2014-05-17

 

Stretch Genes

Thank you to Thiago Carvalho for pointing me to this great review by H. Allen Orr. So much of this debate happens, in my view, because people do not realize the obvious fact that culture is encoded in the language and norms of people, especially when we speak of civilizations with written language. Obviously, written norms can be stronger than genetic encodings for social behavior (the Korean example that Orr so well describes in this piece). While it is very easy to raise a child from a different genetic background to behave according to norms the society where she is raised adheres to (e.g. adopted and children of immigrants), it is much more difficult to transplant cultural norms and institutions from one society to another (e.g. exporting liberal democracy), therefore genetic behavior is much less a cause of societal dispositions than cultural encodings. As Orr says:

 "If culture can so easily overwhelm genes—and Wade sometimes seems to concede that it can—why should we care about such pliant genetic predispositions, even if they were real?"

 Full book review @ The New York Review of Books


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