Genetic Redistribution: New Mission for the Welfare State?
by Matt Nuenke
But an individual's place in the distribution of natural assets can severely limit her
opportunities even in cases in which she does not suffer from anything that would
uncontroversially count as a genetic disorder or a disease. For instance, suppose that
only those whose genetic assets fall within certain parameters tend to develop certain
cognitive abilities beyond a certain level. Suppose also that, in general; only those who
develop these abilities beyond this level are able to learn the mathematics needed to
succeed in all but the very least desirable jobs in a technically advanced society. Under
such conditions, those whose genetic constitutions prevent them from reaching the needed
threshold of abilities will experience significant limitations on their opportunities
unless something is done to overcome this impairment.
Notice that the preceding example of a significant natural inequality that is not a disease
is presented as hypothetical. At this point in the infancy of genetic science, no one can
say whether there will turn out to be a significant number of genetic conditions that do
not qualify as diseases but that seriously limit peoples' opportunities. Notice also that
the hypothetical does not buy into anything so gross and problematic as the view that IQ is
genetically determined. Instead, it only suggests the possibility that some particular
aspect of cognitive functioning might turn out to have two features: First, there are
significant inequalities among individuals in its distribution within the range of normal
functioning for our species (hence those with lower levels of the skill do not have a
disease), and second, because of particular features of the society in question, those with
lower levels of the skills experience significant limitations on their opportunities. Our
main concern is not whether there are such differences, but rather what the possibility
that there are shows us about how we should think about justice.
The above statement puts much of this work into the category of pseudoscience. The
position that intelligence has no genetic component is no longer credible. As the APA
stated categorically in 1995, intelligence is real -- and it is from 60 to 80% heritable.
These authors therefore are driven by a political agenda that is pure cultural determinism,
which is as radical and unacceptable as the old genetic determinism. Now the only
acceptable schema for intelligence is the one that considers nature and nurture working
together. To dismiss genetic intelligence is simply not defensible.
First, there is the possibility that through the misuse of genetic intervention we might
destroy those features of our nature that make morality possible for us. French Anderson,
a pioneer of gene therapy, suggests a related possibility when he worries that some
germline intervention might inadvertently destroy our capacity for the "contemplation of
good and evil" (Anderson 1990).
Actually, we are doing that now. During the environment of evolutionary adaptation, the
problem of free riders or upstarts was resolved. When humans developed weapons, upstarts
were simply assassinated. That is, the real egotistical bastards of the tribe were
suppressed, one way or another (see Hierarchy in the Forest by Boehm). Now, under
socialism, there is no communitarian check on upstarts -- such as sociopaths, pure
egotists, manipulators, etc. They will be free to return in higher numbers because they
are protected by an egalitarian ethos that denies personal responsibility.
And these traits of course have a high level of heritability. So the question for a
Rawlsian moralist is, how are you going to prevent the natural reemergence of genes for
free riders? So even without direct germline intervention, social policy can also over
time destroy morality as we know it.
The effectiveness of people's motivation to act consistently on universal moral principles
may depend significantly on whether they share a sense of common membership in a single
moral community. But whether this sense of moral community could survive such divergence
is a momentous question. Even if the correct view of our nature is that we are simply
rational beings, and even if (barring some cataclysmic accident) we do not change this, it
is quite possible that the sorts of rational beings we happen to be or will become must,
as a matter of psychological fact, have more in common with one another than our
rationality if we are to be effectively motivated to treat one another as equal citizens
in the moral community. For all we know, it might turn out that if differences among
groups in characteristics other than a common rationality became pronounced enough, they
would not treat each other as moral equals. History is replete with instances in which
human beings have failed to empathize with their fellows simply because of quite
superficial differences in physical appearance or even in customs and manners.
Again, it seems the authors are arguing for a form of nationalism, or communitarianism, in
which people who are alike can coexist without conflict. Since humans have an innate sense
of kin, to have a strong moral community means having a community of one's own kind,
whether that is cultural, genetic or both. In many ways this book unintentionally makes
the case for a nationalist/communitarian form of culture. Homogeneous societies, after
all, have far less conflict than multiculturalist ones.
First, the two most prominent contemporary approaches to liberal theories of equal
opportunity -- the social structural view and the brute luck view -- require genetic
interventions for the sake of preventing or curing diseases. Second, both of these
approaches, as well as the resource egalitarian theory of justice, allow for the
possibility that genetic interventions may be required to counteract the opportunity-limiting
effects of natural inequalities that do not constitute diseases.
Much of the current debate over the ethics of genetic interventions centers on the question
of whether genetic enhancements of normal traits, as opposed to genetic treatments for
disease, are morally permissible. Our analysis of equal opportunity and resource
egalitarian theories shows that on some accounts enhancements may be not only permissible
but obligatory, as a matter of justice. We have argued that both resource egalitarianism
and the brute luck view of equal opportunity appear to be committed to the thesis that
justice may require interventions to counteract natural inequalities, whether they
constitute diseases or not. So such views are committed to the obligatory nature of
enhancements, not just treatments, whenever a natural inequality can best be prevented by
Just when we thought we were through with the brutality of Communism, these new totalitarians
are about to redistribute GENES in order to make everyone equal. And notice again how they
are most surely talking about intelligence. Talk about duplicitous arguments and
It is one thing to say that justice, at least on certain accounts, does not require genetic
enhancements or would only rarely do so. It is quite another to say that enhancements are
not a concern of justice. There are strong social forces at work that make it extremely
unlikely that genetic technology will be limited to preventing or curing diseases. The
profit motive -- which is both guided by consumer demand and stimulates it through the arts
of marketing -- may soon extend genetic technology beyond treatments into the realm of
enhancements. If this occurs, it may become necessary, in order to prevent existing unjust
inequalities from worsening, to regulate access to interventions.
Suppose that it becomes possible to identify, synthesize, and implant in embryos complexes
of genes that will greatly increase the probability of an individual possessing certain
desirable characteristics to a significantly higher degree than the average person in a
given population. Such characteristics might include superior memory, the ability to
concentrate for long periods of time, and resistance to common illness (such as colds,
common types of cancer, arteriosclerosis, and depression). Alternatively, and more likely,
suppose that these benefits could be gained by genetic pharmacology. If access to this
"enhancement" technology depended solely on ability to pay, then its use would exacerbate
and perpetuate disadvantages already suffered by the poor and various minority groups,
including disadvantages that are the result of past injustices.
It seems that the only egalitarian program that will satisfy these people is one in which
everyone is exactly the same: take the most average person on the planet and clone that
genotype to the exclusion of every other. Then the playing field might finally be level
enough for them!
The other more expansive interpretation of equal opportunity focuses on a central moral
intuition -- that we have a claim on others for assistance whenever we are worse off than
they are through no fault or choice of our own. This is the single, underlying intuition
that we earlier labeled the brute luck view.
If we are miserable because we have chosen to cultivate extravagant tastes or even because
we affirm values it is costly to live up to, even if we did not originally choose to have
them inculcated in us, or if we have bad "option" luck as a result of choices we make, then
we do not have a claim on others. Others do not owe it to us to make up for the bad or
costly choices we have made. But if we are miserable because we have had instilled in us --
through no choice of our own -- certain tastes or values that make it difficult for us to
be as happy as others, then our equality of opportunity for welfare has been compromised,
in this view. Having had these costly preferences imposed on us is like other forms of bad
brute luck, like other bad outcomes we might receive in the natural or social lottery for
capabilities that give rise to egalitarian claims on others.
One has to wonder how far removed these authors must be from evolutionary principles to
make a moral claim like the above. Nothing like it is found in nature, nor can it be
justified rationally. If life has any meaning at all, it is within the context of
evolution, and nature has never been concerned with "happiness."
Nature is a blind tinkerer, an algorithm, and a set of rules for replication, selection,
death, and random juggling of genetic material. Happiness is nothing more than nature's
way of telling you that you are doing a good job meeting the goals of the selfish genes
that control us all. The Rawlsian moral system is a non-starter. Humans will rebel
against such a draconian totalitarianism.
Individuals do not just contrast themselves with the state and pursue individual goals.
They form themselves into associations united by comprehensive moral, political, and
religious views about the good life, and these shared views produce communitarian goals.
Hence, the standard challenge to liberalism is to respect not just individual autonomy, but
the form this autonomy takes when it is expressed through group associations or communities
of this sort. The challenge is to articulate a fair basis for social cooperation in the
context of an unavoidable pluralism regarding views about the good life.
We currently think of such communities as linked by their shared beliefs and practices. In
the presence of a "genetic marketplace," however, communities could try to forge links that
rest on more than beliefs or practices. They might try to shape their offspring
genetically in ways that facilitate pursuit of their ideals for a good life. To put this
point simply, if fancifully, if their ideals are Spartan, they would pursue particular
genetic traits in their offspring that would be of lower priority among Athenians. If they
were Christian fundamentalists, they might pursue traits that promote agape or love, but if
they were survivalists, they might seek traits that supported fierce independence or even
aggression and ruthlessness. The shaping here is not the creation of human nature in their
own ideal image but a redistribution of the diverse traits that comprise our varied
natures. (We are supposing as well that this fanciful -- probably science fiction --
scenario could be fleshed out so that it does not involve the erroneous beliefs involved in
The fact is, this is not science fiction at all but has already taken place numerous times.
The most outstanding example is that of the Ashkenazi Jews, who have through their scholarly
culture and breeding patterns used a eugenic program for several thousand years to elevate
themselves to a level of average intelligence that is far superior to any other group's.
Their average IQ is 117, but their verbal IQ is 127! -- a rather bizarre asymmetry not
found in any other race of people that I am aware of. Jews elevated their race by training
their young in verbal scholarship, primarily through debating their holy books. The better
male scholars tended to marry the rich merchants' daughters, reinforcing the connection
between wealth and wisdom, and making it that much easier for successsive generations.
For a detailed description of this process and the culture that produced it see Kevin
MacDonald's book A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy,
This is all that the moderately egalitarian liberalism of Rawls demands. It would call on
the state for a much more active interventionist role on behalf of the less well off than
we have seen in the United States for several decades, but it is does not demand that the
egalitarian liberal deny the possibility that humans differ in natural ability or talent,
and no discoveries turned up by the Human Genome Project will undermine this philosophy.
Is one to assume that the redistribution of genes is a "moderately" egalitarian proposal?
This whole book is just short of proposing that tall people should give up a small portion
of their spines to be implanted in short people for the common good!
These four authors and like-minded egalitarians make Stalin look like a boy scout in their
zest for equalizing all humanity into one bland index of mediocrity. Such proposals are
the most dangerous I have seen in a long time, and even to contemplate what they are
demanding in the way of a redistribution of what are in effect body parts is outrageous.
A disaffected member of what the media refer to as a religious cult announces that the
group is attempting to implement its vision of the good society by "mass producing" human
embryos cloned from the group's leaders. He claims that the group has its own genetics lab
and hopes to adapt for use on humans techniques for cloning embryos commonly employed in
the commercial production of animals. Several members of Congress express outrage and urge
that the government take action against the religious group. A spokesperson for the
American Civil Liberties Union says that if we value reproductive freedom and freedom of
religion, we must respect the right of religious communities to attempt to transmit their
beliefs and way of life to future generations, whether by the traditional methods of
teaching and indoctrination or by the application of genetic technology. . . .
Contrary to Galton, we see neither the need nor the benefit of enshrining eugenics,
conceived here narrowly as concern for the genetic constitution of future generations, as a
public religion or anything close to it. Again, Galton's outlandish proposal stemmed from
the fact that individuals would, in his view, have to be furnished with eugenic motivation
adequate to overcome one of the strongest of human desires -- the wish to bear genetically
related offspring. Since this is neither necessary nor desirable at present, it is
unnecessary to create a "Eugenics Church," even if it is not the state's established
religion. Our argument applies with even greater force against any thought of state action
that would violate hard-won reproductive freedom, as would sterilization or forced abortion,
on the altar of eugenics.
Do you see a contradiction in the first paragraph, found on page two, and the second paragraph,
toward the end of the book? The fact is, a eugenics church that can protect its members
from these totalitarians is absolutely necessary. A new eugenics church, the Church of
Prometheus, aimed at just this protection, can be found
It is crucial to emphasize, however, that our support of individual liberty over state
compulsion of the sort encouraged by the public health model does not translate directly
into a brief for unregulated markets or an endorsement of the unalloyed personal choice
model for genetic intervention. "Back-door eugenics" threatens individual liberties and
well-being in a manner reminiscent of state eugenics programs, even if this outcome is the
unintended effect of private decisions made on grounds of self-interest. The state must
intervene as needed to protect the vulnerable from stigmatization and exclusion, as social
justice requires, even though these interventions necessarily abridge the benefits that
markets can provide to many.
Simply put, they do not believe in individual liberty. They cannot as long as they subscribe
to a radical egalitarianism that now includes literally the redistribution of body parts to
make everyone equal.
Consider the following example, described by Lewontin. Suppose a heterogeneous collection
of corn seeds is planted in a single environment E1. Since all the plants experience the
same environment, all the variation in height must be due to genetic differences. Now
suppose that a second experiment is performed in which the same collection of seeds is
planted in a quite different environment L2; once again, all the phenotypic variation in
this experiment will be due to genetic differences. However, what should we say about the
difference between the average height exhibited in the first experiment and the average
height obtained in the second? This difference will be due entirely to the environmental
difference between L1 and L2, since the two experiments tested the same range of genotypes.
The fact that genetic differences explain phenotypic variation within two groups does not
mean that genetic differences explain phenotypic variation between those two groups.
Unless of course the two groups have very similar environments. The latest academic research
on environmental causation of differences in intelligence has shown that an enriched/deprived
environment increases/decreases intelligence only slightly. Studies of war orphans who were
severely undernourished and traumatized found that these children developed normal intelligence
when placed in adopted homes. Only extreme to the point of criminal child abuse can severely
Humans, after all, are not plants; they can move around and locate suitable environments.
Children today do not show any signs of the type of trauma that damages intelligence, so
that argument doesn't work. It is the type of argument that Jensen calls "looking for
factor X," with "X" being something, anything, in the environment that can cause the wide
disparity between the average Black and White average intelligences. So far no one has
been able to find more than a few factors that can boost IQ more than just a few points,
(such as universal immunization, fewer children per family, and better nutrition). So
Lewontin's absurd analogy is a non sequitur.
What justifies our reliance on a liberal framework for our ethical inquiry? The short
answer is that, as our brief remarks about the method of wide reflective equilibrium
indicate, we (like everyone else) must start somewhere. The longer and somewhat more
satisfying answer is that we believe that a liberal approach to moral and political
philosophy is to date the most carefully worked out and best defended approach available.
In our opinion, there simply are no antiliberal or nonliberal (e.g., communitarian)
moral-political theories that come close to the degree of systematic argumentation and
power that we find in the writings of liberal thinkers such as John Rawls, Joel Feinberg,
Ronald Dworkin, Thomas Scanlon, and Joseph Raz. Communitarian writings have tended to be
criticisms of liberalism rather than constructive theories in their own right.
As we have seen above, this is just not true. Communitarian writings are woven into the
fabric of neo-Darwinism. That is, these liberal moralists are totally unaware of the
empirical nature of evolutionary theory, and its reliance on sound scientific principles,
which include looking at the human communitarian past.
The liberal position, or Rawlsian morality, that is the basis for this book's moral
perspective is based entirely on normative morality -- i.e., based on wishful thinking
rather than fact. Although put forward as science, or at least scientific speculation, the
theory and the 'intellectual' works from which it descends read more like science fiction
than anything else. The liberal school fails -- scientifically, at least, if not
politically -- because its conclusions contradict millenia of experience with human
This is exactly the same problem that Communism faced: it looked good on paper, but it
didn't fit the beings it was "scientifically" designed for. After nearly a century of
misery, the human spirit prevailed over Marx's "scientific" totalitarianism -- just as it
will prevail, ultimately, over the "scientific" tyranny intended by the Gene Controllers.
But that doesn't mean tyrants in the mold of the authors can't cause a whole lot of trouble
in the interrim.
 The following excerpts from Garrett Hardin's essay Discriminating Altruism,
(1982), explain the problems with universalism and how it leads to an increase in political
control over individual freedom, and ultimately to totalitarianism:
Until recently, tribalism has been a very minor kind of altruism in America, but some
observers now see the rise of ethnicity and the insistent preservation of multilingualism
as signs that America is moving into a tribalistic phase. The bloody conflict in Northern
Ireland and the threat of national fission in Belgium are also viewed as tribalism on the
rise. It should be noted that since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 there has
been much fissioning of nations and no fusion. It would be naive to suppose that the days
of tribalism are over.
Patriotism is nation-wide altruism. I prefer this term to 'nationalism', the connotations
of which are now so unfavorable as to discourage objective inquiry. Even patriotism is in
some bad odor. Later I shall argue that patriotism can be a virtue. For the present, let
us pass to the last and most inclusive altruism, namely universalism.
Universalism is altruism practiced without discrimination of kinship, acquaintanceship,
shared values, or propinquity in time or space. It is perhaps shocking, but entirely
accurate, to call it promiscuous altruism. Its goal was aptly expressed by a now unknown
poet soon after the end of World War I: "Let us no more be true to boasted race or clan,
But to our highest dream, the brotherhood of man."
The roots of universalism are to be found in the writings of philosophers and religious
leaders thousands of years ago, but the promiscuous ideal was given a great boost by the
generalized idea of evolution in the nineteenth century. W.E.H. Lecky (1838-1903), in The
History of European Morals, wrote: "At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely
the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a
coalition of nations, then all humanity...?" From this passage the contemporary
philosopher Peter Singer derived the title of his book, The Expanding Circle. Singer
believes, of course, that total universalism is not only praiseworthy, but possible --
perhaps even inevitable.
Universalism is commonly coupled with the political ideal of a world state. The fatal
weakness of this dream was pointed out by Bertrand Russell: "A world state, if it were
firmly established, would have no enemies to fear, and would therefore be in danger of
breaking down through lack of cohesive force?" By his phrase "if it were firmly
established" Russell indicates that he has carried out a thought-experiment of the sort
described earlier in demonstrating that a universally altruistic species could not persist.
Russell pulls his punches however in saying that a world state would merely be "in danger
of breaking down?" In fact, it would be certain to break down.
To people who accept the idea of biological evolution from amoeba to man, the vision of
social evolution from egoism to universalism may seem plausible. In fact, however, the
last step is impossible. The forces that bring the earlier stages into being are impotent
to bring about the last step. Let us see why.
In imagination, picture a world in which social evolution has gone no farther than egoism
or individualism. When familialism appears on the scene, what accounts for its persistence?
It must be that the costs of the sacrifices individuals make for their relatives are more
than paid for by the gains, realized through family solidarity. In the aggregate,
individuals who practice familialism have a competitive advantage over those who do not.
That is why the step from individualism to familialism is made.
The pattern of the argument just given is characteristically biological, but it is essential
to realize that it does not depend on the genetic inheritance of differences in behavior.
It assumes no other inheritance than that of the impulse to help and the ability to
discriminate. Both impulses can be presumed to be nearly universal in the species. That
inherited differences are not required by the argument is shown by the following
thought-experiment. Assume a random exchange of children resulting in all children being
raised by foster parents. Culture alone can be assumed to dictate who does, and who does
not, behave familialistically. If familialism is competitively advantageous over the
lesser form of altruism (individualism), then familialism will persist. Since biology need
not be invoked to account for this cultural step, there is no reason for anti-hereditarians
to take umbrage at the thought that familialism confers a selective advantage to its
practitioners, "selective" being understood in the broadest sense.
Note also that a 'higher' grade of altruism does not necessarily extinguish the grades
below it. The word environment is a singular noun, but the actual social environment in
which people have their being is a mosaic of many microenvironments, complicated beyond our
ability to capture it in words. In some spots, individualism will confer an advantage over
familialism, in others the reverse is true. If this were not so, social life would not
exhibit the mosaic of behaviors that it does.
The argument that accounts for the step to familialism serves equally well for each succeeding
step -- except the last. Why the difference? Because the One World created by universalism
has -- by definition -- no competitive base to support it. Familialism is supported by the
competition of families with each other (which favors those with the greater family loyalty)
and by competition of families with simple individualists. Similarly tribalism is supported
by competition between tribes, and by competition of tribal individuals with individuals
who give their loyalty only to smaller, less powerful groups. But those who speak for One
World speak against discrimination and for promiscuity: "Let us no more be true to boasted
race or clan?" What in the world could select for global promiscuity? Only -- as science
fiction writers have often pointed out -- the enmity (competition) of people from Mars,
from other worlds. And if the unifying factor of an external threat were to come into
being, it is highly probable that the idealists who now speak out for One World would,
then agitate for One Universe. Evidently what these idealists dislike is discrimination
of any sort. Unfortunately for their dreams, the promiscuity they hunger for cannot
survive in competition with discrimination. . . .
It becomes ever more apparent that the burning questions of our time need to be subjected
to the discipline of the ecolate question, "And then what?" Unfortunately, this question
is seen as threatening by many vested interests, none more than those philosophers who
habitually deal with ethics in a purely literate way. Ethicists of the deontological
[study of moral obligations] persuasion attempt the impossible if they try to solve ethical
problems only with such dull tools as sin, duty, right and obligation -- all words blind
to number and time-related processes. Consequentialist ethicists, by contrast, are both
ecolate and numerate in their approach, insisting that numbers, time and consequences
matter. . . .
The ineradicable opposition of small group loyalty to the sheer political power of large
numbers [confounds] the supposed drive toward universalism. Because of the egocentric
predicament the inference of sincerity in the 'other' is always risky, and the greater the
number of 'others' in a group the greater the risk. The power of loyalty is deeply rooted
in innate biological responses to [kin or similarity in nature] and repeated association.
The power of loyalty to the few constantly erodes the political power of the many.
Patriotism depends more on intellectual arguments than does cronyism; this is a key
weakness of patriotism. This inherent weakness helps explain the adaptive significance of
the theocratic state which proclaims the 'divine right of kings'. Whenever the support of
a state can be made a divine imperative, patriotic loyalty is removed from the realm of
rational doubt and shielded from the corrosion of cronyism.
Do the opposing forces create an intermediate point of stability? This seems unlikely.
The life histories of individuals vary immensely; the relative [attraction/aversion] of
political power and loyalty power in the character of each individual is determined by his
particular experiences. A crude statistical average might be made for each culture, but
there is no reason to think the average would be stable. History forever roils the social
systems of the world. Compare the England of Rudyard Kipling with England in the 1930s
with its pacifistic "Oxford Oath" taken by millions of young men. The Boer War and World
War I moved the statistical balance point of the discriminations 'downward' (on the list
in figure 2 -- no ethical interpretation is implied). Then when Germany invaded Poland in
September of 1939, the Oxford Oath was abruptly jettisoned and the balance point moved
decisively 'upward' toward patriotism. It has since fallen in England. In America it has
fallen even more, as a result of the Vietnam War. The manifest dangers of nuclear war
argue (to some) for a permanent abandonment of patriotism, but the argument is valid only
if there are no reasons other than war for supporting discrimination at the national
level. We will return to this point later.
Liberalism is an ill-defined term of constantly changing meaning; yet, whatever its meaning,
it is not far off the mark to say that liberalism enjoyed more praise than power in the
nineteenth century, whereas now it enjoys more power than praise. Hell, as someone said,
is when you get what you want. With power, self-doubts have come to the liberals. The
fashionable journals of the literate world are now pulsating with liberal [lamenting].
The political philosopher Michael Novak has put his finger on a key weakness of what is,
in our time, called liberalism: "The liberal personality tends to be atomic, rootless,
mobile, and to imagine itself as 'enlightened' in some superior and especially valid way.
Ironically, its exaggerated individualism leads instantly to an exaggerated sense of
universal community. The middle term between these two extremes, the term pointing to the
finite human communities in which individuals live and have their being, is precisely the
term that the liberal personality disvalues."
That liberals should regard themselves as elite -- literally 'chosen' -- means nothing
more than that they are human. They enjoy an esprit de corps, a feeling which those
outside a chosen circle identify as ethnocentrism (a sin, be it noted, especially
deprecated by contemporary liberals.) What needs explaining is the apparent paradox, or
irony as Novak calls it, of combining in the liberal personality individualism and
universalism with no 'middle term'.
In the assemblage presented in figure 2; Novak's 'middle term' is decomposed into four
different altruisms. Of these, the most conspicuously lacking among contemporary liberals
is patriotism. Forster's condemnation of this form of altruism could easily be matched by
hundreds of other statements coming from the liberal, 'intellectual', literate community.
Patriotism has had a bad press ever since Doctor Johnson's offhand remark, "patriotism is
the last refuge of a scoundrel."
Never has the defense of individual 'rights' been as strong as it is in our time. Why then,
to paraphrase Novak, does exaggerated individualism lead to exaggerated universalism? To
a biologist this puzzle presents little difficulty. Among altruisms, individualism is
clearly a borderline case; psychologically it is close to naked egoism. Homo sapiens is a
social animal; his social appetite is not completely satisfied by an altruism that goes no
farther than the I-Thou relationship of Martin Buber. Our groupish hungers are seldom
completely satisfied by purely dyadic relationships. A significant fraction -- perhaps
even a large fraction -- of humankind craves identification with groups larger than I and
Radical individualism is often linked to hedonism. One sees this clearly in the multitude
of magazines in the Playboy mode. A practicing playboy is not a complete egoist because
"it takes two to tango," but his individualism is of a low order, for the other is little
more than a sex object. In the past, women (more than men) may have been the guardians of
community values; now there is a Playgirl magazine that seeks to erase the difference.
For Americans, the Declaration of Independence has supplied a banner for hedonism: "the
pursuit of happiness."
Hedonists of both sexes should be informed of what the nineteenth century philosopher
Henry Sidgwick called the "Hedonistic Paradox": those who most actively pursue pleasure as
a primary goal are least likely to achieve it. Personal happiness is best gained by
indirection, by serving some larger cause. I think this can be taken as an empirical fact.
By way of theoretical explanation I would point to two factors.
First, since we are social animals who find pleasure working with others, the horizon of
our attention must be broadened beyond the bounds of egoism; perhaps the greater the cause
the greater the pleasure in serving it. Second, human beings find so much pleasure in
overcoming difficulties that they even seek out difficulties to overcome. We climb
mountains that stand not in our way -- and thus discover new ways to happiness. Behavior
that to a simple rationalist might seem perverse plainly has contributed to the success
and progress of the human species. Progress has selected for temperaments that find the
simple hedonism of unalloyed individualism too low a peak for complete satisfaction. Not
all human beings transcend the demands of simple hedonism, but enough do to affect the
course of history. To forego short-term hedonistic gain for a dream that may -- only may --
be realized in the future is to fall into a behavioral pattern that supports altruism.
The dreams of today's more far-seeing individualists are most commonly universalist dreams:
One World, the Brotherhood of Man and the like. Although universalists disparage the moral
value of lesser groups, in furthering their cause they necessarily rely on cronyism.
Ironically, cocktail parties to which liberals alone are invited are a great place to
denounce elitism, the enemy of promiscuity. Thus is the cause of promiscuity advanced by
All causes succeed through close-knit, small groups. The effectiveness of a great army,
serving patriotic ends, is determined by the cronyism of multitudinous small squads, a
fact long recognized by the military. Similarly, the effectiveness of liberals in
pursuing universalist ends is determined by the cronyism developed in small groups. The
grass roots of patriotism and universalism are the same, only the ends differ. Why has
patriotism been rejected by contemporary liberals? It is to this that we now turn our
The universe may or may not be finite, but prudence demands that we assume that the portion
practically available to humankind is finite. Technology effectively expands this portion
somewhat, but at a rate that is less than the expansion of our expressed demands. Hence
the unending complaints of scarcity. The analytical model for productive economic thinking
must be that of a 'closed system', a system in which input matches output (diminished
somewhat by entropic loss). The enduring task of political economy is the allocation of
No sizeable, prosperous society has been able to persist for long under a rule of equal
distribution of income, wealth, or privilege. This empirical fact has not interfered with
the persistence of the dream of distributing goods by the rule "to each according to his
needs," to use Marx's language for an ideal furnished him by the religion he despised.
 Peter Singer, as mentioned by Garrett Hardin, tries to argue for universalism. In his
latest book A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation, (1999), he summarizes
what a Darwinian Left would be comprised of. And it is not in keeping with the authors of
From Chance to Choice. "A Darwinian left would not: Deny the existence of a human nature,
nor insist that human nature is inherently good, nor that it is infinitely malleable;
expect to end all conflict and strife between human beings, whether by political revolution,
social change, or better education; assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination,
prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in
"A Darwinian left would: Accept that there is such a thing as human nature, and seek to find
out more about it, so that policies can be grounded on the best available evidence of what
human beings are like; reject any inference from what is 'natural' to what is 'right';
expect that, under different social and economic systems, many people will act competitively
in order to enhance their own status, gain a position of power, and/or advance their interests
and those of their kin; expect that, regardless of the social and economic system in which
they live, most people will respond positively to genuine opportunities to enter into
mutually beneficial forms of cooperation; promote structures that foster cooperation
rather than competition, and attempt to channel competition into socially desirable ends;
recognize that the way in which we exploit nonhuman animals is a legacy of a pre-Darwinian
past that exaggerated the gulf between humans and other animals, and therefore work towards
a higher moral status for nonhuman animals, and a less anthropocentric view of our dominance
over nature; stand by the traditional values of the left by being on the side of the weak,
poor and oppressed, but think very carefully about what social and economic changes will
really work to benefit them.
"In some ways, this is a sharply deflated vision of the left, its utopian ideas replaced
by a coolly realistic view of what can be achieved. That is, I think, the best we can do
today -- and it is still a much more positive view than that which many on the left have
assumed to be implied in a Darwinian understanding of human nature."