May 20, 2008

Noble Lies

I generally loathe ?noble lie? calculations and much prefer truth, truth at all costs. Caleb?s argument that we should be wary of discussing genetics lest we delegitimize our institutions reminds me a lot of Nathan Glazer?s famous response to The Bell Curve:

Our society, our polity, our elites, according to Herrnstein and Murray, live with an untruth: that there is no good reason for this inequality, and therefore society is at fault and we must try harder. I ask myself whether the untruth is not better for American society than the truth (?The Lying Game,? The New Republic, October 31, 1994)

In order that we uphold our institutions or not sever the Social Contract, Caleb and Glazer counsel self-censorship and willed ignorance?lying, however noble it may be. No one at Takimag, save Russell, has extensive background in the sciences, so I would agree that we all remain cautious and generally agnostic about genetics. There are also more important and beautiful ways for us to spend our time than obsessing about DNA.

This being said, before we start ordering laboratory researchers not to publish their findings, I think the onus in on Caleb to explain to us exactly which institutions are supported by our little egalitarian fib and how and why they?d collapse if we start honestly and seriously grappling with the findings of science. I?d add: if we need to lie willfully and publicly to keep our institutions from collapsing, then perhaps they don?t deserve to stand at all. 


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