The Bien-Pensants’ Next Big Outrage

Something that is widely misunderstood by some lay enthusiasts of the new sociobiology is that having the same genes as someone else does not necessarily get you identical or even very similar results. There are all sorts of things that cause genes to “express” or not. We are coming to realise the importance of the uterine environment: non-identical twins are, for instance, more similar than ordinary siblings. After birth, too, standards of nutrition and care can turn genes on or off. Genes are less like instructions to build something than they are like instructions to take advantage of opportunities and build something if wind and tides are favourable. So there is a lot of mileage in nurture and cultural explanations still.

On the other hand, the importance of the uterine environment is going to cause as many or even more ructions between scientists and feminists than did ever neo-Darwinism with its selective pressures and genetically-encoded behaviours. When we have finished rediscovering the wisdom of the ancients, namely that it matters greatly to the foetus what the mother does when carrying it, some people will want once again to restrict the freedom of a pregnant woman for the sake of the child; for example with regard to overwork, drinking, smoking and so forth. This will be wholly unacceptable to the “I can do whatever I like!” school of liberation.

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  1. Written by urban
    on November 19, 2011 at 14:55
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    What I see all the time is the pregnant body as sacred temple. I do not see “I can do whatever I like”. Perhaps that goes on in private, but she dare not say so in public. Indeed I do think the intense pressure on women to be perfect while carrying to be oppressive.

    Does anyone really imagine that Michelangelo’s mother or Enrico Fermi’s didn’t drink wine with her meals while pregnant? Of course she did! Wine and beer were considered foods in most non-puritan cultures until quite recently. Would Big Mike have been a greater artist had mom been a t-totaler. Would Fermi have come up with a better name than “neutrino”?

    Now I don’t mean to encourage pregnant boozing which is clearly destructive, but let’s get real here. Having an occasional glass of wine or beer is not the same thing, and if it helps the woman relax it’s probably good. Enjoying the occasional cigarette probably does less damage than breathing city air all day, every day. Freaking out over every minor urge or actual transgression changes her blood chemistry too. All that guilt and emotional stress is probably worse for the fetus than a little wine.

    Don’t try to explain that to the puritans though.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on November 19, 2011 at 20:03
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    I have heard it argued here that the focus on booze + pregnancy deprives women of the freedom to drink like men if they want and therefore constitutes patriarchal oppression (continued on p. 79). What I find morbidly amusing is that the next moment they are arguing that, since tobacco and booze companies are owned by men, then the smoking and drinking of pregnant women constitutes patriarchal oppression (continued on p. 312).

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