Rod Dreher

David Shenk:

Genes are always interacting with the environment, so the new way to think about this is that it’s not nature plus nurture on nature versus nurture. If anything it’s nature interacting with nurture if you have to use those words, so one of the phrases that scientists are using now is G Times E, that is genetics times environment as opposed to G plus E. They call it an additive model. The additive model is well, you have so much inborn intelligence and then plus what you get in the environment. That would be the you know nature plus nurture. The new model is you can’t separate them. You just absolutely cannot separate the effects of genes from the effects of the environment, so all we can do of course is to identify the resources that we have in our environments and maximize them as best we can.

Reading Wade Davis writing at length about the astonishing genius of the Polynesian Wayfinders, and other traditional peoples, who applied their native human genius to adapting themselves to their environments, really brings this point home. From an evolutionary point of view, what happens when a person whose gifts lie in one area is forced by his environment to put those talents aside and work in an area for which he is ill-suited? What if, say, a naturally gifted mathematician was compelled by environmental circumstance to work as a blacksmith? We would see that as a tragedy, but what would the effect be in the long term on the biology of that particular population?
It’s typically an anti-Semitic cliche to say that Jews are good with money, but it’s true that Jews are disproportionately represented in the financial business. This should not be surprising, given that Jews were forced into this line of work centuries ago by Church anti-usury laws forbidding Christians from engaging in moneylending. It’s not hard to see that the environment in which European Jews had to make a living would force a cultural adaptation toward developing skill in finance. But from the point of view of evolutionary biology, is it possible that there could have been an adaptation that more easily allows for the genetic expression of a particular genius for finance, and the suppression of traits for genius in areas of endeavor Jews were not allowed to engage in? Or is a few centuries insufficient time for such an adaptation to have evolved at the genetic level?
Similarly, is anyone aware of a book or an article that analyzes the rise of Western power in light of the role capitalism and liberal democracy played in breaking up traditional boundaries of class, nationalism, race and other categories that prevented people who possessed particular talents from capitalizing on them? In other words, has the evolution of Western economic power come about from social, cultural and legal adaptations that freed up talent and genius to find its own level? Is there a scientific case?

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus