12 / CHRONICLESnVIEWSnON GENETIC DETERMINISM ANDnMORALITY b, Edward O. WilsonnIn his recent speech to Congress, Anatoly Shcharanskynsaid, “All understanding between the East and West mustnbe based on human values common to all men.” Thisnappealing statement takes us straight to the central questionnof moral reasoning: What, if anything, are common humannvalues?nHumanity is and always has been faced with a choicenamong three metaethics, three differing views of how thenworld works from the top down and hence, the ultimatenmeans for the selection of moral codes. If behavior is basednexclusively on cultural evolution, the codes can drift apartnuntil sociehes face each other like alien species. If on thenother hand morality must be read from the graven tablets ofnparticular religions, we are equally likely to come to annimpasse. Dogmas arise in special historical circumstances,nare commonly inadequate for contemporary dilemmas, andntend to enhance rather than reduce the alienation ofncultures—the process Erik Erikson called pseudospeciation.nFinally, if morality represents the upwelling of deepnimpulses that were somehow encoded in our genes duringnevolution, our ignorance of such matters remains generalnand dangerous.nI may be wrong, but I believe that the correct metaethic isnnnthe third, fundamentally materialistic one. It works in thenfollowing way. Our profound impulses are rooted in angenetic heritage common to the entire species. Thesenpropensities are transmuted through culture into specificnmoral codes, which are integrated into religion and thensacralized memories of revolutions, conquests, and othernhistorical events by which cultures secured their surival.nAlthough variations in the final codes are inevitable,ndifferent societies share a great deal in their perception ofnright and wrong. By making the search for these similaritiesnpart of the scientific enterprise, and taking religious behaviornery seriously as a key part of human nature, a tighternconsensus of ethical behavior might be reached.nModern biology appears to have banished nihilism. Butnin so doing it has not led to a narrow form of geneticndeterminism. It is not true that certain genes prescribenparticular responses or that moral codes must be the e.xactnequivalent of our biological nature. I have never met angenetic determinist by this definition. Most or all biologistsnwho study behavior, especially social behavior, areninteractionists—they view final thought and response as thenproduct of a complex interplay of genes and environment.nSocial behavior in human beings is the result of biologicallynbased predispositions filtered and hammered into finalnshape by the particular cultures in which individuals arenreared. On the other hand, I have met many culturalndeterminists, especially among the reigning social theorists.nThey deny or at least wholly ignore the influence ofnbiology. The evidence—fortunately or unfortunately dependingnon how you view it—has proved them wrong. Inwould say fortunately, because any species wholly dominatednby culture and free of genetic constraint would run angrave risk of moral nihilism.nA case in point,. out of many now known in humanncognitive development, is the avoidance of brother-sisternincest. In order to avoid misunderstanding, let me definenincest as strong sexual bonding among close biologicalnrelatives that includes intercourse, of the kind generallynassociated with cohabitation and procreation, and excludesntransient forms of adolescent experimentation. Incest taboosnare very nearly universal as a cultural norm. About a dozennEdward O. Wilson is Frank B. Baird ]r. Professor ofnScience and Curator in Entomology, Museum ofnComparative Zoology at Harvard University and authornmost recently of Biophilia.n