Liberty and biology are linked by conflict when an energetic, invasive state attempts to improve lives through social engineering. Since today’s US government is on a virtual crusade to build a Utopian dream, biology becomes increasingly important. At some point, biological reality almost guarantees tyranny. Let me explain.
Though geneticists differ on details, all agree that some human traits are more biologically based than others. Yes, nutrition may slightly affect height but with adequate nutrition height is almost entirely genetic. Conversely, whether one speaks Spanish or English at home is purely environmentally determined.
Here’s an extreme example to illustrate my point. Imagine that some government wants to promote “fairness” on many dimensions. It decides that everybody should be nearly the identical height since; after all, tall people enjoyed innumerable advantages, everything from excelling at basketball to being judged more physically attractive. And short people suffered as a result of “height privilege.” To this end, children of tall parents would be denied adequate nutrition while those from shorter parents would receive extra height-producing food to lengthen their bodies. Initial efforts would naturally fail, so more draconian measures might be necessary, for example, children of tall parents could be forced to take growth-retarding hormones while shorter children receive drugs to accomplish the opposite.
Clearly, any government effort to manipulate biologically hard-wired traits, no matter how morally worthy, may endanger liberty if the inevitable failure is (incorrectly) interpreted as merely a shortage of effort and resources. James Madison (especially Federalist 10) famously recognized the limits imposed by human nature. That is, men are naturally inclined toward tyranny so, since reversing human nature is impossible, it is wiser to use human nature itself to promote liberty—ambition must be set against ambition.
The classic illustration, of course, was the Soviet effort to remake human nature, e.g., abolish private property, suppress religion, undermine the family, and when gentle admonitions failed, keep upping the force so as to create that Workers’ Paradise.
It is therefore incumbent upon policy makers (at least those cherishing liberty) to recognize biologically imposed limits in building their Utopias. As Madison knew, all the King’s consent decrees, all of his administrative orders, all of his financial incentives and even all of his criminal sanctions cannot reverse more than 150,000 years of breeding. Those who professionally raise animals know that you cannot train a Rottweiler to behave like a toy poodle and attempting this fantasy will bring one unhappy, screwed up Rottweiler.
Let’s now venture into more real world, controversial illustrations. Most parents (but especially mothers) are deeply concerned with the physical safety of their children. Parents who lacked this genetic trait undoubtedly exited the gene pool eons back. By contrast, a desire for diversity (an idea less than a generation old) is foreign to our hard-wired urges to be among people who resemble us. Again, ancestors who left their relatives to widen their cultural experience by visiting the weird tribe a few valleys away increased their probabilities of exiting the gene pool.
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