Should we get "woke" on genetics and behavior?
The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality, a progressive behavior geneticist weighs in
The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality may be many readers’ first introduction to the flowering of a whole field of inquiry synthesizing the age-old insights of behavior genetics and the new technology of genomics. Author Kathryn Paige Harden, brings a writerly style to scholarly arguments, which together forward her commitments to social justice. The Genetic Lottery is aimed squarely at the Americans who have “In This House” signs on their front lawn, or who posted a black square to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter on their Instagram last year. In other words, this book makes its case to an audience broadly similar in sympathies and formation to the author.
But The Genetic Lottery was written because, unlike Harden, these readers will be ignorant of behavior genetics, and suspicious of any attempt to introduce biologically-based variables into sociological matters. By this measure, The Genetic Lottery is a success. Harden concisely and cogently reduces a century of behavior genetics supercharged by genomics in the last twenty years into a digestible and comprehensible form, while reassuring the intended audience that yes, they should trust the science because it does not stand opposed to their values. On the other hand, if you do not come to this work with Harden’s particular ideological commitments, much of the non-scientific content might strike you as misguided, gratuitous and at times even unfair. The author of The Genetic Lottery has a strong normative viewpoint and will remind you of this in myriad ways large and small throughout. If you’re annoyed, it’s probably simply that you’re not the work’s intended audience.