The CRISPR babies
The news that a Chinese scientist has gene-edited human embryos left me neither shaken nor stirred. If you follow this stuff you know that we’ve been able to do this for six years. It was just a matter of someone being audacious enough to actually do it.
Professor He Jiankui may in fact have been a tad too audacious; he seems to be in trouble with his superiors since the news came out.
Diddling with the human genome will certainly be a thing in humanity’s near future with sensational, unforeseeable consequences; I’m not blithe about that. We’re not there yet, though, nor even close. Stories like this will pop up as Page Five items for another ten years, maybe twenty, without radically affecting society.
By mid-century, when my kids are middle-aged, the fun will have started in earnest. By end-century the human world will have been transformed in ways we cannot even imagine and I would not dare try to predict.
Eastern eugenics, Western dysgenics
So the answer to the question, “Are the ChiComs going to breed a master race?” is, “Not any time soon.”
Would they like to, though? Yes, they would. I’ve been writing about this for, according to my archives, at least seventeen years.
“Eugenics” is not a bad word over there. ChiCom social policy has had a consciously eugenic component since the 1980s, in complete contradiction to the metaphysical axioms of orthodox Marxism-Leninism (of which, as I have explained elsewhere, Mao Tse-tung Thought is just a cheap Chinese knock-off). The One Child Policy, for example—now somewhat relaxed—was driven in part by the intention “to reduce dysgenic fertility among rural peasants.”
The ChiComs pursue policies intended to make their population smarter. Genetic diddling will certainly speed that up when we eventually figure out how to do it safely, but they hope that good old selective breeding will deliver results in the meantime.
This is the opposite of our policy here in the West. We—or at any rate our political and cultural elites—are striving to make our population dumber by the mass immigration and sacralization of low-IQ peoples.
The end result would seem to be a foregone conclusion, but you never know. Possibly ChiCom gene-diddling, when they get there, will go disastrously wrong. Possibly the West will get lucky—come up with something we can put into the water supply to give everyone twenty extra IQ points. Who knows? There are many futures.
“He’s on first,” She told You
While we are still—thank goodness!—in the Page Five, “hey, that’s kind of interesting, did you feed the dog?” zone with CRISPR, my attention got snagged on the scientist’s name: 賀建奎, Hè Jiànkúi in the standard pinyin transcription.
Surname comes first in Chinese (though they often flip it round in translated text to confuse us). So this guy’s surname transcribes as “Hè.” The “H” is hard “German” style; the “e” is a schwa—a sort of “uh” vowel. The tone is high-falling, but tone marks are generally dropped when transcribing.
The very pleasant lady from Wuhan who sits behind the counter at my local post office sports the surname “尤,” written in pinyin as “Yóu,” pronounced like street-English “yo!” but with high-rising tone.
“佘” is also a Chinese surname, though not a common one. The pinyin transcription is “Shé” with that same schwa and the high-rising tone again.
So I have this notion of a short story—I doubt you could stretch it to a novel—written in English but with Chinese dramatis personæ surnamed He, You, and She, with the tone marks dropped. The art of the piece would be to make the ambiguity between Chinese surnames and English pronouns as confusing as possible to the reader.
The result, if anyone can pull it off, would not be quite as silly as “Mr Shi eats lions,” but it would be silly enough to send a small brief shaft of light through the horrid fog of po-faced solemnity, preacherish sanctimony, and indignant moralizing that envelops our society today.
Opera buffa at the Derbs’
On the silliness theme, we’ve been going through some opera buffa in the Derb household this month.
My wife Rosie has a sister-in-law back in China, and this lady has a niece 21 or 22 years old. I’ll call her Lulu, which is nothing like her real name.
Lulu started at NYU this fall semester. We knew nothing about her except that she was smart enough to get into NYU and her family rich enough to pay full fees. That was enough, though, to kick Rosie into match-maker mode. She was seized with the notion that Lulu would make a fine wife for our son Danny (23).
When the three of us—Dad, Mom, and Danny—sat down to dinner in the late-October evenings, Rosie would launch into her sales pitch, addressing Danny with: “This girl is smart! She’s rich! You should meet her!” I tried to lighten things up with speculations on Lulu’s appearance, about which we knew nothing: “Perhaps she has buck teeth and weighs 300 pounds …”
Danny wasn’t buying it. For one thing, he has no desire to get married. For another, he thinks Chinese girls are stuck-up. He is too filial to make a fuss; but he rolled his eyes, fended off the sales pitch with sighs and groans, and left the table as soon as he decently could.
Nothing deterred, Rosie invited Lulu to come visit us out on Long Island the first weekend of November on the pretext of seeing the fall colors. I was away that weekend at the H.L. Mencken Club conference, so what follows is hearsay.
Danny resolved matters to his own satisfaction, and his mother’s frustration, by absenting himself from the house for the weekend. Saturday evening Rosie took Lulu on a visit to friends nearby.
These friends are another Chinese lady—I’ll call her Daisy—married to another round-eye male; and they too have a son, the same age as Danny. Lulu and this son got on well; and that hurled Daisy into match-maker mode. The middle-aged Chinese woman seems to be a natural host for the match-making bug.
Driving home with Lulu, Rosie learned that Daisy had invited Lulu to stay with them for Thanksgiving. Rosie was outraged. She took the point of view that Daisy was poaching. As she expressed it to me later: “We saw her first!” (Lulu, I should say, turned out to be very pretty and personable.)