. I like English literature, but I probably would enjoy it just as much if I were totally Norwegian.

In the grand scheme of things, I don't think my life would be too different if I had been any other sort of white person. Let's say I had been 100% of any of the locations in my mix, like 100% Scottish instead of like 22-33%. Would it matter that much?

Well, apparently, genetics are now a worthy social pursuit, not just a sad thing white people do to try to grasp for a heritage that's not marred by the crimes against humanity commited by our ancestors. And one scientist in particular seems to be trying to reclaim "social genetics" as a field of study despite its birthplace in grisly Nazi experiments and twisted racist eugenics programs.

So let's talk about the article that this article is a response to (link). Because I have many things to say, and because commenting is not allowed on Aeon that I could find anywhere, and neither was I able to find contact information to write a lengthy email to the author.

So you get a big public take-down and you asked for it, Ms. "I'm a Nazi doctor doing Nazi genetics studies but no comments" which is not exactly something you just say and then leave the room without accepting questions or comments. But that's what reading this wild ass article felt like.

Sorry, but Using Nazi Science is Not the Same as Enjoying Woody Allen Movies

In the article, the author compares using science published by racist geneticists and enjoying the films of someone who turned out to be a rapist. But it's not a great analogy. Rapists did what they did behind closed doors, and the incident/s have nothing to do with their work. Nazis were not separable from their work. Their deeds define them. There is no "good work" to separate from the bad; everything they did was evil.

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It's not like saying "Woody Allen did bad things, but I personally enjoy his work" but more like if Woody Allen had made a snuff film wherein he had sex with and murdered a 13-year-old girl, and then you want us to watch this film in film studies classes for the "educational" value. Or like how many classrooms still subject you to "Birth of a Nation" for the film history value of studying the film. Which is a practice I find horrifying, but also insulting and alienating to Black film students, potentially anyway. When we should be trying to include more of them in film studies, not drive them from the classroom by requiring racist content. Subjecting people whose ancestors were traumatized by the horrors of eugenics to further eugenics and tying DNA studies to who gets what in society, who deserves what, would be a mistake.

Another reason the analogy falls flat: The monumental scale of the horror of Nazism. Nazi eugenics and experiments were brutality and horror on a monstrous scale. An unprecedented scale, because, we've always had cruelty in human nature, but we have not always had the industrial apparatus necessary to magnify that cruelty. When societies became mechanized and industrialized, we turned on each other and tore each other apart. Humanity was almost completely destroyed in a devastating global war. Many countries took agonizing, bitter decades to recover from the impact of it. You cannot minimize the impact of racist genetics science on human events by comparing it to a mere movie. A movie, or even the entire career of a single movie star, pales in significance when compared to the massive impact that the idea of race has had, and continues to have (unfortunately) on the world.

What you suggest is also a kind of compartmentalization that's not possible, trying to use the acts of evil people like Joseph Mengele to make a good science. Well you can't get good fruit from a tree with a moldy trunk. And you can't get good science from fake, bad, nasty, brutal pseudoscience? Science used to excuse the worst and grandest scale human rights abuses in history? From the science that is still being used to justify atrocities?

I thought that good science cannot be made out of a horrible lie calling itself science was obvious to actual scientists. And people with common sense.

Is There a Place for "Social Genetics" In Leftism? I'm Skeptical.

The author of the article also claims that it's possible to reclaim eugenicist racist pseudoscience nonsense because DNA studies are useful in some cases, with like a million little caveats.

We know that there is only one real race, human, we're all human. We all share the same human genome. We all have the same human blood inside us. So why would it matter to this white lady or anyone else whether some of us have certain genetic traits? The author says we need to study DNA and populations because there are differences in genetics between human groups. So? All that does is it's used to justify shitty unequal status quos using the excuse that certain people are a waste of resources. When I've been fighting for equal educational funding in America my whole life, for better funding for public schools that serve the poor and Black communities especially, it was a jaw-dropping moment for me to hear someone say that the same racist junk science that was so often used to bring the Black person down could also be used to liberate them or help them. I very much doubt it can be used to do either thing.

Here's why. The whole concept of "race" was invented, constructed, to serve the interests of white elites in charge of slave plantations. In other words, people who profited off of the unpaid labor of other humans wanted some reason to justify that exploitation, and the brutality with which it was enforced. Because of this, racism is caked into the foundation of many things in modern society, such that as much as we try to be colorblind or "post racial", that's not actually as helpful as it is to actively engage with and try to dismantle the racism that was formulated entirely to justify atrocities in the past. Atrocities we must be actively determined to fight, rather than repeat, through the conscious-raising study of history.

A major helpful tool for activists during the 20th century and forward has been debunking the claims of eugenicists and race "experts" which were almost 100% junk science with not a shred of credible evidence to back them up. So this is not only like wanting to make us watch Woody Allen's snuff film, but it's also a bit like saying astronomers should base what they do on astrology. We don't use pseudoscience to make science. Pseudoscience or junk science are only intellectual dead ends, maybe to be used as a party game, but not worthy of being used as the basis for weighty decision-making. We may borrow ideas from it, like how alchemy ideas became chemistry, but nobody takes someone claiming to be an alchemist seriously anymore. Yet we should take someone claiming to be a "social genetics" researcher, who doesn't even have a genetic or biological science degree, as a valid genetics scientist?

I'd really like to hear this author's response. But until I do, I probably won't put a lot of faith in the idea that we can draw good fruit from rotten trees. My experience has never shown that to be true.

Race is not real.

We're all human and all equal and equally deserving of the same rights.

© 2022 Naomi Starlight

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