Capturing Other People’s Children

The New Bio-Politics of Fertility It has been more than a century and a half since Charles Darwin first taught the world that all species—including human beings—are locked in an unrelenting, competitive struggle for reproductive success. Often translated into the grim phrase “the survival of the fittest,” the outcome of this evolutionary contest depends finally on the transmission of genes that carry each species’ biochemical blueprints. In this Darwinian paradigm, genes that succeed in getting themselves reproduced triumph over those that do not. For doctrinaire Darwinian theorists, therefore, all human activities—from the discovery of new principles of astrophysics to the composing of orchestral symphonies—are ultimately no more than alternate strategies for securing some advantage in the propagation of genes. Biologist Richard Dawkins states the orthodox scientific view with provocative bluntness: “[Genes] are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale of our existence. . . . [W]e are their survival machines.”[1] And neo-Darwinian philosopher John Gray asserts the centrality of the fight for genetic success with similar brusqueness: “The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.”[2] It is hardly surprising that the Victorian intellectuals who first confronted the unsettling doctrines of Darwinism recoiled from the spectacle of “Nature, red with tooth and law” and lamented that “Nature lends such evil dreams.”[3] However, for most 21st-century Americans the whole notion of life as a ruthless struggle for reproductive success seems irrelevant, perhaps even absurd. Even some neo-Darwinians admit that a phrase such as “the survival of the fittest” simply does not reflect modern social realities. “Entire human societies,” remarks molecular biologist Lee M. Silver, “have already stopped playing by Darwinian rules as a result of a confluence of cultur
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