Abort me, if you will

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJun 28, 2006 3:30 AM


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Janet points me to this post which points to this research which reinforces the theory that placental environment might have a strong effect on the phenotype of the fetus. Since I've expressed an interest in genomic imprinting let me respond to Jill at Feministing's query, "why do we have to know?", she doesn't have to, but some of us certainly follow this research closely. The reason isn't because we are obsessed with the biology of homosexuality, as that is the phenotype in question, but rather it elucidates questions and dynamics in evolutionary biology that we find interesting. As to the research, it is coming out in PNAS, which means that it'll be a week behind schedule. That's unfortunate, as I'd like to look at it. The short of it is that there has been some evidence that homosexuality might be a byproduct of mother-child "conflict of interest" developmentally, and over the long term, on the genetic level. This is plausible to me, though certainly not proven. My own opinion is that homosexuality, in particular male homosexuality, is probably innate, but it may not be genetically coded (the math doesn't work out in regards to simple fitness calculations). That is, it might be a product of developmental events which alter normal sexual orientation. Yes, I did use the word "normal." But in the interests of sensitivity, I'll now switch to the term modal, because that is accurate enough and it doesn't offend people. I'm not too concerned about offense, but, as a practical matter it gets in the way of the discussion, and might block the progress of scientific research. Of course, I don't think that scientific research trumps all, but, I tend to definitely lean toward knowing as opposed to not knowing. To some extent, knowing is the ends of my life. I don't live to glorify God or nation, I don't believe in the former and my relationship to the latter is built more on pragmatic reciprocity than emotional commitment (this is again, the modal state, I am willing to engage in expression of heart felt feelings of attachment to country when the situation requires or demands it). So when people dismiss knowing my ears perk up. I favoring knowing in the generality, though I don't follow Mycenaean archeology, I support it in spirit, though I don't follow literary criticism, I support it in spirit (with some reservations in regards to the most extreme cases of deconstructionism, which seem posing rather than knowing).

Who knows when I'll want to know that?

I'm sure this seems self-indulgent, but in general I'm pretty naked that my own indulgences are crucial to my ranking of priorities in the world. I am not without feeling or empathy, but I was shorted them, just as I was in an understanding of why or how God could be a necessary part of one's world-view, or why or how crying releases tension. I have passions, but they are to some extent abnormal, deviant and maladaptive. Here I am, well into adulthood, gifted with affluence undreamt of by generations past, and I have no offspring (that I know of!). In many ways I am far more deviated from the norm than any individual with a homosexual preference. If my mother could look into my rather peculiar and warped heart, with its priorities uncomprehensible (to her), I would not be surprised if she shuddered. I am what I am, but my experience of life tells me that I am in large part a stranger to my fellow man, and I doubt any parent would wish such a thing of their child. My people are fundamentally at odds with the mass of humanity, we've smashed their gods, led them on fool's errands toward the ends of the earth and haunted their dreams with images from our nightmares. For our indulgences millions have suffered. We aren't all for the bad, I would like to think that we lifted man from pedestrian concerns and up to the heights of the artistry that life can be. But I would think that, wouldn't I? Life makes us confront our priorities, our values. A few years ago I would say that I was a values neutral libertarian, do as thou wilt I would have said. No more, I have values, priorities, concerns. The record of this weblog displays a great portion of what concerns me. But I live within the context of human society, and I live with the knowledge that my values aren't the values of others. I am not totally detached from social and cultural concerns, so I understand that the seeking of knowledge can have consequences. In regards to homosexuality knowledge can change the perception of the masses of the act in question. Many homosexuals believe that if it is found that their orientation is biological that will mitigate some of the hostility from the public. I believe they are correct, and the reason I believe that they are correct is that it seems to me that many people harbor a fear that homosexuality is contagious, that their children will be corrupted and made into homosexuals. You might respond, "there's nothing wrong with homosexuality!" So what? Humans have their preferences, our wants and needs are multi-textured, just because we believe x is not immoral does not imply that our attitude toward it is neutral or without direction (attraction or repulsion). Depending on the values of our society we may be induced, cajoled or suaded into dampening our bestial instincts, but the details of such consenses vary and take time to coalesce. Though I have values, they exist in the context of the realities of the world around me, in particular social realities. We do not live in a Kantian vacuum, we must compromise and wrestle with our inner compasses, and with those of others. Ultimately what I'm talking about will be more easily illustrated through example. As a non-white person who has lived in overwhelmingly white areas I've been subject to mild racial insult (e.g., rednecks screaming "sand nigger" at me as they drive by in their pick up trucks). I'm not a sensitive person, and am not racially conscious, so this hasn't bothered me very much. One day I had a discussion with a friend of mine about bioengineering and what not, and he asked me if I could, would I "become white." I said I'd have to weigh the consequences, that for me it was an issue of cost vs. benefit at any given moment with the information I had on hand. He was outraged, because he thought that race shouldn't matter, and that I should be proud of who I was. But I was irritated with him because of course it was easy for him as a white man to assert a principle which I would live out. He was rather uncomfortable with this when I pointed out that the difference between the ideal and the reality was unequally born by us, even if we shared the same ideals. Just because we should in a vacuum, the "Original Position," doesn't mean we should when we take into account various priors. But this can work in reverse, years ago I was watching television and there was something on about interracial children. I watched out of curiosity. As it happens, any children I have will be of mixed race, and I suspect as a child I had an intuitive understanding of the "math" of this possibility, so to speak (seeing as my own racial group forms less than 1% of America's population and I'm not a very "culturally conscious"). One women, of mixed heritage stated that it was fine for people to fall in love across lines of color, but they shouldn't have children, because those children would suffer (as she had). This is the inverse of standing on principle when you would suffer no consequences, it is reasoning post facto and generating abstractions purely from your own personal consequences. Though mixed-race children do suffer special stresses, that is not the sum totality of their existence, and reality spreads out into more dimensions than that of one life. These sorts of issues are complex, and individuals have their own values. I am not a pure relativist who believes we all have our own truths. Murder is not acceptable. Even if we find genetic predispositions toward impulsive violence, and I suspect we will, that doesn't obviate an individual from responsibility. Life's a bitch that way, being born guarantees you a lifetime of tragedy and tears. But, it is usually also a precondition for a lifetime of joy and priceless experience. As a society, as humanity, we do have to delineate boundaries of acceptable norms. We need to demarcate and elucidate those values to future generations. Myself, I have particular and specific values, and I work, and hope to work, to forward those values in the context of humanity alien to those values. But there is also the reality that individual choice is the necessary arbiter of many social outcomes. And that means that it is likely freaks like me will be aborted in the future by parents who don't want their children to become obsessive bookworms (I would hope other parents would rejoice in the birth of the likes of me, but the individuals who would are not exactly procreating to a high degree). So moving down from somewhat vague and over-extended prose, I'll list a few possibilities and how I feel about them. 1) The ability to detect to a high likelihood of homosexuality in utero, and so the subsequent abortion, if chosen, of these fetuses. My attitude toward this is first and foremost is that I think it is a matter of individual choice, and people should abe given the choice to know if they so choose. I am generally agnostic about the possibility of homosexuality in the future because I'm pretty apathetic toward sexuality in general when it comes to relations that don't involve me. If, as some like Harold Bloom claim, homosexuality is conducive toward artistic or cultural generation for whatever reason (the fewer children resulting in more free time toward self-cultivation), then I would be saddened. But I have no particular interest in the perpetuation of a homosexual "community," though I have no anti-interest either. 2) The abortion of fetuses with Down Syndrome. I've worked with Down Syndrome individuals when I was younger. Aside from the low IQs they seem to exhibit the same range of personality as many modal individuals. My understanding is that because of genetic screening many fetuses with this condition are now being aborted. Is this a good or bad thing? Well, if we had universal healthcare I would think it is in general a good thing, because these individuals do incur medical costs. But, if a family is willing to take on the costs of raising up individuals with Down Syndrome, more power to them. Their lives are no less worth living, and they seem to take as much joy and pleasure in it as modals, but, neither do I believe that it is incumbent on potential parents who find out their fetus has this condition to make a lifetime's commitment when termination is an option (killing the Down Syndrome fetus that is). 3) The elimination of particular races through re-engineering. The reality is that most dark-skinned peoples prefer light skin within their culture. Some people have wondered if extremely cheap cosmetic surgery or even bioengineering might eliminate particular phenotypes. Now, if that meant all black or brown people became Michael Jackson's, well, I'd oppose that, he's a freak, and I do have aesthetic values. But, if whole races wanted to look more European because that's the dominant aesthetic norm today, I have no problems with that. I suspect that within a few generations other fads would come into vogue, whether it be blue skin or wing extensions. Our physical selves are just shells which house our brains, where resides who we are as individuals. If race X passes from the scene, I don't care, whether it be black, brown or white. But that's just my values speaking, I doubt this will happen, and that's fine too. 4) Either the diversification or homogenization of sexes through bioengineering (that is, more than two sexes, or only one sex). Again, whatever floats your boat, I don't believe in Adam and Eve, so a world of Steve's is fine by me (as long as we could purge genetic load appropriately if we were biological organisms still). 5) The elimination of godlessness through selection for genes for belief in the supernatural. I would be a little sad, seeing as how I think that the existence of God is to some extent (though not absolutely so) amenable to falsification. I don't think it's true, so the disappearance of an atheist position would sadden me a bit. But atheism is only the lack of something, so I wouldn't shed too many tears. Lies suck, but they don't make life not worth living. 6) The elimination of the search for new and esoteric knowledge. This is would piss me off, because I think I've made it clear that this is a central value I hold. Though I do not demand or expect most of humanity to prioritize this above and beyond what I perceive to be more banal pursuits (like debating political epiphenomena or going to family reunions), I really want someone to carry the torch of the life of the mind into the future, because it is a beautiful thing. Science poses some serious issues. The universe and our existence within it stares at us in the face every day of our lives, and we really don't have a good grip as to what it all means (in my opinion). This post was just a window into my own personal confusion.... Note:The discussion on Janet's post was very interesting, check it out.

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