When You Play With Dirt, You Get Dirty

Posted by Osagie Obasogie December 13, 2007
Biopolitical Times

Slate’s Will Saletan has backed himself into a corner by coming to the defense of James Watson – the eccentric DNA pioneer who found himself pontificating on how Blacks’ separate evolutionary patterns conferred genes to them that depresses their intellects. Like any liberal-minded person, Saletan disavows white supremacy as an idea. But when it comes to cold hard data on race and intelligence, he becomes transfixed; any true effort at egalitarianism, he believes, must engage with reality rather than ignore it. This is the basis of Saletan’s exhaustive three-part series that tries to separate the empirical question of race and intelligence (vis a vis genome sequencing and IQ tests) from the inherent racism that gives legs to this conversation.

Suffice it to say that Saletan’s foray into the “hereditarian theory of intelligence” debate has been disastrous. (Those interested in seeing his argument taken apart piece by piece can click here and here.) Saletan has been rightly attacked for the racist nature of his commentary, but less attention has been paid to a similarly troubling aspect of his rant: advocating eugenics. After reciting rather weak data correlating certain genes with intelligence and misusing data from the International HapMap Project to ostensibly show that West Africans disproportionately lack the so-called “intelligence gene," Saletan passionately argues:

“Don't tell me those Nigerian babies aren't cognitively disadvantaged. Don't tell me it isn't genetic. Don't tell me it's God's will. And in the age of genetic modification, don't tell me we can't do anything about it.”

Saletan seems to be saying that not only are Blacks genetically inferior, but that they should be genetically modified in order to keep their genomes up with the Jones’. This twisted logic – made under the guise of leveling the genetic playing field – reveals the very real danger of a 21st century eugenics, where the explicit bias and state coercion that characterized last century’s eugenics is replaced by the soft bigotry of fetishizing technology as the remedy for all social ills.

Saletan’s arguments also show how this new eugenics, like the old, is likely to prey upon disadvantaged minorities – all while claiming to help them. For example, he notes that “2.2 percent of the project's Chinese-Japanese population samples, 5 percent of its European-American samples, and 10 percent of its Nigerian samples lack the [intelligence] gene.” Yet, he only proposes subjecting Nigerian children to genetic engineering and not the Whites who, by his own logic, are also “cognitively disadvantaged” in comparison to Asians.

Funny how that works.