April 12, 2010
Genetic Engineering Could End Racial Fears

Of course my more astute readers already knew the subject title to be true. Turns out children with the mutation that causes Williams Syndrome do not fear people based on their race. The conclusion is obvious: idealistic social engineers should become idealistic genetic engineers. Why use exhortation and teaching when gene therapy done on embryos can accomplish so much more?

Children with the genetic condition known as Williams syndrome have unusually friendly natures because they lack the sense of fear that the rest of us feel in many social situations. Now, a study reported in the April 13th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, suggests that children with Williams Syndrome are missing something else the rest of us have from a very tender age: the proclivity to stereotype others based on their race.

The findings support the notion that social fear is at the root of racial stereotypes. The researchers say the results might also aid in the development of interventions designed to reduce discriminatory attitudes and behavior towards vulnerable or marginalized groups of society.

"This is the first study to report the absence of racial stereotypes in any human population," said Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim/University of Heidelberg, who coauthored the paper with Andreia Santos and Christine Deruelle of the Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in Marseille.

Take away the ability to feel fear and you won't feel fear? Who needs it? It is a pretty negative emotion. Isn't negativity destructive? (can some literalists please get indignant in the comments?)

Everyone can be friends.

"The unique hypersociable profile of individuals with Williams syndrome often leads them to consider that everybody in the world is their friend," Meyer-Lindenberg said. "In previous work, we have shown that processing of social threat is deficient in people with the syndrome. Based on this, we suspected that they would not show a particular preference for own-race versus other-race characters. The finding that racial stereotypes in children with Williams syndrome were completely absent was nevertheless surprising in its degree."

Of course we'll have to genetically re-engineer everyone so that everyone wants to be friends. Thrilled at the prospect of gaining so many friends I can't imagine many opposing the gene therapy treatment that'll erase their fears.

In all seriousness, I expect future political conflicts will be fought over what types of personalities and other cognitive qualities should be genetically engineered into offspring. As soon as it becomes possible to alter offspring cognitive tendencies and abilities at the embryonic stage a battle (quite possibly violent) will rage over what should be put in or taken out of future human brain designs.

We'll face the same problem with artificial intelligences. The stakes will be even higher for AI.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 12 10:48 PM  Brain Society


Comments
Kralizec said at April 13, 2010 1:22 AM:
Genetic Engineering Could End Racial Fears
Yes, genetic engineering could make placid imbeciles out of our descendants. We already knew that, and we are not awed by the repetition. We would rather our descendants be made a race who, at the mere suggestion of such depravity, reflexively kill with their feet and thereby avoid wetting their hands.
Elvenrunelord said at April 13, 2010 3:06 AM:

Kralizec, obviously your not thinking this through.

We certainly cannot allow people to do this to others unless everyone is the same.

The advantage a single family could have would be breathtaking....literally.

And there is the fact that sometimes in the future we may need to understand that the alien standing in front of us with his version of a knife and fork is not our friend!

Dibbleberry said at April 13, 2010 6:36 AM:

Abosulte codswallop, to begin the acticle the way you have suggest so too. For those that escape this so called gene therapy would be a stronger race.

PacRim Jim said at April 13, 2010 6:58 AM:

Genetic engineering could end all fears, including fear of genetic engineering.

Brian said at April 13, 2010 7:39 AM:

Stereotyping in general is a mental shortcut that allows us to make rapid decisions with limited information. It would be interesting to see what impact this mutation has on risk assessment, and on the time required to make decisions especially with limited information. Racial profiling is a negative aspect of a largely useful human trait, I would be concerned about unintended consequences.

random said at April 13, 2010 7:50 AM:

Except that you're overlooking the huge health and mental drawbacks of Williams Disease. Sure it's great to be friendly, but at what cost? The ethical and financial downside of a genetic mistake when engineering humans is astronomical compared to animals. Most likely it will be centuries, not decades before we are doing genetic engineering of the type you're suggesting.

Lono said at April 13, 2010 7:57 AM:

Brian,

I would agree stereotyping is not the problem, irrational action based on stereotyping, of course, is the problem.


Randall,

All the more reason that wild type intelligentsia should take control now - before the intellectually handicapped create more chaos then neccessary - as these tools for genetic engineering fully mature to pratical fruition.

I believe if the intellectual and empathetic elite would seize control of the reigns of modern power in the next 50 years - then many crises of the types you describe could be pro-actively avoided.

Then - over time - people could be altered gradually to share in the dominant traits of their Homo Superior caretakers.

Could it be any clearer that the current path we are on is unsustainable?


Mthson said at April 13, 2010 9:42 AM:

On the flip side, isn't it inevitable that genetic engineering will genuinely remedy HBD, and in that sense really will end racial fears?

If parents pursue genetic engineering of their own volition, we'll have remedied HBD without ever needing wishful-thinking-intellectuals to grow up.

Fat Man said at April 13, 2010 10:13 AM:

"I can't imagine many opposing the gene therapy treatment that'll erase their fears."

What is wrong with fear? Were it not for fear everyone would be driving 90 on the freeway, and making left turns from the right lane.

Fear is adaptive, as is pain. They exist for a reason. This is not news. Below we explore the connection between fear and wisdom.

[20] "Whence then comes wisdom? And where is the place of understanding?
[21] It is hid from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air.
[22] Abaddon and Death say, `We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.'
[23] "God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.
[24] For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.
[25] When he gave to the wind its weight, and meted out the waters by measure;
[26] when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder;
[27] then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.
[28] And He said to man:
`Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding.'"

Job 28:20-28

Pace said at April 13, 2010 12:26 PM:

FuturePundit, normally I think you make good points, but on this issue you are really going way too far. Williams Syndrome causes mental retardation. Plenty of people may be stupid racists, but that is largely owing to their upbringing, not their genetics. We do not need to reengineer human cognitive ability so that people will not feel fear and will not be racist. If we do, we might inadvertently engineer the destruction of the entire species.

Fat Man said at April 13, 2010 1:18 PM:

Pace: I think we agree. The first quote was from the first post above. Fear, is a good thing, and the oyster of the greatest of all pearls, Wisdom.

Kudzu Bob said at April 13, 2010 4:13 PM:

Recombinant DNA technology will make possible a new age of world peace via the deletion of inborn traits such as xenophobia and aggression.

Of course, some selfish individuals will never consent to this enlightened goal, and will have to be dealt with in a decisive fashion.

Therefore, we must first breed a race of obedient and ruthless super-soldiers...

th said at April 13, 2010 5:01 PM:

here's parkers vision for the future YUK YUK, and so much for the eugenics genius, "Since the average I.Q. is 100, this leaves most people with Williams with I.Q.ís in the 60s. Though some can hold simple jobs, they require assistance managing their lives."

Randall Parker said at April 13, 2010 5:48 PM:

Kralizec,

Natural selection could make imbeciles out of our descendants too. Smarties are not having as many babies.

Pace,

The post was written tongue-in-cheek. I was curious to see how people would react. I thought the humour of it would be obvious to most people. But some would get too angry not to notice.

Brian,

You are getting pretty rational in your analysis. You could still take it further though.

th,

Surely it is possible to genetically engineer smart people who lack fear.

My YUK YUK vision of the future: I'm laughing about it. Hope you are too.

Fat Man,

Yes of course fear has adaptive value. Why else would it exist? I wrote a post oblivious to the evolutionary forces that made us what we are. I was curious to see if I'd get more liberal PC crap or rational evolutionary analysis. Didn't get much in the way of rational evolutionary analysis. I need to recruit more Darwinian readers. Probably need to write more about evolution.

Fat Man said at April 13, 2010 6:49 PM:

I said "fear is adaptive" That is Darwinian isn't it?

PR said at April 13, 2010 10:43 PM:

Great. Let us then engineer Homo sapiens bonoboensis. All economy can be based on exchange of sexual favors rather than money. Then we can all die of STDs rather than war. Sorry, but any "proclivities" I ever had to stereotype based on race were gained by hard experience late in life and were nothing innate; although from the earliest age I was "socialized" with all races. Do those with William's syndrome also fail to react with fear to clowns, monkeys, dogs, or snakes? Are they equally friendly towards strangers (of any race) behaving menacingly? Perhaps this phenomenon is about a lot more than a simple perception of race and is being examined through a pinhole lens.

Lono said at April 15, 2010 8:56 AM:

Fat Man,

So true about the source of all wisdom - however the uninitiated still live as those chained in Plato's Cave.


PR,

There is nothing necessarily wrong with your sarcastic assertion - but why would we all die of STD's? - is man so ignorant that we can't find effective tools against common retroviruses?

Perhaps if we had a more enlightened government we would fund such projects more appropriately.


Randall,

Perhaps sarcasm and science are not easy bedfellows....

th said at April 16, 2010 3:58 PM:

Perhaps sarcasm and science are not easy bedfellows.... Wasn't it the teleprompter that asked 2 weeks ago after passage of govt welfare care, "where are the asteroids", what was that flying over the midwest yesterday?

REN said at April 16, 2010 10:45 PM:

People who come from Sheep Herding Paternalistic type societies, tend to have low trust. All of the middle eastern societies meet this criteria. If you hire a baby sitter in these cultures, it will tend to be from somebody within the family structure. Outsiders are not allowed. By contrast, the Northern tribes of the ice age, had to evolve tendencies to have high trust. Babysitters in these cultures would often be the next door neighbor. High trust among the northern tribes was an adaptation to allow survival in a hostile environment. Socialism present in the Nordic countries, for example, is evolution first by environment which influenced genetics, which then influenced their modern social structure.

This theory was tested by putting children from one tribal (racial) group in a room and then bringing in a stranger. The children from the middle eastern grouping often start crying, while the Nordic children will smile, or be accepting. This is not trivial as it explains greater societal behavior. A people group that has so much empathy that they project their feelings and worldviews into others, is diametrically different than a people group that is centered amongst its own family and low trust tribe. For immigration reasons, it is probably wise to only allow high trust, long range planning types in, otherwise societal breakdown is genetically predetermined.

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