As I scan the text, yearning for my underlines and comments in the margin to give me a starting point, I am at a loss and find my mind wondering to today’s intriguing article in the Jacobin, titled There’s a Gene for that, by Pankaj Mehta. The author claims “History is littered with horrifying examples of the misuse of evolutionary theory to justify power and inequality. Welcome to a new age of biological determinism.” Mehta explores advances in Genome-wide Association Studies (GWAS), which is a way to “provide a blueprint for decoding the information contained in our DNA, and to identify the genetic basis of complex traits and diseases.”
The article harkens to past mistakes taking shape in the present with new scientifically justified rationale. Looking back, let us take a look at the NOW statement of purpose, written in 1966, which states:
NOW is dedicated to the proposition that women, first and foremost, are human beings, who, like all other people in our society, must have the chance to develop their fullest human potential. We believe that women can achieve such equality only by accepting to the full the challenges and responsibilities they share with all other people in our society, as part of the decision-making mainstream of American political, economic and social life.
With the wording, “human beings” in the NOW text, are new techniques in scientific discovery, to understand what makes us human, what gene’s do we possess that might show inequality, going to be used against the arguments maintained by feminist thought? Within the capitalist constructs we currently find ourselves in, this offers an appealing, scientific explanation, for the contradictions we find throughout our societal structures. Or are they appealing?
An example might include genetic predisposition for nurturing behaviors. If women are found to hold this gene more often than men, could science force us back into the nurseries and out of the work force? The science behind genetics cannot begin to understand our complex social structures, yet our commodified society craves categories and boxes to place people, even at the expense of equality. As the article clearly warns, “Biological determinism, to paraphrase the great literary critic Roberto Schwarz, is a socially necessary illusion well-grounded in appearance.” And much like Mahta I feel that “we must work tirelessly to ensure that history does not repeat itself in the genomics era.” Key word: Tirelessly! Maybe they can find a gene for that …