Some “Wild-Eyed Inferences” of Bioreductionism

Keeping up with instances of genetic ideology and bioreductionism in the popular press is an overwhelming task. As Roger Lancaster and Thomas Eriksen often point out, nothing sells in the popular media these days quite like genes. Here’s an example: all-over-the-map Andrew Sullivan speculating that Iraqis lack the genetic endowment to give them the “skills and practices for a Western European democracy.” His “wild-eyed inference” (on the basis of a book he has never read!) goes against his better so-called ‘conservative’ judgment. Others also note Sullivan’s peculiar penchant for bioreductive explanation. What isn’t racist about this quote from Sullivan?

[This] suggests that different populations may have not just different cultural but different genetic inclinations. It means that some populations may therefore have different skill-sets than others, and even different aptitudes with respect to complex systems like, er, liberal democracy, that require specific habits of mind and custom. It means that these facts about human societies across the globe may be somewhat stubborn things in the short term, if not in the long.

If these ideas undermine parts of conservatism (its belief in unchanging human nature in history), they also entrench others (that societies cannot be abstracted from their moment in time or culture). These ideas also suggest, of course, that a place like, say, Iraq, will not soon muster anything like the skills and practices for a Western European democracy. These are my wild-eyed inferences from a book I have not yet read.

‘Inference’ strikes me as too kind a word for the mental operation going on here.