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I was born an egalitarian. A privileged and deeply flawed one, to be sure, but fundamentally a true believer from as far back as I can remember. Still am. But the whole thing seems weirder to me by the minute.

What brings this to mind, though the connection may seem obscure at first, is the recent announcement of the completion of the "first draft" of the Human Genome Project. Not so much the announcement itself, a routine exercise in meaningless hype, as its implications. But first, a little background.

About something much deeper and more interesting than genetics (any decent library has a fair number of books on that, or you can click-click away at dub-yuh-cubed dot-whatever) – about me. I was raised the pup of a running-dog lackey of the imperialist bourgeoisie and indoctrinated at a series of expensive institutions, including one of the most ancient and elitist universities of all, but somehow much of their propaganda didn't take. Odd, that.

My parents were decent people (my father was proud that his contribution to the British colonial service was focused on the transition to independence, in other words making himself redundant) and nowhere near as conservative as I thought when I was a rebellious adolescent, but I certainly didn't get my social attitudes from them. I suspect they accepted the hierarchical order as something they couldn't change and had to live within; as a youth, I assumed it was destined for the dustbin of history, in Trotsky's memorable phrase.

And when I was growing up it looked like I was right. From the year before I was conceived (1947) to the year I turned 19 (1968) income inequality kept on falling. The poor were getting richer, and slowly closing the gap; in the US, the Census Bureau estimates that income inequality fell 7.4% over those two decades, as the working poor roughly doubled their real income. It didn't last: Over the next quarter-century, inequality rose by 22.4%, while the working poor saw their income stay essentially the same. The percentages come from a complicated statistical analysis which leads to something we don't need to go into called the Gini Ratio, but intuitively they make sense. The rich are getting richer.

I think that is wrong. I could argue that it is socially inefficient – just look at the talents wasted over the centuries because the people that had them couldn't afford education, or clean water, or even the most basic healthcare, or were denied access on the basis of gender or race – but essentially that rationale comes after the basic assumption that people all have the same intrinsic worth. Different abilities, certainly, but the same value. Infinite. Or at least immeasurable.

We're not going to get paid the same, certainly not in my lifetime, and I'm comfortable with compromise, but the goal should be equality for everyone. I believe that. I hope you do too. And at root, I do not think it's a matter of argument. It's a matter of belief. I can't imagine not holding it. It's as much a part of me as thirst or hunger or sexual attraction; some rat psychologist with electrodes and cocaine rewards might be able to condition me out of it, I suppose, but that would be perverting my basic nature. And if you want to add that modern society does a pretty fair job of brainwashing a lot of people into denying what they feel or disparaging their own dreams as impracticable, you won't get much argument here.

Back to the Human Genome Project. Genes are really strange. People have maybe 50,000 of the little things (the guess used to be double that, and some folks now think it may be even less; the first draft hasn't sorted it out), but in any given cell most of them are doing absolutely nothing most if not all the time. Tiny little soil worms have more than 18,000 of them, for only 959 cells, while fruit flies, though a whole bunch more complicated than miniature worms, get along with only 13,600. How come? God knows would seem to be the appropriate response; scientists sure don't.

But they would like to, and who can blame them for that? Not me. I think it's a fascinating area of research, and I'm all for the basic science. What scares the hell out me is what some people want to do with it. Which is, essentially, to make genetically modified babies. For money.

The medical issues are complicated enough, ethically as well as practically, but these clowns want to sell 'enhancements' – they talk about transplanting eagle genes into people to soup up our vision, for example. They can't do it (yet) but by their fantasies shall ye know them. I think it's wrong. And they just don't get it.

I have lots of arguments against GM babies, ranging from scientific skepticism (the technology may be as elusive as nuclear fusion) to social concerns – the horrible prospect of being ruled by a self-created elite of post-human ubermenschen. The growing band that advocates this always see themselves and their children as part of the elect, strange to say, and show no interest in the lives of the majority of people whose destiny they see as being their servants (see, for example, Lee Silver's book Remaking Eden, or But at root my objection comes down to this: It's wrong. As wrong as fascism.

There is a line, as I see it, between what is human and what is horrible, and all the 'rational' arguments in the world can do nothing but confuse us. There are simple truths to hold onto. Love is good. People are people. We are all equal.

Some of these modern intellectual aristocrats just don't see things that way. I can argue with them – what else is an expensive education good for? – but I don't have much hope of convincing them. What I do hope to do is to convince everyone else, not to believe me but to believe themselves.

When I first read the second sentence of the American Declaration of Independence – "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..." – I recognized the thought. I'd had it already, I just didn't know it. I wasn't convinced or converted, if anything I was reassured. Which I find mysterious. In fact, downright weird.

I can live with that. I hope you see things my way.



July 2000