Why the blank slate is sticky

The notion that laws of nature apply to humans gets called a lot of nasty names, such as “biological determinism”, but it is simply consistent science.

This really shouldn’t be controversial. We now know all human traits have a genetic basis, and are heritable. We just know this now, in the way we know the Earth goes around the Sun or that water is wet.

Yet saying so is dangerous again. Scientists who honestly study human heredity are persecuted by political ideologues, people get fired for sharing statistical data, and researchers have to jump through hoops to prove they have no ulterior motives.

As Paul Graham put it in a great essay“I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true.”

The biology denialists are victims of the moralistic fallacy, who fail to make the distinction between normative and descriptive claims, and assume that noticing humans have DNA must mean you secretly want to bomb black people.

Something in humanity clings desperately to the blank slate – the idea that humans are products of circumstances and upbringing more than genes. 

Yet the science is conclusive. The nature vs. nurture debate is essentially over, though there may for a very long time be deluded holdouts, like forgotten Japanese soldiers on Pacific islands, fighting a war long since over.

Pictured: not the case

Of course everything is heritable. Humans are biological beings, including inside the head. Everybody knows, on at least some level, including the people who denounce others for saying it. So why the fanatical opposition?

Pictured: the fucking (badum-tss) case

Blank slatism is essentialy a crony belief, held for pragmatic reasons, rather than on force of argument or evidence.

Intellectuals dismiss scientific explanations due to a sort of turf war, as they (correctly) feel science reduces the legitimate scope of their theorizing by bringing objective factors and mere reality into perfectly fruitless debate, and gives primacy to matter (ewww!), demoting intellect to a mere evolved mechanism rather than a cosmic principle, which is like telling footballers that they’re playing a children’s game.

It is also a form of social signalling: “Of course I am not one of those naive reductionists.”

But by far the most savage opposition comes from the political left. Heredity in humans violates their egalitarian instincts, debunks the justification for their pursuit of power, and yanks the carpet from under their feet on policy.

If people were blank slates wholly determined by their environments, there would be no limit to what political power could do – what it would have to do.

If all human malice, stupidity and deprivation were only due to circumstances, if the difference between Elon Musk and a drug addict raping a wombat carcass in a ditch was merely due to environmental influences, what possible argument could there be for NOT seizing all wealth and complete control of all aspects of life to put everyone on equal footing? The old communists would be right, all inequality would be down to circumstances, and their leveling at any cost would be a moral imperative. 

Once more and with perfect clarity: if the blank slate was true, full communism would not only be possible, it would be morally necessary. 

The logic is sound given the premise, but fortunately, the premise is wrong. The blank slate is false.

But there’s a more profound reason why socialists can’t let go of the blank slate. Their real worry is what it might make them do.

The dilemma is that leftist social goals are only achievable by eugenic means, which are at odds with leftist ethics. Their fear of biology being seized upon by “right wing eugenicists” is projection.

To put it bluntly and memorably, without the blank slate, the only kind of socialism that is sustainable and practical has “national” in front of it.

Without blank slatism, socialism would have to:

  1. Significantly tone down its criticism of inequalities, recognizing another origin for them than oppression, and accepting that not all disparity is a result of injustice.
  2. Become wildly eugenic.

Leftists have traditionally sought to remake humanity with propaganda. Since they assumed the problems were environmental, it made sense that so would be the solutions. But that was a software patch to a hardware issue.

What if their weapon of choice is a bad fit? What if they misdiagnosed the problem all along? 

 What if it’s not all the fault of capitalism or “fucking white males”, what if the real causes of social problems are at least partly biological, and if you still care about solving them, what are you going to do? Seize the means of reproduction?

I hope you’re a bit scared now. This is MEANT to be a properly hard ethical question. If your thoughts about this aren’t complex and conflicted, you’re not thinking enough.

But human heredity is obviously true. So it’s better to think about it than not. This is the exact kind of thing that could easily bite us in the ass if we pretended it away.

It is an especially juicy challenge to utopians, because the rest of us don’t want to completely change society and human nature. Society, though always a work in progress, mostly works, and human nature can behave, provided radical utopians are kept out of power.

If humans are biological beings, and even sophisticated mental functions, traits, behaviors and attitudes are mostly heritable, it follows that mere propaganda is not enough to really change anything, much less bring about utopia, and the leftists’ tool is grossly unfit for the job (as their girlfriends would attest, badum tss) of creating the “new man” (BA-DUM-TSS).

It is then obvious that pumping kindergarteners full of Lenin and/or various genderfluids is futile and even harmful. 

It would take not minds indoctrinated, but flesh reforged.

If human character, intelligence and compassion can only be improved by biological means, it follows that socialists either have to become eugenicists, or accept human imperfection and learn to work the “crooked timber”, thus becoming conservatives and capitalists. 

The socialists of the 19th and early 20th centuries were almost all eugenicists, because they understood all of this. 

By the way, this is all an argument against utopianism, not in favor of government eugenics. 

The main problem is that handing governments the power to biologically remake humanity opens the door to fetal fatal abuses. It is a danger verging on certainty, and confirmed by historical experience, that they would seek a cowed, docile and obedient population, a Brave New World style total control through managed biological inequality, instead of hypermoral, hyperrational, hyperintelligent, sovereign-yet-cooperative supermen.

How do you think China will use genetic modification?

Biology is the bottleneck to utopia. If only biological interventions truly change humanity, leftists can either stop being utopians, or go balls deep and become eugenicists.

If the new soviet man can only be bred, not educated, what will they do? Will they abandon their goals, or ethics? 

They need to change either their means, or their ends. This dilemma is absolute, non-negotiable, and cannot be unseen once you’ve seen it.

The anti-science war against genetics is so pitched because this is precisely at stake. The soul of early 21st century romantic socialism cannot survive the facts. 

But that which can be destroyed by the truth should be.

A couple of notes I didn’t find a proper place for in the main text:

The reason we don’t practice eugenics isn’t that it wouldn’t work – of course it would work, we are biological beings. Women do it all the time, and countries where women don’t have a say in their mate choice look a lot like it. There’s nothing that makes it any harder than selectively breeding cows, dogs or orchids. But we made a moral decision not to do it by political means. Big difference. 

If you want to short-circuit leftists by pitting their biases against each other, call unregulated reproduction “biological laissez faire”.

Genetic modification is soon happening anyway, and with it eugenics by benign means and an incremental habituation of public opinion, so this whole debate will be moot in a decade or two. 

In summary: the far-left’s desperate rejection of genetics is highly motivated, because many of their policies depend on blank-slatist assumptions (which is why they don’t work), and would have to be revised from the ground up. Their claim to political legitimacy, as undoers of self-perpetuating circumstancial injustices, is likewise based in blank-slatism, and is much imperiled by the fact that blank-slatism is bullshit. Their moral arguments are therefore deflated, and a new grounding and justification would have to be drawn up for their whole deal. This is hard intellectual work, so in the meantime, shouting at scientists feels like the easier route.

I will leave them to resolve the ethical dilemma to the best of their potential consciences. In the meantime, let science continue to reveal the truth of the matter, and then we can have an ethical discussion, informed by facts, when everyone is prepared to accept them.

The best thing you can do for the human race is to support Wisdomination.