Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
Letters from Africa

The DNA wars begin


The past is indeed an unknown country. A frenzy has developed in the current vogue for DNA analysis in ancestry-tracing. It reached a low point with DNA testing of the Beta Israel. But consider the following developments of recent years:

Jon Entine writes a book called Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People, in which he argues that Jews have a higher IQ than everybody else - genetic superiority, in other words, with its echoes of the Nazis. Then Gregory Cochrane and Henry Harpending (neither is Jewish) have the temerity to suggest that the "faulty" genes that cause Ashkenazi diseases like Tay-Sachs have resulted in Jews becoming smarter than anybody else.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. starts a new company, African DNA LLC, to explore how genetic traits may point to specific countries in Africa where people's ancestors came from, feeding into ethnic purity myths. Irony alert: Gates' own DNA pointed to Europe.

James D. Watson, double helix co-discoverer, declares to the Times of London: "all our social policies are based on the fact that (Africans') intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really." The ironic twist: an analysis of his genome showed that 16% of his genes were likely to have come from a Black ancestor of African descent (most people of European descent would have no more than 1%).

DNA analysis: the Holy Grail or the new eugenics, the new racism? Apparently a higher IQ doesn't make you more intelligent.

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