GENES, DESTINY, AND BIG BROTHER

UM Professor David Lykken has spent his career studying the role of nature and nurture in shaping people. And he believes his research shows the best society would be one in which the state decides who gets to have children.
by Jennifer Vogel

           Lykken: I think you can look at it either way. And people do look at it that way. The hard-bitten conservative is only concerned about tax dollars. I would say to them that we know the sociopaths already among us are costing $200 billion annually and that the price is going up as the numbers are going up. But if I talk to the people I know, the people who are liberals and concerned about others, concerned about social welfare, then I say what about the children, what about the babies?

           CP: Has your genetic research affected your politics?

           Lykken: I don't think so. I used to believe that people on the right took a biological deterministic point of view that some people are born bad and some people are born good and that the people born good should run things. In reaction to that, liberals tended to be extreme environmentalists, believing that everybody can succeed as well as anybody else and that the successes of the rich are consequences of advantages and that the poor are poor because of disadvantages. We know now that that is wrong. We know now that people with talent and energy can rise to the top and they do. Our class structure now is more determined by personal characteristics rather than by social fiat--the structure of society or the position your parents were in.

           CP: How would your licensing proposal make things better?

           Lykken: I think that the reason that crime rates are so much higher in the black community than in the white community is that the causal factors are the same in both communities, but higher in the black. Something like 55 percent of young black men are being reared without fathers, as compared to about 15 percent of the white kids in the high risk group, 15- to 25-year-olds. We're beginning to catch up, the whites are beginning to catch up with the blacks. So one way to equalize things is to do nothing, because sooner or later everybody's illegitimate and there aren't any fathers and we're living like chimpanzees in a violent jungle community. But I don't think we want to do that.

           I think that if tomorrow, by some miracle, we could arrange it so that every baby, black or white, was being reared by both biological parents who were grown, aged 21, let's say, self-supporting, committed enough to the enterprise to be married to each other. I don't care if you have a religious concern or not. You can be married by a judge, as a demonstration of commitment to the enterprise. And neither one having been convicted of a violent crime. That's all it would take. Just that much. If every child had that chance, I genuinely believe and it just seems so obvious to me now, I've been thinking about it for so long, that 20 years from now, the crime rates would drop. And I also think that the IQ differences would diminish because who are the people who are breeding the most carelessly, and just treating this as nothing? They are the people that are less well socialized and less intelligent.

           CP: Are you sure about that?

           Lykken: I can't prove it, but I'm sure about it in this sense [points to his chest]. Not as a scientist, but just as a reasonable person. And again, we do know this: that if we take and measure IQs of children from the underclass, they are lower than children from the middle class.

           CP: But again, we talked about how there could be other factors involved there.

           Lykken: Yeah, but aside from that, what I believe is that the sociopathic element and the psychopathic element, the ones with the bad temperments, and also the people with lower IQs, tend to breed carelessly and to make poor parents.

           CP: So your answer is to prevent them from having babies?

           Lykken: No, we're not going to prevent them. We are just going to say, unless you pull up your socks... We are not going to have an IQ test. We are not going to have a color bar. We are going to say that if you've been convicted of a violent crime, you are out of luck. But otherwise you'll have to grow up and get a job and get married. That's all. And then you can have children. And some of those people who meet those requirements are going to be terrible parents. There is no simple solution to everything. But the difference between that situation and what we have now is enormous. Remember that this crime and violence and suffering and social pathology involves 6 or 7 percent of the population. And that's the group that needs the help, and if you believe that children born in America truly do have a right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then they have a right to decent parenting. Because without decent parenting they might not keep a life. And they may not keep their liberty and they are sure unlikely to be happy.

           CP: But in your happiness study, you said that people adjust to whatever circumstances they are in--that the garbage man is just as happy as the doctor.

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