Thanks very much, Mike, for your clarity and balance. You have given me a very great deal to think about. Your points about Lewontin's arguments are well made. I shall look at some of the twin studies.
Presumably there are propensities for humans to behave, think, feel in certain ways, which can be manifested or suppressed according to prevailing socio-economic conditions; according to climate, geography; family size: &c.
I suppose that is why, just by way of topical example from my own practice, some adults who have been sexually and physically abused in childhood have not reacted in so bad a way as others similarly maltreated: their temperament was (genetically) different to start with, hence their personality dealt more robustly with adversity. Others, with particular family constellations orient to gay sexuality, whilst their peers from similar backgrounds do not. Some react to loss with depression, others adjust. These things we all know. And I suppose Shakespeare knew them too.
There may well be a (set of) gene(s) that make some mice bad mothers. Some of the same nucleotides, or the same sequences of base pairs, may well be present in some girls. With one such girl, a failure of government policy combined with an economic slump made her father redundant, so that her mother became chronically reactively depressed, simply not able to be the mother she could have been to this already vulnerable daughter, this girl with the 'prepared' (but not inevitable) syndrome. This girl developed a cognitive set that embraced schemata such as, "Mother doesn't love me because I'm not good enough" and a behavioural set based on never having been taught, never having experienced, what good mothering is. Fertile soil for her 'bad-mother' genes to show themselves.
Her cousin in the neighbouring county, however, had a very different experience, growing up in the knowledge of being loved by parents whose coping skills had never been challenged. Well, I don't have to be a Marxist to write this, and it's probably too elementary for this column, but otherwise there doesn't seem to be much wrong with it so far.
Now, I don't know whether anyone would argue with the proposition that whereas you might very well say that some genes make for bad mouse-mothers, you can't really say the same thing in the same way of genes and women. Or is this precisely what the argument is about? A mouse cannot be any kind of mouse other than what its DNA sequence makes it, local cheese and absence of cats, mousetraps &c permitting. I can see I'm steering perilously close here to some determinist rocks of a different kind. But it's not necessarily determinism that I'm running away from. The girl's avoidance of a predetermined genetic fate depends on other, psycho-social, factors, equally determining. Or perhaps only almost equally determining.
I don't know if it's still fashionable in certain circles to advance supposed sociological explanations for psychological disorders, maladjustments, and so on. The trouble with these attempted explanations was, always, that they didn't explain the disorder when it occurred in the absence of the supposed causative social conditions. That was as naive in one direction as simplistic genetic determinism is in another. I suppose one benefit of the completed Human Genome Project may well be the ability it gives to fill out such sociological explanations, which, I think I'm saying, will remain necessary.
I suppose that really, underneath all this, what I'm really anxious about is the reductionist aspect, anxious about what this kind of thinking could do the human race, to our sense of ourselves, to our morality and responsibility. Only vehicles for selfish genes? A universe of selfish genes and blind electrons? Mere organized complexity of chancy starstuff? The promotion of technological fixes for the meaninglessness, the pointlessness of it all? Yes, maybe, good, we stop blaming ourselves and one another for our faults and failures (and maybe therefore also stop awarding Nobel prizes and paying disproportionate rewards to talent): but perhaps then also, "It's not (it wasn't) my fault, my genes made me do it" (as distinct from the Devil, well that's a step forward maybe!). As we rush to digitize and cyberize ourselves, will we lose all the good, even as we preserve the worst, of what our humanity has meant through the ages? Are we going to vanish in a printout of base-sequences as, in the hands of physicists, matter sometimes seems to have vanished into quantum probability equations?
Remember what Einstein told us, to which no-one has paid the slightest attention? After the Bomb, "We need a substantially new way of thinking, if mankind is to survive". And where is or ever was, that thinking? Are we any more ready for the new genetics than we were for the nuclear age? So I seem to have got back to Mike Hall's Adaptive Gap and the Future of Civilization, which is certainly what started off my speculations here; and which is why I might possibly prefer the false hope of a Lewontin to the illusory positivist optimism of a Dawkins: even if, especially if, what Dawkins says is true. After all, what use is truth in the end?