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2059年,富人家的孩子仍是人生赢家

更新时间:2019/5/29 20:03:47 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning
2059年,富人家的孩子仍是人生赢家

Last week, The Times published an article about the long-term results of the Gene Equality Project, the philanthropic effort to bring genetic cognitive enhancements to low-income communities. The results were largely disappointing: While most of the children born of the project have now graduated from a four-year college, few attended elite universities and even fewer have found jobs with good salaries or opportunities for advancement. With the results in hand, it is time for us to re-examine the efficacy and desirability of genetic engineering.

上周,时报发表了一篇关于基因平等项目(Gene Equality Project)长期成果的文章。这个慈善项目旨在为低收入社区带来基因上的认知增强。其结果在很大程度上令人失望:尽管在该项目中出生的孩子大多已从四年制大学毕业,但他们中上了精英大学的寥寥无几,找到高薪或晋升机会多的工作的就更少了。有了这样的结果,我们应当对基因工程的有效性和可取性进行重新审视。

The intentions behind the Gene Equality Project were good. Therapeutic genetic interventions, such as correcting the genes that cause cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, have been covered by Medicare ever since their approval by the Food and Drug Administration, making them available to the children of low-income parents. However, augmentations like cognitive enhancements have never been covered — not even by private insurance — and were available only to affluent parents. Amid fears that we were witnessing the creation of a caste system based on genetic differences, the Gene Equality Project was begun 25 years ago, enabling 500 pairs of low-income parents to increase the intelligence of their children.

基因平等项目背后的意愿是好的。自获得美国食品和药物管理局批准以来,治疗性基因干预,如纠正导致囊性纤维化和亨廷顿舞蹈症的基因,一直被纳入联邦医疗保险(Medicare)的范围,让低收入家庭的孩子也能接受治疗。然而,像增强认知这样的提高性基因干预从未被纳入医疗保险范围,就连私人医疗保险也不覆盖这类服务,因此只有富裕的父母才负担得起。25年前基因平等项目得以启动,正是由于我们担心,一个以基因差异为基础的种姓制度正在形成,项目使500对低收入父母有机会提高他们孩子的智力。

The project offered a common cognitive-enhancement protocol involving modifications to 80 genes associated with intelligence. Each individual modification had only a small effect on intelligence, but in combination they typically gave a child an I.Q. of 130, putting the child in the top 5 percent of the population. This protocol has become one of the most popular enhancements purchased by affluent parents, and it is often referenced in media profiles of the “New Elite,” the genetically engineered young people who are increasingly prevalent in management positions of corporate America today. Yet the 500 subjects of the Gene Equality Project are not enjoying career success that is remotely comparable to the success of the New Elite, despite having received the same protocol.

该项目提供了一种常见的认知增强干预方案,涉及到修改与智力相关的80个基因。单个基因的修改对智力只有很小的影响,但是所有修改结合起来通常会把一个孩子的智商提高到130,让这个孩子进入人口的前5%。这种干预方案已成为富裕父母们购买的最受欢迎的增强功能之一,而且经常在媒体报道“新精英”人物时被提及。“新精英”指的是接受过基因工程改造的年轻人,如今在美国企业的管理层中越来越经常见到他们的身影。然而,基因平等项目的500名受试者虽然接受了相同的干预方案,但他们在职业上获得的成功却远不及新精英们。

A range of explanations has been offered for the project’s results. White supremacist groups have claimed that its failure shows that certain races are incapable of being improved, given that many — although by no means all — of the beneficiaries of the project were people of color. Conspiracy theorists have accused the participating geneticists of malfeasance, claiming that they pursued a secret agenda to withhold genetic enhancements from the lower classes. But these explanations are unnecessary when one realizes the fundamental mistake underlying the Gene Equality Project: Cognitive enhancements are useful only when you live in a society that rewards ability, and the United States isn’t one.

人们对该项目的结果给出了各种各样的解释。考虑到该项目的受益者中有许多人(尽管并非全部)是有色人种,白人至上主义团体声称,该计划的失败表明某些种族没有得到改良的可能。阴谋论者指责参与项目的遗传学家有不正当行为,声称他们是在执行自己的秘密方案,没有给下层阶级做基因改良。但是,如果人们意识到基因平等项目背后的根本错误,就会明白这些解释是没有必要的:认知增强只对奖掖能力的社会有效,而美国不是这种社会。

It has long been known that a person’s ZIP code is an excellent predictor of lifetime income, educational success and health. Yet we continue to ignore this because it runs counter to one of the founding myths of this nation: that anyone who is smart and hardworking can get ahead. Our lack of hereditary titles has made it easy for people to dismiss the importance of family wealth and claim that everyone who is successful has earned it. The fact that affluent parents believe that genetic enhancements will improve their children’s prospects is a sign of this: They believe that ability will lead to success because they assume that their own success was a result of their ability.

人们早就知道,一个人住址的邮政编码可以很好地预测他一生的收入、学习成绩,以及健康状况。然而,我们一直忽视这一点,因为它不符合这个国家的建国神话之一:那就是,任何聪明勤奋的人都能取得成功。我们没有世袭的头衔,这让人们很容易忽视家庭财富的重要性,并声称所有成功人士靠的只是自己的本事。富裕的父母相信基因增强会改善孩子前景的事实就是这个神话的一种体现:他们相信能力带来成功,因为他们认为,自己的成功是能力的结果。

For those who assume that the New Elite are ascending the corporate ladder purely on the basis of merit, consider that many of them are in leadership positions, but I.Q. has historically had only a weak correlation with effectiveness as a leader. Also consider that genetic height enhancement is frequently purchased by affluent parents, and the tendency to view taller individuals as more capable leaders is well documented. In a society increasingly obsessed with credentials, being genetically engineered is like having an Ivy-League M.B.A.: It is a marker of status that makes a candidate a safe bet for hiring, rather than an indicator of actual competence.

认为新精英在公司晋升完全基于个人能力的人,考虑的是他们中的许多人都担任领导职位,但从历史上看,智商与领导者的效率只有微弱的相关性。还要考虑的是,富裕的父母经常会购买增强身高的基因干预,而将高个子的人视为更有能力的领导者,这种倾向已有充分证明。在一个越来越痴迷资质的社会里,被基因工程改造过,就像拥有常春藤联盟的工商管理硕士学位一样:它不是实际能力的指标,而是一种身份的标志,让候选人在雇主眼里更加有望成功。

This is not to say that the genes associated with intelligence play no role in creating successful individuals — they absolutely do. They are an essential part of a positive feedback loop: When children demonstrate an aptitude at any activity, we reward them with more resources — equipment, private tutors, encouragement — to develop that aptitude; their genes enable them to translate those resources into improved performance, which we reward with even better resources, and the cycle continues until as adults they achieve exceptional career success. But low-income families living in neighborhoods with underfunded public schools often cannot sustain this feedback loop; the Gene Equality Project didn’t offer any resources besides better genes, and without these additional resources, the full potential of those genes was never realized.

这并不是说与智力相关的基因在打造个人成功的过程中没有任何作用——它们绝对有作用。它们是一个正反馈回路的重要组成部分:当孩子在某项活动中表现出天资时,我们会用更多的资源——器材、私人教师、鼓励——来奖励他们发展这种天资;他们的基因让他们能够把这些资源转化为更好的表现,而我们会用更好的资源来奖励他们,这种循环不断反复,直到他们成年后取得非凡的职业成功。但是,生活在缺乏资金的公立学校社区的低收入家庭,往往不能维持这种反馈回路;基因平等项目除了提供更好的基因外,没有提供任何其他资源,没有这些额外的资源,这些基因的全部潜力就永远无法实现。

We are indeed witnessing the creation of a caste system, not one based on biological differences in ability, but one that uses biology as a justification to solidify existing class distinctions. It is imperative that we put an end to this, but doing so will take more than free genetic enhancements supplied by a philanthropic foundation. It will require us to address structural inequalities in every aspect of our society, from housing to education to jobs. We won’t solve this by trying to improve people; we’ll only solve it by trying to improve the way we treat people.

我们确实是在目睹一个等级制度的形成,这个等级制度不是建立在生物学角度的能力差异之上,而是利用生物学的理由来巩固现有的阶级差别。我们的当务之急是结束这种情况,但是,要想做到这一点,我们需要的不仅仅是慈善基金会提供的免费基因改良。这要求我们解决社会各方面的结构性不平等问题,从住房到教育再到就业。我们不能通过改良人来解决这个问题;我们只能通过改进我们对待人的方式来解决这个问题。

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Gene Equality Project is something that never needs to be repeated. Instead of thinking of it as a cure to an illness, we could think of it as a diagnostic test — something we would conduct at regular intervals to gauge how close we are to reaching our goal. When the beneficiaries of free genetic cognitive enhancements become as successful as the ones whose parents bought the enhancements for them, only then will we have reason to believe that we live in an equitable society.

这并不一定意味着基因平等项目永远不该被复制。我们可以把它看作是一种体检,而不是一种治疗疾病的方法。我们可以定期进行这种检查,以衡量我们距离实现目标还有多远。只有当认知基因增强的免费受益者取得的成功,与那些父母为其购买了这种增强的人取得的成功一样时,我们才有理由认为,我们生活在一个公平合理的社会里。

Finally, let’s recall one of the arguments made during the original debate about legalizing genetic cognitive enhancements. Some proponents claimed that we had an ethical obligation to pursue cognitive enhancements because of the benefits to humanity that would accrue as a result. But there have surely been many geniuses whose world-changing contributions were lost because their potential was crushed by their impoverished surroundings.

最后,让我们回顾一下最初在讨论认知基因增强合法化时提出的一个论点。一些支持者声称,我们有道德义务努力去实现认知增强,因为这样做的结果会逐渐为人类带来好处。但是肯定有不少天才没能实现他们对改变世界的贡献,因为他们的潜力被贫困的环境摧毁了。

Our goal should be to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, no matter the circumstances of birth. That course of action would be just as beneficial to humanity as pursuing genetic cognitive enhancements, and it would do a much better job of fulfilling our ethical obligations.

我们的目标应该是确保每个人都有机会发挥他们的全部潜力,不管他们的出生环境如何。这个行动方案会与致力于基因上的认知增强一样对人类有益,而且会让我们在履行道德义务方面做得更好。

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