A few days ago, BBC’s science news published an article entitled, “Is our political view really encoded in our genes?” The article’s summary reads:
There’s growing evidence to suggest that our political views can be inherited. But before we decide to ditch the ballot box for a DNA test, Tom Stafford explains why knowing our genes doesn’t automatically reveal how our minds work.
Do we even need to get into the obvious racist implications of this type of pseudoscience? Not to mention its “anti-democratic” pulse, if “democracy” happens to be your thing. To be fair, the BBC article notes toward its end some of the pitfalls of this blatant sort of biological determinism, and yet the basic premise that some biologically heritable feature of the human genome can deterministically cause some element of one’s political viewpoint remains, at core, in place. It doesn’t matter that Tom Stafford throws in the qualifier that biological determinism doesn’t happen “automatically” if the basic underlying notion still remains untouched.
I have previously covered this exact topic at greater length in my article, “The Process of Reproduction: Why would Argentine Dictators want to Steal Babies?” Detailing the specific case of right-wing military dictators stealing the children — and therefore, literally, the DNA — of left-wing dissidents during Argentina’s Dirty War, I made a simple point: Sure, it can be said that political persuasion can be inherited from parent to child, but the process by which this phenomenon occurs is misunderstood by right-wing military dictators, reactionary geneticists, Social Darwinists, and the editors of the BBC. The thing-being-inherited from one generation to the next is not a chunk of the genome, but rather a chunk of property. In capitalist society, the prevailing social rule states that private property is inherited by the same people who also inherit one’s genes, namely, one’s children. Class distinctions, in this way, reproduce themselves from one generation to the next, and herein we find the explanation for why political positions might be inherited: In a capitalist society, children are likely to have, overall, the same amount or lack of wealth in property and the same security or insecurity with respect to subsistence off wage labor as their parents. This has nothing to do with genetics, even if the people involved are genetically related to one another. It is, instead, a product of inheritance law. The confusion and contradiction behind right-wing ideologies stems from a confusion over the thing-being-inherited.
Right-wing ideologies mistake this process of reproduction for a biological process when it is, in fact, a social process at work, albeit one that, in the specific form of a capitalist society, runs (generally, with many exceptions) parallel to the biological process of reproduction. For the sake of contrast, we can look at feudal society, in which social reproduction follows the lines of biological reproduction even more strictly, and yet the thing-being-inherited is not private property as such, but rather a specific legal status, i.e., a noble’s title, a serf’s right and obligation to subsist on a given parcel of land, and in general one’s membership in one of the feudal estates. Therefore, the abolition of feudalism in France led the Napoleonic Code to initially stipulate that research into paternity was prohibited. Once capitalism had fully established itself and the inheritance of property had become the prevailing mode of social reproduction, such prohibitions became superfluous, as any given episode of the Maury Povich Show today testifies.
The BBC, bastion of reaction as it is, cannot reveal these truths. Instead, it has chosen to lend credence to the exact theoretical position of Argentine dictators and baby thieves Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone. This is hardly the first time, though, that the BBC has found itself disseminating reactionary politics in its “science” news.