Building blocks of humanity

Posted: Feb 21, 2001 12:00 AM
The human genome project shows there is no genetic way to tell races apart. For scientific purposes, race simply doesn't exist. With all due respect to our intrepid space pioneers, this first map of mankind's genetic code revolutionizes our understanding of the universe much more than the first moon landing did. Talk about sweeping away millennia of racial, ethnic and religious stereotypes, racist theories and grotesque rationalizations for seeing humanity as a collection of tribes instead of a single family marked by brilliant diversity. Any excuse for racism, bigotry, hatred, theories of ethnic superiority and excuses for treating our brothers and sisters of any race, creed or color differently because of their physical characteristics has been utterly rejected both biologically and genetically. From this point on, no one has an excuse for judging people other than, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, by "the content of their character." King's dream of racial harmony and mutual understanding comes closer to reality than ever. The genetic maps that uncovered these exciting truths were generated by Celera Genomics, a for-profit firm, and the Human Genome Project, a consortium of publicly funded researchers. Their findings will be reviewed exhaustively, and other researchers will build on their work. Science, after all, is a series of incremental steps emerging from an accepted, well-established pool of knowledge. Yet every so often science leaps into a revolutionary phase, as with the Copernican explanation of planetary orbits or the 20th century revolution in particle physics. The genome project launches a similar revolution that profoundly deepens our understanding of our common humanity. In addition, it points to mankind's common origins. As Reason magazine's Ron Bailey puts it, "There is very little genetic variation among people ... Evidence from the human genome strongly points to our species arising from a population of as few as 10,000 individuals in Africa within the last 150,000 years or so." Several years ago a good friend and colleague of mine at Howard University, Dr. Harold Freeman of Harlem Hospital Center, chairman of the President's Cancer Panel at the National Cancer Institute, wrote to President Bill Clinton on the subject of racial classifications in scientific inquiry. Freeman noted that "85 percent of all variation in gene frequency occurs within populations or races and only 15 percent occurs between such populations ... Racism, rooted in the erroneous concept of biological racial superiority, has powerful societal effects and continues to influence science." This very important point is hammered home by the findings of the genome project. Our Founding Fathers declared all men to be equal within the civic order, but now it appears we are created equal in a literal sense, as well. This confirmation of our common humanity can only accelerate the destruction of artificial barriers among peoples that is already being driven by modern telecommunications, the Internet, surging global trade, and the freer flow of capital and labor, as well as ideas, across political boundaries. The synergy between the genome project and the 21st century revolution in technology and economic freedom could be spectacular. As Barbara Jasny and Donald Kennedy observe in Science magazine, "The human genome has been called the Book of Life. Rather, it is a library in which, with rules that encourage exploration and reward creativity, we can find many of the books that will help define us and our place in the great tapestry of life." In economics, we have also learned that the "rules" that encourage individual exploration and reward personal creativity include low tax rates and limited government. Indeed, although researchers of many backgrounds contributed to the genome project, it is hard to imagine such a stunning endeavor happening anywhere but in America, the freest society on the face of the Earth. Not only does the genome project reveal our common humanity in a way the most ardent racist can never refute, it also indicates that the greatest insight of supply-side economics - that most important things happen at the margin - is scientifically true, as well. Since humans are 99.9 percent identical, the genetic cues that make us unique in talents, aspirations and appearance all must be found in that tiny, less than .1 percent that distinguishes us one from the other. There is much more to be said about the genome project findings, including its potential to cure deadly disease, legal implications of differential treatment based on an individual's genetic inheritance and the scientific implications of genetic interactions with our living environment. Yet nothing will eclipse the revelation that we, the human race, are indeed as one. The mind reels, and the future looks brighter than ever.
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